I’m in a family business with a cheater, I don’t want to be the face of a company campaign, and more

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

1. I’m in a family business with a cheater

My wife’s sister owns a business with her boyfriend. We are all really close. I do art for their business and I created their logo. Recently my sister in law unraveled a web of lies in regard to her boyfriend. He’s been cheating on her for over a decade. He says he’s a sex addict. She initially kicked him out but kept the business going with him because it’s their livelihood. They are always doing deliveries on short notice and basically talk business 24/7. He is a total mess on keeping anything organized or written down for finances. He is a good salesman though. She ultimately decided to get back with him.

I don’t like him and I don’t want to do art for their business because he would benefit. I’m struggling on how to tell her this.

I think you could simply be honest: “I’m struggling with the way he treated you, and it’s made me realize I shouldn’t be wrapped up in the business anymore. Mixing business and family is complicated under the best of circumstances, and this has made it harder. So I’m going to step out of the business pieces, but I can do anything you need over the next two weeks to wrap up loose ends or help you look for someone new.”

2. I don’t want to be the face of my company’s recruitment campaign

My company is embarking on a recruitment publicity campaign and has asked me to be the face of my job.

I’m hesitant for many reasons — I don’t think I’m actually a good fit for my role (I find it overly administrative), I don’t particularly like my company (I disagree with some of the employment policies they have), and I am actively taking steps to look for other opportunities.

I’ve tried explaining to them that I am uncomfortable with being part of the campaign as I value my privacy. Furthermore, I’m recovering from a medical issue and do not feel or look 100%. But they refuse to let me off. So far, I’ve been avoiding replying HR on my availability but I know I cannot escape them for long. What can I do to make them back off and maintain my job here till I find something new?

Say this: “I’ve given this some thought but it’s not something I can do. That answer is final — thanks for understanding.” If they keep pushing after that: “It’s making me really uncomfortable that you’re not respecting my answer.”

It’s obnoxious for them to push anyone to do this who has already declined, but if you’re visibly a minority in your field (race, visible disability, etc.), it’s particularly obnoxious since it’s it’s almost certainly because they’re willing to ignore your discomfort in a quest to make themselves look diverse and inclusive (regardless of the actual experience of the person they’re using to do it).

3. My job impersonated me to request free Covid tests

Today, I got an automated email from USPS confirming my request for free Covid tests. It looked legitimate and had my correct name and home address, but was sent to my work email and I did not make this request. A little digging uncovered that my company had submitted this request on my behalf and was doing so for every employee in preparation for an upcoming, in-person all staff meeting we’d all be traveling for. They didn’t ask our permission or let us know this was happening.

Is this … allowed? I’m guessing it’s not illegal, but it feels weird for a company to pretend to be individual staff (and use our personal information without asking) to avoid buying supplies they need to run a safe event. It would be one thing if they asked staff to do that on our own (I’d probably still feel peeved at having to pack my suitcase full of supplies for their event, but at least it would feel honest?). Regardless of if it’s legal/allowed or whatever, am I justified in being weirded out by this?! Do you have advice about what, if anything, I should do to raise concerns?

Yeah, this is a little off; they essentially engaged in a transaction with the government on your behalf while claiming to be you. (I checked the form they would have had to fill out, and there’s nothing asking them to attest to who they are, but it’s still icky.) Also, requests for free tests are restricted one per household, so what if you’d already requested yours or someone else in your household planned to? Or you had those tests allocated for another use? I don’t think it’s worth escalating — it’s more weird than outrageous — although you could certainly point out that you had planned on using those tests for something else and so the event will need its own supply.

At least they’re asking people to test, I suppose.

4. When a company wants manager references

When a potential employer or staffing agency asks for supervisor references, how literal should that be taken? Do they have to be my direct bosses, or can they also be people higher on the organization ladder who gave me tasks to do? In one of my past jobs, my relationship with pretty much everyone in the organization was better than my relationship with my boss.

Typically it means the person who managed you or, in some cases, maybe that person’s boss if they worked closely with you. But it doesn’t mean people who just are higher in the hierarchy and gave you work. You might be able to make a case for it if someone worked closely with you and has the close and nuanced perspective on your work that they’d be expecting from a manager. (It’s also reasonable to say something like, “I’ll be honest, my relationship with that manager soured when I told her I was leaving, and I’m concerned it will affect the reference she’d give. But I’d be glad to put you in touch with two senior leaders from that job who I worked with closely and who could give you nuanced perspectives on my work.”)

everything you need to know about job references

5. How to communicate an extended work absence for health situations

I am a small business owner who manages a small team and I’m going through a mental health crisis that is limiting my ability to work. I am able to take the time off that I need and my business partner (who knows what is going on) is filling in for me as manager, but I’m unsure how to communicate the situation to my staff. I don’t want to say “I’m having a nervous breakdown and will probably be back at work eventually but I don’t know when.” Do I just say I’m dealing with a family emergency? How should I ask my partner to respond to the genuine concern that my staff have about my absence? So far I’ve been unable to work in-person (I am able to do a few hours/week of remote work — just really essential stuff my partner isn’t cross-trained to do yet) for four weeks, which seems kind of long for a “family emergency.” Maybe I’m overthinking this?

“Dealing with a health situation” or “family emergency” or “family health situation” all work! Family emergencies and serious health situations can take months, depending on what’s going on. It’s also okay to include something like “family health situation that she requests privacy around” if you want (although sometimes in an effort to ward off questions, that can cause more speculation). You could also include something like “she’ll be okay but will need some time for it to resolve.”

{ 322 comments… read them below }

  1. Ashley Armbruster*

    Do companies ask for references anymore? With my last 2 jobs within the last 6 years, no one has asked for references. I work in digital marketing on the in-house side for reference.

    1. Gila Monster*

      I was asked to give two separate references, one academic and one professional, within the last two weeks. (Different people whom I met at different jobs.) It probably depends on the field, but in my government-adjacent job, we’re required to have phone reference checks with a few people before HR will extend an offer.

    2. COHikerGirl*

      About 2ish years ago I was applying for a job that required 5 references. At the time of application.

      I did not finish that application.

      1. hello*

        Yeah, I saw one of those when I was first applying for jobs coming out of college…for a job marked as entry level. And it wouldn’t let you proceed to the next step without all 5 references filled in. I assume they made a mistake when setting up the process, but who knows…

        1. Cabbagepants*

          this feels like one of those banana pants hiring requirements that is put in place by people who have not, themselves, been on the job market for decades.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I think it’s the kind of thing that intensely risk-averse companies do, without thinking about the risk of missing out on good hires because people nope tf out of their process.

          2. Hannah Lee*

            It’s also the kind of thing that winds up happening if whoever is setting up the job application app isn’t thinking clearly about how, and at what stage in the process the app is being used and by whom.

            I’ve seen it in instances where someone involved in the app design gets the bright idea that since there are 50 bits of information that will be requested of candidates during the *entire* recruiting process, they might as well request input of it up front so it’s all in the HRIS (or whatever) system when it IS needed. It’s likely not being requested by the hiring managers or by someone who is thinking strategically about recruitment, sourcing quality candidates. Sane people may have seen the references fields on the app data entry design and not realized that someone they were being coded as ‘mandatory, cannot proceed without’ fields. (Unless those people are deliberately looking to create hurdles for candidates to jump over and are trying to filter out the people with boundaries, common sense who would balk at excessive data gathering, excessive effort asked in the ‘resume submission’ part of the process)

            1. no tea*

              “gets the bright idea that since there are 50 bits of information that will be requested of candidates during the *entire* recruiting process, they might as well request input of it up front so it’s all in the HRIS (or whatever) system when it IS needed. It’s likely not being requested by the hiring managers or by someone who is thinking strategically about recruitment, sourcing quality candidates.”
              All of this. If I had my way with a posting that I’m working on right now, I would require 3 references (the standard at this company) but not require full mailing address, multiple phone numbers and email, etc because that is just ridiculous. And I wouldn’t require it on the first page of the application. But the software isn’t set up that way and I can’t change that. I don’t know that my IT department can either–I suspect that it came to us this way.

      2. WeirdChemist*

        I recently looked into a job application for a job that’s extremely competitive and very much a reach (mostly on a whim to see if I would qualify). And they require 5 references including your current supervisor!

        Granted, the application was for NASA’s astronaut candidacy program…. A bit more worth it in my opinion haha

        1. Emmy Noether*

          I feel like if I was asked for a reference for a supervisee to become an astronaut, I would give a good one just for the chance to be able to say that I supervised an astronaut…

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Such a good thing to have in your back pocket.

            “How does thing job lead to long term career advancement?”

            “You’ll learn a lot and make great connections. My last hire became an astronaut.”

        2. Phony Genius*

          I’d love to know what they ask when they contact a reference. “Please describe the type of work the candidate has done in a zero-G environment. Do they work well with others in a confined space for months at a time?”

      3. M2*

        I have had to go this before including one person who worked directly under me, but it was for a very senior role.

        I also have been a reference many times and don’t mind as long as someone doesn’t take a job and then ask me for a reference again 6 months later then a year later. If you dont get the role and they did references on a couple candidates I understand, but I had one person who was a job hopper and I had to tell them I couldn’t be a reference anymore.

        I also have an issue with companies that contact references before the final stage. Some call for the final two candidates while others call after you have been chosen but before you are officially given an offer letter. Both are fine with me but I had HR and a hiring manager contact me a few times with we are contacting x # of candidates references before we even go to secondary interview. That to me is a red flag and is a waste of everyone’s time unless it’s for a clearance or something which I understand!

      4. LaurCha*

        Wait til I tell you about academic tenure-track jobs! Most of them want three letters of reference, written in ink, on paper, for your initial applications. Not to mention transcripts, an academic CV, a teaching statement, a DEI statement, and a cover letter.

        There are a lot of reasons I bailed on academia, but this bullshit is in the top ten. Maybe top five.

        1. not nice, don't care*

          Given how many hundreds of people apply for tenure-track jobs, I can totally understand the process. I’ve been on many faculty hiring committees and the competition is ferocious, even after weeding out folks who are nowhere near the minimum quals.

      1. Cabbagepants*

        this is so nuts. after the first 2-3 references, what are additional people going to say?

    3. Zombeyonce*

      My department checks references for all final candidates, and it’s digital work including development.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I haven’t had references requested for my last three full time, manager-to-senior level nonprofit jobs

    4. Staja*

      I recently decided not to apply for a position (academic administration) looking for 5 references, including full name, physical address, email, what their affiliation was, daytime and evening phone number…and probably their blood type type and first born child. I don’t need a new job THAT badly.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I’m to the point where I just opt out of any application requiring references. I’ve been at the same job for 12+ years. That means you’re talking to someone who knew me during the Bush and early Obama administrations.

        There has to be a better system out there somewhere.

        1. Nebula*

          I’ve put down multiple references from the same organisation in the past. I worked for the same place for seven years, and the two places I’d worked at before that after I graduated uni both closed down. I just put down different managers I’d had and it was never raised as an issue when I was applying for jobs. If you can find jobs that don’t need references then I guess it doesn’t matter (it’s still standard in the UK, I’ve never come across an office job that didn’t require references) but might be helpful to other people in this position.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Having worked at the same place for a dozen years, it’s debatable whether or not I can find jobs. I’ve turned down my share over the years when times are going well, but I’ve definitely wanted for lifeboats when the waters are rough.

