coworker is taking credit for my work when she applies for jobs, scam job offer, and more

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

1. My coworker is taking credit for my work when she applies for jobs

I work in a creative and highly competitive industry. I have a longstanding problem where a coworker, Bella, has been taking credit for my work, without actually producing any work of her own. I confronted Bella about this a few times and she became extremely angry. I am younger than her and I have less experience, so I didn’t find the courage to speak up about it until early this year. When I did, our boss was shocked by Bella’s behavior and apparently had some stern words for her. It wasn’t considered serious enough to take to HR, but I think she did receive a verbal warning. Understandably, this has strained our working relationship a lot, to the point that Bella is now looking for a new role elsewhere.

Here’s my problem — Bella is still claiming credit for my work. A friend reached out to me to say that Bella had applied to their company using my work in her portfolio, and after a quick glance at her LinkedIn I discovered that she’s claiming credit there, too. She’s even writing guest blogs about it!

This is a tiny industry, and I’m worried that Bella’s claims will affect my own job search down the line. My own portfolio is public, so any of these hiring managers could see that it’s identical to Bella’s and come to the conclusion that I’m exaggerating my own contribution to the work. Since we still work together she has access to all my original files, and I’ve noticed that she’s accessed a few early sketches, presumably so she can show them as proof of process.

It was hard enough for me to kick up a fuss at my own company. How on earth am I supposed to stop Bella plagiarizing my work elsewhere?

Go back to your boss and share with her the exact concerns you shared here. Your boss can’t control how Bella behaves in her job search but can do two things that will help: she can ensure Bella doesn’t have access to your work files, and she can vouch for you in the future if anyone questions your claim to your own work.

Beyond that, there are really only two effective ways to stop Bella from what she’s doing: (1) social shaming (maybe), like if you’re willing to call her out or — better — your boss and/or HR are; or (2) legal pressure, like a lawyer contacting her on your behalf; you could talk to a lawyer about how you can protect yourself.

2. My job offer is a scam

I am job searching and got an interview request that seemed legit to begin with, but had a few red flags. There really is a company named [company], and the address the interviewer used is what said company has on their website. They even do almost what the interviewer said they do. After the interview — which was entirely conducted in text via Signal, one of the eventual MANY red flags — I was offered a job at a fairly ludicrous wage for the supposed duties. I used a DNS lookup on the email address domain to determine whether it was even provided by the same hosting provider as the real company the scam was posing as, and surprise surprise, they are not.

Anyway, the contact is supposedly going to send me a check to purchase the equipment and software I’ll need to fully create my home office and will be contacting me tomorrow with a tracking number for the package containing the check. Should I pretend I don’t know this is a scam and act like I’m going to go through with this, or should I let them know I’ve determined this is a scam?

It doesn’t really matter; all that matters is that you have nothing further to do with them because, yes, they are obviously a scam. Not because of the DNS thing (it’s not unusual to have separate providers for email hosting and website hosting), but because of absolutely everything else, starting with the text-based interview over Signal and ending with the classic scam move of sending you a check you’ll need to cash to purchase things. You can let them know you know it’s a scam or not; it’s up to you. The main thing is to have nothing more to do with them. Block them from contacting you, and don’t get drawn in any further.

3. Colleague doesn’t wash his hands after he goes to the bathroom, and people are making it my problem

You wouldn’t think that we’d have this issue in 2024, but here we are: a man in my office does not wash his hands after he uses the bathroom. It’s common knowledge because the other men on the floor notice and object. People have spoken to him about it, but nothing changes. Worse, we have communal snacks, and he likes to run his dirty little fingers over biscuits (“cookies”) and fruit before he chooses one. Fruit can be washed — biscuits not so much.

I’ve read the previous letters you received about this sort of thing, and your advice has been along the lines of: This is a common problem, it’s gross, but you can’t do anything about it.

That’s always been my position, too, but as the office manager and the person in charge of ordering groceries for the floor (biscuits, fruit, etc), people are asking me to either fix the problem or find different storage solutions that will remove the opportunity for him to fiddle with the food.

I don’t have standing to speak to this very senior man about his basic hygiene, and I’ve tried to find storage solutions — but lids don’t get sealed, packages get opened and left sitting out, and individually wrapped biscuits don’t get eaten. But then, neither do the regular snacks, because at this point no one else is touching them. Am I missing an obvious solution? Should I simply stop ordering snacks? Is my colleague a pile of rats wearing a human suit?

Why isn’t someone with authority telling him that he needs to stop caressing all the food? That would be gross even without the bathroom thing; it’s unhygienic regardless and someone with power over him (not you) needs to address that.

In any case, if no one is eating the food, there’s no point in continuing to order it. If people weren’t eating it for some other reason, you wouldn’t keep ordering more, right? It might be that the only solution is that people bring in their own food if they want it. And maybe explaining to someone above you why it doesn’t make sense to keep providing food might prod them to actually address it with the gross coworker.

Regardless, though, you don’t need to find a magical solution just because people want you to. You’ve tried different storage options and they don’t work. At this point the only answer to demands that you fix the problem is, “I’ve tried everything I can, but I don’t have the authority to make him change his behavior. If you have a solution that works, I’d welcome it.”

4. Questions in my onboarding paperwork

I am currently filling out some on-boarding paperwork for a new job. The employer is asking the usual questions — name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, etc. My question is about the field for marital status – why would this be relevant information for business purposes? The choices are married, single, domestic partner, widow, divorced. Next they ask for emergency contact names. I understand they need that, especially since I will be working in a remote area, but I don’t know why they need to know the relationship between me and that person. Would there be problems if I listed “next door neighbor” or “friend”? I may be overthinking this but I’ve become more aware of what information I am willing to share and who I share it with.

They’re asking about your marital status because they need it for insurance and benefits administration (and I suspect they’re offering a wider of choices than just married/single/domestic partner because someone who is, say, widowed may prefer listing that rather than calling themselves “single”). As for emergency contacts, it’s fine to list a friend or next door neighbor (and to label them as such). The reason they want to know the relationship is because if you have, for example, a medical emergency at work, the info they share with a spouse might be different than the info they would share with your neighbor.

{ 461 comments… read them below }

      1. JSPA*

        Which may metastasize into them using the letter writer’s interview to clone a persona to apply to real jobs in the LW’s name, or use details from that chat to scan friends or current / ex employers…

        1. GrooveBat*

          This is not about cloning a persona, although that does also happen. This is a very common money scam. They will send OP a check to purchase required office equipment. One of two things will then happen. Either they will direct OP to their preferred vendor who is in on the scam, or will send “extra” money and ask OP to refund the overage. In either case, the check will bounce and OP will be on the hook with their bank.

          OP was wise to do due diligence, but the minute the scammer tried to take them onto signal, of all platforms, that was the time to shut it all down.

          1. JSPA*

            We all agree on the basic scam.

            But it’s not unusual for there to be a secondary scam.

            This is fairly ornate and detailed for being only a basic check-cashing scam.

            Only the LW knows whether they’ve shared enough info to also be at risk for the second sort of scam / backup scam. Which can include using their persona to scam companies, to gather more job-type information to use on the next victim.

            It’s therefore worth it, IMO, for them to ask themselves that question.

            After all, I assume it’s really hard to successfully apply for a job if someone with your same name background and details has previously applied, done some level of interviewing, then ghosted, then used the gleaned info to scam people.

          2. Princess Sparklepony*

            Thanks for the details. I was wondering how it worked.

            My sister ran into the same thing when selling some rugs. She did not take their offer…

      2. Katie Impact*

        I conduct basically all work-related communication over text messaging apps or email, but:

        1) I work in a field where 100% remote work is the norm and people from widely separated time zones work together on the same projects
        2) It’s common for people to want a high degree of anonymity (we’re a creative industry that often deals with adult or other controversial content, and so people don’t necessarily want their real names or faces associated with their work; even among coworkers, leaks and gossip aren’t unheard of despite NDAs, so it’s safest for as few people to know who you are as possible)

        Because of both of those factors, text-based communication is the default. Outside of specific circumstances like that, it’d be a red flag.

          1. Katie Impact*

            Depends what you mean by “interview”. None of the jobs I’ve taken in my current field have had a formal interview process; generally you’re referred or approached for a project based on your work history and/or word-of-mouth, you maybe take a proficiency test to show you can do the job, and then you negotiate a contract (which can last anything from a few days to a few months). But it’s completely normal for 100% of that process to be handled over text messages or chat apps. I haven’t actually had a voice conversation with anyone I’ve worked with in the past 10 years, which suits me just fine.

            1. Katie Impact*

              Also, if you’re reading all that and wondering “how does anyone in this field know a job is real and not a scam”: major companies and figures in the industry have well-known screen names and social media accounts, even if pseudonymous, and people in this line of work hopefully tend to be tech-savvy enough to notice impersonators. I guess there are ways that could go wrong, like if somebody’s account were compromised by a sophisticated spear-phishing operation, but it hasn’t happened so far.

            2. Lenora Rose*

              That sounds more like contract work/freelancing for a specific project or commission, rather than being an employee. Are you actually considered an employee?

              1. Katie Impact*

                It’s contract work, yeah. I was replying to a post about how it might be reasonable in casual gig work to give an example of the kind of casual gig work where it is in fact reasonable, so I figured that was implied by the context. Sorry if I wasn’t clear enough.

                1. anonymouse*

                  I wonder if Katie works in my industry… Yes to all this for freelance in my field and in fact I have a full-time remote job now and was barely interviewed and it was all over email. In over two and a half years I’ve never spoken to my management over the phone and would not recognize my bosses if I passed them on the street. So that *can* be legit even for full time.

                2. DJ Abbott*

                  @anonymouse, how did you know your job wasn’t a scam while you were interviewing? Did you already know the company or the people? Is there another way to determine whether it’s legit?

                3. anonymouse*

                  @DJ Abbott I was already freelancing for them, but like Katie says, it’s a small industry and people know people, and know what people’s email addresses from various companies look like, and so on. I had a pretty good network in the business already, so if I wasn’t sure, there were people I could ask.

      3. KateM*

        Yeah like a parent of a student of mine messaged and asked if I’d take the student for private lessons…

        1. Rebecca*

          I take private clients to teach, and almost all communication between me and the parents is over text or email, but I always at least touch base with a new family over video or phone call once to meet before we switch over.

      4. SpaceySteph*

        I don’t think I’d even hire a dog walker without at least seeing their face in a video interview.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          One of my best friends is a dogwalker/pet sitter. She insists on in-person interviews so that she can gauge the temperament of the animal and whether they’ll mesh well before she’s left responsible for them. So even in *this* situation, there are great benefits to a regular interview!

      5. Laser99*

        I believe you but I don’t understand the end game. What is meant to occur if the check is cashed?

        1. Troubadour*

          One common option is they “accidentally” send you a cheque that’s for more than was agreed on and then they ask you to “repay” the difference by whatever means (Western Union traditionally, nowadays often iTunes vouchers – they’ll come up with some semi-plausible explanation why some part of the company needs a lot of iTunes vouchers). You send the money, then turns out their cheque’s bounced and you’re out of pocket.

          Plus it turns out you’re now a money launderer, whoops.

          Best advice is definitely to cease all communication and never cash the cheque.

      6. T*

        Yea, I have done that once for a club I became a photographer for. I had contacted them first, also, because my friend had just left the photographer job there.

    1. TiredInfoSecGrunt*

      Another thing for LW#2 to do is to give the legit company a heads up about the scam if they are so inclined. It will not really benefit LW#2, but it may help the company seal a hole in their systems if that is how the scam started. It is very common for these scams to begin by compromising a company email account, then setting up an Indeed/Careers/Monster/etc site that verifies against a company email address, then have all communications routed to the scammer. It would be a kindness to let the company know.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This. ^^ They can also cover their asses and put a disclaimer on their legitimate careers page in regard to these scams that reminds applicants to vet the information they receive. I saw a lot of these when applying to bigger companies during my last job search.

    2. Inkognyto*

      If they cannot talk to me over the phone at a minimum and want to do a visual interview over zoom/teams/slack they aren’t meeting my requirements. This means the employer doesn’t care enough to make sure YOU are a valid face. You’d have to send them ID that they verify for employment. How can they do that if they have never seen your face?

      even the scam insurance guys call you.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Scammers these days, am I right? Always texting, and they don’t even put in the effort for a real, scammer-to-victim phone call. I miss the old days when they’d call up your grandma and spend a whole hour getting to know her (while stealing her life savings)…

          1. The New Wanderer*

            Yep, I know someone who was scammed in a very similar way to the Amazon story. A relative is an expert on these things from the law enforcement side and said these scammers are very good at what they do, and they routinely get people to act in ways that are completely contrary to what you’d expect through a mix of some basic information, impending threat/pressure, and empathy. Basically waiting to pounce the second you drop your guard. It’s horrifying, but so common.

        1. Bruce*

          Just saw the NYT article about the gangs that call up elderly people to offer to buy their time shares, then scam them out of their savings. Ugh. These people are not to be trifled with either, they murdered a bunch of young call center workers recently.

        2. Reluctant Mezzo*

          I actually got one the other day! I laughed at him, hard, and hung up. I also pride myself on being able to tell a robotic voice from a real one fairly quickly.

      2. SpaceySteph*

        Oh remember that letter where the person who interviewed was NOT the person who showed up for the job?! This is how you get that.

    3. Anna*

      I haven’t seen it in an interview, but one trend I don’t love in job applications is companies using a chat as the application form. Take a look at the career site for McDonald’s if you want to see it in action.

      There are lots of benefits, so I get why certain companies would use the format. I’ve seen it exclusively from companies that pay a very low wage to the bulk of their employees. It’s easier for people who aren’t experienced computer users because they can respond to questions in plain English instead of dealing with forms that are picky about inputs, but with no consistency across forms. It’s also easier for people who only have smartphones.

      BUT IT LOOKS LIKE SUCH A SCAM! You’re on their site, and suddenly a sidebar pops up and asks you for your social security number? I feel like there’s an opportunity there for scammers to inject themselves in between legitimate job sites with pop up chat windows.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Around 20 years ago, I was thinking of getting a part-time job and went to the web site of a clothing store in the neighborhood.
        The very first page on that site was a black screen with a box in the middle to enter my Social Security number.
        Haha, not a chance I would do that!
        I know that store existed because it was in my neighborhood, and I continued to see references to their clothing for years. So maybe this company was legit. But I doubt if the site was.

    4. NotSoRecentlyRetired*

      My roommate fell for this scam a couple of months ago when she’d been unemployed (and I’d been covering her rent and paying her bills for 3 months). They emailed her a check and she electronically deposited it in her bank account. Money at her bank wasn’t going to be available for 3 working days and we were figuring out how to pay for the material on my credit card. But they wanted to be paid via paypal. And I wasn’t willing to lose control of the money.

      Think about it…what company can’t pay directly for computer equipment for their new employees? I convinced her to back out at that point.

      If it looks too good to be true, then it is!

      1. Bruce*

        My sister has worked remotely for two different legit companies, both of them mailed the equipment directly to her. The computers came loaded with the needed security and messaging software (she works in medical billing and medical device customer support) So yes, they should not be sending you a check to buy your own!

        1. Craig*

          mine gave me an expense card to buy something suitable I liked. still needing a chech in 2024 sounds pretty scammy to me.

        2. Potoooooooo*

          There are a lot of office accoutrements that would make more sense for people to acquire on their own instead of being mailed from the company, however. Think things like, keyboards, mice, or monitors, as well as chairs and desks if the workspace needs to be completely separate.

          The computer itself should run through IT if there’s going to be any sensitive data on it, but plenty else goes into a workspace that people shouldn’t necessarily be expected to acquire on their own for remote work.

    5. JubJubtheIguana*

      I can’t imagine it. I work in film and I’ve been offered like little gigs writing the screenplay for a short film over WhatsApp, but not from complete strangers, and that’s obviously not the same as a salaried job.

      1. AL*

        I’m also in film and get most of my work via text. But even if I don’t know the person, they usually say “I got your info from [person I do know].” It’s weird to say “you can tell the difference between a scam text and a real work text,” but it’s pretty easy to tell within a few follow-up texts, even if the person reaching out is not a known quantity.

        When I have actual interviews, it usually for department-head jobs that require at least a phone call, if not a Zoom or in-person meeting.

    6. Jan*

      I doubt it. The only caveat to that is if it’s something like signing up for a gig like Uber Eats, Amazon Flex, Instacart, etc. I know for a fact many of those are just done by signing up, getting an email when you’ve been approved, and filling out your documents. IIRC some of that is prompted by text as well as email.

      However for “real” non-gig jobs I don’t see how that’s remotely possible or feasible. Even if some is done via text a reputable company will still want to put eyes and ears on a candidate.

    7. CatLadyJ25*

      Yes! It was job within a state agency that I worked for but in a different level of the agency. Got a text asking if I knew something well enough to be a director over that subject matter. Follow up text asking me a single question testing that subject matter expertise and was offered the director level position.

  1. Observer*

    #1 – Your coworker takes credit.

    *Absolutely* talk to a lawyer. It’s not clear how much recourse you would have here, but given the situation, you have a much stronger potential case than in most situations. But make sure that you are talking to an IP lawyer. Because this is at the heart of your legal case, if you have one and it’s worth pursuing.

