my coworker copies everything I do, Icy Hot at work, and more

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

1. My coworker copies everything I do

One of my coworkers and I share a desk, so we’re very close all day long. I’ve been getting super frustrated lately because it seems like she copies everything I do. She started bringing in the exact same breakfast as me, and then proceeded to copy my daily lunch as well. At the end of the day, she won’t pick up and leave until I do too. She’ll finish her work about an hour before the day ends, but as soon as 5 p.m. hits, she’ll suddenly start pretending to do work again until she notices I’m leaving too. I one time casually mentioned how I come in early each day due to my rough commute, and ever since then she’s been coming in early as well. She has a very light workload, so I know there is no reason for her to be in the office before 9. She also stares at me continuously throughout the day, which is super uncomfortable when I’m trying to get work done.

At first, I let it slide because I realized that as a new employee, she was probably just looking for a role model. But at this point, she’s been here almost a year and it frustrates me that she can’t form her own identity. Any tips on how I should handle it?

There’s not really a kind way to address most of this. The breakfast and lunch copying probably falls in the category of “sometimes coworkers have really weird, often annoying quirks,” which is just part of the deal of working with other people. But I do think you could ask her about the arrival/leaving time thing. For example, you could frame it as making sure she knows that your hours don’t have to be her hours, by saying something like “I’ve noticed you’ll often wait to leave until I’m leaving — you know you can actually leave whenever you’re done, right?” Or you could just ask “What’s bringing you in so early lately?”

And with the staring, I’d recommend meeting her eyes and saying, “Did you need me?” Do that a couple of times and it might be enough to make her realize it and stop. But otherwise, there’s the more direct “You keep looking at me — what’s up?” and, if necessary, “You’re staring and it’s unnerving me!”

2. Icy Hot at work

I work in an office setting and there is an employee that has been using Icy Hot religiously lately. The smell and fumes are making myself and coworkers experience breathing issues and eye irritation. Upon telling the bosses, we were met with “we will move her” but it is not helping. Now they want to move us. I have all but begged for them to have the employee get a non-scented version, but nothing is being done.

I have asthma and it is so pungent that it is irritating my lungs and I have had to go get another inhaler. I am not sure what can be done at this point, but it is affecting our production due to the discomfort we are experiencing. Is there anything we can do to take a next step in resolving this issue?

Oh, how I love Icy Hot!

But yeah, it’s generally not cool (ha ha ha) to use it around other people who are captive in the same space at you, particularly if it’s causing them actual physical discomfort.

Have you talked to the coworker directly and explained the situation? You don’t mention having done that, and if you haven’t, that really should have been the first step and you should do it now.

But if that doesn’t produce any changes, then you handle this like you would any other health issue at work: explain the impact on you and explain that you need an accommodation, suggesting a specific one if you can. In this case, that might sound like this: “As you know, Jane’s Icy-Hot is making it difficult for me to breathe. I’ve already had to get an inhaler because of this, and I can no longer stay in the same enclosed area that she’s in, due to the physical effects it’s causing. Given that I can’t continue to be in close proximity to her while she’s using that, what makes sense from here?” But if their solution is to move you, you might have to accept that. You and your coworkers could point that it doesn’t make sense to move all of you rather than one of her, but they might have legit reasons for needing to keep her where she is (for example, if she supports an executive and needs to be near that person).

You could also just ask point-blank, “Can I ask why the solution isn’t just to ask Jane to use a different product?” But I suspect you’ll hear that they (wrongly) think they can’t do that, or possibly that they already have and she’s said she’s unable to use a substitute.

3. Can I rescind an agreement to let someone work from a different office?

A woman who works for me has requested permission to work at an office location closer to her home three days a week on a permanent basis. (She and her husband bought a house over an hour from here last year.) In the past I allowed her to do this for two days a week for several months because she was working on her masters degree in the evenings at a campus near her home. Then last year she got pregnant and had a letter from her doctor saying she needed to restrict her driving time, so I allowed her to work there the full five days a week until the baby was born. The arrangement worked okay but not great, and now that she’s back from maternity leave I’d really like to limit her to two days a week there.

Now here’s the kicker: in a moment of weakness before she had her baby, I told her she could work in the other office three days a week when she came back from maternity leave. She set up her daycare schedule based on that promise. Is it okay to change my mind and limit her time there to two days a week? Or do I need to honor my word?

You should honor your word, unless there’s something going on that makes it truly bad for the business for you to do so. She made plans based on what you told her, and it’s not fair to go back on that now just because you had a moment of weakness. (And this is a good time to resolve not to have those sorts of moments of weakness in the future. It’s never fun to tell someone no, but it sucks far more to tell them no after you’ve already told them yes and they planned around that.)

That doesn’t mean that you have to stick to this forever, but if you do decide you need to change it at some point, you should give her a ton of advance notice — like months, not weeks.

And if it truly is bad enough for the business that you need to revisit it now, do so with serious apologies. Otherwise you’ll get a reputation as a manager who doesn’t think it’s a big deal to break promises.

4. Working after being fired

I have a coworker who is going to be fired soon and she learned about the potential for being fired about a week ago. Our schedules come out once every two weeks and she is scheduled for three days next week, but the company plans to fire her tomorrow. She said she looked into it and that if she is fired, she is legally entitled to work the days she is scheduled even if she is fired before her last scheduled day. I was just wondering how true this statement is.

Not at all true. Companies can end your employment at any time and they have no obligation to let you work previously scheduled days. In fact, it’s far more common than not that people leave immediately once they’re fired rather than continue to work any additional days.

5. Getting pre-approval for vacation dates

I work for an extremely small company, meaning it’s myself and the owner. I handle the majority of all daily operations and get seven days PTO per year (accrued).

My boyfriend purchased tickets to Maui last year for my birthday as a surpise, and I gave my boss six months notice, to which her response was “I guess I can’t say no?” My previous vacation was a year prior.

I noticed that in the employee manual it said to not make travel arrangements until your request is approved. Is it legal to ask of employees? I did go on my vacation and worked during it, but I’d like to know about the stipulation of not making arrangements until it’s approved.

Yep, that’s legal and very common. The idea is that it’s possible those dates wouldn’t work for some reason — everyone else is going to be out then, or it’s the big annual conference, or the busiest client week of the year, or so forth.

Your manager’s response was a little cranky, but it can be annoying to have an employee present vacation dates as a fait accompli without checking on those things, which might be what she was reacting to. On the other hand, there are also plenty of jobs where you can easily know that a particular week will be fine, and in those cases managers shouldn’t get cranky over the principle of the thing. (On a third hand, once a manager has had to deal with telling someone that their already-booked vacation dates won’t work — which is rarely an enjoyable conversation for anyone — crankiness may be understandable.)

{ 512 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Jerry Vandesic

    OP3: Is there a reason why you want to renege on your offer to let her work remotely 3 days per week? I didn’t see anything in your posting that indicated that there was a problem with her work while she is remote? Without a reason, any change would seem petty.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Agreed—it’s also hugely disruptive for the employee. Once you bring in someone’s childcare arrangements (or similarly difficult to change arrangements), then “oh I had a moment of weakness” is usually not a strong enough reason to go back on your word. But if there are legitimate problems, then it’s worth identifying those problems and giving the employee the opportunity to correct them. And then, if things aren’t working and the only option is forcing her to come back into her “home-base” office 3 days/week, at least OP’ll have made reasonable efforts at correction and given ample notice.

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      The OP says in the letter that the arrangement worked “okay but not great” and I’m going to ask that we take the OP at her word, even though she didn’t provide details about why she thinks that. There are loads of reasons for why that could legitimately be the case.

      It’s fine to say “you should really think through your reasons and make sure they’re solid,” but I don’t want us assuming that her reasons aren’t good enough just because she didn’t get into detail about what they are (she presumably didn’t think she’d need to prove her reasons are good enough order to ask the question). This is one of those things that can make writing in aggravating for people.

      Reply
      1. Lance

        Yeah, that’d basically be my suggestion: consider why the arrangements weren’t going great, then maybe consider some ways that they could be improved (assuming they have to do with things other than her being directly on-site) without needing to go back on the offer, at least at this time.

        Reply
        1. AdAgencyChick

          Yeah, I think what needs to happen is the OP should talk to her employee about what the problems are with the remote working arrangement, and work together with the employee to find ways to solve or at least minimize the impact of those problems.

          Reply
          1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For

            I had an employee where my boss wanted me to basically tell her, “even though you were hired as a remote employee,” you have 30 days to move here or find a new job.

            It was a knee-jerk reaction to an incident that wasn’t entirely her fault. Once we sat down, discussed the situation, and outlined ways to prevent it from happening again, things improved greatly. One of the things that came out of it was a Monday morning, “this is my week” email and a Friday wrap-up email. Once I had better visibility to her work, it made a huge impact.

            Reply
            1. Liz2

              I was that person. Boss moved to from TX to VA, almost all of our dozen employees were remote coders or such. After a year he changed his mind and said I either come to work at the office or he would let me go. I was not going to move to VA. Very sad to lose such a sweet work from home situation for no reason, but oh well.

              Reply
      2. Hiring Mgr

        I don’t think it’s doubting the OP so much as just wanting more detail to understand the situation better and possibly provide more helpful advice…

        Reply
        1. Managed Chaos

          I wouldn’t ask her to change her plans if there is anyway around it for at least 6 months or so. And as Alison said, you need to give plenty of warning if this does occur. This is likely an extremely emotional time for your employee and a big life transition on top of it. You should also consider her ability to switch easily- some daycares have huge waiting lists and finding care isn’t easy.

          If you do have to ask her to change, I would see if there are any other accommodations you can make to ease the childcare situation (shifting hours slightly, etc.)

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Yeah—this is certainly my intent when I ask OPs their reasons. It’s not to challenge/doubt them, but rather, to model the questions I’d ask myself if I were in their shoes (and to ensure I’m not making an erroneous assumption).

          Reply
          1. Natalie

            In that vein, if the OP spends some time thinking about why it is working okay but not great, perhaps they will think of some changes that will help without requiring the person change offices. For example, if it’s a team cohesion issue, maybe the employee could plan to come to the main office for lunch a couple of times a week. If it’s a communication problem, there might be technical solutions. Etc.

            Reply
            1. Jerry Vandesic

              Exactly. If the OP can’t clearly articulate the reasons it’s not working, and propose specific ways to remedy those issues, then the remote employee is not going to be mollified. While “it’s not working” might sound good to the OP, it’s not going to fly with employee. At least not if OP wants to keep the employee.

              Reply
            2. Jerry Vandesic

              Also, okay work is by definition okay. The OP might want to see great work, but at this point in her life the remote employee might be good with delivering okay work.

              Reply
    3. Snark

      “Petty” is a really nice word for it. OP3, if the question is ever “do I need to honor my word,” keep in mind that the answer is, with exceptions that only serve to prove the rule, “YES.”

      Reply
  2. Ramona Flowers

    #3 Why did it work okay but not great? I’d honour your word and find other ways to fix the not-great part.

    Reply
    1. Kate, Short for Bob

      Yes, this. Articulate clearly to yourself what’s not great about the arrangement, and then meet with your employee and ask her to help you address the issues – she may have solutions you haven’t thought of, and if she doesn’t then it opens the discussion for having her move her work back to your office in the future.

      But the problems need to be clear to her – are there any specific measurements that you can point to in productivity or process delay? My instinct is that the better your analysis of why this isn’t working for you, the quicker you can get her focused on solving the problem, or the quicker you can get to ‘we’ll need you back in the office, how much time will it take you to get this set up?’

      One other thing, with everything she’s got going on right now, she could decide to look for a job closer to home. What’s your cost/benefit of having to replace her Vs absorbing the impact of her working partially in a different office?

      Reply
    2. Stellaaaaa

      Sometimes there’s no good workaround when a team member is not in the same physical location as the rest of her team. Even if they could trade her for someone in the other office, it’s not necessarily management’s fault if things are less than ideal when employees are not working in the offices they were hired to work in.

      Reply
      1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        I recognize there are managers who feel this way, but I think unless the employee is doing physical/tangible work (like collating copies or mailing packages or fixing computers in person), this is an old-fashioned way of thinking that doesn’t reflect our modern reality. In 2017 there are technological workarounds for everything but the need to physically handle tangible goods. If the employee isn’t making the most effective use of those workarounds, you can address that without requiring them to be physically present in the office.

        Video conferencing is trivially easy these days. Most laptops built in the past 5 years have built-in cameras and microphones, and there are a plethora of free or cheap video solutions like Skype or Bluejeans. The technology is mature by this point, and it’s reliable.

        Likewise there are tons of options for collaborative editing and project management, many of which are free or cheap, and there are chat clients like Slack that can replace the ol’ “pop your head into the office for a chat” thing.

        I know a lot of managers are old-fashioned and prefer to walk the print-out down the hall or pop their head into the office, and I know there are remote employees who become unresponsive to chat or refuse to turn their video camera on because they are self-conscious, etc. But that’s different than saying there’s no workaround. The manager can recognize that their preferences are just that–preferences, not business needs–and they can tell the employee they are required to be responsive to their coworkers on chat and email, and they are required to turn their video camera on.

        The solutions exist. The manager needs to decide if retaining this employees matters enough to use them.

        Reply
        1. The IT Manager

          When an employee needs to collaborate face-to-face is often better. This is supported by studies and my own experience.

          Meeting flow better when the participants can read body language. There’s much less talking over each other and awkward pauses. More noticing someone who’s quiet seems to have something to contribute. Keeping participants focused and not multi-tasking. If you’re brainstorming, tele- and video- conference does not allow the same level of joint work on a whiteboard or document.

          Additionally when only one person is remote, the other team members tend to forget to make sure the technology is working for the remote one. If there’s only one person dialing in and everyone else is in the room, often the audio won’t be clear for the remote employee because the other participants aren’t near the microphone. The office technology won’t be optimize for remote work if it’s a rare, one-off thing.

          There are electronic work around, but for collaboration face to face is very often significantly better and could definitely be worth having someone come in. Value is harder to clarify when the LW does allow remote work some days a week, but it really sounds like the LW agreed to be “nice” instead of actually evaluating the business impact.

          Reply
          1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            I’m probably biased here because several members of my team, including myself, are full-time or part-time remote, but I don’t see these issue on our team. I think all of the complaints you listed as shortcomings of audio conferences, but ever since we adopted v-con several years ago, those issues have evaporated. I’m not suggesting that audio conferencing is a workaround, because audio conferencing is a crappy solution with many shortcomings. I’m specifically saying that video conferencing is what has solved this problem in recent years.

            You can read body language perfectly well over v-con, it’s very easy to jump into the conversation, and we even do whiteboard brainstorming sometimes. (Even when everyone is physically in the same room there’s only ever one person acting as scribe for the board, it’s not like a free-for-all with markers.)

            People can multitask just as easily when they bring their laptop to the meeting in person as they can when they’re joining the meeting remotely by laptop–you address that by asking for everyone’s attention and participation, and also not requiring people to attend meetings where their presence is so unnecessary that nobody notices they aren’t participating.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Unless you jump on videocon randomly to chat with people in the 5 minutes you have between face to face meetings, it’s not enough of a substitute.

              Basically, it’s a model that depends on meetings, and a lot of really important human communication happens in interstices.

              Reply
              1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

                I’ll agree it’s a different model, but I don’t think it depends on meetings. I do 2 days remote/3 days in the office and I have approximately the same amount of interaction with people either way. There is very little face to face contact even when we’re in the office. Everyone uses Slack because it’s faster than getting up from our desks. I go entire days in my office not speaking to another soul.

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                1. Turquoise Cow

                  I think another thing to remember is that different people communicate better in different ways. Some people can’t communicate well in the written word – they need at least a phone call if not an in-person meeting. And while things like Slack are useful, some people might find it equally as annoying to be interrupted by chats as in-person drop ins, or might not notice a chat.

                  It’s one thing to say, “everyone can just email/chat,” but that doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, and some people might actually be hindered by having to do that.

                  Not to mention the benefits of actually seeing your coworkers day-to-day to build rapport/teamwork. It’s easier to work with someone when you see them in person at least occasionally, and thus see them as a human instead of just words on a screen.

              2. memyselfandi

                I built a team through videoconferencing across 4 locations in three states. Some of the team members I had never met in person. It had been our intention to meet as a team in person within the first 6 months. We didn’t get around to it for a year and a half. Video conferencing is a very effective tool.

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  I think it’s different where everybody’s in the same position. When you have some people working face to face and some remotely, it gets more complicated.

            2. Antilles

              This phrase is really the key: “several members of my team”. If it’s something that’s widely accepted and common among the team, it’s a lot easier to work through the issues, figure out workarounds, get people used to it, and make sure the employees actually have good setups. Whereas if it’s an uncommon event or limited to only one person, then the company probably is a lot closer to the “meh, here’s a laptop and VPN” side of the spectrum.

              Reply
            3. The IT Manager

              It depends on technology. All computers come with camera now-a-days does not mean that the standard laptop camera and whatever network the company has supports good video over the network especially for multiple people. That is a sign that your company has bought into virtual teams and are supporting accordingly.

              And I do work on a virtual team (without video because my organization’s network can’t support it is I think the reason we’ve been told), but I acknowledge that face-to-face would be efficient for a lot of our interactions. But if that were the case, we would not have this team because we’d all probably stay where we live now.

              Reply
          2. Princess Carolyn

            I much prefer collaborating on Slack rather than in person, I guess because I’m someone who communicates better in writing than in speech. Slack eliminates the problem of speaking over each other, and it’s easy for a leader to get derailing conversations back on track or notice a specific person hasn’t chimed in much. It also makes it easier to go back to the discussion and remember what, exactly, was discussed.

            I do agree, though, that remote working is most likely to run into trouble when it’s only one or two people working remotely. That can be fixed with some changes in culture/practices, though. You just have to want to make remote work and take those steps, which a lot of managers/companies don’t do.

            Reply
          3. tigerStripes

            People who work remotely don’t have to tune out (or join in) the various non-work conversations that tend to go on at work. When I work remotely, I can turn on music that I like and get work done.

            Reply
        2. Dust Bunny

          Oh, for crying out loud–some of us have jobs that just don’t work out as well if we’re in separate buildings. I’m in an offsite location and *nothing* works as well–we have to have a courier to shuttle materials back and forth; we can’t forward calls reliably; the other departments don’t understand the way we’re arranged and often give clients inaccurate information; it’s hard to get to meetings; etc., etc. It’s unavoidable because my department has space requirements that the main building cannot accommodate, but we don’t have bottomless resources to make everything work perfectly.

          Not every workplace can arrange it so working remotely works out smoothly. Can we stop grilling every manager who says this?

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Amen to your last part. There absolutely are managers who resist remote work unnecessarily, but there are also plenty of situations where it really is less optimal.

            In addition to all the examples you gave, there are also cases where having someone off-site necessarily means more work falls to their coworkers who are physically present, simply because it requires someone being right there to take it on (for example, dealing with walk-ins).

            Reply
            1. NW Mossy

              I’ll also throw it in that it makes it harder (though by no means impossible) to have a strong working relationship between manager and employee. I’ve had remotes since I started managing, and it will never be as easy for me as it is to manage people I can interact with face-to-face more often than once a year. Reasonably workable, sure, but it will always require an extra effort just to get to the same relationship-quality as those on site with me.

              I don’t think it’ll ever get to the point where my relationships with my remotes are better than those with my on-sites. The differences are subtle but noticeable (at least to me), and I’m on a constant quest not to let that hold people back in their careers.

              Reply
              1. Turquoise Cow

                Yes. You view people you seen in person as real people and you’re likely to have a better working relationship (and relationship in general) with someone you see in person than someone who is just text on a screen or a voice on a phone.

                Reply
                1. BF50

                  My company’s internal emails have head shots of every employee. Putting a face to a name really does help. I have a few remote coworkers and putting a face to a name really helps.

                  I even have one coworker on a team we collaborate with regularly that recently switched to 100% remote work and it was over a month before most of my team even noticed. Her desk was on the other side of the building.

                  It can work, but even here in a company that fully supports remote work, it doesn’t work for all jobs, all employees, all teams, or all managers.

            2. It's all academic to me

              This this this. To have a group of coworkers, whether in another building , city, state or even country, they ALL have to buy in to the whole “We’re only going to meet virtually.” idea.
              REALLY tough when you’re dealing w/so many different levels and varieties of technology and comfort-levels. Not to mention network reliability and even colleagues’ personalities…
              Face to face, while costly, and yeah – sometimes I’d rather NOT be in a room w/some of these people – can be much more effective and seems to promote a deeper sense of community much better, IMO.
              Nothing sucks like technology that doesn’t work properly.

              Reply
            3. Hiring Mgr

              Sure, but in my experience it’s more common for managers to err on the side of “work in the office unnecessarily” rather than “work remotely even if it doesn’t make sense for this specific job”

              Reply
                1. Anna

                  I think most people are just asking for details so they can get a better context on what the OP needs. In this case, the commenters are filling a void not provided by the OP. It would help if the OP could provide some background or specific thoughts around what issues they’re running into.

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Perhaps so, but I wanted to cut it off early because with letters in the past when I haven’t stepped in to do that, it’s turned into an inappropriate, borderline-hostile interrogation of the letter writer.

                3. Natalie

                  Indeed. Having the same question repeated over and over is going to feel grill-y no matter how relevant the question is.

            4. Sloan Kittering

              Amen to that! I’m the on-site employee. The offsite employees always boast about how productive they are in finishing some specific assignment, but I facilitate a LOT of the team’s work because I’m the one that most emergency on-site things fall to. I do task based things *and also* all the rest of what it takes to get our business running. My boss doesn’t say it, but I know I’m worth more to her than the off-site people – and she has demonstrated this several times recently.

              Reply
              1. Artemesia

                So this. There are so many elements of most jobs that are in addition to completing task A and B. I remember running a three week summer training seminar one year where I was staying at the hotel and the local co-director was going home at night. There was a huge amount of on site interpersonal management that went on every night — I was doing so much more of the work that needed to happen for it to be successful.

                In lots of jobs there are coordination, last minute, etc tasks that can only be done in the office that someone working remotely peeling their stack of potatoes doesn’t get called on to do.

                But if this needs to change and it becomes clear after a month or two back on the job, then the OP should give 6 mos notice of so if possible and at least 3 mos notice in any case given the issues of managing child care where she has counted on these assurances.

