do my coworkers think I’m a lady of leisure, Covid precautions at a client dinner, and more

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

1. Do my full-time coworkers think I’m a lady of leisure because I work part-time?

I work part-time at an elite private high school that my oldest child attends. How our very middle-class family ended up with a kid at this school is a long story, but please know it was a necessary last resort for my kid’s mental health.

Very luckily, just before school started, a part-time receptionist position opened up at the school and I practically ran to apply, as it comes with a partial tuition remission. I was nervous about this school. I thought it might be stuffy and elitist. I was so happy to discover this to not be true at all! My kid is happy at the school and I love working there! It’s only two days a week.

At work, I make sure I go above and beyond to be a top notch receptionist. I recently heard feedback from a coworker that my name came up in a meeting of the school administration about what a great hire I was and what an asset I’ve become to the front office.

The only problem is that there are a lot of affluent parents and I think some of my coworkers assume I am one of them. Every Tuesday, before I leave for the week, several people wave to me and say, “Enjoy your LONNNNNNNNG weekend!” or “Gosh, I wish it was MY Friday too.” At first I just laughed it off, but it’s been almost a year, and it’s every week. It’s getting old.

Do they think I’m this woman of leisure? If it matters, my clothes are from Old Navy and Target and my car is a not-fancy station wagon that’s older than my kid! On the days I’m not here, I’m taking care of a child with intensive medical needs, tutoring my oldest so she can keep up at school, cooking, cleaning, driving (my husband travels and is gone the majority of each week) and at night after my kids are in bed, I do freelance work. I average about 4-5 hours of sleep a night. I work HARD. To me, my weekend is the two days I’m at the school! They are the quietest, most relaxing days I have. I get to sit down!

I know I’m taking it too personally, right? Who cares what these people think? I guess I just don’t get why people would say something like that to someone they don’t really know? How about “Have a good week!” and leave it at that? After a year, would you snap and say something?

I think you’re reading too much into it! Maybe they think you’re a lady of leisure, or maybe they don’t. But either way, their comments almost certainly aren’t meant to be pointed barbs about the luxurious lifestyle they imagine you have. The comments sound more akin to hackneyed office commentary like “is it Friday yet?” or “another day in paradise!” — the cliche phrases that get thrown around every office that are really just a way of saying “ugh, work, amirite.”

But if it really bothers you, one option is to share more about your life with your colleagues — since if they get to know you better, they might still make the comments but you’ll probably be less likely to read an “enjoy your riches” subtext into them. But you could also just laugh and say, “Yeah, right. It’s way more relaxing here than at home.” (Although writing that last one out, I’m second-guessing it; you don’t want to sound like you’re minimizing their own jobs compared to your home responsibilities, particularly in a cultural context where moms who work often feel judged by moms who don’t and vice versa.)

2. Jobs with no negotiation and a huge salary range

I recently came across a job listing that stated they would be using a salary algorithm to determine compensation and would not be allowing any negotiation. I found this a little odd, especially since the range given for the position was quite large ($145,000-$225,000). The organization gives signs of valuing equity and inclusion (generous PTO and six months paid parental leave, explicit professional development benefits outlined in the job posting), so it feels like this is their attempt to ensure all applicants get treated fairly in determining compensation. Am I right that this is a little off-base, especially since they weren’t clear what variables are fed to the algorithm? Or is this the way all jobs should be looking to make salary negotiations more fair?

I have no problem with not allowing negotiation if they’re clear up-front about what a job pays and the initial posting is both accurate and thorough; people can then decide whether or not they’re interested in applying.

But a range this big? Whether negotiation is possible or not, they need to explain what skills and experience would get you placed where in that range (and the larger the range, the more important that is). Clearly they know because they’ve programmed their algorithm with it. Telling people, “Our offer will be take-it-or-leave-it and, by the way it could fall anywhere within an $80,000 spread” is BS — and a good way to make a lot of candidates question whether they want to invest time in interviewing. (If they tell you where you would fall in their range during the first phone screen, I’m less annoyed, but it’s still not good practice.)

3. Covid precautions at a client dinner

I am a high-performing WFH employee at a very small company. I take more Covid precautions in my daily life than anyone else at this company (I technically am high-risk but with a very common condition). When the team gets together, I wear a mask, and the rest of the team has seen this but never commented. In a few weeks, a client is coming to town and a few members of my team are taking them out to dinner. Client management like this isn’t in the scope of my work, but I anticipate being included in this invite.

I do not want to go and want to explain that any precautions I would take at this dinner (mask when not eating, portable air purifier) would look “weird” and run counter to the dinner’s goal of soothing and retaining clients. Is there a way for me to communicate this clearly without making it a “big deal” in such a small company? (We do not have a formal HR department.) I have a yearly review scheduled for the same week and don’t want this to occupy mindshare.

“Because I’m high-risk for Covid, I’d have to mask and bring a portable air purifier. From a client relations perspective, my sense is it would be better for me to sit this one out so that my precautions aren’t the focus.”

Also, if you’d feel safer not going even if they want you to come despite this warning, then I’d skip that and just say that because you’re high-risk, you’re avoiding indoor dining with large groups (if that’s true).

4. My boss told me not leave documents out — is her reason correct?

My boss has me filing work order documents, I left two folders on my desk to work on the next day. When I came in the next morning, she told me that I needed to make sure to put the folders away always, and not keep them on my desk because if we got randomly audited she would get in trouble.

I don’t know if this is true or she used it as an excuse to have me keep the files in the drawers. I would just like to know if we would get in trouble if we were suddenly randomly audited and work order files were found outside of the cabinet.

Sure, depending on the contents of the documents and if they’re confidential, it’s possible that an audit could take issue with them being left in the open. It’s also possible that your boss just doesn’t like documents left out and is borrowing the authority of the auditor rather than owning her preference, who knows.

More to the point, though, it doesn’t really matter! If your boss asks you to store documents a certain way, you should store them that way. Unless your boss is asking something unreasonable or unrealistic, you generally need to do your job the way she asks you to. (That doesn’t mean there’s no room for pushback if you have a reason for wanting to do it differently. But ultimately it’s her call.)

5. Is it legal not to pay someone if HR’s software fails?

A weird situation, and for legal context all of this is happening at a university in Massachusetts. I’m just so angry, and I can’t tell if I have a right to be angry or if HR is correct.

We hired a student in May, but HR’s software made a mistake and only hired her for September. The student, bless her heart, didn’t tell us about this until three pay periods had passed, and we, of course, emailed HR to ask them to fix this. They, in their “wisdom,” hired her and put her on the normal pay period as she had just missed the cutoff, so she will now have not been paid for two months.

I have been emailing back and forth with HR asking them to pay her sooner than the normal payroll, or make her whole beyond what she is owed, but they keep insisting that because she was only hired at the official time there is no reason to. I say, however, that if their software makes a mistake that does not mean that she was not hired, and she is owed her money as soon as possible and with restitution.

Honestly, I am going to continue to suggest to the student that she work with her union to file a wage complaint, but am I crazy? Does a software mistake on HR’s part mean that this student was never “hired” and therefore does not need to be paid as if HR made a mistake?

You are right and HR is wrong. Employers are legally required to pay employees within specific time periods set out by state law, and “our software messed it up” doesn’t release them from that obligation. Here’s what Massachusetts’s pay deadlines are.

Caveat: government sometimes excludes themselves from the employment rules they lay out for everyone else, so if this is a public university you’d need to check whether they’re exempt from this (although I doubt they are). Either way, I suggest saying to HR, “State law requires us to pay wages owed within X days of the pay period ending. She’d be within her rights to file a wage complaint with the state if we don’t comply with the law.”

Also, if you’ve been dealing with the same HR person through all of this, consider escalating it over their head.

{ 548 comments… read them below }

  1. Plus +*

    Re: #1, I think saying “It’s way more relaxing here than at home” will definitely make it sound like this is a hobby job for you. Just stick with laughing it off. It’s just standard office chatter no one is thinking about too much when they say it.

      1. MistOrMister*

        I had a coworker years ago who was a receptionist and supposedly her family was wealthy and she just did the work b/c she liked getting out of the house, but didn’t need the money. I say supposedly b/c at that time I was in my 20s and much more naive so I didn’t question it when someone told me all that. But, if true, she certainly was a receptionist just as a hobby job so it could happen. It’s actually a good position for such people because depending on where you work it’s not high stakes so you don’t have to take your work home with you or drown in stress.

        1. Anonymous Academic*

          LW #1 has my full empathy. I previously worked at a Very Prestigious University and the privilege fatigue can be exhausting! I learned to keep a straight face while hearing people complain about their first world problems, like not being able to take a THIRD vacation in one year, when I can barely afford one where I’m staying with family because I can’t afford somewhere that requires paying for a hotel, oof.

          1. Katy*

            But that was presumably coming from students and parents, not from the professors, right? In this case, it’s coming from the teachers, most of whom are probably much less privileged than the parents.

            My guess is it’s an unintended combo of “this person is a coworker so I can safely make the ‘ugh, I hate Tuesdays’ comments to them,” and “this person is a parent, and I envy all these privileged parents,” and that’s where the weird undertone is coming from that LW#1 is picking up.

            I think mentioning the second, freelance job might be the best way to shut down the “ooh, long weekend” comments without having to share a lot about your home life.

            1. Elitist Semicolon*

              Oh, professors will make comments like that, too. Like, I’ve heard professors express puzzlement that staff don’t take their “allotted research leave” – probably because we don’t GET allotted research leave. Faculty aren’t always the most in-touch people when it comes to understanding where staff fit into the financial and social hierarchy.

            2. Pine Tree*

              I think the second job and all of the other responsibilities are key here. If I were OP I’d say something like “I wish I was headed to a weekend! See you later, I’m off to my second job now!”

            3. mayflower*

              In my experience working at a private high school – no, it’s everyone, staff included. I’m not sure if it’s that these places attract people from wealth or if poor folks just don’t work out because they don’t fit in, but as someone who grew up in poverty I never felt a lot of connection with my coworkers (and didn’t last long). I also worked in the fundraising office, though, and my experience in most nonprofit fundraising teams is that there will be people who grew up wealthy. So just my two cents!

          2. Sharks Are Cool*

            YES. Most of the faculty I work with are genuinely very nice people, but any sort of work-sponsored social events are exhausting because they don’t understand that I will very likely never be able to buy a house in our high cost-of-living area, and that even if I wanted kids I am not paid enough to afford them.

      2. Smithy*

        I don’t think that assumption is necessarily warranted either. Especially when it comes to schools that a parent’s child attends or is in one’s neighborhood.

        My cousin is very well off personally and in her marriage and does not have to work. But after her kids hit kindergarten – she’s regularly had some kind of employment in that 2-ish days a week variety. Prior to getting married she was a nurse practitioner, so for years she was the 2 days a week school nurse at her children’s private school. But she’s also done occasional bookkeeping for different friends’ or family’s private businesses.

        In many ways, those types of jobs have never been about the income and rather been about having her feel useful, like she contributes to things she cares about, and engaged in her community. Based on her level of wealth, it’s certainly not as common as people who have jobs because they need them, but among her socio-economic peers I don’t think it’s entirely uncommon either. And particularly in certain environments (like a private school) there may be even more group think about this being more common.

      3. Ella*

        Disagree. I was a temp receptionist for a long time, and the people I filled in for covered a really wide spectrum. There were some who took it extremely seriously, and there were others who wouldn’t have surprised me if they said it was a hobby job.

      4. Skytext*

        I don’t know: this whole thread reminds me of the early seasons of Dance Moms where Melissa worked as a receptionist at Abby’s studio to offset her daughters’ fees. She’s was pretty well-off and didn’t otherwise work outside the home, but I think at the time she was going through a divorce and her husband really didn’t like the huge time and money commitment. Then she got a new very rich boyfriend and money was no longer an issue.

    1. HolyGuacamole*

      I think if OP is really worried though (which I don’t think she necessarily needs to be; as Alison says, this sounds like friendly office chat) talking about some of her freelance work projects and what she’s got lined up sounds like a fairly innocuous way to subtly point out that she doesn’t work all of two days a week and spend the rest of her life chilling, without bringing her home life into it at all. Also you might then end up getting more freelancing connections and commissions through casual chat with your office mates, who knows?

    2. Your Former Password Resetter*

      Maybe talk a bit about your freelance work? That might emphasize that this isn’t exactly your Friday either.

      But most likely people aren’t thinking too much about it. And even if they are, is it actually more than an annoyance? It sounds like you have a great reputation regardless, and that it’s mostly rubbing you the wrong way because you have to work so hard and then get comments like these. But if you could reframe them as your coworkers really wanting a vacation or something, would that fix things too?

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Definitely talk about the freelancing! No whining needed–just “This week’s all about $Subject…. my authors sent me a new chapter to edit/format/translate/record.”

        If you write, share publication credits–those are fun for co-workers & friends!

        1. KitKat*

          Even simpler: just say “Oh, haha! Not my weekend actually, just my freelance days!”

      2. Another Use of the Identify Spell*

        It also sounds like OP hasn’t let others into any part of her life at all. Of course she’s not obligated to share anything she’s not comfortable with, especially involving her child’s health or other personal situations. But a casual “only 3 doctors appointments for Kid2 this week!” or something that shows life is complex might surprise them. They may even find the freelance work an interesting conversation topic, know someone who needs a person with that skill, sympathize with times they’ve juggled multiple jobs, etc. (E.g. I regularly refer people to a friend’s dog training business just by casual chatting and learning they have a new puppy.)

        So my advice would be, since OP seems to genuinely like these people and believe they are kind, to treat them like work friends and have that level of (semi)personal connection. You might also learn good things about them and strengthen community connections you likely don’t have time to maintain in other ways.

      3. Quill*

        Yeah, if the comments bother you the easiest way I can think of is just to imply that you do the freelancing the other “half” of the week. (Nobody needs to know about it being outside of traditional hours / a thing you fit in around all the other work of living.) People experiencing mild envy that you “only” work half time will probably change their tone a little if they mentally reframe it as you having two part time jobs that more or less equal a full time job.

    3. Knope Knope Knope*

      I agree. I kept reading the letter waiting for the problem to arise and by the end I didn’t really see one. Even if her colleagues or fellow parents think she’s affluent, so what? As a working mom myself, I think the real problem is how our society values paid labor versus unpaid labor. Many working parents, often women/moms, carry a burden of labor outside of work that is not appreciated like a paying job, even when it is harder or more demanding. And OP sounds like she has more than the average load at home. If I had to guess, it’s not really about wrongly pegged as affluent, but about feeling undervalued for the many jobs OP has that don’t come with a paycheck at the end of the week. OP, if you’re reading this it sounds like you’re doing an amazing job supporting your entire family in all the different ways they need! I hope you are getting that validation from the people in your life who see all that you do! Unfortunately I don’t have an answer that will suddenly make society value domestic labor as much as paid labor. But know you’re valuable and not alone in your feelings. There are a lot of us out there.

      1. MK*

        Eh, I do think it’s partly about being incorrectly “pegged as affluent”. Sending your children to private school tends to lead to assumptions about your financial situation, which can become awkward. Though I would imagine taking a part-time receptionist job at the school would go some way to correct that.

        1. Dog momma*

          We went to private Catholic school = tuition… vs public school and in no way shape or form was it assumed we had any kind of money. At the time it was a much better education. The parishes banded together and raised money to build a Catholic high school. Most of us kids were 1st or 2nd generation Americans. In most neighborhoods, both parents and grandparents were fluent in another language and were very lucky if the parent finished hs. They just wanted the kids to get a good education & good jobs

          1. MK*

            Eh, I am pretty sure that the people who also wanted their kids to get a good education but could’t afford the tuition absolutely assumed you had at least some kind of money. I didn’t mean that everyone assumes families who send their kids to private school are all filthy rich.

          2. metadata minion*

            Unless your kids were going via a scholarship, I’m going to assume you at least have enough money to pay tuition, which in the case of most private schools isn’t a trivial amount.

            1. Observer*

              Unless your kids were going via a scholarship,

              I think that this is part of the disconnect. In a lot of religious denominations, scholarships are absolutely the norm. Yes, there is a stated tuition, but in many schools only a small percentage of the parent body pays full tuition, and there it’s not uncommon for a percentage of parents to NOT pay tuition. I’m pretty sure that most Catholic (church affiliated) schools have something like that going on.

              And I can also tell you that many of these parent make some real sacrifices to pay the tuition (even when it’s even partially covered by scholarships.) And I’m not talking about “not going on vacation this year.”

          3. Magpie*

            I think that assumption is different when you’re talking about a Catholic school. Catholic schools are partially funded by the diocese which means tuition is much lower than independent private schools, they tend to offer more scholarships, and they usually offer steep breaks to families with multiple kids attending. In my city, there are a couple elite private schools that sound similar to the one LW describes and their tuition is about three times as high as the Catholic schools and therefore the perception of the families that attend the schools is very different from the Catholic schools.

            1. Polaris*

              I’m thrilled that the OP here has found a great school that supports her (?) child’s educational and health needs, and that she has found a position within the school that makes the tuition sting less. That’s fantastic, and I hope it continues to work for her family. I wouldn’t worry about what others think about my financial situation, unless suddenly you’re being “financially punished” due to this appearance, and again, it doesn’t seem or sound like that’s the case in the letter above.

              I may live in an area where this is an outlier, but locally:

              Catholic private HS, several available to choose from here – $16-24K annually.
              “Elite” school, again, a couple to pick from – $30-40K annually.

              Average Catholic high school tuition assistance is apparently around $4500.
              Average “elite” school tuition assistance is somewhere in the order of $19K.

              Either way, that’s a butt-load of money, and I don’t really see either as anything but privilege, being that the bulk of their student bodies are not from poorly rated inner-urban failing school districts, from their own data reporting, so that’s not even a factor. Unless you have a kid who needs to be noticed for sports (as that’s what both types of private schools are known for locally), I’m not overly convinced about a superior education, either, because, again, we’re not in the land of underperforming public schools here. The private schools, be they Catholic or just “elite”, are not known locally for being fantastic for any student with “different learning needs”, so I’m taking this all as just “local to me” things.

              1. SweetTooth*

                As an alternative data point – the Catholic high school I attended costs $7500 for one kid and $5000 for a sibling, or $9000 for a non-parishoner. The local private high school is $25,000. So the difference can be much more significant!

                1. Banana Pyjamas*

                  I can’t speak to high school, but where I live Catholic preschool is cheaper than home daycare.

          4. RussianInTexas*

            This is really depends on a school. Is it a parish Catholic school (although good Catholic schools coast $25-$30k a year here) or The Village School or Kincaide which will cost you more than half of my annual salary once everything is set and done? No one I know who is a regular working peon, can afford to send their kids to the latter.

          5. doreen*

            It also depends on when. When my siblings and I went to Catholic elementary school in the 60s, it was possibly less expensive than public school (uniforms could be passed down and allowed a smaller wardrobe and the tuition was the same whether a family had one kid or eight and of course the teachers were mostly nuns ) but that was no longer the case by the time my kids went in the 80s and 90s.

          6. Baunilha*

            Hm, I’m not sure. I also went to a Catholic private school and me and my friends were the low-income kids (students on scholarships, employee’s children, etc). The other kids at school knew we weren’t affluent, but the students from the public school a couple blocks away definitely thought of us as “rich kids”.

            Since OP mentions living a rather simple lifestyle, my guess is that her coworkers probably know she is not affluent and are just teasing about the shorter working hours. But if she wants to make sure they don’t think of her as a “lady of leisure”, she could just share a bit more of her situation. Not to complain or prove them wrong, just to let them know her a bit more.

            1. Baunilha*

              Slightly unrelated, for a while at my previous job, my coworker was working 7-4 while I was working 11-8. When I clocked in, she would tease me about sleeping in and not working mornings, and when she left, I would joke about her leaving early. We both knew we were working the same amount of hours, we were just poking fun at each other.

        2. Knope Knope Knope*

          Perhaps, but that’s not what LW wrote about. She wrote about how good she is at her job (I believe it!), but how much harder the work she does at home is. She was upset because people were referring to her days away from work as her weekend, when she considered it the other way around. If she said they were hitting her up for expensive fundraisers or inviting her for expensive child free nights out or expecting her to enroll her kids in expensive activities, then sure: awkward assumptions. But the only real assumption here is that OP has free time, and it’s irking her for some reason. I suspect it’s because it feels invalidating when to her, the hard work starts when she clicks out for the “long weekend”

          1. Momma Bear*

            I can see how that would be grating after a while. OP might say, “I have multiple jobs so I’m off to my next one. Have a great week!” or “I was only hired here for PT. You might not mean it offensively, but it makes me feel (insert thing here – devalued?) when you say that.”

            People say stupid things for “small talk” so it’s up to OP how they want to handle it. I think after a year that joke is very old and it’s not far fetched to want to shift people’s perception (or her perception of their perception).

        3. Clisby*

          Yes, if I were a parent at that school and realized the part-time receptionist also was a parent, I’d be far more likely to think she was doing it for the tuition cut rather than as a “hobby” job.

          1. Fíriel*

            Frankly I would likely assume the order of events was opposite to what it really was – that they were only sending the kid *because* she was a receptionist there (as opposed to finding out about the job after knowing the kid needed to be there for the support).

            1. Observer*

              Either way, I think a lot of us would assume that the job was tightly related to the choice of school. Because these tuition reimbursements can make a *huge* difference in affordability.

      2. Part timer*

        I agree that there’s a real problem with the undervaluing of care work which is a burden overwhelmingly taken care of by mums / women caring fo elderly relatives etc. I’m a part time worker and when people say “what are you doing on your day off” or ” have a nice day off” i always respond lightly / jokingly “oh I’m at my other job tomorrow – looking after my kids”. I always refer to my care responsibilities as “my other job” partly as a joke, but partly to make it clear I take it super seriously.

    4. Crooked Bird*

      I was thinking maybe:

      Them: “Haha, wish it was my Friday!”
      Her: “Haha, you wouldn’t if you had my to-do list for the rest of this week!”

      They are teasing her, and it’s probably meant as a friendly(ish) gesture, and it means she has every right to tease them back which is a way better way of enlightening them than snapping, so if she really does want them to know, I feel like this might be the way to go. And the above phrasing (especially if you say it with a sort of weary squaring-your-shoulders-for-the-next-task energy) puts the focus on the difficulty at home rather than “Oh, your job you’re complaining about is so relaxing.” It could lead them to ask questions, or at least it could just shift the assumptions a bit… or even just annoy them enough (if they wanted an interaction about how tough THEIR week was, not someone else’s!) that they’ll stop.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Or, alternately, I try to be explicit about some of the challenges our family faces because of our own neurodivergent kids. OP, if you’re comfortable doing so, you could say something like “yes, we were so lucky I found a job that allows me to take care of my kids’ care needs!” or “the shortened work week is so helpful when I need to book with occupational therapy” or whatever.

        Not only did that help me feel a little better, but also I think it’s really important for people to realize that this is a frequent trade off faced by parents of kids with disabilities/neurodivergence/other special needs: someone in the family often has to trade income/career growth for filling the needs of the family, at least for a while.

      2. Smithy*

        Yeah, I think this is a better mindset that getting sucked into the money & privilege ranking. Because I’m not sure the OP wants to be thought of just as having far less in these more transactional interactions either.