    And, I do mean *if*. Her behavior is gross, but you may not be able to actually do much as a practical matter. But you should definitely have the conversation.

    1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      You could also build a public portfolio of you own – talk to your company if they’d be okay with it, and get a letter or similar acknowleding your work. This way, you’d jeopardize her attempt at showing off your work as hers (a reverse Google search will show both sources and at least instil doubt about her authorship.
      Also make anyone in your company who might be called as a reference aware of the issue.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I was a bit confused about the advice to talk to your company. Obviously this person is not your friend, but it’s still pretty crappy to out someone who is job searching to their employer. I suppose you could just say “here is their portfolio and here is mine” without saying it’s being used in a job search.

        1. WellRed*

          No. Plagiarizer is behaving abominably, to the point she could impact OPs future. OP is under no obligation to keep the job search secret (and it’s not clear that it is).

          1. HonorBox*

            In addition, if the plagiarizer is putting “their” work on LinkedIn, you’re not suggesting anything other than they’re putting their name on your work. Plus, the fact that OP can see the plagiarizer’s access to early sketches, they’re obviously accessing things that aren’t at all necessary for their own work.

        2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          If the person were behaving ethically sure, you keep your mouth shut if you just ran across their resume.

          But this person is stealing the OP’s work and claiming it as her own. Getting outed for job searching is the least of the things that should happen to her. OP can’t be more concerned about protecting this person’s job search than protecting her own work.

        3. NameRequired*

          The LW doesn’t have to mention necessarily that Bella is job searching, but “I’ve noticed Bella accessed my earlier sketches, and that on LinkedIn she’s promoting my work as hers, as well as in her blogs; can you help me protect my work from being included in her portfolio?”

        4. RagingADHD*

          It is even more crappy to knowingly undermine a more junior colleague’s chances of getting jobs in the future by stealing their work and publicly laying claim to it.

          OP does not owe Bella any cover, here. Particularly because the whole reason Bella is job hunting at all is because she was given a talking-to about plagiarizing LW’s work and won’t be able to get away with it anymore.

        5. StressedButOkay*

          This goes beyond not just being a friend. This person is doing really unethical things at the very real risk to OP’s future. OP is under no obligation to keep that under their hat if the boss doesn’t already know.

        6. Worldwalker*

          It would be crappy to just out a job search out of spite, but this is someone who’s stealthily the OP’s professional reputation with the strong potential harm to the OP in the future. Involving the company—who are potentially the most important component of the OP’s defense—is necessary. And it’s also something the plagiarist and liar has brought on herself.

        7. Leenie*

          Really? The LW’s coworker doesn’t seem to be concerned about how she could be impacting the LW’s livelihood and prospects. She’s put herself in this situation and LW owes her nothing. If it was something that was happening in the office, and LW was going to tell the company the coworker was job searching out of revenge, I’d be inclined to agree with you. But no, the coworker has put this theft in the public realm as part of her job search, so the search is relevant to the issue. LW should not hesitate to discuss it with her company.

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            THIS. If Bella doesn’t care she is messing up OP’s career, why should OP care?

        8. Esmae*

          Bella has put LW in a position where there’s basically no way for them to address the plagiarism issue without potentially outing her job search. That’s on Bella, not LW. At this point, they shouldn’t have to spend extra time and energy figuring out a way to loop their boss in on the fact that their work is actively being plagiarized without exposing the fact that the plagiarist in question might be using the plagiarized work to job hunt.

        9. Lydia*

          You don’t have to suck up someone stealing your work because their boss finding out they’re job searching will cause harm. Bella is stealing the OP’s hard work. That is never okay.

        10. JTP*

          It’s pretty much understood in the creative field that you have an online portfolio pretty much all the time, whether you’re job searching or not.

        11. Velawciraptor*

          Worker solidarity requires reciprocity. This co-worker can’t blatantly steal from a junior colleague to boost their own career and then cry foul when the victim’s efforts to contain the damage bring a job search to their employer’s attention.

        12. Coffee Bean*

          You also have to consider something else here. If Bella is claiming ops work as her own, and she has nothing she created to promote to an employer, does Bella truly have the skill set an employer needs? It’s a twofold issue, and it’s a really a crappy thing for Bella to do. Bella doesn’t deserve any slack here.

        13. Starbuck*

          Too bad! If you are being fraudulent in your job search, you don’t get the benefit of discretion from your colleagues. LW should not worry about that.

        14. samwise*

          Crappy to out someone who is STEALING? who is misrepresenting herself and jeopardizing the reputation of a co-worker?

          I don’t think so. Bella lost any expectation of silence re job-searching when she engaged in unprofessional and unethical behavior.

      2. learnedthehardway*

        Building up your LinkedIn portfolio could also be a good option. And best yet, if you have your manager’s endorsement on it, it would be a clear signal to recruiters about who exactly was doing the work you claim. (Not to mention that it’s a great way to build your profile without having anyone think you’re job hunting.)

        From a recruiting perspective, good recruiters and hiring managers will absolutely probe to learn exactly what your co-worker’s actual role was in her projects. That’s not infallible, but if you were both on interviewing for the same role, it would become very evident, very quickly just who was doing what.

        1. Rosemary*

          If feasible, she should also be sure to “connect” with (“friend”? not sure the LinkedIn terminology) people at other companies in the industry as well as any recruiters, once she has beefed up her own portfolio and hopefully gotten endorsements from her own boss.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I wonder if comments from your boss on your public portfolio might head some of that off.

    2. Jill Swinburne*

      Would IP apply in this case, since generally it belongs to the company paying for the work?

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yes – there’s protection in IP law for both the inventor/creator/designer and the owner/proprietor. The former is entitled to the credit and the latter to the monopoly, broadly speaking.

      2. OrigCassandra*

        Assuming that the work is copyrightable (rather than, say, a patentable invention):

        Depends on OP’s locale. “Moral rights” including attribution apply in chunks of Europe but not in the US. (Yes, yes, Creative Commons, but I strongly doubt the OP’s work is licensed this way or OP would have said so, as it’s material information about the situation.)

        In the US, the portfolio would probably be “work for hire” and therefore copyright belongs to the company rather than to OP. The company could, if it wished, talk to legal counsel about sending Bella a cease-and-desist, which is the usual first step toward a copyright lawsuit.

        This doesn’t mean the portfolio idea is impossible, though! There’s a broad unwritten gentlepersons’ agreement in the US that e.g. graphic designers can make portfolios, including online, and their clients won’t get litigious over it. Talk to your company, OP, and see if they’ll be reasonable. Likely they will.

    3. River Song*

      You could also talk to Bella directly and tell her that when she gets a new job you will call them and tell them everything you said here, using the words intellectual property theft, unless she stops immediately, shows you that she has deleted copies of your work, and that you will be monitoring if she accesses them again. Obviously it’s not foolproof but making it clear, to her, she’s not getting away with it and could jeopardize any job she gets in the future may end it there. It’s nuclear relationship wise, but in my opinion, she has already done that stealing your work. I’m very conflicted adverse but that is what I would do because at the very least it shifts the discussion and stress at least partially from you, to others about her, and back to her.

      1. samwise*

        I would not give Bella one bit of heads up here. She’s already shown that she will not behave ethically even when she’s been called on it by her supervisor. OP does not need Bella to pre-empt the OP or start trashing the OP’s reputation more directly.

        Leave Bella out of it, unless it’s to have a lawyer send her a letter.

        OP needs to talk to her employer and definitely should scrape up the money to consult a lawyer. Write out all your questions so that your meeting can be focused.

    4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      The added benefit of getting a lawyer involved is that they can handle communicating with Bella on the LW’s behalf. It sounds like the LW is very nervous about confrontation (many people are!). If Bella tries to talk to the LW about the plagiarism, she can just say that her lawyer has advised that the LW not talk to Bella about this.

      1. Bruce*

        A stern Cease and Desist letter sounds about right, with a warning of legally defensible consequences (note that I’m not a lawyer, and have only ever been involved in one IP related lawsuit… an experience I don’t want to repeat!!!)

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          That’s the ideal scenario, really. Scare the crap out of Bella so she stops.

    5. Wendy the Spiffy*

      LW should also heavily watermark portfolio work so that even if Bella takes it, it’s not useable by her. Could be interesting too to make them NFTs or other methods of establishing provenance of the work when it’s in digital form.

      1. Glowworm*

        Watermarks yea, NFTs no. NFTs are for fools and lowlifes and OP had best not associate with them at all (and won’t do jack to prove OP made the art- tons of NFTs use stolen artwork!)

    6. Reluctant Mezzo*

      Given the lovely columns we’ve had about Machiavellian behavior, it would be fun to do up a fake campaign with some ‘problems’ built into it and see if she copies it without fixing any of them (this is a real story–my husband had a student who not only copied a test, but copied the name on it too).

  2. ChattyDelle*

    absolutely positively do NOT cash any check they send you. the scam is to send a ridiculous amount, tell you to keep/spend what you need and “return the extra back to us”. then the check bounces and you’re out the entire check amount, plus what you sent back, plus fees.
    NB: I assume LW is aware of this. but in a former life I was a bank teller & had to argue with a customer, dentist!!, not to fall for this same scam. very smart people fall for this.

    1. MassMatt*

      The scam works by reversing expectations and appearing to give you the money up front. It’s surprising but even now with everything electronic it can take a long time for a check to truly clear, many banks will release funds for an existing customer only to claw them back later.

      There was a group called the “freedmen” years ago, much like today’s sovereign citizens, that made tons of money with this scam, they just printed bogus “business” checks. They talked as though they were battling the evil government but their victims were all average folks.

      I do wonder why everything was done by text. Can’t scammers spoof phone numbers for a more plausible “interview”?

      1. AcademiaNut*

        They could be using a bot for the interview, and text would be easier to do than spoofing a phone call.

      2. coffee*

        Might be overseas scammers whose accents would be a giveaway or who have good enough written english skills for the scam but not good enough spoken skills.

      3. Bird names*

        At least in the US that’s not quite as easy anymore as the current administration has cracked down on some of the more common approaches to scam calls.

        1. Dog momma*

          Ha! my husband gets them all the time and we have to be very vigilant bc he’s hard of hearing.

      4. RabbitRabbit*

        Besides lack of English skills/unexpected accent for where they claim to be from, generally these scammers are working off of scripts so they just need to copy/paste responses into the chat.

        Some more high-stakes scams do use calling, but that’s rarer.

        1. Antilles*

          Also, if it’s a phone call and OP asks something that’s outside the normal script, there’s going to be a revealing 30 seconds of dead silence while the scammer needs to quickly figure out an answer…whereas an inherently asynchronous medium like text messages covers up that delay of “um how do I answer this?”.

      5. MassMatt*

        All good answers I had not considered, thanks.

        And now I am thinking of another reason: Maybe it’s like the bad grammar and misspellings in email scams, they help select for the gullible. So maybe it’s a feature, not a bug.

      6. Boof*

        I think some of these scams may even *actually* give money up front (admittedly, that’s more in the crypto/financial market scam; they make it look like you can easily put in and withdraw money, say 10 thousand or so, and make it look like you are making a lot of money on their investment platform, so that you invest even more, then pull the rug once you’re hundreds of thousands in)
        The cyber scams are getting increasingly elaborate and frequent, it’s chilling.

        1. MassMatt*

          There was an ATM scam years ago where the scammer in a plausible uniform or outfit set up a little desk in the vestibule of an ATM and told customers coming in “sorry, the machine is out of order, but scan your card here and I will give you some cash”. Giving out the $40 or whatever people came for was a loss leader to the bigger prize.

      7. Garblesnark*

        Everything was done by text specifically *on Signal.* Now, I love Signal. You should use Signal – or another messaging service that is encrypted in such a way that no one can access the messages, including the app developer, without possession of the devices used for the messages and the passcodes due to the strong app encryption, if you’re planning, say, to get legal abortion care in a nearby state, but you live in a state where abortion care is tenuously legal.

        This also points to why it would be particularly useful for scamming.

      8. Artemesia*

        They then have to sound like native speakers. Lots of scams originate in eastern Europe and Africa.

    2. dePizan*

      Same if they do a switch and send a money order. If you cash a bad money order, you are on the hook for those funds, and the bank may not tell you that beforehand. Or at least they didn’t with my college aged sister when she got trapped in one of these scams looking for work years ago. (And her bank account has my mom as co-signer, my sister didn’t have money to cover the funds, they pulled it from my mom’s account and didn’t alert either of them before doing so.)

    3. Northbayteky*

      The more sophisticated scammers do a “direct deposit” into your account so you think the money is there. My daughter was hit with this scam. She was smart enough to not buy anything until the deposit cleared. They still pressured her to buy the equipment. A long list of expensive camera equipment from a particular source.

      If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

    4. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      I believe some scammers actively screen for people who are more/less savvy.

      So the text interview may screen out people who are likely to know that it’s a scam, leaving the people it’s easier to fool, and easier to get away with screwing over.

      1. Ama*

        Yeah this is actually why some email scams have poor grammar/typos — the scammers don’t want to waste time on someone who is paying close enough attention to details to get suspicious, they want someone who is distracted or desperate enough that they’ll overlook the fact that something seems “off.”

        1. Starbuck*

          Yep – their sloppiness/brazenness just helps to quickly filter out all but the most gullible and vulnerable, sadly. Saves them time and effort.

    5. Silver*

      I almost got caught in a similar scam several years ago. The interview was on Google Chat. They sent a check that didn’t match the supposed company name (and was a stolen account). They tried to pressure me into depositing it RIGHT NOW. The check was the final red flag for me and I reported them to the FBI. (And obviously didn’t let the check get anywhere near my bank account)

  3. Artemesia*

    If no senior person is willing to deal with creepy mchandy pants then just buy individually packaged snacks — little raison packs, those peanut butter cracker packs, and the kind of cookies and chips that are marketed for school lunches — What else can you do?

    1. Siege*

      … and individually wrapped biscuits don’t get eaten.

      Sounds like no one’s willing to change, for whatever reason.

      1. Artemesia*

        I’d provide the wrapped biscuits and chips and such and then wash my hands of the issue. If someone complains. ‘Well people are concerned that some people were handling the snacks and not eating them — so this is the only thing to keep the snacks clean. Do you have another suggestion?’

        And if they really persist in not taking wrapped snacks, stop ordering snacks.

        1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

          Plus most wrapped snacks last basically forever so they can sit there until someone does want one.

          1. lost academic*

            I will say that the quality of those type of snacks is typically lower and I’ve also found that mold is a bigger issue (more with things like muffins).

            We should just take OP at their word that individually packaged snacks are not an option in this case.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          This is what I would do. Although now I have a vision of Fergus opening the packs, handling the cookies, and then leaving them on the table, because Fergus.

        3. Office Lobster DJ*

          I’d do the same. Ordering wrapped snacks is the one thing that OP can control in this situation. Certainly can’t control Fergus, and can’t make people eat the snacks.

          What even would the alternative be? Fergusproof locks?

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

            I’m wondering if a vending machine would work. Even one where you don’t put money in but just make your choice.

          2. Retired But Still Herding Cats*

            By Jove, I think you’ve got it! After all, you can buy a pet door that will only open for your pet(s) and not the local raccoons.

            Might be a hard sell to get OP’s more fashion-conscious colleagues to wear their new collars with the microchips, though.

        4. Abundant Shrimp*

          Yep, I’d do the same.

          We had a coworker like that at my previous job. Only he would stick his hand down the back of his pants, rummage there for a while as he was standing in a hallway talking to teammates, then go straight to the breakroom and help himself to communal snacks and plasticware. That guy was the reason why I developed a habit of bringing my own silverware from home with my packed lunch. And we all tried to get to potluck or catered lunches before he did. Other than that, there was nothing we could do. So I really sympathize with OP and their coworkers.

          1. Sarah M*

            I literally, reflexively put my hand over my mouth like a character in a Jane Austen novel.

            Oh. My. GAWD.

        5. ferrina*

          Exactly this.

          Also, order some disinfecting wipes so people can wipe down the outside of the snack packs before eating.

        6. Waiting on the bus*

          That’s what I would do as well. If the individually packaged snacks aren’t eaten, that’s not LW’s issue. They found a workable compromise between no snacks and contaminated snacks no one eats. If the individually packaged snacks then languish, they can stop ordering snacks altogether. I wouldn’t go straight to no snacks at all. That would have caused a huge outrage in every office I’ve ever worked at, and people would be annoyed with OP rather than gross coworker.

          OP might have to change what sort of snacks they get, though. Crisps, chocolate bars, etc. Anything with a long shelf life. Biscuits might be out.
          And they can still buy fruits as long as it has an inedible peel, like bananas or oranges. Something that gross coworker can’t contaminate directly. (I would not want to eat an apple that was touched by coworkers’ gross piss fingers, no matter how much I washed it. I would still KNOW.)

        7. LW3*

          1. I see what you did there

          2. I’ve been training myself for a couple of years to stop feeling like the cleanliness of the office kitchen is my sole responsibility (“As a favour to the floor, you should make sure the dishwasher is run and emptied once a day” is how it was when I first started); I think I need to expand that attitude to snacks.