            Just another case of the necessity of job hopping in modern IT/Development.

        2. Filosofickle*

          This is such a no-win situation. If you move around too much, you’re a job hopper but at least you have references. If you don’t move, you don’t have any recent references (or not any that aren’t where you work today which for obvious reasons you don’t want to use.) 12 years ago I was in an entirely different career — those references would not be helpful.

        3. Your Mate in Oz*

          I sometimes wonder whether those “your last five direct supervisors” demands are deliberately selecting for people that don’t stay in jobs for very long.

          I’d be in your position – 11 years in the job, if someone wants multiple recent references they’re going to be talking to my direct manager, the three company directors and … my mail delivery person?

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        At this point in my career I am VERY wary of how much a reference seeker might be asking of the people giving me references. My long term relationships with those people are worth more to me than a job I’m not even guaranteed to get.

        Not that most people will consciously blame you if a reference check is invasive, but it’s not worth the bad taste IMO. Unless I REALLY needed the job.

      3. no tea*

        Not to make excuses but the software they’re using could have that feature turned on by default and no one knows how to change it (or can’t be bothered to change it. Or it’s possible that while they can make references optional that early in the hiring process, they still can’t turn off the fields for mailing address, phone number, etc). I’m in that job field too, in the process of getting a vacant role approved to post online, and the software we use is very clunky. I hated it as a job applicant and my opinion hasn’t improved much now that I’m on the other side.
        Again, this doesn’t excuse what you encountered but it is interesting to see behind the curtain into these annoying application tracking systems. No one likes them and they’re honestly kind of terrible all around.

        1. Starbuck*

          Totally. If I really wanted the job. I would probably put an obvious placeholder in the clearly irrelevant fields and see what happened. You can ask, application form; doesn’t mean you’re gonna get it!

      4. Amaryllis*

        I know someone who was asked for contact info for 10 references. The company said they would randomly choose 5 to contact. yikes!

        1. Link*

          10?!?? Wtaf is up with some of these employers. I’d be lucky to scrounge up four at most for recent employers/mangers/co-workers etc for my entire working life that would even remotely remember me and anything to do with me

    5. melissa*

      I work in healthcare and they definitely do. Recently it is all electronic— the applicant gives them my name as a reference, and I get an emailed link to a series of checkboxes and scales. “On a scale of 1-5 how good is her communication? Professionalism?” I do feel like it would be extremely easy to fake that kind of reference, since it doesn’t require a phone conversation.

      1. Chas*

        Yes, I know it’s not helpful, but if you give me a 1-5 scale on a bunch of points, I’m always tempted to just put 5 for all of them without really thinking about it. That doesn’t seem like a very good way to get a reference.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Same as any other survey, 5 means you get to keep (or in this case, get) your job. Anything else… doesn’t.

      2. Aitch Arr*

        Those reference vendors do IP checks and flag any matches for further follow up. The employer can also see the names, titles, etc. of the references and any misalignment in information provided is flagged.

        I’ve been able to discover fakers thanks to the above.

      1. Fishsticks*

        I am a reference for my niece – she’s applying for her first job and they want references. For her first job.

        I told her I can pretend to have hired her previously for work at home (our last names are very different), or I can be honest about how she has absolutely kept my kids alive when I was out more than once and everything I know about what a conscientious and sweet person she is. I don’t care, I was a fake reference for a lot of people back in my college days.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Back in the days of summer jobs, I remember that places would ask for personal references if you were too new to the workforce to have job references. It was just to show that some (nonparental) adult was willing to vouch for your responsibility.

        2. Potoooooooo*

          I think some of it would be based on what the job itself is; a camp counselor or lifeguard or something similar would fit the latter “absolutely kept my kids alive part” to a T, even without fudging the situation at all.

          I’d also suggest that, if you mean she’s been a babysitter for you and you’ve paid her for that, you have hired her previously for work at home, and you’re probably better off not making the experience something different than what it actually is. I’m sure most people worth working for would understand if references are coming from babysitting roles and other sources than “proper jobs” for a teenager.

          1. Fishsticks*

            In this case, it IS applying for a lifeguarding job and I WOULD absolutely be focusing on the part where she literally taught my kids to swim and did a great job with them in the pool.

            1. Freya*

              Even if you didn’t pay her, that’s still volunteer work experience that you can attest to – I’ve been a reference for friends who helped out at the dance classes I was running, because I could (without lying) say that they turned up on time, were responsible, looked for ways to help make things happen but checked in before implementing them to make sure they weren’t going to mess with my plans, and followed instructions where those were given and asked relevant questions when the instructions had gaps.

              Just because it’s unpaid doesn’t mean it’s not work, and doesn’t mean that they weren’t making my life much much easier.

        3. Starbuck*

          When I’m hiring teens (it happens occasionally) I usually just want a teacher or coach or some non-parent adult who can verify that indeed, this teen is at least mostly mature enough to be up for employment. Often you can also tell this just by talking with the teen though.

      2. LTR, FTP*

        Yup my 16yo had to provide 3 references to apply to work at a farm stand this summer. The kicker? She worked there last summer!! We just put 3 of her teachers down.

        1. Annie*

          haha, that’s crazy if she’s worked there before. Can she just put her managers from last year as references? :)

        2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I had to ask an instructor to write a recommendation letter for me to himself once. I had been in several of his classes and he was the program head for the graduate program I was applying to on his suggestion, and the application required two rec letters. (He pointed out that since I was already halfway through the program’s requirements with a 4.0 GPA and was just shifting from graduate certificate to full masters program, writing himself a letter seemed somewhat silly and can I please just fill out the form and submit it, here’s a waiver code for the application fee.)

    6. NaN*

      I was wondering this, too. My partner and I both recently got new jobs, and a lot of our friends have been interviewing, and not one of us has been asked for references. We work in tech, so I had wondered if references just aren’t a thing in tech jobs.

      1. Starbuck*

        If it’s the type of hiring where they’re giving you technical tests to see if you can perform the work, that makes a bit of sense. For the hiring I do, I can’t imagine not talking with references because it’s a role that requires really strong interpersonal skills and other work that you really can’t demonstrate in an interview setting! I need to know if you get along with others.

        1. NaN*

          I think we might all be better off we still checked references to see if you can get along with others, even if you pass the technical tests for a technical role.

    7. Glowinthedark*

      In the NHS in the UK they normally require two references. But I think they will be flexible and accept references from past teachers, professors or verifiable people in the community (not a family member or friend) in a pinch.
      Before I had a proper work history I used school teacher and university professors without problem.

      1. Cicely*

        Yes, this. Also, I’d much rather work somewhere that checks references. Not doing so seems a bit “chancy” to me. I recall a few letters here where LWs expressed regret over not having done them.

        1. Lydia*

          I worked at a place that did not check references, even after they asked for them, and so often it was a bad move. If they had bothered to check, there may have been some much-needed information gleaned that would have avoided a lot of headaches.

          That isn’t to say the system can’t be gamed, but that’s where Alison’s advice to go off-list and expand who you reach out to can make all the difference in the world.

    8. WantonSeedStitch*

      I’ve been asked for references for three former employees in the past few years.

    9. HSE Compliance*

      HSE in USA (Midwest). Past few jobs for myself and friends in the field have all asked for the standard 3 references, but not one of us has had one checked for a few years at a few different companies.

      I opt out of any application now that asks for references at the time of application. I also opt out of any application now that asks for any other sort of ridiculous information or amount of information. I had one that wanted my entire job history back 15 years plus contact information for references at every position.

    10. Hippypotamous*

      My last job did a full background check and called all of the references I listed. I think they asked for 3. They even called my husband, which I thought was very odd. However, it was a Senior Management role, working with a lot of confidential and sensitive information, so I can see why they would ask.

    11. Angie S.*

      Some do, and some don’t. I would prefer to work for a place that asks for references, really. The job before my current one didn’t ask for a reference, and it was a disaster at both ends. my cute one asked for 3 references, and it has been the best job in my career so far.

    12. Buffalo*

      I think your field might not be reference-heavy because you’re generating tangible work product that employers can evaluate. In my field, references are still very much about someone well-connected vouching that you’re Our Kind Of People. “Oh, he knows Chauncey? Chauncey is a member of my club, and he certainly is a sound fellow!”

      I’m not a huge fan of references.

    13. Procedure Publisher*

      I am wondering this too. My last job didn’t request references and had a policy in place that did not allow for your colleagues or manager to be a referencefor you. Since it was my first job out of college, I don’t have many references at all.

    14. Coffee Protein Drink*

      They do. I had to provide three when I took a new position last year. I gave them the names of two managers and a co-worker I’d worked closely with.

      I applied at another place the previous year and they wanted a reference for someone I had supervised, which was new to me. That’s only been asked of me once.

    15. Salsa Your Face*

      My current job (hired in 2023) didn’t ask for references at all. My last job (hired in 2019) asked for them, but only after an offer letter was sent–the said the goal of the references was to best advise them on my workstyle and how to manage me, not to aid in their decision about whether to hire me.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I provided one reference in late 2021 when they asked for three (I’d been at my most recent job for over 7 years and was not on good terms with the manager from the job before that). Still got the job and then found out later they didn’t even contact the one reference. Luckily, though, this wasn’t a digital application. I just emailed the HR contact the info after they made the request and told them the previous business where I had worked was no longer doing business (which is true) and that I did not have a way to contact them (which was a fib).

    16. Loredena*

      I suspect it depends on industry! Software consulting here and none of my last three employers asked for references, just thorough background checks

    17. The Original K.*

      I gave a (glowing) reference for a former coworker two-ish years ago. She left to work for a tiny employer (I think there are four full-time employees), one notch above the entry-level job she’d had when we worked together. Big difference between there and our employer, which employs tens of thousands.

    18. Antilles*

      A lot of companies still do; every job application I’ve ever had as an adult has requested references and I regularly have gotten requests from subordinates, co-workers, and colleagues to be a reference for them.
      However, both as an applicant and serving as a reference for others, I’ve found it’s extremely rare for companies to actually *contact* references.

    19. Cruciatus*

      Yes, and they actually contacted mine. I just got a new job in August so this was very recent!

      1. Aitch Arr*

        In 25+ years in HR in Tech or Tech Adjacent companies (e.g., Healthcare IT), I’ve never worked somewhere that didn’t do a criminal background check, reference check, and in some cases a credit check (when I worked for a banking software company) and/or an education verification.

      2. Starbuck*

        Same, and I often give references for people who’ve worked for me in the past. It’s definitely the norm in my field.

    20. Cascadia*

      Yes, absolutely. I work in education and we cannot hire anyone without three references, one of which must be written and one of which must be verbal. I would never hire someone without checking their references!

    21. RedinSC*

      My references were checked (a year ago when I got this job)

      And for the jobs I’m part of the hiring committee for we always check them. It’s part of our process and we document the conversations.

    22. Colossal Connection*

      I see a lot of places that ask for your manager’s name at every place on your application (which of course is 92% directly imported from your resume, and unnecessarily duplicative). It’s market as mandatory. For many of my previous employers my manager is no longer there, but I dutifully put it in. I have no idea if they try to contact them or not. My guess is somebody put it in when the new applicant software was adopted, and nobody has used the information since.