        Recently, I was walking and a cop directing traffic used a thumbs up to indicate we could now cross. Normally in that moment, I would nod or wave, but this time I also used a thumbs up and immediately felt embarrassed as it’s not a hand gesture I normally make out “in the wild”. While and entirely polite response, it didn’t feel like me.

        However if I was in that situation regularly, I know I’d want to find things that felt more true to myself. And I think trying to come from this perspective might help the OP more. How can I be true to myself, while still being professional and friendly in this environment. Another way to think of this is when coworkers/general public ask about someone’s weekend or holiday plans and the person in question isn’t doing anything. You’re usually not looking for a true moment of reflection on how you spend your free time, but you also don’t want to lie.

        This space is a little more specific as it’s a school where the OP works and her child is attending. But I think seeing it a parallel situation might help the OP navigate what feels more honest without oversharing.

      3. Olive*

        I agree 100% and I think she should keep it light and office-social and NOT do a big share about her personal life if her motive for sharing is defensiveness.

        While I’d like to not unintentionally offend a coworker with careless platitudes, and I might want to get to know a coworker through a two-way exchange, I truly don’t want my coworker to start dumping all her reasons for why she doesn’t actually have a relaxing weekend coming up. Tone matching is going to help with this.

    5. Sloanicota*

      If this is really bothering OP, I’d stick to the freelance stuff. “Oh, I’m only here part time but I’ve still got to pay the bills, so I have tutoring (or whatever) on the off days.” But to be honest, if you don’t “need” to work full time because of your husband’s income, you may in fact seem like a lady of leisure to people who do have to work full time and also wrestle with a lot at home.

      1. Katie*

        Yeahhhhhhh. I don’t doubt that she works very hard at home. But as someone who works full time and has two special needs kids at home, working only two days of week would be leisure.

        However, if it is truly bothering you, talk about your other job!! Mention (and not as a defense!) that you do XYZ work.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I don’t quite get this response– surely you see the people who are looking after your children whilst you’re working as working? Why wouldn’t you?

          1. Seashell*

            If the children are old enough to be left home alone, they don’t need to be looked after in the same way as a baby or a young child. There are other chores, like driving them around or making sure they get their homework done, but it doesn’t require constant attention.

          2. doreen*

            It’s not necessarily the same – for example, it’s possible that the special needs involve some sort of non-constant care that the parent provides when they aren’t at their job and the caregiver does not. And that care might be easier to fit in around two days a week away from home rather than five.

          3. PineappleColada*

            Bamcheeks, I think what Katie is saying is that the letter writer is being a bit myopic:

            Sure, she has a lot of other responsibilities (and even work) beyond her 2 days of receptionist.

            But there are plenty of working parents who have the same (or similar) mile-long list of responsibilities, who also have to work a traditional job for the full 5 days per week.

            Saying “you don’t understandddddd how hard it is for me!” really points to the fact that she doesn’t understand how hard it is for them.

            I know a woman who has 4 kids, has to travel for work, has a husband who has a high demand job, and who routinely has to take her youngest to ER for a condition. I doubt she would appreciate being told that she’s lucky because her 5-day a week job is “so much easier” than all that the LW has to do on her days off.

            1. Kjinsea*

              Thank you. This is what I’m thinking. Atkins Drum the Brownie doesn’t show up to care for my home or my child because I work five days a week. I have a special needs kid and work more than full time. I’d see being able to work only two days and freelance a bit as a major luxury.

              1. Lydia*

                But the OP isn’t “able to.” They are doing this as well as a boatload of other work. Freelance work can be MORE time consuming than working for someone else in an office for 40 hours a week. They work those two days to get away from the house a bit, but they’re still working.

              2. bamcheeks*

                I still don’t really get this mindset, sorry! There are some elements of bringing up children which are asynchronous, like managing appointments and responding to teachers and organising childcare, and all that stuff is waiting for you when you get home, sure. But there is plenty that is synchronous– the getting food and snacks, taking to the toilet, referreeing arguments, dealing with tantrums and meltdowns, interacting, putting them down for naps, whatever. When I was working five days a week, I was doing proportionately way less of that than when I was working three days a week, and when I wasn’t doing it, someone else was. And I thought that person was working, just as I think I was when I was looking after the kids.

                I genuinely don’t see either being able to work less and spend more time caring for your own kids OR being able to afford childcare so that I could work as “a luxury” in and of itself. Being able to make a completely free choice is the luxury, sure, but many primary carers of children are working because they can’t afford not to and many primary carers of children are not working because they can’t afford to, and I think classifying either as a luxury does a disservice to both.

                1. Shakti*

                  Yes this!! Both are hard work!! Being able to make a completely free choice is a luxury, but as you say some people stay at home because they can’t afford to work and some people work because they can’t afford to stay at home!! Thank you for pointing this out!!

            2. Specks*

              I think these comments themselves are ironically tone-death. Saying “well I have a job and a list of responsibilities miles long” doesn’t recognize that the said responsibilities (and said jobs) can vary so widely. Yes, we all feel overwhelmed as parents, working or not, part time or full time. No, it’s wrong to assume that your to-do list is in any way, shape or form the same as someone else’s, or that your kids with special needs require the same level of care as someone else’s, or that your job requires the same level of energy as someone else’s. Some kids with disabilities require round-the-clock care and have nurses; some require constant care and many hours of appointments weekly and get no support; some require an occasional doctor’s visit and a certain regiment that takes anywhere from no time to a ton of time. We just don’t know. It’s also wrong to assume that you yourself have the same capacities as someone else who may be struggling with their own conditions. A job is just another responsibility. Having a full-time job and kids is just another combination of overwhelming responsibilities in a world where most of us don’t have enough support. To call the OP “myopic” because you know one person who at a quick glance has more to do or because you think you have more to do from OP’s very quick description is… myopic at best.

              1. Crooked Bird*

                I agree with this, especially because it concerns me to see a series of commenters who don’t know OP’s life implying that she’s clueless about how easy she has it. SURELY that’s not the vibe we want on this website. Maybe some of the commenters’ lives are indeed harder, but only a very granular analysis would show one way or the other, and even that would be subjective. Why not err on the side of giving people the benefit of the doubt?

        2. ecnaseener*

          You’re not counting LW’s freelancing as work then? She works in-person two days a week but works freelance either every day or the other 5 days, just in the evening rather than daytime.

        3. Knope Knope Knope*

          Respectfully, I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion. First off, she has another job so she doesn’t work only two days a week. Also, everyone’s financial situation and choices look different. If I didn’t work full-time we couldn’t afford our mortgage or childcare. If my kid needed a rigorous schedule of doctors appointments, I couldn’t keep this job. If I had to give up my home and earn less money at a job that subsidized care and take on all the parenting work so my husband could work more than full-time, it wouldn’t be leisure, it would be a set of trade offs. I don’t doubt that life with a full-time job and two special needs kids is extremely demanding, I’m just saying no two people’s calculus look the same, and now reading the comments I understand more why OP is bothered by people making assumptions about her.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            Yes, if her coworkers are half as cruel as some of the commenters in these endless subthreads about tuition costs and the details of supporting a special-needs child, I can see why the LW might be bothered by their idle gossip. Some of y’all really chose meanness as the way to start your weeks.

            1. Star Trek Nutcase*

              I don’t see cruelty, simply acknowledging there are many scenarios. – just as LW is focused on her situation without commenting on the many possibilities affecting her coworkers. It’s entirely possible the “must be nice” comments are being made by a coworker experiencing a complicated & full personal life. Tone deaf goes both ways. We all make choices just as we all experience difficulties. Talking about them is fine, trying to rank them as better or worse is foolish.

              1. Brain the Brian*

                But that’s exactly what a lot of commenters seem to be trying to do: to determine where on the “privileged” scale this LW falls and then dole out the appropriate amount of goodwill as a result. Considering none of us have every met this person, it struck me as odd and meanspirited. Talking about things is fine, but I think we collectively crossed the line on this one.

              2. bamcheeks*

                If LW had written “my life is much harder than any of my full-time colleagues”, this kind of thing might be justified. But she didn’t. All of this comparison “my life is actually harder than yours because I work full-time” stuff is coming from commenters and it’s mean and unnecessary.

      2. Plate of Wings*

        Your last comment is exactly what I was thinking. OP obviously has a packed schedule and a lot of important responsibilities (they add up to more work than my full time job!), but she doesn’t work full time. It’s okay to not work full time.

        1. Lydia*

          We don’t know if their freelance work makes up the other work hours or if it takes more hours than 40 hours in an office. OP hasn’t said they don’t work full time, they just don’t work full time at the school.

        2. Dahlia*

          It sounds like she’s working 7 days a week freelancing. That likely adds up to full time – or more.

      3. roann*

        Yeah, honestly, if it’s really bothering her, saying something like, “Oh, I wish it were my Friday but I’m off to my other job for the rest of the week!” would clear up any perception that she’s a lady of leisure. I agree with Alison that probably nobody thinks that, but I think that’s a relatable worry.

    6. JuneBug*

      I can somewhat relate to OP in that I have a young adult son with special needs who can’t ever be left alone and when home will yell, put holes in my walls, run out of the house when I’m not looking, etc. I work less than forty hours per week at a low stress job because he is my primary responsibility. We all have our own issues, and no one wants or needs to hear about my struggles, but it is frustrating when others at work make comments about how my schedule ” must be nice.” I’d honestly rather work 80 hours per week than deal with my son’s issues 24/7!

    7. theletter*

      My 2 cents would be to drop some crumbs about your personal life – staying up late to finish freelance work, stupid co-pays, neighborhood politics, arguments adjecent to money (like how often the family can eat out, etc) – might give a better picture of your home life as a complicated balance with few opportunities for ‘me time’, without saying it explicitly.

    8. Justin D*

      Right, we parents of young kids make jokes like this at work but we are all full time in stressful roles and the joke is more about how hard having little kids is.

    9. M2*

      I agree.

      Also, I think it’s good to understand how fortunate you are LW1 to only have to work two days a week and be able to send your child to a private school. Most middle class families can’t cover those kinds of costs.

      I understand you have other responsibilities but many people have full time jobs and do what you do after those full time jobs. I say this as someone who also was fortunate to go from FT to PT (but mainly from burnout). I also have a spouse who travels constantly and I take care of a sick relative and do a lot of the housework now I don’t work FT. I realize how fortunate I am and if we tried to send our kids (or even one child) to private school I would have to go back to work FT.

      I think not taking it personally and recognizing your privilege for only having to work PT and have a child in a private school goes a long way. You can’t control others only yourself.

      1. Knope Knope Knope*

        I am so shocked at this take and so many like this. OP works at this school because she gets a tuition reduction on education that supports her child’s special needs. For all we know, LW could have the potential to be an executive at a Fortune 100 company (like me), but if you are constantly taking time off to care for your special needs kid, I can at least tell you in my job that won’t fly. That job, plus her freelance job, plus her husband’s demanding schedule are paying for their lives. But we don’t know the trade offs. Do they earn enough to live in the location they want? To own property and build wealth? To send their children into adulthood without debt, or to create a safety net for themselves in old age so they don’t burden their kids? Or are they just doing what they need to to meet the needs of the moment? Tutors cost money. A nanny or carer that can actually drive your kids somewhere costs money. All these things cost so much that it is often cheaper to have one person drop out of the workforce entirely or partially. Middle-class means a lot of things these days, and maybe that’s what people are reacting to. But I know plenty of people technically in the middle class who can’t afford a lot of the things needed for true financial security.

      2. Crooked Bird*

        She freelances. We don’t know how many hours she works a week. But it’s definitely not “only two days.”

        1. Properlike*

          Exactly. She is *constantly* working. The two days at the office is her only outside-the-home job, to offset one kid’s tuition because that kid has no other school options.

          Let’s check our privilege before lecturing others about theirs, hm?

    10. atalanta0jess*

      I know lots of parents who have expressed that work is more relaxing than home. That doesn’t mean work is nothing to them.

      Letter writer, you could say something like “oh don’t worry, I won’t have too much fun, I’ll be busy doing X, Y, and Z. Maybe if you imagine me on the beach that will send some chill vibes my way though!”

      1. amoeba*

        Literally every single person I’ve ever talked to who had both done full-time wage work and full-time childcare says that full-time childcare is much, much harder.

        I’m honestly shocked how little unpaid labour/care work is valued in some of the comments here.

        1. Shakti*

          Yes!! Honestly most people I know who work full time are like I’d much rather be working than taking care of children full time as it’s exhausting in a different way!! I had no idea it was such a hot take to call work a break from kids tbh all these people work extremely hard and have fairly stressful jobs too! Taking care of children is a deeply undervalued form of labor often because it’s female dominated in our society and women are valued less than men

          1. amoeba*

            Yeah, even the guy who took care full time for his kids literally right after finishing a PhD in Science, in a field known for high stress, with a boss who’s at times quite abusive, was very, very clear that taking care of the kids was much harder. Found that pretty illuminating!

  2. Mari*

    LW 5:

    As the contract teacher who had this same basic thing happen to me, PLEASE escalate it. That’s what got me paid (and, you know, let me pay my bills and rent and not get evicted) when HR was f***ing around and said they’d get me ‘next block’ – like I could afford to work for free for a semester! It was a supervisor who went to them and said ‘Uh, Provincial law says X, and she signed a contract and we could be very liable here’ and all of a sudden, the software that wouldn’t let me be paid was magically fixed…

    1. Tinkerbell*

      I had something happen to my pay when I was in college – I started in January and I was not paid until JUNE. (I only worked there for a semester, so I didn’t get paid until literally two weeks after I left the job.) In my case it was a combination of me being too shy to make a fuss at first, HR being physically off-campus and me having no transportation, and a secretary who was actively trying to lose my paperwork and sabotage me because she didn’t think I deserved the job. (It’s a long story.) Luckily I wasn’t relying on my paycheck to cover daily expenses – I lived in the dorms and was on a university meal plan – but I’m embarrassed looking back that I let it go on so long! HR’s ultimate decision was to just pretend I worked full-time for a few weeks after I graduated because they couldn’t make heads or tails of my actual hours for the semester :-\

        1. Plate of Wings*


          And I understand being shy and unsure in college, that sounds so stressful!

        2. Tinkerbell*

          To make the long story slightly shorter, I went to a very expensive private college and although my parents do well for themselves, they’re not stupid rich like some of my peers’. I told my choir director I couldn’t afford to drop $2K on the choir spring break tour, and he offered to help me get a job in the music department if that would help. The other three students who did the same job were all work/study and apparently the music department secretary was resentful that I, a rich white girl, got hired alongside more deserving students (none of whom were white or rich). She spent the entire semester gaslighting me, misfiling my paperwork, and generally being obstructive despite my best efforts to just keep my head down and do my job. My boss was nice but useless with administrative stuff. I did end up going on the choir trip but I had to ask my parents to loan me the money because I hadn’t been paid yet, which prompted my father to coach me in exactly how I should follow up with HR, but it still took the rest of the semester to work it out. As far as I know, that secretary was still there when I graduated :-\

    2. Brain the Brian*

      Yes, definitely escalate this. Run it up the chain in HR as far as you can. University leadership will probably be horrified — and afraid of the PR nightmare if it ever got out! — to learn some peon in HR is refusing to pay a student worker because of a software mixup. Software should serve people, not the other way around.

          1. Lw 5*

            She was paid on the normal pay scheduled (2and a half weeks after HR was informed of their mistakes) and HR has not answered any emails where I asked if they will help make her whole for costs incurred because they didn’t pay her for six weeks.

            1. ecnaseener*

              I wouldn’t even muddy the waters by talking about “costs incurred” — they need to pay her the wages she’s legally owed for time worked, full stop.

              1. ecnaseener*

                Tbh see if you can reach someone in legal counsel if there’s no one else in HR to escalate to.

                1. Lw 5*

                  Yes, at this point in time they have paid her for the full legal time she has worked

                2. Observer*

                  at this point in time they have paid her for the full legal time she has worked

                  Does that mean the *actual* time, or the time that HR “knew” about? Because if it’s the latter, they NEED to pay it!

                  If they actually paid her for that time, I would still take it up with someone who deals with PR / Comms / Alumni engagement. Because is a story like this gets out, it’s going to be a real PR disaster.

              2. Enai*

                Those costs are important, though. Late fees she has to pay for bills not going through that would’ve cleared just fine if her wages were in her account, interest paid on stuff bought on credit instead of outright… That adds up.

                1. Aww, coffee, no*

                  Yup. A few years back something went wrong with a pay run on my site, meaning it got delayed by two days.
                  For a lot of people this meant that there wasn’t enough cash in their account for direct debit payments set for the day after payday, and they got hit with bank fees.
                  My company said, up front, as part of the announcement about the error, that they would cover all such costs incurred, because (however inadvertently) they had caused these costs.

            2. Observer*

              She was paid on the normal pay scheduled (2and a half weeks after HR was informed of their mistakes)

              Did they at least pay ALL of the pay that they owed her?

                1. Anon21*

                  I’m a little confused–do you mean all they legally owed her meaning all the time she worked, including the time before she was in their system/on their books? Or all they legally owed her meaning all the time after they got their act together, leaving some time actually worked unpaid? (The latter would be illegal.)

                  Based on what you commented elsewhere, I am assuming you mean the former–paid for all time actually worked–but that she may have incurred overdraft fees, late fees, credit card interests charges, etc. that would not have happened if she was paid on time. I 100% agree that the employer should make those costs right, but given how cavalier they’ve been about this issue, that’s probably a lost cause.

        1. Observer*

          Oh, I’ve already complained to the head of HR

          If they have not paid her for the first 3 pay periods, please take it to legal.

          Keep in mind that while they *might* be exempt from state law, I’m pretty sure that they are not exempt from FLSA, which absolutely requires that she get paid for that work time.

          1. Miette*

            Also I’d be side-eyeing claims that an incorrect start date for this employee was a “software” error at all. Someone keyed in the wrong date and isn’t owning up.

        2. RedinSC*

          LW 5 if you’re in the US, the worker could file an EEOC claim to get things rolling, but if she’s part of the union, get them involved.

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      The OP is right to be very angry. It is outrageous and disgusting not to correct a mistake like this within a couple of days and with an abject apology to the affected employee.

      Escalate as high as you can. Someone is being very lazy or very incompetent – or maybe prompt payment would highlight that they have made a bad mistake.

      1. Lw 5*

        Yes, that’s more what I am curious at this point. Now that she has been fully paid am I still within my rights to complain about how it was handled in the first place.

        1. Observer*


          For one thing, they really should be helping her with the costs related to their error. For another, you have good reasons to worry about another mistake. Their total lack of urgency about fixing the problem, their blaming this on a software error even though it was a human error, and their apparent assumption that “Oh, software glitch, so it doesn’t matter” means that you now need to worry that they will do this to someone else.

          Also, if this student ever gets riled up about something else, or someone else comes after the school over similar issues, the fact that this even happened and HR *did not do their best to fix the problem* is absolutely going to work against them. Because mistakes happen. But if you don’t try really hard to fix them, any assumption of good faith goes out the window.

    4. Lw 5*

      Honestly, I escalated it up to the president of the University and I’m planning on complaining again. I’m in the unique position where I am quitting next week, so I think it’s fine for me to continue to advocate.

      I am a little concerned that they will retaliate against my graduate student, but I also think that they would see it as me being an issue not her being an issue.

      1. Snow Globe*

        I’d tell the student to file a complaint with the state’s department of labor.

        1. Lw 5*

          I have several times in addition to asking her to contact her union but she’s not an US citizen so I would not be surprised if she was hesitant to do so.

          1. Lydia*

            Encourage her to go to the union. Even if she’s not comfortable with the state side of things, the union can continue to advocate for her when you leave and take on some of the legal burden too.

            1. Lw 5*

              I have 2 times in writing, and perhaps 3 or 4 times in person. I can continue, but I think, especially since I am her supervisor, that it might be encroaching on ‘too pushy’.

              1. Properlike*

                Is there a student paper with excellent journalism? Might be a good story for them… I’m sure this isn’t the only issue with HR and proper payments.

      2. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

        I used to work in Massachusetts, and they have some of the strongest wage protection laws. A recent court case ruled that even being just three weeks late with pay requires not just paying interest, not just paying triple interest as damages, but basically paying triple the entire amount of late wages as damages Escalate this upwards and to the legal office, and keep using the phrase “treble damages”; that’s the key phrase in Massachusetts.

    5. Brownstag*

      It is past time to escalate. Also be aware that payroll functions (including issuing manual checks) may report up to a different leader than HR in some organizations.
      HR needs to retroactively adjust the hire date in accordance with the hiring manager’s instruction here. There might be an escalated approval workflow to make it happen but it’s not optional at HR’s discretion in this scenario

    6. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, this HR is bananas – it matters when the student was working, and if they were paid for that work, not what a mistake in the system says. Surely they have timesheets and communications around the start date that make it extremely clear cut what hours the student worked.

      1. Lw 5*

        we hired them, but an issue with workday means that HR accidentally deleted her summer hiring from our system. And unfortunately, because our graduate students are stipend-based there’s no official time sheets.

        1. Observer*

          HR is blowing smoke here.

          Workday may be a trash HR / Payroll system. But there are ALWAYS work arounds. And the fact that there are no “official” time sheets means nothing. She had email, right? People worked with her, right? You knew she was working and you were assigning her work, right? Anyone with any level of competence knows that all of this creates a pretty iron-clad case that the employer “knew” that she was working, and thus all of their obligations regarding pay apply.

        2. Bellis Coldwine*

          I work with grad student compensation at a university, though we don’t use Workday. The only issue I can imagine with backdating the effective date of her appointment is that it might put her I-9 out of compliance if she wasn’t continuously employed. But if the university was informed of her start date and didn’t take action (or had a technical glitch meaning the appointment wasn’t properly entered), that’s 100% the university’s problem. And once they became aware of the start date/backpay problem, they should have actually made it right, not tried to handwave it away.

          I’m glad you advocated for the student! And in an even somewhat functional HR environment, there’s no way there should be blowback on her (or on you — I’ve been known to grumble when faculty shows up with a student and says “their start date was last Monday”, but that’s not the case here).

          1. Aitch Arr*

            I was going to ask, what kind of visa is this student on? Might the messed up start date been because of the date the work part of the visa became effective?

          1. ariel*

            I recently told someone who works for Workday that of course everyone hates it and they were surprised, haha

    7. birder in the backyard*

      My first staff job at a university — a position I moved across the country for — failed to pay me for three months. My boss couldn’t be bothered to address the situation. Neither could my grandboss. Handwave, something, something HR process. I had to freelance to make ends meet and went into credit card debt.

      When the first check came through, my boss joked that now that I had a big paycheck now so I could stop whining and get to work. A few months later, I left because the situation left such a bad impression on me. It is the only time I’ve ever left a job without working at least two years. All that freelance work that I scrambled to get initially turned into a well-paying gig for 6 years.

      1. bamcheeks*

        That absolutely blows my mind. I am so shocked you had the bad luck to find *multiple* people who thought it wasn’t a big deal.

        1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          Sadly it doesn’t surprise me, I know multiple grad students and adjuncts who’ve faced this or similar situations (including oopsie lapses in health insurance with serious long-term consequences.)

      2. Willem Dafriend*

        That’s awful, I’m so sorry! Our state university system had something similar happen a few years ago, they switched to new payroll software and people at some campuses weren’t getting paid. Iirc the university system was lagging and people were missing bills, so I hope everyone was made whole.