                Reply
              2. Competent Commenter

                I can totally understand that dynamic. My husband and I have both noticed that when we take our work home, we get less stuff dumped on us because we’re just not there. Basically, if they can’t make eye contact with you they won’t hand off that trivial assignment. And I see it happening when I supervise people. I work with some offsite vendors and I also assign work to student workers who may be working from home. I am way, way less likely to hand them a bunch of small projects if they’re not in front of me. If I have to take the time to send a clear email with lots of instructions and attached photos and all that in order to get some social media posts done by them, I’m more likely to just do it myself. I’m actually a big fan of remote work, having done it myself for many years, but I also realize that in a fast-paced environment with many small tasks coming over the transom, having someone right there with you so you can discuss things and immediately pass them on makes that kind of work go much more efficiently.

                Reply
                1. Sloan Kittering

                  Exactly! And in a way I think you could do this very strategically – maybe your best teapot report reviewer who you want to be 100% on teapot reviewing all day might be protected by working remotely. But that’s not how it’s usually used. I have the same job title as my coworkers and the same tasks and presumably skills, but they requested remote work for lifestyle reasons, not work related reasons. And I pick up all the slack. If I worked remotely too, the business would grind to a halt.

          2. Lora

            Ugh. I hear you on the shuttling materials back and forth. I deal with that every. hecking. day. The analytical instruments are in one building, the reactors that generate the materials that need analyzed immediately are in another building. It’s crazymaking running all over the place, the whole logistics of the company just were not thought through at all. I’d be less frustrated if this wasn’t the case at literally half the biotechs/pharmas I’ve ever worked in.

            Reply
          3. paul

            Yep.

            There’s a world of difference between occasionally pulling a remote day (likely OK as a practical issue in a lot of workplaces) and regularly working remotely 3/5ths of the time.

            In OP’s case, they’ve already said the person can, so they’re kind of stuck unless they want to lose an employee/massively hurt morale, but it isn’t shocking that remote work can be sub optimal in a lot of cases.

            Reply
            1. Stellaaaaa

              It’s possible that this arrangement is hurting other people’s morale though. It really, really sucks to see someone get a “perk” based on something like childcare costs when you’ve been making it work for years without thinking to lay it at management’s feet. It’s a problem waiting to happen when one employee gets this kind of perk to the detriment of productivity, when this benefit was never made available to the people who are picking up her slack. Sometimes you need to weigh one person’s morale against the morale of many.

              Reply
          4. Snark

            Your point is good, but when it’s annoyingly common for managers to err on the other side, the response is at least understandable.

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          5. PB

            Thank you. There are lots of times where remote work doesn’t work, and plenty of other times where it works, but not that well. A manager could have a lot of legitimate reasons for not wanting employees to work remotely, and it doesn’t make them “old fashioned.” In particular, this letter writer said that it hadn’t been great, so their reluctance is not out of a sense of “this is how we’ve always done it.” It’s based on their real-world experience of this having been a problem for this employee.

            Reply
          6. Stellaaaaa

            There’s a swath of commenters here who like to insist that work can always be done independently and that people are lying when they claim to be inconvenienced by absent coworkers. I honestly feel like I’m being gaslighted in a very minor way whenever I have to explain that most workplaces function more efficiently when everyone is there at the same time. Why is that being disputed? It wastes time and derails conversations when people pop up and insert “But we all KNOW that remote arrangements and a 5 am- 2 pm workday should work for any reasonable business” into every discussion along these lines. It’s a ridiculous argument.

            Reply
            1. Gazebo Slayer

              Yeah, it’s bizarre to me because I’ve never had a job other than a bit of freelancing here and there that would even work remotely. Like, it’s not an option that could ever be on the table for a lot of us.

              Reply
            2. Specialk9

              Well, because it really can work for some jobs! Mine is uber telework compatible. I go into the office because it’s where subsidized child care is located, and I get sad if I don’t see people. But if I didn’t schedule human interaction, I could go all week with only 1 half hour with actual humans. I talk with people remotely across several countries, and just plug away at my work.

              My prior experience was that managers who didn’t like telework weren’t actually very good managers. They had no way of measuring what people were doing except time of butts in seats.

              That said, I’m not at all claiming that telework is a good call for all people. I had one co-worker who told me, a more senior team member, that she used to babysit grandkids during telework days. “But not now of course!” Then she wouldn’t respond to emails all day, until she sent a flood of responses at 9 pm. (Serious side eye)

              Reply
              1. Stellaaaaa

                It’s very #notalljobs to respond to “For better or worse, this is how most companies operate,” with, “But here are the specific details of my specific job!” Most people do not work at the sorts of companies that employ 80% of the more vocal commenters here. I find that people here sometimes forget the necessity of interacting with customers and coworkers in real time, that we don’t live in a world free of the notion of public-facing jobs.

                And if you’re going to respond with more details about your job, take me at my word that I believe you when you say you work remotely. You don’t need to convince me that you yourself have this kind of work arrangement. Most people do not and cannot.

                Reply
        3. LCL

          I’m starting to think that working remotely isn’t as easy to do as it is sometimes presented. Our city and region have gone from OK commutes to gridlock in a relatively short period of time. The two biggest employers pointed out as having the greatest impact are both internationally famous business. If Bill Gates can’t make the majority of his workforce telecommute, it must be difficult. The arguments on online discussion boards where we hash out the local traffic problems are basically ban cars vs don’t ban cars, and the suggestion to work remotely receives nothin’ but crickets.

          Reply
          1. Anna

            I feel that. If you are in the US, we are probably in the same part of the country and it’s something your neighbors to the south are seeing too. My job isn’t one that can be done remotely, but my husband’s is but it definitely isn’t something that gets offered as an option.

            Reply
          2. Anon Anon

            I wouldn’t ever want to work remotely all the time. I would miss the in person discussion and collaboration. Not to mention, I think the visibly is important.

            I do know people who do successfully telecommute 100% of the time. But, not every one performs well in that situation, and not every job functions well when that is the case.

            Reply
          3. Manders

            Hey, I think we’re in the same metro region. It really is a complicated issue with a lot of moving (or, at rush hour, not moving) parts–we just have too many companies that want to be in the downtown core, too many people who can’t afford to live close to where they work, and too many improvements that desperately need to be made to our aging infrastructure to tackle everything at once.

            I just left the center of town for a community close to the city’s edge, and I’ll admit, I’ve been a bit cranky about spending so much of my time dealing with an overloaded transit system when telecommuting seems like such a good idea. Fortunately, I do have the opportunity to work remotely sometimes, but *something* is going to have to give in this region sooner or later.

            Reply
          4. JM60

            I doubt that ease is why Microsoft employees don’t work remotely (which I’ll take your word on). I, along with all other programmers I work with, work remotely about half the time, and it’s very easy.

            Working remotely is partly why I love my job. Commute is one of the things that most strongly correlates with life happiness that people have control over. A shorter commute can have the equivocal impact on happiness as a a raise of tens of thousands of dollars a year.

            Reply
            1. JM60

              When I say “I’ll take your word on”, I mean I’ll take you word that Microsoft employees generally don’t work remotely.

              Reply
            2. Manders

              I have some friends who work at Microsoft, and it sounds like in-person meetings are a big part of the company culture. Microsoft actually hired a fleet of charter buses to get employees to its offices–basically running their own private bus service during peak hours–so having people in the office is important enough to the company that they’re willing to spend a lot of money to make that happen.

              The frustrating part is all the other companies that aren’t willing to spend money on moving employees around, but also aren’t willing to have offices outside the city center, allow telecommuting, or stagger start and end times around rush hour.

              Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Of course, but if you’re in the employee’s position, and if you relied on your boss to set things like childcare, you’re going to wonder what changed between your boss ok’ing 3 days away instead of 2.

        It’s totally legitimate for OP to require their report to come in for any nymcsr of valid business reasons. But there’s a window when it’s less disruptive to withdraw approval (like within 1-2 days), and it sounds like that window has passed. So I think the focus now has to be on addressing whatever aspects of the arrangement are “not great but ok” (and fixable) and giving the employee a month(s)’-long head’s up that OP needs the employee to go back to only 2 days in the other office.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          My sister flat-out quit when her employer broke the promise to let her work remotely 3 days a week. She has been a stay at home parent for 5 years now. When she goes back to work, it won’t be with an employer that broke its word to her.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Yes—Czhorat explains this well, below, about the importance of keeping your word. To be clear, OP can still change their mind and recall the employee. But I think the only way to do this “honorably” (so it’s not just going back on your word) is to make every effort to correct whatever’s not working in the remote set-up while allowing the employee to continue working 3 days remote, and then creating a transition plan back to 2 days remote that gives the employee several months’ time to deal with childcare and transition. And of course, there’s always the possibility that the employee may quit over this issue.

            Reply
    3. Czhorat

      In general, if the question is “do I have to honor my word?” the answer is almost always “YES”.

      OP answered the question themselves by phrasing it that way; would you rather have a slightly sub-obtimal workflow, or be seen as the kind of person who goes back on your word?

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        But she didn’t say it’s just slightly sub-optimal. If “okay but not great” is the difference between C work and A work, that’s a difference that can get people fired (or named first on layoff lists, etc.). She owes it to the employee to talk about what’s going on.

        Reply
        1. Czhorat

          Fair enough, but the larger point still stands; your word is important. It’s one difference between being a tolerable boss and a good one.

          Once the boss has given their word, I believe that the onus is on them to find ways to move it from “okay but not great” to, at the very least “acceptable in the long term”. The opportunity to say “no” came much earlier.

          This is, quite honestly, the kind of thing over which people leave jobs – both work/life balance and the feeling that management can’t be trusted.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Yes, your word is extremely important. Absolutely. But ultimately, the boss’s job is to meet the goals for her department. Part of doing that is being a good manager, someone whose word means something, because otherwise over time you won’t be able to attract or retain good people and you won’t continue getting the best possible results you could get. But it’s possible that this manager could realize that okaying this schedule was bad enough for her team’s results that she does need to take the hit to her credibility on this one. She has to look at the whole picture, not just this one aspect of it. If it turns out that’s the case, she’ll need to handle it as well as possible (taking responsibility for okaying it initially when she shouldn’t have, giving the employee as much advance warning as possible, etc.), but it’s not a simple “you can’t go back on your word.”

            Reply
            1. Snark

              Personally, my approach to this would be to address what’s not working great with the employee, and treat those as the legit performance issues they are, with the explicit warning that if it continues to not work out well for her to work at home, her schedule would be revisited during annual review time.

              Reply
              1. Natalie

                Yes, I think you can open the conversation with the employee now, and see if there are changes that can make this work better. The employee is presumably pretty motivated to keep this office arrangement so they should be on board.

                Plus, if you do have to rescind this agreement in the future, it won’t be quite so shocking if the employee has already been made aware that it’s not working optimally.

                Reply
            2. Thankful

              Thanks to everyone for all your insights. If this was easy I wouldn’t have had to call in the experts!

              To answer some of the speculations, part of our work is easily done at a remote location but part if it requires significant interaction with multiple people who are all here at the main office. Since some of the work is urgent it’s frustrating for the other project team members to have to wait until a Monday or a Wednesday to meet face to face with her, and they’re starting to complain about it.

              I’ve been very upfront with this employee and explained the frustration of her coworkers. We also went over using technoloty to compensate for her absence but even then her work would still be “okay but not great,” (maybe B instead of A quality) and this would be reflected in her performance reviews and therefore her raises. We’ve also talked about how it’s okay to decide to temporarily sacrifice her (admirable) ambitions to be a top performer at this time in her life. Unfortunately, her performance contributes to the success of the other people on her project teams. On the other hand, if I insist on only two days a week at the other office I’ll probably lose her and then the team will have to deal with the turmoil of getting a new person up and running.

              As far as keeping my word, that seems to be more important to me than to HR or my director. They both said it’s okay to change my mind if it impacts the performance of the company.

              I’m leaning toward allowing the 3 days a week at the remote office with the stipulation that I’ll poll the other team members at the end of the year to see how it’s working. In the meantime, I’ll help her come up with ideas to improve interaction from a remote location, provide her the necessary technology, etc. If they haven’t all found a way to make it work by then, I’ll ask her to change to 2 days a week at the remote office.

              Thanks again for all the comments, everyone!

              Reply
              1. Natalie

                How far away are the two offices? Is there some reason she can’t just drive to the Main Office when an urgent issue comes up?

                Reply
              2. Friday

                Thank you for the info, OP! I like your approach. One thing more though… you might want to consider coaching the in-office teammates as well on the best ways to keep projects moving, get questions answered, etc. If your remote employee is working five days a week, then urgent things should never wait to be addressed face to face on a Mon or Wed. That’s what emails, phone calls, IMs are for. Make sure your team isn’t developing a habit of waiting for her on Mon or Wed instead of reaching out with a call and/or an email, and then also make sure your remote employee has timely turnaround to all inquiries that come her way each day of the week.

                Reply
              3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                This is really thoughtful and makes a lot of sense, OP. I like your suggested solution/approach, and I hope the conversation goes well!

                Reply
        1. Jerry Vandesic

          This is an important point. A good manager does not blithely make commitments to employees and then renege when they realize they did so “in a moment of weakness.”

          Reply
      2. Stellaaaaa

        I would argue that OP did honor her word. Honoring your word doesn’t mean that the circumstances surrounding the initial approval will never change, or that a promise made six months ago is still a good idea now.

        Reply
    4. nonymous

      I agree. OP#3 is well within norms to say to employee “I’ve noticed that tasks XYZ are declining in quality, due to remote duty status. I want you to know that while I support your remote status 100%, it is necessary that our team continue to meet Performance Goal. If substandard performance cannot be resolved in six months, it may be that our team does not have the workflow, resources and/or cultural capacity needed for successful off-site functionality. I don’t want your performance evaluation negatively impacted by our organization limits. How can we address Performance Goal?”

      Note that it may be possible to restructure the employee’s schedule so that she is on-site for an additional calendar day for the face time without affecting daycare pickup timing. For example she can work at the primary location 8hrs M/T, 6hrs W; at the secondary site 8hrs Th/F and then two hours from home. Honestly, if she triages emails from home first thing in the morning that 2hrs is easily addressed with 30 minute chunks.

      Reply
  3. OrphanBrown

    Goodness, LW #5, 7 days is an awfully low amount of vacation time per year! I just turned down a job that offered 10. I want to work for a company or people that believe in supporting their employees to recharge and refresh.

    That’s not an opinion you asked for, but I am curious if you have job satisfaction, because if you don’t, and on top of this are getting shortchanged on vacation, maybe it’s time to look around.

    Reply
    1. Bea

      I’m not the OP but being someone who is the “everything” in a business comes with a lot of rewards, I’ve essentially been my own boss but with someone else bankrolling the operation and taking all that risk. But I’m a born workaholic and have little use for vacation, so all the discussion about how important vacation time is makes my eyes glaze over.

      Reply
      1. Workbot124

        Hi Bea, OP here.

        It does have it’s rewards but I would like to take some time off every once in a while. What’s awful is that I have absolutely no backup or freedoms because it’s myself and the owner. Meaning, if I were injured or on vacation, all customer service and most operations would just stop and wait for my return. I liked the idea at first but after 3 years I’m going a bit stir crazy.

        Reply
    2. CoveredInBees

      As Bea noted, there might be other perks. In an office that small, hours can be flexible (or a total nightmare) so things that otherwise might eat up PTO or even one’s free time can be accomplished during work hours so long as LW is on top of their workload.

      Reply
    3. Blue Anne

      Yes, that jumped out at me as well. Her boss is getting cranky about vacation dates with six months notice when OP only has 7 days to take in a whole year? I mean, I understand she should have checked dates, but really…

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yeah; that made me raise my eyebrows, too. I also suspect folks in a position like Bea’s are not stuck haggling about whether they have authorization 6 months in advance to take their scant vacation days.

        Reply
        1. Amber T

          I realize that this may be horrible advice in general, but just because it’s in the manual doesn’t mean that’s how the company really operates either. My manual states we have to request vacation days a month in advance, but it’s completely usual and normal to ask for a day or two off with just a couple of days notice (i.e., requesting Thursday & Friday off that Monday or a Wednesday the Friday before). Of course this assumes you know your work schedule and there’s nothing pressing. (For a longer time off, it’s usually a month or two notice because that’s how long it takes to plan stuff like that – six months is very generous.)

          Reply
          1. Michelle

            I want to say a huge “Amen” to this. There are quite a few policies/procedures, etc. in our employee manual that do not get followed.

            Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          As much as I get the theoretical appeal of a surprise trip, I am always surprised to read about them being sprung. Unless the surprisee is retired and they travel enough that the logistics are on autopilot.

          Reply
          1. Workbot124

            I was shocked when he gave me the tickets. We discussed it before but I didn’t know he actually booked it. Believe me, I never thought I would be one of “those people” and my elation was quickly squashed as the terror of telling my boss set in. I really care a lot about my work ethic and totally felt like an asshole being like, “I’m taking a vacation. Deal with it”. I did let him know that he can never do that again and I, unfortunately, did still receive cold shoulder / bitter treatment for a couple of weeks from my boss.

            Reply
            1. Amber T

              That’s absolutely ridiculous on your boss’s end. I can see her being upset if it was a month out or so, but you gave her six months notice! The concept of requesting days off is so your manager can figure out if there’s enough coverage (which is difficult when there are only two workers, but you are entitled to a vacation). *If* it was truly a problem (and again, there’s enough notice that it really shouldn’t be, but let’s just assume it was), her reaction shouldn’t be cold shoulder/bitter treatment – it should be sitting you down, explaining why it was a problem, and either figuring out if it’s plausible for you to delay your vacation or how she can get the coverage/help. Your boss is in the wrong here and is acting very immaturely.

              Reply
              1. OhNo

                I’m with Amber on this one. Even if your boss is a stickler for the rules and really needed the option to say no, it wasn’t very professional on their part to give you the cold shoulder. A good boss would definitely have clarified the expectations going forward, rather than punishing you for your request (because honestly, that’s what the silent treatment is).

                Also, OP, just based on your responses, your boss doesn’t sound all that great. It might be time to start polishing your resume, just in case.

                Reply
          2. LizB

            I’ve seen a few surprise trips being given as gifts, but usually in the format of “here is a cute certificate or fake plane tickets saying I’m going to take you to Cool Place, let’s sit down and figure out the details.”

            Reply
      2. Workbot124

        It may also be worth mentioning that there are specific blackout dates that I can’t take time off, and my vacation didn’t fall in any of those dates, and is also a slower time of year for us. Her crankiness (which is extremely uncomfortable because it’s just her and I) is because basically my work will be put on hold until my return as she won’t hire a part time person or temp to assume any of my duties if I’m out.

        Reply
        1. Amber T

          I just commented on your comment above, but does she expect you to work all day every day? I mean, as mentioned by a couple of people above, seven days is pretty low, but those are your seven days to do whatever you want with. The fact that you have black out days and you worked around them makes her reaction even more ridiculous.

          Reply
          1. Workbot124

            Hi Amber,
            My work schedule is the standard M-F from 8:30 to 5. I’m expected to be physically in the office for every minute of it, because once again, I’m the only employee and my boss is in / out of the office.

            Reply
        2. Brogrammer

          Yeah, it sounds like she just doesn’t ever want you to take a vacation. A reasonable boss wouldn’t quibble about asking vs. telling if you’re giving her 6 months’ notice and it’s scheduled during a known slow period. Sorry you have to deal with this.

          Reply
          1. Workbot124

            Brogrammer,
            That’s exactly how I felt. While the situation was already uncomfortable for me to inform her that I was surprised a vacation, I did feel that 6 months notice was a generous amount of time to find a temp or part time person to train on the necessities, which she did not pursue.
            I did feel frustration because if it’s so painful for her to authorize paid time off (other than medical), what’s the point of even offering PTO?

            Reply
    4. lily in nyc

      Yeah, that is really, really low. I would never accept a job that gives fewer than 3 weeks. To me, there are no perks that would make having only 7 days of vacation worth it (I know there are plenty of people who disagree but I’m just talking about myself).

      Reply
        1. LabTech

          Odd, state government was the only job I’ve had that offered three weeks vacation. The benefits were great because they pay is lower.

          Reply
          1. BMO

            Same :) State government gives me 3 weeks, plus 13 holidays, and 12 days sick. It’ll take me like 10 years to get to 18-20 days off, but starting at 3 weeks is great.

            I feel bad for my husband and his 6 holidays.

            Reply
        2. H.C.

          I work in local government which only gives 10 days by default, but lets employees buy up to 20 extra with our benefits allowance and/or salary (w unused days refunded at end of year). I always buy that extra four weeks, even if I don’t plan on taking them all.

          Reply
      1. Workbot124

        I would have to agree with you on that one. For the amount of stress and effort that goes into my role, I would really appreciate more PTO, but once again I have no coworkers so there’s no one to cover for me.

        Reply
      2. Look, a bee!

        I can’t imagine the stress of having so little paid time off! I work for the government health services here in the UK and our standard allowance from day one in the job is a little over five weeks plus all eight bank holidays. And it just goes up after five and ten years service.

        Reply
    5. BlueWolf

      My old job was at a small business. We got no paid vacation (I was hourly), but my schedule was flexible due to the nature of my work and often I would just work more hours before or after a vacation to make up for it. If I had an appointment, I would just work my schedule around it. The flexibility was nice sometimes, but I certainly don’t mind all the PTO I get at my new job, even if I no longer have the flexible schedule.

      Reply
      1. Turquoise Cow

        That’s a good point – I think I would be fine with almost no PTO if I could have a flexible schedule. Half the time my PTO is used for appointments and the other half are mental health days – having a flexible schedul that allowed me to take a half day or whole day when I wanted.

        Reply
    6. Bow Ties Are Cool

      Oof, yeah. I’ve never in my whole career (over 20 years) worked anywhere that started folks at less than 15 days, plus (at least 7) paid holidays. And that starting PTO number gets added to every few years you work, as a reward for loyalty.

      Reply
    7. I am now a llama

      LW #5 – 7 days is way on the short end of acceptable. My company gives 20 days which also includes sick time, which is one of the main reasons I stick around.

      Getting flustered when people only have 7 days a year is great way to get people to move on.

      Reply
    8. Workbot124

      Hi, OP here.