      2. B*

        Yeah the good news is the individually wrapped ones also don’t go bad as fast as an opened package… so if people don’t eat as many then oh well

        1. Rosacoletti*

          Whoa #1 work done when you’re employed can’t be claimed as your own, unless it’s with permission and acknowledges the business who paid you to create it. I’ve employed designers for 20 years and this is basic stuff.
          Notify your employer who should shut her representation on your work as her own immediately.

          1. NameRequired*

            Actually yes, it can and it’s quite common in creative fields to maintain a portfolio of one’s designs. The OP can’t USE them for commercial purposes, but can 100% say “and this is the logo I designed for Hogwart’s” “and this is the ad campaign I designed for Toys R Us” etc… in her portfolio and in interviews.

          2. Artemesia*

            Sure you can. That is what a portfolio is. You don’t own it for sale if produced for your business, but you can claim it as your work (barring security issues) when job searching or whatever.

        2. Annony*

          Yep. If the individually wrapped snacks aren’t being eaten then OP can point to the fully stocked snack supply as a reason not to order more.

      3. Ally McBeal*

        That’s the insane part to me. They hate that their gross coworker touches all the cookies, but they… won’t eat cookies that have been wrapped for sanitary purposes? Pure lunacy. Never have I ever let a little packaging get between me and my sweet tooth.

        1. doreen*

          I wonder if the objection is to the type of cookies – Keebler probably has 20 types of cookies but they aren’t all available in singe serve packages.

          1. LW3*

            That’s basically it — the types of biscuits that come individually wrapped are generally not the ones people prefer, and also don’t taste as fresh. On the other hand, they’re germ-free!

        2. GreatestBlueHeron*

          I’m guessing that the objection isn’t to the packaging but to the actual biscuit inside. There are so many more options for things in a big package and not so much with the individual ones.

        1. H3llifIknow*

          I wonder if they still feel like crapfingers is touching the packaging and they don’t even want to touch the cellowrap because they would still have his cooties on them. I know that if I were in that organization, I wouldn’t want to eat anything that he could have POSSIBLY touched, even if it was just the wrapper. Maybe the OP can talk her office into using the budget for snacks for a vending machine so staff can be confidant he hasn’t funked everything up!

          1. WellRed*

            But everything you buy has been touched , in some cases many times by many people. And they didn’t all wash their hands.

            1. H3llifIknow*

              Yesssss but we don’t typically think that way about vending machines or the food we buy in the supermarket because it isn’t right in front of us that they’re doing it. They all know that crapfingers doesn’t wash and touches everything. It’s much easier if you can distance yourself from the process. Otherwise nobody would ever eat anything they don’t wash and cook themselves. The issue for these people is 1 specific nasty person, not that SOMEONE has touched the food previously, but that HE has.

            2. Irish Teacher.*

              Perhaps, but for one thing, time does matter. Touching something ten minutes after somebody has run their hands along it, possibly right after coming out of the bathroom is more likely to be a problem than touching something a week after somebody who didn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom touched it. And also, this guy seems incredibly gross all ’round. Yeah, it’s possible somebody equally gross touched it when it was in the shop or when it was being manufactured, but the odds are probably lower than when you know somebody that gross makes a habit of touching stuff and it’s less likely the germs will still be likely to infect you.

        2. Hlao-roo*

          Other commenters (General von Klinkerhoffen, londonedit, bamcheeks, and probably more) have offered various explanations in other threads on this topic, including:

          – in the UK, a push to use less individual plastic wrapping

          – individually-wrapped biscuits being seen as drier/less tasty than biscuits piled on plate (even if the wrapped biscuits are high-quality, some people may perceive them as low quality and pass them over)

          – individually-wrapped biscuits coming in packs of two, and that feels like more a commitment to eat than being able to pick up just one biscuit

          – individually-wrapped biscuits feeling like more a barrier to eating (there’s an extra step of “remove packaging” before eating), and that gives people’s self-control (or maybe just laziness) time to kick in and decide “no biscuits for me today”

          I know enough about my own brain quirks to find these explanations plausible.

          1. Boof*

            Aside from the concerns about generating extra trash, none of these other ones seem like a reason to not just go ahead and order the individual cookies. So they go through less snacks; the snacks are still there, and less grubby, to anyone who wants them!
            if the plastic is a concern, maybe OP can find some in paper or recyclable packaging. And if it’s a little extra, if people are eating less, maybe it balances out?

          2. SpaceySteph*

            I definitely agree that when things come in a package you’re committing to eat the whole package and it may be more than you want/should have.

            In the US there was a whole legislation about putting the full package calories on snack size packaging because they were deceptive. Like a can of Coke saying 100 calories per serving but then it would have 2.5 servings and nobody is intentionally stopping after drinking 40% of a canned drink. Now they can still say 100 calories per serving but have to put “250 calories per package” on it also.

      4. Smithy*

        Yeah….this is the odd part for me.

        And look, while Mr. No Wash may be the point of current ickiness… most offices lots of people have lots of habits that likely make individually wrapped snacks a more hygenic move. Someone who touches their hair/scratches their face. Somone with allergies/regular sneezing who doesn’t wash their hands between nose blow. Someone who takes a snack right after riding public transportation and not washing their hands. The reality of the state of many colleagues key boards…..

    2. anywhere but here*

      Agreed. I’m honestly a little intrigued at how this turned into a letter worth answering. If you provide food in the workplace, then provide means for ensuring it is sanitary (that is, wrap it individually). If people don’t want to eat it because it’s individually wrapped, then oh well? Even if handsy mcpants weren’t working there, I’d be concerned that apparently all of the employees naively rely on their colleague’s hygeine rather than ensuring that their food simply can’t be touched by anyone else.

      Maybe it’s because I worked in a resturant for a few years but I am always sketched out at the lack of hygeine people exhibit with communal food, and I make my decisions accordingly. I foolishly hoped that post covid, people’s heightened germ concerns around food would stick around, but alas.

      1. Name Anxiety*

        Yes! I worked as a barista and I would take people’s money and then turn around to wash my hands and they would be like “Hey, why isn’t my drink ready yet? Wash your hands on your own time.” While I’m still thinking about how they pulled their credit card out of their sweaty bra, or licked all of their fingers each time they pulled a paper bill out of their wallet, handed me a pile of coins that they rummaged around in their pants for…. in one truly terrifying moment my coworker made someone swipe their own card after removing it from their WET BATHING SUIT BOTTOMS. We did have to wait for them to leave before fully disinfecting the card reader.

      2. Orv*

        Where I work we’re supposed to provide tongs, although getting people to actually use them is another matter.

    3. Armchair analyst*

      I agree and to answer your last question I would make hand sanitizer visibly available like it’s 2020 and also spray surface disinfectant liberally

      1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        PLEASE do not spray surface disinfectant on food, even wrapped food! It is not safe for ingestion, and very few people are going to wash their hands between unwrapping a food item (thus getting the stuff on their hands) and eating the food. I’m twitchy about even getting that stuff on my hands at all, but food? No thanks.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Yes, The only thing that would be food safe is alcohol-based wipes.
          No sprays. It could get into actual food and though alcohol is generally not toxic, it can cause problems for sensitive stomachs.

          1. Pickwick*

            Some alcohols are toxic–you do not want to mix up your bottle of India Pale Ale with your bottle of isopropyl alcohol, IPAs though they both may be!–but they generally evaporate readily, unlike some other cleaning agents that might leave a residue.

    4. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

      It sounds like nobody wants the individually wrapped snacks, either. (My guess is that Fergus is caressing and/or opening the individual packages. Ewww!)

    5. pally*

      Might find a mechanism that doles out these wrapped food packs one at a time. Like how a vending machine does.

      But -obviously- don’t charge anyone for the snack.

      1. Helen Waite*

        Prepandemic, my workplace had a free vending machine for soft drinks. You just push the button for what you want. The only thing Mr. Yuk touches is the outside of the vending machine and that can easily be wiped down.

    6. Momma Bear*

      Could this be an HR discussion?

      If no one is eating even the pre-packaged snacks, then I would just leave them and when they are gone, they are gone.

      Our office has a passive aggressive note in the bathroom to remind people to wash their hands before returning to work. We don’t work in food, but similar concept. He still might not, but that’s another option.

    7. Alice in Spreadsheetland*

      Agreed, I think individually wrapped is the way to go. I’m surprised the snacks don’t get eaten in those cases- likely the brand/type that was bought last time wasn’t something people liked?

      You could also switch to fruit that needs to be peeled (bananas, oranges) but tbh I’d still feel gross touching literally anything that guy touched. Maybe put out bottles of hand sanitizer by the snacks too!

  4. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    Keep a small bowl of snack for the unwashed hands man, and tell him that he can keep it in his office. Put the other snacks out of his sight but let the other staff know where they are.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Unwashed hands will just decide he likes the snacks in the break room better., or he was in there to grab a drink and decided to grab a snack instead. This is not someone who understands boundaries.

      Alison has the correct solution — if you aren’t going to eat the snacks, then we will stop ordering them.

  5. SnickersKat*

    OP2 Under no circumstances cash that check if they send it to you! It will bounce and cause you fees and headaches. I worked in banking for 11 years and unfortunately saw this scam all the time. Your new potential “employer” will inexplicably need you to send back part of the check because (insert ridiculous reason here for why the check was for an enormous amount in the first place). They want you to send back the money before the check bounces and leaves you on the hook for the missing money.

    1. Ama*

      People try a version of this on nonprofits all the time — they pretend they’ve raised money through an independent fundraiser (usually on behalf of a friend directly impacted by whatever disease or cause the organization supports), and send a donation check. Then they contact the org and say “oh sorry, I sent you all the money and I was actually supposed to give half directly to the friend and send the other half to you.” The idea is that the org sends back the refund before the original donation check bounces and then the scammers get away with the half that was sent back.

      Someone at my org almost fell for this years ago, but when he came to ask the finance department for the refund, a colleague smelled something fishy, did a quick internet search and found several stories about orgs victimized by this exact scam, so the finance team just didn’t cast the check at all.

  6. Siege*

    I don’t care if you have the cleanest hands on the planet, I want de minimus touching of shared food. (The other side of it is that someone else there also doesn’t wash their hands; it’s been my conscious choice not to care because I can’t control it, but again, even if you have the cleanest hands on the planet, keep your meathooks off communal food! Don’t take a handful of macaroni, don’t stroke cookies, none of that.)

      1. Leenie*

        Really! It surprises me that LW said that people won’t eat the individually wrapped ones. We’re all over here in my office, eating 5 gummy bears out of tiny packets, little bags of chili lime pistachios, baby cans of Pringles – what’s not to love?

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          This may be cultural as in the UK there’s a move away from individually wrapped for environmental reasons (not to mention a price difference). LW also mentions fruit.

          1. amoeba*

            Yup, same here. (And honestly, I have zero problems sharing a pack of cookies with my non-disgusting coworkers!)

          2. londonedit*

            I’m trying to think of things that would even come in individual packets…maybe those biscuits you get in hotel rooms, but then I can understand why people wouldn’t be that interested in eating them, because ‘individual pack of biscuits’ definitely makes me think ‘crap biscuits you’d get in a hotel room or on a train’. It would also be seen as very wasteful.

            I think no one has spoken to this disgusting person because – if it is Britain – people want to avoid confrontation in the main and it’s cringeworthy to have to ask a grown man to please a) wash his hands after he’s been to the loo and b) stop manhandling all the food. I agree that it needs to be said, though, but I have a feeling it probably won’t make much of a difference (and before anyone goes off on one of those ‘Is this a British thing???’ discussions, no it isn’t, this bloke is just vile).

            1. Chas*

              I’m in the UK and I can think of quite a few good chocolate biscuits that comes in individually-wrapped multipacks (Kitkat, Penguin, Twix), although they are a bit pricier unless you get offbrand versions. I’ve also been to hotels where they included a wrapped three-pack of more traditional teatime biscuits (like custard creams, bourbons, garbaldis), but wouldn’t have thought of those as crap (my Dad always makes sure to grab the new pack each day to save for later).

              At most work events I’ve been to, they get the Borders mini-packs, (which include choc-chip shortbread, vienesse whirl, toffee crunch, double chocolate cookie and oat crumble), which seem decently popular.

              I wonder if the issue might be variety? Having a different pack of biscuits available each day would be more tempting to me than the same set of however many individually-wrapped biscuits they have out every day. (Or it could be that issue of “There’s one flavour no one likes in the multipack, so you end up with a ton of that one flavour left and no one wants to eat it, making it look like nothing got eaten.)

              1. Lexi Vipond*

                Borders are pretty good, Island Bakery are genuinely good in any size of pack, and the shortbread fingers with the wee man on the packet tossing one as a caber always make me smile.

                But I still essentially agree with the people who find them slightly depressing, however irrationally – is it because you usually only get them if you’re about to go into a meeting?

                1. londonedit*

                  I think it probably is a combination of a) little packs of biscuits do seem a bit depressing/meeting-like, b) people are more likely to just take one biscuit from an open pack than to take an individual pack of biscuits, because somehow that feels like more of a commitment, and c) we have that whole social/cultural thing going on where it’s fine to take something if the packet is already open or the cake has already been cut, but people avoid being the first to open the pack/cut the cake.

            2. GreatestBlueHeron*

              This is when you need an American in the office who can lean into the stereotype of being blunt and even obnoxious. I have been this American for English friends before, despite being rather quiet and diplomatic in my day-to-day.

              1. MigraineMonth*

                In the US context, I’ve stepped up to be the blunt East-coaster for my Midwestern friends. Because eventually, SOMEONE has to start the buffet line, or suggest which restaurant they actually want to eat at, or eat that last half donut.

                Yes, most of the hang-ups are food-related.

                1. Orv*

                  We tend to end up with Zeno’s Donut Paradox where the last one gets halved, then quartered, etc, all so no one has the social burden of taking the last piece.

          3. Earlk*

            I don’t even think it’s about the environment, it’s very easy to nab a custard cream off a plate on the way back to your desk as a little treat but adding that extra barrier of a wrapper would help my restraint.

            1. londonedit*

              This is also true. It’s much more straightforward just to take a biscuit on the way back to your desk, but somehow taking a *whole pack of* biscuits (even if it’s only two in a wrapper) triggers the ‘oh, maybe I won’t’ instinct.

            2. MigraineMonth*

              That seems like it could be a good thing? I mean, I assume the purpose of providing the snacks is to have them available if employees decide they want them, not to have the snacks consumed as quickly as possible even if employees are just eating them by habit.

          4. Amy*

            I find it hard to believe a box of Border biscuits wouldn’t get eaten! They are delicious and always go quickly from our meetings because it’s easy to stash any leftover ones in your bag for emergencies :D

          5. Leenie*

            You’re right about that, of course. I hesitated to make the comment because of the environmental aspect. I’m in California, and am supportive of my state’s stricter requirements (compared to the other US states). There are things that we can no longer buy here, but they’re letting us keep our tiny snacks. Honestly, most of the individual wrapping is a foil packet or similar, so it’s not impactful, in terms of volume of waste, and doesn’t add to plastic waste (I know nothing about manufacturing processes and whether that might be worse). The Haribo gummy bears in the tiny plastic packets, I admit, are unconscionable, but we still eat them. The other side of the coin is that there’s less food waste, as these things don’t go stale when they sit out for a while, so the office manager isn’t having to throw away half eaten bags and boxes of whatever people have temporarily lost interest in.

            1. Smithy*

              I think that’s a really good call out about how individual packaging can cut down on food waste because items have a longer shelf life.

              Not to participate in any kind of race to the bottom nihilism, but when we’re talking about individual or small scale choices (aka an office) – I think it can be really tricky to hyper focus on one solution always being the best regardless of context. Individual wrapping can be more wrapping product, but in an environment like an office, may reduce food waste. And in a large communal space, individually wrapped snacks may also be more inclusive for those more immunocompromised or with allergies/food restrictions who will want to double check ingredients and are more mindful of ingredient cross contamination.

              This isn’t to cheerlead Mr. No Handwashing, but rather monitoring our colleagues’ behavior for hygiene is a losing game. It can be handwashing post toilet. Handwashing post nose blow. Post using public transportation. Post touching your face/hair. Who never cleans their key board? Who always has sick kids? Who always thinks their colds are just allergies?

              For someone truly concerned about their health, the individual wrapped snacks address the multiple hygiene challenges that exist in a group setting. While putting everyone’s energy on one person’s hygiene deficits is so unlikely to result in behavior change or a more hygienic office.

          6. LW3*

            We’re not in the UK, but same, and also there’s a very limited range and for some reason the quality seems lower. (Or maybe it’s just that we associate individually wrapped biscuits with being in hospital? Is that just me? Anyway, I ordered a lot of individually wrapped stuff in 2020, and most of it was untouched even before the office closed.)

        2. JustaTech*

          So, here’s a thought on how to cut down on the number of things Mr Gross can touch *without* the packaging that seems to be turning off the rest of the staff: Dispensers!

          Think like the things full of cereal at hotel buffets (or for dry dog food): It’s a tube or box of dry pebbly food (nuts, M&Ms, Cheerios) and you put your bowl or your hand under the dispensing hole and turn the wheel and a measured portion falls out.
          (I feel like I’m explaining this very badly but hopefully most people have encountered one to know what I’m talking about.)

          It wouldn’t work for crackers or biscuits or cookies, but it would work for things like nuts and round candies (my husband’s office has one for peanut M&Ms).

      2. morethantired*

        At least have tongs on the table and a bottle of hand sanitizer there, with a note like “Please use the tongs.”