  3. MissGirl*

    OP2. When I’ve ran into this, they usually narrow the range down during the prescreen with the recruiter. They have your resume and location at that point, which gets you to a pay band.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      #2 Negotiating does indeed overall disadvantage women and minorities, but a realistic salary range should be stated in the job ad.
      Potential applicants need this information to decide whether to invest any time, such as in even a very preliminary application and prescreen.
      Transparency upfront is key to any system of not negotiating.

      Such a wide salary range as stated here means in effect that they are prepared to hire people at very different job levels. Hence they should break up the salary range and quote narrow ranges for each job.

      I benefitted from the “Tariff” system of exactly fixed salary for each level at FinalJob (Germany), because I was highly skilled at my job, but that job and skillset did not include negotiating.

      1. Tau*

        Honestly, I’m with you here – my first job had absolutely fixed pay bands where you could pretty much work out what your coworkers were earning and there was no room for negotiation, and it was so relaxing to know I hadn’t screwed myself over at the hiring stage because I hadn’t pushed for more money. I honestly fail to see why negotiation is necessary to have in this system or how it improves anything; all it seems to amount to is penalising people who are worse at something that, in many cases (like yours and mine) has absolutely zero to do with their actual job performance.

        But yeah, at that point salary bands should be narrow and the company should be willing to explain the algorithm they’re using, give you a table of what position and experience translates to what salary, or similar.

      2. Dueling Scents*

        Most roles with very wide bands like this have a summary at the bottom explaining that pay will change depending on location and experience.

        This range is very reasonable IME for a remote role that is open nationwide. I’d assume that HCOL areas are 190-225 and, MCOLs 170-200 and LCOL are 145-180.

      3. ijustworkhere*

        REtired Vulcan–yes, this. And it would help for the hiring entity to provide some information about what competencies, skills, etc they consider that qualifies a candidate to be placed in these narrower pay bands.

      4. M2*

        Most jobs with such large bands usually pay the low to mid range. Most jobs descriptions usually state that (those I have seen) or if I hire someone with a large pay and I always state we will pay X maximum for the role. I usually push HR to do it, but either way I am upfront. In no time have we ever paid max for a role (it is used for merit and COL increases). We usually pay midrange unless we hire someone with less experience then I will say we ask for 10-12 years of experience and you only have 7 so we are willing to continue interviewing you for the role but due to only having 7 years our max salary for this role is X. Some people get put off by this but HR has rules

      5. KitKat*

        “Such a wide salary range as stated here means in effect that they are prepared to hire people at very different job levels. Hence they should break up the salary range and quote narrow ranges for each job.”

        This is not necessarily the case; they could also be prepared to hire someone in very different *locations*. Remote positions can have very wide bands, and if that’s the case it would be reasonable to requires a narrower band during/after the phone screen.

        Here’s an example I just pulled on Glassdoor. Job title “Director of Operations” in the IT industry, with 7-9 years of experience. Median salaries:

        San Francisco: $271k
        Tucson AZ (my hometown, and a relatively LCOL city): $201k

        A difference of $70k based on location only, without factoring in that they could hire for a range of experience levels or hard skills.

      6. Coffee Protein Drink*

        a realistic salary range should be stated in the job ad.

        Potential applicants need this information to decide whether to invest any time, such as in even a very preliminary application and prescreen.

        This a million times. I wish more companies understood they aren’t going to get the best applicants if they aren’t transparent. If there’s a wide range in an ad, then the applicant needs to know where they fit and why or they’re not going to bother. If an algorithm is going to calculate the offer, then explain just how experience and certifications rank.

      7. Lenora Rose*

        And I don’t trust the algorithm not to make the same disadvantages, if they didn’t explicitly design it themselves strictly on actual criteria. Too many algorithms are based on existing data and perpetuate the prejudices already found in it because they have no way to know what isn’t equitable.

    2. el l*

      Let’s face it: Outsourcing salary to an algorithm COULD be equity – or it COULD be them advertising a $225k salary they have no intention of paying. So I think the following conversation should happen while scheduling the second interview. Far enough along that bona fides have been proved, but not so far that people could feel their time was wasted:

      “I would like to ask what the algorithm says my qualifications are worth in this role. It’s a wide band, and I want to be sure for both our sakes that there’s alignment in expectations. I’d also like either some documentation or preferably an explanation as to what underlies the number it provides.”

    3. Spero*

      I think you could also negotiate regarding what goes INTO the algorithm – ex if they plugged in that you have no professional certification because you aren’t a licensed x, but you do have 2 non-licensure certifications and x years of graduate education which is considered equivalent to licensure in your field. Or they put in that you have 2 years experience in Y field because of your last work role f 2 years tenure was Y specialist, but you actually did Y work as part of your two prior roles even though those roles were not titled Y specialist like the last role. Having 2 years vs 7 years experience plugged into the algorithm would almost certainly change the pay level. So taking a close look at what is plugged in and what they have you down as having for each those factors is important.

  4. Pink Sprite*

    A university – which has certainly been around for, at minimum decades, or more – and has hired thousands and thousands of people. And surely managed to successfully pay them the correct amount and on the correct days.

    Suddenly this university somehow cannot figure out how to pay this young woman, a student no less!, her appropriate back wages?
    And thinks it’s all NBD?!

    1. Not That Kind of Doctor*

      As a trainee, I was mistakenly double-paid on two occasions at two different large, established universities. In both cases the solution ended up involving “write us a check and hope the IRS doesn’t notice.”

        1. Not That Kind of Doctor*

          Fortunately the question did not arise. I don’t know how “I was mistakenly paid 2X so I gave back X” would be viewed for tax purposes, and probably neither did the people I spoke with. They were possibly just thinking of the hassle and having to explain.

          I always did wonder how many people had the same thing happen over the years and just didn’t tell anyone, and how that worked out in the end.

          1. Hypatia*

            I was paid double for teaching a class for 3 months in the fall semester once- and I didn’t notice because it was direct deposit and life was crazy. when I brought it up with the office, they first wanted me to just leave it alone and then get paid for only one class when I taught 2 in the next term. However, with taxes and filling out financial aid forms, I needed the salary to be accurate for the year. They had to adjust retirement deposits, taxes, etc. It was a mess for them. And I had to write them a big check. I can see why your place just kept it quiet.

        2. Anonymel*

          Because presumably, the double wages showed on the paystub and would also show at the end of year on the W2. The check that was paid back to the Uni would balance the books for accounting purposes, but they probably wouldn’t alter her payroll for tax purposes.

      1. MicroManagered*

        The “hope the IRS doesn’t notice” portion of your comment is incorrect. If they had you write them a check, they removed the wages from your W-2.

        1. Not That Kind of Doctor*

          Oh, one of those fellowship positions I got no tax paperwork whatsoever– no W2, no 1099, nothing. I was responsible for paying estimated tax and accurately reporting my grad student stipend as taxable scholarship when I filed. All of which to my original point that IME student payroll is pretty much the wild west.

          1. MicroManagered*

            People do get overpaid at large universities — that sucks but it happens.

            Fellowship payments are not reportable on Form W-2 or 1099 and don’t require any withholding, so they were correct not to give you those forms or withhold any taxes from the payments.

            A lot of students don’t realize that fellowship payments *are* considered income though and should be declared on your tax return, where you will owe taxes on it. I’m not hearing any red flags or “wild west” stuff about your university’s payroll department though.

            1. Not That Kind of Doctor*

              Didn’t mean to imply they were in the wrong re the tax forms — that was more of a “haha, it’s cute you’re assuming there was a W2 or any other documentation involved at all.”

              I did hear that there was a guy in my year who didn’t understand that he had to file, and reporyedly the IRS very much did notice that!

    2. Lw 5*

      I honestly think it’s union retaliation because my graduate students just started the union last year

      1. The Cat Lady*

        I also work at a university, and have found that threatening to get the union and/or state involved is very effective. So is naming and shaming — I did have to point out to HR that it’d look pretty shitty for the newspapers to cover how they were screwing over the prof with cancer because of their incompetence. Suddenly, the issue was resolved. So keep fighting for your student, and let them know in X days you’ll be making a complaint to the state labor board, concurrent with filing a grievance with the union. And then, let us know what university it is!

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Maybe giving these details to news outlet – or threatening to do so – will get HR to shape up.

        2. Lw 5*

          That’s interesting, I would have assumed that a complaint to the labor board or the union would have to come from the person affected?

          1. honeygrim*

            Perhaps the union complaint, yes. But if they’re breaking the law by not paying the student, and you know that’s the case, I don’t see why you can’t at least contact the label board. Especially since the student may be hesitant to do so.

              1. Observer*

                Yes, but there are also laws about timeliness of payment. That was not dealt with. What’s more it’s clear that they CHOSE not to deal with it. Like if they had cut her a manual check the day that they found out, they might be ok. And if they ALSO paid the expenses that she incurred because of the mistake, they would probably be ok.

                But here, they found out and waited one and a half pay periods to get her squared away. Because that was the easy way to do it. That could really put them in hot water legally.

              2. 1LFTW*

                It’s possible that she *hasn’t* been fully paid, if the late payment means that the university owes her interest (or double damages, or treble damages as another commenter suggested).

                As far as your previous concern that the student might need to make this complaint herself, you might be right. The best way to find out, though, would be to contact both orgs and ask! Where I am, whistleblowers absolutely can alert the labor board to situations like this.

                Good luck!

      2. Observer*

        I honestly think it’s union retaliation because my graduate students just started the union last year

        Then you *absolutely* need to bring it to Legal. Union retaliation is a big deal and could get them into real trouble if this could be proved. Even a credible allegation could cost the college.

        You would think that HR would have more sense!

        1. Lw 5*

          That makes sense! I posted an update below, but tldr: I emailed other admin at the university to try to collect other stories before I email legal.

          1. Properlike*

            It’s always good to complain when HR is not following the rules and showing no sense of urgency. You can keep complaining even though she’s been paid: 1) because this canny only have happened to her, 2) you want to make sure it doesn’t happen again, 3) “Union retaliation” – as in HR/university is screening over grad students, or the union is retaliating? Either way, so illegal.

            You’re saving the university a lot of future money in lawsuits.

    3. Butterfly Counter*

      I’m honestly more surprised when my university pays me correctly.

      The first semester I worked part time and was paid correctly based on my education. The next semester, I mentioned to my chair that it was a bummer that because I was teaching 2 classes, my per-credit salary was lower. He was shocked and said that’s absolutely not how it worked, that I should literally be getting double as I was the semester before. Apparently, payroll had decided I hadn’t gotten a Ph.D. and was paying me as an M.A. grad instead.

      I got it figured out that semester, but the next semester, I was again “stripped” of my Ph.D. in terms of money. It took me longer to figure it out because I was working multiple schools part time, but I got it fixed.

      And then the next semester (you can see where this is going)…

      It took several years, even after I went full time, even after 2 new department chairs and a new staff member who tracked all the money in our department (she was the real hero in my story) to get things straight with my paycheck.

      And now I’ve gotten a promotion, let’s see what payroll has to say about this in September…

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Boy, I thought it was bad when my department messed up in grad school–I was getting my degree through Department 1, but the lab I joined was in Department 2. For some reason when their year started in June (IIRC), they were never able to remember to fill out a piece of paperwork for me, and I wouldn’t end up on the payroll. Luckily for me I had a good friend in the office who looked over everything who 1-would alert me that this had happened, and I wasn’t getting a paycheck on payday and 2-lose her shit at the department for screwing it up and made sure I got my check ASAP (barring weekends and such). Also I was able to borrow $$ from my mom to make rent rather than deal with “but MA says I have 5 business days to send it in from the 1st” or get an advance from the bursar’s office (part of the reason my friend got so angry at the screwups is because the bursar’s office usually let to a whole different cascade of screwups, resulting in one kid not getting paid properly for 4 months). Yours is much worse! Hope someone competent got hired in the office!

  5. Brain the Brian*

    I can’t be the only one who initially “lady of leisure” in the title of #1 was an innuendo for “sex worker,” right? I definitely thought that letter was going to head in a different direction.

    Either way, LW1 should laugh this off. Coworkers will always gossip, no matter what you do. Just ignore it.

    1. nnn*

      You’re thinking “lady of the night” maybe?

      “Lady of leisure” is like “ladies who lunch.”

      1. Brain the Brian*

        This is definitely where my mind went — confusing “night” and “leisure” in the phrase. I’m wrong, obviously.

      2. IntoTheWoulds*

        1. I had the same thought as Brain the Brian at first glance, until I realized I was confusing the two terms.

        2. Highly appreciate the Sondheim reference, but also need to point out that in some circles, “Ladies who Lunch” also has a second meaning, which is NSFW. *ahem*

    2. Cecilia*

      If you consider it sex work to being supported by your spouse, then I thought the same thing. (But I don’t condider that sex work)

      1. Green Post-Its*

        Definitely not in the UK! It means literally a woman who doesn’t need to work for a living, and probably has few or no responsibilities.

      2. sb51*

        I feel like that is, in fact, where I’ve usually heard it—an implication that a woman “married rich” whether or not she actually likes her husband, in order to live comfortably and not work. It doesn’t always mean that, but unless other context is given (she’s an heiress, she retired at 30 after a successful startup career, married a poor guy and they won the lottery, whatever), it often has a whiff of that.

    3. Nodramalama*

      Nooo a lady of leisure means someone who… Leisures. As in goes to yoga and then a three hour lunch with a Chardonnay and attends charity auctions

    4. Allonge*

      Nope, you are not the only one. It took me a moment to first wonder why OP would jump to such huge conclusions based on perfectly innocent comments and then to realise that my terminology was mixed up.

      Anyhow, OP: just as with any other constant-joke-that-ceased-to-be-funny, you have the option to ask your colleagues to cease this.

      If you are ok saying something like ‘hey, I know this is meant to be funny but it’s actually pretty tough at home right now, so I would appreciate it if we could just say bye without comments on how long my weekends are’, you might have some success. Some people will be taken aback but if you don’t treat it as a huge thing, most people will comply.

      1. Great Frogs of Literature*

        If OP thinks this would work with her coworkers, this is potentially a very good script.

        (I would find this joke pretty grating after 50-some weeks in a row, too.)

      1. Antilles*

        Is this an actual common term or is this some region-specific slang? Never heard of the phrase “lady of leisure” before in my life.

        1. RagingADHD*

          It is a common term (or used to be), along the lines of “ladies who lunch.”

          It has never meant what OP thinks.

        2. londonedit*

          It’s a fairly common term in the UK still. ‘Ladies of leisure’ and ‘ladies who lunch’ conjure up images of well-to-do middle-aged women who have nothing to do during the day but go out for lunch with their similarly well-to-do female friends, maybe after a knockabout at the tennis club.

          1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

            I’m American and I’ve heard this term, plus “gentleman of leisure” (even less common, maybe in the UK it would be like landed gentry or trust fund). I’m thinking of a fit 40 something woman who does yoga and has a personal trainer and a nanny and a housekeeper but doesn’t work because her spouse is a finance or startup CFO.

    5. Dog momma*

      What stood out to me is she is also a mom of a special needs child, which is a FT job in & of itself, 2 days as a reception ( which gives her a break physically and mentally), AND does freelance. As well as other stuff she mentioned.
      So if she’s ” over thinking ” this, give the poor woman a break!

    6. MicroManagered*

      Yeahhhh no. I think you might need to change up your internet browsing habits. Nobody thinks “lady of leisure” means that……

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I made the same mistake, so I wouldn’t say nobody.

        I’ve never heard the term before but it sure sounds like an even softer euphemism for sex worker.

      2. 1,001 Snails in a Lady Shell*

        I also thought this! So clearly there’s many of us who thought this was a euphemism.

      3. YesImTheAskewPolice*

        My mind also went there (though I’m not a native speaker), and also Wiktionary lists it as an euphemism for a prostitute. Maybe it’s a regional or generational thing?

        1. Brain the Brian*

          It has to be regional, generational, or some combination thereof. I honestly had never heard this term before today! (Although I had heard “ladies who lunch” — who hasn’t?) Happy to be corrected, of course.

          1. Martin Blackwood*

            *raises my hand as someone who hadnt heard ladies who lunch or ladies of leisure before*

    7. cloudy*

      I was so confused as well and didn’t figure it out until reading this comment .(I was wondering why LW thought people would find working part-time untoward in some way.)

      I’ve never heard the term before and went to the next closest thing I knew of, assuming it was some manner of euphemism regional to another place.

  6. RCB*

    #5, I am an accountant for a nonprofit and handle all HR stuff and Payroll too. When I say something “can’t” be done it almost always means “holy crap is this an enormous amount of work and if I can possibly avoid it in any way by getting you to back down then that’s my preferred path” but it absolutely is fixable, I just don’t want to do if it I can avoid it because it’s going to eat up so much of my time, and right now the risk isn’t that great. Escalate that risk though (stern warning from the boss, government penalties, etc.) and suddenly that risk calculation changes and I have to find the time for it. I am confident that is what is happening here, they can fix it they just don’t want to. Regardless, they legally have to, so they don’t have a choice.

    1. Lea*

      Yeah I am a little worried the solution would be to fire the employee because they weren’t legally hired, but considering they’ve actually been working pay is required.

      Someone is worried they have messed up basically

      1. Archi-detect*

        firing them seems bad as a solution as they would probably go straight to the department of labor

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I am convinced that ‘software no one knows how to tweak’ underlay the person who only got their leap birthday off once every four years.

      1. Lw 5*

        They have paid her now for all of the week she missed, but I think I’m really gonna make a fuss about how HR let this happen in the first place

        1. Mark*

          Great that they paid her, but I agree make a massive fuss. People who are working deserve to be paid on time so they can buy food, pay rent, – all that living stuff. So if HR have to turn up with an envelope of cash – because the system says no – then that is what they need to do, because paying staff is a priority task for HR.

          It is easy for them to roll it into the next pay period – but it is not the right, lawful thing to do.

          I am in Europe but I had this issue last autumn, new staff member not paid correctly due to them not entering the equivalent of a social security number correctly. Which we had gone to the trouble of obtaining as this person was coming from another country. And then HR also forgot to pay a relocation allowance that has been agreed. I was so mad, I escalated all the way to my managing director.

    3. MigraineMonth*

      If “there was a software bug, therefore we aren’t required to pay wages” was a valid legal defense, no payroll software would ever pay anyone.

  7. Honoria Lucasta*

    LW1, I also work front desk reception at fancy prep school (for two more weeks) and I can basically guarantee that it’s all just cliche work banter. You could say something like “Back to the freelance salt mines!” as you walk away after your second day of work, implying that you have a whole other job apart from this.

    I’ve found that all my coworkers have personal or family responsibilities on top of their jobs, and I don’t think anybody is trying to imply that your caregiving isn’t work (whether they know about it or not). In my experience, there’s a big work/life divide and nobody tries to compare their personal lives or talk about how much non-work work we have, but anything that feels like ACTUAL “work” is fair game (in my case, my dissertation is ‘work’ but my mom’s health challenges aren’t).

    1. Awkwardness*

      You could say something like “Back to the freelance salt mines!” as you walk away after your second day of work, implying that you have a whole other job apart from this.

      I thought along the same lines.
      “Long weekend? I wished so. Two more freelance gigs are waiting!” Or, if you want to apply a little humour: “My freelance work is waiting. And that’s what everybody does in their weekend, right?”

      1. Eurekas*

        Right– I work 5:15 am to 1:15 pm (retail grocery) five days a week, and so sometimes get comments about it being nice to leave as other people are still arriving.

        Sometimes I smile and nod, sometimes I point out that I have in fact put in an eight hour shift already.

        (And sometimes when someone works a similar shift who doesn’t usually, and they comment that they don’t know how I do it all the time, I remind them that *because* I do it all the time, part of my “secret” is going to bed early. )

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          When I worked a skewed schedule like that, I used the phrase “It’s the one benefit of starting at 6am.”

          No one said more than “Oh! Well have a nice night!” So I never got to use my other phrase about working across continents.

        2. MCMonkeybean*

          Yeah, I think when people make comments like that they are just expressing passing, very “in the moment” thoughts. They are watching OP leave and thinking how much they want to do the same (or if they are all leaving, then they’re thinking about coming back tomorrow and how OP will not). But they are not thinking about anything else like what else OP may have on their plate, and once the moment is over they are likely not dwelling on it at all and definitely not thinking anything like “what a nice leisurely life OP must have.”

          1. AngryOctopus*

            100%. If I was annoyed at old coworkers who would comment on my leaving work at 3:30, I’d just cheerfully say “Well, when you’re a morning person who lives 5′ away, you sure do get in early!”. Or once, when someone who hated me made a nasty comment, I just smiled and said “You should try getting in at 7AM with me then”. Most people didn’t actually care, but people say things in the moment not always thinking about it. You can just let it roll or smile and say something about your freelance work.

    2. Lea*

      Yes I suspect ops coworkers also have lots of responsibilities outside of work and
      Trying to prove yours are more onerous isn’t the best route for op. I would write it off as banter but could also mention doing some freelance.

      I’m sure ops coworkers know that working somewhere to get a discount in tuition is sort of normal and likely don’t think they are simply affluent

      1. Seashell*

        Yeah, I think mentioning the freelance work is fine, but I wouldn’t complain about going home and having to clean. All the full time employees probably clean for themselves too.

        1. Kjinsea*

          Yeah, as a working parent, it is very tone deaf when SAHP or parents who work part time justify it as “but I have so much to do at home and I have to drive my kid places!” There are no magic brownies that show up for parents who work full time to care for their kids and their homes. OP needs to recognize that she’s unlikely to be the only person there who has tasks outside of work. Acting like she is is a great way to get a reputation for being out of touch.

    3. Naraya*

      I hope LW1 reads this because it’s the perfect response!

      It is balanced and acknowledges how LW feels, without competing in the misery olympics.

    4. Eliz*

      I agree with you about a work/life divide but I don’t think making up a job OP doesn’t have is the answer here!

      1. Eliz*

        Oh my goodness this is embarrassing. OP does have a freelance job! In which case I agree 100% with your comment :)

  8. Brad Deltan*

    LW2 – far be it for me to question Allison’s judgment here, but I thought when companies post ridiculously wide salary ranges it was primarily to get around the new salary transparency laws that some states/cities have. It’s not a smart way to get around it, but the “thinking” (if you can call it that) was that the company is only going to hire at the very bottom of the range, but the super-high number is what catches applicants’ eyes and they apply thinking they have a chance at real big money. The no-negotiation bit is what seals it for me: they aren’t interested in applicants who are smart enough to not accept the lowball number and instead are going to fight for a number much higher in the range. They want people just intelligent enough to tie their shoes and do the job, but stupid enough to come work for a lowball salary. As the PHB in Dilbert once said when asked why they want the best in the industry, but they base their salaries on the industry *average*? “Right, we want ’em bright, but clueless.”

    This is, of course, a gigantic red flag. It is an entire field of red flags, on a cliffside plain overlooking the English Channel, flapping tautly the in the wind as of scores of fat men drinking beer and eating brauts were simultaneously breaking hurricanes of wind onto them. It is the Red Wedding, but with flags. If the company is actually trying to pull this crap, it means they’re going to lowball the crap out of you, and then work you to the bone. Run away. Run fast, run far.

    1. JSPA*

      For something to be a red flag, this would have to be far and away the most likely option. Not an outside possibility.

      How many crappy companies offer,

      “generous PTO and six months paid parental leave [and] explicit professional development benefits outlined in the job posting”?