      Funny you should mention that, because I am currently seeking different opportunities. Because the business is so small I’m starting to feel suffocated after 3 years and the responsibilities keep adding up with no additional relief. I’m a workaholic but there really is only so much one person can do, and yes 7 days per year is very slim, which I should’ve thought about before accepting the position.

      Reply
  4. Ramona Flowers

    #5 Why would it not be legal? That rule is there to protect you – namely from booking tickets you can’t use.

    Reply
    1. Kitten

      I suspect the question is more along the lines of ‘can the company force me to cancel travel arrangements / refuse my leave because I didn’t ask first?’.

      If you manage your own calendar and don’t have to balance your leave with the rest of your team, it can seem like getting permission for taking time, especially with enough notice, is more of a formality than a requirement.

      I now work remotely 75% of the time and traveled to Ireland to house-sit last week without asking permission – all my work was done just the same, everyone could still get hold of me, and if anything I was more focused than usual, but it still felt a little like I was going to get caught out for not being in my own house! So I can see where there’s a grey area over how much say an employer should have over where you work from.

      Reply
      1. Bagpuss

        I don’t know about the US but in the UK it is completely legal – generally the employer can control when the employee takes their time off, provided that they get to take it.
        It’s also legal to cancel agreed leave provided that the employer gives at least as much notice as the time off (i.e. if you’ve had a week’s leave agreed, the employer could revoke the permission provided they give at least a week’s notice) In reality of course it would be very unusual to do this and it is possible that the employee might then have a claim against the employer for any financial losses they suffered.

        I don’t think I have ever worked any where where you were not required to get any time off approved in advance (ask not tell) .

        Where I am now, we have an office calendar on our intranet, and you are supposed to check this before requesting time off, so you can avoid asking for time which is unlikely to be approved (and clear guidelines about the criteria, which are mostly about not leaving any department understaffed) so if you follow the appropriate procedure you should be able to see before you ask whether there is likely to be a problem.

        I wouldn’t be annoyed if someone told be they had already booked flights etc but I would remind them of the process and warn then that requests are not automatically granted, as I don’t want to have to turn down a request and I don’t want them to put themself in a position where they are losing money or cancelling plans because they didn’t check first.

        Reply
        1. Gazebo Slayer

          The US doesn’t require vacation or sick time at all, actually. (Some states and cities have passed laws requiring sick time, but I don’t know of a single law anywhere in the country that requires vacation.)

          There are a few laws requiring unpaid medical, family, and military leave, but certainly not vacation.

          Reply
    2. Bend & Snap

      I had to fire someone over this after he pulled it one too many times. We were an agency and coverage was important, so booking a 2 1/2 week vacation without checking first was a big FU to our policies.

      He went on the trip and we fired him when he got back after discovering a serious mistake also related to his time OOO.

      Reply
      1. Red 5

        Yeah, I was going to point out that in general, this policy is in place for good reason and I don’t begrudge a company for having it because I’ve had too many co-workers who just marched in and said “I’m doing this and you can deal” and it left us to pick up the slack or not get to take our own leave as we’d like. When one person always gets the priority for vacation days/coverage because they’re a jerk about it, everybody suffers (except them I guess).

        At my job now, we recently instituted a new timekeeping/PTO software where leave has to be pre-approved unless you fill out an extra bit of paperwork, and when people kicked up a miniature fuss about it, I just looked around confused and asked if none of them had ever worked retail before. It’s usually just formalizing a system that’s already in place in a good workplace with good management and good employees (I know, a unicorn would be nice too). Usually when you plan a vacation you go to your boss and say “Hey, I kind of want to go to Maui in August, would that be cool?” “Sure, have fun.” “Cool” *books tickets*

        In the case of a surprise gift of a trip…eeeeh, I wouldn’t know how to handle that because “surprise” and “vacation” don’t go together well for me because of my personality. I actually read the manager’s “I guess I can’t say no” as being less huffy than other people seem to think it was. I mean, their choices of responses were A-“Great, have fun” which doesn’t remind the employee of policy which might be in place for good reason, B-“I guess so” which they chose, C-“No, I’m sorry if your tickets are nonrefundable but no” which they probably didn’t have cause to do and didn’t want to do. There’s more delicate ways to phrase it, especially with six month’s notice they probably should have said, “That sounds like a fun trip, but maybe remind your boyfriend that you should get your days approved before you buy tickets, you don’t want to lose money from bad planning next time, you know?”

        Reply
        1. BlueWolf

          Right? I’m more annoyed at the boyfriend who booked a surprise trip. Maybe he didn’t know her situation at work about getting time off approved, but I feel like that’s how most PTO works generally? I know it’s a nice idea, but only if it works with your work situation.

          Reply
          1. TootsNYC

            I think that even if you do know someone’s PTO situation at work, buying the tickets and presenting them to someone is really manipulative and wrong.

            Wrap up a travel brochure, or something. Sunscreen, flipflops, and a piece of paper that says, “Maui, here we come!”

            That’s a LOT of money, and a lot of time, to pressure someone else to commit to because you’ve already spent it.

            What if she didn’t want to spend her precious 7 days of paid time off for that? She gets so very few; maybe she was planning to go visit her elderly grandpa.

            Reply
            1. Artemesia

              So this. Reminds me of all the letters in advice columns from women whose parents plan expensive family vacations without inquiring if the adult daughter can get time from work etc. It is borderline abusive for a partner to assume he can spent your vacation time without clearing it with you first. Maybe an innocent mistake from enthusiasm — or maybe a red flag about lots of issues of control.

              Reply
              1. Katie Sewell

                It definitely could be (and I would be SHOCKED if my spouse planned a whole vacation without my input), but given OP’s comments here, I wonder if the partner thought it was the only way to get her boss to allow it. If six months isn’t enough notice, what would be? OP hasn’t had a vacation in the three years since starting the job.
                My former boss is a workaholic, and his wife started booking cruises to keep him from driving down late and leaving early on all their family vacations.

                Reply
            2. Anna

              I think, since we don’t know if the OP loves those kinds of surprises, we shouldn’t assume what his intention was. What may be manipulative to me and you might very well be romantic and exciting to the OP.

              What I don’t get is why the OP’s boss if getting bent out of shape if the OP is giving the boss six months notice. That is a LOT of time to sort out the calendar.

              Reply
              1. Red 5

                The boss could have presented their side better, but I think they have every right to reinforce their policy and point out that this isn’t the way that vacation days should be requested in the future as it’s against a clearly stated policy that OP should have known.

                There wasn’t enough to go on to say that the boss’ intentions were anything other than to make it clear that they expect their employees to clear travel days before booking flights, as the way it went down isn’t something they’d like to have happen again in the future. If there was more there (the boss then made my life hell for three weeks, they grumbled under their breath for days on end about it, they’re still making snide comments about it) then yeah, that’s getting bent out of shape. But making a snarky comment about an employee breaking a stated rule is actually not that bad considering the entire situation. It doesn’t matter how many months notice you give or how easy it is for you to have coverage, the situation is against company policy, and that’s likely what the boss was reacting to.

                I fully agree we can’t judge the boyfriend’s gift without knowing the OP and their relationship. I would _hate_ this kind of thing and would react very negatively to it, but it’s not on the surface manipulative, controlling, or negative. It’s just a bad idea once you’re a grown up with responsibilities.

                Reply
                1. Workbot124

                  Red 5,
                  We’ve been together for 10 years and never taken an actual “vacation” together before. I definitely let him know that this can never happen again, regardless of my appreciation, and he of course had the pleasure of me coming home in tears for a few days after discussing with my boss and being passively resented by her. Knowing him, he really did have the best intentions and he also thought that 6 months in advance (on dates that are not blackout) wasn’t unreasonable.

                2. Red 5

                  We’re too deep in the comments for me to reply directly, but Workbot124, I just wanted to say that it sounds like a sort of honest mistake partners sometimes make and that’s kind of what I figured it was. I’ve known lots of people who would think it was a lovely and romantic gesture, even if it’s not my cup of tea.

                  And six months in advance with dates that aren’t blackout isn’t unreasonable a time to request and expect vacation days for sure, it’s plenty of time to arrange coverage or complete tasks/shift deadlines, etc. It just really is that most jobs want you to make a request for vacation days, not an announcement of them. I’m sorry that your boss reacted badly to the situation instead of just reminding you of the policy politely, and that she was resentful about it and that you ended up having to work on your vacation. All of those things are just not good management.

            3. Workbot124

              Hi Toots,
              I never thought I would be one of “those people” until it happened to me!
              Him and I previously discussed it and I mentioned something about “maybe in March” but then he went ahead and purchased tickets unbeknownst to me. I was truly thrilled and ecstatic at first, and then the dread set in and I explained to him that I really should’ve been a part of the decision making process. I can understand how it may look manipulative but that wasn’t his intention. Then, after seeing my distress following “the talk” with my boss, he was extremely apologetic for causing the disruption at work.

              Reply
      2. Workbot124

        Understandable. I’ve never been surprised with a vacation before and made sure that it won’t happen again. My previous vacation that I took a year prior was 3 days and I did not make travel arrangements until her and I negotiated. I understand that it puts a lot of strain on other departments, if you have departments.

        Reply
    3. Gazebo Slayer

      Seriously. People think all kinds of absurd imaginary labor laws exist. Which I think is part of why the United States has the utterly shameful lack of labor laws it does – people think there are already zillions of regulations on employment, including silly ones, and don’t realize there aren’t even laws for a lot of completely reasonable things like sick days.

      (A lot of this is tied to one’s own employment status and privilege. I’ve known soooo many people with permanent, benefited white-collar jobs who are shocked to discover how few protections other people have. For some of them, it’s a wake-up call. Unfortunately, a lot of them are resistant to the idea that others should have, say, sick days or health insurance, because can’t *everyone* just become an in-demand white-collar professional blah blah bootstraps gumption you service-industry workers aren’t really people.)

      Reply
      1. Yomi

        What gets me is that you’re absolutely right about all of this, and yet those same people walk around saying we need to de-regulate and that these kind of labor laws are “job killers.” I want to ask them what regulations and protections they think people really have, but I suspect the answer is going to always be “slightly better than what I get at my job.”

        Reply
        1. Antilles

          What gets me is that you’re absolutely right about all of this, and yet those same people walk around saying we need to de-regulate and that these kind of labor laws are “job killers.”
          I think that’s because people think of Government Regulation as some mindless bureaucratic procedure rather than the actual reality: Most regulations you see exist because someone found a loophole and abused it like crazy, so regulations were passed to protect others.

          Reply
        2. Specialk9

          I read this fascinating article recently that basically said that employers are actually a form of government. It made a good argument that the actually, real-govt provides protections when the employer-govt social contract gets broken. But real-govt gets a bad rap for adding rules, but employer-govt causes so much more harm. For the life of me, can’t find the article!

          Reply
      2. Lora

        Or they think that the Work Police are going to be summoned by HR to go all Flying Monkey on someone accused of (illegal thing), when in fact getting any white collar crime prosecuted or even litigated in civil court means tossing your own career down the toilet and a pile of money to get a lawyer to take the case at all.

        And if you state unequivocally something as an absolute fact such as “people without paid sick days will come to work and make everyone else sick, which is bad for business if you are Chipotle spreading around norovirus to your customers,” they look at you like you’ve got three heads and say “well maaayyyybeeee…” and then act like you are flippin’ Che Guevara and Karl Marx’s love child.

        Reply
        1. Antilles

          And if you state unequivocally something as an absolute fact such as “people without paid sick days will come to work and make everyone else sick”
          Anybody who doesn’t believe this happens (regularly!) has clearly never worked in a restaurant. Because this happens all the time.

          Reply
          1. Dankar

            So true. I’ve fought with my partner to make him stay home from his restaurant job when he wasn’t feeling well. And it wasn’t even that we NEEDED the money, it was that he was certain his boss would hold the call-out against him.

            I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to make that calculation when you’re actually depending on every hour on your usual paycheck to make ends meet.

            Reply
          2. Lora

            Exactly. That’s the thing, these people haven’t worked in a restaurant. Or any other job where the money was a choice between eating and going hungry. And then they’re rolling their eyes at your own lived experience. And it’s like, wow, have a nice day, I am urgently required elsewhere…

            Reply
            1. OhNo

              Or at least, they haven’t worked in those places since they were a teenager and didn’t have to worry about paying bills or even keeping the job for more than a couple of months.

              You’d be amazed how often I hear older relatives spouting off about how they know the restaurant industry – after all, they worked at a fast food place for two months in 1968!

              Reply
          3. Look, a bee!

            So true. When I worked for a well known internationally famous pizza chain (not Pizza Hut) the low wage, insecure zero hour contract and lack of sick pay meant people would come to work literally having diarreah or vomiting in the bathroom then coming out front to make and serve food.

            Reply
    4. Workbot124

      That’s what I was wondering – I understand in theory that it’s to protect me from making plans that are then unapproved, but I guess I’m trying to look for the legality of stating “do not make travel arrangements until PTO is approved”.

      Reply
      1. Ego Chamber

        It took me a long time to figure this out, but laws are never about saying what someone can do, they’re about saying what someone can’t do.

        Reply
    5. SpiderLadyCEO

      But in this case, how do you deal with booking for events that you might not know what date they are? Like, I want to buy show tickets in NYC – and I’m going to grab the tickets whenever I can. That will require me taking at least two days off work. What about weddings? Obviously you’re going to go, do you not book tickets?

      This just seems like an awfully frustrating rule to have. It puts work over life, and as much as I love my work, I’m not missing out on my LIFE because my work wants to control it.

      Reply
      1. Red 5

        Well, it depends on a lot of things, including your workplace, how vital you are, how much coverage there is, etc.

        With the weddings I’ve attended since being an adult on my own, I’ve gotten save the dates so many months in advance that it was super easy to request the days off in time, if it was on a day I would be working which was rare, or out of town which has also been rare that I could attend it anyway.

        With something that’s more up in the air like a show that you’re just trying to get tickets to whatever you can, I’m not sure, it would be super job specific. At my job I have now, they would be thrilled for me to get a chance to do something fun as long as I hadn’t already agreed to do a specific thing that day that could only be accomplished by being physically in the office. But I’ve had other jobs where I couldn’t even get them to make reasonable accommodations for my class schedule because “it’s not fair to the other workers that you can’t ever take that evening shift” and they would pretend that at any minute they could schedule me to work and acted like they expected me to just skip class that night to be there.

        I think in a reasonable office, it’s fine to just say “I’m trying to do this thing, I’ll have X notice of what days I’ll want off, and I’ll keep you up to date on what’s going on and won’t miss any of my deadlines.” The whole thing is about communication really, but aren’t most work problems?

        Reply
  5. OrphanBrown

    LW #1, sounds like a possible case of SWF. I think Alison is spot on in telling you to call things out as you see them happening. If they make her uncomfortable that’s ok, she’s obviously making you uncomfortable. Put it back on her.

    I would also consider mentioning something about the meals. And or changing up what you eat to see if it results in a change on her end. At the very least you’ll know what level of psycho you’re dealing with, if she changes her meals to match yours exactly, again.

    Reply
    1. Zillah

      Can we not use words like “psycho” here, please? It’s really stigmatizing for people who have mental illnesses.

      Reply
      1. Working Mom

        It’s also entirely possible the OP is being emulated for harmless reasons. Perhaps the office mate admires the OP personally and professionally, and is trying to emulate OP’s behavior with honest intentions but misdirected. Maybe OP is well respected in the office and office mate aims to achieve that level of respect and thinks if OP is coming in early, staying late – then she should too. The meals – it sound like OP has the same meals on a regular basis; so maybe the office mate thought it looked good and copied it for that reason, or maybe OP appears more fit & healthy than the office mate, and she is trying to make improvements to her own diet.

        Now, not saying the office mate copying everything OP is doing is entirely appropriate. But, I’d encourage OP to consider that perhaps the office mate looks up to her – and is there a way she can mentor this office mate a little bit, help her find her own path to success without just copying someone around her? Think about new grads – we do often encourage them to look to another well respected professional in terms of attire, behavior, etc for some guidelines without having to ask outright, “can I wear this?” or “can I do this?”

        Reply
        1. Red 5

          I’ve seen many situations where a manager has told an employee that they should have a work ethic more like X, even if it doesn’t make sense for the employee. A lot of bosses don’t understand or don’t track the metrics that matter, and so they think an employee who works more hours is naturally just more productive and more dedicated to their job. That could be something at play here.

          The food thing though, that’s just odd. I can’t really make much headway in that in my brain, because I’ve seen co-workers emulate each other’s food choices before but it’s always been because of a conversation not just silently copying. “Oh, that looks delicious, I never feel like I have time to make healthy meals like that.” “Oh, it’s not that hard, here’s what I do.” “Oh, I’ll have to try that.” But to just suddenly be eating the same food every day without even a “wow, that smells good, what is it?” seems just really weird.

          Reply
          1. JB (not in Houston)

            Eh, I don’t know. Several of us in my office aren’t that creative, so if we see that someone has a meal that looks easy, tasty, and relatively filling, we’ll copy it. Just last week one of my coworkers started eating the same thing I eat for lunch, and then her boss saw it and decided to start doing it, too. Before that the same coworker had been eating the same thing that her friend did. She’s not “beyond any healthy level of ‘looks up to'”–she just has always eaten mostly prepackaged meals/fast food and isn’t good with coming up with ideas for meals. It certainly can be creepy, but sometimes it’s just someone who doesn’t have a lot of good ideas in that area looking for ideas from someone who seems to have their act together better.

            All the stuff added up in this case would unnerve me, but just copying meals is not by itself a sign of anything unhealthy.

            Reply
            1. SpiderLadyCEO

              Yeah, I would bank on this. If I see someone with food I like, I’m going to copy them, because it’s better then sitting there, wanting their lunch/breakfast. If OP brings the same thing everyday, then they’re gonna end up with the same lunch.

              Reply
          2. LawPancake

            I don’t know, my old coworker used to bring in a really healthy and delicious looking breakfast in the mornings and, after seeing it so often and wishing I had something similar, I started bringing the same thing. We were also friendly so I made a joke about trying to be like her and it wasn’t weird.

            Reply
          3. Elizabeth H.

            Enough people recognize this as a little bit weird such that even if you really wanted to eat the same thing as your coworker, most reasonable people would either try to work around the optics of it looking weird (by eating it at home, eating a kind of different variation) or make some joke about it (like LawPancake said) or at least comment on it or say thanks for recommending that brand of english muffin, I bought them last week and really like them, whatever.

            As part of this pattern of other weird copying behavior that the coworker is making no attempt to mitigate the optics of, it’s weird.

            Reply
            1. SignalLost

              Thiiiiis. I hate packing lunches and might get inspired by a friend’s, but I wouldn’t be doing all the rest of this.

              Reply
          4. OxfordComma

            I am CONSTANTLY looking for meal ideas. I’ve taken inspiration from coworkers’ food choices before. Wondering if that’s the case here.

            Reply
        2. TootsNYC

          But, I’d encourage OP to consider that perhaps the office mate looks up to her – and is there a way she can mentor this office mate a little bit, help her find her own path to success without just copying someone around her?

          eww, no–I trust the OP when she says this is kind of creepy. And I don’t want to do that much work for someone who’s already crossing boundaries.

          Reply
      2. OrphanBrown

        I’m sorry for using that word. I did it thoughtlessly. Thanks for calling me on it so I don’t do that again here or elsewhere!

        Reply
    2. Czhorat

      Or you could swap your meals with poison to trick her into killing herself.

      Needless to say, you’d first have to spend several months building up an immunity to iocaine powder.

      Reply
    3. Ellen

      See, I can see me in many of these situations. “I am not thin or healthy. Sarah is. I’ll try to copy her eating habits, and see if it helps” (and, tbh, stupidly use icy hot to deal with the end results from the gym).
      Follow this up with “I don’t have much work, here, and I want to keep my job. Jane seems to be kept busy, and the boss complimented her last month in that meeting, maybe I should work on my work ethic”. Staring IS odd, but maybe she’s trying to figure out what is being done during that extra time. On the other hand, I’d start worrying badly if I saw her outside of the workplace.

      Reply
      1. Red 5

        Out of curiosity, would you actually talk to said coworker and try to find out more? Because that’s what gets me about this, that the copycat isn’t just asking questions. “Your food looks so healthy, do you like it? Should I try it do you think?” “I’m trying to eat better, and your food always looks so good, is it hard to prepare?” “Are you working on anything interesting?”

        Heck, when I was relatively new at the job I have now, I had one day where I said “Hm, I have 15 minutes left in my day but no 15 minute projects left…” just thinking out loud and my boss said “well, you could just go ahead and go then, if you’ve gotten everything done that you can for the day.” So I knew that was the culture of that workplace. In other jobs, a similar conversation led to coworkers saying what sort of short projects they keep around and/or how they “look busy” when they had to.

        I think there’s nothing wrong with looking to coworkers as role models or examples, but I think that it works better when it’s an engaged process between the two people, rather than silent observation. It just removes any ambiguity and lets the to-be-emulated coworker opt in to the process.

        Reply
      2. KT

        Hey!

        This was actually my question that was answered. Other people have often offered similar opinions as you — maybe she thinks that if she follows what I do, it will make her look like a better employee. Maybe that’s true! The thing that gets me is, she’ll stay late with me even if her boss is long gone and has told her she can go home. We work under different bosses and have completely different job descriptions, so copying what I do isn’t really beneficial to her.

        I cant, for the life of me, figure out the whole staring thing. I once kept tally of how often it would happen, and it reached about 20 times per day. I even had another co-worker walk in on one of her staring fits once. He started laughing because he said at first he thought we were in a conversation, but once he realized we weren’t even talking it became strange. He mentioned how she didn’t just seem to glance at me, she seemed completely in a trance while she was staring. I didn’t mention this in my original question, but I’ve also caught her a few times with her phone camera facing me. I’ve had to get up and walk away from my desk numerous times because of situations like this.

        Reply
        1. Infinity Anon

          I didn’t see this before I replied. That sounds a lot creepier than it did in the letter. The camera really crosses the line.

          Reply
        2. Red 5

          Okay, the phone camera is kicking this into serious creepy territory for me. I mean, the rest was already unsettling but I see no good reason to take a person’s picture without their knowledge/consent in this kind of situation.