        1. Orv*

          It’s worth noting that there are fecal-oral route diseases that aren’t killed by hand sanitizer, including norovirus.

    1. CountryLass*

      I’m assuming there is a cultural difference here, but when you say ‘handful of macaroni’ I’m imagining someone sticking their hand into a dish full of hot mac and cheese… Please tell me that’s not what you meant? Or at least that people don’t actually do that? Right? I mean, grossness of contaminating the food aside, you’d have, like, cheesey-pasta hands until you washed them… Although… that might be a plan. LW, get people to smear oil or hand-sanitiser around the door handle when he goes to the loo, hopefully he will HAVE to wash his hands then! Or if it’s hand-sanitiser at least they might be a bit cleaner…

      1. Seashell*

        I don’t recall the original story, but macaroni could be used in a cold pasta salad too. Not any better from a hygiene perspective, but probably less greasy.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        The story has been reposted a few times here. If you search for “when office potlucks go wrong” both the posts from November 11, 2021 and November 10, 2022 include it. Copy/pasted here for all those who are interested:

        I used to work with an awful guy who used to dig his hand into bowls of catered food at our work lunches. Like pasta salad. it’s one thing to grab a few chips with your hand, but he’d put his dirty ass hand into a BOWL OF MACARONI. he was a total pig and if there was an email that said ‘leftovers from whatever meeting in the kitchen now!’ people would run to make sure they got there before old filthy hands got there because once he was spotted in the kitchen, all food was officially considered contaminated.

    2. lilsheba*

      Frankly I’m more worried in this day and age of covid being breathed in the air around communal food.

  7. fortunegum*

    #3 Please ask him to wash his hands! I realize it may be awkward but I’m almost sure it will work. Lots of people weren’t taught to wash their hands and they just don’t think about it. I had this problem at a job about 25 years ago (!) I had to tell the entire team (all old school programmers working on y2k) including my boss and his boss. I said that I didn’t want to embarrass anyone but I noticed that the soap and paper towels rarely needed changing…

    1. Mighty K*

      Op says “people have spoken to him about it” so this has already been done. He knows he should wash his hands and he’s choosing not to.

    2. Bert*

      I mean the letter literally states “several people have talked to him” so I don’t know what you’re expecting here.

    3. Testing*

      People who weren’t taught this as kids often don’t remember to do it even after they have been taught to do it later and in principle understand why.

      1. GreatestBlueHeron*

        Even when they’re taught as kids, some people just won’t (and research indicates this skews heavily male). Sometimes they can’t be bothered and sometimes engage in magical thinking about why they don’t have to.

        One of my kids is constantly fighting us on things like handwashing, using tissues instead of their palm to wipe their nose, etc. He just doesn’t want to expend the effort. It is not a sensory issue for him and he fights us even on using hand sanitizer. This is a battle worth fighting for me but I’m sure he’s super gross when I’m not there to remind him.

    4. Armchair analyst*

      I definitely prefer soap and water but I wonder if providing hand sanitizer would be helpful. Could be placed in the bathroom and near the food

    5. PasstheLysolplease*

      We have this problem as well.
      With the President.
      Of a health insurance company.
      Who ironically also complains about rising claims.

      Those of us who know never shake his hand, warn others, and ensure we are ahead of him in line for food.

      It is just gross, but he does not care.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I was trying to think of what snacks OP could feel better about putting out. Bananas? Individually wrapped somethings so that even if he “caresses” the outside (?), it won’t contaminate the part of the food that gets eaten (and people can wash their *own* hands before they get to that part). Do keep in mind though that this is just the person you know about. There are plenty of exposures you don’t know about in an office setting, FWIW.

        1. anonymous anteater*

          your solutions might work, but they sound so very much like a broken stair situation!

        2. I forgot my user name againn*

          For that very reason, I only touch communal food in my small unit. (I know everyone and just can’t think about the possibility that someone there isn’t a hand washer. I already go through so much sanitizer.) I have worked for retailers who sample food. I would never ever touch food that has been left out. And in any other setting, prewapped snacks are best.

      2. GreatestBlueHeron*

        I know food scientists who only follow hygiene protocols for work and are super gross on their own, including handling food that non-customer people will eat. We’re all well trained on how gross these things can get and the risks of different infections.

    6. DisneyChannelThis*

      It is not the letter writers responsibility to parent grown adults, to teach them to wash their hands, to monitor their hand washing or anything else similar.

    7. Garblesnark*

      I work in a hospital and it’s a common, globally documented issue where literal surgeons just don’t wash their hands and people literally die from it.

      Yes in 2024. Yes they went to real medical school.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        One of the best ways to reduce infections in hospitals is to create a culture where nurses, techs, patients and family will tell surgeons (and other doctors) to go wash their damn hands.

    8. tree frog*

      I’ve learned from trans masc friends that non-washing of hands is extremely common in men’s bathrooms, to the point where some have felt unsafe doing it because it makes them stand out. Given that the majority of men in the LW’s office seem to object to this, their office may be cleaner than most.

      1. Sacred Ground*

        I’ve been a man ever since I stopped being a boy and I’ve never, ever encountered this. I have seen guys shame each other for NOT washing hands. Never the reverse.

    9. Some Dude*

      Every single job I’ve ever worked at least one guy will not wash his hands after peeing. Every single one. Generally it is only one or two guys, but there is always at least one. To pee standing up, you must touch your genitals. And these guys will touch their genitals and then go out in the world without even a cursory hand wash. I don’t understand it, and I’m not the most hygenic guy out there. I even shared a bathroom with a guy who had OCD and elaborate handwashing rituals, and he would do all that, then go take a dump, use an entire roll of toilet paper to wipe, and not wash his hands.

  8. Audrey*

    For #4 -I’m in the US, and when onboarding a new employee, the payroll company our company uses requires me to fill out a separate form of theirs with employee info outside of the usual State and Federal forms. The info they ask me for is all the same, I just have to refill it out (like the federal W-4 needs you to check a box for marital status). I think it’s just so that they don’t rely on one paper to give them the info, in case of bad handwriting or a typo.

    1. TLC Squeak*

      We’ve been using Workday in our office (not OP, but had a similar issue), and their questions feel very intrusive and are for more than just taxes and benefits.

      1. Armchair analyst*

        Well equal employment opportunity companies have to report certain data to be sure that they are not discriminating. For example, if no married women or women who are mothers are in leadership positions, even if a large percentage of leadership positions are filled by women, that could be seen as discrimination. In my company the Workday database feeds to the EEO form but isn’t something the average worker would see

    2. Tess of the D'Atabases*

      I work for a rather lg company and the marital status is used to determine if you get a spousal surcharge for insurance. if you plan on covering your spouse but they have insurance with their job, you pay $100 a month for that. They are trying to control costs associated with benefits.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      For US 401k plans, a spouse is legally the default beneficiary. To make the beneficiary somebody other than a spouse requires the spouse’s approval.

      If the intake paperwork is being used to trigger 401 k paperwork that to me is a valid reason to ask marital status.

      1. badger*

        I’ve always filled out 401(k) beneficiary paperwork separately, work has never filled it out for me – they give it to me to do or direct me to the investment company to do it. More often they ask because they want to know if there’s anything else that might come up, particularly with health insurance. Are you covering spouse/kids or are they covering you? Is there a childcare benefit you might want to know about? There’s not a lot of point in being cagey about marital status/dependents when the tax paperwork is going to have it anyway (it may or may need to differentiate between single/divorced/widowed, but it will between currently married and not). And, sometimes in divorces or child support cases, spousal support or child support is garnished automatically from paychecks, and they absolutely need to know to expect that to make sure it’s processed correctly.

        In next-of-kin states, they need to know the relationship with the emergency contact because that person may or may not have legal authority to make medical decisions in the event of incapacity depending on the relationship (and even in states that don’t have next-of-kin medical decision-making, health care providers may turn to them in an emergency). And it may also be helpful to know whether your emergency contact is local. I always have two, because I want my family to be on the list but none of them are local, so I also have a friend who lives pretty close.

    4. Momma Bear*

      I think if LW has a concern they should address it to their HR rep while they are filling it out. Then they should also get whatever paperwork they will need to correct it later (say they are not yet divorced, but will be and will need to change health insurance or tax information). Some companies make this very simple and have a common form, and some do not. In matters of emergency care, family can more often make decisions for you than friends, so it might be beneficial to know how you know them.

  9. Why not report the scam*

    LW2, if the check is coming through the U.S. mail, contact the Postmaster General’s office. A friend of mine did this when a relative was getting scammed, and they were able to stop a woman from losing money in the same scam.

    1. RC*

      Oooh, we were at the Postal Museum last year and they had a whole section trying to demonstrate how badass the Postal Inspectors were. I would *love* for this obvious scam to get charged on mail fraud! (I somehow expect they sent this obviously scam check through fedex or something… not sure jurisdiction there)

        1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          It’s in DC, right by Union Station. Part of the Smithsonian so it’s free.

      1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

        “trying to demonstrate” ahh, yes, the eternal heartbreak of the Archivist.

    2. Orv*

      Ken White (the lawyer and legal commentator) has remarked before about how relentless and methodical postal inspectors are. I believe his comment was, “when they go to court they don’t just bring the receipts, they bring the receipts for the folders the receipts are in.”

    3. Hats Are Great*

      You can also report to your state AG’s office. Many of them are pretty aggressive about going after scams (if the AG solves your scam you’re voting for that guy for the rest of his political life), and LW2 has a pretty solid paper trail for a scam like this.

    1. RC*

      Don’t raccoons famously wash their little hands and food in rivers before eating? And possums are fun because they can’t get rabies, but a reputable website refers to them as “messy eaters” so maybe I shouldn’t go too far down the rabbit hole of defending all small mammals from being compared to this gross human man, lol.

      1. Workerbee*

        And considering it’s human beings daring to call other beings messy eaters, when we actively spoil the land and water around us…

      2. ferrina*

        Racoons are relatively hygienic. They are vicious, awful animals (I had one come in my house and threaten me when I was a kid- I will bear that grudge for life), but they are hygenic.

        TIL possums can’t get rabies. That’s pretty cool! I also had possums near my house as a kid, and I never had a problem with them. They stayed away from me, I stayed away from them, and we all lived happily ever after.

          1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

            And they have a circle of nipples, plus one in the middle!

      3. Juicebox Hero*

        Raccoons aren’t actually washing their food. The water softens up the skin on their paws and helps them identify what they’ve found before they eat it, plus they like to dig around for tasty morsels in shallow water.

        Either way, raccoons are cute when they’re not tearing up your garbage, and fuzzy, and deserve better than to be compared to Mr. Potty Hands. And so are rats, for that matter.

        1. Goldenrod*

          “Either way, raccoons are cute when they’re not tearing up your garbage, and fuzzy, and deserve better than to be compared to Mr. Potty Hands. And so are rats, for that matter.”

          Yes! I am here to cast an unpopular vote for Team Rats.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Rats are quite smart for rodents, and can be trained. I bet one could teach them to wash their paws.

  10. Tussu*

    Absolutely report the scam LW2 whatever you do and definitely contact the real company and let them know what’s going on.

    On a lighter note, 419eater dot com is an extremely amusing website run by a guy who wastes scammers time by continuing to engage them as long as possible to troll them and it may give you some ideas.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Do be aware if you decide to try this yourself, you may prefer to use a burner phone number. Apparently scammers share lists of valid numbers.

      My husband started playing games with incoming scam calls–and we started getting exponentially more incoming scam calls.

      1. AvocadoQueen*

        Look up the recent Last Week Tonight segment on spam/scammers. Many of them have been trafficked and are essentially slaves. Don’t engage with them, but no need to make their lives worse and possibly contribute to them getting beaten either.

        1. Double A*

          I have occasionally texted back something like, “I know this is a scam and I know you’re probably in a terrible situation, I hope you get out.” Then I block.

          But any response does risk your number being shared.

        2. Tussu*

          Oh wow, when I recommended the 419eater website, I wasn’t aware of this at all! Thanks for the information – will definitely check the segment out!

    2. ccsquared*

      In contacting the company, look for a email address and send the info there. While some infosec teams might not be able to do much with a scam like this besides make HR and legal aware, at that least that part of a company is set up to deal with suspicious activity/crimes rather than general inquiries, so going there may have more of an impact.

    3. Not all HR is bad*

      Yes, came her to say this. I work in HR for a well known company and scammers have made offers and even conducted fake phone interviews using names of our VPs. If we know about the fraudulent listings we can work with the platforms to get them taken down (i.e., Indeed, LinkedIn, etc.).

  11. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (Bella claims credit for my work) – I think the guest blogs are the worst part, as it seems she’s trying to establish a broader reputation. I would contact the editor/owner of those blogs and explain the situation (with any proof you are safely able to supply subject to company rules about what’s confidential etc). I would start my own series of posts on LinkedIn or a blog about some of my work and get in there first.

    I think the trouble with the “IP” approach is that probably the company owns the IP, rather than either OP or Bella. As such it is just another variant of “Bella claimed credit in public for my work” more than “Bella stole my IP” (Although, is the company aware in an official sense of these guest blogs Bella is doing? Typically this sort of “thought leadership” stuff, when it relates to work you did for a company, has to go through some kind of approvals.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I’ve mentioned this upthread, but IP law does distinguish between creators and owners, and protects the creator’s right to be named as such.

      So for example John Smith designs a shoe / writes a book / invents a hoverboard and sells his creation to MegaCorp, Inc. The IP authorities (eg the USPTO) record his name as creator as well as MegaCorp’s details as the owner.

      MegaCorp are the ones who can initiate infringement proceedings, but separately John gets to point out his name on their patents/flysheet.

      1. David*

        For patents yes, but US copyright law – which I suspect is more likely relevant here, if OP1 is in the US – doesn’t reserve any rights to the creator. (Except a right of attribution for works of visual art specifically, but even in that case, the right of attribution belongs to the *author*, and for works made for hire the company or entity who arranged for the production of the work is the legal author, rather than the person who actually created it.) So we can’t assume that OP1 has a legal angle to pursue. Though I bet it’s still worth a conversation with an IP lawyer to figure that out. This sounds like a situation where they could wind up losing something of significant monetary value (like a job opportunity) as a result of Bella’s behavior, which means that consultation with a lawyer could pay off in the end even if it does cost some money. (And I dunno, it might not; lawyers do give free initial consultations sometimes, though I couldn’t say if that might be an option in this case.)

    2. HonorBox*

      Company probably owns the finished product, but OP is likely entitled to claim authorship/design of the IP for sure.

    3. ferrina*

      Great advice. The other bloggers don’t want to be in the middle of this, as it hurts their reputation. If your company is willing to get involved, see if they will contact the bloggers with corrected information.

  12. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 (Mr Unhygienic touches all the snacks) – individually wrapped ones are probably the best option. If anyone asks why it had to change, this is for “hygiene reasons”.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        Yeah, I really meant “you’ve already tried the best option, which is individually wrapped snacks”. I don’t think there’s much more that OP can do, just if people whine about whyyy we only have these individually wrapped ones, you state that that’s for hygiene reasons. They will know what reasons of course. OP could also ask them for suggestions at that point.

    1. My Cat’s Human*

      It sounded like the unwashed hands were touching the individually wrapped packages – so while the food inside was fine, teammates didn’t want to touch “icky” packages to eat them.

      1. NotSoRecentlyRetired*

        Have you tried putting a hand sanitizer dispenser on the table next to the individually wrapped snacks?

      2. linger*

        At this point, the only thing not tried is to have a cover over the food literally with the message “WASH HANDS FIRST. FERGUS CRAPFINGERS — HANDS OFF”.

  13. LadyAmalthea*

    About ten years ago, I went through this same process via text messaging on a computer program. I realised it was a scam, but figured I was job searching anyway, and some of the questions were good practice.

  14. Bert*

    do any of you actually read the letter before replying? “Hey OP you should *do thing OP had already done and said so in the letter*”

    1. Brain the Brian*

      Based on comment times, I think a lot of UK and US readers post their comments on the daily 5-and-5’s before their morning coffee has kicked in.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I have a tendency to respond on the train, which I am doing now and probably shouldn’t because yeah, it means I am rushing and the last paragraph sometimes gets pretty rushed and can be unclear.

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        I’ve been guilty of posting comments in the multi-question threads many, many times before the caffeine has kicked in! Even if there was a separate section at the end of the question saying what the OP had already tried, and it was red, bolded and in huge text, people would probably still miss it and scroll on past. (Or just ignore it completely – sometimes trying to highlight information makes people more likely to ignore it.)

    2. KateM*

      “You should do this thing that you have already done anyway and if people don’t like it, you can stop doing altogether” has been the message, I believe.

    3. Cabbagepants*

      The problem isn’t really the dirty hands. It’s people in an office fixating on one gross person (as if he were the only source of germs in the office!) and rejecting reasonable workarounds.

    4. ferrina*

      Fun fact- most people don’t thoroughly read things, they skim.
      Source: I draft communications

      The section that a lot of people seem to have missed (including me) was that OP has already tried individually wrapped packages. That part was in the middle of the fourth paragraph- easy to miss for folks that had already gotten the gist of the letter and were skimming to the end (really common practice in a lot of communication- it’s why you don’t bury the lede in the third paragraph of an email).

