It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. Employees’ banter turned into play-fighting
I have a fairly established team who all get along very well. Two members of my team, Pam and Angela, are particularly close. They chat outside of work, enjoy sharing projects, and always speak well of each other. With their good relationship comes a fair amount of teasing. Nothing over the line, and always taken in good humor.
We have an in-office meeting once a month, and during the latest one an incident happened that I don’t know what to do about.
It was a great meeting, very informal, we had pizza and shared lots of great ideas. Pam and Angela were having a bit of banter, during which Angela slapped Pam on the shoulder. It sounded hard — it echoed through the room! Pam laughed and seemed to find it amusing, and Angela looked a bit embarrassed at how carried away she’d got. It very much felt like the kind of play-fight that might break out between siblings.
We moved on, and nothing else has been said. I don’t know how to handle this now. Should I pick it up with Angela? It’s sounds very patronizing to tell a grown woman not to hit her friends, and she already seemed embarrassed about it. On the other hand, it was a ridiculous thing to do in work and while I like to keep our meetings causal, it’s still work. What do I do, if anything?!
I think you could do nothing at this point if you choose to — they have a jokey relationship, Pam didn’t seem bothered, and Angela looked embarrassed. It’s unlikely that you have an “Angela think it’s okay to slap her coworkers” problem on your hands.
That said, you certainly have standing to address it if you want to. You could say to Angela, “I know you have a jokey relationship with Pam, but you can’t slap anyone at work, even in jest.” And you could say to Pam, “I know you have a jokey relationship with Angela, but it wasn’t okay that she slapped you yesterday. I wanted to check in with you and make sure you’re okay and there’s not more going on.”
2. I found love letters on a shared drive
I’m an admin in a large corporation. We are planning a big migration of our shared drive to a new software provider, and ahead of the migration, I was tasked with organizing the digital files of one of my superiors. One of the many challenges in organizing his section of the shared drive was that he had many personal files mixed in with his professional files, such as a letter to his landscaper and an invoice for a new mattress.
Then I found a pair of love letters. They had been given names that disguised them as documents pertaining to a real professional matter. At first I thought they were wildly inappropriate correspondence with a business associate, but I’ve never heard of the woman to whom the letters are addressed. The letters just seem to be declarations of love to his sweetheart.
I’m at a total loss to what I should do here. The letters are very intimate, but not sexually explicit outside of a reference to “nights spent together.” I can tell my superior wouldn’t have wanted me to see them, but they’re in a section of the shared drive that I didn’t not require any special permission to access. Anyone could have found them at any time. I obviously can’t put these letters with the other documents pertaining to the real professional matter. Should I just delete them? Should I tell my manager what I’ve found? I’m mortified and so lost!
Make a folder called “personal” and put all the personal stuff in there, mattress invoice and love letters alike. Then put it out of your mind and never think about it again. No need to mention it to him specifically, beyond perhaps “I put all the personal stuff in its own folder so you can move it off the shared drive.”
To be clear, if he were the one writing in, I’d tell him not to keep love letters on a shared drive — or on a work computer, period. And I’d definitely tell him not to give them names that sound like they’re work-related, holy crap. But he’s not the one writing in.
3. Should I help out a new person at my old job?
I recently left a position I had been in for five years for a similar one at a new employer. It was not an easy choice and though I am in a better spot now than I was a year ago, my first choice would have been to stay with my old job closer to home in a city where my husband and I have friends. The higher-ups there made it impossible when my immediate supervisor resigned and they asked me to take an interim position without any kind of timeline and without offering me more pay for the extra responsibilities. I have moved on, but still feel a lot of leftover resentment about how I was treated and the resulting burn-out.
My old employer is now having a lot of trouble filling their open position. I have heard from my former supervisor that they’ve asked her if she has any interest in returning to her former role and she turned them down. I have been contacted by a new person in a new management position who wants to talk about their “challenges.” I’m torn because this new person didn’t mistreat me and I would like things to be better for the next person in that role. I have a long history with this employer, having worked for them before I went to grad school in addition to working for them recently. Careers are long and while I wouldn’t move back to work for them again right now, they are the best choice closest to home. On the other hand, the other people in management had a chance to do an exit interview or have this convo before I left that they let slip by. Or they could have just promoted me and paid me more and we all could have avoided the trouble.
I could quote them a consultant fee, but I work in academia and I’m not sure that’s common practice. I’m in librarianship, where the expectation is to offer support to librarians at other institutions without being paid, but this isn’t exactly the same since it’s coming from management. If it were coming from my old bosses, I’d say no. If it were coming from a newly hired librarian, I’d say yes. Since it’s coming from neither, I’m conflicted. What would you advise?