          Even if there’s a hand wave of “maybe she just thinks you dress well and wants ideas” then she could dang well just ask you where you bought your shirt.

          I don’t know, I’m super anti-confrontational but I’d be at a “get one of us out of here” kind of mood by now if I was in the same situation. I don’t know exactly what I’d do (tell HR I want to move but not say exactly why, confront her the way Allison suggested? IDK) but yeah, if there’s a hint of her taking your picture without asking, you should try to get out of there, IMHO.

          Reply
          1. Lindsay J

            Wow, yeah. I didn’t see the phone camera thing before I made my other comments. But no matter what her “reason” for doing that is, that is seriously creepy and I would be going to HR about it.

            Reply
          2. Artemesia

            I’d seriously go off on someone photographing me. If the cell phone didn’t go in the desk drawer immediately and stay there, I’d be taking that to HR or the manager depending on the situation. That along with the rest of the behavior is outrageous. I’d be asking for her or me to be moved and if the phone camera thing happened again, I’d escalate it as much as it takes.

            Reply
        3. Ask a Manager Post author

          Whoa, okay you definitely need to say something. Address the staring in the moment the way I recommended in the post, and if you see other weird stuff — like the phone — call that out in the moment too. With the phone: “Hey, is your phone camera on? It looks like it’s on and pointed at me.”

          Reply
        4. Bend & Snap

          Once you address this with her, if it doesn’t stop, this seems like appropriate territory for a manager. Especially with the phone pics.

          Reply
        5. MashaKasha

          To play devil’s advocate, I often zone out and stare into space, and if anyone happens to be in my line of vision, it probably looks like I’m creepily gazing at the person; when in reality I don’t even realize they’re there. If I shared a desk with someone, it would probably happen to me a lot! Luckily my cubicle wall does not mind me staring at it. I do not do any of the other things, though! I agree, this is a bit scary!

          Reply
          1. Elizabeth H.

            I zone out staring in a direction sometimes if I am lost in thought (I have a coffee shop I work at, a lot of the time I’ll be working on something complicated and kind of thinking and staring into space) and occasionally I notice someone noticing that I seem to be staring in their direction, then they notice/realize I’m actually just zoned out and staring into space and then looking away. You can legit tell the difference even in random strangers.

            Reply
          2. Risha

            ^^I do this too. The rest of the copying this coworker’s doing makes this seem unlikely in this case, though.

            Reply
          3. Lissa

            Yeah, this to me comes off as a case where each thing by itself is normal, but all together is just too weird. If someone complained about *just* a coworker copying meals, staying when they did, or staring, I think those all could have innocent explanations (I do the stare into space thing too . . ) but all of them together? Seems like something odd is going on.

            Reply
          4. SignalLost

            I do this too. You can completely tell whether someone is looking at you, past you, or through you. And, to not play devil’s advocate, because that seems unhelpful in this case, I zone out without taking out my phone and taking pictures of the person who feels my behavior is creepy, inappropriate, and somewhat obsessed.

            Reply
        6. Lora

          WHAT THE HECK?

          Yeah this is messed up. Definitely say something. “Are you taking my picture? What are you doing?” Even just staring I would ask, “can I help you? do you need something? a more entertaining screen saver perhaps?”

          Reply
        7. Perse's Mom

          I’m almost waiting for an update where she starts copying your clothing.

          All of this is super creepy to me. It seems clearly very creepy to you, highly distracting, and obvious enough (the staring, anyway) that other coworkers have noticed. You’re entirely justified in calling out the camera and the staring.

          And just out of a sense of paranoia, lock your computer if you’re leaving her in the office alone. It just strikes me as a possibility that someone who constantly stares at you, seems to be taking photos of you, and is emulating you in other ways as well, might decide to snoop in your work PC (or phone, for that matter!) to get further ‘insight’ into you and your habits.

          Reply
        8. That Would Be a Good Band Name

          The phone puts it over the top for me. I was going to say that I am bad about staring off, lost in my own thoughts, and sometimes actually looking right at someone but not really see them. However, combined with the other behaviors and the phone (!!!) I can’t imagine that she is just lost in thought. This is seriously weird.

          Reply
      3. Infinity Anon

        I agree with Ellen. It sounds like she is struggling at work and trying to emulate a coworker who is doing well. She needs coaching and clearly explained expectations about hours. As for the lunch thing, I’ve copied a coworkers lunch before. They started to bring in salads and it looked good so I did the same. I don’t see how that is weird.

        Reply
        1. Perse's Mom

          I think when the food copying reaches “exact same” levels, something is off. Though now I’m curious if OP changes things up – like, if she usually has OJ but decides to get coffee instead one day, does the coworker rush to change her own drink, or assume coffee is the new OJ going forward?

          From the outside, this is one of those anthropology situations and kind of fascinating.

          Reply
          1. KT

            OP here!

            It is very specific. My usual breakfast is a Greek yogurt, either sliced strawberries or a banana, and then I bring a zip lock bag of granola to mix into my yogurt. She’s copied that to a T, even as far as bringing the granola in a zip lock bag. I also stopped bringing in fruit for awhile, and so did she. I then brought in a banana again for the first time in awhile, and the next day she brought one in. Then I thought, “Hey, let me switch things up.” Instead of a banana, I started bringing in a peach every day for a week straight. Lo and behold, the very next Monday she had a peach with her.

            The lunch part is strange. She’s a vegetarian so often times she just wouldn’t bring in lunch at all while I was downing things like buffalo tenders and quesadillas. To save some money, I started bringing in a simple bagel with cream cheese every day instead. Now she does that, too. Although I do understand the lunch a bit more than the breakfast, because I’m sure her options are pretty limited being that she doesn’t eat meat.

            Reply
            1. JB (not in Houston)

              I think it’s weird that she kept switching to whatever fruit you were doing–but the greek yogurt with fruit and then granola in a separate container is super common. Several people I work with do this and keep the granola in a zip top bag. The weird part to me is that she switched to whatever fruit you were using.

              Reply
              1. Ego Chamber

                Same. I was wondering if it was something like yogurt or oatmeal or from a specific restaurant, because none of those would be damning—but this is so bizarrely exact that it seems like she wants someone to notice, which is… I don’t even know a diplomatic phrasing. Problematic?

                At this point I’d address the staring and the camera and the schedule match-ups directly and ignore the meals-matching, but if any of it continued I’d go right to your manager and/or HR with “This sounds really weird and petty, but the whole thing is very unsettling. Is there anything the company can do to help?” (Then at least there’s notes in a file if you randomly disappear one day and your coworker starts wearing her hair like you do. Kidding!)

                Reply
    4. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      I had a friend who did to me what LW #1’s coworker is doing. She agreed with me on everything I said, to the point that she would instantly reverse her position on something if I took the opposite position. It was like I could do no wrong to her…sometimes she would be upset with a mutual friend for doing something that I had done too but she’d never get upset with me. She copied everything I did down to the most trivial things. At parties she would follow me around, joining whatever group conversation I was in, and then when I left to get a drink or use the bathroom and would begin chatting to new people afterwards, a few minutes later she’d wander up and join that conversation too, endlessly.

      The final straw was when we went on a weekend trip together and she spent the entire weekend staring at me and insisting on following me pretty much everywhere I went except for into the bathroom, even when I tried to suggest splitting up for a brief while and meeting back up. I’m far too introverted to be able to handle 72 solid hours of interaction with anyone, and after we got back from that trip I severely curtailed our friendship. I stopped hanging out with her individually, I turned down a lot of social invitations with mutual friends to avoid being in the same place as her where she might glom onto me, and I stopped going on any group trips that she was going on.

      It probably took about a year of this kind of avoidance for it to really work, before I could go to a party that she was at and not have her attach herself to me.

      OP, I really sympathize. There is nothing more grating than this behavior.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        I had someone do this to me in high school and I handled it really badly but it is very hard to shake someone like this loose.

        Reply
      2. StealthForThis

        I had a similar relationship with a friend like this, but I could do nothing right! She was always copying everything I did – down to my place in our group of friends. I would buy an outfit, and she would talk about buying the same thing or similar.

        But whenever I said something, I was wrong and she was right – but she would quote my own opinions back at me. She has even recited an essay I made back at me, to my face, forgetting I was the one who wrote it. It is the most bizarre and frustrating thing, especially when she does me better than me!

        Reply
  6. Paul

    At six months out unless there was already an event planned and known to staff, I’d be really pissed off if a request got turned down though.

    I understand busy seasons and events, and I’ve argued that it can be appropriate to block vacations during a certain set time…but barring that with six months warning I’m kind of amazed a boss was annoyed too.

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      It’s not the advance notice though. It’s the principle, ie the fact this was presented as a fait accompli. It’s not unreasonable to expect an adult with a job to check with their employer before booking a trip.

      Reply
      1. Amber

        Agreed I just did that today. I asked my boss if there was any issue with taking of some days next year, she said that’s fine so I bought the plane tickets. I sure wasn’t going to buy plane tickets until I got the ok from work.

        Reply
      2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        I think it actually is a little unreasonable to stand on the principle of asking for permission when practically speaking the amount of advance notice makes it unlikely there would be an issue, and assuming the employee knows there isn’t a big annual event that week or anything. That seems more like an ego trip on the manager’s part. After all, is the employee required to seek permission for a business reason, or just to make the manager feel in control? If it’s for a business reason, then the advance notice has satisfied the business needs.

        Reply
        1. An Inspector of Gadgets

          Yup. The boss is still not in charge of the person’s home life. That much notice being greeted with grumpiness seems a little power trip-y

          Reply
        2. Red 5

          You’re very right, and it sounds like the manager could have handled it better, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reminding the employee of the policy while having the conversation, especially since it seems the OP didn’t actually know about the policy.

          It could be that they’ve recently had an employee abuse their goodwill on the issue and the manager was grumpy about that but OP didn’t know about it or something like that as well. I’ve run into a lot of situations where I end up with a grumpy manager taking their feelings about a bad employee out on me because I’m just the next person to remind them of the problem. Which isn’t being a good manager, for sure, but happens.

          Reply
            1. Red 5

              Good point, for some reason I had it in my head it was a small company but that there were a handful of other employees. That’s my reading comprehension mistake for the day ; )

              Reply
        3. just another day

          Agree, Koko. It seems like the boss received it as being disrespectful. I wonder if the boss has other related concerns that they are holding against OP, that OP is unaware of? The cold shoulder thing would make more sense (though obviously still unprofessional) if it was in response to what seems like a pattern rather than a one-off.

          Reply
      3. Purplesaurus

        I agree generally, but in OP’s case her bf booked the trip as a gift. I don’t know what else OP was supposed to do except clear that time with her manager.

        Reply
          1. paul

            Definitely.

            Some things sound a lot better in theory than they wind up being in practice. Surprise trips are one of them.

            Reply
          2. baseballfan

            YES. I had a direct report do that to me once. Her husband booked a week-long vacation with one week’s notice and it was right in the middle of a huge project. It was one of the worst possible times for anyone to be taking off work. I felt like there was nothing to do but let her go on the trip, but we had a couple of very serious conversations about what is and isn’t appropriate in the context of vacation plans and clearing them with the manager first, and about how her husband needed to be educated in that regard.

            Reply
            1. Red 5

              I feel like this comment should be copy/pasted to the post about why people need to talk to their spouse/SO about job and career stuff because this is exactly why.

              Did he book it a week out or just only tell her about it a week out? Because if he booked it then, it seems like he was really obtuse to not realize she was in the middle of something major.

              Reply
              1. Kyrielle

                Maybe. I’m not sure my husband always knows when I’m in the middle of something major. If everything is going smoothly to plan, and not requiring extra hours, it won’t even occur to me to mention it – I may be super-busy at work, but it won’t come up at home because I leave work at work.

                If it’s unpleasant, or _especially_ if it’s looking like I need extra time in the office, then he’ll be aware of it, of course. I’ll bring it up as soon as it might affect him, and/or to vent.

                But with two or three weeks left to go, _and going well_? He might not have heard about it. But losing a week there would be a disaster.

                Reply
          3. TootsNYC

            Another reason: it’s kind of manipulative and really robs the other person of their agency.

            “Here! I spent a lot of money, and it’s not refundable, and now you have to go along with my plan.”

            I get you want to surprise them, but don’t actually buy the tickets. Make a reservation, or wrap up a travel brochure, and then buy the tickets after.

            Especially in the case of our OP, who only gets a precious 7 days of paid time off (which may include sick days).

            Reply
      4. Falling Diphthong

        It’s the principle, ie the fact this was presented as a fait accompli.

        I’m a bit reminded of the asking-your-spouse-about-a-job-offer thread: Even if you have every reason to expect the answer will be unconditional support, it’s polite to check in first with other people who will be affected by the decision. Not to present them with a fait accompli and tell them to come up with a solution.

        Reply
      5. Elizabeth H.

        I don’t get standing on principle for something like this. I also don’t even see the need for it to be presented as a fait accompli. Even if I had bought tickets already I would NEVER tell my boss that, I would just ask, and then on the weird chance it would be some problem I would go back and try to work out a solution in some other way. I work in a very tolerant/flexible workplace but six months notice is an unbelievable amount of time for most businesses – the industries I can think of where it wouldn’t be unreasonable aren’t ones where you could have a small business with only one employee.

        Reply
        1. AMPG

          I was coming in to say the same thing – I’d go in and ask for the time off as if I hadn’t made plans yet. If my boss objected for some weird reason, I’d say OK, then come back in the next day and say, “Oh dear, it turns out my SO bought these tickets without waiting for me to clear the dates with you first, I’m so sorry! How can we resolve it?” Then you’re no worse off, but have saved face.

          Reply
          1. AMPG

            In fact, I just today signed up for a volunteer opportunity that will require me to leave work early a couple of days a month. I haven’t asked my boss yet, because I’m 99% sure he’ll say yes, but when I do, I plan to act as if I haven’t made the commitment yet. If he says no, I’ll figure it out then (I would probably have to back out of the volunteer commitment, but the odds of this are so slim that it wasn’t worth holding them off when they called to ask).

            Reply
      6. ThursdaysGeek

        And I recently bought tickets without checking with my boss first. But, there was a really good sale and my boss was on vacation. I apologized when I told him about it, I’m still giving him well over 6 months notice, and it’s not going to be during a busy time or inconvenient for him or our team. It’s not unreasonable for an adult to check with a job first, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.

        Reply
      7. Workbot124

        Ramona,
        I completely agree. Last year when I took a vacation, I negotiated with her for 3 days off prior to booking a trip for a family visit. I did feel bad because telling her that I was going on vacation instead of asking felt more like a “screw you”, which is the opposite of my nature.

        Reply
    2. Matt

      The problem is that many employers won’t give a definite approval for a vacation planned six months or longer into the future because “one does not know what might come up” … however this means that one could never book flights or make travel arrangements that require long time planning …

      Reply
      1. Red 5

        That is definitely a bad policy, I’ve run into that before. It was a retail job, and you couldn’t ask for time off more than a certain amount of time in advance, but you also couldn’t take time off without previous approval. So anything that you wanted to plan further out than that would end up in this really terrible limbo. Nobody could do anything that required flights because the vacation window was too narrow to get good prices. It was incredibly bad for morale.

        Reply
      2. Lora

        That’s stupid though, because something could come up tomorrow too. Something could come up next week or next month or next year. That’s the point of surprises.

        Agree that surprise trips are not as great as they sound though. For me, trip planning involves a lot more than just booking tickets and a hotel and throwing some clothes in a suitcase: there’s elder care arrangements, pet sitting, house sitting, potentially rescheduling vet appointments, my own medical appointments, ensuring that I have enough medication for the trip, anti-motion-sickness prescriptions to obtain, getting my SIM card unlocked or a replacement SIM card, contacting friends and relatives in the location who will be hurt if I showed up in the area and didn’t mention it to them to set up a get-together… That said, if I’ve arranged all that after checking with the boss that it was OK, and I was told “sorry, something came up,” I would be SO SO MAD. Like, I’m looking for a new job mad.

        Reply
      3. Princess Carolyn

        I run into this all the time, and it takes some trial and error to figure out that sweet spot between “So far out that I don’t feel comfortable approving it” and “So close that I’m going to deny it on principle.”

        Reply
    3. hbc

      Why does it have to be a “planned event and known to staff”? The whole point of asking first is that there might be an event in the works that’s *not* known generally to staff, or someone else’s vacation was approved a month ago for that week, or someone else has an important business trip in the works so there’s a two week window that might need a body in the office even though no one is out.

      Reply
      1. Anna

        Look, my husband knows not to surprise me with trips somewhere. I want to know what’s going on. But if my husband and I make that plan and I buy those tickets and then give my employer a six month notice that at this time I will be taking that trip, I am not getting it approved first. Either I have that vacation time accrued and I can use it, or I don’t. This is not a week’s notice; it’s six months and if you can’t figure out how to handle things (big event or project or not) with a six month lead time, there are bigger issues at play.

        Reply
        1. Workbot124

          Agreed. Due to whatever circumstances, she didn’t hire a temp or try to bring in a part time person to train in that entire 6 months, which I mentioned more than once. I do understand respectfully checking if it’s within 2-3 months but for 6 workdays off during non-blackout dates, 6 months in advance, I felt like it was adequate time to come up with a solution.

          Reply
  7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#4, by any chance, are you based in Montana or operating under a CBA or other agreement/employee manual? Because your coworker’s statement definitely isn’t accurate in 49 states, unless there’s some other rules/agreement in place.

    Reply
    1. agatha31

      Going on personal experience, “I looked into it”, sooooooooo very much more often than not, means “I did a quick google search and picked out the stuff that sounded like the answer I wanted” (or worse, “I asked the internet and someone who said they’re definitely a lawyer said it’s illegal and I can sue”).

      Reply
      1. I am not a lawyer but,

        In my office today it meant “I’ve never seen someone like me make overtime so it must be against Federal law for the union to allow me to get it.” Seriously. My brain hurts.

        Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Oh dear. Those are moments when I do the “*deep sigh*” thing :(

          I do find that folks are often compelled to rely on the “law” of “this is the outcome I want, so let me make up a ‘legal’ reason so people will be too scared to contradict me or pay a lawyer to check.”

          Reply
      2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        There is currently a group of video game players who are suing a game company who hosted an event that had a lot of technical difficulties (Pokemon Go Fest in Chicago, where network issues created a lot of lag and made it difficult to impossible for players to play the game). The company already refunded everyone’s tickets and gave every attendee $100 in in-game credit plus a rare in-game item. This group of players is suing to have their travel costs to Chicago refunded by the company.

        It’s obviously a frivolous lawsuit on its face and without legal precedent, but you wouldn’t believe how many armchair lawyers are saying that the suit has validity because, after all, it IS the company’s fault that the event sucked (never mind that “the event wasn’t as fun as I expected” doesn’t legally equal up to damages in the amount of hotel and flight costs). Or that the company will probably just settle and pay up to avoid a lawsuit, because that sounds like a thing they’ve heard of before (never mind that that only happens when the company thinks the plaintiffs stand a chance of winning in the first place). Everyone thinks they’re a lawyer!

        Reply
        1. Artemesia

          I don’t know. I am not suggesting a legal argument here, but people did pay a bunch to travel to an event that then didn’t function. They seem to me to have justice on their side if not the law. $100 doesn’t come close to compensating for an event that was costly to attend and then didn’t come off.

          Reply
          1. SusanIvanova

            It wasn’t a complete failure, just not as awesome as expected, and they came out better overall – there were some rewards that would’ve only gone to the people who won them, but instead they gave them to everyone. And they made other rewards available for all players, not just the ones in Chicago.

            Reply
          2. SpiderLadyCEO

            The event wasn’t good, BUT, they did get everything promised plus. The amends Niantic made are absolutely phenomenal, and there were chances for people to do the activities promised after the event. The event was a $20 Chicago event, and Niantic has payed out over $120 in disbursements, plus made features of the event available only to people to who paid for the event and checked in for the entirety of the weekend afterwards.

            For them to sue is absolutely insane.

            Reply
            1. Anna

              I can honestly see both sides of this being valid. But I’m willing to bet if Niantic does settle, there will be a lot of deep sighs from other companies who would have liked to see them go to court just to set a precedent of the suit not going through.

              I once worked for a company that was being sued for price fixing with a bunch of other competitors. The company I worked for wanted to hold out and go to trial because they knew they hadn’t done anything wrong, but their codefendants one by one decided to settle, so the cost of going to trial started to become more of a liability than proving they didn’t do what they were being accused of. The CEO and CFO were really upset about it and I would have liked to have seen them hold out because it would have been nice to create pain for the jerkwad firm that was suing.

              Reply
    2. Ego Chamber

      I don’t know about OP, but I’m in Montana and I’ve never worked somewhere where someone who was fired was allowed to continue working days they were scheduled to work before being fired (people have been told they’re fired as of close of business on Whateverday, but that’s different).

      Maybe the coworker was thinking about the laws re: how far in advance a schedule can be changed/how much notice employees have to be given that they need to come to work? I don’t know the specifics on that one here but I know it can be days or hours or not regulated at all, depending on the state.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply Montana would let that set up work! I just wanted to distinguish MT because it’s the only state w/o “at will” employment.

        I suspect the employee is mixing up the rules regarding on-call time and shift reporting, or possibly state-by-state rules about a person’s last paycheck, with rules regarding shifts. I don’t know any state that allows you to work scheduled shifts after you’ve been fired absent a CBA or other agreement (e.g., a provision in the employee/personnel manual)—I’d be surprised if such a law/regulation actually exists.

        Reply
  8. Ramona Flowers

    #1 This sounds really uncomfortable. I imagine someone at some point will trot out the line about how imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s not sincere and it’s not flattery. I did wonder if there’s any way you could ask to move desk but of course that might not be possible and depends on where you work.

    I’m curious about whether she’s trying to impress you or to be like you. If it’s the first one, questioning what she’s doing as per Alison’s suggestions may help. If it’s the second, I’m not so sure. But you don’t have to like it, and it is weird.

    Reply
    1. Liane

      It would mean asking for a new desk, since they share one. How does desk sharing on the same schedule even work?

      Reply
      1. abra

        I was picturing a long communal table / shared cubicle sort of setup. I’ve had these before and both people sort of get their own desk/workspace, it’s just that you’re in very close proximity because each person’s space is only demarcated by low walls (or sometimes no barriers at all).