      Sorry, but in that context, this seems like 80% projection, 20% actual risk, at worst.

      And thus a yellow flag, at worst.

      (It’s not rare for a company to be open to hiring over a wide range of education and experience, which can easily produce that sort of range without any nefarious goals and intentions.)

      1. AngryOctopus*

        More of a yellow-green flag, given that someone could be hired in vastly different COL areas. It’s 100% fair at this point to ask for a narrowed down range, but it’s not unusual for the band to be that wide if they could hire someone in Boise vs. San Francisco.

    2. Lea*

      Idk in government jobs there actually are wide salary ranges but they’re very specific if you’re in the system and understand what they mean so it could be something like that – that’s tied specifically to what you make now/experience etc that might vary by applicant

      So doesn’t hurt to ask

      1. Haven’t picked a username yet*

        I work for a very large bank and the bands as you go up the chain are very wide and have been for the decade I have been there. Not to say you aren’t correct about some places, but wide bands are common. What I will say is that every time my team hires and every time year end comes around I look at my directs for equity and have my team do the same for their reports.

        That doesn’t address the “no negotiating”. I think that is ridiculous.

        1. Great Frogs of Literature*

          I actually like “no negotiating” — if the company is doing their salary calculations well/fairly, there *should* be no negotiating, because giving this candidate a $10k bump means that they would also need to give the entire rest of the department (and maybe some related departments) an equivalent raise.

          The last time I was hiring, I told my manager that I didn’t want to negotiate with candidates — I wanted to offer the highest number we were willing to pay (the one we could potentially negotiate to) and have it be firm. There’s historically been a huge problem in this department that your starting salary is based on whether you negotiate or not, and then all your subsequent raises are based on that, and nobody ever looked around and thought that maybe we shouldn’t have a $20k difference between people doing the same job, with roughly the same amount of experience and qualifications. (It’s not true anymore, mostly because the person with the lowest salary got a job offer at a different company in line with what everyone else was making, and left.)

        2. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

          Given that it’s a bank, I’m sure the wide salary bands have literally nothing to do with actual skill or experience, but more with “is the person, white, male, and/or from old financial money?” The best poor, BIOPC, woman or non-binary candidate with a decade of experience is always going to get hired at the bottom of the range, while the white grandson of some hedge fund pirate will get hired out of school (with a 2.3 GPA) at the top of the range because of his “potential.”

      2. doreen*

        Sometimes – my son was offered a government job about a year ago, where they couldn’t give him a specific salary. They did indeed have a specific salary for each position so that if he was hired to be the janitor at Building #1, his salary would be $X and if he was hired for Building #2 it would be $Y. The problem was that they were hiring 20 people at once and they wouldn’t know who was going where until they had 20 acceptances. So my son turned it down – if the lowest salary had been more than he was already earning, he may have accepted, but it wasn’t.

    3. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn Profiles*

      I thought when companies post ridiculously wide salary ranges it was primarily to get around the new salary transparency laws that some states/cities have.

      I came here to say this. Some companies don’t even accept applicants from locations with salary transparency laws.

      – – – – – – – – – – – –

      This is, of course, a gigantic red flag. It is an entire field of red flags, on a cliffside plain overlooking the English Channel….

      …and more red flags than have ever flown in Red Square (Moscow).

      1. Another Use of the Identify Spell*

        When I see “not accepting applicants from (those states)” I am significantly less likely to apply because I know they value the salary game more than finding the best person they can. In fact, I have yet to apply to one bc potential benefits have never been motivating enough to override that.

    4. Parenthesis Guy*

      This range isn’t terribly large for a remote position and gives you a reasonable idea of what you might expect to earn. Obviously, you’re probably not going to get the top and probably not the bottom either. It’s common for big companies that want a minimal number of pay bands to have a range this size.

      The absurd range thing wasn’t because they were offering at the bottom of their range. It was because they didn’t want their employees and competitors to know what they were offering other people. Offering a ridiculous range makes it hard for others to get information about your business.

      It’s also not a red flag unless they’re unable to tell you what you should expect to earn during the initial phone screen. No negotation is common in big companies because they want to make sure they’re not unconsciously discriminating and the best way to do that is use a formula to determine salaries that doesn’t rely on discriminatory factors.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        And at the phone screen they now know 1-where you’re located (for COL considerations) and 2-your qualifications, which will narrow the range within that COL. If they refuse to narrow it, then that’s a red flag.

    5. Space Needlepoint*

      I live in an area where salary transparency is required and it’s been since those laws were passed that I started seeing such ridiculous ranges.

      Malicious compliance isn’t the only reason some companies will do this, though. I once applied for a Llama Groomer position with a large range and the company told me during the interview, “Llama Groomer 1 pays $X, but Llama Groomer 2 pays $2x, etc.), but we tell you which level your experience gets you if we make an offer.”

      I see a lot of employers shooting themselves in the foot when they post ridiculous ranges. Applicants have caught on to such BS games and just don’t apply.

    6. Rosyglasses*

      Actually, many places that are working hard to address inequity in the workplace say no negotiating, because statistically negotiating benefits men more than women. However, the salary posted should still be in a reasonable range and not an 80k spread. That would be concerning.

  9. Roeslein*

    #1 Can you explain you have another job? Sounds like thats true. I think it’s hard when you are working full time especially with kids to not imagine working part time as very relaxed. Obviously people who work full time still have to do all of the things you describe – cleaning, cooking, taking kids (who may also have health challenges) to appointments, helping them with their homework etc. Of course a large proportion of them don’t have a special-needs child or a permanently travelling spouse, and aren’t moonlighting, but they probably don’t know that about your situation. When I was a kid, my mother was the only mother I knew who didn’t work. (I am on only child.) She had a serious falling out with my paternal aunts (who each had 3-4 kids and worked) because they asked what she did all day as if that was “offensive” as she had so much to do. I was confused because it seemed – and still seems, now that I have kids – a legitimate question to me.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      I wouldn’t. It’ll just invite questions about what the “other job” is, and — rightly or wrongly — caring for one’s own kids and home isn’t really seen as “another job.”

      1. TechWorker*

        She does freelance work- the other job here isn’t ‘caring responsibilities’

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Sorry, I missed that. Long letter…

          Obviously, that changes my response. Do go ahead and mention it, LW.

      2. Hroethvitnir*

        I’m too late for anyone to read this, but some of the comments on LW1 are downright depressing.

        Yes, she is probably overly reading into it. Because she is drowning. No, not all parents do what she does! Which doesn’t mean parenting and working full-time isn’t hard, it’s more than I can imagine coping with, but a majority of people do not have a high needs disabled child and need to work every night such that they’re getting far less sleep than their body needs.

        Then people saying she needs to find a way to work less and sleep more? Well sure, but there are so many people in the world where working themselves to the bone is the only way they can afford to live. It sucks. But it’s not realistic.

        It’s worth bearing in mind that burnout will eventually destroy you, and making the time to rest so you can think straight is worth a lot of money. But it’s over-optimistic to think that everyone is able to do it if they just give something up/make it happen. That’s not reality.

        I do really hope there’s respite in sight for you LW. It’s understandable you don’t feel seen, and you feel out of place at a rich school. Those are normal feelings. But without any kind of other behaviour or tone you haven’t mentioned, this does sound well meaning and worth taking that way. Take care.

        1. Hroethvitnir*

          Gaaah! I really thought this would post as a stand-alone comment. Sigh.

          Don’t mind me.

  10. WS*

    I worked part time for some years and there was one person who did really get aggressive about how “lucky” I was to be able to work part time. Even telling her I was part time because of cancer treatment didn’t stop her. Eventually I had to take it up with our manager and she quit in a huff (giving a long list of reasons why everything was terrible at our workplace, so it wasn’t just me) and that was a huge relief. I don’t think what your co-workers are doing is the passive-aggressive version of that, because they’re not constantly monitoring or questioning or reporting you. They’re just doing work chatter, and you’re tired and stressed and feel bad about it.

    1. AmuseBouchee*

      You know, I made a comment below but forgot to include that I was recovering from cancer and a surgery, and still getting comments about my “light schedule.” And “I wanted to stay home with my kids, too but” segues. Truly, people are idiots, assume best intentions and move on because life is too short to flatten the mood everywhere by saying- “actually, this is but ONE of my jobs as I recover physically and financially from cancer,” it really just infuriates and makes people feel deeply ashamed to be proven wrong, morally especially, even if you are the person in the right in this case. And they treat you differently because of it, unless they are a genuinely nice person who immediately understands their assumptions were wrong and troubling. Hugs.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        So true. People are a lot easier to deal with when you realize that 1) most of us do our best to hide our messy; and 2) most of us are self-centered.

        Coworkers saw you being professional/keeping it together and assumed that you were on a light schedule because you wanted to be, then they thought about what they’d like to do if they were on a light schedule too. Not out of malice, just because you’re professional and they’re oblivious (and it’s not polite to pry into the messy that others don’t freely share).

        It’s one of the reasons it’s so harmful to compare our full, messy inside lives to our outside view of someone else’s life.

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      The last part of your last sentence I think hits the nail on the head. OP1, you are running yourself ragged so you are miscontruing simple office banter. You know how hard you are working, so you are perceiving it as a slight at your hard work. It’s not.

      But, 4-5 hours of sleep a night is not sustainable. Something has got to give. Your reaction to a simple comment is a warning sign that something is about to give. I know you think you have to do everything or it will all fall apart, but you gotta give up something. Or your body will make you give it all up.

      1. Roeslein*

        Indeed, sleeping that little is associated with all sorts of health conditions including dementia so this is likely no doing your kids any favours in the long term.

      2. Observer*

        But, 4-5 hours of sleep a night is not sustainable. Something has got to give. Your reaction to a simple comment is a warning sign that something is about to give.

        Yes. I really hesitate to sound like I’m criticizing the LW, but it really does sound like this is just too much.

    3. MassMatt*

      It’s weird because people don’t seem to be taking into account that PT work means PT pay, which usually also means no benefits. There are millions of people juggling multiple part time jobs (and doing things like Uber on the side) trying to cobble enough money together to pay the bills. They would LOVE to have a single job paying them for 40 hours per week and not have to juggle multiple job schedules and running across town from one gig to another to get another 4 hours, eating on the way.

  11. Brad Deltan*

    LW5: I know from direct personal experience that this is something the Mass AG’s office will crucify the college in question over. Tell the student to file a complaint. It’ll be resolved within a month, tops. Here’s the link, scroll down to “non-payment of wage”

    Alison is correct that UMass (and the community colleges) sometimes operates under their own little rules in their own little world. But even they can’t withstand an annoyed AG for very long.

    1. Fikly*

      These kinds of issues are so easy to prove that they are one of the few that will get swift action and money (often with interest and extra fines added) for the employee. And then often the state gets money from the employer too, which motivates them even more.

      1. Properlike*

        And kindly have the student do it in your office so they don’t get intimidated by the idea of filing a complaint, and you can counter the “don’t want to get anyone in trouble” doubts. That is also a lesson young women must learn; tell her you assume she’s not the only one this has happened to, and she can help educate others.

        Please update us on this one, LW!

        1. Lw 5*

          I’m trying to not pressure her into it, she is international and very shy so I suspect that might be why she’s decided not to follow through with it? At the very least I’m trying to convince her to talk to her union representative.

          1. halloumife*

            Ohh that must make it harder for her since her visa is probably dependent on the university so she’d be worried about it getting revoked if she kicks up too much of a stink.

          2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

            Maybe point out that an actual law is being broken (by accident!) and she will be doing a Good Thing by bringing it to light.

      1. MassMatt*

        To be fair, Alison did seem pretty annoyed by it.

        I can vouch that in Massachusetts this sort of thing is enforced with hefty fines.

        Even in red states that otherwise are very “employer friendly”, not paying your workers is pretty much beyond the pale, my sister reported an employer for this and also mis-classifying employees as contractors in a red state and the penalties were so severe the business had to shut down. But she got the pay she was owed, plus a not insignificant amount of interest.

        This payroll department is both sloppy to have made such a big error and lazy for acting like it’s too much bother to fix it until the next pay period. I would escalate the issue but I’ve never worked in academia so maybe that’s not feasible. But it should be.

    2. Lw 5*

      I have sent my graduate student information about how to file wage complaint twice so far

      1. Snow Globe*

        Another thought (prompted by LW4) – perhaps you could contact someone in your University’s internal auditing department? A software glitch that resulted in an employee not being paid in violation of the law is exactly the kind of thing that would grab the attention of any auditor—and neither HR nor the University President is going to wave off Audit.

        1. Lw 5*

          You’re right, I have considered emailing the universities legal counsel as a heads up, but I’m not quite sure how to phrase that email

          1. Yoyoyo*

            Sometimes Alison recommends phrasing like describing the situation and then saying, “I’m concerned that this situation could potentially put (university) at risk legally” (not sure about the actual words she has used in the past).

            1. Observer*

              Yes. Just describe the situation and tack on this line.

              Because if Legal is at all competent, they will be on this in about 30 seconds, or less.

              HUGE, ENORMOUS legal risk for the school.

          2. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

            Just use the phrase “treble damages” in every sentence, as well as the subject line.

          3. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

            “Good day, I’m reaching out to get your advice about a student’s situation. They were hired in May but have not yet been paid, and HR’s solution doesn’t seem accurate to me. [describe what you put in your letter]. I’ve sent the student information on filing a wage claim but I am mindful of the power dynamics and don’t believe the onus should be on the student to force us to abide by the law. Can I get your input on the best way ahead from here?”

            1. Lw 5*

              Thank you so much! At this point she has been fully paid, but I do think your language is excellent and will borrow some of it for an email. Now if I send it today, or schedule send it for my last day of work (next week), we will see.

              1. Kyrielle*

                I’d send it sooner rather than later, so they can reach out to you easily if they want to. I’d also *not* mention that you’ve sent the student info on filing a wage claim. They should be smart enough to figure out that she *could*, and you want them focused on the “we screwed up” and not the “this person reporting encouraged her to…” part.

                I’d just advise them of what happened, how it was “fixed”, and ask about whether she should be given any further money to make her whole for fees etc., but also whether anything needs to be done as far as making sure this doesn’t happen again.

              2. fhqwhgads*

                “Fully” paid as in paid her agreed upon wage for all hours worked? Or including the penalties they now owe for not paying on time in the first place?

          4. BethDH*

            See whether you have an ombuds office. I’m at a private higher ed institution but I’ve gone to ours with questions before of “this seems wrong but I’m not sure how to document/report it and what my options are.

    3. Happily Retired*

      LW, I’m glad they (finally) caught up her pay, but I get your frustration!

      As she is an international student and I’m sure doesn’t want to endanger her visa status, can’t YOU go to the union for her? Unions are used to workers too terrified to speak up or fight back. They’d also probably appreciate seeing some faculty support.

      1. Lw 5*

        That’s an interesting question. I have been operating under the principle of letting her maintain her autonomy, and trying to just be ‘maverick’ behind the scenes on her behalf. My hope is that helps lesson the fallout if I get pushback for going so hard here.

        She truly did not seem interested when I brought it up with her before (more than once, which already felt like overstepping).

        1. Observer*

          I have been operating under the principle of letting her maintain her autonomy, and trying to just be ‘maverick’ behind the scenes on her behalf

          The thing is that she is within her rights to do what is best for her. But, I think that you have a different position here – there is arguably a moral obligation for you to do something not for *her* sake, but for any other vulnerable student (or staff / consultant) who might get messed over by your incompetent HR.

          Which is why reaching out to Legal is such a good idea. Because if they have any brains, they *will* make sure that this is not likely to happen again – less likely to make mistakes, and more likely to handle any mistakes appropriately.

          1. Properlike*

            Agreed. This is “student’s experience reveals HR practices that leave others vulnerable and the university open to major lawsuits.”

            It’s like a product recall or a secret shopper or an audit. It’s not about your student at this point.

        2. Bellis Coldwine*

          As much as I would like to see this brought to the union, it’s important to let your student have autonomy in that decision, even if it isn’t the one you would make. By bringing the option to her attention, you’ve done the right thing.

          Now, if your university has an ethics hotline/reporting system, or an ombudsperson, that would definitely be a good way to follow up on the process problem without causing the student additional work/stress. Because at the end of the day this is a systemic failure with implications for other (student) employees, too — not just a situation to be made right for this specific person in this particular case (which it sounds like it has been, albeit belatedly).

    4. AngryOctopus*

      The UMass system has a robust union (source: my mom worked for them for 30 years) which wouldn’t stand for their member not getting paid, so it can’t be UMass. But lots of the colleges around Boston have been unionizing their grad students, to the chagrin of the universities, so it could be a place with a newer union. Regardless, union grievance and AG complaint for the delays in getting paid–the AG isn’t going to stand for an April paycheck showing up in June, for example.

  12. Nodramalama*

    LW1 I agree with Alison, it seems like maybe there are class insecurities or something that are making you think much harder about this. I have many part time coworkers and I basically never think about what they’re doing in their free time, and if pressed I’d say I assume most of them are parenting.

    Also just speaking for me, but I also think you’re attributing some kind of moral failing or something to being thought of someone who doesn’t have to work full time. If it turned out you were a lady of leisure the rest of the time I would be jealous I am not and would once again reconsider if its worth trying to FIRE. I wouldn’t have any judgment on your set up

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think this gets to the rule that the person in the office who complains most loudly about their slings and arrows almost always turns out not to be dealing with the biggest problems. They’re just loud about the problems they do have. So I would steer OP away from the declarations about how hard they are working when not in the office, as it seems to be laying the fieldwork for being that main character.

      OP, I think it’s meant as meaningless pleasantries. It’s “TGIF, right?” for someone whose last day of work each week is Wednesday, so they had to vary it.

  13. Punk*

    LW4: Procedural workflow and document security are actually huge parts of audits. Lots of types of fraud involve altering or stealing documents.

    I think your boss brought it up as a way of saying that it’s not up for debate.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      I have known people fired for leaving files out on their desks overnight (also, in one case, antique firearms, though that is probably more obviously a bad idea). It does depend on the nature of the files, but your boss may have been pretty lenient with you here.

    2. Dog momma*

      Correct. and its very common in health care I dusty even if its an office. Bc..HIPPA

      1. Lea*

        Yes although I assume if op worked in healthcare they would have more awareness of this/training?

        But we have literally had these kinds of audits and unless op works in an office with a locked door I wouldn’t leave files out

        1. Observer*

          Yes although I assume if op worked in healthcare they would have more awareness of this/training?

          True. But those regulations can apply to healthcare *adjacent* companies, and they don’t always do the best job on training. Same for FERPA and almost any other regulatory framework. And that’s just the privacy side.

          If you are also looking at the “insure accuracy of documents” and / or “insure the confidentiality of proprietary information”, you are covering a HUGE swath of documents, document types, workflows, and positions.

      2. Snow Globe*

        Outside of healthcare, any company that loses personal identifying information of its customers (eg, names and email addresses) could be required to notify the customers of the data leak, which can be a huge issue particularly for a smaller company.

      3. sparkle emoji*

        Finance too. Many of the people I know who work in finance have had to adhere to a “clean desk” policy at some point in their career. There may be a regulatory reason even if its not obvious to LW4. Put something that will remind you of the task on your to do list for the next day if you can’t keep the file out.

    3. Aqua409*

      This is also a thing in the mortgage industry. You are privy to clients very sensitive information and if it’s not handled properly then can get you in trouble. Like you get documents off the office printer immediately, don’t leave documents out in the open, and shred any that you no longer need.

      1. Samwise*

        And in higher ed. Documents with student identifying info should not be left out due to FERPA.

    4. The Formatting Queen*

      It could depend on the industry, but I just came off of an FDA inspection (biopharma) and the instruction to everyone when they first arrived was “clear off your desk, everything in locked file cabinets or at least out of sight.” When they’re doing tours they can technically look at anything they want to, but documents that are just sitting out are more likely to catch their eye and then they can start digging. They love tugging on loose threads and seeing what unravels. (“Are the docs compliant?” “Controlled copies or uncontrolled?” “Have they been QA reviewed?” “Why are they not being kept in a secure location?” “This one has the same error we flagged for you last time we were here, we thought you said this was fixed.” Etc.) Keeping documents out of sight is a way of not offering up anything they don’t ask for.

      1. Trick or Treatment*

        I was just going to comment too! I work in pharma (clinical trials) and this has always been a rule at my offices too.
        Even more so when you’re at a CRO working for multiple clients and you also have to be ready for the client auditors on top of the regulators.

    5. Hi, I'm a CISO*

      Confirming this, as someone who has run security at multiple companies. I’ve only worked in tech, but the ISO 27001 and SOC 2 auditors in particular like to walk around and check that there aren’t files out/confidential things written on whiteboards/computers are locked if not in use. (The ISO folks also check the fire extinguishers!)

      This is generally called the “clean desk policy” if you want to search for something that will probably pull up the actual policy (though frankly this one basically always looks the same).

      1. PropJoe*

        I can understand white boards and printers & locked screens, but I can’t figure out why security auditors would check fire extinguishers. I can see safety people doing so, but not security. Can you clue me in please?

        1. Learn ALL the things?*

          I do compliance audits, and we’re looking to see that the agency we’re auditing is complying with ALL relevant regulations. That can include any statutory requirements for the industry, best standards as described by professional organizations, and the physical health and safety practices on site. If every last scrap of your documentation is in order but your fire extinguishers haven’t been inspected on time or your emergency exits are obstructed, the audit is still not going to go well.

          1. Lab Rabbit*

            Yep, very much this. An audit is there to make sure you have all your ducks in a row, not just most of them.

            1. PropJoe*

              “If you’re messing up this visible and easy to do correct thing, you’re probably messing up other things and we need to dig deeper.”

              Thanks for the explanation!

    6. Glomarization, Esq.*

      And “audit” may not refer only to a financial audit. A review of security procedures is often called an “audit.”

      When I hear “work order” (from the LW), I’m thinking this might be a project management or construction company — something in heavy trades or energy. Document control and security are critical for these offices and clean-desk policies are very, very common.

      1. Observer*


        Also proprietary information. One of the things that courts look at when deciding if a company’s claim that someone stole proprietary is valid, is how they handle that information. So, if you have a clean desk policy for work orders are related documents, you can credibly make the claim that your workflows and how you handle tasks x, y, and z are proprietary as can be seen by the measures you took to keep the confidential. If you leave that stuff laying around, the opposition lawyer is absolutely bringing it up.

    7. Learn ALL the things?*

      I’m a compliance auditor, and my office frequently has to address document security. Leaving information lying around where anybody can see it whether they need to or not can be a big deal, depending on what type of organization you’re in and what the document in question was.

      One of our most common findings is people leaving their computers unlocked when they walk away, which is basically just the digital version of leaving files on your desk for anyone to see, and the professional boards and legislative bodies we’re required to report these things to see it as a big deal.

    8. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, I work in a highly regulated industry and we have to control many types of documents. We don’t have a clean desk policy but the entire office area is behind a card scanner to control access. We’ve also been moving to digital documents as much as possible. We’re strict about computers too, and lock them any time we’re away, even in the card-access area when taking 5 minutes to get coffee.

    9. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      The “not for debate” part is key. Why does it bother you, OP4, to put files in a drawer? This request from your boss is both logical (as other posters have pointed out about audits) and minor. Is this really a problem or is this the final straw for you?

  14. PicklePants*

    LW1 it sounds like they are trying to be friendly & funny (albeit in a way you perhaps don’t find funny).