      *There’s a special place in heck for the companies that require street address, city, state, zip code and phone number. Hex on you, and may your next lunch and learn be sparsely attended.

    23. Parakeet*

      My current job, which I got in 2022, asked for two. It was pretty reasonable, they only asked finalists to provide them, no “provide them with your application” nonsense.

    24. em_eye*

      Hiring manager here – I always ask for references and I always check them. I would never hire someone without checking references.

  2. Le le lemon*

    No. 3 – sounds like someone decided they’d found a “way” to save the company $$$.
    Dodgy, because a business should be wearing the cost of purchasing the tests if they’re going to ask you to test prior to a work conference.

    1. StarTrek Nutcase*

      I would be livid. The company uses info they have only because I’m an employee and then fraudulently fills out a government form implying the company is me (whether it’s a sworn statement or not). And plans to use the kits how the company wishes. I would start seeking other employment and blast this deceitful practice everywhere I could.

      Imagine if it was the reverse and an employee, pretending to be the company, did something similar – clearly planning to use items for the employee’s benefit not the company’s. The company would fire the employee and be justified.

      1. Sasha*

        There is definitely an information governance issue here – in the EU, it wouldn’t be legal to access your personal data in order to do this, without your express permission. Obviously US law will be different, but OP isn’t unreasonable to feel a bit violated by this.

        1. Don't Burn The Store Down While I'm Gone*

          For the US, the first place my mind went was mail fraud. It would be nice if our employers had that kind of restriction on use of employees’ personal information, though.

        2. MapleLibrarian*

          Same here in Canada. I work in the Access and Privacy field and my first thought when reading this was “OMG the privacy breaches involved here…..”

          1. tamarack etc.*

            It’s also astonishingly bad judgement. The cost of the tests is probably in the vicinity of a single meal for the employees, and certainly less than a single night of accommodation. Penny-pinching for no good reason while overstepping their employees’ privacy.

        3. Freya*

          Probably illegal in Australia, too – there’s an exception under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) for employee records being used in ways that directly relate to a current or former employment relationship, but contacting the government on your behalf to request goods that you are entitled to as a private individual would probably not fall under that.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I am similarly livid. I rarely disagree with the advice (and actionably, I don’t really – there are limited things you can do. I just don’t feel like the language around how big a deal it is was strong enough). There’s a REASON these tests were offered for free to households.

      3. Momma Bear*

        I’d be ticked off, too. That’s not a reasonable way to use my private information and it would make me wonder what other sketchy things they were allowing with people’s PII.

        Secondly, it’s not just cheap, it’s also taking away a resource from someone who may have wanted to order their own. They should have bought the tests if it was for a company event.

      4. Productivity Pigeon*

        I agree. I rarely disagree with Alison but I do today.

        They’ve used personal information to request something for work, pretending to be OP.

        You can’t do that.

        That’s fraud, in my eyes.

    2. Artemesia*

      These are designed for individual households as a public health measure. It is obscene that a business would confiscate them for their purposes if that is what happened.

      1. JM60*

        It’s essentially theft (even if it might not meet the legal definition of theft). Each person is allocated 1 (I think) from the government, and the business is taking it.

        1. darsynia*

          Each household gets four, which is great if you’re single and realistic but frustrating if you’re a family of five like we are.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            My local library has free ones for patrons.

            My work also has free ones in the cafeteria. But we’re a health agency, so I assume we have a source.

          2. Artemesia*

            the last order — March 8, allowed 8 per household, you ordered 4 and then could order 4 more. And yeah it is frustrating for large families — but it is better than having to pay for them — they are expensive.

            1. Darsynia*

              I’m not being ungrateful, I’m clarifying a truth. I also think in context of a company, ordering them on behalf of an employee, that makes it even worse. Without the free tests, our family would have spent even more money trying to keep covid to ourselves. Selfish of the company to step in the middle of that for any family.

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

            Like Alison had said in the letter, what if the employees had already gotten their free ones. It’s been a while since the government opened it up for free tests again, so presumably a lot of people got them already.

      2. Allonge*

        I agree that it’s not a good thing for a business to do (to say the least).

        But they are not taking it – OP is supposed to use it for their own and their colleagues’ protection. As it would be used in any case.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          But OP may have been planning to use her test prior to a family event like a wedding attended by immunocompromised family members.
          The tests are a business expense. It’s like if you needed to fly to a business conference. It doesn’t matter whether you personally have clocked up enough miles to travel somewhere for free, your company is paying for your flight.

          1. Allonge*

            I agree it’s a business expense and should be treated as such.

            But e.g. the COVID dot gov website stopped distributing the tests as of 8 March, so if it has not been ordered yet, OP would not be able to use it for a wedding later on.

            1. Siege*

              That makes no sense. The tests have a shelf life, so you can order ahead for an event later, and we have no information when this happened, whether it was March 8th or February 10th or whatever.

              Regardless, the company should not be using OP’s government benefit. It may be legal, in the literal sense, but ethically it’s in the same camp as a company that takes out a life insurance policy on its employees, or one that includes info on filing for food stamps as part of its orientation materials.

              1. Allonge*

                My point was more that if OP had not ordered it until Friday, they would not get one for free at all, wedding in the future or not.

                And yes, that does not make this that much less icky for the company to do! I don’t think this by itself is something to resign over, but totally fair to be weirded out by it.

        2. Person from the Resume*

          It is not theft in that the LW still received the tests at their home and can choose to use it how they want. Like they can use them all on the first day they they arrived to test their family members. But the company will expect the LW to have it and use it. Will the company provide another test before the conference if the LW uses theirs up before then or demand that the LW go buy a test on her own?

          This is really problematic (impersonating a person to get test kits sent to them), but the LW is in possession of them so it is not theft.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Would it be identity theft, though? The company ordered something in the OP’s name without their knowledge or permission. (Yes, I know that’s different than stealing their credit information to go on a spending spree. But it’s still misrepresenting themselves in the OP’s name.)

        3. Starbuck*

          Yes but the business should be PAYING for the test, not requiring the LW to use a *personal* test for a business reason. It’s extremely inappropriate. They are taking it, by expecting her to use it for their own business reason and not a personal reason of her own choosing. It’s clearly wrong.

    3. darsynia*

      (I’m not the letter writer) As a family of five, we couldn’t request enough to cover the number of family members we have if *one* of us became sick and we needed to test for exposure. I dunno, I think this is worth escalating. From my perspective, if that were my situation, that’s $50 worth of tests for us we’d have to cover out of pocket because the employer impersonated me? Worth escalating.

      One caveat: if this happened close enough to March 8, it’s possible that they did it thinking that this is the last time anyone could request them, but even so, what if LW#3 already got their allotment? I imagine there probably aren’t consequences for requesting too many, but I’m not 100% on that. I don’t like anything that would reflect poorly on an employee (requesting from multiple different emails, getting them mailed to different locations) when something is done in their name without notification or permission.

      1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        If you try to “request too many” they just won’t send the second round. This happened to us with one of the rounds – both my wife and I tried requesting them as soon as we heard about it, and she got there first, so I had the “you have already requested the maximum for this household” message.

          1. Darsynia*

            I remember that being staggered, like my husband told me we were allowed to order more so we did. (Not the same user you responded to)

            1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

              Yeah, same. There were multiple rounds, but each time through you were only allowed to request them one time. (And as others have pointed out it was per address, not per person, so whether you were a single person or a family of five you got the same amount – I know people living with roommates complained about this at the time as well.)

        1. Darsynia*

          Maybe it’s weird of me, but I would be embarrassed to have requested too many when it wasn’t me. I’m sure it doesn’t matter, but putting myself in their shoes, an implication that I’m trying to get more than my allotment is uncomfortable.

          This could’ve been avoided by the company simply sending out an email reminding people they could order more and including all of the instructions.

          1. Leenie*

            I don’t think there’s cause for embarrassment. I’d imagine this is primarily an automated system that’s dealing with millions of tests. So it seems unlikely that there’s an individual at the other end of that order, fuming “Can you believe the nerve of that Darsynia?!”

            I don’t say this as a defense of the company, just to say that I’m sure many people lost track of who was supposed to be ordering in their household or how many they already ordered, and that’s ok.

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

            The only thing that ever sees your request is a computer and computers don’t care.

    4. Jenna Webster*

      I’m actually really surprised they could make this happen. I tried to have my Covid tests sent to work and when I entered that address, there was a message that I could only have them sent to my home address. It is an awful thing to do – they would rather use your personal information invasively than just buy the Covid tests?!

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        OP was sent an email from the shipping company to their work email address, but the delivery (physical) address for the tests was their home address.

        No doubt if challenged on this, the company will take the angle of “rather than ask all of you to order the tests individually, we’ve saved you the effort by having someone go through and input all the details for you”.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        You misread the post. The tests were ordered to LW’s home address, but the confirmation EMAIL was sent to their work email address.

        1. Helen Waite*

          I misread, too. Thanks for this, because then I wouldn’t hand over the tests. I’d keep them if they showed up at my home.

    5. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      OP3: If I were you, I’d keep a sharp eye out for other shady business practices in that company. This MAY be a one-off, but it may also be an indicator of a general attitude on the part of those in power that exploiting the staff is just ducky and that they’ll do just that whenever it’s expedient.

      1. Peter*

        Excellent point, Marzipan Shepherdess.

        Like other commenters, I’d be really mad.

        I would at least ask the company to purchase for my/ my household use an equivalent number of tests kits for our use as we freely determine. “We were planning a family gathering and had planned to request those closer to our event date. As those test kits were for my household use, please do purchase x number of test kits for me..” or similar.

        Where I am in the SF Bay Area test kits are running $24.00 each without tax (some 9.25%)

    6. Emmy Noether*

      I bet it doesn’t even save money. I’m not familiar with how requesting those free tests works, but sounds like they had to fill out a form for each employee. So, looking up employee info, copying it into the form individually, clicking through… how much time did this take? I bet buying a bunch of tests in bulk is cheaper than the time this took someone to do.

      1. Saberise*

        And really what was the point. They could have just said everyone was required to test before the meeting. Seemed like they went to a lot of work for no reason.

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

          I’m wondering if they are trying to do lip service. “look how responsible we are, we gave people covid tests before a big event. Aren’t we the best!”

      2. Momma Bear*

        Yes, you had to fill out an online form and I bet that even if they used an intern it was more money in time than it would have been to bulk order. A quick search brings up an option to buy them in sets of 25 for about $7/kit. If you can’t afford $7/person when you’re already putting on a big event maybe you shouldn’t have the event.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Huh, I didn’t know they were so much more expensive in the US! They’re available for around 1€ to 2€ per test kit here, probably under 1€ in bulk if you take the cheap ones.

          1. Freya*

            My nearest (Australia) pharmacy recently went from selling packs of 5 to packs of 2 for AU$10 which works out to about 3 euros per test (both boxes are the same size). The which we found out when we went through our entire stash getting Covid for the first time just over a month ago – both my husband and I work places with policies that say WFH-only unless you’re testing clean for 3+ days and we needed just one more pack to see my husband out of quarantine… Fortunately the third-nearest pharmacy still sells packs of 5 for AU$14 but that’s the cheapest I could find, even getting them in bulk, because bulk shippers charge for freight.