        Reply
        1. KT

          Yes! This is exactly it. We sit in a little alcove in our office building that has a long communal desk for two people. Basically, we sit in a small closet-like area together about 3 feet apart.

          Reply
    2. Grits McGee

      I could see (esp. if she’s young) wannabe-doppleganger thinking that she needs to be working (or at least seen to be working) the same hours as OP as a matter of office norms. I could even see her thinking, “Ooh, OP’s food always looks so good, I’ll try that.” The staring though… there’s not much room for charitable interpretation there.

      Reply
    3. fposte

      I don’t see why it wouldn’t be sincere, though. Unless you’re copying somebody to taunt them in the classic sibling fashion, it seems pretty sincere to me.

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        OP said above that they captured the co-worker apparently filming them without permission, and that another co-worker who walked into a stare-fest was made uncomfortable.

        Reply
    4. KT

      Exactly! I often hear the whole flattery thing, but it really is just a nuisance more than anything. I also get the feeling that it doesn’t necessarily have to do with me, but that she would do this to anybody who sat with her. She’s probably really insecure…possibly about making her own decisions or doing the wrong thing? I’m not sure. But I do think that it stems from insecurity rather than it being an obsession with me in particular.

      I do plan on taking Alison’s advice about questioning what she’s doing. Fingers crossed!

      Reply
    5. Squeeble

      I have an acquaintance who, when we’re in conversation together, tends to repeat certain words I say as an echo. I think I found it flattering at first, like oh wow, we are so on the same wavelength! But now I think she just tries to emulate what I say to get me to like her, or something. It makes it seem like she doesn’t have any of her own thoughts, just the thoughts of the person she’s trying to befriend.

      Reply
      1. EddieSherbert

        I had a friend who copies accents of whoever they’re around. They say they don’t notice that they’re doing it. But it’s very strange, and I always just reallllyyyy hope the person doesn’t notice or think it’s insulting/making fun of them.

        (butttt I say “had” because I have a different accent than them, and I couldn’t the copying coupled with them always telling me to “say XX word for so-and-so” because “I say it funny.”)

        Reply
        1. ancolie

          I do this too, and it truly is unintentional for me. Then I’ll catch myself doing it and have your same worry (I don’t want them to think I’m making fun of them!) THEN I don’t know if I should consciously stop doing it or if I should keep going, because what if I stopped and THEN they notice?

          Reply
          1. Specialk9

            I totally do it too! Then the unusual pronunciation lingers for years. I currently have a Canadian accent, and can’t for the life of me figure out who I took it from! I work with Canadians and apologize, that I’m not making fun.

            Reply
  9. kitryan

    For OP1, I’d be sorely tempted to develope weirder and weirder habits to see how far coworker would take the mimicry (not practical advice).
    More realistically, I sympathize. A high school friend would pull this balony on me- I’d be reading a book or listening to a new cd and a week later she’d be all over it as if it was her own discovery- super irritating, and hard to express it too. What do you say? Stop liking things I like? I had to block her on Facebook a while ago because I knew if I was exposed to her again I’d be in that situation again, all BEC in no time flat- and it’s not a good look for me.

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      It’s also tempting to suggest you repeatedly fake her out by pretending to leave. But I don’t recommend that!

      Reply
      1. KT

        I’m not proud to admit this, but I’ve done that! The poor girl was walking in circles like a lost puppy, unsure of what to do.

        Reply
        1. Lora

          OMG do you live in Ohio???

          When I lived in Ohio I had a co-worker who was a bit like this. Didn’t copy other people’s food or work schedule or anything like that, but she was the woooooorst at ending a conversation when you really needed to get back to work, even if you directly said, “I have a lot to do here, I need to get back to it”. And she would follow us around the lab and just keep talking. One co-worker got her to circle the same lab bench eight times.

          She had many issues. I remember in particular a 45 minute lunchtime discussion of pear varieties. I like pears and all, but…wow, it was exhausting.

          Reply
    2. nnn

      I was just thinking of the same not practical advice. Tell her you’re going to start coming in to work at 6 a.m., and then don’t. Tell her you’ve really been into [gross food combination] sandwiches lately.

      Reply
        1. Agile Phalanges

          They taste better than they sound! Gotta be a tangy dill pickle. Makes the peanut butter taste sweet.

          Reply
        2. Becky

          I love peanut butter and pickle! :P

          I grew up with them and I just like them– though I know that many people think it’s very weird and gross.

          Reply
    3. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      When a friend was doing it to me, what I often wanted to scream while shaking her by the shoulders was, “Be your own person FFS! Have an original opinion! Your sycophantic personality is unattractive to everyone!”

      Reply
      1. Working Mom

        Yeah, but also consider that the person doing the copying may have low self esteem or does not feel confident being herself. Not saying it’s the role of the person being copied to deal with that – but just throwing it out there that for some of us, being our true selves and being original comes naturally and is easy. For some, being unique is not that easy. But yes I totally agree that it wouldn’t make it any less annoying :)

        Reply
        1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          Oh, totally agree. That’s why I only wanted to shake her and scream at her. In practice I knew it absolutely resulted from her having low self-esteem so I felt badly for her and instead resorted to just avoiding her.

          Reply
    4. paul

      I usually think I’m pretty good at handling rude behavior but I’m at a total and complete loss for that one. I’d be really creeped out though.

      Reply
  10. periwinkle

    #5 – So you get only 7 PTO days a year (and by calling it PTO, I’m wondering if you have separate sick leave or if that tiny PTO bank is for everything). You had not had a vacation for a *year*, gave six months of notice, and received a pretty snarky response to your request. And then you _worked_ during that Maui vacation, so it wasn’t really a relaxing time away from work?

    Your boss doesn’t seem too willing to let you take the time off you’ve earned. What’s up with that?

    Reply
    1. Bea

      My guess is their boss is reliant on their operations manager, the curse of being the only employee to a single owner company. Nobody could do my duties at my previous job of over a decade, when I had surgery and was out for a week bedridden, we had to do draw checks for payroll because some genius decided we should have weekly payroll >_<

      Reply
      1. Soon to be former fed

        Your employer could not have hired a temp? What if you died? I just don’t get operating a business without a backup plan for continuity of operations.

        Reply
      2. Dust Bunny

        My guess is they’re desperately understaffed but either cannot afford or don’t want to pay for additional staff.

        I had a terrible job, years ago, where I got PTO like this but we were on a shoestring staff and they wouldn’t hire more, so nobody could ever take any time off.

        Reply
        1. nonymous

          Yeah, but this is exactly the situation that shut-downs were created for. Say owner takes their big vacation during July4th week. So the whole company/store closes that week, but staff still gets paid. It’s really common in small companies and works especially well when it’s the same week every year.

          My parents worked for Boeing and they shut down between Christmas and New Years’. The time comes out of the annual leave, but everyone is taking it at once which is more efficient.

          Reply
    2. Stone Cold Bitch

      Yeah, given that OP is the only employee and essential to the business why not encourage a week of vacation? Six months is more than enough to plan ahead and prep what needs to be prepped for a week.

      Reply
    3. Competent Commenter

      Agreed! I ran my own business for more than a decade and usually had only one employee. We had a very busy, fast-paced environment. I never would’ve given someone a hard time over planning a vacation so many months in advance. I would have thanked them for their hard work and told them to have a great time! And never, ever would I have expected them to work while gone. I know there are industries in which giving notice for time off legitimately is very important, but as a small business owner I wanted to make my office experience as positive as possible for my employees. I couldn’t offer much in the way of salary or benefits, so being flexible about time off, even if the person called in sick or said they needed a break and weren’t coming in that day with no other notice, was one of the ways I could make the job better for them. I realize I don’t have all the facts, but as someone who was in a similar position as a supervisor, I feel like the OP’ssupervisor should be ashamed of themselves.

      Reply
    4. Willis

      This so much. I worked in a similar structure (owner + me who did all day-to-day work) for about 8 years and while she was never picky about when I took vacation, I ended up working during most of them. I get why managers ask that staff get approval for time off and have no qualms with that, but everything in this letter basically sounded like the owner relies so much on the OP that she is hardly ever able to take true time off.

      For me, it was a great improvement to be working somewhere where a boss respected people’s “off” time (vacation, weekends, evenings) barring a true emergency. I realize this goes beyond the question asked, but for the OP, it may be worth thinking about whether the job has enough positive aspects to outweigh the little-to-no PTO. (And I say “no PTO” assuming that the OP’s vacation still counted as time off even if she worked during it…sigh.)

      Reply
  11. nnn

    Doesn’t affect the overall advice, but I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a non-scented Icy Hot, because the active ingredient is menthol, which is necessarily going to smell like menthol.

    I do empathize with the problem though – I adore how well Icy Hot works and for some kinds of muscle pain nothing else works nearly as well. But, at the same time, the scent smells like my great-grandmother who thought cough drops were candy.

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      I have a warming version I got from my osteopath which is made with ginger and doesn’t really smell, but the b*stards have discontinued it.

      If I’ve understood right, as we don’t have it here, Icy Hot is something you would use for muscles aches or sports injuries. If they’re using it that much, they either need to get an injury looked at or are perhaps living with chronic pain. It’s not something anyone should just habitually use on the regular, surely?

      Reply
      1. Ramona Flowers

        Or arthritis, etc. Over here we have Deep Heat patches which are non scented and work the same way.

        Reply
      2. a different Vicki

        You could–and people do–say that about everything that people use for chronic pain. If that’s the issue, coworker may already be taking as much tylenol and/or NSAIDs as would be safe for her long-term, and doing her best to avoid or minimize narcotic painkillers.

        The coworker’s medical issues aren’t OP’s business, or the company’s. “Is there a less-intrusive version of this you could use instead?” is reasonable, and a request that she try to move more of the use to times/places when she’s not as close to the OP might be, but it shouldn’t become “explain to me why you need this.”

        Reply
      3. Infinity Anon

        I used it for tendonitis for awhile. There really wasn’t a less pungent version I could use and I couldn’t take most pain killers, so it really was my only option. That could be why HR does not want to tell her to stop using it.

        Reply
      4. longtime lurker

        there is a lightly scented version of Tiger Balm available. Neck and shoulders version. The company must have realized the regular scent is too much for use around the head. Works great!

        Reply
        1. nnn

          Does it stain clothing? A while back I tried…I’m not sure if it was Tiger Balm or the other one that I always get confused with Tiger Balm, and it left stains. The advantage of Icy Hot is it doesn’t matter if it gets on clothes.

          Reply
          1. Brogrammer

            There are a few varieties of Tiger Balm on the market. The red version can stain, but there’s also a white version that doesn’t stain.

            Reply
      5. H.C.

        I guess it depends on the duration; when I twisted my knee from a swing dance move gone awry, I wound up using Bengay (& a knee brace) for about a month.

        Reply
      6. Brogrammer

        If you’re so inclined, you can make your own ginger-based liniment by adding essential oil of ginger to a light, non-greasy lotion. It’ll take some trial and error to get the proportions right, but it’s worth it if you like the effect.

        Reply
    2. amanda_cake

      Anything I can think of smells equally as bad (or good to me, since I like the smell). I managed a college D3 team so I have smelled all the products out there haha.

      Reply
    3. beetrootqueen

      true there are basically no nonscented versions. the more medicated ones don’t have scents per say but super chemical smells and stuff. i’m asthmatic and chronic pain and it’s a damn nightmare! I had to settle for chemical smells in the end

      Reply
    4. Danger: Gumption Ahead

      I feel for the OP and the coworkers. I once had an injury and the doctor prescribed this atrocious smelling unguent. I had to use it for 2 months and triggered everyone’s asthma and allergies within a 2 mile radius. There wasn’t an unscented option, none of our jobs were suited to telework, I didn’t want to ignore medical advice, my coworkers wanted to breathe, and the entire situation was awful. I have never been so happy to stop using a medication in my life.

      Reply
      1. Red 5

        I was just wondering how well the patches work. I’ve been using heat patches at work for a back problem because I probably am not allowed to bring in a heating pad, but my pain is at a point where I only need heat and not the “icy” part of the equation. Plus, I sometimes have a bad reaction to some random ingredient in Icy Hot, so I haven’t tried their patches to know if they work, but I wonder if it could be helpful to people in pain who are facing a similar problem (don’t want to annoy coworkers, don’t want to be in pain).

        Reply
        1. Sarah in Boston

          They’re wonderful! I’ve been having back spasms recently (and thank goodness haven’t had any more in almost 3 weeks) and I’ve definitely been living with Eau de Menthol. While the Icy Hot brand is easier to apply, I actually like the RiteAid house brand ones better. They feel cooler/stronger or something. But the most important part for folks who do need Icy Hot type products is that the smell factor is MUCH lower. I can’t tell I’ve got them on most of the time. (Fun fact: menthol and catnip are in the same family and some cats are just as obsessed with menthol. Just in case you find your cat licking your pants while you’re laying down of your living room floor.)

          Reply
          1. Red 5

            I’ll definitely have to check this out, especially since I’ve apparently completely screwed up my carpal tunnel today. Other menthol products haven’t been an issue, so whatever I reacted to isn’t the active ingredient so trying the Rite Aid brand could fix that problem. Thanks for the info!

            Reply
      2. You Don't Understand Chronic Pain Unless You Have It

        The patches cost more than the roll-on liquid. Icy Hot is not covered by insurance, and people with medical issues are already paying enough for their care.

        Reply
        1. Ego Chamber

          All due respect, but none of us know the specific circumstances of OP’s coworker or why they’ve started using Icy Hot lately, so it’s not fair to make assumptions like this/seems like a lot of projecting. (Fwiw, I have several chronic conditions and am always looking for new possible treatments.)

          Reply
      3. nnn

        They have the same smell, since the active ingredient is the source of the smell. In my experience, whether they work better is dependent on whether the location of the pain is conducive to the patch.

        Reply
      4. Paige Turner

        Salon-Pas makes a gel like Icy Hot, but also stick-on patches that are so good- no mess, not scented as far as I can tell. They are basically just “icy,” though (and I wouldn’t assume that they will solve the OP/OP’s coworker’s problems).

        Reply
      5. Quacktastic

        I’m a day late, but the patches still have some odor (not as strong as the cream.) The patches also aren’t as effective as the extra strength cream, at least in both personal experience and patient feedback.

        The nonsmelly alternatives would be non-mentholated (like Aspercreme with lidocaine or capsaicin cream OTC or lidoderm patches prescription), but those are a different mechanism of action and the coworker is probably not going to appreciate unsolicited medical advice. It’s a tough spot to be in, especially given possible dueling accommodations (chronic pain vs. asthma. )

        Reply
    5. Regular reader

      There is a brand called biofreeze that I think works better than icy hot and smells less. salonpas patches are also great.

      Reply
      1. abra

        Biofreeze is actual magic and I love it so much. It could still be triggering for asthma, but it generally does require less frequent application, so that could help.

        Reply
      2. Episkey

        2nd for BioFreeze. It has a slight smell when you apply, but disappears as it absorbs. It’s great! I use it for my pregnancy aches lol.

        Reply
      3. H.C.

        I used Biofreeze for lower-level aches (e.g. morning after a long run) but doesn’t seem to work as well as Icy Hot, Bengay, etc. for injury related pains (twisted knee, sprained ankle).

        Reply
      4. Kirsten

        I was also going to say this. I use the spray-on version of Biofreeze for chronic back/neck pain and it works really well. There is a slight smell when first sprayed which then disappears, but I always try to put it on away from other people out of courtesy anyway.

        Reply
    6. Chaordic One

      Years ago “Preparation H” had a very distinctive odor. If someone had that problem that product was designed to help, you could tell. At some point, though, the company that makes it changed the formula so that it no longer smells. Let’s hope that the people who make Icy Hot figure out how to make an unscented formula.

      Reply
  12. Magenta Sky

    OP 2: A work environment triggering asthma attacks is something that your HR people, if they’re at all competent, should be taking *very* seriously. Asthma can kill, and anything that aggravates it can make it permanently worse. In an emergency room, it gets the same level of response as a heart attack with a stopped heart or a severed artery, and for good reason. (I once took a friend to the ER for an asthma attack. I walked up to the reception desk and said three words: “Asthma. Trouble breathing,” while pointing to the door. That woman teleported to the parking lot, and picked up a wheelchair along the way. He was in an exam room and in front of a doctor within 45 seconds.)

    This is the sort of situation where it would be entirely appropriate to get a letter from your doctor explaining what accommodations are required (be realistic), and for you to insist they be made. And if they’re not, have your lawyer insist. (It is, I suppose, possible that the use of Icy Hot is also an ADA accommodation, however unlikely it seems with an OTC medication. But even if it is, that does not relieve them of the requirement to accommodate you, as well.)

    Don’t endanger your health (or you life) because your boss doesn’t understand how serious asthma can be.

    Reply
    1. Soon to be former fed

      I am not kidding, perhaps the employer can provide personal protective equipment such as a respirator that would filter out the offensive odor.

      Also, the medication user should be sure to wash her hands thoroughly after applying the ointment, and should keep the ointment container in a plastic bag. It may also help to wrap the area after application. I know people who swear by OTC lidocaine patches for muscle pain, no odor at all.

      Reply
    2. Lindsay J

      But they already moved the employee with the icy-hot, and now they’ve offered to move her away and other other coworker complaining further away from the employee with the Icy-Hot, so they’re not ignoring it. The OP just doesn’t like that solution/that solution doesn’t work for the OP.

      The doctor can suggest accommodations, but the company is not automatically obliged to accept the ones suggested – there’s supposed to be a dialogue between the doctor/employee and the company.

      And I doubt that the doctor would say “make the other employee stop using icy-hot”, honestly. That’s not their patient, they don’t know the issues, and they shouldn’t be making recommendations about their care. He could say that woman should be moved a distance away from the OP. However, if the company has an operational need for the woman to be where she is (like Allison mentioned, maybe she’s supporting an executive and needs to be near them, maybe she’s the receptionist and needs to be at the front desk) the company is completely within their rights to say “we can’t move icy-hot lady, but we can move OP instead”. Or various other solutions like varying work schedules so they don’t work together, having icy-hot lady take a break while and for a period of time after she applies the icy-hot, etc.

      There’s also no reason to believe that the other person’s issue might not be covered by the ADA just because the solution is over the counter. I get severe migraines. In some cases the accommodation might be removing a florescent light, which doesn’t require a prescription. A diabetic might get an accommodation to eat at their desk when it’s otherwise not allowed, which also doesn’t require a prescription. We also don’t know if the icy-hot is being used by itself, or in addition to prescription muscle relaxers and/or physical therapy, etc.

      The company can certainly ask the person using the icy-hot to stop, or to switch to another product if possible. (And they should if they haven’t already.)

      However, if she turns around and says it’s for a legitimate medical need and starts the accommodation process as well, it’s incredibly unlikely that another person’s accomodation would/could override hers. And it’s possible that she already does have medical documentation stating that she needs this – in a lot of jobs I’ve been in, they’ve been skittish about revealing things like that (even if legally they would be okay to do so) because it comes close to revealing personal medical information. So instead they would skirt around the issue and go “she has permission to do that” or “well we can move your desk away from hers” without saying “she is allowed to do that because it’s a reasonable accomodation for a disability as described by the ADA. We cannot and will not make her stop.”

      I also don’t think it’s fair to categorize the company as not caring about the OPs asthma. First, they have done some stuff to try and accommodate the OP. Those things just have not worked as well as one might hope. It’s also not clear if the OP has agreed to move further away yet – it sounds from the letter that they don’t like the idea of this, but it is an attempt by the company to solve the problem. Additionally, nothing in the letter specifies that the OP has told the job that her issues are due to asthma, vs just not liking the smell. She tells us that, but just says that she’s all but begged the company to ask the woman to switch to an unscented product which might not have the boss thinking “legitimate medical issue that needs accommodation” but “OP doesn’t like the smell of icy-hot. Neither do I, but I’m dealing with it.” Nor does it indicate that the OP has gone back and said “moving the person using icy-hot isn’t working. My breathing is still affected. Moving me didn’t work [or doesn’t seem like it’s going to work]. What else can we do to solve this?”

      Reply
      1. CrazyEngineerGirl

        So very much this. The OP says that now the company wants to move OP and the other coworkers having issues. Then asks at the end “Is there anything we can do to take a next step in resolving this issue?” But… the next step is literally already figured out. The employer has decided that the next step is moving the OP and others. I can understand why OP may not like this step, I would definitely not want to move from my office space. It sounds like the OP really, really, really wants the next step to be for the employer to force the coworker to stop using the offending product and is looking for a way to make that happen. It seems unlikely, for so many of the reasons already stated here. I feel for the OP, I really do. But it doesn’t sound like they have a lot of options here. The next step, however much OP and the others don’t like it, has already been decided and presented.

        Reply
    3. JGray

      You are assuming that the person using the icy hot doesn’t have a condition that requires an accommodation as well. I’m not saying that asthma isn’t serious but we don’t know what the other persons story is either. This story delves so far into the ADA that it’s hard to speculate other than that the OP needs to go and explain that the asthma is worse with the icy hot. If the OP needs to mention that ADA and needing an accommodation. This story is actually the things of nightmares to most HR people because of all the pieces that have to occur for both employees. It might not be as simple as just asking the other employee to stop using scented icy hot. But I think the OP really needs to bring it up since it sounds like the solutions that have been presented are ridiculous.

      Reply
      1. Magenta Sky

        Was I assuming the Icy Hot was not an ADA accommodation when I said it might be? I’ll repeat: Even if it is, it doesn’t relieve the employee of accommodating *this* employee as well. Sometimes, the ADA isn’t very fair, but it is what it is. The tone of the letter is that the employer isn’t taking her needs seriously and “nothing is being done.”

        And asthma isn’t “very serious” so much as “potentially fatal.” They may only get one mistake in how to handle it.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          They are doing something — they want to move them to a different location. That might not be the specific action the OP wants, but it’s addressing the issue.

          Reply
            1. Ego Chamber

              When an OP says something, and then gives facts contradicting the statement they made, that isn’t a sign of the situation being unclear.

              Reply
        2. Infinity Anon

          The letter says that they moved the person using the icy hot and now are offering to move the OP as well so that she is farther away. It sounds like they are trying to accommodate both as best as they can.

          Reply
  13. Katie the Fed

    #3 – it would be really, really rotten to reneg on your word now.

