Dear Readers: Every year during this time I step away from my column to work on other creative projects. I hope you enjoy these “best of” questions and answers from 10 years ago, which I’ve retrieved from my advice vault.
I’ll be back with fresh Q & A next week.
Dear Amy: I am about to take a job at a respected professional services firm.
My boss makes everyone stay at his house in a city out of state for regional group meetings a few times a year.
We have to stay in his house, in his daughter's room, in the spare rooms, etc.
I think this is wrong, and it is not something I want to do. However, now I feel like I have to do this, because everyone else has been doing it for years.
I could get a hotel, but it will make me seem like I am not part of the team.
I worry about privacy, about feeling awkward, and about my tendency not to be myself when I stay at other people's houses. What should I do?
— Home Alone
Home Alone: I could imagine a circumstance in which this might possibly be a fairly benign situation (very large house, very small workforce), but not in the context of “regional group meetings” with a larger professional services firm.
I shared your letter with John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a human resources consulting firm, whose reaction was unequivocal: “This might have been thought appropriate in another era, but it is not appropriate now. The boundaries are not right.”
The tougher call is how you should react to this. He and I agree that you should approach the person who organized this junket and say: “I’m so excited about coming to work here. I know I can make great contributions to the team, but I would prefer for an out-of-town event at night to have my own hotel room. Is this possible?”
Challenger adds, “There is some risk to this that things might not work out at this company, but if this is so embedded in their culture, you might not want to work there anyway.”
Dear Amy: I work in a field that requires travel, and while traveling with the company owner, "Beth" (20 years my junior), she requires that I share a hotel room with her. She has no sense of personal boundaries and will leave the bathroom door open while using the toilet and yelling comments to me (not even my husband does this).
She also parades around the room in her thong (who wants to see your boss's naked backside?) and tries to discuss her dating and/or sex life with me.
I am usually hiding under the covers, claiming to be too tired.
When I asked for my own room recently, she said that it wasn't in the budget and that she has to be careful with travel costs. She also wants to share room-service breakfasts. She will order one entree for us to share, and a pot of coffee.
I made the in-room coffee and said that gave us a little extra money to work with and I would like to get my own breakfast, but she said she did not like the in-room coffee.
I would rather go out to a less expensive coffee shop and order what I choose to eat, but I am locked into her preferences. She once suggested I should stay with her brother when I traveled to another city to save money. I refused. (Oh, did I mention she bought a million-dollar home this year?) I am actively seeking other employment, but I would appreciate any advice.
— Old Lady Undercover
Old Lady Undercover: Your boss sounds like a nightmare.
I strongly recommend that while at breakfast, you should get busy brushing up your résumé and also researching this behavior, which I believe easily rises to the level of legally actionable.
Your boss has created the very definition of a “hostile work environment.” She may find that defending herself against a lawsuit would easily eat up all the money she is saving by forcing an employee to share a hotel room.
You can learn more at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website, eeoc.gov (search the keyword “harassment”).
2021 by Amy Dickinson distributed by Tribune Content Agency