    In your letter you say you love working there & they are happy with your work, so I don’t think the comments are coming from a mean place.

    There are loads of reasons comments may be made, they could be slightly jealous that you only have to be there 2 days a week (no matter how difficult your life may be outside of work, the perception for some full time staff may be that they wish they could work 2 days a week too!), they could be trying to connect to you a bit more through humour or many other reasons we could list!

    I have a co worker who works 1 day a week & we joke back & forth, I know they have a tricky life outside of work & they knows I would rather do 3 days a week but financially this is completely not an option for me, but this doesn’t stop either of us gently teasing each other – but this is because we opened up to each other about our situations.

  15. Dark Macadamia*

    “I guess I just don’t get why people would say something like that to someone they don’t really know?” – Someone they don’t really know is the perfect audience for this kind of comment! If they don’t see you much your most defining characteristic in their mind might just be “done on Tuesday,” so this is the silly little interaction they’ve settled on to connect with you in a limited way.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      This is absolutely something people do. My roommate gave me a superhero-themed purse a couple of years ago. People bring it up all the time when I meet them, even though about half don’t know which superhero it is or guess the wrong one. I am probably “that person who likes superheroes” to many of my casual acquaintances.

  16. A. J. Payler*

    RE LW4: As a former military contractor I can tell you this specific example–folders being left on the desks at the end of the workday–was in our classified information handling training every single year.

    If the industry is even slightly military adjacent, this practice has probably been drilled in so deeply it’d take a team of firemen to dislodge the notion of this being the ‘correct’ thing to do even if the information under discussion isn’t technically confidential or classified.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      And I work in finance, where the “Clean Desk Policy” is always highlighted during annual training. Anything in a folder/paper documents, need to be packed away in a locked cabinet at the end of the day.

      1. Grilledcheeser*

        For me it was definitely present at jobs in telecommunications, finance, education, and healthcare. Clean off your desk every day, lock it all away!

        1. Violet Fox*

          Research too! Also lock your screen when you aren’t at your desk, and if you are using laptops and your company has policy about locking it away when you are out of your office, do it.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Definitely. I’m at my mum and dad’s today and I’m able to work in a more secluded back room, but I’ll also be using my headphones as a precaution on our morning Teams call so they don’t hear anything they shouldn’t do.

            I’ll be sure to angle the camera away from all the embarrassing baby photos as well…

          2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

            Yes, I always worked in R&D engineering, so I could never leave documents on my desk if I walked away for even a few minutes. Also, screens automatically locked after 30 seconds without typing.
            We had badging in/out turnstiles and the occasional business visitors were always accompanied, but individual work areas still had to be kept secure as well.

          3. Lana Kane*

            I’m in healthcare and once, early in my career, I stepped away from my desk to go talk to my manager in her office, which was steps away from my cubicle. We were also in an access-controlled office. I didn’t lock my computer and of course an IT employee walked by and left me a nastygram on my desk about locking my computer lol It’s taken seriously!

        2. Just me*

          I’ve been in telecommunications for years and have never had this policy. But then the only papers I had were switch notes and technical stuff anyway.

    2. GythaOgden*

      It’s a good habit to get into anyway even if the documents aren’t classified so that when they are, you’re used to being sensitive and are in the habit of putting stuff away properly. Treating everything carefully prevents you from being cavalier the one time you are handling sensitive stuff.

      GDPR for us meant password protecting lists of client data stored electronically, a lot of which is available elsewhere but some of which might not be (I ran advertising for a community magazine so e.g. a restaurant advertising with us might have their phone number emblazoned on their sign. Someone placing a small ad with an email contact in that ad probably wouldn’t want their personal number to leak out as well). To protect the potentially private data, we locked down the publicly available stuff alongside it in order for there not to be any potential breach. Most good companies would do that to get colleagues into the habit of good data handling/information governance and it’s never a bad thing to be too careful.

      My paperless org is a godsend for file management. My autism means that I spend a while tidying everything carefully in folders and try not to leave stuff out on my virtual desktop, never mind my physical one. I’m at my mum and dad’s today with just my laptop and it’s great that the sum total of what I need to do my job fits into a neat capsule. I actually told our IT team in a public meeting that it made such a difference to me as neurodivergent not to have to grapple with too much paper, and it’s been a factor in turning down jobs that I was otherwise interested in.

    3. ClaireW*

      I work in tech and it’s been the same in every company I’ve ever worked in. The “clean desk policy” has ALWAYS been part of our security training in every job, to the point that it surprises me that OP’s work don’t do the same. I thought it was a standard for desk-based jobs at this point.

    4. iglwif*

      Heck, I worked in publishing and we had “clean desk” training along with our “don’t get phished” training every year.

      Even those of us who worked at home!

  17. Read Your Rules*

    The second paragraph of the answer to LW4 is irrelevant and unkind. As a reminder, the letter asked “I would just like to know if we would get in trouble if we were suddenly randomly audited and work order files were found outside of the cabinet.”. If it had said “This seems ridiculous to me, can I ignore it?”, then the tangent about following a boss’ directives may have been warranted, but as written, there is no point to that response.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I disagree with you there, because asking “I’d just like to know if docs lying about would cause problems on an audit” means OP appears to be ‘fact checking’ what the boss has said, which means there’s a decent chance they (OP) don’t think that sounds like a genuine reason, or they would have just accepted it. Asking the question does have an implied “is this true or can I ignore the boss’s wafflings” imo.

      1. duinath*

        Yep. It’s good to remind people, because it seems to keep coming up, that you can discuss things that impact you with your boss, but trying to rules-lawyer them is very rarely a good idea, if ever. They’re your boss. They get to tell you how to do things (within reason).

      2. ThatOtherClare*

        I can’t put my finger on why, exactly, but I think the subtext of ‘I doubt this’ is coming from the word ‘just’.

        To my ears “I’d just like to know” comes across differently to “I was curious to know if” or “Is it really true that”.

        I want to say that the addition of the ‘just’ phrase is what means OP appears to be ‘fact checking’, but I have no justification. ‘Just’ a gut feeling.

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          I definitely got the same feeling. I’m sure Alison did as well and that’s why she responded as she did. I think her reply was just fine.

      3. Helvetica*

        Agreed. Further, whether or not this is something audit could flag depends on how your audit is done, i.e. what are the rules of compliance and we have no way of knowing whether that is “true”. It only matters that your boss told you to do so, and we cannot arbitrate between whether it is a legal obligation or the prerogative of your boss to ask you to put them away.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        And fact-checking with someone outside the field/role/office, for a policy that would be inside those parameters.

        In some offices it’s required by law. In some it’s required by policy. In some it’s required by your boss feels better just having one uniform policy rather than debate the clean desk rule for every document. You can be stricter than your boss’s policy (have your own clean desk rule even if the office doesn’t require it for this form), but you can’t have a more lax policy than what your boss directs.

    2. Nodramalama*

      I don’t think it’s unkind or irrelevant at all. Many people write in with a question that is essentially “I like doing something this way and my Boss says to do it another way. Are they right?”

      And most of the time, the answer is, it doesn’t matter who is right, if your boss has a preference for something do it that way. Should the advice to the LW really be “audits don’t happen like that so tell your Boss you’ll keep leaving paper out when they’ve already told you not to”?

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      The 2nd paragraph is useful because even if the OP finds there are no official consequences or even no actual audits, it doesn’t change the situation:
      an employee generally needs to do what their boss tells them – without pushback or rules-lawyering – unless that is illegal, immoral, personally unsafe or cannot be fit into their standard working hours.

    4. Stoli*

      It’s not unkind. It’s reality. Boss wants files put away. It’s a reasonable request. It’s a non-issue and extremely easy to comply.

    5. Properlike*

      LW4, is that you?
      Rules-lawyering the advice columnist, for a question that implied there was some Bog Book of Work Rules for all industries, when the answer to the question really is, “It’s irrelevant because your boss said so?”

      1. Ipsedixitism*

        I know that was a tiny typo, but can I just say how much I like the idea of a Bog Book? One could read the rules while actually on the bog (toilet) – how apt :)

        1. Properlike*

          LOL! Happy to entertain! I often do read workplace policies in… multitasking situations. :)

    6. It's Suzy Now*

      Alison’s advice is intended to be generalizable to readers other than the letter writer, so it makes sense she would include additional advice for people who might be facing similar situations, even if the LW themself is already planning to follow their Boss’ directive.

    7. The Other Dawn*

      Given the LW felt the need to write to an advice columnist to ask if she needs to do what her boss asks her to do, rather than either ask her boss directly or just do the thing, tells me the second paragraph IS necessary. It isn’t unkind at all, and it is relevant.

      1. Alianora*

        Or they fully intend to comply but would also genuinely like to know?

        I don’t have a problem with Alison including that caveat in her reply, but I don’t get why everyone is acting like the LW *must* be trying to argue with their boss or is rules-lawyering. They could be, but can’t they also just mean what they literally said?

        Using me as an example – I’m a curious person. I know that asking questions can sometimes be seen as arguing. So I don’t usually ask much beyond clarifying questions when I’m being corrected. But sometimes I’m still curious and try to find out that information on my own later – not to argue, but to understand.

        1. duinath*

          If they were only curious the question’s subtext would likely read differently. If you think about it, as a curious person, would you phrase this question the way they did?

          There’s nothing wrong with being curious, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to know if your boss said something that’s not 100% accurate, I don’t think anyone wants to imply that it is, but sometimes you want to guide someone on what to do with the answer so they don’t inadvertently damage their relationship with their boss or even possibly their career.

    8. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      I agree with others here. Sometimes it’s important to hear what can damage your career straight. To me, Alison is just saying even if there are no real auditors, this isn’t a hill to die on. If your boss wants the folders in a drawer, just do it. Also, as Alison explained, how would she know if there are actually auditors do inspections or if they are false people made up by the boss? That’s workplace dependent. What she does know is that OP is trying to push back on their boss for telling them to put the folders in their desk, which isn’t worth the capital to argue against.

    9. iglwif*

      LW4 wrote to an advice columnist to fact-check their boss (subtext: “I think my boss is wrong and I would like ammunition to tell them so”) about a directive that is not hurting anyone and is very, very easy to comply with. I think that second paragraph is indeed necessary!

      1. Observer*

        LW4 wrote to an advice columnist to fact-check their boss (subtext: “I think my boss is wrong and I would like ammunition to tell them so”)

        This is exactly what I was thinking. The second paragraph is a reminder that the LW really needs to drop it. Because even if they did some digging and found out that their boss is incorrect in this particular case, arguing about it a losing proposition.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          100%. As someone who has managed rules-lawyering reports, I can tell you, OP4, you are harming yourself and your career if you push back on something so minor, where your boss has the final say.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            As someone who has been a rules-lawyering report, I completely agree.

            Seeking field- and role-specific information from a general workplace advice blog isn’t a great idea. Doing so in an attempt to undermine your boss is a much worse one. Learn from my mistakes: if you’re not able to adapt to your manager’s style, find another job before you develop an adversarial relationship that lands you in hot water.

    10. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Answers will also be read by many other people wondering if they can push back when they don’t want to do something that their boss wants. So the 2nd paragraph is useful for that wider audience too.

    11. RagingADHD*

      Even if it were irrelevant to the LW (which I don’t think it is), I can’t imagine what could be construed as unkind about it?

      “Yes, this may well be true since it’s common in many industries, but even if it were not the case at your company that wouldn’t make a practical difference, because you need to follow the directive anyway.”

      How is that unkind? Since Alison can’t possibly know for a fact whether the LW is subject to audits or would actually get in trouble, or what kind of “trouble” it would entail, this is just covering all the bases.

    12. Awkwardness*

      How is this unkind? Even if the answer would be “no” with regard to an audit, OP could still be in trouble because they resist doing their work as their boss requires them. This is important information to point out and not doing so sets OP up for failure.

    13. We're Six*

      Hi, LW4! (Yes I’m assuming this is you). Look, Alison, and the rest of us, don’t work in your office. We don’t know the specific reason(s) why your boss wants you to put files away–whether it’s because of specific regulations or just “because I said so, that’s why.”

      We don’t know how this conversation actually went down or even if it’s a conversation that has happened many times before, about the same files. We don’t know if you’ve tried to rules-lawyer your boss on 20 other different things.

      But quite honestly, there was nothing irrelevant or unkind about the answer to that letter. But if that’s the kind of energy you’re bringing to your interactions with your boss about these files (and other stuff at work)…hmmm is all I have to say.

    14. Observer*

      As a reminder, the letter asked “I would just like to know if we would get in trouble if we were suddenly randomly audited and work order files were found outside of the cabinet.”.

      And the LW *also* asked *specifically* if this is “an excuse” to have them do the task the way she said. So it’s really important that Allison pointed out that your boss does not *need* an “excuse” to have you do things a certain way, aside from the usual caveats about ethics and legalities.

  18. Looper*

    LW1- You are taking this way too personally but also…these feelings are coming from somewhere and you deserve to figure that out and give yourself a break. I know A LOT of people who come from working class backgrounds who have very conflicting feelings when it comes to sending their kids to private school even when rationally they know it’s the best thing for their children’s needs. Money is a real mind-fudge and issues of class disparity and “work ethic” and who deserves what can kick up a lot of stuff.
    Give yourself a break and your coworker’s the benefit of the doubt. ALL schools everywhere depend on parents who don’t work FT jobs to make stuff run. No one is judging you, your coworkers have full lives and their own motivations for working there, they’re just making small talk.

    1. Observer*

      these feelings are coming from somewhere and you deserve to figure that out and give yourself a break.

      Very much this. I was struck not just by the judgement that the LW was feeling from coworkers, but the expectation that they were going to be judged here. I was very sad to read the LW “excusing” their family’s choice to send this child to an “elite” school.

      Also, the description of your schedule. LW you don’t need to prove to anyone that you are “worthy” to “only” have a part time job. No one should be making cracks at you (assuming that that’s what is really happening) even if you *were* a “lady of leisure.” And having the kind of schedule that allows you to get a full night of sleep on a regular basis does NOT equal being someone of leisure anyway. For your own health and that of your family please leave aside the very toxic idea that anyone who has time to breath is a slacker.

      I’m NOT criticizing your choices here. I realize that your hectic schedule may be the best you can do in your particular circumstances. But it would be good if you recognized that it’s more than OK for you to look at ways to reduce the load. And that you don’t need to justify your choices (about schooling, your schedule / “too much” leisure / Not enough leisure, or whatever else.)

      1. Parakeet*

        Well, they did get judged here by people falling over themselves to tell them to appreciate how lucky they were. So even though you’re right that they shouldn’t need to care about that, I understand why they do.

  19. An Ominous*

    #5 I had a similar problem, though as contractor for a government agency, where there was one system error and two paychecks were held back (and then my grant money was never renewed but that’s another story). I asked for updates weekly, got ignored, got de-escalated to a coworker, because my manager was unresponsive, despite asking for payroll contact (the one we had left and that was a whole other mess). Seven months later I filed a complaint with the Department of Labor and suddenly the “we don’t understand why you’re not getting paid” (when I could SEE they hadn’t scheduled the freakin’ thing) became a scheduled payment in less than three days. Unfortunately I was only paid what I was owed, unsurprisingly, but honestly wish they had to pay for “damages” because the stress and mental strain wrecked me.

    So yeah, have the student file a complaint! That’ll get things moving.

    1. Lw 5*

      I’m sorry to hear about that! The student did get paid on Friday, but I do plan on escalating this in HR as in A how could you have done this in the first place way

      1. Paint N Drip*

        LW I hope you saw the comment further upthread about a documented case in Mass involving treble damages. ESPECIALLY if your student isn’t a citizen, I’d urge you to support the student in pushing back with this documented (VERY similar) case or even bringing it to a lawyer – maybe the stress of pushing back isn’t worth it for your student, but if they can be shown legal precedent perhaps that could shift their thinking.

  20. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 – I’m almost certain this is well-intended workplace banter rather than anything sinister – people at work do seem to get into a habit of saying the same old “hilarious” thing every time a particular situation comes up. In my place any time someone takes a half day or has an appointment it’s “good luck with the interview!” (and then sometimes when they are back the next day – “how did the interview go?”) These things are annoying but I’ve come to see them as the social glue that holds a little community together.

    Having said that, I feel like OP almost has a … guilty conscience? – but in reverse, because she isn’t a “lady of leisure” but the co workers potentially assume she is. I think she feels like an imposter in some way, out of place in this school where everyone is rich and it’s normal to only work a “little part time job” (in the UK it’s called pin money), or not to have to work at all. This is quite complex as OP is now half in, half out of this “rich” world. In it with the school and associating with rich people etc, but not fully part of it, as they have a child there via an “unusual” route and are different from the other parents in that they aren’t rich, but also different from the people that work there full-time.

    It wasn’t mentioned, but I think the hardest part of this is actually the social aspect for the kid – especially as they get older, they will become more conscious that they’re different from the “rich” kids and perhaps start to feel that they aren’t legitimately there.

    1. ThatOtherClare*

      In respect to your last paragraph, you raise an excellent point, but only needs to be addressed if it does become a problem – which the letter writer should discover with plenty of time to address it if she is regularly checking in with the kid.

      Hopefully it will turn out fine. As anecdata: two of my cousins were in a similar position when they went through school. They both won sporting and academic scholarships to attend an otherwise unaffordable school. I remember their parents telling my mother that they were worried the kids would feel out of place. In the end they were extremely popular! The rich kids didn’t feel the need to compete with them socially, so they were considered ‘trustworthy’ friends. They made several friends who turned into excellent ‘connections’, and they have been invited on many holidays and to many events that they would never have experienced otherwise.

      Of course every school and every cohort of children is different. I had a horrible time at my first school. I changed schools in the middle of the year due to bullying and I wouldn’t wish two seconds of such treatment on anyone. Hence why I say regular check-ins with a trusted adult are so important.

      1. Great Frogs of Literature*

        It definitely depends on the kids and the school. My mom paid full tuition for my high school, and we certainly weren’t poor, but I had classmates who lived in legit mansions with an in-ground pool, or their own horse, or a big house in a neighborhood three steps fancier than the neighborhood my mom had given up on looking for a house in because it was out of her price range. I was VERY aware that I was not in the same wealth bracket as many of my peers (though I don’t know if they knew it).

        But everyone was welcoming and friendly (which OP said her coworkers are), and it was honestly much less socially cutthroat than the public school I’d gone to for elementary, where I’m 100% sure that many of the parents were working second jobs to pay for their kids’ Nikes and brand-name jeans. I suspect that it was because the kids at the ritzy high school were secure in their social status, and didn’t need to show it off to prove it, with the effect that people mostly didn’t really talk about indicators of social status, rather than it being a constant contest.

        1. Great Frogs of Literature*

          Since I didn’t actually say it explicitly: In high school, I was made to feel like I belonged in a way that I never had in elementary school. (And being invested in your schoolwork was, if not precisely *cool*, normal and expected, rather than a reason for ridicule.)

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I remember scaling down my hours in response to a health issue no one knew about, and a colleague said something about envying my work life balance and how could they do the same. I just said “agree to get paid less”. I wasn’t being snarky and they weren’t being rude, but if you overthink this stuff it all feels way more complicated than working less hours simply means taking home less pay. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve chosen to earn less because of a pile of money at home! And even if there was a pile of money, (which would be fine and no one’s business) it clearly isn’t so much that you can’t do without working entirely.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, my sister went down to four days a week when she went back to work after maternity leave, and she had various comments from colleagues along the lines of ‘Must be nice to have a long weekend’ and ‘Wish I could do a four-day week’. She just said ‘You can, if you also want to take a 20% pay cut!’ These comments are just things people say, they don’t actually think about the bigger picture. I had similar when I was freelancing, people saying ‘must be nice’ if I was out having a coffee with another freelance friend on a Tuesday morning. And it was nice, but it wasn’t so nice having to hustle for work and not getting any sick/holiday pay.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I do a four day week, and my kids are both at school now so the 9-3pm part of the day is free. If anyone comments on it I have zero hesitation in saying it’s DELIGHTFUL, I love it, and I hope never to go back up to full-time.

          LW1, I think this little bit of paranoia is about how you feel about your life right now, not about your colleagues. It sounds like you’ve got an awful lot going on, and it wouldn’t be at all weird or unusual if you were feeling like you were working super hard and juggling lots of things, and that nobody was seeing or appreciating it, or feeling out-of-place in the very wealthy society you’re suddenly finding yourself in. These are really natural and normal feelings to have! But they are about you, not about what your colleagues are thinking. It doesn’t sound like you have much flexibility to change anything right now, but just giving yourself a bit of grace and acknowledging that these thoughts are coming from you can be easier than second- and third-guessing other people.

  21. Sleve*

    LW4 – sometimes people are sloppy with their language if they think it gets the general meaning across.

    You might not be working in an industry that has true “random audits”, but that might be her extra-fastidious boss’s or grandboss’s pet phrase for “Random management checks where I come around and check that you are maintaining a orderly and well-organised section to my satisfaction.” Or her phrase for it. Or she might be referring to some other sort of ‘unexpected walkthrough by a person with higher authority and an eye for loose documents’. In her head the key part of the phrase might have been “I’ll get in trouble”, not “audit”.

    You could always just say her “You mentioned us getting audited the other day. Were you referring to regulatory auditing, or did you mean an audit of the ‘CEO walks past your desk’ kind?”

    1. Czhorat*

      I honestly think LW4 shouldn’t say anything, but just start filing things away at the end of the day.

      Whether or not there’s a REAL legitimate business need, it is something that clearly irks their boss. If I’m going to have even the appearance of pushing back at a directive from my boss it would be for something bigger – and more egregious – than this.

    2. MCMonkeybean*

      I wouldn’t ask for clarification because it really doesn’t matter. Just put the folders in a drawer, or wherever you are meant to secure them! I think it would come across very oddly to push back even slightly on something like this.

      1. Lab Rabbit*

        This. There is more than a whiff of “is my boss lying about being audited?” in this question.

        But it doesn’t matter if they are or not. You do what your boss tells you to do.

    3. Observer*

      You could always just say her “You mentioned us getting audited the other day. Were you referring to regulatory auditing, or did you mean an audit of the ‘CEO walks past your desk’ kind?”

      What difference would it make? It’s still effectively an audit in the sense that it’s someone who is checking on the work of the department.

      And even if neither were happening, what difference would THAT make? As Allison points out, the manager can require this without any explanation.

    4. Hyaline*

      I think this only works if LW can come across as legitimately curious and trying to learn more about the workplace’s policies and how they function and how she fits into those functions. Frankly this is something her boss probably should have trained her in proactively but if that isn’t happening, it may be fair to ask.

  22. Le Vauteur*

    HR’s software didn’t make a mistake. Someone who input the information for the student worker made a mistake. Software is only as good as the information input into it. If the correct parameters had been input, the correct payments would have been made.

    I genuinely don’t understand why HR aren’t anxious to help the employee get paid, but I do understand why they aren’t anxious to fix their mess.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I can almost understand (although I don’t agree) a line of thinking that goes: if she waited 6 weeks before saying anything, why is it suddenly an emergency now?

      I think this is someone that either can’t be bothered to find out how to fix it, doesn’t want their boss to find out they screwed up, or both. So I think the best thing is to give it one more push and then escalate it.