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

            They used to be $13 each so $7 is a welcome lowering IMHO

      3. Nebula*

        One of my biggest bugbears is “cost-saving measures” that don’t account for the cost of the time it takes someone to do something that is more cumbersome than the supposedly more expensive option. It’s not the biggest issue with this particular case, but it’s so common and so obvious if you take two seconds to think about it.

      4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        Someone’s time to do the admin for this has (in the eyes of the company) already been “paid for” in their salary… it is invisible on a budget compared to purchasing the tests. Yes, I know this is a fallacy.

    7. COVID test OP*

      OP here with a mini update: someone ended up raising a concern and the decision was immediately reversed with an apology. The tests were indeed ordered just a few days or so shy of the end of the program, so I believe, as one commenter suggested, it was a ridiculous attempt at cost saving measures. Like a lot of things that happen at this workplace, my assessment is that leadership spent exactly 0 seconds thinking the decision through. The commenter who said “seems like they went through a lot of work for no reason” really nailed the vibe. It will not be the last time something deeply weird happens here lol

    8. Sacred Ground*

      I can’t see this as anything but fraud and theft.

      If I need to buy a test for home use for my family and I submit my claim for reimbursement, I’d be utterly livid if my reimbursement was denied because my employer had already used my allotted test for their own purposes without my knowledge or consent, and by pretending to be me.

      Suppose they had applied for SNAP benefits in my name and without my knowledge and then used that to purchase food for the event? How is this at all different? They fraudulently accessed a public benefit intended for their employees’ families in order to avoid paying their own business expense. I’m disgusted.

  3. Anoncat*

    “You might be able to make a case for it if someone worked closely with you and has the close and nuanced perspective on your work that they’d be expecting from a manager.”

    Would admin support to 4/5 professionals, but being technically managed on the admin side by a different manager be such a case?

    The professionals are the ones assigning and seeing/reviewing my work product, but they don’t directly supervise me in terms of time off, raises etc. But the manager is not directly aware of my work product, they don’t really assign or review tasks. For yearly reviews they have to ask for feedback from the professionals.

    1. MK*

      I think ideally you would offer both and the the reference checker decide if they want to talk to either or both. Where it gets iffy is if they ask for your supervisor and you offer another higher-up; it raises the question why you don’t want them to talk to your actual boss.

      1. allathian*

        Not wanting a prospective employer to talk to the current manager is merely prudent. Some managers will intentionally give poor references to sabotage their employees’ attempts to leave.

        1. MK*

          But that’s not the situation the letter is about. Also, offering another higher-up in the company that you currently work for isn’t much better.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            My current manager knows the least about the work I do. I work closely with his bosses and all the other managers in my area, but a reorganization when someone retired and he was brought on meant that I work the least with my own team. It’s a weird situation, and I’m not sure if I will ever use him for a reference. (He’s – not good at observing or communicating.) But I did report directly to my grand-boss more than once, so it’s a little different for me.

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            “Also, offering another higher-up in the company that you currently work for isn’t much better.”

            It can be miles better. People one or two levels removed from you don’t typically have as much ego wrapped up in you as your direct manager does. They are also a lot more likely to have an eagle-eyed view of the organization and less general investment in one individual and how that person will impact their work/daily life.

      2. Venus*

        I agree that the best option is to offer both to the reference checker. I was asked for a reference for ‘my manager within the past 2 years’ at a time where our management was very inconsistent and I hadn’t had the same person for more than 4 months. I explained the situation, listed all the people who had been my manager, for how many months, then offered the contact info for a couple other managers with whom I’d worked closely over the couple years and they knew my work better than the short-term ones. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but I got that job and that’s all that matters!

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

      I think it depends on what the prospective employer wants. I would want to speak to someone who could tell me how the employee worked, any struggles they had, how they worked with others, etc. If I wanted to know if they were timely, in good standing that would be for the supervisor.

    3. ferrina*

      I think it depends on who you work most closely with, and who is responsible for ensuring your work quality and assigning you tasks. For most people, that will be their manager. If you are in a rare situation where someone else can better speak to your work, I would offer both people as reference-
      “This is my manager, but they don’t oversee much of my day-to-day work. The person who can speak most closely to my work quality and approach is X, who is [describe their role in relation to yours].”

      In your case, Anoncat, I would offer both people and explain the situation (or 2 of the 4 professionals + your manager, if you really want)

    4. sara*

      I’m a software dev and when I applied for my current job, I used a product manager that I’d worked very closely with for 3 years as a reference. He’d recently left the company, and I also offered up my current manager but asked that they hold off on that until the end of the process if possible.

      PM couldn’t talk in detail about my coding style etc, but was more familiar than my manager at the time about how I worked to gather/understand requirements, my attention to detail/timelines, etc. And I had a portfolio of side work that I was able to just show some code samples that weren’t confidential.

    1. Not A Manager*

      I so wish that she could say “it’s weird that you keep asking me this,” but I suppose that would be impolitic.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Definitely depends on relative roles and political power – but if she can, that’s exactly what I’d say. And political power can definitely be identity as described in the letter, if your employer is trying to leverage that.

      2. The Original K.*

        I’ve said “how strange that you’ve asked me this” and “how strange that you feel comfortable asking me this” in response to overly personal questions at work and socially before. Very effective.

    2. Magenta Sky*

      “It’s obnoxious for them to push anyone to do this who has already declined, but if you’re visibly a minority in your field (race, visible disability, etc.), it’s particularly obnoxious since it’s it’s almost certainly because they’re willing to ignore your discomfort in a quest to make themselves look diverse and inclusive (regardless of the actual experience of the person they’re using to do it).”

      Sounds to me like they might be picking letter writer *because* they’re part of a protected class.

      Which sounds to me like a form of discrimination.

      1. Ms. Murchison*

        When I read that, my thoughts went in the same direction. If HR is still pushing that hard, despite the medical problem, it seems likely that the LW is one of very few employees who are visibly a member of a minority in the company. And if that’s the case, I find it hard to believe they’ll accept the polite statements in AAM’s answer and back off. If that’s the case, all I can think of to do would be to find people who were allowed to decline (if anyone did) and point out the difference.
        Good luck, LW2. I hope you find a way to convince your company take no for an answer.

          1. Curious*

            As a minority, I would say it is dependent on the situation.
            In some situations that could cost you your job to be that direct.
            In others, people would retract their request and apologize.

            You have to know your situation.

      2. Zombeyonce*

        I figured LW either is/looks like a member of a protected class or is very attractive (or both!). Either way, they shouldn’t be pushed into this!

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Thank you for pointing out the “looks like.” I’ve known people who get in that extra awkward boat of people assuming they’re part of a marginalized group when they aren’t.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          The one relevant exception here is disability: some people are visibly disabled, but there’s no way to look at someone and be sure they aren’t disabled. Or, I suppose, if they wanted to show the world that they had experienced professional staff, and therefore chose an employee who was over 40 because they “looked distinguished.”

      3. Justme, The OG*

        I go to recruiting fairs locally and at one noticed my friend’s face on her company’s poster. She’s a visible minority. They in fact had not asked her permission. She found a new job elsewhere soon after that.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I love this parody “Winchester U Diversity Video”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVO-VLwpX1c

          Black student: “Before I came to Winchester U I checked out the website. They had a black dude in like every picture. But then when I got here, I was like, what happened? Then I realized: I’m that dude now. I’m the black dude they use to promote how diverse they are. [long pause] Shit.”

          Also not to be missed: “Racism Insurance: Coverage for White Privilege” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeukZ6RcUd8)

      4. Michelle Smith*

        Yep. There have been multiple times in my youth that I was “selected” to represent a school or organization because I was one of only two or three racial minorities in the entire building. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how much I hated that and refused to participate in those kinds of marketing campaigns anymore.

        1. JustaTech*

          Yeah, at my tiny high school there were very few Black students, but *somehow* both of the Black kids in my grade ended up on the front page of our website and recruiting material.
          They were pretty cynical about it, and I don’t blame them at all.

    3. ThatOtherClare*

      “Thank you for the opportunity! Unfortunately for legal reasons, I have to say no.”
      “What legal reasons?”
      “Can’t say. Sorry.”
      “I can tell you’re lying.”
      “Yes I am. I was forced to because you wouldn’t graciously accept a straight no.”

      (FYI for the painfully literal: this is not a serious suggestion.)

        1. Good Enough For Government Work*

          It is unfortunately the case that there are always people among the commentariat who are unable to recognise an obvious joke as an obvious joke.

          Which is to say, I completely understand why ThatOtherClaire said that.

        2. ThatOtherClare*

          There are plenty of just literal people who ask the jokers in the comments for clarification, or read the other comments and realise the joke before posting their reply, or just roll their eyes and don’t engage with what they think is a poor suggestion. The ‘painful’ ones are the ones who reply to my and other people’s jokes with a multi-paragraph blow-by-blow take down of why every single element of the joke is a terrible idea for legal, ethical and reputational reasons. This has happened to me several times recently. I totally understand jokes not carrying across cultures! It’s the excoriation, specifically, that is becoming wearing. Hence I’ve decided to start labelling my jokes. *shrug*

          1. DJ Abbott*

            Not sure, but people can sue if their image is used without consent, right? That’s why companies have people sign releases?
            If the company uses OP’s image without consent, they should sue. But maybe getting a lawyer involved now would head that off.

            1. Bitte Meddler*

              Nope, not a lawyer situation.

              The company is asking to take a photo of the OP and then to use that photo. They are asking for her consent.

              If they somehow ambush her in the break room, take a photo of her getting her lunch out of the fridge, and use *that* on promotional materials, there miiiiiiight be a case.

              But they can ask her all day long — and then fire her if she doesn’t agree to it — and be 100% on the legal side of things.

              1. DJ Abbott*

                That’s more what I was thinking of, using a photo without her consent. Whether they take the photo of her themselves, or steal it from her social media or something.

                1. Freya*

                  In Australia, photos of you are often treated as personal information for the purposes of privacy law. That is, photos of you taken by a personal individual in a public place are not an invasion of privacy, even if you’re readily identifiable, but a business is held to higher standards (as long as they have a high enough turnover or are in specific industries – very small businesses are often not covered under the Privacy Act, but it’s always best practice to act as if you are, just in case you are at some point in the future).

                  Technically, consent is not required to take the photo, as long as it is reasonably necessary for one of your organisations’ functions or activities (eg ID cards) BUT you are required to let the identifiable person in the image know (amongst a bunch of other things) that the image is being taken and why, how they can get access to it later, and whether you are likely to send the image overseas (eg website hosted overseas). If a business uses an image of an identifiable person for something that they didn’t tell the person about at the time, then unless it’s reasonable that they would expect this other use to be included, you must get their consent to the usage they didn’t agree to at the time you collected the image.

                  And advertising is not considered a business activity for which your personal information (including photos) can be used without your consent (preferably explicit consent). The business will do better with advertising, but it will keep on trucking without it, so it’s not essential. Therefore, one would have grounds for unfair dismissal were one to be fired for refusing to consent to the use of your personal information for commercial purposes.

        1. Ashley*

          You could check your companies social media release policies. You should be asked to allow other to use your image but depending on the business you might have agreed to that under some over broad policy already. I know I have allowed my photo in group candid shots but not being tagged, others I know never wanted their face online.

