a consultant complains about our off-site meetings but doesn’t want to skip them

A reader writes:

I have a team with locations throughout the U.S., both in office and remote, comprised of full-time associates and contractors, most who come to us through a contractor agency, but one of whom is a consultant and bills us through his LLC. Because we need to be very collaborative, we do have off-sites everyone is expected to attend and participate in, live, in person. When we have these events, there are a lot of fun activities planned, and we will cram in any required training as well. So in a typical day of an off-site, there will likely be meetings all day, some of which are company-required training, and a social event at night, over the course of two full days.

The consultant on our team has Celiac disease and, on top of that, seems to be easily fatigued. He just joined us two months ago and did express a number of reservations at first when I made the offer, about travel, asking for an extra day at the hotel to “recover,” which I granted him, direct flights only, which I also granted, and he also warned me that he tires easily.

So far he has attended two of these team sessions and has left early or missed entire portions both times. He has blamed food cross-contamination and fatigue, and has been very conspicuous about this, telling other people on the team all about his gastrointestinal distress and complaining quite a bit about the illness and how long all of our meetings are. (Nearly everyone else is exuberantly positive, so I don’t think this is how the majority feels.) It’s been distracting, and some of my other direct reports (including a manager) have felt like he’s set a bad example by leaving a mandatory training meeting and by not attending other parts of the day that her team spent a lot of time planning.

We just confirmed a date for an upcoming session, another two days of meetings again, and he actually made the request that we spend the entire week in the city we’ll be in rather than two days so that there aren’t so many back-to-back meetings, which is just not possible for budgetary reasons. Because of that and because of his lack of attendance at the last two events, I emailed him back that I would be able to have him dial in remotely for this next event. This seemed to really upset him and he mentioned new precautions with him bringing his own food to prevent this situation from repeating itself.

I have thought about it and while I value his contributions in his day to day work that benefit our team, I don’t really think he adds value as a member of the team because of his complaining and lack of attendance, and do NOT want him to attend in person. I think it would be better if he dialed in and did not bring down the collective morale. My question is whether he has any protections, due to having an illness, that could get me in trouble if I did not allow him this third chance. He is, as I said, a consultant, but would love to also know if your answer would vary if he were a full-time employee, just for my own sake.

Well, let’s tackle the law first.

Because he’s an outside consultant, workplace protections like the Americans with Disabilities Act aren’t in play and you are free to tell him that you’re going to have him attend by phone instead.

If he were an employee, you’d need to proceed with more caution. In that case, having him attend by phone might still be the best option, but if he were covered under the ADA (not every medical condition is), you’d be required to enter into an interactive process with him to determine the right accommodation. However, you wouldn’t be required to accept the accommodation he suggests; you’d be allowed to propose different ones that also get you to the desired outcome (which would be that he’s able to do his job).

In both cases, you’d want to be careful about not appearing to say, “Your illness is bringing down everyone’s morale.” (For legal reasons if he were an employee, and for ethical/compassion reasons since he’s not.) I know that that’s not what you’re saying at all — just be careful that your wording can’t inadvertently be taken that way.

As for what to do here … Before you issue a phone-only edict, I’d talk to him about the situation more. For example: “These are full days, and we do want people attending to stay for the full days, especially the training sessions. We’re happy to work with you on the food — either ordering something specifically for you or having you bring your own food in — but it sounds like it would be easier on you to attend by phone, and we can absolutely make that work on our end.” If he pushes back against that, you could say, “Can you tell me more about your thinking? I was hoping that having you attend by phone would actually make this a better experience for you.”

It’s better to ask him that before making a decision because you might hear that he got real value out of being there in person last time and doesn’t want to give that up. Or maybe something was going on last time that made it a particularly difficult period for him, but he doesn’t expect that to happen again.

It’s also worth asking yourself whether he really needs to attend every piece of these on-sites. Could he attend the mandatory training sessions and skip the rest? Could he at least skip the evening social events? Sure, that might not be ideal because part of the point of these events is the social part, but you don’t always need “ideal.” Sometimes people have medical, religious, or other restricts that affect their ability to fully participate, and that’s something you should try to accommodate (whether the law requires you to or not) because that’s part of being a good employer and part of building a diverse team. And you might need to push back on the people who were upset that he didn’t attend everything by explaining that he has special circumstances you’re accommodating, just as you’d do for them if they ever needed it.