      So mea culpa, but also very normal.

      1. Lucia Pacciola*

        I dunno. Whenever I skim through an anecdote, and get to the end thinking I have come up with a great solution, that’s a sign to me to go back and read more carefully, to make sure I haven’t thought of something obvious that’s already been tried.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Can you teach my mom this? She always includes her flight arrival time in the fourth paragraph of an email on a different subject that is a reply to a completely unrelated email.

        To avoid this issue, I asked her to text me instead, so she started texting me “Check your email”.

        1. JustaTech*

          Could be worse, my MIL emails me links to her airline account, which I of course can’t see because you have to be logged in as the traveler to access the flight info. “It works fine for me!”

        2. Silver Robin*

          My sympathies, that sounds really frustrating.

          I also burst out laughing at “Check your email”. Brilliant.

        3. Laura Charles*

          I make my mom forward the emailed itinerary, or have her enter my email so the airline sends it to me directly. Maybe that would work, MM?

  15. TLC Squeak*

    LW 4, I had the exact same issue this week! It doesn’t help that I’m in the middle of a complicated separation and divorce. All those questions about relationship status seem incredibly intrusive. There has to be a better way to get to what they want to know (how much information to share) without asking for specifics about my life and relationships.

    1. Sunny*

      Genuine question – what would you suggest instead? As I understand, knowing the nature of your emergency contact’s relationship with you changes what kind of info they may provide. And if that info is also being passed to a hospital, say, that person’s authority to speak for you matters even more.

      1. Ama*

        Yes, as an example, as a woman who did not change her last name when she got married, I need to be able to indicate when I list my husband as my emergency contact that he is in fact my spouse so that in a worst case scenario a hospital would know that he has a right to see me and speak to my care.

        There’s a lot of practical reasons why an employer would need to know certain information.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      As someone who’s had a messy divorce, one of the first things I did was remove him from my emergency contacts and nominated a relative. I suppose I could have gotten hung up on the privacy of my workplace knowing about my divorce, but I was more concerned with them accidentally giving too much information to an ex I was trying to put on radio silence. I realise there’s definitely going to be situations you don’t want a workplace to know about, but there are also lots where you actually do want them kept informed. Either you clue them in, or you don’t.

      1. Abundant Shrimp*

        My divorce was very smooth and quick, it was the marriage preceding it that was messy. I was the one that initiated and it apparently came as a shock to him somehow. I eventually lost almost all our friend group (that he’d met through me! smh) because of it. When I started the process, I told four people at work – a very close friend, my boss, the HR, and the person in legal that I needed to do some paperwork through (can’t remember what it was, been 14 years). They told no one. It was all good. OP, it’s not like they are going to put your status in the next officewide newsletter or otherwise tell everybody.

        1. Observer*

          OP, it’s not like they are going to put your status in the next officewide newsletter or otherwise tell everybody.

          Totally this. If they are competent and have some basic understanding of data security, your information is not floating around the office. Good HR systems make it easy to segregate information and hard to leak information accidentally. And good HR people know how to keep their mouths shut – and they understand why it’s necessary!

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yeah, for us information governance training is mandatory across the board and not only deals with patient data within the public healthcare system but HR and other sensitive business data. We had a taste of how important it was to be careful when my colleague gave out the private phone number of a PA in one department rather than the work mobile…and she had a member of the public, who had posed as a provider, ring her while she was at her relative’s bedside. Both of us got a stern talking to and we made sure we had up to date lists of work phones so people were contactable in work circumstances but not in other situations.

            When the GDPR came in at my side gig we had to password-protect client data. It seemed a bit absurd because most of what we had on file was publicly available through the very ads that they were paying for, but nevertheless there are real rules around this kind of thing that most people are going to abide by. And when the above incident happened with the PA’s phone I realised just how damaging a leak could be if you weren’t paying attention to which number you gave out.

            I can DEFINITELY see where there are issues with things like the LGBTQ community and so on. There has been a hack recently on an online game I play that meant I haven’t logged in to that game and won’t until they sound the all-clear. I’ve also been aware more recently of people roaming the neighbourhood trying to scam people (and for the record it’s white men that are doing it and they made a play for my own money so I’m not paranoid here or being suspicious of just random people or minorities; it’s a calculation I’ve made the hard way, alas) and so I’ve increased my personal security and just bought a camera doorbell. Practical steps to improve your security can and should be taken — being vigilant is good.

            But absent that I’m not sure it’s worth dying on this particular hill. Being ok with putting down marital information on employment forms is not like leaving your front door unlocked or being targeted by a scam like OP2. At some point the bureaucracy that underpins our modern society has to be satiated.

        2. Always Tired*

          I just got told gossip about an employee buying their first house, and I didn’t bother mentioning I assumes as much, since the mortgage company had sent over the VOE a week and a half ago. I also heard about someone else’s divorce through the grapevine 2 weeks after I helped that employee remove their spouse as emergency contact and update their address on file. All I said in response was that it seems unfortunate and I hope he doesn’t become the subject of rumors and speculation during such a difficult time.

          Life happens and it isn’t our place to gossip about the personal information you share with us in confidence.

      2. TootsNYC*

        and remember that some people might put someone else as an emergency contact because their spouse is likely to be unavailable when work might need him.

        I used to put my mother-in-law, because I knew she was at home most of the time. And my husband wasn’t able to get calls at work.

    3. Tree*

      I’m confused by this. In the US, employees need to complete a W-4 form (or equivalent) in order to have proper tax withholding to their situation and dependents. Marital status is a required field on the form as it impacts tax withholding and tax obligation. This is required at all jobs, so I’m struggling to how so many US-based commenters think this is intrusive.

      1. Justin*

        I can only assume they are either not American or new to full time work. Tax law is complicated but most of us know w4s

        1. Llama Llama*

          You would think that but people do not understand. Heck HR doesn’t understand. I work for a ginormous company and we have lots of sites across the country. The amount of flagrantly wrong things done on these tax forms is frustratingly bad.

          1. Zephy*

            There are tax preparers out there telling people who are married as hell and have been for years that they can file their taxes with one as Head of Household and the other as Single. PSA: You cannot. If you don’t want to file jointly with your spouse, that’s what Married-Filing Separately is for. Yes, even if you have dependents. You don’t have to file HOH to claim dependents without including your spouse. You don’t have to be separated to file separately.

            I work in a college financial aid office, so I have reason to see people’s tax returns, and I’ve had multiple sets of parents present me with taxes filed that way and then they get mad at ME when I tell them their tax guy steered them wrong and they have to amend their taxes. Sorry bud, you and your tax guy can lie to the government if you want to but I won’t. Fix this or pay your kid’s tuition out of pocket, your choice.

            1. Anon for this*

              Please make sure you only do this when parents are actually married. Signed, lifelong committed unmarried cohabiting het partner / coparent who does what you describe because it’s accurate. :)

            2. Peter the Bubblehead*

              The only time I have filed as head of Household was when I had my dependent daughter living with me and I was not yet married to my fiancee. Once we were married, we started filing jointly.
              And it’s amazing what one little piece of paper can do for you legally. Things my fiancee was not allowed to do (like enter the military base where I was posted at the time to drop off/pick up my daughter from summer day care) were quickly allowed once I ‘made an honest woman of her’ even though from a day to day standpoint our lives had not changed.

              1. Kendra Logan*

                Yes. At least one couple who’d been together for decades, finally tied the knot after the man experienced a life-threatening illness. They realized afterward that had it become necessary, the woman wouldn’t have been allowed to make medical decisions for him because she wasn’t legally his wife.

              2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

                Yes. This is why queer people were beating the drum for years about marriage equality – because we knew a lot more about the legal benefits of “one little piece of paper” than most straight people – and why we’re scared spitless about losing it.

          2. Lady_Lessa*

            I don’t doubt that. But, sometimes large companies do things right. Where I live, I have to pay local income taxes to both the city I work in and the one I live in. Until we became part of the large international one, I paid the taxes to the place where I live separately. Now, that one also comes out of my pay check.

            Much easier for both me and my tax preparer.

          3. HR Friend*

            Sigh. HR doesn’t understand because we’re not tax professionals. Just because we collect W4s, state tax forms, etc, and include the information provided on payroll doesn’t mean we’re qualified to give advice on your withholding.

            Sigh is not directed at you, but at my many (many..) co-workers who ask me how much money they should withhold from their checks or whether they should be HoH or Filing Jointly. How the heck should I know?!

            1. badger*

              my ex was advised by his then-employer that he could mark himself down as exempt from withholding.

              He was not.

              I filed for divorce (for other reasons) before it became a THING, otherwise I likely would have filed as an injured spouse to avoid MY taxes being affected.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        The bristling and suspicion over the questions seem odd to me, too. As so many have said, it’s all about benefits offerings, filing status, and other relevant things to the employee.

        I wish there was a workshop or book or something for new entrants to the workforce: Why employers want or even need you to apply to a job and not just send a resume, why they ask the questions they do, how those questions can protect you, the forms you’ll fill out when you get hired, why your employer needs certain information, how to navigate the process, giving thought to who and what you select during enrollments, what you’re obligated to do, what signing/initialing a document does and does not mean, and so on. Some people seem to get indignant over things that are shockingly normal and benign, but wash over other things that are important.

        1. brandine*

          I get all of that, and in OP’s case it does seem warranted. Recently, though, I have encountered it much earlier in the process, specifically from recruiters who are already being very aggressive. They ask me for PII (DOB, SSN, etc.) before they’ve even submitted my resume to a hiring manager — sometimes they’re asking in their initial outreach to me about a role! This is offputting and strikes me as putting the cart before the horse, at best, and a scam at worst. If the roles seemed particularly appealing I might risk it, but they usually don’t, so I just ghost them.

          1. Zephy*

            Oh for sure, a recruiter doesn’t need any of that and definitely not at first meeting. But OP asked about *onboarding,* which is an extremely normal and justifiable time for an employer to ask for that information.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              Thank you, Zephy, I was going to point out that difference as well, these are not the same scenarios at all. Recruiters don’t need the info the OP referenced, but the employer does.

              1. brandine*

                I’m well aware these are different scenarios, as I said. But I do think that the fact that sketchy people asking for unnecessary info in certain scenarios may be fostering an overall environment of mistrust, even in the scenarios where asking for it is justified.

                1. Observer*

                  But I do think that the fact that sketchy people asking for unnecessary info in certain scenarios may be fostering an overall environment of mistrust,

                  I’m sure it does. But that’s part of being an adult, ie the ability to discern the difference between situations.

                  If more people used that capacity more often, things would look a lot better, imo. But in any case, people need to understand that how they relate to recruiters, even legitimate ones, is fundamentally different from dealing with an employer.

          2. Observer*

            Recently, though, I have encountered it much earlier in the process, specifically from recruiters who are already being very aggressive.

            It seems to me that the aggressiveness and the inappropriate questions are related – these are folks who are apparently unprofessional and boundary crossing.

            But this a key difference – you are dealing with *recruiters* for whom none of this data should be relevant. And some of this data MAY NOT be legally used by them either. So a totally different beast from an employer asking these questions.

      3. doreen*

        It might be that marital status is requested on additional forms in addition to the W-4 and/or insurance forms. My employer had us verify information every year using a inventory form that listed everything we had been issued from keys to credit cards (which had to be verified by our supervisor ) along with information such as our address, emergency contact and marital status. I understand that they needed my marital status for the W-4 that I filled out when I first got hired and I understand why they ask for the relationship of my emergency contact on the inventory form. I don’t understand why that inventory form needed a separate question for marital status. It isn’t being used for withholding or to administer insurance. I’m a bit annoyed today because my husband needs to fill out a form to waive insurance. I can see why they have him fill it out every year – but I’m not sure they need as much detail as they ask for about the other coverage. Even if they have the company and policy number, that company is not going to talk to them about the policy

      1. blah*

        There are people on this site who think people asking questions beyond anything work-related is intrusive and over the line, it can be bonkers sometimes.

      2. Clisby*

        It also can be relevant to benefits other than insurance. Both my husband and I have gotten forms when onboarding new jobs related to contributions to a 401K. They said something on the order of “if you are married and want someone other than your spouse to be your beneficiary, your spouse needs to give permission (see Box C).

        (This is in the US).

        1. Bes*

          Sometimes it’s just a default of the payroll software. At my old company, the software automatically collected demographic info during onboarding for reporting purposes, despite us not needing it for our particular company. We were told we couldn’t turn it off, so everyone had to select what sex and color they were, single/married/widowed, whatever. They could ‘prefer not to say’, but the assumption that anyone is using the information for purposes outside of compensation/tax/regulatory purposes suggests a lack of experience in the workforce (or perhaps just a lack of understanding about the back-end of running a company?)

    4. Zephy*

      They don’t care about whatever’s going on between you and your hopefully-soon-to-be-ex. It’s for tax withholding and benefits purposes and they just need to know your current *legal* marital status. Marital status determines which filing status you’re eligible to use when you go to file your taxes, which in turn affects your tax rate and therefore your withholding.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Seconding this! TLC Squeak, your divorce is very top-of-mind for you (and I imagine there are lots of strong emotions around it) but the people on the other side of those forms just want the information to be accurate. They are not giving a second thought about whether the form-fillers are happily single/waiting for their significant other to agree to marriage/happily partnered with no plans for marriage (for single status), happily married/unhappily married/in the middle of the divorce process (for married status), and so on.

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

      I think people are overthinking this. The thing is no one is really going to look at the relationship. Like if you mark married or whatever and put someone else as your emergency contact they are not going to be gossiping or wondering why your husband/wife isn’t listed. And that could be for various reasons. The significant other is deaf/hard of hearing so doesn’t like phone calls, they work out of town a lot, they are in the military so the employee doesn’t want to have to change their emergency contact every time they are deployed.

      Really, all anyone is going to look at is to make sure that the fields are filled. Heck, with all of my past jobs it was entered on the online portal. I doubt any human has ever looked at it.

      1. kiki*

        Yes, this info really is just tucked away in case it’s needed. The HR person is really just reviewing that all the fields are completed with relevant info (phone number is complete, etc.). Unless this is a very tiny business, no HR person is going to care about which employee has listed their roommate as their emergency contact or who just removed their husband as the emergency contact. It might register as a momentary, “Oh huh,” but they look at so many of these a day all the time, it’s not going to hold in their mind.

    6. NotSoRecentlyRetired*

      In the US, if your company has a pension plan, then your (ex-)husband receives 50% of it when you divorce.
      My lawyer had to initiate a QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order) with my company when my ex- filed for divorce.
      He receives 50% of the pension that had accrued during the time we were married.
      He now receives $602.81 per month (compared to my $1,111.23 per month), for the rest of his life (although it might end if I pass away before him – I don’t think I care to go down that rabbit hole of research, after 8 years I’m still learning to let it go).

    7. no tea*

      Those forms don’t know that you’re going through a rough patch right now (and messy divorces suck! I’m sorry you’re going through that right now and I hope you get some good news soon). But those forms and the HR department also aren’t asking those questions AT you. The HR department processing those forms aren’t sitting around reading them and going, “LOL look at John, he checked off ‘single’ on his form!” or whatever.

  16. anon_sighing*


    > Anyway, the contact is supposedly going to send me a check to purchase the equipment and software I’ll need to fully create my home office

    This is a known scam! This is not legit and if they are, they are sketchy!

    From Reddit user RudbeckiaIS:

    “No legitimate employer will send you money to buy any equipment. They will either provide said equipment themlseves or just expect you to buy it out of your pocket.

    This is a fraudulent cheque scam: basically they are playing on the fact by law banks in the US have to make funds quickly available after a cheque is deposited. After a few weeks, or even months (banks don’t like dealing with cheques these days so they are low priority), the bank will discover the cheque is fraudulent, so they will take the full amount they have made available to you back. In the meantime the scammer will make out like a bandit with the money you sent him back: there’s no “official vendor”, you are just sending to another account controlled by the scammer himself.

    To cut a long story short if you deposit that cheque and pay for that “equipment” you will lose whatever money you send the scammer, and your bank may also hit you with fees for depositing a fraudulent cheque. Oh, they don’t care if your bank account goes negative.

    Cut all contacts with this scammer and if you already have a cheque in your hands resist any temptation to deposit it in: frame it and put it on the wall as a reminder of this misadventure.”

    1. Double A*

      Some employers will give you stipends to purchase some equipment like an office chair, but it not the first thing they do as part of your hiring process. It would be after you have onboarded and you’re confident they are a real company who has actually hired you.

      1. anon_sighing*

        I’ve never had a job, as you said, give me a stipend or OK to purchase anything with their funds unless I am fully onboard. Likewise, it just makes sense if I was a legit company to wait and see if this person is an actual good fit and won’t leave in the first week when a better has come through before buying new equipment for them.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      How would some find a law enforcement agency that might be interested in receiving that scammer’s check as part of an investigation?

  17. GythaOgden*

    Yeah, I was grateful for the widowed line on the census; I felt heard (I never got to put down ‘married’ as my ‘whirlwind romance’ :’-( occurred neatly within a single census arc. Someone poring over the records in a hundred years time is going to be a bit baffled by it!). Marital starus here in the UK is important for tax purposes as well because the norm is for all tax to be paid through payroll and for self-assessment taxes to be filed only when you have income from outside employment.

