It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. I walked in on two amorous coworkers
I work backstage at a theater. One evening during a show, I went to use the bathroom in an unused dressing room and I walked in on our diction coach getting a blowjob from someone. I said “sorry!” and left very quickly, but he ran after me and begged me not to tell anyone. I said something like, “Don’t worry about it” because I just wanted him to go away so I could get back to doing my job and forget what I saw. I didn’t tell anyone except my husband. I couldn’t decide if it was a funny story or a weird gross story.
I don’t know who the other person was, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the diction coach’s wife, who was also in the show. (Later on, one of my colleagues mentioned seeing another cast member walking in the direction of those dressing rooms, so it might have been that person, but that’s just speculation.) Both the diction coach and his wife have been with the company for over 15 years and will continue to work with us, so I imagine I will run into them regularly, and now it feels like I have some awkward secret that I have to carry. This awkwardness bothers me slightly, but not really enough to request not to be put on projects that he might be working on. My job requires a lot of discretion and poker face-ness so it’s not a huge deal to pretend it didn’t happen, though I might prefer not to have too much direct contact with him in the future.
I keep wondering, though, if I should have said something to management or HR. On the one hand, it seems to me that having sex in a bathroom at work during a performance is not okay (never mind the cheating on your wife thing, though that isn’t really my business). On the other hand, they were probably both consenting adults and there is a “hook up” culture in theater. (I was partly motivated to write because of your response to the “drug deal gone bad among restaurant employees” about how different workplace cultures tolerate different behaviors). Also, I don’t think that he was actually neglecting any show-related duties; our dialect coaches are only on contract through opening night, but once in a while they’ll come to the performance on their own accord to listen or say hello to the cast/staff, even if not officially on contract. Plus, if he were to be reprimanded, it would be pretty clear that I was the one who told, and I’m not really up for that.
I don’t know if the arguments in my head for not saying anything are naive and I’m just trying to avoid conflict, but I do kind of feel like the ship has sailed on mentioning this to HR/ management or the dialect coach himself, and I should just go on pretending it never happened. I haven’t been able to talk to anyone else about this, so I was hoping to get your thoughts?
If you felt really uncomfortable — if you felt like you’d been forced to witness sexual activity against your will and were upset about it — that’s absolutely something you could report. You’re entitled to go to work without having to see people having sex!
But it sounds like you’re more wondering if you’re obligated to report it, and I don’t think you are, as long as the people involved aren’t in each other’s chain of command. (If they were, you’d need to.) You’re allowed to decide “eh, that was gross but not my business” if you want to. You’d also be well within your rights to tell the guy, “Hey, I didn’t appreciate seeing that and you need to keep it out of the theater.”
2. Calling in sick on a day when time off was denied
Two weeks ago, I learned that my high school reunion was scheduled for today. When I found out, I submitted a PTO request so that I’d be able to attend. Generally, no news is good news in my company, so after not hearing back for a week, I assumed the request was approved and made plans accordingly. It was noon yesterday when I got an email from HR saying they’d decided not to approve time off requests for today, and so mine had been denied. I admit I made it pretty clear to my manager how frustrated I was that they’d waited until the last minute to let me know.
Then last night, my newborn daughter got very sick. My wife stayed up with her to try and let me sleep, but sound carries in the house. By morning we were all exhausted, and my wife has a seizure disorder exacerbated by sleep deprivation so I was nervous to leave her alone with the baby. All in all, it seemed like a legitimate reason for a sick day … but we both knew how suspicious it’d look. We’re currently working on health insurance for the baby, so a doctor’s note isn’t an option; I’d have no way to prove my story.
For now, one of our neighbors has agreed to check in on my wife and I’m heading into work. In the future, though, what do you suggest as a way to corroborate a situation like this? Is the whole situation my fault, for being irritated by the email from HR?
It’s not your fault. You’re allowed to be frustrated; their delay was legitimately frustrating. (I mean, you should have checked back after you didn’t hear anything rather than just assuming it was approved, but they’re being ridiculous by waiting until the day before to approve/deny vacation requests.)