    4. CurdeatinCheesehead*

      Aside from the concerns about being a minority/member of a protected class…what if she was being stalked or had an abusive ex-husband, for example, and it would put her in danger if people found her and knew where she worked?
      What if she had body dysmorphia or was recovering from an eating disorder, and seeing herself in pictures was triggering?
      Or, what if she just didn’t want to.
      I don’t know how big this company is, but it’s odd that they can’t find someone else willing to be “the face of the company”. Worst case scenario? Use stock photos.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. This is one area where I really hope that photorealistic AI-generated images become the norm.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Or maybe just don’t bother showing pictures of people? AI generated “art” is quite frankly, a heap of awful stereotypes of people overusing filters.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            With an added “bonus” of being developed based on stolen copyrighted materials that the artists and photo subjects did not give their consent to use in that manner.

          2. DJ Abbott*

            Agree on not showing pictures of people.
            My organization’s bank was showing pictures of smiling male bankers in suits.
            They must have gotten a clue, because they’ve switched to a rather mean-looking woman in a doctor’s white coat. Still not working, for me at least.
            Just show company info on a pleasant background. That’s all that’s needed.

        2. darsynia*

          A company that doesn’t take no for an answer would just generate images of this letter writer and it would be even worse :P

        3. metadata minion*

          If I’m being shown the “face of a company”, I expect it to be the face of someone who actually works (or at least used to work) for the company.

          1. Allonge*

            Eh – obviously if you have volunteers from inside the company, that’s an option.

            But for an org with, let’s say, above 1000 employees, there is very little practical difference between being represented by someone who worked there once and a paid actor – most people will not recognise either. And as long as you are throwing money at a project, then it might as well be someone who will not need an intro to talking to a camera.

      2. AnonInCanada*

        This exactly. Or HR should accept OP’s simple “no.” It is a complete sentence. And if they can’t, OP can reiterate the “no” (even though they shouldn’t have to) with “I do not feel comfortable having my face in public. I’m a very private person, and do not wish to be the public face of the company, for this or any reason.” And if they still can’t get a clue, I’d be looking for another job and calling an employment lawyer to see if they can get severance for forced resignation.

        I’m sure this isn’t in OP’s job description.

    5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I keep getting requests like this, as a ‘woman in tech’, to appear on their publicity material for International Women’s Day, Women in Tech events etc. I shut it down with “I’m not a ‘female engineer’, I’m an engineer”.

      1. New Mom (of 1 7/9)*

        Opinions on this can vary among reasonable people, I think! If I worked for a company that had e.g. stellar maternity leave, flexible working policies, etc. I wouldn’t mind representing them even “as a woman.” But if they’re not walking the walk they obviously don’t deserve it. (I am also a woman in tech.) I totally get feeling tokenized though!

      2. Zelda*

        Once upon a time when I worked in a QC lab, they brought a troop of HS students through for a careers-day tour. Naturally, no actual lab work is gonna happen with two dozen young-uns with no goggles on standing everywhere, so everything was pretty well battened down and on pause for the afternoon. I did go into the lab long enough to get pointed at, and I think I may have answered a question or two, but I certainly wasn’t in there titrating anything.

        Afterwards, a younger colleague asked me why I hadn’t put on my lab coat, “so that you would look more like a chemist.” After a pause to figure out what the heck, my answer was: “I am a chemist. Therefore, THIS is what a chemist looks like.” I can’t look any “more like a chemist” than myself!

    6. C0ffee Sn0b*

      I love Not a Manager’s idea.
      from an actor’s experience:
      People own their own image.
      (as in college athletes)
      You can charge the earth for it.

      I wish LW would get a Swifty Lazar- type agent who would be the ‘bad guy’ negotiator, demanding 6 figures and limited timelines.

      Really LW you do own your own image.

    7. Bitte Meddler*

      I got this kind of pressure back when I first started working and was young and pretty. The head of my division kept wanting to put me in marketing brochures that got sent out to prospects, and on Power Point presentations given to execs in other parts of the [Global, Fortune 10] business. “Why don’t you want to do this? You’re so photogenic! You would be the face of our division! This is a huge honor!”

      I finally had to say, “Is this a condition of my employment? If so, then you’re going have to fire me.”

  4. mlem*

    I should hate the company in #3. I really should. But … the form wasn’t an attestation, and the tests should be used rather than being left to expire. The most recently available tests were the ones first released in September and November of last year, and the form immediately rejected submissions that had already been filled; presumably, if folks hadn’t claimed the tests this far out, they weren’t going to. And since March 8th, no one can claim any anymore.

    (I’d thought the form collected only the home address, though. Weird. Could I have gotten twice as many tests by having them sent to my workplace??)

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I read it as registering from her home address but setting the office as the delivery address.

        1. Ahnon4Thisss*

          I can’t confirm because the program was suspended so the sign up form is down, but I’m pretty sure you can’t do that. The first time they did this, you could only put in your address, no other delivery address.

    1. Magpie*

      The instructions when ordering the tests specifically say they can’t be delivered to a business address.

    2. samwise*

      I don’t think any person’s not requesting a test affects whether the test expires — it’s not like they’re saving tests specifically for anyone. They have X # of tests to give out.

      To the larger question: I would be HOT if my employer did this. There’s no attestation on that form, but sending it in and pretending to be me is stealing my identity — maybe not in a court of law, but in every other sense of the word. Personally I would have sharp words about it.

    3. ferrina*

      The company should have notified the employees of their intent to do this. I think that’s where they went wrong. If they had done an all-staff email saying “We’re going to do this a week from now- if you want to opt out, you need to speak up” then I would have been fine with it.

      1. Freya*

        And if they did that with the explicit caveat “we’re making it easy for you to get what you’re entitled to for personal use – we’ll still be providing what you need when it comes to working with us” or something similar, I’d be much much happier.

        (side note: legally silence is not consent, since consent requires two-way communication, so I’d be even happier if the program was opt-in, since they’re using my personal information to contact an entity outside the business, and if I want to opt-out later I can’t)

  5. Turanga Leela*

    OP #4, I’ve had very good luck using variations on Alison’s script. I’ve never had a higher-level boss I could offer as a reference, but in a pinch, I once used someone who had mentored me at a job. And in one situation where I couldn’t use my then-current boss as a reference, I offered to put employers in touch with former coworkers and someone outside of the organization with whom I’d worked closely.

    In situations where you can’t use your direct supervisor, I do think it helps to have multiple alternative references you can offer.

    1. SpaceySteph*

      I’ve used a similar script as well. My first 2 managers have since retired and we have not kept in touch so I have no way to use them as references anymore. A couple colleagues from those first 2 jobs are now managers in those orgs, so I usually offer to connect people with them.

      I’d hope any reference check for any but a current (or very recently vacated) position is a cursory “did this person work here?” and they’re not asking people to reach into 15+ year old memory banks to describe how I worked when I was in my early 20s, but these stupid form applications don’t leave a lot of room for common sense.

  6. nnn*

    I keep thinking about how the company in #3 could have achieved the same thing by saying “Everyone is required to take a COVID test before the big meeting. Free COVID tests are available at [online form to fill out]”

    They’d still be wiggling out of bearing the expense of the tests they’re requiring, but it would come across as, like, normal employer stinginess, without the impersonation vibes.

    1. Assistant To The Regional Manager*

      Yep. “We expect that everyone tests before attending and will not be providing tests. There are free tests available _______ or you’re welcome to pick one up at any retailer that sells them.”

    2. BigLawEx*

      Every time I’ve seen this – test at home – missive, most people just…don’t. That said, I’ve always requested all the free tests available, so I wonder how it works out when the name bounces back. Also, who did this? It feels like it would cost more employee time to individually make these requests rather than…bulk ordering tests!

  7. Brain the Brian*

    Who should you use as a managerial reference when you’ve only had one manager in the decade-plus since you graduated from college? Or should you ask the HR people at prospective employers who might be be a good substitute?

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I’ve never stayed at a workplace that long, but is there a legitimate reason you cannot use your current manager? I understand that some people work for tyrants who feel like they own their employees and try to sabotage their attempts to leave, but I suspect if you were in that situation you probably wouldn’t have stayed for 10+ years?

      FWIW, I’ve used current managers as references and been fine (i.e., not retaliated against). Obviously use your best judgment, but don’t necessarily assume that you can’t use your current manager just because they’re your current manager.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I’ve never had a boss I thought would sabotage me or retaliate in big ways, but I have never felt okay about letting a boss know I’m looking. Once they know you’re on your way out, it would be very human for them to give the best work to others and advocate less for you. It can take a long time to get a new job — I’ve never had it take less than 6 months, often longer — and sometimes after a looking around I’ve decided to stay. What then?

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Yeah, exactly this. My current manager isn’t bad, but I wouldn’t want her to know I’m looking for precisely the reasons you cite.

    2. ferrina*

      Ideally current manager, but if that’s not available, a very senior coworker. That can be someone that is either currently or has previously worked with you. You do need to flag it for HR though- “I have only worked under my current manager for the last 10 years, and I am not comfortable letting them know I’m job searching unless I have an offer in hand. Here are other people that can attest to my work.”

      That puts you at a slight disadvantage, but if they like you it won’t be a deal breaker. Especially if you can put another manager who worked very closely with you.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        I have one coworker who supervises a neighboring department to whom I am often “lent” for special projects. If she left, she would be ideal, but I wouldn’t be comfortable asking her if she still worked here. Her former second-in-command would be great if I had gotten along with her, but we just didn’t click from day one. Alas.

    3. Cicely*

      I’ve always found it useful to offer as a reference anyone who is/was tasked with formally evaluating my work (daily tasks, a specific project, etc.) even if that person doesn’t have the word “manager” in their title.

  8. Emmy Noether*

    #2: I was asked to be part of a student information/ recruitment event at my last job to represent our department. I said yes, because I generally like doing that kind of thing. It was when I was talking to people there that I realized that I was completely unable to be enthousastic about my job… it was a fairly depressing experience, and one of the things that made me realize I had to get out.

    LW, you’re already two steps ahead of where I was in that you already know you don’t want to do this and are already working on getting out. I guess I just want to tell you I think that’s the right decision, from someone who’s been there.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      My last boss came along one day announcing that he wanted to film staff for a corporate film. We had to each talk about our job and say why we were proud to work for the company.
      I wasn’t proud to work there. I was having a bad hair day and was wearing an old shirt. I rambled on about my job, I did speak enthusiastically about my work which I genuinely loved but I couldn’t bring myself to lie about being proud to work there. And in a stroke of genius I unremembered all that I had learned about not scratching my nose or picking at my nails when being filmed.
      The boss was trying to save money filming us himself, and didn’t know how to get the best out of the people he was filming, so he didn’t make me do it again without scratching my nose. Luckily he did pay a professional to edit it all, and the professional editor obviously edited me right out.
      Had my image been used I would have immediately written to tell them I never gave permission for my image to be used and that they needed to edit me out of the film, but luckily it never got that far.