    But you can remind her that her performance is expected to be at a certain standard at this location, and if it slips you will have to cancel the telework arrangement.

    Reply
    1. Fiennes

      Agreed — it would be appropriate to bring up specific issues that were troublesome when she worked at home before and make it clear those need to be addressed. (Assuming the problems are ones the employee *can* address, not the basic logistics of the situation.) The employee would probably be highly motivated to improve performance to sustain the schedule her family needs.

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yeah, this is a good way to frame it. That way, too, if the manager does end up needing to change things, the employee will have had advance warning and the opportunity to try to meet the manager’s expectations.

      Reply
    3. Casuan

      Katie is spot-on. I love this!
      If it hadn’t worked out great, OP owes it to her company & staff to know why, which she probably does.
      It’s perfectly normal [& necessary] to review the job requirements with an employee. An employee just returned from maternity leave makes this quite opportune. OP can get her up to speed & review the job requirements & expectations. Good luck!

      ps: Been off the grid though now I’m back! I’ve missed AAM!!

      Reply
    4. Colette

      Yeah, that’s a good way to frame it, especially since the employee arranged her daycare based on working from home regularly. I hope this means she has daycare for days she works from home, but focusing on her productivity will make it clear whether she does.

      Reply
      1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        She’s actually working from a different office closer to her house, not at home. The daycare arrangements are probably that she needs someone else to handle pick-up and drop-off when she commutes to OP’s office because the commute is so long she has to leave before daycare is open and gets home long after pickup time.

        Reply
    5. Purple Jello

      Sometimes the problem is how your coworkers interact. For example, my colleague works remotely two days a week, and frequently when people are looking for her and find out she’s remote that sat will decide to “just wait until she’s back ” instead of contacting her, so things get delayed

      Reply
        1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          Agreed, that is such a weird reaction. Does the work need to get done or not? I’m at my computer at home, not on the moon. Just send me an email or pick up the phone and call me, and it’ll get taken care of just as surely as if you walked down the hall to interrupt what I’m doing with your request in-person. (Which, incidentally, is something I hate and find disrespectful. Unless there’s an actual time-sensitive emergency at hand, send me an email and let me get to it when I can. Don’t just show up at my door implicitly demanding that I stop whatever I’m doing to sort out your non-urgent issue that I now have to send you an email documenting what you requested and what I’ve agreed to do when you could have just sent an email in the first place.)

          Reply
      1. Purplesaurus

        How ridiculous. Would the same problem exist if the coworker were offsite for a meeting or what have you? That’s something to correct with the coworkers, not the remote colleague.

        Reply
    6. Specialk9

      The OP came in and said that co-workers sometimes have the need for urgent, extensive collaboration that can only be done in person, on Tuesday, Thursday or Friday and don’t want to have to wait till when the teleworker is in (Mon, Fri) to resolve it face to face.

      I am wondering if the solution isn’t to ask her to come in Mon & Thurs instead.

      ” part if it requires significant interaction with multiple people who are all here at the main office. Since some of the work is urgent it’s frustrating for the other project team members to have to wait until a Monday or a Wednesday to meet face to face with her, and they’re starting to complain about it.

      I’ve been very upfront with this employee and explained the frustration of her coworkers. We also went over using technoloty to compensate for her absence but even then her work would still be “okay but not great,” (maybe B instead of A quality) and this would be reflected in her performance reviews and therefore her raises. We’ve also talked about how it’s okay to decide to temporarily sacrifice her (admirable) ambitions to be a top performer at this time in her life. Unfortunately, her performance contributes to the success of the other people on her project teams. On the other hand, if I insist on only two days a week at the other office I’ll probably lose her and then the team will have to deal with the turmoil of getting a new person up and running.”

      Reply
  14. Katie the Fed

    #1 – This letter makes me skin crawl like a bad 90s psycho thriller.

    I think you need to get some serious physical distance involved. How does she know what you’re eating? Can you eat elsewhere? Can you make your schedule more unpredictable and just leave with no signaling that you’re getting ready to leave? And I would ABSOLUTELY call out the staring – that’s really unprofessional and bizarre. There is nothing wrong with telling someone “your staring is making me really uncomfortable.”

    Is she making anyone else uncomfortable? Because it might be time for the boss to have a word with her about boundaries.

    Reply
    1. Kate, Teapots Project Manager

      100% agree. I think “can I change desks?” is a really reasonable request here as well, if people regularly get moved round your office.

      Reply
      1. T3k

        I wonder if the LW can also state why they want to change desks without it coming off weird to prevent the copycat from following, as might happen.

        Reply
        1. Natalie

          It’s probably better for the OP to say why she wants to change desks, so if the copycat employee makes a similar request the manager won’t just move copycat next to OP again.

          Reply
    2. Casuan

      This, kind of.
      OP1, go with your instincts & observations here. Regardless, be vigilant for even more odd behaviour. If you think she’s trying to emulate you because she’s not confident herself [or similar], then be direct & ask her to stop or tell her it’s making you uncomfortable.
      If you feel creeped out or something seems off, then distance yourself first & ask questions later.
      caveat: If in doubt, do as Katie suggests & as much as is possible distance yourself both physically & personally [eg: limit contact].
      Alison & others have given good suggestions on how to do this.
      Good luck & please update!

      Reply
    3. President Porpoise

      Maybe eat your breakfast and/or lunch in a nearby café or park? This is super creepy andI aso think you should try to get a different desk or ask for physical dividers or something.

      Reply
  15. The OG Anonsie

    #2, I almost wrote in about this recently because I use a similar product at work sometimes. I asked the people around me if it bothered them and though everyone said they could definitely smell it strongly, they didn’t mind. It’s not setting off any issues for anyone as far as I know, though I do wonder if it will eventually.

    I have a lot of health problems revolving around my joints and dexterity, and sometimes putting linments on my hands and wrists is the only way I’ve found to keep working at a keyboard when things are really bad. I’m aware that it’s at minimum unpleasant and at worst could be what the LW is describing, so I only do it when I really have to. These products are not scented, the scent is part of the active ingredients and can’t really be removed. There are some versions where the smell travels less, but you’re limited by the body part you need to use it on and which one is effective for your needs.

    Every time I am afraid it will be the time someone else gets to the point they can’t stand it anymore and it turns into a Thing is who can work in what area like the LW is describing here, because I do indeed need to be where I am and the solution would likely be that the negatively impacted person has to move. That prospect stresses me out because it will definitely breed some ill will (I know folks will say a reasonable person wouldn’t resent it, but IME it happens) and also makes me look like even more of a difficult person to have around, since I already have to ask for other accommodations from management for my illness and even very accommodating and reasonable managers have a limit to how much empathy they have for the same person disrupting things all the time with little dumb stuff like this.

    SO! I would really strongly recommend that when they do push for an arrangement, they include the Icy Hot coworker in this as someone who also wants a solution and is working with everyone as a group. If it happens separately it can appear adversarial when it doesn’t need to be, and may be problematic for the Icy Hotter. If that person is not actually cooperative, that’s one thing, but at least try to include them so from the management perspective this is a team trying to meet everyone’s needs and not a squabble or The People vs Carol, Who Stinks. Not only is it the kind thing to do for your sore coworker, it will strengthen your case if you can class it as the whole team’s need and not individual complaints. It sounds like management already considers the Icy Hot use to be a reasonable accommodation, so lump all these accommodations together as a group request.

    And oh man, trust me, if you have a chronic ailment you have tried a lot of things, and often the options for what makes you functional are few and far between. Please don’t assume they can just switch to something else and using something that smells is just an inconsiderate choice, and please don’t begrudge this coworker for this if they are sympathetic and willing to work with everyone! Now… If they don’t really need it and are just a jerk about it, disregard this, but I wanted to give some other side context that may help everyone get what they need here.

    Reply
    1. The OG Anonsie

      I’m sorry this is so long, I was no joke just about to write in as “I sometimes have to use this stinky product, what is the best way to make sure I’m not giving anyone else trouble aside from just asking” for being on the exact opposite side of this situation. So this letter’s timing is great, it made me think it through in both directions and come up with what should be a good solution for my own case, too.

      Reply
    2. Danger: Gumption Ahead

      I had to use a stinky medication for a short term injury (2 months) and (as I mentioned above) it triggered everyone’s asthma and allergies. My coworkers and I got together and tried to come up with a solution before going to the bosses. Unfortunately, given our work set up, there weren’t any options that worked well, but the joint problem solving effort made us all more tolerant of each other’s needs and likely made management recognize that it was a “real” problem

      Reply
    3. Hillary

      I feel you so much. The comment that started in my head was about all the tricks I’ve found to apply heat to my wrists and make the pain stop, and then, wait a minute, that’s not helpful.

      I’ve dealt with a similar issue as OP with perfume. I usually start with telling the person about my allergies and asking if they can help me out, most of the time that solves the issue. But I’ve also gone home with blinding headaches or because I can’t breathe. The only permanent solution was a new job where I share my entire work area with guys who don’t wear fragrances.

      Reply
    4. Specialk9

      I’m sorry you have to deal with this. Here’s hoping for really good tech alternatives to keyboards and mice soon!

      Reply
  16. Atomic Orange

    OP1, some of your coworker’s behaviour is definitely concerning. But I’m also wondering if some of it could be coincidental and thus making things seem worse as a whole.
    My office is open concept and I tend to gaze out a side window when I zone out. It took me ages to realize whenever that happens it looks like I’m staring at a coworker whose seat is by the window. Could your coworker be zoning out and staring at you accidentally because you sit somewhere in her eye line?
    I’m also wondering how common are the food you eat. My office tends to frequent the same cafes and people often end up with the same food. There was also a stretch of time when a few of us went on a healthy streak at the same time. And we all ended up with the same chicken/salmon + green vegetable combo… nearly everyday for months (non of us are very imaginative cooks). We actually joked about our sad similar lunches quite a bit.
    I’d suggest to just be straight forward and bring it up with her next time you notice something. It could be harmless or she could be psycho stalking you. But you won’t know which one without asking.

    Reply
    1. Atomic Orange

      Wanted to add that with the work schedule thing… it’s quite possible that her previous work experiences (or maybe inexperience) made her feel insecure about her place in the company… especially since you mentioned she has a light workload. She might also just not know what the ‘right’ hours are. So she might be simply taking cues from you regarding her schedule. I like Alison’s wording on this. Bring it up and just assume she doesn’t know better.

      Reply
    2. Kitten

      My friend has an angry-looking ‘thinking face’ which she wasn’t previously aware of. Unfortunately, her desk had her steated opposite the Developers, and in the line of sight of one Dev in particular.

      He took her to one side eventually and asked what he’d done to offend her, because he’d been racking his brains trying to figure it out. When she explained that she zones out while thinking and wasn’t aware of her expression, he asked her (nicely!) if she could ‘please do her thinking while looking down at her desk from now on’!

      I do appreciate why the OP is uncomfortable though – one or two ‘copying’ incidents are reasonable – especially if your food gives the co-worker food cravings. But the combination of them all together is somewhat more alarming.

      Reply
      1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        I think that developer was actually of line telling your friend she has to stare at her desk. Isn’t it usually rather obvious whether someone is staring at you vs through you/past you based on their reaction or lack thereof when you make (or try to make) eye contact with them? Developer needs to get over himself and realize her behavior isn’t about him or directed at him.

        I’m assuming in OP’s case that the coworker is actually staring *at* her, ie when OP looks back at her she quickly looks away or otherwise acknowledges OP (smile, wave, etc), which is a different thing altogether.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          I don’t think it’s usually that clear, and I think it’s reasonable request–it’s not like it’s going to be a great burden for her to look in another direction. It’s not complaining to the manager, it’s just “Could you not?”

          Reply
        2. Yomi

          As somebody with a similar cranky thinking face, it doesn’t really seem to be obvious to people where I’m looking when I zone out. I’ve been asked multiple times why I was looking at somebody. Plus, how many times have we all had somebody wave and we thought they were waving at us but it was really somebody behind/beside us?

          Also, when I’m zoned out it’s entirely likely I am looking almost exactly at them and don’t notice. I’ve definitely had people go “I’m sorry, do you need me?” when I didn’t even really notice them there. I do also have attention issues, so I don’t know if that’s involved.

          I do agree that asking her to stare at her desk seems a bit much unless they have the kind of relationship where it’s fine (like, almost as a joke). It seems like the more polite response is “thank goodness, well, make sure you let me know if I do something, I’d really like to get a chance to fix it. I’ll just ignore it when this comes up now.”

          Reply
    3. Specialk9

      OP said they caught the co-worker secretly filming them. And explained how the OP changed foods as an experiment and the co-worker changed, every time, within a day or two, to the same thing.

      Reply
  17. kate

    7 days annual leave?! I am never leaving the UK, where 28 days is standard.

    I do get what Alison is saying about the inconvenience of presenting a holiday request as a fait accompli, but your manager sounds like a jerk.

    Reply
    1. sanbikinoraion

      Giving six months’ notice of a week’s holiday is not an “inconvenience”! It’s pretty damn considerate. If you’re working somewhere where you can’t reliably book a week off with six months notice, you’re doing it wrong.

      Reply
      1. Colette

        It depends. If you can never book a vacation, that’s a problem. But six months notice doesn’t mean it can’t be crunch time (tax season, year end, right before a major event). And it doesn’t mean that the person who covers for you hasn’t already booked it off. There are absolutely valid reasons why six months notice shouldn’t guarantee time off.

        Reply
        1. Soon to be former fed

          I would hope the LW would know her company’s crunch times. In this case, she was gifted with the trip and the manager should not have been pouty and control freakish about it. I daresay that it is uncommon to give six months advance notice of vacation, because anything can happen in six months. I would be discouraged if I worked somewhere and was met with anything but appreciation for providing so much vacation notice. The LW did nothing wrong here. BTW, it is prudent management to have a contingency plan established in the event of unplanned or multiple unavoidable absences. Most people work to live, and do not live to work.

          Reply
          1. Anon today...and tomorrow

            The LW might know her crunch time, but her BF (who purchased the trip) might not. Two years ago my husband surprised me with a 4 day trip to NYC for the first ever Broadway-Con as a Christmas present. The trip was for the end of January but required me to take 2 days off during the week. There is a black out period for time off requests for my department for that month. He didn’t know that. I had to get special permission from my boss and grand-boss just to have the two days off. After that my husband and I had a conversation about our respective companies and their crunch time and surprise vacations.

            Reply
            1. CMDRBNA

              This is why the whole idea of a “surprise vacation!” or surprise plane tickets or whatever gives me the heebie-jeebies.

              Reply
            2. The OG Anonsie

              Right right, but if the LW’s husband had hit some timing like that, she seems like she’s aware enough of that being a potential problem to have mentioned it. It sounds like this is a regular week.

              Reply
            3. Soon to be former fed

              But if LW knew her boyfriend’s surprise trip was during crunch tome, don’t you think she would have been very apologetic when informing her manager? Or even offered to see if the trip could be rescheduled.

              People who plan surprise travel for people with jobs should not be surprised if the giftee cannot go. This does not seem to be the situation here.

              Reply
        2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

          I think if a business can’t find a solution to an employee absence, even at crunch time, given six month’s notice, there’s a problem with the business.

          Reply
          1. Boris

            Or the nature of their work means they cannot realistically bring someone in short-term to help out at a time when everyone is incredibly busy.

            Reply
          2. Artemesia

            Many organizations have all hands on deck times — the big conference, tax deadlines, grant deadlines, scholarship deadlines, recruitment deadlines etc etc. There is no good solution when key employees are gone even with advance notice. If one ends up hit by a bus, everyone else has to cope, but this is not the situation where a temp is the solution. And if the solution is that people already working 10 and 12 hour days during crunch time, have to work even longer to pick up the slack — that is not reasonable.

            Reply
        3. Specialk9

          The OP said in a comment that there are blackout days, and the vacation wasn’t in those times. The owner is in and out of the office all the time, doesn’t give the OP work flexibility, refuses to hire a temp, expects them to work on vacation, gives the silent treatment, and throws shade over a non-blackout date vacation scheduled half a year in advance. I think we can safely conclude the OP is being taken advantage of.

          Reply
      2. doreen

        Or you have a job that requires some sort of coverage or one where you don’t know about plans immediately after they are made. I’m sure there are a lot of jobs where it’s safe to book tickets six months in advance without asking for the time off first – but I’m guessing a two person business isn’t one of them. I can easily imagine the letter writer saying she wanted that week off and the owner saying ” You can’t have it, I’m taking that week off” or ” You can’t have it, I just finalized the plans for Big Event yesterday”.

        Reply
      3. Bagpuss

        I read the comment as saying that booking first and requesting second was inconvenient, not that asking for time off 6 months in advance was.

        Reply
        1. An Inspector of Gadgets

          Yes that’s definitely what is being said. But because of the amount of lead time, I think a lot of us are bristling at the idea that the employer has exclusive first right of refusal on someone’s time, rather than working WITH the employee to figure it out. That could mean doing things differently in the intervening six months to prep for the absence, whatever is needed.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            But the manager approved the time. She was just annoyed by it being presented to her as a fait accompli when they have a policy saying to get the dates approved first.

            Reply
            1. Soon to be former fed

              It was a technical rule violation, but the lengthy advance notice served the same end purpose for effective work planning.

              Reply
    2. overcaffeinatedandqueer

      I really don’t know what to do with the Icy Hot. I am just so glad that the woman who sits near me was recently moved for unrelated reasons; she used a really strong peppermint hand lotion that was irritating my asthma.

      I also recently have been doing foreign language legal work and thus working with four Germans, two of whom smoke. Oddly, their smoke smells are barely noticeable and not as irritating as the smell I get from most smokers. I don’t know if it’s a European thing to be more considerate of smoke smells, or if they just smoke less or use different tobacco (many Germans I have known roll their own). But I’m really pleased it’s not a thing, and it goes to show that most irritants can be somewhat or mostly mitigated.

      Reply
  18. Mookie

    Re the staring and copying routine, my mother does this to me — whether we’re alone or with others — and it’s gotten worse as we’ve gotten older. Because this isn’t a stranger but someone I love, the habit is at once both profoundly irritating but also weirdly endearing (when it’s not actively happening, since most of the time it sends a red mist of pure rage before my eyes). When it really gets on my tits, I call her out on it, ask her if she needs anything, or ostentatiously turn my back to her while engaged in something to discourage the rubbernecking. After years of trying to suss out why she does this, I think I’ve identified this behavior as a kind of pre-emptive defense mechanism coupled with a slightly inept attempt at bonding; my mother is threatened by me in a lot of ways, this is something we’re working on, but prior to doing so we developed a pattern in which she treats me with excessive amounts of deference and conciliation, sometimes as a passive-aggressive performance but sometimes simply out of habit, and I push back with schoolmarmish disapproval, thereby creating a feedback loop where she feels she has to be nicer and more intent on pleasing me. I think sometimes these rote little tics are replicated across a person’s entire life and in many different kinds of relationships, including professional ones, either because the patterns end up achieving through deception specific aims the person otherwise can’t fulfill or because they lack the experience and courage to try something else. The key, though, is that they need something. Sometimes they don’t know what that is, and sometimes they simply can’t admit it to themselves.

    I don’t really have any advice for you, LW1, beyond that you try not to take this too personally and that you meet head-on this colleague’s indirect way of engaging with you, don’t enable it but kindly and very firmly ask her to stop, and loop in a manager if necessary. This will not be easy if you’re anything like me because confrontations with people who live, breath, and die using avoidance tactics are notoriously difficult to confront without crushing their tiny, delicate, pitter-patter souls, always on the look-out for someone to look up to or to guide them or notice them or approve of them. It’s not your job to do that here, it’s not fair to you to have to take on this colleague’s baggage for an entire year, and this colleague needs to know and accept that. Your patience here is remarkable and I do want to thank you on behalf of people like this that you haven’t lost your cool because I know from first-hand experience how devastating it can be for someone to be told to Stop Doing the Thing!1!! (that they’re either not aware they’re doing or that they think might get them in the good graces of someone they admire). It’s time for her to stop.

    Reply
      1. Lindsay J

        Further up in the comments the OP mentions that she has also seen this person have her cell phone camera on pointed towards her. And that she’s felt that she has to leave her desk to get away from the coworker/the pictures when that happens. Would that change your opinion?

        Because to me that was the tipping point between this sounding like just an odd/unpleasant/awkward coworker, and something that would have me weirded out and headed towards HR.

        I’d probably confront her directly in the moment when I saw the camera on first, but I’d probably also loop in my manager or HR later because I can’t think of a single good reason for my coworker to be taking covert pictures of me at work, but I can a lot of concerning ones.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes, although I think she’d ideally be more sure than she currently is (just having her phone facing her isn’t really conclusive). She doesn’t need courtroom-level proof though.

          Like I wrote in response to comment, she should say something and see what happens.

          Reply
    1. Brandy

      But like is said below, she could be staring into space thru you. I do this a lot at restaurants. people to my right probably think im just staring away at them, but I don’t see them at all.

      Reply
  19. Y

    Companies can end your employment at any time and they have no obligation to let you work previously scheduled days. In fact, it’s far more common than not that people leave immediately once they’re fired rather than continue to work any additional days

    But with payment in lieu of the contractual notice period in that case, right?

    Reply
    1. (Different) Rebecca

      Even for a unionized professor job, the offer letter I signed was clear to emphasize that all the contractual obligation was on my end. If I’m fired for cause, and probably even if I’m laid off because their class needs changed, they do not owe me the rest of my salary. Which, as my favorite cat cartoon states, totally bites litter.

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Most U.S. workers don’t have contracts, so there’s no contractual notice period or any requirement that the employer pay you beyond your last day of work.

      Reply
  20. Justme

    So for number two, same rules apply for someone who uses a gagging amount of air freshener in their office. Like I passed by and almost had to run to get away from the smell.

    Reply
    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      It’s not quite the same, because an air freshener is (I would have to imagine) not a medical need, whereas a product like Icy Hot is used for treating certain kinds of pain.

      Reply
        1. Justme

          Who talks directly to the employee? Is it me, who only walks by occasionally (and gags when I do) or is it HR, because this could be an issue for others in the office?

          Reply
            1. Lily Rowan

              Yeah, what fposte said, and maybe the person says, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, I’ll stop immediately!” Then the problem is solved without escalation.

