Miss Manners: No-gifts policy at work avoids awkward situations

January 28

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I are expecting our first child, a fact he has shared with his employees at the grocery he manages.

He received a present from an employee moments before he had to let him go (my husband had known for two weeks that he had to terminate his employment but was waiting for him to come back from vacation). My husband accepted the present but feels horrible about it.

Was it okay that he accepted the present? Should we send him a thank-you card as we have sent to everyone else we have received presents from? How should that thank-you card be worded?

GENTLE READER: Your husband feels horrible because he fired someone who was at that moment acting as a friend. His error, however, occurred earlier: It was in allowing, if not encouraging, the fiction that employment relationships and personal friendships are the same.

It is, Miss Manners believes, time for a new office policy barring supervisors from accepting gifts from employees. This will protect employees from feeling pressured to give such gifts, and it will give supervisors — including your husband — a graceful way to avoid both the implied obligation and the impossibility of rejecting an act of kindness.

In the meantime, the present on your kitchen counter demands a letter of thanks. As personal and professional relationships are properly kept separate, no reference should be made to the termination.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am invited to a Super Bowl party. The host is providing all the food and drinks, and says, “Just show up.” He is from the South and says it’s an insult for guests to bring food. Could I bring a gift for him?

GENTLE READER: Could you comply with his wish? You can show your appreciation by showing up, socializing with his other guests (although not to the extent of distracting them from the game) and reciprocating the invitation.

Miss Manners agrees that it is insulting to assume that the host will not properly provide for the guests, who must therefore bring supplies. At a genuine potluck party, there is an organizer, rather than a host, because the host duties are shared by all. This is not such a party.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We are holding off on a memorial service for my mother, with a notice of the delay in her obituary, until my two sisters can come home. I have not received any condolences from my place of work yet. I don’t really expect much, but an acknowledgment of her passing would have been nice.

Am I reading too much into this, or is it normal not to do anything until the memorial takes place?

GENTLE READER: It is sadly normal for no notice whatever to be taken by employers and professional colleagues of the death of a member of an employee’s immediate family — but this does not make it right.

It would have been right and kind for not only your close colleagues at work, but also your boss, to offer condolences when aware of the death, as well as attending the memorial service. Such duties are exceptions to Miss Manners’s rule about separating personal and professional life.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

2014, by Judith Martin

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