  9. anon for this*

    OP5, I’m the partner in a similar situation, my co-owner has been partially unavailable for mental health reasons for well over a year at this point. She probably wouldn’t mind sharing more but I don’t feel like it’s my place, so I usually just focus on the outcomes when there is a need to explain. For example I’ll say “she has some long-term health issues that mean she will be late or absent from meetings with no notice, if she’s not here at 5 minutes past starting time let’s just start the meeting and see if she joins later”. She also sometimes has to excuse herself in the middle of meetings, so that also lays some groundwork to allow her to do that with minimum fuss. But that kind of explanation is only for people we have regular meetings with that will notice the impact, for one-off or occational meeting participants I just say “it seems she isn’t able to make it today, let’s get started”.

  10. Fishsticks*

    Companies asking for work references or to speak with my supervisor for a reference always kind of make me laugh – I’ve only got one prior employment where the same person who directly managed me even still works there! So, like. Feel free to talk to whoever picks up the phone but they’re going to have no idea what I was like to work with…

    1. Charlie*

      Ime they want contact info for the actual person who formerly supervised you, not for the company itself?
      So like “here’s the info for Alex West, who was my manager at X Company” even if Alex now works at Y Company.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          That’s fine and well, but I’m not tracking down the personal contact information of someone that managed me two jobs ago that I’m no longer keeping in touch with. If that means I don’t get that job, oh well, there are others. But it’s kind of an unreasonable expectation that you continue staying in touch with everyone that ever managed you, regardless of where their career took them.

          1. Cicely*

            Eh, some people do, especially in this day and age of social media. If it’s a more dire situation, like if a potential reference is deceased, I’d ask the company directly what a suitable substitute would be.

          2. Nancy*

            No one expects that people stay in touch, but most people have some online presence and can easily be found.

      1. ferrina*

        Yep. This is what I did for my last job search- I reached out to my former manager on LinkedIn (she had left the company a year prior). We got virtual coffee and I let her know I was searching and asked if she would be a reference. She agreed and gave me her personal email and phone number, so that reference checkers could reach her.

        That said, when a company wants to speak to a manager further back, best of luck to them.

      2. Fishsticks*

        Depends on where in the application they ask for the information. For the most part, job apps have asked me to name my supervisor and if they can speak to said supervisor for past jobs. Which of course you can, but a. that person no longer works there and b. no one who does still work there was in a position to manage me

        Also, c. any person who I no longer work with probably isn’t someone I am still in regular contact with, with about… two total exceptions. I have references that were coworkers, absolutely, but I don’t have management references, really.

  11. Joanie*

    Family emergencies/issues definitely can take more than a week or two to resolve! I’m dealing with one with my mom right now. She had surgery in Dec., and has been in rehab. and this week will move to long term skilled nursing. In that time, I had to take over her finances, medical stuff, and packing up and vacating her apartment. All on my own, while still working FT. Thankfully the big stuff is done, but we’ve decided, even though she is fully with it mentally, its just better for me to continue to pay her bills, deal with insurance etc., which includes appeals for non-coverage, and a full storage unit of her belongings.

    Which I fully expect to take another couple of months as I slowly donate things, clean out my own stuff to make room for things, and so on. so yeah, when its all said and done, it will be about 6 months or so for me.

    1. Geeyourhairsmellsterrific*

      I’m sorry. I hope you are getting some support as you handle all of that.

    2. Annie*

      I could have written this a year ago, Joanie. Hang in there and be kind to yourself. It’s so hard.

  12. Emmy Noether*

    LW #1: I think this is a case of “you can’t care more about _______ than ______” (like you can’t care more about profits than the CEO, or you can’t care more about tax evasion than the IRS). You can’t care more about cheating than the person being cheated on.

    The answer to those is always either accept that and put it out of your mind, or, if you can’t, get away from the situation completely (which will be hard for you to do because you’ll presumably still see them at family events). Taking a stand by not working for the business won’t achieve anything. Do it if you’ll feel less frustrated, but don’t expect anything to change.

    1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      I don’t think they should step back because they’re trying to convince anyone to make different choices, they should do it because they’re deeply uncomfortable with this guy and don’t want him to profit from their work. I wouldn’t want him to profit from my work, either.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I think it’s important to note that you can’t do another person’s caring for them, or change something when you don’t have any direct power, but sometimes you just genuinely feel a certain way, or feel that something isn’t for you. Family businesses are tricky even when the relationships are stellar, but if you feel the relationships are in any way unstable or untrustworthy, that is solid Nope territory. Add in the fact that the guy is a good salesman, but without good organisation or financial stability and the instincts seem more than valid. I have a serial cheater relative who has found his ideally forgiving partner at long last, and all of those descriptors (talks a good game and doesn’t do the maths). While I am happy to wave across the room at a family gathering, the idea of being in business with them would give me hives.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        I think you have a good point that this guy is not just a cheater, but also doesn’t seem good for the business in general, and the cheating is part of the general skeeviness. The cheating may just be the thing that tipped the LW into getting out of the mess of this business, and that’s an understandable choice.

        One of the reasons that family businesses are so tricky is that it’s harder to make a clean break, but sometimes a break is still the right thing. You just have to be prepared for the fallout. And for the fact that, unfair as it may be, you may be the one that’s blamed for it. It may be worth it, but just be aware.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          I always think the word “cheater” sounds like it only really applies to a high schooler juggling two dates in one night. It’s such a lightly mischievous word. This guy’s had an entirely secret second life from his spouse and business partner for TEN years. That’s just a plain unvarnished liar. It’s okay if the spouse wants to roll the wheel for another bet, but it’s not a stable bet for everyone to feel cool about.

      2. ferrina*

        You get to feel a certain way. Obviously don’t let that feeling take over your life, but yeah, you get to make decisions about what you aren’t comfortable with. And there needs to be more options than “take it or leave it.” Low contact exists for a reason. Polite and friendly but distant is a great option for some situations, as is “completely disentangle from the business and socially see the sister but not the cheating POS.”

      3. New Mom (of 1 7/9)*

        I deleted my personal story about this, but I agree. This is a situation where you take your cues from the cheated-on and “comfort in, dump out” to whomever else in your life. But when business is involved? Yeah, get out if you need to.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Wouldn’t not working for the business anymore count as getting away from the situation?

      1. Emmy Noether*

        Since this is family, it really depends on how involved they are outside the business.

        If doing artwork for the business is really frequent, and LW can opt out of inlaw family events, they can get away from the situation and that should solve it. If, on the other hand, working for the business was already infrequent, and they’ll still have to do Sunday brunch with the guy every week, it won’t do much.

  13. Cinn*

    For LW2 would wording like “I do not give my permission/consent for my likeness/image to be used for these purposes” be considered too combative? I’m just wondering if using words like permission or consent might make HR pause in their pushing… The fact they won’t respect LW2’s decision is awful though and view that as a sign they’re right to want to leave.

  14. Irish Teacher.*

    LW5, some years ago, a principal of the school I was teaching in was absent for mental health reasons. The staff was told that she would be out sick for a period of time and that it was stress related. We simply told the students that she was out sick.

    I think “health reasons” would explain it pretty well. I know another colleague was out for about three months as a result of an operation on his back/neck and a colleague has currently been out since the start of December because of cancer, though you probably don’t want people speculating about that possibility. But there are plenty of health issues that could have somebody out for an extended period of time. The back/neck operation wasn’t even something that would usually be considered particularly “serious,” just an operation that required a long recovery period.

    Something like “I’ll be out for a period of time due to health reasons. It’s nothing life-threatening or anything, but it could involve a long recovery period so I can’t say for sure when I’ll be back” would seem perfectly reasonable to me. That would probably have me thinking something like back or hip problems that could cause mobility problems that would make it difficult for you to work for some time afterwards.

    1. Madre del becchino*

      I have a colleague who was out for 6 months last year because of extensive back surgery.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, agreed. I had a colleague who was out for months after shoulder surgery, including a couple of attempts at coming back that didn’t work out. We mostly work remotely, so I didn’t see anything that indicated what was keeping her out — if she hadn’t told me, I would have had no idea!

  15. 653-CXK*

    LW#2: “You’ve asked me repeatedly to participate in this publicity campaign and are asking for availability. I have serious concerns about this, including [fill in the blank on what those concerns are], and as such I will not be participating for those reasons. This will be the final reply to this and any future requests for availability. Thank you for understanding my position.”

    I think someone in the HR department got it in their bonnet that LW2 “would be absolutely perfect for this campaign,” and is refusing to accept LW2’s concerns about these issues. Several variations of “no” followed by a final “no, thanks anyway” may help.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I disagree, I think at this point more words just gives HR more content to push back on. An unequivocal “no” is what’s needed at this stage.

      1. MsM*

        Yep. Pushy people tend to interpret giving reasons as an opportunity to negotiate. The “why” isn’t important at this point; they simply need to get it through their heads that it’s not happening.

      2. Angie S.*

        I agree. A simple “no” has to be sufficient. if they won’t take it, I would point out to HR that it’s their problem, not mine.

        How many times do we have to teach people to believe that no means no?

      3. 653-CXK*

        True…my thinking was that a reasonable HR rep would listen, but this HR rep is resisting even that. “No, and that’s final” seems to be the path to take.

      4. ferrina*

        Flashback to Deadpool:

        “I would join you, but I don’t wanna”

        (said by the sidekick* as the hero* gears up for the final showdown)
        *”sidekick” and “hero” are highly subjective and used loosely here.

    2. JSPA*

      “no, that’s not something I can do. Thanks for understanding.”

      –But why?

      “Sorry, you couldn’t have known, but that’s a personal question.”

      –You must!

      “are you really prepared to fire me over my refusal?”

      IMO, “previous employer threatened to fire me for declining to let them use my image on promotional material” is a fine reason for “why you are leaving.” And also a way to weed out any other companies who want you for your face, not your skills.

      1. JSPA*

        all of the above can be said with a smile, and the last with a “of course that would be silly” chuckle. Basically, you want to give them room to climb back down, without seeming confrontational. The vibe you’re going for is, “oh, too bad that I really can’t, thank goodness you’re reasonable.”

  16. subaru outback driver*

    LW3; Good news, that program ended on Friday March 8th. So at least your company can’t do it again.

  17. Alex*

    I’m confused about #3–are they requesting the COVID tests to be sent to each employee “so that you all have tests on hand” (meaning, the employees get to keep them/use them themselves) or are they requesting them to have on hand for a business event where the employees need to bring the tests in/somehow had the tests sent to the business?

    I’d be weirded out anyway, but if they are expecting to be able to use ALL the tests themselves that is actually pretty egregious.

    1. Snarl Trolley*

      This was my question as well. I plan my entire life around the availability of covid tests, and as per newer recommendations, now take at least two tests to confirm the okay before doing anything. So losing even one box of planned-for tests is a hit, if the company is somehow trying to forcibly “reserve” any of the tests for their event.

    2. del*

      Yeah, the LW references packing the tests in their suitcase for the event, which makes it sound like they’re expecting to need to bring the tests, not just test at home in advance of the event. I’m still unclear if that’s to be able to test repeatedly over the course of the event, or if they think the company will be expecting to be able to use the test for attendees or something.

      Ordering the tests on behalf of employees, but for the employees’ use, is still off, but it’s far more egregious if they’re expecting the employees to hand them over for others to use.

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

      It sounds like they did the request so the employees can test before/after the business event.

  18. Dinwar*

    “Yeah, this is a little off; they essentially engaged in a transaction with the government on your behalf while claiming to be you.”