    They also ask on the government issued employment tax forms if you have another job because you get a tax free allowance every year but can only apply it against one formal job. This might be a good way of stopping people double-dipping on two full-time WFH jobs, since you’d have to answer that question honestly or (I assume) face legal penalties, so hiding a second job would be more difficult.

    All these questions may feel intrusive but they’re set up to ensure you get paid properly and in our case your tax gets administrated properly. When I registered my husband’s death in the summer of 2019 the government machinery ensured that I was correctly registered for my widow’s pension, single person’s local council tax relief, they cancelled his passport, they notified all the different agencies that handle the affairs for living in a complex society like we currently do. Getting his probate forms done to release his money out of the various banks and obtain insurance payouts was a PITA in the first few months when all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and die myself, but in the end it left me financially secure for the rest of my life and able to take a lower-paid, lower-stress job and still live independently if frugally.

    (There was one absurd moment on an e-commerce forum where someone was talking about dealing with their bank — legitimately, IIRC it was in person — and them asking security questions and wanting to see ID. She was fine with the security questions, but refused to show them her ID for fear of identity fraud. We coaxed her down from that position by explaining that she had a passport for just that reason…she has to prove who she was in order to discuss her account with her bank. Because the alternative was that someone else could gain access to her account. It kind of dawned on her that we generally do have photo ID in some form because of the need to, on occasion, make sure people are legitimately accessing their own funds or accounts or otherwise prove they’re who they say they are.)

    These things are really important for people to know because it’s ultimately how you get paid. It is why scammers can be so successful — having been a victim of one recently they can masquerade quite well as legitimate until you realise that they’re long gone with your money (and my bank was very good to me about reimbursement). But it’s also how business is done nowadays.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      I’m sorry for your loss.

      The tax thing helps me understand why this felt strange to LW, because the US and UK tax approaches are so different. Marital status is so standard on so many of our forms the only time I’ve really noticed it is when it’s the first time I had to put something different.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Thank you. It never goes away; only this morning I was wishing I could have him back in the form of a Red Dwarf style hologram. Thank god he never lived to see COVID; he would have been one of those people who not only found lockdown stressful but it would have been tough on me to be working in person and it’s very likely he would either have contracted it himself and died of it or he’d not have been able to get the sort of care he was getting from the Royal Marsden and Guildford when he was alive. He basically quit while he was ahead — when he got into the hospice he spent less than 12 hours there — but it was really tough to go through lockdown without him.

        I think the UK tends to have a freer culture about this kind of thing. We have to collect data on a lot of things, such as self-certification on sick leave for occupational health etc etc. It’s kind of the price you pay for not having onerous taxes to do every year and generous sick leave (although not really by much given the rates of statutory sick pay). I don’t mind giving that info out — in my first year of work it was completely baffling to me why I found a full time job (in chartered accountancy) so hard to sustain and we mutually decided it wasn’t a good fit about nine months in. Then we worked out I was autistic, with that having a huge impact on my stamina and physiological make-up, and it was only last November that I got a full time job again — after over twenty years in the career wilderness.

        What was crucial to sustained working was my bosses understanding why I was struggling, and the increasingly empowering support for neurodivergence in the workplace and while I was doing my Masters. Hubby got immense support from his own workplace by being open with them, and his boss bent over backwards to help as well as organised the marquee for his funeral (he worked for a landscaper who had lots of different contacts in the world of maintenance and farming and pulled everything together at the last minute for us).

        So in my world it’s actually better if folks know what’s going on. I totally get that there are situations such as LGBTQ concerns that aren’t yet safe everywhere, but for me, my work not understanding my personal and physical background was worse than them knowing.

  18. bamcheeks*

    I definitely understand why people get hung up on people not washing their hand specifically after using the loo, but IMO it’s not LESS gross than someone touching all the food who hasn’t been to the loo at all, or who last went and last washed their hands 2-3 hours ago! They could still have been touching their nose, mouth and face, and they’ve almost certainly been touching door handles, computer equipment and all that stuff. I wouldn’t be LESS grossed out by someone who touches all the food if I thought they’d washed their hands two hours ago.

    For fruit, you could actually just put a reminder to wash things like pears and apples? But if nobody has standing to tell this guy to stop touching all the food, and social shame isn’t doing the trick, then I think individually wrapped snacks with longer shelf lives is the only way to go. Better to have a basket of biscuits that goes down slowly than open a packet every day and chuck a whole packet every evening.

    1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      Since you sound like a UK commenter, are the individually packaged biscuits in the UK less tasty or otherwise desirable than the ones packaged in a packet? Less variety available? Otherwise, they’re both wrapped purchased biscuits so I don’t see why people don’t like the individual ones. I highly doubt it’s for environmental reasons.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, I said above, but here biscuits don’t generally come in individual packets, and the ones that do tend to be the really boring sort that you’d get in a hotel room or on a train or at a conference sort of thing. I can’t put my finger on it but ‘individual packet of biscuits’ just reads as ‘crap offering’. We are also moving increasingly away from anything in non-recyclable/individual wrapping for environmental reasons, so I think a lot of people would also think it was wasteful.

        1. bamcheeks*

          It’s that weird thing where they’re simultaneous slightly nicer biscuits but also not as attractive as your absolute basic bourbon or fruit shortcake.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            It’s odd because there is no appreciable difference between the custard creams or bourbons in a large package vs. the ones in the tiny individual package. They’re the same exact product.

            Mmm, custard creams…

        2. Ellis Bell*

          I don’t think biscuits are the way to go for this reason. If I was OP I would probably go with Mini Rolls, Ferrero Rocher, box of Celebrations/Quality Street and individual bags of crisps (we are the world leaders on crisp flavours!). I do know if there was a basket of kits kats, twixes, snickers and mars bars I would find that pretty hygenic and hard to resist. If individual snacks are definitely not the ticket, and these are biscuit lovers then I would get a few of the small packs of bakery cookies from Asda/Home Bargains and leave some sacrificial packs out for Fingers Fred and put the rest in an out of the way place, and only tell the other people were the safe stuff is. You could also divide up any kinds of biscuits or cakes between a public place and secret place.

          1. LW3*

            You. I like you. I am definitely going to look into swapping the chocolate biscuits for individually wrapped chocolate bars.

        3. MsSolo (UK)*

          Hotels like individually packaged biscuits for their long shelf lives – I have been to multiple meetings where they trotted out packets past their best before because checking the dates on them was low priority (still perfectly safe to eat, of course!) – which means they’re often slightly stale, and the flavours are pretty flat even when they’re recently purchased ones. It’s always a bit of a treat when you get to a meeting and they’ve put out what look like freshly baked biscuits (I’m sure they’re often not, but unbranded, slightly warm, and clearly going to be eaten by the staff if we don’t finish them off).

        4. GythaOgden*

          Oh no, not at all. Try looking for Borders biscuits (no relation to the bookshop). Our hospital admin block tea trolley (we still have one but it’s self-service nowadays) stocked their oat crumble and Viennese whirls and my colleague stuffed quite a few packets into my coat pockets when I left one afternoon. They stayed fresh for a week or so when I rediscovered them the next time I was in-person. I couldn’t be bothered to put in an expensive Deliveroo order just for something to nibble on (because there’s nothing within walking distance of that office) and the biscuits in my pocket were still there and fresh and edible because they’d been sealed in those packets.

          Oh and bonus points when you go to the hairdressers and they put a little Biscoff on your coffee saucer.

          Also this job has me travelling a few days a month, and after what’s usually a long walk from the station, waiting while the inevitable room booking SNAFU gets ironed out (that time I’d been shut out of my room by a faulty battery on the RFID door lock) and washing Eau de Clapham Junction off my tush, those things are the highlight of my stay. Sadly they’re getting rarer and rarer at the hotels I usually stay in :-/.

          Maybe it’s just me and the novelty of travel hasn’t yet worn off, but if there’s no little catering packets of bickies at the hotel it’s very unwelcoming :(.

      2. Just Another Techie*

        I’m in the US but I feel so much guilt over the plastic waste that I can’t bring myself to take an individually wrapped cookie or a single serve bag of chips at work lunches. whereas I’d happily take a cookie from a pallet of cookies, if there were tongs or something to handle them with.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          Plate not pallet, thank you autocorrect. Although now I’m imagining just pallets of individually wrapped cookies and giggling at the visual.

        2. Mmm. Pallet of cookies.*

          I buy a TerraCycle candy wrapper box (for all packaging from individually wrapped snacks). It’s not cheap so not for everyone. But it does hold a lot. I have the small box and it’s only 1/2 full after 18 months, if I crush it down, it’s about 1/3 full. I figure I’ll get 2.5-3 years worth of wrappings in there.

          Again, not for everyone because of the cost and location (US company). They do have a 30% off sale a few times a year so I wait and never pay full price for any of their products.

          Those at large profitable companies might be able to persuade their offices to puchase different TerraCycle options, especially if the company has environmental initiatives.

          I don’t work for TerraCycle, just have a lot of guilt over throwing away potentially recyclable items if only the right program was out there.

      3. bamcheeks*

        I think the “do I really want it??” is much higher! If there’s an open pack or a load of biscuits on a plate, you tend to think, “ooh, I’ll just have one— they’ll only go to waste otherwise. Maybe a second..” The packaged biscuits usually come in twos so you feel like you’re committing to two biscuits straight away, AND you know they’ll sit there perfectly fine for months if you don’t open them.

        See also being the person who opens a new packet of something at a potluck or party and has to make an excuse that they’re just doing it to help everyone else out…

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This is an interesting insight into the background reasoning for taking a snack.

          1. JustaTech*

            I’m sure there’s some really interesting psychology/sociology research into the relative size of a barrier to snacks and how it impacts consumption.

            Like, sodas at my work are a quarter. I make more than enough money that I could have a soda every day if I wanted. But the barriers of 1) it’s a quarter! (rather than free) (do I have a quarter? Or other change? Will the machine take my bill?) and 2) It’s all the way on another floor where I never go, mean that I get maybe one paid soda every couple of months. But when it’s free sodas in the fridge at lunch where we’re already in the room? Sure!

    2. amoeba*

      Huh, I *definitely* have more of a problem with possible poop/urine/general genitalia things on hands than with nose/mouth/face stuff!

      1. bamcheeks*

        I understand the disgust factor is much higher, but rationally I think we’re all way more likely to get colds, bugs and other infections spread through respiratory bacteria and viruses than intestinal ones.

        1. sparkle emoji*

          But disgust as a reaction has a lot of evolutionary psych reasoning behind it so this disgust reaction at OP’s workplace may be irrational, but it will still be a big hurdle. Especially with feces, that’s one of the big disgust cues across cultures.

    3. I edit everything*

      I agree. Studies have shown over and over again that your phone has more harmful bacteria, etc., than a toilet seat. This guy was clearly never taught, “If you touch it, you take it” and then ended up with a plate piled with stuff he doesn’t want to eat and suffering the dirty looks from everyone else in the room. His pawing things is the real problem, not his lack of hand washing.

      Perhaps *everyone* should be required to wash their hands before partaking of snacks.

      1. JustaTech*

        My kiddo’s daycare is intense about hand washing (which is why they’re not closed every other week for some kind of plague) and it’s made me realize that, even though I work in a lab and have taken safe food handling courses, I still don’t wash my hands at *all* the recommended times.
        Like, I wash my hands whenever it’s a contamination/dirt issue (bathroom, cooking, raw meat, exiting the lab), but I didn’t think about things like “wash your hands when you get home/get to work” until I started taking Kiddo to school where step one of entering the room is “wash your hands”, even if you’re just picking up the kid.

    4. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      I get where you and the other commenters are trying to go with this, but there are legitimately more dangerous diseases spread by loo-related grossness than by other types, like hepatitis A (one of my (young, healthy-seeming) colleagues had to get a liver transplant because of a hepA infection), or like norovirus. Respiratory diseases are no fun (for context, I still mask 100% of the time) but I’d rather any of those than a liver transplant!

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, I appreciate that those are more serious, but they’re also considerably harder to pass on. It’s your good old high impact / low likelihood : low impact / high likelihood.

  19. 867-5309*

    OP1 – make your portfolio private. I do that with mine and there is a password that I share. You can do that when they ask for your portfolio or put the password on your resume with the link.

    1. Zesty frozen lemons*

      LW#1: Bella should be fired and the company’s lawyers should send a cease and desist letter telling her to remove their IP from her portfolio. If she refuses, the company might be able to issue a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown request to the portfolio hosting company.

      These actions are the company’s, so OP needs to talk to their boss and HR ASAP and hope the concerns are taken seriously. For my employer (small, semi-creative), this would be done in half a day. At a large company, well, best of luck.

      1. Zesty frozen lemons*

        That was supposed to be a top-level comment, not a reply. But, to the comment it’s a reply to, making the portfolio private is the wrong move here! Bella isn’t taking the content from OP’s portfolio, she’s taking it from the company files. Leaving the portfolio up helps to substantiate OP’s claim that Bella is stealing their work.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I think this is where the point about her being a co-worker comes in. You can’t do the things you’d normally do to protect your work, like watermarking, if she’s got access to the master files within the company system.

      I definitely think this is something you should take to your manager. It’s not just a private offence against LW, it’s someone using company resources and access in a completely unethical and unprofessional way and that should be something that management are concerned about.

  20. Jessi*

    OP1 can you start watermarking your early designs? Also yes talk to your boss about getting her access removed

    1. Filosofickle*

      It sounds like OP is employed as a designer for a company — that’s work for hire, so creative ownership belongs to the company and watermarking isn’t practical or even appropriate. Any watermark would belong to the company, and our faker could still claim they had a big hand in the work as they are also employed there.

      Employed designers have to walk a fine line. We can show and claim what we’ve done in our portfolios, but typically the rights belongs to our company and it’s a best practice to acknowledge that in some way in a portfolio. We can’t claim sole credit. We probably don’t own copyright. We can still say “I did this” or “I was on the team that did this.” It’s a bit of an honor system governing what counts as “ours”.

      It’s totally out of bounds to represent someone else’s work as your own but it’s incredibly common. What galls me the MOST here is they are using it as thought leadership. Most people have enough shame to steal work but only show it on the downlow, like in an interview or portfolio review, but doing it publicly take real gall.

  21. Utl*

    OP2 – can you let the actual company know, that there are scammers out there using their name? Maybe they can put a warning on their website or something… I know some banks do.

    1. Pam Adams*

      I keep wondering if this is a ‘real’ company that scams people as their primary business.

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

        It sounds like the LW looked into the company that the scammer is pretending to be a part of. This actually is starting to happen a lot more frequently.

        1. Ama*

          Yeah scammers have figured out that most people are aware enough of scams to at least check that a company/person/nonprofit is legitimate before engaging, so they have started to spoof identifies, clone websites, etc.

          I follow so many YouTubers who have to warn their audience about cloned accounts and people sending out DMs from fake “personal” accounts. Heck supposedly Keanu Reeves tried to follow me on Instagram last week (which is when I found a HUGE loophole in Instagram’s reporting feature — if the celebrity who is being impersonated does not actually have an account on Instagram you can’t finish the report form!).

          1. sparkle emoji*

            I’ve recently had 3 different accounts claiming to be the same US Representative try to follow me on an app where the Rep in question doesn’t have an account. I agree that that loophole is an issue.

    2. snarkalupagus*

      Just this week, my company has had several inquiries from people to whom a scammer reached out on LinkedIn, pretending to be part of our corporate HR and doing all communications via email and text, ostensibly for reasons of speed. Eventually each person’s Spidey-sense tingled and they started checking into things a bit further. I put together a boilerplate response confirming the scam and pointing people to our legit jobs page. Our Comms team runs our corporate LinkedIn profile and we’ve asked them to include some wording about our true recruitment process. I know a lot of people are legitimately recruited via LinkedIn, but you definitely need to do due diligence on the contacts. In our industry, “interviews” are *never* conducted purely via email or text, so the minute the “recruiter” claims that, it’s a tell.

  22. GythaOgden*

    Further to my original comment, I’ve done a bit of googling to see whether marital status plays an actual role in tax situations (because I know it’s fluctuated a bit in the past as cohabiting became more common than marriage as a legal institution), and yes, it does. The UK marriage allowance allows lower income couples to shift around their personal allowances to compensate if one person earns below that threshold. As a wife who did earn a part time wage under the PA threshold with a husband who earned more, we could have benefitted from it. You have to apply and obviously it would get cancelled if you lost your spouse, but on the whole it allowed lower-income couples to juggle their finances and get a tax break. ISTM it only came in when my husband was already dying, but it can also be claimed and backdated to when it first came out, meaning a bit of a windfall for some people.

    So yeah, given the way our tax is administered through payroll, it’s in your own interest to make sure you give people enough information about yourself to make these kinds of practical arrangements. Not sure how it works in the US, but certainly this isn’t something I’d hesitate about giving others because the financial benefit cancels out the privacy concerns, even in a situation like mine which got really weird really quickly.

  23. Nebula*

    I’ve just started a new job, and the employee profile on HR weirdly has the option to name an emergency contact – but just put the name in – and then separately asks for next of kin details. I’m going to check with HR, but I think they expect the next of kin to be an emergency contact, which is not the case for me. My emergency contact is my flatmate, not my mother who lives 500 miles away. A wider range of options and the ability to name the specific relationship is a good thing, not suspicious.