      1. Lea*

        It’s also harder to fix a mistake that is 2 months in which is to say try to report stuff immediately

        1. Lw 5*

          She did go to an office on campus for help but the office never told anybody that she needed help and also wasn’t able to help her. I think she said she went to the bursar?

          1. DJ Abbott*

            Wow, that is really bad in my world. I work at a government financial office, where the priority is helping the clients. If someone comes in with a problem I don’t know how to handle, I have to ask a manager. Just saying “we can’t help you” and letting it go at that would be close to a firing offense. We usually go above and beyond because we really want to help the people.

            1. doreen*

              That might depend on a lot of things- there’s a difference between ” I don’t know how to help you” and “This is the wrong department” . I worked at a college for a while and if people came into the financial aid office ( where I worked ) with an issue for the registrar or the bursar ( which in my experience handles student bills, not payroll) , we would refer them to the correct office but that was really as far as it went – we wouldn’t call the bursar’s office or walk the person over.

                1. Doreen*

                  Maybe – but to say the office didn’t notify anyone she needed help sounds like there was an expectation that the whichever office couldn’t help should have called the appropriate office, rather than merely told the student which office she needed to contact.

    2. Properlike*

      100%. College HR where I was a new instructor misspelled my name (part of your computer login) so I couldn’t complete training on schedule. Then they sent a different last name and birthday to the state retirement system. Head of HR was surly and disinterested, union was corrupt and useless. I finally walked into the VP of Personnel’s office unannounced, introduced myself, spelled my name, then pleasantly asked how I could convince HR to spell it that way?

      Fixed within the hour.

      1. Frieda*

        As a person who once emailed the COO to complain about a lack of soap in a women’s restroom (after several complaints and a full work week; this was a building where healthcare workers were being trained so even if it’s just best practices and not avoiding the spread of disease they might come into contact with when seeing patients, it’s *important*) who then immediately got the soap replaced, I feel you.

        1. Properlike*

          Totally legit. And if I’m COO, I’m going to rain hell down on all the people who let it get all the way up to me.

  23. BigLawEx*

    #1 I went to NYC private school and my son (about to enter 9th) has only attended these schools – LA version. There are many people who work for the partial/full tuition remission. It’s a thing. As a kid and now parent, I literally have zero feelings about it. I honestly don’t know anyone who really does. It falls under the do what you have to do to get what you need part of life. Or good for you for figuring this out.

  24. Stoli*

    Just answer “see you next week” with a smile. You’re assuming things that are not there. Don’t give this anymore space in your mind.

  25. Kaisa*

    I understand, you are wokring very hard and you want other people to recognize that. But honestly, who cares? You know your truth, you take care of your family and yourself, and I hope you get the respect you deserve from the people that are truly cloes to you and know you. That’s all that matters, right?

    My situation is very different, but I can recognize some of the feelings here. I choose to use my money very differently from my peers. It is quite the norm in my “circles” to take a vacation out of country once a year, use money for hobbies and have a nice car, but also make your “macaroni and cheese” lunch at home, buy your clothes from the supermarket and repair you eyeglasses (no kidding, like Harry Potter style). I love luxury in my mundane life and enjoy stayacations. It is a matter of preferences, choises and what works for you personally, just like you choose to work less in your “office” and work more at home.

    I used to have the urge to point out the differences I have compared to my peers, but lately I have chosen not to. I have nothing to be embarassed about. I also remind myself about the fact, that there are always going to be people who do/accomplishe more or work harder AND people who do less or work less than I. And thats okay.

  26. Münchner Kindl*

    Letter 2,

    I wonder if
    “Am I right that this is a little off-base, especially since they weren’t clear what variables are fed to the algorithm? ”

    is a code by the company to mean “white men will get higher salary than others (because that’s how we code it into the software)” (because by now I’m mistrustful).

    LW is quite right that an algorithm that is undisclosed can be made to do anything, even continuing existing disparity, depending on how it’s programmed or what variables are entered.

    1. BubbleTea*

      An algorithm doesn’t have to mean AI, or even computers – it just means a predetermined series of questions/inputs. But they should be able to share what that is.

    2. bamcheeks*

      white men will get higher salary than others (because that’s how we code it into the software)

      The old-fashioned way works perfectly well if this is your goal. It’s way more likely that they’ve introduce a formal process to try and decrease inequities (although whether or not it works is a different matter.)

      1. Properlike*

        There can be bias in algorithms. In fact, there often is, depending on who’s creating them.

        Criteria would be mandatory, in my eyes, as well as weighting.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Yes, there can be bias in algorithms because people write them. That doesn’t mean algorithms aren’t ever a good tool to *reduce* bias. All else equal, I’d rather trust a simple algorithm of “total experience + experience in X + management experience + certification” than the usual algorithm of “pick a number that feels right and see if they negotiate.”

    3. MigraineMonth*

      “white men will get higher salary than others (because that’s how we code it into the software)”

      I’m just going to pipe up here that the thing about structural racism/sexism is that there’s no need to be intentional! Even restricted to “objective” and “colorblind” criteria, you can do a lot of damage to minority applicants based on higher education degrees, alma mater, years of experience, unpaid internships, referrals, etc.

      For AI “machine learning” algorithms, you can get really subtle and insidious issues. Machine learning is really good at recognizing patterns in data, even those we don’t realize are there, so when trained on real-world data it will replicate (or exacerbate) existing biases. (For example, Amazon had to scrap a resume-screening bot that downgraded any resume that mentioned women’s sports or a women’s college, based on the fact that people with those resumes had rarely been hired by Amazon.) Except now it seems all official and objective, because it comes from a computer.

      Of course, the alternative is human beings, and they suck at being unbiased as well. I do believe this type of algorithm can be used for DEI hiring, we just need to keep a close eye on the outcomes.

  27. cie la vie*

    LW4 – putting filing away cleanly is a good work habit. Especially when your boss is paying you to do that.

  28. Daria grace*

    #4, depending on where you work and what you do there may be very good reasons for this. When I worked in financial services not leaving paperwork out on desks overnight was very strict as cleaners or maintenance people not directly hired by the company (and therefore it bound by our strict confidentiality obligations) could potentially view or steal documents left accessible.

    1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I used to have a high level clearance and part of my job was delivering and retrieving classified files from other departments. It made a nice little break in the day when I had to walk around collecting signatures and files. No one questioned what I was doing for the time spent away from my desk. If I was returning empty handed, it was a chance for a quick break.

  29. Badger*

    When I was working half-days in the office (and half a day at home), people would routinely tell me they were jealous I could ‘already’ leave. It was grating.

    I get both perspectives, but it will be hard to make a number of people aware of your schedule. So I think your best bet is sharing a little more about your life, as Alison suggests, and/or finding a phrase that you can say quickly with a friendly wave. Shortest: “Oh I wish!”

  30. JSPA*

    “Ugh, I WISH!” would be a reasonable response (no additional information needed).

  31. r.*


    I regularly hire for positions with a very large salary range, and where the top of the range may be around double the bottom.

    Those usually are future-potential engineering roles, where we primarily hire not for what you know and can do, now, but what we think you might be able to do. But of course the positions are written in a way that enables this, like separating between core skills/secondary skills/nice-to-haves and language that’d tell you how many core skills (they’re more a “at least X out of Y” wishlist) a good candidate has, a very strong candidate has, and so on.

    Of course we also negotiate.

    But using an algorithm for such a wide range and no negotiation is completely bananas, and if their goal was equitable pay then in all likelihood the attempt is … at best well-meaning but misguided.

    And this is the biggest large flag there is. The company in question is almost certainly using an algorithm that is methodologically weak, and will produce at best weird and at worst outright wrong and inequitable outcomes.

    Of course humans can also do that, but if a machine does it there’s an additional angle at play here: “No, you must be wrong because the algorithm is correct”. “No, this is not a race-based underpayment, because that’d be racist. The algorithm can’t be racist, because it is a machine, not a human”. And arguing against that as an individual employee is so hard and annoying.

    Because yes, while algorithms do not intend to be racist, because they’re not sentient and hence have no animus, they definitely can produce racist outcomes. Can, and do. All the bloody time.

    All current setups I know off — and since a friend from university days ran a research group advising the government on such issues, I happen to know a bunch of them — always end up with an algorithm that encodes and reproduces the biases from its training dataset. Since the training dataset is from society as it currently is, not how we would wish it to be, it will reproduce race-, ethnic-, gender- and all other inequities from the society that created it.

    Even if you insert a hard-stop rule into the algorithm, like that it may not use gender to determine salary, it will instead use the best proxy it can find for this. This usually quickly dissolves into the algorithm trying to find the best proxies for “white male, preferably playing golf or a number of other high barrier-to-entry sports”, people trying to curb this particular proxy, only to discover that the algorithm finds the next one.

    This tendency should surprise exactly no one that didn’t flunk (or ought to have flunk) intro to statistics in college. When you train a machine learning algorithm (“AI”) on a dataset, and you’re prohibiting it to use the primary predicator — and for salary this simply was “white male” for the last couple decades — for the outcomes, then it’ll simply discover all the dependent variables. One after another.

    People think this is a bug in the algorithm; it isn’t. It does exactly what you asked it to do.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I don’t disagree with any of this, but this isn’t necessarily an machine-learning algorithm. Algorithm is not synonymous with AI!

      1. Six for the truth over solace in lies*

        Yeah, my experience with the word “algorithm” in this context is the output of a weighted decision matrix or similar, not machine learning or generative. It’s interesting how quickly culture changes that several people are assuming AI!

    2. Parenthesis Guy*

      Most places are using an algorithm with concrete factors that aren’t clearly racist/sexist. For example, years of education, location, years of experience etc etc. These are factors that are clearly not meant to be discriminatory even though they could lead to discriminatory outcomes.

      1. r.*

        As far as algorithmic bias is concerned intent vs. outcome is a distinction without difference. An algorithm does not have an animus, hence it can only be judged by the outcomes it produces.

        Location, especially location of schooling (which for may people starting out into the workforce will likely be the same), can be hugely problematic; especially in the US, due to how school districts works.

        As for things like years of experience, a simple seniority table or seniority/job function/education matrix or anything else that is essentially a paper table lookup, except on a computer, doesn’t really classify as an algorithm. You can try to to market it as such, and people do try to, for example in an attempt to garner acceptance by presenting it as the result of sophisticated deliberation; but we don’t have to entertain this sort of putting on airs.

        1. bamcheeks*

          This sounds like you’re saying algorithms didn’t exist until a specific level of technological complexity appeared sometime in the last 5-50 years?

          1. r.*

            No, that’d be silly.

            Things like the Sieve of Eratosthenes, al-Kindi’s graphem frequency analysis, Gaussian elimination, Euclid’s algorithm and many more are hundreds if not thousands years old, and predate both things like Babbage’s Difference Engine or the foundational works of information theory.

            They are, however, all things that involve a certain minimum complexity, either involving the number of computational steps or the concepts needed to understand them. For example you can express Euclid’s algorithm in a single line using recursion.

            I’m aware that based on some definitions, basically *anything* is an algorithm. Thing is, in discussions like this using those definitions is not very useful.

            If one used those definitions, anything involving a seniority table, or year in rank, or different job classes (you can express the sorting as predicates and flowcharts; that’s an algorithm) would be algorithmic salary

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Hmm, I’d say that an algorithm’s designers do have animus, so the algorithm can be judged by both the designer’s intent (to create an unbiased/objective algorithm) and by the outcomes it produces (replicating the gender and racial bias of previously-used decision making processes). As you point out, thanks to housing segregation => school segregation, neighborhood/zip code is generally an accurate proxy for race and can thus be used for “colorblind” racial discrimination.

          I disagree with your definition of algorithm, though. An algorithm is merely a series of steps/process of doing things. A recipe for baking a cake is an algorithm. The method of calculating the volume of a sphere is an algorithm. It existed long before computers, and a table lookup definitely counts. I believe your definition better corresponds with machine learning, which is really only practical on computers with significant processing power.

  32. Properlike*

    LW1 – I absolutely understand where you’re coming from. It makes my blood boil too, this cultural assumption so often applied to women.

    I agree with those saying to use a version of “this IS my weekend!”

    But I also once had to school a PTO president who kept chasing me down to get me to volunteer for things, and finally was, “You can clip box tops at night! No meeting to go to!”

    “At night, I am working at home. That’s why I don’t come to meetings and I don’t volunteer. I have three jobs and two kids – there is no free time.”

    Now, your colleagues sound like they’re simply friendly. You can join in! “Yes, I’ll be jetting to Paris this ‘weekend.’” Get more outrageous each time with a different adventure. Bet they laugh, and appreciate your creativity and humor!

    1. Pizza Rat*

      I like the outrageous approach. It’s also a great way to imply it’s none of their business.

      1. Properlike*

        It’s not meant to imply that. It’s a way to give the opening of, “Yes, and if you believe that…” Her colleagues can join in. It may also provide an opening in the future for all of them to share some home details in a friendly way.

        1. Coffee Protein Drink*

          It certainly can imply it’s none of someone’s business. Saying something outrageous is effectively saying, “I’m not going to tell you what I’m doing.”

  33. Elsa*

    LW1, no matter what you do, don’t fall into the trap of getting competitive about whose life is harder. You’re not spending your time off work getting your nails done and eating brunch, but maybe some of your coworkers have equally heavy caregiving responsibilities and also work full time. It’s just not worth going down the road of comparing who has it tougher. And it can’t hurt to be glad that among the many responsibilities you have, the need to work full time is not one of them.

  34. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    #4 Lock up your files. Years ago I worked for a federal dept. Unsecured files left in the open, especially overnight would be confiscated by security doing their rounds. In order to get them back, your manager had to make the request and you had to explain why they weren’t properly secured. I had a high level security clearance at the time and losing it meant losing my job.

  35. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #4

    Without any additional information as to what the files contain and in what industry the LW works, there’s no way to say whether the boss would get in trouble if documents were left out and the department happened to be audited. What industry is this? Do these work orders contain non-public personal information of the company’s customers? Customer names and contact information? Account numbers? Also, why not just do what your boss asked? It seems pretty simple to put a few files away.

    I’m in the banking industry and we have a “clean desk” policy, which means documents containing sensitive information must be put away and locked up at the end of the day, or if you leave your desk for lunch or something. Our IT department does random information security sweeps and will send a memo to your manager stating the clean desk policy was not adhered to. Depending how often someone is caught, there can be disciplinary action. Anything from a discussion, up to and including termination.

    1. Observer*

      Also, why not just do what your boss asked? It seems pretty simple to put a few files away.

      This is what is really pinging my radar. I think that the people who say that something more is going on are right. Because on the one hand the boss does not NEED and “excuse”. And on the other this seems like such a ridiculous thing to push back on.

  36. Irish Teacher.*

    LW1, I don’t see anything to assume your colleagues think you a lady of leisure. Those are the sort of comments we often make at work when somebody has time off for any reasons. Last year, my timetable worked so that I finished at 12:05 on a Monday if I didn’t have to cover for absent colleagues and people would make comments like “are you done already?” “nice for you,” etc. All in a friendly joking way, simply saying it was nice to finish that early.

    I had the same timetable, hours-wise, as everybody else, just had a number of free classes and cover classes grouped together nicely, so it wasn’t like they thought I was working less than them.

    I think those are fairly normal things to say. They are just “small talk,” being friendly. I don’t see any indication that there is any criticism or anything implied. I’d take it more as “you’re lucky to be getting out of this place” rather than “you’re lucky to have nothing to do for the rest of the week.”

    I really doubt it implies they think you are rich. I doubt they are even thinking about you having a kid at the school or how you are dressed or anything like that. I’d be surprised if any of those things were relevant. I suspect all they are thinking is “somebody is finished for the week. I wish I was.”

    I can see it would be frustrating when going home doesn’t feel like a break for you. Maybe just banter back with something like “oh, I’ve plenty to do for the rest of the week. No rest for the wicked!” or something like that. Or “oh, I’ve a freelance job besides, so will be pretty busy.”

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah I cannot make out whether OP truly thinks she is getting side-eye for being affluent (which is an interpretation I find a bit baffling – none of the comments mention wealth/money at all and are not in the slightest bit snarky or negative), or if OP is unsure of how to respond without splurting out every intimate detail of her life. They are just pleasantries though! They are are just very commonplace, tongue-in-cheek workplace sentiments of ‘everywhere else is better than here’. You receive them in the same way you receive “how are you?” and you say ‘good’ even thought you are not. It doesn’t mean ‘tell us everything’ and it is not literal, it’s just one human warmly acknowledging the movement of another human from their space. If I as OP wanted to give a more sincere response/impression of reality, I would just say “Hah, I wish!” or “My freelance job/kids have other ideas!” Or ” I am actually going to try and have a real weekend! Thanks for the idea!” But if OP just wants to close the “How are you?” loop with something like “good, thanks”, the equivalent is just “Yeah, I am so outta here – see you Monday”. Nobody really believes they know anything about your life if you accept a jokey pleasantry.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        My impression is that the LW feels a bit guilty? or at least like she will be judged, for sending her kid to a private school and is reading their reactions in line with that.

        LW1, if this is true, you made the choice that you felt right for your child. Yeah, there are people who will have opinions about private education, but…I doubt somebody saying that it is nice to work a two-day week is even thinking about your child.

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah, I imagine the OP feels like people are thinking ‘Her kids go to this school and she only works a couple of days a week? Must be one of those ladies-who-lunch doing her little reception job for a bit of pin money’. But that’s most likely all coming from the OP’s own brain, not from anything anyone’s actually doing or saying! I agree that the comments are probably just people’s attempt at small talk – the same as they’d say ‘Ugh, Monday, right?’ or ‘I wish it was Friday already!’ or whatever. I doubt anyone is trying to comment on the OP’s perceived level of wealth or privilege.

    2. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

      We’re invited to take writers at their word here. If #1 feels the remarks are implying something, we’re supposed to respond to that.

      1. blue rose*

        Yeah, but LW 1 wasn’t saying “My coworkers are implying something,” they were asking “Are my coworkers implying something?” A lot of comments are responding to that, with “No, your coworkers are likely not implying something.”

          1. blue rose*

            Yeah, but in the context of asking for a second opinion/gut check. From the letter:

            “Do they think I’m this woman of leisure? If it matters, [context the coworkers don’t know].”

            “I know I’m taking it too personally, right?”

            LW has feelings about the situation at work (and about the the whole lot of the rest of non-work life, really) and wrote in to ask the impartial outsider/expert (Alison) if her perception of the situation was accurate and based in reality. Loads of letters ask along the same lines of “[Thing] happened at work, is this okay/legal/normal?” Sometimes Alison advises the LW that it’s a bad situation and to get out; today she advised this is a normal situation and here are some hopefully helpful scripts for navigating it.

  37. melissa*

    I am, to be honest, a lady of leisure. And I work in a blue-collar field where that is very much not the norm, and quite stigmatized. I work part time because I enjoy the work and it makes me feel like I’m contributing to society. And yes— when I started, some of my coworkers had Questions. “So you work somewhere else too, right?” (No.) “Wow… what does your husband do?” “So you ONLY work two days? That’s all?”

    The thing is though, I am a good worker. I’m also a good coworker, and I do things like switch shifts when people need it and help with workload. So it didn’t take long for me to win their respect— I don’t act like a princess; I’m a hard worker. I have a good relationship with my coworkers because what matters at the end of the day is that I pull my weight.

    You can explain your circumstances if you want to, but you definitely don’t need to. Let people assume what they please— because it also wouldn’t be a character flaw if you were wealthy! Just work hard, be friendly, and let the chips fall.

    1. Hyaline*

      This is a very good point–it’s not a character flaw to be wealthy, and frankly unless you’re pulling someone’s tax returns, it’s all guessing about others’ financial status in the end to some degree! I can get how it’s uncomfortable to realize people may assume things about you that aren’t correct, but we all do it all the time in a benign, nonjudgy way.

    2. Observer*

      You can explain your circumstances if you want to, but you definitely don’t need to. Let people assume what they please— because it also wouldn’t be a character flaw if you were wealthy! Just work hard, be friendly, and let the chips fall.

      So much this!

      It really bears repeating.

  38. Girl, get some sleep!*

    I’m surprised we’re glossing over the fact that LW1 only gets 4-5 hours of sleep a night! This is definitely affecting your perceptions, LW! You are exhausted, and for good reason! It sounds like you’re in a really hard season of life. Do you have to freelance to survive? I’d look at trying to find ways to get more sleep, if at all possible. Once that’s fixed this annoyance may not seem so bad.

    Sending you all the positive vibes, LW.

    1. DJ Abbott*

      Seconding – I had poor/not enough sleep for decades, and ended up getting sick from it. The shut down reinforced how important sleep is – that’s the only time I’ve had eight hours sleep consistently for months, and it made a big difference.
      It’s worth the trouble to arrange your life so you get enough sleep. If at all possible, try to get at least seven hours most nights. Can you get by with less freelance work, or can your husband do more, at least when he’s home? You will be better able to take care of yourself and your children.
      Good luck!

      1. Properlike*

        It seems that LW1 is doing their best. This isn’t her bragging, it’s her giving context to how “unleisurely” her life is outside of this job.

        Telling someone in these circumstances to sleep more is not helpful.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          No, I’ll wait till she gets sick before I say anything. /s
          It may take some effort and some thinking outside the box but there probably are ways she can get more sleep, and I am encouraging her to look for them. Every time I have needed to change something that seemed unchangeable, I was able to figure out a way. It can take a few weeks or a few months to figure it out, but in this case it’s worth doing.

  39. AmuseBouchee*

    I recently started (august will be a year) a career in teaching. I am just a building substitute at an arts school now, as I figure out what I want to do. I’m 40. This was a career change. At first, going from a more labor heavy career, the down time and sitting was a shock to my system. But I have realized and accepted and grown to love my job where I am not always on the move (sometimes I am, it’s a performing arts school with tons of dances classes!)

    Do not say that your job is easy. Start mentioning little bits about your life outside of work, but without any judgement or assumptions about what others may think of you. I’m sure some of the teachers I work with assume I am a lady of leisure, but who cares what they think? I am not. However, given the chance to not work or be a “lady of leisure,” I would definitely take my money and relax in the sun somewhere! Even with everyone’s assumptions about what leisure means to women in these comments. LOL

  40. Al*

    Re LW5, have lived this one. My bet is that the “software” did nothing wrong as it doesn’t make decisions. Rather, the HR rep who input her new-employee data entered the date incorrectly (mistakes happen) . Making a fast out-of-cycle change would shine the spotlight on that error—the HR rep is trying to avoid that. Elevate immediately.

    1. Lw 5*

      I agree, I would not be surprised if our hiring specialist messed up. I have another student who was deleted from the system three times this summer. I did tell the head of HR that I believe the hiring specialist made a mistake, but I never heard anything back from her.

  41. TX_Trucker*

    #2. My local government also uses a salary algorithm with no negotiation. They also post job listings with a huge salary range. However, they have a much narrower hiring range. The hiring range is not secret and they will tell you if you ask. But for infrequently filled positions, they may not yet know the number. For them, it’s a complicated manual process that reviews the salary and qualifications for everyone they currently employ with that job title.

  42. But maybe not*

    The question is #2 intrigues me. Ostensibly, if it’s decided by a machine, you could find out very early on in the process what the offer would be, yes? It wouldn’t make any difference to the machine if you were someone’s cousin or you shared a favorite band or you graduated from the same program. If the phone screen asks questions that help determine the potential offer, I’d love to know it at that point and self select out if it wasn’t high enough. It would save everyone time.