It’s 100% up to you! One question to ask yourself, though: do you have reason to think that talking to this person will truly change anything for the next person? When the problems are really entrenched, most often it won’t.
But it really just comes down to whether you feel like doing it or not. If you don’t, it’s perfectly fine to say, “I’m booked solid right now. I’m sorry I can’t help!” If you feel more comfortable softening it, feel free to add, “I’ll reach out if that changes.” (That doesn’t obligate you to get back in touch later.)
4. My client is holding up half my fee because she’s too busy to schedule a meeting
I’m a freelancer who works on niche projects for clients I know well, so while I’ve learned over the years to be very explicit about timelines and payments, my contracts tend to reflect the casual and flexible nature of these long-term working relationships. Recently, I had a new client whose company I work for in a different capacity ask me to complete a survey project for her. I drew up a contract where I would invoice half my fee upon submitting the survey, and the second half of the fee once we met to discuss the results (this follow-up meeting was included in the scope of work). I set a date for when the work and all meetings would be completed.
Though my work was submitted on time, the meeting kept getting pushed back and never scheduled, as the company owner was very busy. It was a small project, so half my fee is not a huge amount of money, but if I had known the meeting would not happen for months I never would have structured the fee payment that way. The truth is that the bulk of the work had already happened, and this was just a small way to acknowledge that they would see the work before finishing the payment. They were very pleased with work, and it is annoying to have half my fee held up because we can’t schedule a meeting. After months, I emailed the company head and explained that since we were well past the date outlined in the agreement, I was going to complete the invoice, but I know that we still have that meeting on the books and I’ll be happy to meet whenever they want to schedule. I thought this would give them some scheduling breathing room, since I could be paid but then meet whenever this survey project cycled back into priority. I still work for another part of the company, so everyone speaks with me regularly — it’s not like I’m going to vanish. The company head responded saying, essentially, thanks for the gentle nudge and yes let’s set up that meeting asap, and seemed a little taken aback that I wanted to invoice before completing the duties I had said I would complete (i.e., the meeting). I was worried I had not clearly explained my logic, and so replied that I would be happy to hold off invoicing if we could meet soon, but that the fee structure presumed a timeline roughly within the one we had set in the scope of work, and that I wouldn’t have structured it that way if I had known we would not meet until much later. She replied vaguely, insisting she knows this is important and will get to that meeting soon, she promised. So I thought I was emailing with a very specific request and now I’m back in limbo.
I know, lesson learned, that I should not have split the invoice this way, since it did not reflect the input of work. But do I have any recourse now? I need to keep a good working relationship with this company, and I don’t want to come off as petty. I think I’ve pushed as hard as I can with this last email, and they definitely bristled at my suggestion to get paid now but commit to holding that meeting whenever it makes sense for them.
Given all the factors here — the way the contract was written, the need to keep a good relationship with them, the fact that it’s a small amount of money and you’re working with them on other projects — I’d set it aside for one month. But then, if the meeting still hasn’t been scheduled at that point, just send the invoice over with a note saying, “Attached is my invoice for the remainder due on the X project.” Leave the meeting in their court, but make it clear you need to be paid.
If you think you need to be more delicate about it, you could instead wait the month and then say, “Since it’s been X months since the work was submitted, I do need to close out payment. I don’t want to push you on the meeting if it’s tough to schedule right now, but I’ll plan to submit the invoice by ___ (date about two weeks away) either way.” And then … submit the invoice by the date you name in that message. But really, the first option should be fine unless these people require very careful handling.
Also, is your normal contact there someone different than the owner who bristled? If so, you might talk to that person and ask about the best way to navigate it. They might even be able to submit the invoice for you and get it handled without involving the owner at all, depending on how stuff works there.
5. My company gives free lunch to one location but not another
I am located in Florida. My previous company A had a cafeteria and charged employees $3 for lunch if we decided to eat there.
A few years ago, company B bought company A. Company B has a few locations our county and they get free lunches in their cafeterias. This is mentioned on their job postings. This is a very large company based in the U.S. When company B took over, employees spoke about us now getting free lunches like their other nearby locations. However, the $3 charge didn’t change. The cafeteria manager let it slip that company B saw the profit the lunches were making and decided to keep the $3 charge. This meant that we paid $15 more per week than the other locations if we decided to eat in the cafeteria (most employees did). Is this legal?
It is indeed legal. It might not be fair or good for morale, but it’s legal. Employers are allowed to treat different employees differently as long as it’s not based on a characteristic that’s specifically protected by law (such as race, sex, religion, age if over 40, or disability). They can legally say “we’re going to have a different policy for employees at location X” as long as there’s not what the law calls “disparate impact” on one of those protected classes (like if employees at your location were disproportionately a different race from the other locations).
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