    I’m surprised to hear this described as “a little off”. This is fraud–morally if not legally (though while I’m not a lawyer, I’m pretty sure “claiming to be multiple people you’re not in order to get free stuff from the government” fits that definition as well). At minimum I’d be VERY curious to see what their books look like, and VERY cautious about retaining all documentation moving forward. Someone who’s willing to commit fraud in order to save a few bucks is not someone you want to do business with.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      My petty, petty soul would be so tempted to sign corporate up to get all kinds of free government brochures, listservs, etc. And not the cool stuff, like NASA might send. Definitely the “boring but important” stuff. Oh, and anything about identity theft I could find.

    2. NameRequired*

      The company wasn’t “claiming to be multiple people you’re not in order to get free stuff from the government.” One element of fraud is that you must in some way benefit from the fraudulent activity. The company was having the COVID tests sent to their employee’s homes. A bit of an overreach, maybe, but definitely not that big a deal. This was a govt. program, and there was no clicking a box that says, “I certify that I am Sue Smith and using this for myself,” or whatever. I had COVID tests sent to my kids, parents and in laws when they were giving them away. If my company sent me one, I’d be like “oh, I didn’t realize they were still doing this. Thanks,” and move on. Sometimes it is like commenters here want to really LOOK for reasons to hate companies.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        You’re not a company though. If my mom requested COVID tests for me, I would not be weirded out in the same way as I would if someone in HR at my company did. My mom knows where I live and has been to my home. No one in HR should be looking up my address or other personal information for a non-business purpose, ever.

      2. darsynia*

        They are saving money, they’re requiring a test for a business situation and paying someone to be less than truthful on a number of forms to order free government tests rather than spending that on tests themselves. It’s not very MUCH money, but wasn’t there someone who posted last month about working for a library and they wouldn’t let them expense a bag of potatoes for a craft project in case they took home the excess?

        The ‘I didn’t realize they were still doing this’ could have been an email with instructions on how to request, with an opt-in for the company requesting for you if you liked. That would have felt less invasive and over-steppy.

      3. Charlotte Lucas*

        But the company was benefitting by not paying for the tests themselves. The benefit is for private citizens to use (or not) when and as they see fit.

      4. kiki*

        I don’t think the intention of this program was for companies to fill out the form on behalf of employees so they’d have tests for a work-specific event, though. I don’t think it qualifies as fraud because, like you said, the form doesn’t ask one to certify that they are the recipient. And tons of people did fill out the form on behalf of their friends and family just to make sure they’d receive those tests. But if I had intended to use those tests for something else, I’d be frustrated that the company seems to want to get out of paying for testing they are asking me to do. It’s sketchy of the company, to me. It also just seems… cheap? Like, I get that companies should look to save money where they can, but this government program was definitely not intended to subsidize workplace expenses.

      5. Dinwar*

        “One element of fraud is that you must in some way benefit from the fraudulent activity.”

        Receiving goods has historically been considered to fall under this heading. As has corporations saving money by misusing government programs. The intent of this program is to give individuals (who typically do not have the resources a company has) tests. Using this program to save costs is no different from demanding employees eat at a soup kitchen on a work trip in order to save money.

        Further, the company LIED ON THE FORM when they said they were the individuals in question. That’s not insignificant. I fill out forms all the time that include fines and jail time if I screw up; I CANNOT work for a company that is willing to sign my name on papers I am unaware of. It means I can’t trust my bosses and coworkers, full stop–and remember, it’s my family’s livelihood on the line here. And I’m hardly unique in this.

        “The company was having the COVID tests sent to their employee’s homes.”

        The letter doesn’t say that. It says that they used the LW’s home address–which is something totally different, commonly done for verification purposes. We don’t actually know where the tests were sent.

        But even assuming they did so, the fraudulent use of the employees’ personal data remains. The fraudulent use of a government program to reduce corporate costs remains. And even if you ignore all that, these programs have limits, and having someone randomly decide to sign you up for such programs ruins your ability to plan.

        “I had COVID tests sent to my kids, parents and in laws when they were giving them away.”

        If my parents did this to me I would be livid (assuming they filled out the form for me, rather than sending an extra one they had). I DISPISE people speaking for me in such ways. It’s infantilizing and demonstrates a clear lack of respect for the individual. (At this stage of my career my boss making commitments for me without discussing it with me falls under this heading, though I do respect legitimate hierarchies and authority.) There is no possible excuse for treating a grown adult with such contempt as to attempt to negate their autonomy.

        Informing my parents of this after they committed such an overstep was a fairly significant milestone in our relationship.

        “Sometimes it is like commenters here want to really LOOK for reasons to hate companies.”

        Frankly, I agree. I think this website’s commenters are overly hostile to management (which is ironic given the name of the site). But this isn’t that. It’s egregious misuse of a government program and fraud, both of which warrant ire.

        The reality is that if this wasn’t a Covid test there’d be no question at all. If Walmart was signing their employees up for food stamps that alone would instigate a federal investigation, regardless of whether they allowed the employees to keep the food stamps. That this is Covid does not change the nature of such unconscionable behavior.

  19. Kevin T-Rex Willis*

    FWIW I don’t know if this is still the case, but for a while we were able to get four tests sent to everyone in the house including kids, so we had sixteen free tests for our family of four.

    Not sure if that was through insurance or something else.

    I would just keep the tests and use them as you would normally – if you still have them when this offisite happens bring it then, if not I’m sure you can find a test or two.

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

      That could have been either your insurance or the state. I know California had an option to get a lot more tests than other places. nationwide each household, not per person, can get 4 free tests through USPS.

  20. A. Nonymous*

    As the daughter of a sex addict father and a mother who made the tremendously stupid choice to stay: never stay in any way connected to a sex addict, professionally or personally. It is a mistake.

    1. OxfordBlue*

      From a fellow member of the same club I heartily agree with your recommendation. The girlfriend who was younger than me was a particularly low point. I have always been grateful for his vasectomy.

  21. Assistant To The Regional Manager*

    OP2 – I’d give them one final no. They shouldn’t be pushing you for this. I’m sure there are companies that are out there that have some sort of blanket photo permission written into their rules and regs, but I think that’s more about you appearing in a photo at a conference or some other work event. Using your likeness when it comes to an active advertising campaign, which this is, could violate someone’s safety if the wrong person saw this and connected them with a workplace. Just tell them you’re not comfortable having your face out there in such a public manner while attached to the workplace.

  22. RH in CT*

    “At least they’re asking people to test, I suppose.”

    That’s a positive, but it sounds to me that they want the benefit without the cost. If they really care wouldn’t they be paying for the testing?

    1. Bruce*

      Reminds me of the one time I caught Covid so far, it was at a BIG company sales conference. They were handing out free tests in the meeting lobbies, and by the 3rd day I was hearing that people were testing positive… at least I didn’t have to pay for the test to get the bad news :-/ … and I was able to expense the extra days in a hotel while I isolated and got negative using Paxlovid so I could finally go home…

  23. Michelle Smith*

    LW1: While I completely understand where you’re coming from, it feels like a difficult and awkward conversation because you are basically trying to find a way to say “I am more upset about the cheating than you are, despite the fact that it happened to you and not me.” I am also wondering if you’ve considered how far you’re willing to take this. If you don’t want to do anything he ever benefits from, even if the sister in law also benefits just as much because they’re partners, is that just limited to the business? Or will you refuse to host him in your home for Thanksgiving? Will you refuse to bring a birthday cake over to celebrate sister in law or her kids’ birthdays because he will get to eat some? Will you limit gifts to only those he can’t also enjoy? When you go out to eat and offer to pay, will you just pay for your wife and sister in law and ask boyfriend to pull out his credit card? Where are you going to draw the line and are you willing to strain the relationship you have with sister in law to take a hardline stance?

    This is not necessarily an abuse situation based on what you’ve stated, but in domestic violence situations, there is a reason they do not recommend taking a hard line stance against the abuser when the victim is still enmeshed in the relationship – because it will push them away and make it harder for them to come to you when they *are* ready to leave, because they don’t want to be shamed for staying for as long as they did. Same logic applies here. Tread carefully if you care about preserving that relationship and make sure your wife is on board with whatever you decide to do, because it could impact her relationship too.

    1. Silver Robin*

      I think you are taking LW1’s comment about not wanting jerk to profit off of her work a too broadly. It seems perfectly reasonable and feasible to say “I will treat him accordingly as your romantic partner at family events but I will not do business with that jerk”. That is just keeping business and personal separate, which most folks actually recommend for this is exact reason.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        This exactly. The dynamics and boundaries around person and professional relationships is so different, and the fact that Michelle is conflating them in this way is exactly the risk people run doing business with family.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I’m not conflating anything. I’m making sure LW actually thinks this through before blowing up their family over something that doesn’t actually impact them the same way as it does the sister in law. It’s okay to disagree with me, but don’t act like I said something I didn’t say please.

          1. MsM*

            I think Alison’s framing of “I’m stepping back because things are complicated, and I’ve decided it’s best not to continue comingling our professional and personal relationship” covers that concern pretty well. If the boyfriend decides to take that out on SIL, then I really don’t see how continuing to do business with him is a good idea.

          2. Silver Robin*

            I kind of understand the confusion though.

            You took a professional stance: “I will not work with Jerk because I do not like him and so do not want him to profit from my work” and asked OP “Are you willing to take that to the absolute extreme, even in your personal world?” as if doing the first would necessitate the second. Which you kind reinforce here by framing LW’s professional actions as “blowing up the family”. Do you expect that the family will expect LW to be so strict as you detailed? Why does being willing to do the first require that LW prepare themselves to do the latter?

            That is where people are getting the sense of conflation. Yes, obviously there is a high chance of personal repercussions (the risk of mixing personal and business), but why the jump to such intensity over a business decision? If that is not what you meant, what did you mean?

    2. Generic Name*

      Cheating is abuse. Nevertheless, it’s totally valid to not want to do business with a cheater, even if you hold your nose and exist in the same room with them at family events.

    3. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      It’s kind of weird to me that you think the OP can’t/isn’t allowed to have feelings about someone cheating because it didn’t happen to them. When I discover new information about someone, it might cause me to reevaluate our relationship. But also, outsiders frequently have a clearer perspective than insiders. I’m not as invested in my in-laws’ relationships as they are, so it’s easier for me to both see the issues and name them as issues.

      Similarly, the OP can decide that they don’t want to do business with this guy. They can also decide they don’t want to be around the guy. Or any combination. Those are valid choices and OP’s feelings are valid. I note your examples are all drama-filled, but there’s a version where OP just skips smaller family get togethers without a performance of outrage.

      After my FIL screamed at me at Easter one year, I successfully avoided all family events with him for 2 years. My husband went. I was always busy with friends, or was sick, or was going to be at a work thing. I will still not be in his home, but I will go to dinners out and events at other people’s houses. I never made a dramatic announcement or threw gifts in his face or whatever you imagine. But I am not required to put up with crappy behavior just because this person is part of my extended family.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      It’s definitely a good thing for OP to consider; it’s entirely possible to support a victim of infidelity’s choice, while also saying ‘that’s not okay’ and stating your own boundaries. Complete ostracism of both members in the relationship is a hard line, but it wouldn’t be considered a hard line to not do a business deal with someone who just harmed a relative – it’s important OP is comfortable with their business partners too. OP isn’t telling the sister in law what to do, or belittling their choices; they are just making their own.