              Reply
            2. The OG Anonsie

              Yeah. There’s no reason to try to loop other levels of the company in for a pretty minor conversation.

              Reply
          1. That Would Be a Good Band Name

            I’m not sure I’d say anything if it’s something they are using it in their own office and you are only noticing it as you pass by occasionally. Unless, of course, it’s actually triggering a medical problem. If it’s just that it’s too strong for you to be near it and you don’t have to be near it for any period of time, I’d let it go.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Actually, that’s a good point. If you only notice it when you pass by and don’t have to work in that office, and you have no medical problems associated with the stuff, I would agree that you don’t need to talk to anybody–you can just hold your breath for a couple of steps until you pass.

              Reply
  21. Susan

    #5 – I realize that, in your case, you didn’t plan this in advance because your boyfriend surprised you, but it can come across as manipulative to tell your boss that you’ve already purchased the tickets/made a nonrefundable reservation/etc. when asking for time off. This can put your boss in the crappy situation of having to say yes at a time that’s really bad for the company, or say no and cost you a lot of money and upset you (which anyone who’s even close to a reasonable human being would not want to do). If you had simply asked for the time off to take a vacation, without mentioning the already-purchased tickets, that would have been fine. It seems pretty clear from her response, though, that she felt pressured into saying yes because you already had tickets.

    Also, it’s a really bad idea to surprise someone else with a trip without checking to make sure the dates work. I guess people see this in the movies and think it seems really romantic or something, but not so much in real life.

    Reply
  22. Loopy

    For #5 I’d be maybe expecting a little understanding that the trip was booked without my knowledge. Now as the OP is be a little annoyed that my SO put me in a bind (even if it was well meaning) but that’s not really the heart of the issue.

    I’d hate for someone to surprise book me a trip for just this reason but as the boss I’d try and be okay the first time and very firm about avoiding this scenario in the future.

    Reply
  23. Chatterby

    Definitely state the expected standard of work the employee needs to meet in order to keep her work from home arrangement and then invest in some technology that may help keep her motivated. There are lots of apps and gadgets meant to ensure telecommuters are present and working their full time and not playing with the new baby, or napping, or off on errands, or whatever. They usually suck, but this worker has been labeled “ok, not great” and may need extra help.
    The LW is also allowed to specify that she can work from home, but must be available from x hour to y hour, to prevent her from working in the middle of the night when no one can reach her, missing meetings, or working in sporadic 15 minute increments.

    Reply
    1. Ego Chamber

      This would be good advice, except the worker is at a different office closer to her home, not actually working from home, so I doubt the new baby and naps are a big distraction there. :)

      If her presence at the alternate location is being questioned, LW can just loop in someone at that office to spy on her.

      Reply
  24. Sam

    Re: no 5. I realise it might not be standard in the US, but every job I’ve had in AUS has had instructions in the employee handbook/company rules which state supervisors must make every effort to approve leave ie. they have to have a good reason to reject a request. If you give enough notice (6 months is plenty) there are very few obstacles that management could (or would) claim to prevent you from going. My leave requests have always leant towards telling more than asking, with room to negotiate if necessary (but only if necessary).

    Reply
    1. Ausmerican

      I’m originally from the US but living in Australia now. Work culture (especially as it pertains to leave) is very, very different here in Aus than it is in the US. VERY different. We get way more leave here and there is much more acceptance of actually taking/using it in work culture here in general. There’s no way I could approach leave in the US the way I approach it here.

      Reply
    2. The OG Anonsie

      It’s quite the opposite here. You have to ask nicely and, often, have a compelling reason for the request.

      Reply
    3. Specialk9

      Sometimes I’m honestly not sure what’s wrong with the US. We have a great economy but so few people benefit.

      Reply
  25. Temperance

    LW3: is the one day per week difference really that big of a deal? Is there something that she needs to be doing that she can’t from that office?

    Reply
  26. Soon to be former fed

    #1, just no. This behavior would drive me to distraction and creep me out. Your coworker sounds a tad unstable. I would probably request different seating arrangements. Otherwise, I would request management address this directly with her, possibly referring her to the EAP for assistance. Good luck.

    Reply
    1. R2D2

      I agree! Can you ask another employee to check on you two throughout the day, or leave at the same time as you? If this “stalker” is trying to isolate you after work, perhaps walking out the door with a third employee every day would discourage her efforts.

      Reply
  27. Hiring Mgr

    #5–not to derail, but you really have only 7 days of PTO? Assuming this is a full time role, there’s something wrong with that.

    Reply
  28. Trout 'Waver

    OP#5. Only 7 days of PTO and your boss is cranky about you using them? Is he cranky about paying you your wages or health care also? GTFO.

    Reply
  29. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

    LW#1- Does this person have a life outside of work? Does she have a family, Friends, etc? Also, when she leaves work the same time you do, do you both go the same way? or does she go the opposite way to leave the building (or once you get outside)? When she starts to get ready to leave when I do, I would tell her that the two of you shouldn’t leave at the same time–that you should stagger it. Let her leave at 5 and you leave about 20 minutes or so afterwards. As for the staring, I would tell her in no uncertain terms that her staring makes you uncomfortable and you would appreciate it if she could stop it. I wish you the best with this situation. Give us an update when you can.

    Reply
    1. EddieSherbert

      What reason would you give her though to leave at different times? That’d be a very strange request.

      Reply
    2. Lindsay J

      You comment made me think of this which is why I’m putting this comment here.

      But maybe she views leaving at the same time as a safety thing?

      When I worked closing shifts at New York and Company, the policy was that everyone had to wait to punch out at the same time, and exit the building together. The thinking was that employees would be less of a target for crimes leaving in a group at night, rather than trickling out one by one.

      I also have a friend that is very concerned about her physical safety and who prefers doing anything – even going to the bathroom at a store or restaurant – using the buddy system.

      If they’re both exiting to the same parking lot, or walking to the same bus stop, or whatever, at the same time it actually makes more sense to me as to why she might be waiting than if they are going their separate ways immediately.

      Reply
      1. R2D2

        I’m from Chicago and had the same thought—maybe this gal doesn’t feel safe leaving the building alone. This doesn’t explain the staring and creepy cell phone photos, though.

        Reply
  30. Foreign Octopus

    #2 – I have no idea what Icy Hot is. I thought it was like Old Spice or Lynx but it seems to be some pain relief cream?

    I experienced something similar to this recently. I had a private one-to-one student (male, early 20s) who seemed to shower in cologne before coming to class. It set my allergies off something fierce and I had trouble breathing with the door closed whilst he was in the room. Ventilation was the key to me but I always hated having to teach him. Since it was for only two months (once a week), I sucked it up because I knew there was an end date, but I really did dread those lessons because it left me stuffy for an hour or two afterwards.

    So you have my sympathy, OP. I’m baffled that management isn’t doing anything though, despite knowing more than one person is effected.

    Reply
    1. abra

      IcyHot is a mentholated liniment — there are a lot of formulations/brands but they all smell basically the same. The menthol (or methyl salicylate, depending on formulation) is a counterirritant that works by causing mild inflammation on the skin. This helps disrupt the pain signals being produced by injured/sore muscles and joints. It’s a good choice for people who can’t take NSAIDs for pain or who are already taking as many NSAIDs as they safely can. The menthol also irritates mucous membranes and lungs, too, though, unfortunately, which is why it’s bothering others in the office.

      Reply
    2. VintageLydia

      The management probably isn’t making the employee stop using it because, well, it IS a medication. If she has chronic pain like arthritis that can only be managed with noxious creams and pain killers (and use of the latter must be restricted to avoid ulcers and addictions) she may not have another option.

      This is likely more a problem of one person’s accommodation and another’s being incompatible with the usual solutions (like dog allergies vs. guide dog) and the solution needs to be a bit more creative. OP did say management suggested moving the asthmatic workers, so it’s not like they’re not doing anything. It’s not their fault OP and others don’t want to do that (though in the end they may not have a choice. If that solution will work there is no reason to do anything more disruptive or costly.)

      Reply
    3. Sheworkshardforthemoney

      In the olden days, there were no rules about scents in the office. People could smoke at their desks and did. One older lady in my office used to bathe in a very floral scent. She had an obvious physical disability, (one leg was 3 or 4 inches shorter than the other). She compensated by dressing in an overly feminine manner, including the large floral hat in the summer and overdoing the scent. She was also the sweetest person ever. No one complained about her but the smokers were fair game.

      Reply
    4. Foreign Octopus

      I’ve been having a look around and I think Deep Heat is a similar product in the UK, used for muscle relief and aches and pains. I’ve used it before and it was an interesting experience.

      Reply
    5. The OG Anonsie

      It’s an analgesic-ish cream, abra’s explanation above is spot on. It’s used for pain.

      Icy Hot is a brand name that people are familiar with but there are a lot of products with the same ingredients and, by proxy, smell. Bengay, Tiger Balm, Salonpas, White Flower– there are a lot of different names for similar products with a similar smell.

      Management isn’t doing anything because, from the sounds of it, this person needs to pain relief and they are treating it as an accommodation that person needs to have.

      Reply
      1. You Don't Understand Chronic Pain Until You've Had It

        They are not the same. Some primarily have menthol, others mostly have camphor, etc.

        Reply
        1. The OG Anonsie

          They’re not all identical, but they’ll all have a some combination of a small list of oils– all of which are volatile in such a way that they will produce the same sort of smells and induce a similar reaction in most people if they irritate respiratory and eye mucosa.

          Reply
  31. лисица

    #1: I’m inclined to think she has a crush on you. Her coming in early and leaving later could be because she wants to spend more time with you. Eating the same foods may be a way of getting your attention and making you think you have things in common. Staring is self-explanatory.

    It’s still annoying and you shouldn’t have to put up with it, but it’s an alternative explanation to her just being a “psycho” stalker.

    Reply
  32. snarkarina

    Oh my GOSH, OP#1 – I’ve been dealing with a similar situation (though fortunately we don’t share desks, just work in the same division), but it’s gotten bad enough that I’ve started calling her “Single White Female” behind her back – as every time she walks past my desk there’s the prolonged watching of me, and she’s forever asking me questions about what I eat, where I buy my clothes, etc. that are highly unnerving (especially as I think we’re both around the same age, so there’s no junior/senior dichotomy going on). I’ve taken to giving vaguer and vaguer answers and adopting a slightly frosty, highly professional attitude whenever she’s around (even if it makes me feel slightly bitchy).

    Reply
    1. Anon today...and tomorrow

      I worked with a woman with a great sense of style who would refuse to tell people where she bought her clothes. She would say it light but firm “Oh, I don’t tell people where I shop. I like to be an original and I can’t do that if I share my secrets.”

      OP#1 – is it possible that this copy-cat stuff started as a case of imposter syndrome and she started copying you because you seemed to have it together at work? It’s possible she doesn’t know how to stop. I think pointing out moments where it’s weird (the adjusting arrival and departure times / staring) is a great plan to get her to stop.

      Reply
      1. CMDRBNA

        I wear a lot of vintage stuff and get that question a lot – the answer is usually Goodwill or Salvation Army / some random antique store, so good luck copying my look!

        I have had to resist chasing people down to ask them about their clothes, though, especially since I am epically failing on finding super high-waisted dress pants that aren’t too tight to be professional (and I don’t like buying clothes online, so my options are limited!).

        Reply
  33. Julia Gulia

    Ah, Icy Hot. Like Axe for the arthritic.

    Avoiding strong scents in the office should be common courtesy.

    Reply
    1. abra

      For personal products (shampoo, perfume, etc) I agree, but it seems unlikely that OP’s coworker is using the IcyHot just because they like the smell. It may be that the person just doesn’t notice how the strong scent is bothering others, but it also may be the case that they’re in pain and have no other alternative treatment.

      Reply
    2. Terry

      All heat liniments smell bad. They’re not scented, it’s the active ingredients causing both the irritating odour and the pain relief. If she has a medical need for the product, as many chronic pain sufferers do, it’s not as simple as deciding not to wear perfume in the office.

      Reply
        1. fposte

          Sure, but so is somebody with a service animal in the office. It’s not as simple as asthma > arthritis so Icy Hot loses.

          Reply
          1. Essie

            It’s not as simple as one person can’t breathe? Really?

            Yes, they should try to accommodate everyone, but a blanket “everyone matters” statement isn’t always common sense.

            Reply
            1. abra

              This isn’t a ‘blanket “everyone matters”‘ statement, though. Two people have medical conditions and the requirements of those conditions are causing a conflict. Yes, an asthma trigger is a serious problem, but you can’t tell the other person to just stop using a treatment they need, if they need it and have no good alternative.

              Reply
                1. abra

                  Well, it sounds like the employer tried moving OP’s coworker and is now proposing a move for OP, as well. It sounds like OP does not like this, and depending on the size of the workspace, it may not be enough to address the asthma issue, but it’s an effort. If that doesn’t work, I suppose they’ll have to figure out something else, but the answer can’t be ‘tell OP’s coworker not to use IcyHot anymore’.

        2. LCL

          She’s not infringing on others. One person’s medical needs are conflicting with another’s medical needs. What bothers me about the situation is that OP says the Icy Hot is causing herself and coworkers to experience breathing and eye irritation. I totally believe everything OP wrote about the effects to her, but I think the coworkers are piling on. it sounds too much like that classic junior high tactic where when the unpopular kid walks in the room the mouthy one starts in with ‘dude, you stink. Can’t you smell that, everybody? What did you do, take a shower in dog stuff’ and etc… and everyone singles out the unpopular kid for smelling bad, when in reality unpopular kid is clean. Again, I believe OP was made physically ill, but the coworkers sound a touch melodramatic to me.

          Reply
          1. just another day

            Yes! LCL, you read my mind. Icy Hot is definitely noticeable, but it’s the equivalent of mouthwash. I have asthma and USE Icy Hot. I just don’t get how OP & co-workers’ complaints are legit.

            Reply
        3. You Don't Understand Chronic Pain Until You've Had It

          But they would be infringing on her if they demanded she stop using what works for her pain. These types of pain relief are very temporary and therefore need to be re-applied. They are NOT interchangeable. If icy hot works and salonpas patches don’t and biofreeze is too expensive over time, then icy hot it is.

          She may also be stationed where she is because it minimizes the distances she has to walk around the office. Let me explain, people see me and don’t know anything’s wrong or think I’m far too young for arthritis or a connective tissue disorder. But every movement I make is painful, and if it goes too far I am in tears and may have to spend the next day in bed.

          Maybe she’s near the break room because she needs to take medication with food (as is the case with anti-inflammatories and some muscle relaxers). Maybe she needs to be near the bathroom or near the copier or office printer. You don’t know and aren’t entitled to know.

          And doctors are more and more restricted in giving out pain relieving medication in the US.

          My frozen shoulder was so painful I couldn’t move the shoulder, neck, that arm, that wrist or even the fingers on that hand. But my doctor would not prescribe any medication because he said he’d get in trouble and “they” are cracking down on doctors who prescribe pain killers. 6 weeks of physical therapy helped in movement but didn’t relieve the pain much at all. I had to used sore muscle rub, icy hot, alternating ice packs and heating pads, and still cried in pain every day. But I still couldn’t get medication that worked. (Over the counter pain meds did nothing to ease the pain.)

          I’m really saddened by the lack of compassion on this issue.

          Reply
          1. The OG Anonsie

            Yeah, I was expecting this as a general response and tried to… Introduce some more compassion with my comment early on by pointing out that Icy Hot probably really needs it and is also probably willing to do what they can to help everyone else, but alas.

            Reply
          2. Lady Bug

            I’m sorry you are dealing with chronic pain. My husband has had arthritis since he was 20. Aside from the dangers of long term use of painkillers/biologics/immunologics/steriods etc, there are real immediate risks associated with pain. My husband ended up in the ER earlier this year with “you will have a stroke” blood pressure levels. After extensive testing by a cardiologist, they determined it was from trying to ignore the pain. No one should presume this coworker will be able to stop using icyhot without suffering any harm.

            It sounds like the employer is trying to aaccommodate both employees which is the right approach.

            Reply
          3. Gazebo Slayer

            The thing is, though… as multiple people have pointed out above, asthma can be life-threatening. Accommodating the one person with chronic pain might seriously harm the numerous other people with breathing difficulties. This isn’t a lack of compassion, it’s a situation where the accommodations are genuinely incompatible.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Where the current accommodations are, sure. But then you keep exploring the possibilities–this isn’t a one and done.

              Reply
            2. The OG Anonsie

              It may not be, though– in the original letter, management said they could move people around and then didn’t follow up. There very well may be a way to accommodate everyone, but it hasn’t been a priority for the people who can make it happen because they aren’t the ones being affected.

              But past that, the lack of compassion being referenced here in Essie’s assertion that even if there is a way to accommodate everyone, using a product that smells is discourteous and puts you in the moral wrong even if you do have a medical need to do so. That’s not based on a difficult situation of conflicting health needs, that’s just silly.

              Reply
  34. Allison

    #1, she probably stays until you leave because she worries about optics. Maybe in her last job people would make snide remarks like “gee, must be nice” if she left while they had to stay and keep working, or if she’s new to the workforce, maybe she’s following the advice to be the last one out every day.

    #5, while it was really sweet of your boyfriend to surprise you like that, buying tickets before you get that time off approved is a bad idea (you basically need to go in prepared to pay reissuing fees). In hindsight, you should have said you and your boyfriend were eyeing that week and wanted to get approved in advance so you could get a good deal on the flight, giving your boss the sense that she had an “out” if she wanted it, but she probably would have approved it.

    Reply
    1. EddieSherbert

      For #5… or just put in a request for that week and don’t make up an explanation (or share the truth if she’d get upset like this). Your boss doesn’t really need to know your plans for your time off :)

      Reply
      1. Allison

        Technically, you’re not wrong… I could ask for a week off and say nothing… but the reality is that managers ask… it’s natural to want to know :)

        Reply
          1. Hedwig

            This sounds like a good plan, assuming manager okays the leave. If she says no, then, you are in the very awkward position of saying you actually already have non refundable tickets.

            Reply
  35. Tableau Wizard

    Regarding planning vacations and PTO with #5 – If my husband and I are planning to take a week long trip next summer in the month of June or July using timeshare points, we need to be booking in about 9 months in advance, and we won’t be able to know the exact dates that the properties will be available. If we got permission for a specific date in advance of booking, we may not get the resort/destination that we want. If we wait for the right slot to be open and then ask, we might not get an answer before the slot is taken by someone else. In this situation what does one do regarding getting permission before booking a trip?

    Extra layer: What if you know your reporting structure is going to change in the next 3 months or so? Who do you ask?

    Reply
    1. Trout 'Waver

      Last question is easy: Ask your current manager. They’re still responsible for things like that until they least. If the new person after the reporting change gets a say, it’s on your current manager to negotiate that.

      Reply
    2. Undine

      How strict is your vacation structure? Can you just say to your manager, “We’re planning to take a trip using timeshare points. We want to go in June or July, but we won’t know the exact date until (x). If there are any dates in June or July where I need to be present, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll go ahead and put in the timeshare request.” Do it verbally first, then send a confirmation to your manager over email.

      In some jobs, I understand you might not have vacation until you’ve gone through all the steps, but in others, it’s about making a good faith attempt to meet the job needs before you book.

      Reply
      1. Kyrielle

        This. Or if you get to pick the date/times when you make the request but won’t know what’s available then, just make a note of the dates that won’t work, and don’t grab any of those.

        Reply
    3. CAA

      Go to your manager now and say almost exactly what you said here. You are planning a week’s vacation in June or July next year. You have to apply for the timeshare you want to stay at, and you won’t know which week you’ll get until the beginning of October. Does he think there are any weeks you should avoid, such as the one with the 4th of July, or will he be able to approve any week you can get?

      Then in October, it’s “remember that vacation plan we discussed back in August where I didn’t know the exact week yet? Well I was able to get June 23 to 30, so I’m putting that in the vacation system now so you can approve it.”

      If you get a new manager between now and then, make sure to bring him up to speed during your first one-on-one. Briefly recap the conversation with your previous manager, update him on the status of your reservation and tell him when you’ll be able to give a firm date. Then when you know, use the same script as above.

      Reply
  36. Sheworkshardforthemoney

    No.2. If the co-worker just started using Icy Hot all the time then it’s possible they are treating an injury and will soon stop when it feels better. Doesn’t hurt to ask the Icy Hot person if this is the case, diplomatically of course.

    Reply
  37. Bow Ties Are Cool

    #5: You say you worked during your vacation. Be sure to deduct those hours from the PTO you claim! You are owed hours OFF WORK. You work ’em, they’re not PTO.

    Reply
  38. Ms. Anna

    For LW 1 – I can easily see the other worker being told that she should copy the OP’s hours. I have seen Allison give adcive that could be construed that way (Modeling your colleagues) and if the other worker somehow got the idea that the boss valued face time or being able to see that she isn’t always the first to leave or the last to get there.

    The staring thing may also be somewhat innocent. I do that. I am working on something and need to stop a moment and thing something through. Sometimes I lean back from the chair and look off into the distance and think. If you happen to be in the line of sight, it looks like I am staring at you when, in actuality, I don’t even see you until you move or wave. I am totally focused on whatever it is I am thinking about and not paying the least bit of attention to what is in my line of sight. You can be sitting there giving me a double middle finger salute, and I won’t realize it or even see it until my concentration breaks. And, yes, I have been told that it unnerves people, and I try to arrange my work space so that I am staring down a plant rather than a coworker.

    Can’t explain the food, though.

    Reply
    1. paul

      Any one thing could be explainable, maybe. It’s the conglomeration of all of them that is pretty out there, and would be creeping me out pretty hard.

      Reply
  39. Imaginary Number

    OP #1: The food thing is actually really really normal. Have you heard of the fajita effect? In restaurant that serves sizzling fajitas, once one person orders one suddenly there are ten orders for the same thing.

    This carries over into the workplace all the time. If you eat a mushroom quiche from the local bakery every morning for breakfast and your coworker happens to like mushroom quiches, it’s actually totally reasonable for her to start eating them every day too. Just because seeing someone else eating something you like naturally makes you want to eat the same thing, even if you wouldn’t make that decision on your own.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      Yeah, but in aggregate with all the other parroting behaviors, and when it’s the same every day, that gets on the express train for Weirdville.