    1. Florence Reece*

      I’ve worked at companies with fixed salary bands like this before and it’s not quite what you’re imagining. The “algorithm” isn’t a literal machine spitting out a number; it’s a consistent set of metrics that are applied to each salary band, mostly looking at relevant work experience. (And yes, excluding personal metrics like who you know or what you like.) HR compares the candidate to those metrics, and to employees who have similar work experience in that role/team. There’s usually some pre-defined wiggle room to make sure they don’t lose out on good candidates, and with every job offer I’ve received in those cases, I was asked if there was any other relevant experience that wasn’t on my resume that they should add to the calculation.

      All that to say: in theory, yes, you *could* at least estimate the expected salary offer early in the process. But in reality, it does take some time to generate, and HR is not going to do that for every candidate at the phone screen level. They’re more likely to check into it after a successful full interview, but it’s unlikely that they would offer to do that — it would be a courtesy for a strong candidate that they want to keep interested, and only if asked.

      I will say that I’ve been very happy with the “algorithmic” salary bands, in general. I do think they promote equity, and on a personal level they relieve a ton of my stress both as an employee and when I was in management. The issue with OP2 is that the band in this case is way, way too broad. As others have mentioned, this really should be split into two or maybe three positions with distinct salary bands.

      However, the companies that do this tend to be (IME) super bureaucratic lol. The entire concept of the fixed salary is bureaucratic. With that context, I imagine what’s happened here is that they hope to get a rare, highly-experienced candidate, but they know that they’re much more likely to get strong mid-career candidates. Ideally they would post two different positions…but they likely have only been approved for one. Because posting a position is also highly bureaucratic. At my old company, I had to pitch a proposal to three different levels of committees to backfill my own position after a promotion. Each position has to be budgeted out, too, so if they only need one new team member, they can’t (internally) afford to post two jobs.

      It’s still bad practice — they should just post the position they think is likely to be filled, or go all in on recruiting for the higher-level role. But it sounds like they’re otherwise a good company, and in general the fixed salary thing is a good practice. If I were OP, I would apply and assume I’m falling in the first ~$20-30k part of that range unless my experience is more than they’re asking for.

  43. A Book about Metals*

    I’m sure OP 1’s colleagues know there’s a tuition break for employees, so they’ve probably already figured out you’re not wealthy if you’re working there in the first place.

    Either way seems like nothing really to worry about though

  44. Ghee Buttersnaps*

    I used to have every Friday off to be able to spend more time with my kids, and my go-to response to that weekly comment was, “yup, I’m off to job #2!” Seemed to get the point across.

  45. Poison I.V. drip*

    LW1 has given me an idea for a zany comedy movie about a woman who pretends to be an heiress who has to work in order to receive her inheritance but actually she’s middle class and is constantly worried about being found out.

  46. MicroManagered*

    Every Tuesday, before I leave for the week, several people wave to me and say, “Enjoy your LONNNNNNNNG weekend!” or “Gosh, I wish it was MY Friday too.” At first I just laughed it off, but it’s been almost a year, and it’s every week. It’s getting old.

    OP1, with kindness, I think the best thing you can do is get over it. They’re not accusing you or making assumptions about anything… people in offices just say the same corny things to each other on repeat and it WILL make you look wildly out of touch if you personalize it. They just wish it was Friday.

    1. londonedit*

      I agree – it’s like how we British people have a reputation for always talking about the weather, because there’s always an easy go-to comment/question in a small-talk situation in ‘Can you believe it’s raining again?’ or ‘Summer? I’m sure it was warmer at Christmas!’ It’s low-stakes and it sets up a culturally agreed pattern of conversation – ‘Can you believe it’s raining again?’ ‘Oh, I know! Can’t remember the last time we had two dry days in a row!’ ‘Ha – nice weather for ducks, eh!’ ‘Ha – yes! Well, see you Monday…’ – that leaves both parties feeling like they’ve participated in a successful human interaction. Same with these comments at work – ‘Pah, I wish it was Friday already!’ is another stock phrase where everyone knows the response is something like ‘Oh, I know – can’t wait for the weekend! Enjoy it when it does arrive!’ and you’re then allowed to exit the conversation/room with all social obligations fulfilled. It’s extremely unlikely that the OP’s colleagues mean anything personal – they’re probably not fully aware that they’re making these comments on a regular basis. They’re just phrases that you say because it’s what you say.

  47. Hyaline*

    LW1, I think you’re letting your anxiety about being judged by your coworkers get in the way of trusting your colleague’s common sense and powers of observation. For one, they’re probably well aware that a decent number of students at the school are not from wealthy families but are in similar situations to your kid, even if they don’t know specifics. For another, I doubt they would assume that someone who lived a “life of leisure” would take a part time receptionist gig for…funsies. And as you said, you’re not living a flashy lifestyle in terms of the clothing and car that they certainly see, and other hints they might pick up from conversation (your vacation to visit family instead of a cruise on your private yacht, your kids’ baseball practice instead of expensive private lessons, whatever). This sounds like benign office banter, nothing more! Trust your colleagues not to be judgy mcjudgerpants.

  48. JTP*

    RE: #4 — I’ve worked for a few financial services companies, and all have had a “clean desk” policy. Nothing can be left on your desk when you’re not there, other than screens, keyboard, mouse, pen holder, etc. If you step away from your computer, you have to lock your screen. One violation requires security re-training. I’m not sure where it escalates from there, but it ends at “up to and including termination.”

  49. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

    OP1 #1 I would like to offer a slightly dissenting opinion from Alison and most of the other commenters.
    A serious illness last year left me with nerve damage, and it means I come in to work late 1-2 days per week. A few months ago, a pair of catty admins started saying, “ooh she stopped for a latte,” and “I wish I could come in late.”
    I finally walked up to one of them and quietly said, “I know you wish you could come in late. I wish I didn’t have to use my PTO to cover waking up with searing pain in my face. It really sucks. Could you do me a favor and stop bringing it up?”

    Yes I rehearsed it. And, LW1, they turned on a dime. First they left me alone for weeks, and now they’re quietly pleasant. I’m not saying you have to disclose everything about your kid, but consider the power of letting these jerks know that they don’t know everything about your life.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to assume they are jerks or are being catty though. I guess they could be, depending on the tone and the LW has heard that, so it’s possible she’s heard something, but there is a good chance they are just being friendly and aren’t assuming anything at all about her life, other than…that she works part-time.

      1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

        @Irish Teacher. I hear you, but we’re two people who have received those comments and perceived there to be SOMETHING off about them. Can you trust our interpretation, instead of suggesting that Occam’s Big Paisley Tie is at play here?

      2. Lana Kane*

        I have to disagree – “I wish I could come in late” is absolutely a dig. And at least in the US, the “stopped for a latte” thing is also usually used in a snarky way to imply a lack of urgency. (I mean, unless someone asks where Jane is and the response is truly that she stopped for a latte!)

        1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

          @Lana especially when my “latte” was in a reusable silicone cup from home. Trust me, I’ve known them for like 9 years, they’re petty.

        2. Irish Teacher.*

          Oh, I agree that it sounds as if Raisin Walking to the Moon’s colleagues were making digs. They do sound as if they were being jerks and clearly Raisin Walking to the Moon knows them and says they were, so I believe her.

          But the LW said nothing to suggest her colleagues were being jerks and the tone doesn’t seem at all similar. I don’t think it’s really fair to assume the LW’s colleagues must be jerks because Raisin Walking to the Moon’s were.

    2. Dances with Flax*

      Yes, my take on that letter was similar; there’s some (not so) passive aggression and resentfulness on the part of LW1’s colleagues who are working 5 days a week and who perceive LW1 to indeed be a lady of leisure akin to Sondheim’s “ladies who lunch”. If LW1 shared something of what her life is actually like, the slightly snarky cracks might very well stop.

      1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

        Exactly @Dances with Flax. In general I’m just pretty bored with polite people letting jerks get away with it in the name of “taking the high road” or whatever.

  50. EA*

    LW1, I know what it’s like to be the middle class family at the affluent private school, but the best thing you can do is just live your live and your truth without trying to explain or defend yourself. People will assume things, but who cares? It’s a good model for your child, too – it can be hard not being wealthy in an ultra-rich environment, even when you have everything you need and are solidly middle class. I vividly remember asking my parents why we just drove to see my grandparents when many of my friends were jetting off to France and the Bahamas for spring break. Not sure what age your kid is, but it can be hard to process and hard for the parents who are working so hard to pay the tuition.

  51. Hyaline*

    LW5: Prefacing by saying the student deserves to get paid, no matter what, and you should encourage and help the student do that. But–since this is a student worker in a university, it’s setting off some alarm bells for me that the the “software issue” of inputting a start date might be more difficult than just oooops wrong start date. It’s not uncommon for student workers to be hired on semesterly basis, on contracts related to tuition and other fee reimbursements. Even if THIS student wasn’t getting those benefits–just getting paid–they might have to be run through that system. So the question may not be “the student had the wrong start date in the system” but “the student wasn’t actually hired for Summer Session 1 and we can’t create a contract for time that passed already.” And then to make it more fun, it might start to get into what pot of money the student would have been paid out of because universities love complicating who’s getting paid from what budget and which grant. So while YES the student deserves to get paid, the way you can perhaps best help is getting a full and complete explanation of how this system works (when it works), what the problem is, how the student should have been properly inputted into the system, and what happened instead, which may take the patience of a saint–but if you don’t, it might be hard to get someone else invested enough to do so and they may chase their tails demanding the right solution to the wrong problem. (yes, the student’s union should but I’ve personally had less than stellar experiences with campus unions actually being able to follow through, so…thank you for being her advocate).

    1. Lw 5*

      Great point! Thank you so much for bringing this up, universities hirings are a little strange.

      We did send her a contract, but my impression from HR is that when we entered it in their software, it got overruled or deleted somehow, because we also hired her for this fall.

    2. Observer*

      But–since this is a student worker in a university, it’s setting off some alarm bells for me that the the “software issue” of inputting a start date might be more difficult than just oooops wrong start date.

      This is probably true. And your fuller explanation of the possibilities is excellent. But the bottom line is that there is *always* a way to deal with stuff like this *if someone chooses to.* and HR *chose* not to. And I am pretty sure that the reason was not all of this stuff you explained but that they could not be bothered.

      Because the LW was not asking for a resolution to the “wrong” problem. The problem that they were / are looking for resolution to is not the software or the system, but the lack aof timely payment. The causes essentially don’t matter. It needed to be fixed and HR needs to figure out how to prevent these things, and how to fix them more timely when they happen.

  52. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#2, There is no such thing as non-negotiable. Even rigid algorithms can be negotiated by including additional inputs. For example, does my summer volunteer work in high school sorting hazardous waste at the dump count “experience in the field” for work as a chemist? Probably not, but you can ask to include them in the algorithm. Algorithms are always gameable and the person can game it in your favor if they want to close the deal.

    “We don’t negotiate” is a textbook negotiation strategy.

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

      Not necessarily. Maybe some fields this would work but not all. For example, in higher education (at least in public university) there is no negotiating. You either meet the criteria or not and there is a set amount for the position. Adding extra inputs about summer work in high school 15 years ago is not going to help, and most likely will not even be considered (as most things before college are not considered unless you are fresh out of college). The only negotiating might be for the very high positions like chancellor or provost or something.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        what? I’m in the sciences, but everything about the start-up package was negotiable at every public university I’ve been.

  53. bamcheeks*

    LW2’s letter looks like a great example of perceived control / optimism bias. As far as I can see, this algorithm/no negotiation thing is immaterial: the problem here is the huge range, and not knowing whether you’re applying for a job which is offering to pay you $150k or $220. You’d have exactly the same problem if there was a big range and where you fell was determined by an offer and negotiation. But lots of people will feel more optimistic with a big range + negotiation because it feels like something they can control, versus an algorithm or process that they can’t.

    1. Czhorat*

      Well, there IS more control if there’s not a fixed algorithm; if you need/expect/deserve a salary of $200K and are offered $160 you can make the argument to the interviewer, explain why you think the higher salary would fit. Maybe you end up settling somewhere in between, in which they give you more than they usually would at your experience level but less than you really want. If it’s pure algorithm the only choice is take it or leave it.

      On the other hand, I CAN see the value of algorithm-based salary in removing bias. If there’s negotiation there always is a possibility that unconscious (or conscious!) biases will push certain candidates higher based on identity factors that have little to do with the business case for paying them more. If everyone with X years experience and Y level of certifications gets Z salary that removes the chance for the hiring managers’ biases to have effect.

      1. bamcheeks*

        This comment is a perfect example of what I mean! “Maybe you end up settling somewhere in between, in which they give you more than they usually would at your experience level but less than you really want” — that’s one possibility, but so is that you try to negotiate and the number they come back with still isn’t satisfactory, or that the original number they offer is so far off your preferred number that your preferred number sounds ridiculous, and any of these could be lower than the number that the algorithm suggests. You’ve suggested a scenario in which being able to negotiate is better, and none of the ones in which it’s actually worse. Is that because you think you’d end up with a higher number, or just that you’ll feel more satisfied even with a lower number because you’d feel you had some control over it?

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        There is no such thing as an ungameable algorithm. So I really question if algorithms remove bias.

        Also, “our salaries are set by an algorithm” is a lie told by many people to discourage negotiation. So savvy candidates are going to negotiate anyway.

        Also, “Salary is not negotiable” is a negotiating tactic.

    2. A Book about Metals*

      The range is just what’s listed in the job posting though. Presumably if you get into a phone screen you can ask what’s the criteria for slotting someone in. If I didn’t have that info after the first call I’d be put off, but if somewhere in that range fits with LW’s salary requirements, why not apply and go from there?

  54. Middle Class Private Graduate*

    Re: 1 – LW, you don’t need to explain why your kid is at an “elite private school”! As someone who also went to that sort of school while from a middle-income family, my own defensiveness about it was way worse than anything else (and is still something I’m unpacking today). We don’t need to know anything, and it isn’t any more or less acceptable for your child to attend based on mental health than any other factor (like wanting to take advantage of an academic program, etc). It sounds like you both are enjoying the school! That’s awesome!

    1. Learn ALL the things?*

      I do feel like this may be playing a role in LW’s reactions here. They feel like their family are meaningfully different from the other families at the school, and when you feel like the weirdo outsider, it can make you feel a lot more sensitive and worry that people are speculating about you when they’re probably not.

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

        The thing is the OP’s coworkers probably understand that she is not a “lady of leisure” Isn’t it pretty common to work at these types of schools for the tuition decrease. I’m afraid the OP is thinking way to much, and she is probably over worked with everything.

  55. Nancy*

    LW1: It’s small talk, no one is thinking that much about you at all.

    Also, they know people who work there get tuition remission, and it’s usually not the affluent parents taking the jobs for the discount.

    LW4: yes, if audited not having files properly stored could come up as an issue. Even if it wasn’t, put them away like your boss asked.

  56. JTA*

    LW2 – Non-negotiable algorithms with wide pay bands are the norm where I work in education. The same teaching position can be filled by someone with no experience and a BA working toward licensure or someone with the highest licensure, a doctorate, and 30 years experience. A quick Google search will show the basics of the formula and help you see approximately where you would land. Just noting that this is the norm for some industries, not necessarily yours.

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

      I wonder if the OP could email HR and ask for the how the calculate the formula? I know often in education (especially public) that it is out on the website someplace. But if this is a private firm I wonder if it’s not published publicly. Which I think they should have given people when they apply, or at least when they go for an interview.

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

    #4 As Alison said, it is possible to get in trouble for files left out. Heck, your company could just have a clean desk policy where no paper, folders, etc should be visible on the desktop.

    You say you “would just like to know if we would get in trouble if we were suddenly randomly audited and work order files were found outside of the cabinet.” If you are at your desk and are working on a stack of files and get audited you are likely not going to get in trouble, because you are actively working. But if you leave your desk or if you have your own office and leave and don’t lock the door, then you could be in trouble because the files are left in the open.

    A good rule is if you have a stack of files and you don’t get to them all when you leave just put them in your filing cabinet. If you don’t have one ask your boss if you can get something so that this doesn’t happen again.

  58. A Book about Metals*

    I don’t have specific advice for #3, but I’d imagine that someone taking these levels of precaution at this point in time would have experience navigating these type of situations in other settings, so maybe just say what you would if this were say a group dinner invite.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      While it wasn’t a dinner invitation, we recently had upper level managers from our corporate HQ visit our branch office (about 20 people on site), and there was a catered lunch provided one day. I’m also still masking, and not eating indoors around large groups. I ducked outside to eat my own lunch shortly before the catered meal began, then rejoined the main group while they ate. (I did have a drink with a straw that I could tuck under my mask.)

      Depending on the importance of meeting this client and the group dynamics in general, maybe something similar could work for #3? Eat ahead of time, then join the group but don’t order or only order a drink. (It definitely depends on group dynamics, though. Some people will be pleased you came regardless, while others will be horribly distracted.)

      1. RC*

        Yup, I’ve done variations on this (eat beforehand; sit and socialize and eat after; bring a glass container, fill it up, run outside to scarf it down, return for masked socializing). Depending on the group some people still can Be Weird About It (because everyone hates being reminded that COVID is still a thing) so I understand not wanting to attend. Depends how important the socializing is, professionally, but it sounds like if she had to beg off with e.g. family commitments in the evening that wouldn’t be the end of the world.

  59. Parenthesis Guy*

    “But a range this big? Whether negotiation is possible or not, they need to explain what skills and experience would get you placed where in that range (and the larger the range, the more important that is). Clearly they know because they’ve programmed their algorithm with it.”

    I remember once applying to a large company that did something like this. In general, they used your skills/experience to determine which level you’d be hired at. If you could do x, y and z, you might be a Llama Herder III which would rank as an L4. Likewise, a Marketing Analyst II might also be an L4 as might be a Customer Service Manager III. Your skills, experience and responsibility determined your level.

    Inside the level, there was also a huge range for each role. There were algorithms to determine what you’d be offered based on location, education level, years of experience, total number of reports, etc etc. They could tell you down to the penny what you’d get, despite the large range.

    It isn’t necessarily a skill thing, but rather other factors. Could be that they should be willing to provide that info on their website, but most places make that proprietary. Even if it’s probably floating around somewhere.

  60. Just me*

    To the person being covid precautious: Your health is way more important than any dinner. If you don’t feel comfortable being there then tell them that you can’t take that kind of risk in an ongoing pandemic.

  61. WantonSeedStitch*

    LW #1: unless your coworkers’ assumptions about your wealth are leading them to, say, ask you to pony up money you can’t afford or say really crass things about money in your presence, why does it matter how much money they think you have? But Alison’s right–they’re probably not even thinking about it.

    LW #4: data protection and privacy are a big deal. If you have, say, files with financial information from clients (canceled checks or whatever), and you leave that laying around, it’s a problem. Even if all the files contain is completely innocuous information that is not stuff that needs protecting, your boss has asked you not to leave them laying around. Is that such a big deal that you need to challenge her on it?

  62. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    OP1 I used to work 9-4 and I’d get people saying “have a nice afternoon”. I would tell them, “oh now the challenging part of the day is just about to start. First, a stressful journey because I can’t afford to be even a minute late, then I pick the kids up, don’t know what state they’ll be in, but there’ll be things I need to read and sign, homework to supervise while I’m getting some cleaning done, then the kids get to play while I cook dinner, then after dinner it’s bath and bedtime and come about 9.00pm they’ll both be in bed asleep and I can have some me-time, if I haven’t fallen asleep with the kids”

    And when I left on Thursday (not working on Friday) they were always jealous, but when I pointed out that they too could negotiate to do the same amount of work in four days instead of five, and not be paid for the fifth, suddenly they preferred their 5-day contracts. (I was more productive than those working full-time, but I just regularly exceeded expectations, I wasn’t actually expected to be more productive).

    I was very upfront about the fact that if I wasn’t full-time it was because it wasn’t worth me working full-time, I wasn’t paid enough to make it worth it.

    In your situation I would be upfront that I need the discount off the tuition fees because money is really tight. Anyone who looks down on you is a snob so you’re not losing out of any decent friendships.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Why on earth would you respond to friendly small talk from your co-workers with this kind of extended lament about your circumstances?

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Because, as with OP, the undercurrent was “look at her, off to enjoy the sunshine while we’re still slaving away”

        1. Lucia Pacciola*

          There is no undercurrent. It’s a cliched bit of workplace banter, that comes out whenever one co-worker leaves earlier than another.

        2. We’re Six*

          I really doubt the undercurrent was that. Your response though reminds me of a relative who was been both a SAHM and a working mother (with a spouse who works too).
          And the way she tells it, apparently no one else in the history of the world has ever done this before, ever. No one else can empathize with either situation or know how hard it is.

          Spoiler: she’s very difficult to be around for exactly this reason (and others) because it comes off as VERY self-centered. And if the LW were to adopt this attitude it would be a great way to alienate her coworkers altogether!!

    2. HR Friend*

      This is literally what every parent does, whether they leave at 4:00 or not. If you really said all of that to people as a response to “have a nice afternoon,” it’s kinda out of touch and over the top.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        No because, as with OP, the undercurrent was “look at her, off to enjoy the sunshine while we’re still slaving away”

        1. Glomarization, Esq.*

          You truly don’t think that the undercurrent isn’t simply, “The workday has ended and we’re on our way out the door, so I should say something in a dozen words or less to mark it and be friendly with my co-worker, so how about wishing them a nice afternoon”?

          Honest question, do you find that you have generally gotten along with your co-workers across your working life, or that your work relationships have been, on balance, negative? Like, how did that actually work out for you when you responded that way to someone who just said, “Have a nice afternoon”?

        2. Maggie*

          What response are you hoping to get? “Ok it sounds like your life sucks apparently so I guess have a bad night”

          1. HR Friend*

            Right?! And if OP is set on over-explaining her evening to her coworkers, couldn’t this possibly be said in a more positive way? I have an identical afterwork routine and it’s the best part of my day. “Now the real challenge begins!” isn’t at all how I’d frame hanging out with my kids after school and light housework.

            1. Alianora*

              Yeah, this makes it sound like it’s impossible to have a nice afternoon because she’s spending time with her kids.

              I’m sure the coworkers are aware she’s probably spending the afternoon parenting. “Have a nice day” is about the most innocuous, most generic thing you could say as a goodbye.

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        And none of my colleagues were parents. They were all fresh-faced youngsters straight out of uni.

        1. HR Friend*

          It doesn’t matter? Picking up your kids and hanging out at home with them while making dinner is a very typical post-work day. It’s just not worthy of this long woe-is-me soliloquy, no matter the audience. Why the need to prove how hard your evenings are? Even if they were more stressful than the average person’s, which they’re not, just say “thanks”.

          And btw most people have a “5:00-9:00” whether or not they have kids. Just bc they’re a bunch of 20-somethings doesn’t mean they’re lounging poolside with cocktails every day after work. So it is out of touch to be like, “I have responsibilities!!!” as if no one else does.

        2. Nancy*

          “fresh-faced youngsters” and others who are single/have no kids have responsibilities too. ‘Have a nice afternoon’ means nothing more than what they said. It’s banal small talk, they didn’t care about what you did in the evening.

          Anyone who works at a school is aware of the discounts and knows that parents who work there are getting that discount for their kid.