  24. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    #1 – example of why anyone shouldn’t work with their partner. SIL has to stay in the business because its her only source of income. If the business fails, they are both out of work.

    OP1 – you can’t fix their relationship. But you can separate yourself from the situation. And your family’s finances from it. Not sure if this is your primary job or not, but best to be far away when this implodes. And it will. BF might be behaving now, but it won’t last.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      There are many different scenarios in which a spouse can be your only source of income.

  25. Suzy Q*

    Number 3: A “suitcase full of supplies”? A box of tests and some masks don’t take up very much room, and you should be taking these supplies anyway.

  26. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – when I ask for manager references, I want someone who has overseen and assessed your work. The person will also need to have observed how you accept feedback, work with colleagues, and who has seen you in a number of different situations. They will have observed your initiative, delivery, professionalism, etc. For technical roles, the person needs to be someone who can assess your technical competencies.

    This could be a direct manager, a second-line manager, or a manager in another department, for whom you have done a lot of work.

    If your roles are somewhat specialized (eg. if you are in HR, but ask the VP Finance to be your reference, since you support that department), then you should have past references who can speak to your HR subject matter expertise.

    Also, it’s a good idea to explain why you are using the manager reference you are using – eg. perhaps you work most closely with the VP Finance, and the HR Manager lives in another city and hasn’t been heard from in the last year.

  27. NameRequired*

    LW 3: I don’t see this as impersonating you! I did this same thing and had COVID tests sent (during the height of COVID when they were being given away) for my 3 children, my parents, my in laws. You simply enter an address, etc…. and click submit. They were, in their minds, doing an administrative favor for you. It’s not like they signed you up for … a magazine subscription to Christian Living or something. Definitely, not something to get bent out of shape and overreact to IMHO.

    1. SarahKay*

      Ummm…. my Mum has my home address with my implied permission to use it for anything reasonable.
      My company has my home address so they can send official business communications to me with no implied permission to use it otherwise – and pretending to be me on a Gov’t website certainly falls under my definition of ‘otherwise’.
      They wouldn’t be doing me a favour, they’d be taking a liberty.

  28. Coover*

    My old company approached me in the most low-effort way to appear on their newly created diversity and inclusion page. They didn’t even ask; they just told me to send them a short paragraph talking about how supportive the company is and include a photo. I had been with the company less than six months. They also gave me 48 hours to respond. I simply told them I didn’t have time to write anything, which I’m happy got them off my back. Somehow they found two other employees to take the bait.

  29. shinygoldhat*

    No. 5 I actually went through this exact situation last fall, though not as a leader. It can be so hard to take that time for yourself in our work-obsessed culture. After I came back I had to fight with HR to get accommodations to keep the situation from repeating, and it was all very stressful. Being asked to provide details of my emotional breakdown was a challenge.

    As far as communicating to the company, you can keep it as simple as “I’m going out on medical leave.” I don’t know how large your company is, but it’s really not appropriate for folks to ask for details beyond that.

  30. Old lady*

    About L#1: I was most concerned with this sentence: ‘He is a total mess on keeping anything organized or written down for finances.’ which to me is a big red flag.

    Loosey-goosey paperwork has the possibilities that the company could have bookkeeping issues. Which can lead to serious money problems running the company for a profit. If you have other means of income this is another reason to part ways.

  31. CJ*

    #2: this is rampant paranoia and wild cynicism on my part, but I wonder if OP is part of a minority at that company – especially a traditionally underrepresented minority in a given industry – and HR wants a “look at how inclusive we are!” moment. Gods know it wouldn’t be the first company to make an employee wicked uncomfortable by doing such.

    1. kiki*

      Yes, when I was a student at a university the other visible minorities and I would joke that we needed to start wearing oversize sunglasses out and start acting like celebs trying to avoid paparazzi. Our school very much wanted to convey a diverse image but did not actually have a very diverse student body, which meant the same 20 people were featured in, like, all photographs for our school.

  32. Caramel & Cheddar*

    #3) I think I’d be more annoyed that my company was too cheap to pay for these supplies themselves for a work event than them filling out the form on my behalf. That part is weird, but doing it to get out of their responsibility to provide PPE for staff at an event where it’s apparently required somehow bothers me more. Businesses should pay their own expenses, and this is a business expense. If they want to argue that the government should be providing this stuff to business too, then that’s an argument they can take to their representatives.

  33. kiki*

    For letter 5, I had a boss who went through something similar and I felt like it was really well communicated without staff knowing an invasive amount about their exact scenario. (I only know the details now, years later, because I became close friends with my boss after leaving the company).

    Their business partner said something like: “Boss is taking leave due to a personal, medical emergency. We believe they will be okay and return to working at Company, but the length of the leave is indefinite. In that time, I will be taking on X responsibilities and Supervisor will be taking on Y responsibilities. I want you to know that we are supporting Boss as much as we can, but they have asked for privacy in this time. We will keep everyone as in the loop as we can, but we hope you understand that Boss needs privacy in this time and we need to respect that as an org.”

  34. Blarg*

    For #5 — just don’t do a Kate Middleton and release a doctored photo ostensibly to quell rumors about your wellbeing, nor a Lloyd Austin, not telling your boss AND the person covering for you that you have cancer, had surgery, and then are admitted to the ICU for complications.

    Assuming that you are not a member of a royal family nor in the presidential line of succession, you should be ok. :)

    I am currently being treated for cancer, and have been working 3 days/week, getting chemo on Thurs and then recuperating on Fri. Next month I am getting surgery and will be out for six weeks. After that will depend on what surgery results show. I’ve been fortunate that I can talk openly abut it at work, but if I had said that I had a long-term health thing going on and would be working intermittently for the next year or so, that would have been true and would have sufficed.

    1. ThatOtherClare*

      Or, if you work at a joke-y kind of workplace, do pull a Kensington Palace and send out a clearly badly photoshopped photo of you with freaky AI hands and a giant head.

      At my workplace that would convey the subtext “She’ll be out for a while but she’s ok enough to make jokes about it, so no need to panic.”, but it’s a know your colleagues kind of thing, clearly.

  35. The Curse of the Zoom Meetings*

    #2 reminds me… A photo of me was once featured front and center in a newsletter for an organization I don’t even work at, but happened to be visiting for an event (I’m a racial minority in a majority-white field). The funniest part was I only learned of this when the newsletter went out and a friend received a copy!

    1. Kuleta*

      I once clearly appeared in some photos posted on a controversial activist’s blog. I’d gone to see her at a speaking engagement, and arrived to find other attendees protesting on the sidewalk. The venue had cancelled her appearance at the last minute.

      This was over 10 years ago, and I don’t think she even has the blog anymore. But one would have to have known the specific event, and that I attended, to think of looking for me there.

  36. Hashtag Destigmatize Therapy*

    Re: #4 – On general principle, I really don’t like requiring a supervisor as a reference. The conflict of interest is too great. A couple years ago, my partner had a boss who was more or less actively trying to prevent her from taking another job elsewhere. This boss was definitely clever and unethical enough to write a “recommendation” that sounds like she’s straining to make a case for a bad candidate.

  37. Mark*

    I think you missed the mark on #2. Many states, including mine (Illinois) have laws in place that forbid a company from using someones voice or image in advertising against their will. If this was the case in her state, all she’d have to tell them, if they push the issue, is that the state does not allow them to proceed with this without her consent.

  38. Bruce*

    Regarding the free Covid tests: Friday was the last day to order, sadly. I placed an order, then the web site came back and said we were eligible for a second set at our address… it seems it was 1 set per person per address. So I ordered a set using my wife’s name and email, and she got an email alerting her about it… She didn’t mind once I explained it, one advantage of being married to her :-) Moot point going forward, since they cancelled the program :-(

  39. Semi-retired admin*

    I have put my small (very small, I’m a one-woman show) on hiatus for 6 weeks. I’m responding to emails and other communications but not putting out any product for that time period. I haven’t needed to address the reason very often, but when I do I just say that it’s to deal with some personal issues and that seems to be working very well.

  40. Have you had enough water today?*

    Requiring references from a current manager is a terrible policy. Personally I am happy to give accurate references to any of my direct reports if they decide to move on, but I know far too many managers who consider someone leaving a personal insult & try to undermine them. To what end I don’t know, but just because someone has made it to a leadership role does not mean they are not childish. Because of this, you cannot guarantee that any reference you get from a current manager will not be a spiteful attempt to discredit your potential new hire.

  41. Inkognyto*

    I have a company I cannot get manager references. The company policy is against it. They have to call an HR number.

    Some companies refused to go further, and they asked why. I said “call the HR number here and get your reference that I worked there, but I cannot get a reference as it’s their policy you can ask them.” The company confirms I worked there, the job title, and the timeframes.

    What makes it worse is anyone on my immediate team is will not give any reference as a co-worker. I saw the policy but they don’t care, so that whole company is like “out”. This is my most immediate job after my current one of 4 years. I was part of an acquisition, so it’s like 4 years and then 5. I list it as 2 roles but I state that one was acquired by another, but there’s also no manager’s left from the pre-acquired company.

    Least if I ever leave this one, I’ll have a few good references.

  42. T'Cael Zaanidor Kilyle*

    3#: It seems like the company is trying to take something that the employee is entitled to in their personal capacity, and appropriate it in order to reduce the company’s costs.

    1. FattyMPH*

      AGREE. It’s very good that they want to prevent covid outbreaks. But that’s a cost of doing business they need to absorb themselves.

  43. FattyMPH*

    Re: #3: Good that the company wants employees to test; bad but not unprecedented that the company is unloading one of the costs of doing business onto employees via government benefits. If they want to offer you tests, which they should, they should also be paying for those tests and ensuring they actually get into your hands at the correct time. Target sells 5 packs for $35; giving each employee a five pack 24 hours before travel would be a really good idea: two to make sure you’re negative before you go, two for when you get back, and one more for good luck (or if you feel sick) would be a really good look (and ultimately self serving for the company by preventing lost productivity due to outbreaks).

  44. Melody Pond*

    References: It recently occurred to me that three of my last five roles having my manager as a reference would be an issue. One I can work with because I can use a manager I worked with prior to my most recent promotion. The other two everyone I worked with has either retired or moved on and I am not in contact with them. I haven’t quite figure out a solution. I have a solid set of references in general but those two roles leaves me kind of in the wind.

  45. mmmbop*

    LW3 – I would consider reporting this to the USPS inspector/law enforcement arm. They do not mess around and you could argue that this constitutes fraud since they were using USPS infrastructure as you, without your permission. It might not go anywhere, but I don’t think it hurts to let them know.

  46. Kimbaland*

    #4 happened to me in an academic job search and it was completely awful all around. The dean of my division enthusiastically agreed to give me a strong reference, but HR at the hiring institution made a giant stink– they only accept references from direct supervisors. Unfortunately, my direct supervisor had passed away– she was too young, and we had been close– so that was a really difficult conversation to have with some strangers who had power over my livelihood.

    I am forever glad that I didn’t take that job– tenure, if the institution is a bad fit, means working with terrible people FOREVER! (They were also terrible in different ways, but this one affected me directly.)

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