I reported my boss to HR on my first day, an AWOL manager, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. I reported my boss to HR on my first day

Last week, I started at a new job that relocated me across the country. I took this job because the manager I was supposed to work for has great experience in our niche industry and anyone I asked said I would learn a lot from him. We got along great at the interview and in subsequent communications, so I took the job.I’m a man in my 30’s and he’s a man in his 40’s.

On my first day, he gave me a tour around the office and was making disgusting comments about women’s bodies. For example, he said the receptionist is dumb but is put in front because she has large breasts and is eye candy, he said another woman only got a promotion because she must have had sex with a higher up, etc. I ignored it at first and then we went to lunch. At lunch he was taking about the list of woman he would “bang” at the office and which ones were “sluts.” I told him this was really not appropriate for us to discuss and could we please focus on the job. He said I shouldn’t be so uptight but changed the subject.

Back at the office, he resumed being disgusting again, I tried to change the subject as much as I could and ignored it. I told him I had to step out for a minute to make a personal call and called his boss (who works in another state) and explained everything to her. She was horrified and conferenced in local HR. They told me it would be taken care of, and when I walked back into the office HR was walking over to speak to him.

He hasn’t been back since and it sounds like he’s on paid leave while they figure things out. A lot of people in the office are asking me what happened and I just keep saying I have no idea. He keeps calling and texting me so that we can discuss our “misunderstanding.” Should I talk to him or let HR handle it? Do I need to explain what happened to my coworkers? Some seem to be getting suspicious that I had something to do with him not being around.

Good for you for reporting it immediately, on your first day no less. He sounds like a blight on your office culture, and I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone else working there just thought they had to put up with it.

Don’t respond to his calls or texts. Let HR know about those, and ask how they want you to handle them. (My guess is they’re going to be additionally concerned that he’s contacting you. If he’s been suspended during an investigation — which is what it sounds like — he’s probably been told not to contact any colleagues.) Let them know, too, that you’re getting questions from coworkers and ask what they’d like you to say. But if they don’t give you useful guidance on that, it’s fine to simply respond with “I’m not sure what’s going on” (which is true, to some extent). You’re not obligated to share the whole story.

Also, if your boss returns to work at some point, ask HR for guidance on that too! They have a legal obligation to ensure he doesn’t retaliate against you for reporting him, but retaliation can be subtle and you’ll want them watching out for it.

2. My boss is being awful after my daughter’s death

My 25-year-old daughter, my oldest of four, recently passed. I work for a small, family-owned business within walking distance from my house. Although my boss (and owner) said I could take as much time as needed, she would come by often to try and talk me into going back to work just weeks after. I admit I went back too soon but I limited my hours.

Since I’ve been back, she’s been relentlessly insensitive in the things she says. I’ve told her every single time and it never stops. Recently I brought up that May 6 would’ve been my oldest’s 26th birthday and that weekend is Mother’s Day (our busiest day at work). I told her I can’t work, I’ve been pushing myself too much as it is, and I can’t push myself anymore. It’s my first year without her. My boss tried telling me I’d be so proud of myself if I work that week and it would be good for, it’s what I need. Then she told me I need to get over this and move on, etc. … and ended the conversation by saying her son’s 27th birthday is in May and we need to celebrate him because he’s alive. If I weren’t in shock and crying, I would’ve walked out.

I had planned to tell her I was leaving at the end of March and wrote pages of things to say, explaining how her pressure to move on and other insensitive comments have added tremendous stress and pain. I love my job and was hoping that she would change and see I needed more time … and eventually I’d come back. Well, the next day she told my coworkers not to allow me to talk about my daughter anymore because she doesn’t think it’s helping me. Then she told me to stop too. I quit that night. But what more could I have done for her to understand? I even offered her links to articles about things not to say or do to a grieving mother.

I’m so sorry, both for the loss of your daughter and for the way your boss has added to your pain since then.

It is not your job to find a way to make your boss into a reasonably compassionate human. It is her job to act with decency and kindness. She sounds so insensitive and out-of-touch that I doubt there was anything you could have said, any wording you could have found, any article you could have showed her that would change her behavior. She was well beyond the bounds of decency.

There are lots of people who don’t know what to say when someone is grieving. But you gave her clear instructions — “stop” — and she ignored you. She’s awful, and that’s not your fault.

3. Am I overdressing for video interviews?

I guess I’m old-fashioned, but I’ve believed in dressing appropriately for an interview. In my case, that means shirt and tie. It’s how I’ve gone to work in my field (automotive sales training) every day for the last 10 years.

I’ve noticed that in every video interview I’ve had since January, not one person has dressed anything more than business casual, and many are not even managing that. Am I missing something? Is my appearance ruling me out of a job before I even open my mouth? How do I guess at what the appropriate dress code is?

I doubt you’re being rejected for wearing a tie on a video interview. But in most fields these days, business casual is pretty normal for video interviews. (Not in-person interviews! But video interviews.) Dress code norms have really shifted for most people who are working at home because of the pandemic. It remains to be seen whether it will stay that way post-pandemic or not.

4. Do I have to put up with an AWOL boss?

I work as a property manager at a small but busy property that is split into two sections. Technically, my manager oversees both, but everyone knows I run the show on my side.

Unfortunately, in my five months working here, she has been frequently absent from work without warning for days at a time, once for three weeks. We get no information on when she will return or what tasks of hers we should be responsible for covering, and then she magically reappears with no discussion, no thank you for covering, nothing.

When I reached out to her manager who oversees our region, she told me to have “compassion.” Where is the compassion for the rest of the team that has to cover for her? I sent an email to the management team asking for guidance when this happens again. They have still not responded.

Do I continue to just put up with an absentee boss? This is really affecting the whole team and disrupting our daily operations, and no one seems to care.

Yep, it sounds like you might have to put up with an absentee boss if you choose to stay there. You’ve escalated it to her manager, who didn’t do anything about it, and you’ve tried alerting the management team without getting a response. There’s a pretty strong message here that you’re not going to get any help from above. I don’t know why that is … but it is. (The “compassion” remark implies she’s dealing with something difficult, but that shouldn’t mean you can’t get some guidance on what to do when she’s out.)

That said, I didn’t see any mention that you’ve tried talking to your manager about it directly. If you haven’t, try that! Ideally your whole team would explain to her that you need to know when she’ll be out and what needs to be covered while she’s gone. That’s perfectly reasonable to expect. If you ask for it directly and still don’t get it, then yes — assume this is what it’ll be like as long as she works there and figure out if you want the job under those conditions.

5. My spouse wrote personal checks to a high-level coworker

I would like to know what my rights are if I found two personal checks written by my spouse to a female high-level management coworker of his. Am I allowed to call the coworker and ask? I do not work at his company, but my name is on the bank account. The checks were for $1440 and $323 written several months apart.

You shouldn’t call his coworker; you should ask your husband directly. Calling his coworker would be overstepping into his professional life in a way that would likely reflect oddly on you both.

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