        3. We’re Six*

          I’m about to turn 41, no kids, single. And have always had after-work responsibilities since I graduated and was working full time. Including caretaking responsibilities (ie family members). If you noticed any kind of attitude from your coworkers in the past, it wasn’t because of your “special” 4-day workweek— it’s because they were picking up on the fact that you were being really ducking judgmental for no reason.

    3. Tippy*

      why on earth is this so needlessly hostile? just because your coworkers are “fresh faced” and just out of school doesn’t mean they don’t have responsibilities and obligations themselves.

    4. takeachip*

      ” I was very upfront about the fact that if I wasn’t full-time it was because it wasn’t worth me working full-time, I wasn’t paid enough to make it worth it.” Do you think being so in-your-face about your economic circumstances just might’ve contributed to any jealousy you felt from coworkers who didn’t have the same option to reduce their working hours? Because it sounds very much like you were flaunting your freedom to choose a 4 day schedule.

      OP I doubt your coworkers think you’re a “lady of leisure” but to be honest, yes, there is a perceived status difference between those who can seemingly afford to work part time and those who know they can’t. Your life outside of work does sound taxing, and I would wager that some of your coworkers have an equally full plate, on top of a 40 hour week. You can’t change their circumstances and even if you gave them an explanation of yours, it wouldn’t change the fact that you are walking out the door when they still have 3 full days left to put in.

      1. petpet*

        For someone who “can’t afford to be even a minute late,” she sure has time to explain at length just how very rushed and busy she is!

    5. Winter*

      I – do all of that exactly, including driving and picking up kids from after school activities and I finish work at 5.30, sometimes 6. It would be a lot easier if I finished at 4 but that’s not an option. So your long, defensive response to what sounds like mild teasing at best would I guess save you from any further workplace pleasantries. Well done.

    6. Jellybeans*

      Seriously, you respond to small talk with a novel-length angry rant that boils down to “I have to do standard parent stuff”?

  63. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    LW #1, I feel you! I think a lot of people are conditioned to think of jobs outside the home as “work” and everything else as being necessarily less strenuous when in reality (as you yourself experience), the balance can be very different. It’s not wrong to be bothered by this, but it might bother you less if you were able to find an outlet where you could vent about how stressful the rest of it all really is — it might counteract how minimizing these comments can feel. (But again, perfectly normal and human to find this irritating!)

    In my early 20s, when I was working four different gig-based jobs to stitch an income together, one of the people I babysat for would always ask me if I had any fun plans for the weekend, no matter how many times I answered that I was working through it. It irritated me deeply, even though for him it was just standard small talk.

  64. Stuart Foote*

    I am confused that LW#3 is sufficiently covid cautious to use a mask when not eating and air purifier, but would take off the mask to eat. If someone at this dinner (or at a nearby table) is covid positive then the precautions LW is taking wouldn’t make any difference given the eating exposure. So in my opinion LW should either relax her precautions for the dinner and accept there is a chance of getting covid, or just say no and remove the risk, but not bother with half measures that mean all the inconvenience with all the risk.

    1. #3*

      #3 speaking — in my personal life I wouldn’t do this half-measure. However the level of social incentive in work settings can mean taking half-measures to please others.

      1. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

        Why would you risk your health and life just to please others? And if your work colleagues don’t understand your health condition and your immunocompromised status that’s in them, not you. If it were me and I felt I’d have to be present, I’d keep the mask on the whole time.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Stuart Foote is not suggesting that OP risks their life. He’s saying there’s no point to the half-measure of masking unless eating. And suggesting not going rather than masking the whole time.
          Masking the whole time is indeed another possibility but it would be pretty awkward to attend a dinner without eating a thing. I would feel uncomfortable if a masked person were sitting opposite me watching me eat.

      2. Another Use of the Identify Spell*

        Could this be a chance to encourage better precautions all around, pitched as caring for the clients? Then tell the clients “We place several small air purifiers around our dinner table to ensure the health and comfort of everyone attending.” Now your company is going the extra mile to pamper them with the very air they breathe!

        Adapt that to anything else using the same theme. And maybe there’s a client who prefers to be cautious but fears *their* employer will frown on them skipping. Maybe someone is tired of their kids bringing home germs and will appreciate the lowered risk. Maybe (more of a stretch but not impossible) someone will pick up these ideas and apply them to their own professional and/or personal interactions.

        If there really isn’t a level of precautions that would make you OK with this, it’s obviously fine to skip. If they have a problem with you protecting your health, especially when you already have other issues, that is obviously a them problem and I wish you luck in finding the rare bird of a company that still takes it seriously.

        1. Nick*

          I’m sorry to say this but placing little air purifiers around the table at a restaurant for the “health and comfort of everyone attending” in Summer of 2024 is going to come off as neurotic. Frankly I doubt that they would actually do anything to prevent the spread of COVID in that big of a space anyways.

          1. RC*

            I think that depends on the size and type of the air cleaners and their ACH. And how people are sitting/how close together. It’s all about minimizing dose (so the amount of virus you do inhale is <an infectious dose), and I wish more people understood how air works and the things we should do to keep people healthy.

            I don’t eat indoors with anyone nowadays, but also I’m a slow eater i.e. lots of breathing during that process. I have practiced breath control and taken bites/sips between breaths when on air travel, but I think that would be more distracting in this context. I think making an excuse to not attend (or explaining matter of factly to your boss) is likely the best option (or sitting and socializing and eating before/afterwards; depends on how intolerant the people in question are).

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      Honestly, I think the LW should do whatever she and her doctor or other medical advisors believe is safest for her health. And honestly, wearing a mask isn’t really an inconvenience. It doesn’t really make any difference to one’s life. But even if it were, she is the best person to decide whether or not to wear it, obviously taking into account any advice from medical professionals.

    3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      I wouldn’t take that risk myself, but masking except when eating, and using a portable air purifier, means LW wouldn’t be at risk if someone with covid came into the restaurant after they had eaten.

      More generally, longer exposures increase the risk of getting sick, and so does being closer to someone infected. If the person sitting next to you has covid, even unmasking during the meal would probably be enough to infect you, even with the portable air purifier. But masking except when eating reduces the risk of catching something from a person sitting 30 feet away, or from the waiter who is taking your order while you’re wearing a mask.

      1. Just me*

        They would have to trust that the dinner companions are not infected, and most likely no one would know that. So yeah it’s still not that safe.

        1. RC*

          They’re all relative levels of risk, swiss cheese model etc etc. I’ve eaten outdoors with people and been uncomfortable enough with the person-density/airflow that I’ve put my mask (N95) back on. Personally I wouldn’t take the risk of unmasking indoors (because there are about 6 people in the world I trust nowadays), but exposure time does matter and you could get (un)lucky either way.

          1. Properlike*

            It really comes down to luck, doesn’t it? And “exposure loads” may be lower for an immunocompromised individual.

            This is what the LW has decided is their level of risk, and that’s fine. However, if you’re taking your mask off “to eat” then I, as your colleague, am going to interpret that as not quite walking your talk.

            1. Irish Teacher.*

              Would you really care whether a colleague is “walking their talk” on this though? After all, it doesn’t affect you in any way, so presumably, you’d just shrug and think, “well, presumably, they know best about their own health.”

              I think it would be quite weird for anybody to be making judgements about something like that.

    4. Observer*

      If someone at this dinner (or at a nearby table) is covid positive then the precautions LW is taking wouldn’t make any difference given the eating exposure

      Not true. Yes, there is still exposure. But load matters. Which means that masking some of the time should help.

      Of course if the LW can just not go, that would be ideal. But it’s really not helpful to discourage people from taking less effective measures if they cannot take most effective measure.

      1. Lizard the Second*

        Exactly! Masking some (but not all) of the time still reduces your viral load, which improves your chances of your immune system fighting it off.

        It would be a mistake to decide, “I can’t completely avoid exposure, so oh well, I won’t bother at all!”

  65. Valerie Loves Me*

    For the student not getting paid (and HR bunking off)… maybe an option is to give her unofficial comp time for three pay periods. She doesn’t work. Gets paid. (Recognizing this is probably not entirely ethical, but neither is this Uni’s HR)

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        That is good news.

        I’m glad that she has you to fight for her (and future others)

  66. Potatohead*

    Little bit random and silly, but my sleep-deprived and pre-caffeine brain transposed the meanings of ‘lady of leisure’ and ‘lady of the evening’ in my head reading the title, and for a moment I was braced for a far more bananapants letter than I thankfully got…

  67. IntoTheWoulds*

    LW1: No direct advice here, but just wanted to give a big high-five and/or hug in solidarity with the kid/school/class divide thing in general. I will spare the tl;dr, but we are in a similar situation with our daughter, and even though the school she will be attending is a public charter, it was fairly recently a private school, and much of the student population has carried over. I know I will feel out of place as a parent. Probably not as much as I may elsewhere, at a fancier private school, but there is still a lot I’m nervous about.

    I also feel you on the work/life balance, and the lack of down time when not at the office, even though the specifics of that for me are different than for you. When life outside of the office is extremely difficult, I really don’t know how to keep up the casual cheerful small talk game at work. I am not comfortable with small talk in the best of times, and I really hate lying, so it really sucks to know that I’m not going to have a good or relaxing weekend because most of it will be spent just barely scraping by while trying to support a kid who needs so much TLC and energy — I love her and love being her parent, but as much as work drains me, it’s nothing compared to what I do outside of work to give my kid her best life. Parenting kids with any kind of special needs is so much, and I don’t think that people really recognize or understand that until/unless they are in that situation. And I don’t know how to express that at work without giving out personal info I’m not comfortable sharing or making it sound like I’m a Debbie Downer all the time. The reality just is that my life is extremely hard right now, and I don’t want to try to be chipper about it to make others feel better.

    LW3: I’m in a similar situation in that I’m basically the only covid cautious person at work, and one of the few people in my community who seems to care in general. I haven’t been to a restaurant in over 4 years, and have no plans to change that. In your situation, I’d probably just decline, especially given that it’s not part of your role to do stuff like that. I’m so exhausted of doing all the work to protect myself and others, and if people aren’t going to provide a way to do something that is safe for all, I don’t feel the need to put in extra work on my part to do the work for them. I guess it might depend on where you live, too — check your local wastewater data. (If you live in the western US, numbers are high right now. But trending up everywhere.)

  68. Ann*

    LW#4, does it matter? Whether it’s necessary or not it is “correct” because it’s what your boss has asked you to do. IME it’s very common to make sure all files are secured before leaving the office each night. It’s just a common sense measure to protect client confidentiality.

  69. Anya Corazon*

    I’ve never seen a salary algorithm mentioned in a job ad before, I find it interesting and a little scary. While it’s easy to say an algorithm can’t be biased, the people who write them certainly can be.

    If I saw a range that wide on a job, I wouldn’t apply, whether negotiation was a part of the equation or not. Wide ranges are a clear signal that the applicant is going to be lowballed. I’ve had many HR professionals tell me that posted ranges are really BS because they are never going to pay above the midpoint.

  70. Dawn*

    LW1: I recently had an acquaintance (who was at work at the time) say to me “Have a great night!” having just finished hearing all about how my dad fell off a ladder during his cancer treatment and was waiting in the hospital for surgery that kept getting delayed.

    These are just things people say. It’s slightly gauche for people to point out that you’re working less days than the full-timers, sure, but nevertheless it’s just things people say as part of small talk, without regard to anyone’s actual personal circumstances. Think nothing of them.

    1. Generic Name*

      Yup. I once said to a teenage girl who had just lost her brother AT THE FUNERAL, “How have you been?”. I stopped myself and said, “Well, I of course know how you’ve been…..” Ugh, so dumb. The point is that these are social niceties that people say to each other in greeting/departing and aren’t meant to be taken 100% literally.

  71. Charley*

    5: We had a similar situation at my last job where almost a dozen of our summer research assistants were massively delayed in getting paid due to a set up error in Payroll. The Payroll office seemed to feel no urgency in rectifying the situation and everyone we followed up (which was essentially every day since our students weren’t getting paid), they acted like it was somehow their first time hearing about the issue. I almost lost my mind. Hope your situation is resolved soon!

  72. jsv*

    LW 5–something similar happened at my university. We promoted four student employees in June, but my boss forgot to fill out the proper paperwork and they didn’t get their raises. None of them spoke up until September, and HR refused to give them backpay for the three months they worked in the higher position. They quoted the university system policy that says that retroactive salary increases are prohibited, but this isn’t a retroactive increase! They had been doing the job for three months, and the only reason they didn’t get paid is because someone screwed up. Seriously makes me crazy.

  73. Mia*

    LW5: former HR here. At my company HR backdates hires all the time. Your HR is just being lazy. And yeah the Payroll team will have to do some calculations but they’re just being lazy and hoping they can get away with it.

  74. Hopefully not a plague rat*

    LW3- I don’t think anyone needs to be high risk or state that they are high risk to justify covid safety measures. We should all have the right to do things to protect ourselves (although mask ban laws are making it hard). I just state that I am still covid safe and will be masking. No one needs to know why. I agree that mentioning to your employer that you will be taking the following precautions at dinner is key so that they can decide what they want to do to manage dinner. For me, if management required that I attend, that would mean masking and not eating but maybe having something to drink through a sip valve.

  75. orsen*

    LW 1: Way overthinking things. Maybe it’s because there’s so much going on in the rest of your life that you’re on super-ultraviolet-high-alert, but the stuff you describe wouldn’t even register to me except as mundane office chatter (like Alison says, friendly commiseration among coworkers). If your workplace was bad in other ways, I actually could believe your gut reaction is picking up on something, but you start out your letter describing it as a totally wonderful place to work, and your coworkers as likewise wonderful to work with (and it sounds like they’re appreciative of you in return).

  76. sb51*

    My employer doesn’t post their ranges (boo!) but uses a similar model and if we posted ranges, would post huge ranges for a really common position type because: what we ideally want is someone junior but not completely inexperienced/fresh out of undergraduate, who is competent in the industry-wide basics and has at least heard of and is interested in learning one of the niche skills we need, which we’re prepared to teach. That would give a reasonably limited range, if that was all.

    But if we find a: someone with significant experience in the niche skills, we can bump the position up a grade or b: someone super junior but interesting to us (maybe they have a niche skill and not some of the basics, or the market is competitive at the moment and we’d rather start training someone with experience gaps but enthusiasm now rather than wait), and then we’d bump the position down a grade.

    But trying to lay that out in a position listing would be difficult, and putting out three ads for the same position wouldn’t be productive/ethical either.

  77. Anon for this one*

    This is what strikes me about LW1:
    “At first I just laughed it off, but it’s been almost a year, and it’s every week. It’s getting old.”

    I understand a little razzing here and there, but this is way too persistent. I’d probably say something like, “Hey guys, that’s getting a little old. I wish Tuesday was my Friday too, but this is just job #1.”

    1. Dawn*

      Yeah but that’s just it, you do have to way something.

      Otherwise you end up with a situation where you’re quietly seething every time and your coworker is thinking, “Hey, this is our thing, this is our inside joke!”

      Even if it’s genuinely obnoxious you can’t expect people to read your mind (I’ve spent many years working in customer service, ask me how well expecting other people to read your mind has ever gone on either side of that conversation) and unless it’s something egregious like bigotry that people should be expected to know better about, you can’t get pressed about it if you haven’t spoken up to say you’ve had enough.

    2. Boof*

      I think it should be a little breezier than this especially if talking with parents (ie, clients). “oh I’ve got a whole other gig to go to, but so glad to be here at this amazing school too; looking forward to (school event, next visit, whatever)”

    1. Kristin*

      I like this reply a lot. I’ve been in #1’s position, working multiple jobs while hearing at each job, “I wish I could leave so early!” “Oh, you’re at the front desk today? Isn’t it nice to have a little vacation?” (!!!!) (I did eventually explain to that manager how my being at the front desk was an additional task for me, not a “break” from my normal work.)
      Frankly, I don’t think #1 is overreacting, though it can be handled by a friendly reply rather than getting too serious. But social class is not talked about in America.

  78. M*

    Lt2 – it’s reasonable to ask about the criteria for setting the range. I’m also curious if the wide range is hiring range or the actual salary range for the position. It’s possible you might need to be at the organization for a specific period of time before making the top of that range.

  79. Banana Pyjamas*

    I figured out what’s bothering me around LW1. It’s the whole giving advice for the world as it is vs the world as it should be. The world as it is this is just “friendly” banter that we’re supposed to endure. For LW this means grin and bear it. Actually though, it’s rude. In the world as it should be we wouldn’t comment on other people’s schedules because that’s none of our business. Schedules are between the employee and the manager.

    LW you could try some level of vague honesty. If they specifically ask about your plans or bring up relaxing you could counter with “ Oh actually, I have X appointments over Y days, and I need to work on my freelancing gig. Hopefully I get some downtime too!” Keep it breezy of course.

    1. Dorothea Vincy*

      “In the world as it should be we wouldn’t comment on other people’s schedules because that’s none of our business. Schedules are between the employee and the manager.”

      Oh come on, now. This would mean things like no one should ever leave an out-of-office message, a manager could never ask for coverage on a day when someone’s sick or on vacation, people couldn’t compare schedules to make sure that the person they needed to talk to on a certain day was actually working, and so on.

      I get the LW being annoyed, but the solution is not to say that “Perfect world is that no one ever makes small talk about schedules and people should realize [without being told and without this being a widely-held norm] that it’s rude and they should just stop ever speaking about it.:

  80. Boof*

    LW1 – I imagine you are thinking about it way harder than they are, but you are experiencing it as a steady stream vs for them it’s an occasional one off; I think maybe the best approach since it bothers you and isn’t slowing down is some combination of gushing about how glad you are to be able to send your son to this school (because it is true and also makes the school look good) and a side order of laughing about how you’re going off to your other work if they make comments about a “long weekend”. Like “oh I’m off to my other job, but I love it here so much and and so glad to help my son get where he needs to be, this place is amazing!” or whatever version of that feels genuine. I imagine you’ll have to say it a few times to a few different people but they’ll probably remember that “than goodness it’s thursday” or whatever jokes aren’t quite right

  81. Lw 5*

    Small update: I just sent this email to ~160 other admin to see if others have had this experience. Then I am planning on emailing the information I collect to legal ++ the president, or at least send them about what I described in my letter:

    Hi Friends,

    Sorry to send a message to all, but we have had some recent issues with HR not hiring students, and then when they finally do not paying them until the next pay period. At the worst I’ve heard they did not pay one of our students for 6 weeks, 20 days after we notified HR of their mistake.

    Has anyone else been having issues like this? Any ideas on how to help the students, aside from directing them to file a wage complaint with the attorney general?

    1. Properlike*

      Did you get stories back about others before sending this?

      I guarantee you just put your university president on blast. Since you’re leaving, not a bad thing for you personally. But not subtle!

      1. Lw 5*

        We have had more than one case in my department, the one I emailed about what just the student I supervise, hence my involvement.

        Slight nitpick: I would not choose to use subtle or unsubtle as the framing here, rather effective or ineffective. But yes, I agree, I am very privileged to be on my way out!

        1. GythaOgden*

          It is neither subtle nor likely to be effective to be honest. Full disclosure: I got paid on Friday and I’m about £70 short because someone messed up handling the public holidays we had in May, so I’m not speaking out of privilege here — but you’re kind of blinded by your own privilege here. Pay problems are routine and so even if the people are involved and understandably upset, it’s best sorted out quickly and professionally and with the understanding that the best of us are going to make mistakes from time to time.

          Sorting it out with HR for your employee was an enormous help for them (in my experience you can’t always talk to payroll by yourself so a manager has to intervene to verify what you’re saying about a shortfall is right), but I think going on public blast to everyone with a direct accusation is unlikely to have the desired effect.

          It makes you look like you have an axe to grind over what was probably a mistake (speaking as someone who has had a glitch in my own payslip this month) and it’s kind of degrading towards HR. You want people to be cooperative in sorting out the problems — even if they’re systematic — rather than closing ranks and becoming defensive. It leaves a whiff of scorched earth/burned bridges behind you and doesn’t help other people understand that they can flag mistakes to others without being excoriated in public. You had the privilege to get something done about the unpaid employee, but you’re making a meal out of something which happens largely because humans are human and fallible rather than there being some conspiracy or whatever, and it’s not going to make HR look worse — but it could make you look bad for not pursuing this privately.

          Next time, it’s way more likely to be effective if you do this more carefully and less aggressively. Unless you yourself would like your mistakes laid bare before the entire institution, which I’m sure you wouldn’t. In your next job, I urge you to fact-gather in private about mistakes by anyone because this is going to backfire on you.

          1. Lw 5*

            If you read the other comments this is after pursuing this privately. You also have an interpretation I’m confused by, being paid 20 days after an error was pointed out is simple human error?

  82. Properlike*

    LW1 – read the book (and have your student read) THE NEW KID by Jerry Craft. While you and/or your child may not be BIPOC, it also speaks to class assumptions and friendships. It’s excellent and funny, worth the time for anyone!

  83. Raida*

    1. Do my full-time coworkers think I’m a lady of leisure because I work part-time?

    Them: “Enjoy your looooooooooong weekend!”
    Me: “Mate, if long weekends involve medical appointments, a second job and your hubby away half the time on work then I think we can stop calling them ‘weekENDS’ right?”

  84. Hyaline*

    Something is bugging me about #4–while yes, if your boss tells you to, you put away the files, it’s striking me as very odd that LW may be working in a field that requires document security and hasn’t been trained on that? Yes it could be her boss making crap up because she likes a clean desk, but I think it’s more likely it’s related to actual rules, protocols and/or regulations in which case—the boss is seriously negligent in not properly training the LW not only on what to do but why before the error in leaving the files out.

    1. GythaOgden*

      There are lots of times we’ve had training on stuff but my more bloody-minded colleagues either didn’t listen or didn’t care.

      I like the interesting ways people find to make a colleague or LW’s bad behaviour a management problem (ISTM we never want managers to keep a close eye on us, but want them to be omniscient about our coworkers), but this sounds like an LW problem.

  85. lucy fur*

    Salary ranges: check the other roles the company has posted to see whether they are similarly large (or even exactly the same!). I’ve seen a lot of companies post huge ranges, e.g. 80K – 400K – in other words, “we are required by law to post a salary range and almost everyone here fits within that range, so this is the range”.

    If you’re interested in the role, go ahead and apply. Then when/if you speak with the team, be sure to ask them to clarify what the hiring range is. I’d imagine you’ll hear anything from “Yeah, so we’re still working on the ideal profile for the role, so our range is intentionally large to reflect that we may hire someone more junior or more senior, but with your experience level, I’d generally pin you between X and Y” to just giving you numbers somewhere either at the bottom or the mid level.

  86. KatieP*

    Re: #5 – if you work in education, you’d be surprised how easily this can happen. Private industry doesn’t usually have to deal with appointment terms – you’re hired, you get paid all year long, on schedule, until you terminate. In education, that’s not always the case. It sounds like they put your employee in a pre-defined academic year term, and are being lazy abut fixing it.

    If you’re on the same system we are (Workday), they can absolutely fix this, retroactively to the hire date. And as Allison said, they probably legally have to.

  87. blood orange*

    OP #5 – That situation is not “oh, we’ll get this sorted and pay her next pay period”, it’s “We’ll issue her an office check for her missed wages today, and sincerely apologize for the mistake”.

    It definitely sounds like you need to go over that person’s head. They don’t know what they’re talking about. If they’re not the person who runs payroll, they may not realize their answer is so off base.

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