    1. doreen*

      I don’t think they expect the next of kin to be an emergency contact – if they did , there wouldn’t be two separate questions. But there are some situations where the actual next of kin needs to be contacted – it’s fine to notify my roommate or a neighbor if I’ve gotten injured and am going to the ER but if I’m unconscious the hospital may need to know my actual next of kin at some point , even if they are hundreds of miles away.

    2. DisneyChannelThis*

      I had a job with similar issue, my family was 700 miles away, my emergency contact was a friendly neighbor, job forms only had space for 1 contact. What I did was just make sure my emergency contact knew how to reach my next of kin and then just gave the job my emergency contact’s information. If it’s Disney broke an ankle and needs a lift home from the hospital neighbor has that handled. If it’s Disney is in a coma neighbor knows to call my family.

    3. Pickle Shoes*

      That is strange, if they only let you put a name. Kinda hard to contact someone without contact info.

      I hate the forms that want an emergency contact but specify it can’t be someone you live with. Those are the only people I’d want to list!

  24. Dumpster Fire*

    I’d put some tongs by the snacks, and a sign that says “If you touch it, you take it.” (And maybe an attribution on the sign that says “Board of Health”.)

    1. Hannah Lee*

      People who repeatedly touch all the shared foods are not going to be deterred by signs and tongs, some people have a thing about spreading their touch, germs on as many things as possible.

      I still remember going to mail a letter in 2020 height of terrifying COVID social distancing, wipe down groceries and mail times, going to mail a letter and seeing the person at the mailbox ahead of me purposely touching the entire mail slot and front of box with both their hands as though they were intentionally trying to leave germs around for someone to pick up. Gross and strange in normal times, but downright evil when we all thought you could catch it from contact with outdoor public surfaces and there was a good chance of it spreading and killing people.
      (I used some of my precious at the time disinfecting wipes to wipe down every surface they touched)

      1. Dancing Otter*

        I remember anecdotes from the time about individuals (not sure they qualify as human beings) being so offended by mask-wearers that they deliberately coughed at them. Same thinking there, maybe?

        1. Dahlia*

          That happens to a dear friend of mine to this day. While she’s wearing a mask that says “immunocompromised”. People will come up to her just to cough on her.

      2. lilsheba*

        there IS still a good chance of it spreading! And it may not be killing so much but it has permanently disabled people, and that is only going to rise.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yup — but guidance on surfaces at least proved to be overkill. (And I was permanently disabled during the pandemic falling down the stairs while depressed. I didn’t do it deliberately but I could feel there was only one way out of that situation and thank goodness I only landed on my ankle and snapped it rather than on my head or back.) There are lots of things out there that can kill and injure you, and yet humans have survived this long.

          Also, exposure to many germs in moderation keeps your immune system active. I’m not going round squeezing the pastries by any means, but I seem to have inherited my mother’s cast iron stomach so I’m not too worried. As long as you take precautions such as keeping uncooked meat separate from other foods and cook meat and fish thoroughly before eating it (particularly sausages and prawns), you’ll generally be safe at the kind of hygiene we live with now.

          Or you’ll get a freak gene in your kidney mutate and you’ll go from a fit 40 year old to a dead 44 year old and never even understand the word Covid. Given the risks we all take waking up each morning it’s actually pretty amazing we’re still here and have reached such a sophisticated level of existence.

  25. The Sweet One*

    For the snacks, is there a way to purchase individually wrapped/packaged treats? They cost a bit more, but nobody can handle the food itself that way.

    1. The Sweet One*

      I re-read some comments and wanted to clarify my suggestion—I wasn’t completely clear whether the previously attempted individually wrapped referred to treats that the OP had portioned and wrapped in a package or those that came in single-serve packets (like the kind you’d buy from a vending machine). The former makes it clear that somebody has handled the treats, and unless I was buying directly from the producer, I would probably wonder about food handling practices. Yes, it here are no guarantees either way, but I would 100% take a pre-packaged snack pack of cookies over the same number of cookies in a baggie/wrapped in cling film/plastic wrap.

    2. LilPinkSock*

      Per the last paragraph of the letter, they have been purchasing individually-wrapped snacks and those do not get eaten.

      1. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

        Probably because Fergus had already caressed the wrappers.

  26. Justin*

    Are people genuinely surprised by tax/payroll questions during onboarding? It’d be a huge financial issue for you down the line if you tried not to share this.

    1. HannahS*

      What was your purpose in saying this, except to make the OP feel stupid? She’s asking because she doesn’t know.

      I never thought to wonder why my employer needed to know the relationship between me and my emergency contact, but I’m not at risk of facing discrimination for being a woman with a male partner. Anyway, in my workplace that information was taken by the HR-equivalent to administer my benefits, but I’ve also had to submit it multiple times to other administrative offices which have no financial role. It would not cause “a huge financial issue” if my head of department–who would be responsible for calling my spouse if something happened to me–didn’t know that he was my legally married partner.

      1. Stopped Using My Name*

        I do not think it is an attempt to make anyone “feel stupid”. The hostility in the letter is hard to miss.

        1. Glowworm*

          Yeah feeling like it’s intrusive for your employer to need to know your legal marital status just feels a bit silly and overly precious. It’s a legal question for legal/logistical purposes.

  27. Honor Harrington*

    LW2- you might think about contacting the legit company by that name. This could damage their reputation, and they might want to get involved. They might not, but you never know. Most companies have an email address for, which is an easy way to reach out to their cybersecurity team.

  28. Falling Diphthong*

    You don’t need to find a magical solution just because people want you to.

    This applies in so many areas.

  29. Rosacoletti*

    Whoa #1 work done when you’re employed can’t be claimed as your own, unless it’s with permission and acknowledges the business who paid you to create it. I’ve employed designers for 20 years and this is basic stuff.
    Notify your employer who should shut her representation on your work as her own immediately.

    1. Reba*

      No one is claiming ownership of the IP or whatever, the issue is the claim of “this is an example of my work quality.”

      As you surely know it is common for designers to share images of client work. they are not saying that they own the swoosh, they are showing what they are capable of.

      The theft here is not from the company it is of the LW’s reputation in a sense.

  30. Check cash*

    OP 2, this company now has info on you, I definitely would not continue to communicate but you should report this for yourself and for others.

  31. Rosacoletti*

    Whoa #1 work done when you’re employed can’t be claimed as your own, unless it’s with permission and acknowledges the business who paid you to create it. I’ve employed designers for 20 years and this is basic stuff.
    Notify your employer who should shut her representation on your work as her own immediately.

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

      I’m not an expert but I’m wondering if in the portfolio Bella is saying that these are the items I did while working for X company. Like if I was employed by a magazine to write/ take photos I would still be able to use those in a portfolio to show the work I did for that company.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Not really. There’s no money in the first place to back up that check. They want LW to deposit that check, buy stuff, and then send the “extra” back. See the comment up above from ChattyDelle. Definitely a scam, but not money laundering.

    2. Roland*

      It’s not money laundering, it’s just theft. The check they send you will bounce after you’ve spend some of the funds (probably at a partner of theirs) and sent back the “remainder”. They never sent you real money at all, clean or dirty.

    3. LavaLamp (she/her)*

      No it’s not. It’s check kiting at the most. Money laundering involves making fake transactions so the dirty money is washed through a business and becomes legit revenue. So say a 7-11 was money laundering, they would create fake purchases for something like a box of cookies and accept the cash payment despite never selling the cookies, just having receipts that make it look like they did.

  32. H3llifIknow*

    Shut down your public portfolio or start putting identifying watermarks or your name in the corner of your work or whatever. Protect yourself, and also CALL BELLA OUT. Make sure that anyone at your agency who might be a reference for her knows that she’s using your work so they can provide that information (if your company permits actual references and not just dates/salary info). I had a former colleague who literally used MY resume and just changed the identifying information and some dates. I made sure the people in our field knew it, and she has been put on the “DO NOT HIRE” list at several companies after I let colleagues know.

  33. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*


    …lids don’t get sealed, packages get opened and left sitting out, and individually wrapped biscuits don’t get eaten.

    If even the individually wrapped snacks don’t get eaten because Fergus keeps caressing and opening the wrappers, then the solution is to either…

    (1) distribute the snacks to everyone’s desks, so that Fergus gets to caress only his portion and nobody else’s; or…

    (2) just stop ordering snacks. Hard stop.

    Either way, if Fergus complains, then call him out.

  34. Mauve not purple*

    LW #2. In addition to not cashing the check can you contact the police or the Post Office? Is it a felony to send fraudulent checks through the mail?

    1. GythaOgden*

      There might well be an equivalent of the UK Action Fraud group who are the arm of the police over here linked to cases of scamming and fraud. So not like calling the police directly, more like filling out a report and listing as many details of the people involved as possible so they can investigate. Also see if there’s a Crimestoppers or similar number to report people online.

      It might just be a case of adding to a potential fraud database if you’re not actually out any money. If you are out money you may be able to contact your bank directly; the UK has mechanisms for people who have fallen victim to people who demand money up front and then walk off with it without making any contact, supplying anything ostensibly paid for or doing any work. (Ask me how I know :(. Luckily mine was such an open and shut case that I had my money back after a week of kicking myself for being a twit. But this sort of loss can be substantial. My BIL has had work done but can’t get any paperwork out of the tradesman to send to his insurance, which are going to pay him back for the damage to his roof. I might get my dad to write a stern letter to this charlatan because my BIL simply cannot afford not to get reimbursed for the roof repairs and my dad is good at being firm with people who are trying to pull one over on us.)

      You shouldn’t have to tie yourself in knots over this. Most banks and law enforcement agencies should have information on how to report scams like this one. My husband’s cousin was contacted by scumbags trying to pull one on her — she told them to get lost in no uncertain terms; they actually tried to screw over a career recruiter… — and as I said above I was taken for a ride because I’m pretty desperate to get both my back and front garden cleaned up. The people in authority are very kind and understanding of vulnerability to this sort of chicanery so it should be fairly simple to sort out.

  35. HonorBox*

    OP1 – Your boss is already clued in, so I’d go back and work with them to build some additional protections for yourself and your work. You don’t need to out Bella’s job search specifically because you already know she’s representing your work as hers on LinkedIn. But you can very easily say that a friend in the industry brought it to your attention too.

    And I wouldn’t just bring it up as a heads up. I’d bring it up with a request for something more actionable. There may be better protections going forward, but you need strong support going backward too. She’s misrepresenting, plagiarizing, and potentially doing harm to your future opportunities, and someone needs to stop things in their tracks. Yes, she should probably be fired… but you need to know that you have support in getting her activities to stop beforehand because if she’s fired, there’s very little that can be done.

    At the very least, I’d go to your boss with a letter that they can sign that highlights the projects you led and the creative you developed. You can then post that with your portfolio, and update that letter with every project you work on.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Normally, I’m all for protecting people’s privacy when they are job hunting. I don’t tell my clients when their own employees are applying to jobs or have their resumes up on job boards.

      But in this case – all bets are off. The OP doesn’t owe Bella any consideration whatsoever. Bella is not only stealing credit, but she’s potentially damaging the OP’s ability to be known as the creator of her own work. And Bella has already been called out and STILL refuses to stop.

      In the OP’s shoes, I would let her manager know this is happening again, and that she was alerted by a friend who saw the information posted publicly / on a resume / LinkedIn profile / in a portfolio / whatever. Let the manager draw their own conclusions about why the information is out there.

      1. Elbe*

        Agreed. Bella isn’t passively posting this claim somewhere – she’s actively going out within the industry and making those claims.

        The situation is much more urgent now that if Bella hadn’t been job searching. It’s something that she needs to flag to her employer so that they understand the situation and can handle it appropriately.

  36. redflagday701*

    LW3: I would be sorely tempted to hang out near the communal snacks so I could make loud comments like “Ahhh, Fergus! Touching all the snacks again, I see. It’s pretty gross, because we all know you don’t wash your hands after using the bathroom, but that’s your choice, of course. Just a heads-up, everyone: Fergus has touched the snacks with his gross hands now, like he always does—he doesn’t wash after using the bathroom, you know—so you probably don’t want any of these biscuits!”

    I know people have already mentioned it to him, but I think there’d be some benefit to upgrading it to a full-on public shaming. That might sound extreme, but this is an adult man in a senior role who is choosing to ignore a couple of very basic rules for coexisting with other human beings, even after having been reminded of them. If he wants to be disgusting, let him enjoy the natural consequences of being disgusting.

    You might not have the capital to do this yourself, LW3, but is there someone—perhaps a man who can strike the right tone of friendly amusement—who does? Once the ice is broken, I suspect more people will feel free to call Fergus out. He might not change his behavior, but he can at least be the person bearing the discomfort, and it will be a lot more clear that he’s to blame when you either bring in the less desirable individually packaged snacks or get rid of them entirely.

  37. TootsNYC*

    Re: 2. My job offer is a scam

    The other thing you should do is tell everyone you know, especially anyone struggling to find work, or who has a mindset that magic happens, about this scam, and how to spot it.

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

      yes. and if OP found this on a website like indeed or linkedin or something she should report it as fraud.

  38. Lurker*

    OP3 (non hand-washer) your choices are either (1), persist with the individually wrapped snacks (I know you said they’re not popular but it’s an option if you don’t want to remove snacks completely) or (2) no snacks at all, let people know they’ll have to bring their own from now on. If you think it would help, you could take a poll and ask people what individually wrapped snacks they’d be okay with. If you want to go the no snacks at all route, as Allison said I think it be useful to explain *why* you’ve made this decision as that may prompt a higher up to attempt an intervention.

    1. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

      For the poll, make sure to ask everybody and then avoid Fergus’ favorites.

  39. kiki*

    people are asking me to either fix the problem or find different storage solutions that will remove the opportunity for him to fiddle with the food

    It sounds like you have tried all the reasonable strategies within your power that could prevent this man from contaminating the food (containers, individually packaged snacks, etc.).

    A lot of times people will make something seem like a problem for somebody more accessible, which an office manager tends to be, because the way it really ought to be solved is too awkward or has to be escalated very high up. I wouldn’t let this become your problem to solve. Whoever manages this guy or HR has to have a stern talking with him.

    1. Not my problem*

      Yes, I agree, this is not your problem OP3. Tell people to goto HR or his manager.
      Please internalize that this is NOT your problem.

  40. WellRed*

    OP 3, stop wasting time on this and stop buying snacks. Hands guy is gross but the rest of them seem childish and entitled.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I don’t know that they seem childish (they are going to OP because this is a “very senior man” which is problematic in and of itself) but I’ve never worked any place that provided free snacks (and fruit! they get free fruit!).

      Yep, the solution is to just stop providing all of this stuff. If very senior man asks why, the solution is just to tell him that someone kept touching all the food without washing their hands and people are icked out. He’ll either get the point or will continue into the future, forever oblivious.

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

    #2 maybe you can reach out to the company they are claiming to be to let them know that someone is pretending to be them to scam people. Something similar happened with a local business, only they were using the company’s phone number.
    I don’t know how or even if the company could do anything.

  42. NaoNao*

    This is so minor but it tickles my fancy that the letter writer with the no-wash coworker explains what biscuits are for us Yanks (“cookies”) I can just imagine their resigned, amused pronunciation “oh, that’s quewquewes for you Yanks” ha ha!

    1. LW3*

      It was more that I foresaw some sort of derailment where 90% of commenters understood that I’m not in the US, and 10% debated whether or not I was providing biscuits and gravy to staff.

      (If only. Truly, the American biscuit is a thing of beauty. I’ve tried to make them, but muscle memory takes over and they turn into scones.)

  43. Lacey*

    I’m wondering if OP1 is a graphic designer or some other type of creative where others on the team NEED to have access to the originals.

    For example, I work on a team where we all handle the same clients.
    So, a coworker designs an ad campaign. A few months down the line, the client wants to change the campaign slightly.

    The rest of us have to be able to make the changes, in case the coworker is busy or sick or on vacation.
    But, it would be totally unethical for me to put even the design with changes in my portfolio. I didn’t design it, I just edited it.

    And while there’s certainly company documentation of who designed what, there’s no way to imbed something in the file that would show who created it.
    We just trust each other to be honest.
    And of course the OP can’t do that.

  44. coldsassy*

    For #2 – absolutely, please have nothing more to do with these people. Don’t even tell them you’re blocking them, just block them. I work in a bank and have seen many of these scam checks come through. People have lost their accounts over things like this because they deposit the check and send the money out that the scammers are asking for and then the check returns and the account ends up a couple thousand dollars overdrawn, which the victim is on the hook for with the bank. I’m glad you listened to your gut and realized that this was too good to be true.

    1. coldsassy*

      Oh, also – if by any chance you gave them any sensitive information, please take precautions to protect yourself. If they have your SSN (assuming this is in the US) you’ll want to freeze your credit and keep a careful eye on your accounts for unknown charges.

  45. ConstantlyComic*

    The petty part of me thinks that the company in #3 should just stop providing food and say it’s because someone was touching everything after not washing their hands in the bathroom, then let the ensuing mob handle things.

    1. Audrey Puffins*

      This is 100% what should be done. If people aren’t eating the snacks anyway then it makes sense to stop providing them, why not explain why at the same time?