If you’re a good employee with a decent employer who doesn’t treat employees like children, you shouldn’t need to provide hard evidence that your baby was sick. I get why you’re worried that this looks bad, but good managers don’t generally assume that good employees are lying, as long as you acknowledge that it looks weird and explain what happened. So I’d just address it head-on to your manager, as in, “I realize the timing of this looks bad, but Jane actually got very sick last night and we’ve been up all night with her. I feel awkward about the timing, so I want to assure you this is an actual sick day and not an attempt to do an end-run around HR’s decision about my earlier request. And I’ll be here if you need to reach me for anything.”
Unless you have a track record of shadiness or your manager is a jerk, she should accept this. Stuff happens! Sometimes people get sick on days they had hoped to use for other things, and that doesn’t automatically cancel your ability to use sick time. But if your manager seems skeptical, then get even more direct: “I realize I originally wanted this day for something else, but that would have been moot anyway once the baby got sick. I was frustrated that my original request for vacation time wasn’t approved, but I’d never make up a sick baby to get around that. I’d bring you a doctor’s note if I could, but she’s currently uninsured. Let me know if there’s some other way you want me to handle this.” And you could stress that you’ll be home all day and accessible, which might underscore that you’re not out carousing with old classmates.
3. Can my raise be applied retroactively?
I was given a promotion a few months ago. To be completely honest, I shouldn’t have received this promotion at that time: my boss knew there wasn’t money to pay my raise, and she should have waited until the money was there. Nevertheless, I was promoted and received a new title and responsibilities.
Well, my raise just now came through, but in the meantime, I’ve been doing the work that my new title required. Is back pay for this kind of situation a thing? I’m going to guess no, but I’d really like to be paid for the work I’ve been doing since my promotion.
It’s sometimes a thing! Some employers will indeed back-date a raise, and so it’s worth asking. You could just say, “Since I’ve been working at this higher level since July, would it be possible to back-date the raise?” The answer might be no, but it’s not at all unreasonable to ask about.
4. “I believe I would be an asset to your organization”
I agree that as an applicant I shouldn’t assert that I’m “the best” candidate for a position. Having said that, in cover letters I usually include something along the lines of “given my qualifications and experience, I believe I would be an asset to your organization.” Do you think that is too presumptuous?
No, it’s not presumptuous. But it’s also not really adding anything to your letter; it’s a given that you think you’d be an asset, since you’re applying. That’s more of a filler sentence before you get to the substance of the letter, or (if it comes at the end) it reads like fluff that you put in so that you don’t end abruptly. That’s not terrible — no one is going to reject you for either of those things — but it’s unnecessary and you don’t actually need to say it. Try going straight into the substance of why you think you’d be great at the job and see if that strengthens the letter.
5. We gave a gift to our boss last year — how do we backtrack this year?
I now realize that last year I made the mistake of organizing a group holiday gift for my boss (>$50). I don’t believe I pressured anyone to participate, but understand it can be hard to gauge if someone feels pressured. From reading your blog over the past year, I now do not think we should do a large gift like this again this holiday season. However, I’m worried that I set a precedent last year, and it will seem awkward that we didn’t get him anything. Do you have any tips for how to navigate this?
Get him a card, signed by everyone. You don’t need to explain to him why there was a gift last year but no gift this year, and doing that may make things more awkward. (And if you’ve had any staff turnover in your group, this could easily be a casualty of that change.)
But if you think he’s the type to notice and take offense or be hurt, you could always say, “I realized it could have made you or others feel awkward, so we’re not doing a group gift this year — but I didn’t want you to read anything into that.” If you have any kind of Secret Santa or Yankee Swap or anything, you could soften this by adding, “But we’re excited to do Secret Santa with you!”
You may also like:update: my coworker won’t stop caressing me — or the kids we work withupdate: my boss enlists me in hiding his multiple affairs from his wifeI know a job candidate regularly cheated on his fiancé — should I say anything?
I walked in on two amorous coworkers, calling in sick after a vacation day was denied, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.
Read more: askamanager.org