      Reply
      1. strawberries and raspberries

        Even more so when you factor in the OP’s update about the phone camera seemingly pointed at her on the regular.

        Reply
    2. Atomic Orange

      Back in the day when I was the new girl at a school, I got cornered by 2 girls because I was ‘copying’ them. They were best friends and did everything together, and had a bit of a mean girl complex thing going. I had become friends with their larger group of friends, but didn’t know them well at all. I was really taken aback because I really hadn’t paid them much attention. And they pointed out that I was ‘copying’ their food. Keep in mind this was high school so I ate either cafeteria food or brought a sandwich… as did maybe 95% of the students.
      Not saying that OP is anything like those two teenage girls, but the food thing by itself isn’t really that alarming. It’s hard to tell by the letter exactly how ‘creepy’ the coworker is acting. I read the behaviour more as an inexperienced and perhaps slightly awkward new employee taking cues from a more senior staff. I know a lot of people purposely try to stay later than the more senior staff because they’re conscientious of not appearing ‘lazy’, especially in the beginning of their careers. But I can see how if one or two things made OP uncomfortable, then everything else just adds to that discomfort despite some of it being possibly innocent.

      Reply
  40. Snark

    Is there a reason why OP1 couldn’t say, as kindly as possible, “Look, Jane, this is a little awkward, but…I’ve noticed that you’ve started coming and going when I do, bringing the same meals I do, and paying a lot of attention to me as I work, and all those habits are making me uncomfortable. Can you please stop? I realize you may be trying to model your professional behavior on your colleagues’, but this isn’t how that’s supposed to work.”

    Reply
    1. EddieSherbert

      I agree with this, but it totally depends on the OP’s personality and comfort level. Especially seeing the OP’s comment (name is KT) that this coworker also seems to be pointing her phone at the OP a lot (taking pics maybe?), I’d probably do a big picture conversation like this.

      But if that’s something you could never see yourself doing, addressing the “big” items in the moment is totally fine too… With a healthy dose of horror in your voice for the phone situation!

      Reply
  41. Ms. Anna

    #2 – You are right, Icy-hot simply stinks. And, if your asthma gets triggered, then you have every bit as big an ADA issue as the girl with the Icy-hot.

    In the absence of moving her to a different office or getting her to stop using that stuff, can you get a HEPA filter? That may be a good idea for your asthma even if the Icy Hot weren’t in play. You can get one that is one step too large for the work space and the super fine allergen filters and put it on your desk. You may also be able to put in on her desk. That way it would catch the fumes before they got too far from her.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      A HEPA filter won’t help – those are for particulates like smoke, pollen, spores, and that sort of thing, not smells.

      And yeah, I loathe the smell of that stuff, and it doesn’t even work.

      Reply
        1. No, please

          It really helps my joint pain when all the NSAIDS aren’t enough. Maybe coworker could apply it in the bathroom? I don’t know if it would help that much, but it’s worth a shot.

          Reply
      1. LabTech

        You’d need an activated carbon filter that mentions working on VOCs. Though an air purifier will have a pretty limited effect if you’re surrounded by the smell.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          And I think those close-fitted respirators can be tough to breathe through on their own; I don’t have asthma, but I could imagine that if you do, signing up for harder breathing might be suboptimal.

          Reply
          1. LabTech

            I was thinking more along the lines of one of those $300 stand-alone air purifiers situated on the desk so that the air current is pointed directly at LW’s face. A heavy duty respirator wouldn’t only be difficult to breathe in, but look bizarre in an office environment.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Definitely easier to breathe with that than a respirator! But I think it would depend a lot on the molecular sizes involved, which is a technical detail beyond my research urges.

              Reply
              1. LabTech

                Mhm, this is in my technical wheelhouse. An activated carbon filter that’s explicitly rated for VOCs (volatile organic carbons) will reduce the smell by physically bonding organic molecules in the air that are causing this smell onto the carbon as a result of activated carbon’s high surface area. Unlike HEPA filters, which Snark mentioned, will take care of particulates like smoke and dander, an activated carbon filter will remove most organic molecules, which are the cause of most household smells and consumer fragrances. (Notably, may not be effective for noxious gasses which can often be inorganic.)

                It won’t be perfect – it may be as effective as trying to get the balls out of a ball pit by tossing out the ones in arms reach – but it could work in combination with being situated further away from the IcyHot coworker.

                Reply
            2. Soon to be former fed

              There are many levels of respirators, you wouldn’t need the poison gas one hete. Looking funny is better than having an asthma attack. I know smokers who had no trace of smoke smell in their home because of stand alone filters, so that mat be a better option hete.

              Reply
      2. You Don't Understand Chronic Pain Until You've Had It

        You mean it doesn’t work for you. It works for me and many others.

        Reply
        1. Snark

          No, I meant it how I phrased it. Clinically, it’s never been shown to alleviate pain significantly better than a placebo.

          Reply
          1. just another day

            Wow, I usually agree with your comments, Snark, but this is way off! Icy Hot is the only thing that keeps me vertical when my spinal disc slips out of alignment and it is NOT a placebo effect! That clinical study is bogus.

            Reply
            1. Snark

              The entire reason the placebo effect is an effect is because it seems to work. I have no doubt you experience subjective relief, but the study found no statistical difference between that and scented Vaseline. If you have some kind of specific refutation of their methods, I’ll listen, but I trust the study over an anecdote.

              Reply
  42. Fabulous

    #2 – I like the way Icy Hot smells, but can totally understand how it can irritate someone else. There are non-smelly options that do the exact same thing, though. Or Salonpas patches – those are absolutely wonderful – smell similarly to Icy Hot but it’s not NEARLY as strong a smell. Maybe do some research about what other options there are and bring those to the co-worker. She may not know other products do the same thing.

    Reply
    1. The OG Anonsie

      Please don’t bring a list of alternatives to the coworker. Few things are more tone deaf to someone dealing with a chronic health problem than “hey, I spent a couple minutes thinking about what you deal with every day and I bet I thought of something you haven’t.”

      You can (kindly) tell her what the impact is (although since management is already involved I take it that the situation is known) and ask if she knows of a less smelly option that also works for her, but since it’s the active ingredients that cause the smell there is no version that doesn’t have that same smell. Some smell more or less than others, but they also work more or less, so that’s a thing. I love Salonpas patches but you can only wear so many at a time since they have an NSAID, and you can’t put them on all parts of the body. From management’s response it doesn’t sound like removing the smell is an option, so the focus now should be on making sure the seating arrangement actually gets moved.

      Reply
    2. You Don't Understand Chronic Pain Until You've Had It

      Salonpas patches are NOT the same as Icy Hot. Salonpas uses a level of camphor that makes it feel like my skin is burning. These pain-relief options are not the same, and I wish people would stop saying that.

      Different products work differently for different people and for different medical conditions.

      Reply
  43. Been there

    OP#1, I’m sure this isn’t helpful at all but I’m imagining your Coworker sitting there, sloooowly eating her copied meal while staring at you with wiiiiddddeee eyes. Or in other words like a little kid that has been mesmerized by morning cartoons staring at the tv with a spoonful of cereal brought halfway their mouth.

    I’m with some of the others who would probably make a game out of it until it stopped amusing me and then get my desk moved. (I know, not very nice)

    Reply
  44. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    (Accidentally posted in the wrong nest, oops!)

    I really don’t know what to do with the Icy Hot. I am just so glad that the woman who sits near me was recently moved for unrelated reasons; she used a really strong peppermint hand lotion that was irritating my asthma.

    I also recently have been doing foreign language legal work and thus working with four Germans, two of whom smoke. Oddly, their smoke smells are barely noticeable and not as irritating as the smell I get from most smokers. I don’t know if it’s a European thing to be more considerate of smoke smells, or if they just smoke less or use different tobacco (many Germans I have known roll their own). But I’m really pleased it’s not a thing, and it goes to show that most irritants can be somewhat or mostly mitigated.

    Also, you can’t just have the most immediately-dangerous medical condition “win”- if that were the case, the U.S. would have an even worse hunger problem than it does, since many staple foods in social programs, food stamps, and generally what lower-income people eat, contain allergens that can cross-contaminate and cause a casual passerby a life-threatening allergic reaction. Think peanut butter or gluten or soy (and that’s why I’m not for total bans in schools on certain foods due to allergies).

    Reply
    1. You Don't Understand Chronic Pain Until You've Had It

      I’m confused as to why you think that “it goes to show that most irritants can be somewhat or mostly mitigated” just because you personally weren’t bothered by the scent of 2 distinct individuals.

      Could you please explain your reasoning?

      Reply
  45. Manager-at-Large

    In offices where I’ve worked in the last 10 or 15 years, my team has been distributed – offices in different cities, different time zones, even off-shore (I am in the US). I haven’t been in the same office as my boss in the last 4 or 5 years. I’ve never met my current boss in person. Having someone as a remote-from-home worker can be just another aspect of a distributed work force. I’ll admit that I am in IT and so the situation is different than managing the accounts payable team or marketing creatives. I just wanted to say that many of the “out of sight out of mind” feelings can be addressed and handled, presuming that the basic work can be accomplished at remote locations.

    Reply
  46. snurli

    #1–I have so say, as a person who deals with chronic pain in my muscles/connective tissues, IcyHot is sooo last year. BioFreeze is amazing–and no/minimal odor. Maybe when you talk to her about her IcyHot you can find out whether some other product–like Salonpas or BioFreeze might meet everyone’s needs.

    Reply
  47. Elizabeth H.

    I am so perplexed with the struggle to find “reasonable” explanations for LW1’s copying coworker. It’s true that if you look at some of these behaviors in a vacuum – seeing someone eating something that looks good and wanting to try it, getting interested in eating the way someone else eats because you see him/her as a healthy eater, worried about how your work ethic looks and wanting to look like you’re working as hard as other people in the office, staring vacantly into space and someone happens to be in your line of vision . . . Many reasonable people have done something like this without it being creepy. But it is so obvious that when you take them all together and to the particularly extreme extent that LW1’s coworker is doing it, it’s a pattern of weird behavior and not inadvertent. None of the potential explanations for what she’s doing help to make the LW feel better or to make it stop. I agree totally with addressing the behaviors one by one in the moment like Alison suggested. I do think that if it doesn’t work, at some point the LW might have to say something really direct like “You arrive and leave when I do when it’s not necessary for work reasons and it makes me feel uncomfortable because it seems like you are doing it to be around me. Please stop doing this.” Etc. with the rest of the stuff. This would be so difficult and uncomfortable for me to say personally if it were me in the situation, but it might become necessary.

    Reply
    1. Been there

      I do think you’re right. I’ve found in life that being direct (note that doesn’t mean unkind or mean) is often the best way to tackle these types of interpersonal issues. The coworker, by description, does go far beyond the line of normal here. Truthfully it’s more unkind to her to let in continue. I’m sure the reputation for being the weird coworker has already been established that doesn’t bode well for career advancement or success.

      Reply
  48. Jiffy

    OP#2 — I also love the magic of Icy Hot, but only when I use it myself, not when I am subjected to the cool vapors on somebody else all day at work. There is a swimming pool at my gym and I can ALWAYS tell when I am sharing the lane with someone who just slathered on the minty menthol because I can actually smell and taste it in the water. That is the worst.

    They definitely do make fragrance-free versions with the same helpful ingredients, even less expensive store brands.

    Reply
  49. Cautionary tail

    Op #2
    I’m sure your coworker won’t listen to you but Bengay, IcyHot, Tiger Balm and similar products are only placebos. That smell that is killing you, along with the tingle your coworker experiences is there to distract people for a temporary period of time from the pain. These products are not curative and do not make people better. Having said this, for some people, if they psychologically believe the product is working for them, then they feel better…temporarily. If you have a temporary need for pain distraction, like getting a tooth pulled, then these can help.

    My sympathies.

    A few studies
    Harvard University: Rubbing it in
    https // www dot health.harvard dot edu/newsletter_article/Rubbing_it_in

    Journal of Geriatic Physical Therapy: The Effect of Either Topical Menthol or a Placebo on Functioning and Knee Pain Among Patients With Knee OA (Osteo Arthritis)
    http //
    journals dot lww dot com/jgpt/Abstract/2013/04000/The_Effect_of_Either_Topical_Menthol_or_a_Placebo.7.aspx

    Countering studies like this are industry funded ones that use careful wording like “improvement in pain tolerance” without adding the temporary modifier. Some industry studies also use people who are experiencing no pain to see if a single application helps. Some use this wording, “This study investigated the immediate effect of six different topical analgesic creams.” Note the immediate modifier that does not address curing the underlying problem.
    https // chiromt dot biomedcentral dot com/articles/10.1186/2045-709X-20-7

    The National Institute of health says that these creams only penetrate the skin 5mm, not enough to deeply penetrate muscle which is the reason people purchase these products.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5062240/

    Thank you for reading,
    Cautionary tail, PhD.

    Reply
    1. Look, a bee!

      I think we should leave the coworkers choice of medication for her own health to her and/or her doctor. I sincerely doubt she’s using something so onerous on a regular basis just because she’s hoping it does something. Many people using stuff like icy hot know it doesn’t directly reduce the pain they’re in, often it works due to being a distraction from the pain. For example I have severe (I.e. Daily oral morphine) chronic bladder pain, and one of the things that helps me is using a heat pad cranked up to max and sitting on it or stuffing it between my legs. I know it doesn’t reduce the actual nerve pain I’m experiencing, but the feeling of burning skin on my thighs is often enough to distract me from the internal stabbing pains and sometimes it’s just awesome to swap that pain for burning and get a bit of a break. It can even be enough to help me fall asleep after a rough few hours.

      It’s kinda insulting to suggest that you know better than the OP’s coworker about what works for her health issues.

      Reply
  50. Cautionary tail

    Op #2
    I’m sure your coworker won’t listen to you but Bengay, IcyHot, Tiger Balm and similar products are only placebos. That smell that is killing you, along with the tingle your coworker experiences is there to distract people for a temporary period of time from the pain. These products are not curative and do not make people better. Having said this, for some people, if they psychologically believe the product is working for them, then they feel better…temporarily. If you have a temporary need for pain distraction, like getting a tooth pulled, then these can help.

    My sympathies.

    A few studies
    Harvard University: Rubbing it in
    https // www dot health.harvard dot edu/newsletter_article/Rubbing_it_in

    Journal of Geriatic Physical Therapy: The Effect of Either Topical Menthol or a Placebo on Functioning and Knee Pain Among Patients With Knee OA (Osteo Arthritis)
    http //
    journals dot lww dot com/jgpt/Abstract/2013/04000/The_Effect_of_Either_Topical_Menthol_or_a_Placebo.7.aspx

    Countering studies like this are industry funded ones that use careful wording like “improvement in pain tolerance” without adding the temporary modifier. Some industry studies also use people who are experiencing no pain to see if a single application helps. Some use this wording, “This study investigated the immediate effect of six different topical analgesic creams.” Note the immediate modifier that does not address curing the underlying problem.
    https // chiromt dot biomedcentral dot com/articles/10.1186/2045-709X-20-7

    The National Institute of health says that these creams only penetrate the skin 5mm, not enough to deeply penetrate muscle which is the reason people purchase these products.
    https // www dot ncbi dot nlm dot nih dot gov/pmc/articles/PMC5062240/

    Thank you for reading,
    Cautionary tail, PhD.

    Reply
    1. No, please

      There is no cure for arthritis. I very rarely use these products, but when I do it’s helpful. Placebo effect or not. I’m able to get through my tasks until it’s time for the next round of NSAIDs. The OP and coworker both appear to need an accommodation so it’s tricky.

      Reply
      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer

        But if it really is only placebo effect, wouldn’t a non-irritating muscle ointment, or a cold pack, work equally well if you believed it did?

        I have asthma and I’m not going to endanger myself at work so someone can use a placebo; not because the effect doesn’t help some, but rather that the placebo effect means one doesn’t need that specific product to get the effect.

        Reply
        1. abra

          To call it ‘placebo effect’ is incorrect; the post above is not particularly helpful in explaining how topical treatments like these work.

          Reply
          1. abra

            (To elaborate: I’m having trouble with the links above, but the writeups I have found by googling which refer to the knee osteoarthritis study referenced above conclude that, in fact, there *is* evidence to suggest that topical menthol 3.5% application does perform better than application of an inert placebo.)

            Reply
            1. No, please

              Yes, for me it’s helpful. The “placebo effect” statement was simply referring to this post. I’m not saying that asthma is less important than arthritis. There is no cure for either condition. I am not trying to imply that arthritis or muscle pain trumps asthma. I would probably try applying the cream in a bathroom with the fan running. This may help. If it doesn’t help I think both people sitting as far away from each other as possible really is the best solution.

              Reply
        2. fposte

          While our understanding of the placebo effect is very limited still, it’s clear that all placebos are not created equal, so you can’t just switch something else out and expect the same effect.

          Reply
    2. abra

      Opiates and other painkillers don’t treat the underlying condition, either. They also ‘distract people for a temporary period of time.’ For some conditions there may not even *be* a ‘curative’ solution. Particularly with chronic pain! Sometimes there simply isn’t a ‘cure.’ We don’t know why OP’s coworker is using IcyHot, but to imply that OP’s coworker is doing so out of naivete and could just stop because it’s useless anyhow is unfair. Please don’t conflate ‘does not directly cure underlying problem’ with ‘placebo’ — it’s neither accurate nor helpful to frame the conversation that way.

      Reply
      1. Elizabeth H.

        Rape – if you are using a treatment in order to mitigate your experience of pain, and it mitigates your experience of pain, then regardless of the action mechanism it’s a treatment that works. Evaluating what is or isn’t a “placebo” effect doesn’t make sense in this context.

        Reply
          1. Elizabeth H.

            Omg. It was voice text. I actually NOTICED AND CORRECTED “rape” to “right” (it was supposed to say “Right – if you are using . . .”, and had the thought process on how unfortunate a typo it would be if my comment had gone through like that. It must have somehow not taken the correction before I actually hit submit. Good grief.

            Reply
    3. Look, a bee!

      I think we should leave the coworkers choice of medication for her own health to her and/or her doctor. I sincerely doubt she’s using something so onerous on a regular basis just because she’s hoping it does something. Many people using stuff like icy hot know it doesn’t directly reduce the pain they’re in, often it works due to being a distraction from the pain. For example I have severe (I.e. Daily oral morphine) chronic bladder pain, and one of the things that helps me is using a heat pad cranked up to max and sitting on it or stuffing it between my legs. I know it doesn’t reduce the actual nerve pain I’m experiencing, but the feeling of burning skin on my thighs is often enough to distract me from the internal stabbing pains and sometimes it’s just awesome to swap that pain for burning and get a bit of a break. It can even be enough to help me fall asleep after a rough few hours.

      It’s kinda insulting to suggest that you know better than the OP’s coworker about what works for her health issues.

      Reply
  51. ArtK

    #5 It’s not just an issue of legality, it’s an issue of common sense. Think about the alternative: You book an expensive vacation and *then* ask for the time off. The boss can certainly say “no,” and then *you’re* stuck with the loss. “But I paaaaaaaid for it” is not a good negotiating tactic in that situation. Making a commitment (booking) that you aren’t positive that you can make is simply foolish. (And yes, the boss *can* say “Ooops. Emergency has come up. Vacations cancelled.”)

    Reply
  52. Jon T.

    Original Poster 4,

    A relative of mine was in my opinion unjustly fired shortly after suffering a minor injury on the job. As a matter of fact, he was fired largely because he ended up having to call out of work and go to the ER because of his injury resulting in him missing “One too many days.” He finished out the day he was fired and that was that. This is the only experience I ever heard of where someone was fired and didn’t exit the premises immediately and as I recalled he was fired at or toward the beginning of his shift finished out the day as opposed to leaving or being asked to leave immediately.

    Reply
  53. Jon T.

    There is a reason and some could argue a very good reason why in most cases termination is immediate and not like someone giving their two weeks notice. If someone was told “you’re fired but finish out the week-the next two weeks.” They would more than likely

    1. Phone it in
    2. Commit acts of sabotage
    3. Tell now-soon to be former co-workers and bosses what they really think of them as they’ve already been fired so what would they really have to lose?

    Reply
  54. Narise

    OP#1 What you should do is go down and get a temporary tattoo on your forearm. You need to be something that mean something to you a date initials etc. Don’t tell anyone at work that it’s temporary simply where it make sure people see it. Wait for the coworker to come in with with the same tattoo and then have yours start to fade and disappear. Tell everyone that you just weren’t sure about it so you got a temporary and now you’re glad you did you’re just not sure about having a tattoo. Meanwhile when people ask about it point to your coworker and say oh she has the same tattoo on her forearm. It would absolutely teach her a lesson.

    Reply
  55. Tricia

    5. I can’t believe that 6 months isn’t enough time to work around requested vacation time – no matter the situation. I have an employee who has been upfront about going back to Jamaica in January 2018 to prep for her 10 year anniversary vow renewal which will be in January 2019 – she needs 2 weeks in Jan 2018 and all 4 weeks of her vacation time in January 2019. She had already made her plans before talking to me which I understand (because it’s not just her – spouse, kids, extended family, venues, etc.). I am happy that she’s given me so much notice (the dates are basically set in stone) that workload can be adjusted to ensure coverage.

    With the partner surprising her with a trip to Maui, 6 months notice for a manager should be sufficient time to ensure that alternate arrangements for that week can be made. I’ve seen too many managers hold vacation time hostage or dangle the “maybe I’ll approve, maybe I won’t” carrot to keep employees on their toes. As a fellow manager, it makes me sick. The company or organization gives the PTO, managers shouldn’t be denying the leave unless operational considerations are at play (and can’t be worked around).

    Reply
    1. Doreen

      It’s really easy for me to imagine a situation where coverage can’t be arranged on six months notice. Two of my direct reports and I provide coverage for each other, which means that only one of us can be out at a time. If one of them goes home tonight and books a vacation for next February without speaking to me first , he or she would not necessarily know that the time is not available because someone else has already been approved for it. If it was available,I would approve it , but I would probably remind him or her of the policy-because I really don’t want to have to disapprove time off for someone who has already made non-refundable plans.

      Reply
  56. Willow Sunstar

    Regarding the Icy Hot, I sprained my knee several years ago but made sure to find a scentless brand. Aspercreme worked fairly well for me.

    Reply

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