  46. Northbayteky*

    My daughter had a similar scam job offer. They sent money to her checking account supposedly for the purchase of the camera equipment they required. So she was waiting for the money to go from pending to available when they contacted her pressuring her to buy the equipment. When she told them she couldn’t afford to, they continued to pressure her. Fortunately she told us what was going on and we told her it must be a scam.

    That check scam is old and has been around for a long time.

  47. Spicy Tuna*

    Dirty hands guy – can you set out tongs to use for serving? Otherwise, snacks have to stop. What a pig!

    1. Clisby*

      Never underestimate how much instruction people will ignore. My son worked one summer in a cookie store down in the tourist trap that is Charleston, SC’s Market Street. They sold a wide variety of cookies (very good, by the way), and near the checkout counters there were glass containers of cookies people could sample. Tongs were supplied, and there were signs to please use the tongs when sampling cookies. My son said almost every day somebody was cramming their dirty hands down into the glass jars and rummaging around the cookies. They had to retire that jar, discard the cookies, and wash and sanitize it, all while cursing the general public.

      I told him when he took this job he could learn a lot about dealing with the public. About halfway through the summer, he reminded me of that and said, “I’ve learned the public sucks.”

  48. Ess Ess*

    OP #1 – Definitely talk to your company’s legal department. She is using company property that does not belong to her and sharing it with others outside the company. That is a violation of intellectual property.

    OP #2 – You should notify the real company that they are being used for a scam so they are aware. If they have a legal department, they will likely want the ip and copies of the scam communications.

    OP #3 – This is an issue that needs to be raised and handled by the coworker’s manager. This should be a disciplinary action. Basic hygiene and not handling other food with bare hands is a performance issue. For serving food, supply tongs or papers for grabbing food. For the reasons that food is not being eaten, send out a survey (preferably with anonymous responses) asking why food is not being eaten. If it is anonymous response, then people might be willing to respond if there is a hygiene-related reason.

  49. Lucy P*

    #2 I would just ignore it. I had the same thing happen to a friend. Of course the check turned out to be bogus.

    Recently I was also involved in a weirder interview scam. I applied for a real job, for a real company (eventually verified by the company itself) through a large, popular job board. About a week and a half later, I received a request to do a one-way preliminary interview through another well-known website. What I should have noticed was that although the company name was ABC Company, the interview invite only said that ABC wanted to interview me. 5 days after my interview, never having spoken with anyone at ABC in real time, I received a job offer. The position title in the email was different from the job that I had applied for. The title in the offer letter matched what I had applied for, but the job duties were all wrong. “They” wanted me to start paid training at night, while I transitioned out of my regular job by day.

    I was to sign the offer letter, send it back to Mr. X at ABC, and then add Mr. X as a contact in Teams.

    The whole thing felt weird. The offer letter was signed by the supposed President of the company. However the name on the letter, didn’t match the name of the President on the website. Thus, I did nothing that day.

    The next morning, I called ABC and asked for Mr. X. The receptionist got nervous and then asked if I was calling about the job offer. Turns out they had a real position, which they had filled the week before I did the interview. Not only was the job offer fake, someone other than ABC had me do a one-way interview. All she could tell me was that they were aware of the issue and were looking into it. I was not the only person who had received the fake interview request and offer.

    I realize that so many people film themselves and put their image and likeness online for the world to see, but not me. I’m private and thus it really bugs me that I spent an hour doing an interview where someone got a video of me under false pretenses.

    In order to protect myself, I notified the job board, who assured me that the job link had been closed. I notified the interviewing website, who assured me that the account of the fake ABC had been closed and that the fakers could not access my video any longer. I emailed management, security and HR at the true ABC, but never heard back from them.

    I get that scammers are out there. This hasn’t stopped me from applying for jobs. However, if they’re getting this elaborate about things, how do we protect ourselves? How do we spot the fraud sooner?

    1. Lucy P*

      Clarifying my first sentence…ignore any future communications from the scammers, but yes, do not let all other necessary entities know about it.

  50. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    With Bella, they’ll find out pretty quickly when they hire her and she can’t do same work that’s in “her” portfolio. If it’s a reasonably small industry, this may get around on its own.

    1. Elbe*

      I actually worked for a company that hired a lead designer only to find out that he knew basically nothing. There were rumors that he had faked his entire portfolio, because he couldn’t even do basic things and didn’t know very common terms.

      It was awful and the entire design team was a mess for a while. They fired him, but it still cost the other team members a lot of work and stress while he was there.

  51. Immortal for a limited time*

    #3. I once worked in the insurance industry, where the medical director position is usually filled by an M.D. with clinical experience. Guess who was the most hygienically disgusting person on staff? Yep, the M.D. would absent-mindedly rub his nose or cough into his hand or scratch himself in a private spot just before jamming his hand into someone’s candy jar.

  52. Just Thinkin' Here*

    OP#4 – These are standard questions with meaningful usage in the US. Benefit providers like health, dental, and vision insurance, work-paid life insurance, and any additional benefits often need spousal and dependent information to include them in coverage. If your single with no dependents, your HR won’t need to follow-up for any additional info.

    As for asking for an emergency contact. Sadly, there is a good reason for this. Workplace accidents and illness. I work in a white collar industry where folks do a lot of work travel. Twice now I’ve had someone in my division die while on the job due to heart attack (quite literally while sitting in a meeting). Ambulances called, sending the employee to a non-local hospital where there is no previous medical records for this person. That is not the time to try and figure out who and how to contact family members to get additional medical information. HR (and a manager) should have that readily available for emergencies.

    1. Formerly Ella Vader*

      LW #4: In the jurisdiction I live in, the tax department’s onboarding forms, which our HR and payroll department see after the new employee completes them, ask about whether the employee is supporting a spouse or common-law partner or tax-equivalent. The forms don’t ask anything about marital status or gender. For employees who become eligible for our benefits, the benefits provider needs to find out who they are required to include in their family coverage (spouse or former spouse and children, with names and birthdates) but they can go to the benefits company’s website and fill in that information themselves, along with instructions for what to do about their life insurance. The benefits administrator can see the name, “sex”, birthdate, and identified relationship for each dependent. (I think it still says “spouse” for a former spouse whose benefits coverage is required by a separation or divorce agreement, but I don’t know that for sure.) Anyway, our benefits provider (or possibly our laws, I don’t know) requires us to cover certain dependents, but that information doesn’t go through us – we just get a bill from the benefits provider.

      Anyway, because we don’t need to know marital status or gender of our employees or applicants for any external requirement, we don’t ask for it. Ever.

      Our emergency-contact form invites the worker to provide one or two emergency contacts, prioritized, and to indicate the relationships. Relationships is a fill-in box rather than a dropdown. In previous (more exciting) parts of my life, I have chosen to describe a partner as “friend” or as “legal next of kin”, since I didn’t want my employer knowing about my partnership status, and I remember being in situations where I thought a new employer might think I was a bit weird for not being married. Those forms used to make me uncomfortable. Nowadays I might write “local friend” and “sister” for the two options (and these people know to contact each other) and I feel socially secure enough not to worry about being judged. As management who sees all this information, my experience on the vulnerable side makes me sensitive to how some people might feel uncomfortable being asked.

      Anyway, OP – I get it. In a big company with appropriate boundaries nobody who knows you is likely to see your emergency-contacts form, except the person supervising you for remote work or travel. And lots of people write down “friend”, or something like “next door neighbour”. If you work in a small company with nosy co-workers, yeah, they might speculate – don’t out yourself on the form if that feels risky. But whether the person on your contact form is authorized to make medical decisions for you, or whether a hospital will tell them anything about your condition over the phone when you’re unconscious — that has nothing to do with what you tell your employer. Consider carrying that information in your wallet.

      1. Coverage Associate*

        Sometimes when I have filled out information re dependents, etc for workplace benefits, the employer logo is on the forms and website, even though it’s separate companies, etc. It’s a bit of a higher level co marketing thing same as my coffee mug branded with the manufacturer and my employer. I can see how someone could be confused in that situation, especially if these are paper forms from the workplace.

  53. Velawciraptor*

    It hurts everything in my little public defender heart to say this, but if the scam employer sends you a check, hand that whole mess, plus any other documentation you have of the scam, over to the police, or possibly the postal inspector (since it seems to land in the mail fraud neighborhood). This sort of scam is a numbers game, meaning they’re doing it to plenty of people. With some decent evidence, they might be able to do something about this specific iteration of this scam, which is something. No guarantees, but worth a shot.

  54. DJ Abbott*

    Re #3-doesn’t wash his hands. He knows that everyone knows he doesn’t wash his hands, and he runs his hands over all the food. It’s deliberate. What a passive-aggressive jerk!

  55. Kara*

    To LW#1 –

    I would also suggest if you see her posting your work on any social media / professional media sites, you use their “report” function to report plagiarism. I just looked on LinkedIn and if you click the 3 dots on the upper right of her post, there is an option for “violates LinkedIn terms/policies” and you can then explain that this is your work that is being stolen and posted. Most sites have a similar option. Or an email address you can reach out to.

    I would definitely push back on these sites and not let her post your work as her own.

  56. Zona the Great*

    Honestly, the only thing that seems to work with men like him is loudly and publicly shaming him until it stops and that isn’t appropriate to do in a workplace.

  57. Religious Nutter*

    LW #2 – Do not inform them. Scammers work entirely through available information. Every iota of data you send their direction is fuel for them to harm you or someone else. Block their contacts on every platform you’ve spoken to them on.

    A text interview (!) on Signal (!!) would have been enough for me to cut all contact.

    When that check arrives, refuse it if it requires a signature (you don’t want them getting a scan of your signature). If it’s just delivered without verification, then shred it.

    1. DJ Abbott*

      In case anyone doesn’t know, this seems like a good time to mention the check-washing scam. I work in finance and I’ve heard about this a lot the last year or so. Criminals are stealing checks out of the mail, using chemicals to take off everything except the signature, and presenting a check made out to themselves to the original signer’s bank.
      So if the scammers obtain a scan of OP’s signature, they can fake a check with her signature and steal her money that way.

      1. Bruce*

        What I’ve read is that sometimes they are even stealing the digital scans of checks and modifying them… these cases may include an insider at the bank. It makes me very wary of using a check for anything these days, but there are some cases I can’t avoid it.

  58. Yup*

    #1 – UGH! Same thing happened to me, in creative/advertising! Except we were both applying for new jobs and I spotted their CV posting somewhere, taking credit for 2 projects they had 0 to do with. I was so mad they were taking credit for my (very, very hard work–staying till midnight for weeks!) work and pretending they had more experience than they actually had.

    This was over a decade ago and I’m still mad about it. There was no one to tell about it at the time, and I had a very real worry that a potential employer would see both our CVs claiming credit for the same work. I categorically refused to ever be in the same agency as them again. I can only imagine what they sabotaged when we worked together and I was their junior!

  59. KK*

    LW#3. Can you put out tongs or other serving utensils for these snacks? At worst, you just have to sanitize the tongs, not worry that the snacks are contaminated.

  60. Coverage Associate*

    So I had to actually look at a W4 to confirm. It asks your filing status but a lot of the rest of the information being discussed is on the optional worksheets, not the required form. Also, the filing status is prospective, which makes lying about it “hard.” For example, my husband and I were engaged for over a year and got married well into the tax year. If I wanted my with holdings accurate for the year we got married, in terms of having as close as possible to both 0 refund and 0 tax due at filing time, I should have updated my W4 January 1 ahead of the wedding, because my tax status would change by the end of the year/filing. But if I had, and the wedding fell through, I don’t know that that would be perjury, because updating the form was my best estimate in terms of its purpose, which is to set withholding for your planned filing status.

    And, lots of people purposefully set withholding to get large refunds, and the IRS certainly isn’t going after them for perjury on their W4s.

    So I don’t think the W4 is a good example of the employer collecting the information the OP considers sensitive.

  61. Coverage Associate*

    Next, emergency contact. I totally see that there are practical reasons for the employer to want to know the relationship. I think every time I have filled out such a form, I filled in the relationship. I didn’t have to choose. If OP considers the type of relationship personal, I suppose OP could try to put that. Even if OP has to choose, I don’t think it’s lying to label a family member “friend.”

    But I do want to point out that the next of kin is not always the health care decision maker. Someone could have a power of attorney for healthcare. Without one, I think my state has no official policy re who decides. It didn’t when I was completing my power of attorney for healthcare.

    1. Pickle Shoes*

      For what it’s worth, state laws can modify things (to make rules more strict) but federal guidelines would default to your next of kin making healthcare decisions. It might not have come up since a valid POA overrides the default.

      It comes up pretty often for my job and I deeply wish this subject was easier to navigate. You pointed out something very important that a lot of people don’t think about. Something else to consider is that a POA is only useful if the treating provider has a copy, which seems obvious until you think about all of the ways that can go wrong.

  62. Marcella*

    #1 – This has happened to me. Here’s what I learned.

    Getting a lawyer involved may be worth it. It lets the plagiarist know you won’t back down and they could be financially on the hook. Since you’re still coworkers, I would start by making a bigger fuss about it with your boss and insist HR get involved as it could impact your future career. You’ll have to advocate for yourself and make it more uncomfortable for them to ignore the situation.

    I had an admin use all of my work at one place to get a Content Director job. She was fired pretty quickly, but to this day it blows my mind she made it through the entire interview process. She took credit for everything I did – metrics taken from my LinkedIn page, all the ebooks, blog posts, infographics, videos, and white papers I did, community events – all of it. I really wish now I had made more of a fuss but she had already been fired by the time I found out.

    Right now I’m dealing with an imposter who keeps calling himself a CMO (which he is – of a lawn mowing service that’s him and his brother, but he is an entry level clerk at our employer) and implying online that he is my boss, though I am Head of Marketing and Brand. He is completely dependent on AI with no skills of his own, and I’m concerned he’s crediting himself with my work. So while it’s uncomfortable, I’ve been keeping a firm hand on the situation. Some people are absolutely audacious. And it really can hurt you, because creative industries are very whisper-whisper and you can find yourself maligned with just one remark – “Yes, she was Creative Director at that agency, but everyone says she didn’t come up with a single campaign. It was actually Miranda.” And that’s the version that spreads.

  63. Elbe*

    I’ve noticed that she’s accessed a few early sketches, presumably so she can show them as proof of process.

    It seems like LW1’s system has a way to track access and changes for files. If that is the case, they need to get screenshots IMMEDIATELY.

    Screenshot the record that shows the LW creating the file and screenshot the record that shows Bella accessing it after the fact. If it tracks all changes, screenshot the edits and updates that are under LW’s name, and get the whole record to show that no edits were made by Bella.

  64. OP4*

    OP4 here. Thanks for all the responses. My comment seems so low stakes compared to the others. But I thought I would add just as a bit of clarification. I sent this in after dealing with ALL of the other paperwork and coming across the last item. The New Hire Information form.

    My frustration was building as each.and.every.form asked much of the same questions. Tax forms, insurance forms, background check forms, direct deposit forms (requiring a paper check), and payroll forms. Each.and.every.form needed to be printed out and physically brought to a meeting with 20+ other new hires all in the same role. (To be fair, they did provided paper copies at the meeting for those who didn’t have access to a printer.)

    The payroll system is automated but I was given 9 pages of instructions and seventeen steps explaining how to fill out a timesheet.

    Now that I have had time to reflect, I can see where a one page summary of contact information is useful. Wish there was a one page summary on how to fill out the timesheet!

  65. Forty Years in the Hole*

    #1: nothing constructive to add to this (frustrating) situation- but I’m having “Big Eyes” movie vibes. All went well for the plagiarizer- until it fell apart in court. Not quite the same scenario but when you FA you FO.

  66. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    RE emergency contact–You can/should be able to list any type of relationship you need. For years I listed my ex-husband, and put that down as the relationship or “friend” if a fill-in option wasn’t available. We had an exteremly amicable split, even having the other come over on Christmas morning for about 7 years after our divorce. And I have been no contact with my family for 25+ years, so he was truly the person who knew exactly what to do if something happened to me at that time. It’s a weird thing to put your ex-partner as your emergency contact, so I wanted to make sure if anyone needed to call they’d understand the connection.

  67. Pickle Shoes*


    Speaking up that first time is usually the hardest part, but you did it!

    At this point, talk to your boss again. You know they’re on your side about this and they need to know it’s still happening or they can’t help. Even if this turns into more of a legal issue, your employer likely has more resources available than you will.

    The other hard part might just be letting people talk. You’re in a tiny industry, which means word will spread relatively easily and that can be really uncomfortable. Conduct yourself professionally, save screenshots of files being accessed and as much original content as you can, remember you’re in a very small world, and let Bella learn that lesson the hard way.

  68. CSRoadWarrior*

    #2 – Stop talking to them. In fact, just ghost and block them. Nothing good will come from this.

    I’ve had scam offers before and I did something similar OP did. By the time I realized, I blocked and deleted everything. Luckily, I never sent any money either.

  69. Sharon*

    The choices are married, single, domestic partner, widow, divorced.

    Ugh, I hate these, especially because so many people fit into either multiple boxes or none. If they thought about why they need to know they could come up with options that are (a) more inclusive, (b) better at getting the needed information, and (c) not asking for irrelevant personal information.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I’m curious how you think anyone would fit in multiple or no boxes? If you’re none of the above you would just be single? Also, it’s not irrelevant, it’s needed for tax purposes.

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