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

1. My boss threatened to sue me when I resigned

I’ve been at my current company for about two years. It’s a small business where the owner is very involved in the day to day business, so I see him regularly. He’s very hot-headed and I’ve seen him get in screaming matches with other employees before, but for the most part I’ve gotten along with him fine. That is, until I put in my notice. His company is a small one that caters to individuals only, and I am moving to a similar but much bigger company that only serves commercial businesses. I gave my whole speech about how much I appreciated my time here and outlined all my plans to help the transition along smoothly, and when I was done he asked where I was going, and when I told him he informed me that I signed a “non-compete” agreement and that I would be breaking it if I left them for the new company. I asked if he was going to pursue that in court, and he said he hadn’t decided yet.

The thing is, I know that I never signed that agreement. I’m just an office staff member and they have never required any of us to sign them, only the sales force. I asked him to provide me a copy of the agreement he said I signed, and after a day of tearing apart the office looking, he realized it didn’t exist. He still is trying to claim he could sue me because of an “implied non-compete agreement” which I think is insane, but does it have any merit? The two companies don’t serve the same customer base at all, and I’m not in a position where I’d be able to steal customers even if i wanted to because I don’t interact with them at all. Also, do I have to finish out my two weeks notice with someone who’s threatening legal action against me for quitting?

This is not a thing! Even actual, signed non-competes are often thrown out by courts as unenforceable because they’re over-reaching. A fantasy “implied” non-compete does not exist. You should tell your boss that you’re holding him to your “implied pay-out agreement” where in your head you have a document that says he has to pay you a large of sum of money when you part.

You don’t need to finish out your two weeks if he’s being abusive (and if that’s the case, there’s advice on how to handle it here). If he’s just being annoying but not abusive, it might be in your interests to finish your notice period so he can’t tell future reference-checkers that you walked off the job … but if you’re confident that you’re not going to get a good reference from him regardless, that makes the decision easier.

2. Explaining to interviewers why I took the last few months off

I’m in a new city trying to apply for jobs after taking a few months off. I resigned from my previous job in June, had a wedding, moved across the country by car, and helped my partner settle in to his graduate program. After all that, I began seriously job hunting on August 2nd and have since applied to nearly 150 positions. My responses have been limited, but I recently revamped my resume with the help of some contacts with hiring experience, so I am hopeful that good interview opportunities will happen.

Now my problem is trying to spin my growing employment gap as a positive. In my most recent interview, my interviewer bluntly asked what I had been doing since my last job. Not wanting to get into the personal reasons too deeply, I said something like, “I had the opportunity to take off a few months while moving from [home state] to [new state]. Now, I’m ready to hit the ground running at a new position.” My interviewer did not seem impressed by this answer, which made me feel that I should be working on a certificate or something to justify my break further. Is there a better way to frame this?

This is such BS. You took a few months off from working — who cares? No sensible person would. God forbid you not spend every waking moment of your life contributing to the capitalist machine.

So the answer you gave would be fine for reasonable interviewers; don’t get too thrown off by one weird person. But if you want to tweak it, I’d word it this way: “I moved from [home state] to [new state] and have been dealing with the move and getting settled in, and now I’m excited to get back to work.” It’s a small change but it leaves out the “I had an opportunity to take some time off” and just frames it as dealing with normal life/move logistics.

There’s still a small contingent of interviewers out there who were trained years ago that job candidates should never express interest in money, benefits, time off, or any of the other reasons people work. That attitude used to be more prevalent but has really changed in the last 5-10 years — but some interviewers are still stuck in that mindset. I’d argue you’re better off avoiding working for them so if they want to screen you out over that stuff, good … but not everyone has the luxury of that option, and sometimes the person interviewing you wouldn’t be the person managing you, so you might choose to play their game anyway.

3. Am I wrong about meeting etiquette?

Recently, a person in another division asked to meet with me and my boss to help with a part of a project we are all working on. I have never met this person before, but was glad to help. She set the time and location (a conference room in her department) and sent out a meeting request after confirming with us. About an hour before the meeting, she had to cancel due to an emergency and emailed both of us. I told her it was no problem to reschedule, and went about my work. About an hour later, I get an email from my boss wanting to know if I was coming to the meeting. I told him he must not have received the email, but she cancelled the meeting. He replied that she cancelled the meeting, but he did not. I was his employee and he wanted to meet to discuss the project.

Did I do something wrong? It was such a focused meeting that she requested, and she told both of us she needed to reschedule. I could see if he sent an email saying that since we are both free, could we still meet, but I heard nothing from him.

No! Most people would have responded the same way you did. Person X called a meeting and then Person X canceled the meeting, so it’s reasonable to assume the meeting is canceled. If your boss still wanted to meet with you anyway, he should have proactively let you know.

Now you’ll know going forward that your boss has strange meeting practices, but you weren’t in the wrong originally.

4. Netflix on a work computer

I work for a smallish, creative-work company, so there has never been a ton of corporate oversight. I’ve been given a work laptop because I travel some for my job, and I also use it as my main work computer at home (since the pandemic I am now mostly WFH). While I’m traveling for work, is it weird to use that laptop to watch Netflix or another mainstream streaming service after work hours?

I’ll note that I don’t download anything to the computer—I know that years ago someone got in trouble for using company bandwidth/computers to torrent movies—and I’d never stream anything I’d be afraid to be known. Think Great British Bake-Off, not X-rated stuff. On one hand I see the wisdom in using a company computer for work only … but I don’t make enough to have a personal laptop, and when I travel I don’t get a per diem or anything. I pay for my own internet at home. Again the company culture is pretty relaxed and we have a very small IT department that doesn’t seem to sweat small stuff, but I don’t want to cross an egregious line. Thoughts?

You’re fine. It’s normal to do this! If for some reason your company has a problem with it, they’ll let you know but (a) I wouldn’t expect that to happen and (b) if for some reason it does, it won’t be a big deal that you didn’t know; they’ll just say “hey, don’t do this because X” and you’ll say “okay” and that will be that.

5. Should I keep escalating customer feedback about a peer?

I have a peer (let’s call him Tom) who I frequently receive critical feedback about from shared customers. The customers prefer to go to me as I’m more responsive, but truly based on role and duties should be going to Tom. I remind the customers frequently to contact him first as I don’t want to create a scenario where I’m overstepping boundaries. Tom and I report to the same director and in the past I have passed on the feedback from customers to my director and my director acknowledges he’s working with Tom to improve. I got more complaints today – should I continue to forward to my director or leave it alone as it’s already a development area for Tom?

Ask your director! “Do you want me to continue forwarding this kind of thing to you, or should I just handle it on my own?”

That signals you’re aware it might be getting to be overkill but lets your director decide if he wants to keep hearing the feedback or not. Frankly, I’d be a little concerned if his answer is no — I can’t imagine saying that no, I don’t want to know about customer complaints about one of my employees. But this way you won’t have to guess … and because you’ll have talked about it, you won’t need to worry that it seems like you’re just harping on Tom.

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