All that said … the full picture here is also relevant, and it does seem like he’s being unrealistic about what he’s asking for (like having everyone spend a whole week in the city rather than two days), and the complaining isn’t great. But the best thing you can do is to be really clear about what you can and can’t do to accommodate him, and what you’ll need from him. So if he does push to continue attending in person, you could say, “Let’s try it in person again this next time and see how it goes and then decide about future ones after that. I want you to get what you need to take care of your health, and I also want to make sure that we have a positive, engaged vibe at the event — so if it’s not working for you again, come talk to me privately and let’s see what we can do.”

To be clear, because he’s a contractor you don’t have to do that; you could just say, “We’re going to stick with having you phone in.” But I think it’s worth giving this one more shot if you can incorporate the advice above. If it still doesn’t work well — if he’s doing a lot of complaining, etc. — then you’re on solid ground in having him do phone-only in the future.

{ 409 comments… read them below }

  1. J.B.

    “So in a typical day of an off-site, there will likely be meetings all day, some of which are company-required training, and a social event at night, over the course of two full days.”

    That sounds like a lot of togetherness for me. Personally I would prefer to avoid the fun stuff as much as possible. It sounds like he felt left out by the phone in request, but rearranging the schedule for training stuff then done might make sense.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Agreed. I would find this schedule draining, and I don’t have Celiac. Maybe it would be helpful to build in more decompression time, or at least to make the social events optional?

      1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius

        I have to wonder if anyone else feels this way, but doesn’t have Celiac to back them up as an excuse and therefore not willing to speak up?

            1. Snark

              Or maybe, in keeping with the commenting rule that we’re expected to take OPs at their word and give them the benefit of the doubt, we could stipulate that they actually do feel that way, however a bunch of generally introverted internet commenters might personally feel in the same situation.

              Maybe.

              1. Myrin

                Especially since OP clarified that their company is entertainment-adjacent. It seems to me that that’s a field that 1) is much more likely to hold such events, even as often as once a month, and 2) has a higher-than-average chance of drawing in people who really do enjoy that kind of thing.

              2. The OG Anonsie

                Suggesting that a letter writer examine their assumptions about the situation isn’t the same as not believing them, though. There’s no reason not to suggest the LW keep a critical eye on whether other folks would welcome changes here.

                1. Specialk9

                  This. Part of why we’re skeptical too is because often companies that emphasize how fun their mandatory al-hours fun is, are pulling shenanigans.

                  In this case, ableism and disability discrimination.

                2. Michaela Westen

                  Even if not shenanigans – I’ve seen companies where people are expected to be in cheerleader mode all the time – I didn’t last long.

      2. Leela

        I do have celiac and I was exhausted just from reading that part too! The cross-contamination can be a very serious concern for someone with celiac. Also, I might need to run to the bathroom for 40 (yes 40) minute periods if it happens. Someone might feel more comfortable claiming “fatigue” than “my insides falling out of my body through my backside” so I’m tempted to suggest that although the fatigue is believable enough on its own in my experience.

        But honestly, I would think that even the positive employees probably includes some who are dreading two full days crammed with meetings because it was more cost-efficient to do so, followed by social events that people likely feel pressured to attend even if they’re not promoted that way. Is there any way to scale down the offsites and have them more frequently, or do some collaboration remotely and only the trainings onsite, or some other way that might make this less intensive?

      3. Michaela Westen

        Maybe spread the same activities over 2 1/2 to 3 days to give everyone time to rest and breathe

    2. Eye of Sauron

      In my experience this is a typical schedule for an off-site, especially when you’re bringing together a team that is spread out location-wise.

      It’s a lot for a few days, but it’s only 2 or 3 days and it’s usually the rare chance for a spread out team to spend time together. And yes, I think that it is important to do the ‘fun’ stuff since a spread out team doesn’t have the same opportunity in their normal work day to have non-work relaxed interaction (water cooler chats) with their coworkers.

        1. AnotherAlison

          The OP didn’t say how many office locations they have and where the offsite is relative to the offices, but I wonder if the could move the offsite location around, and maybe occasionally hit the contractor’s city. I worked in a group that did these quarterly. Over half of us were in one city, but our boss was not, and we had four other people who weren’t. We rotated among the locations, and occasionally went somewhere that was not a work location but served a training purpose (like a meeting with another group, or visiting a project site.)

      1. Washi

        If it were only once a year, I would agree, but this contractor has only been in the job two months and there have already been two of these with another coming up. I love this kind of stuff, but even I think two packed days, plus travel, once a month is actually kind of a lot! I realize the OP may not have much control over how much management wants to cram into this time, but it’s worth remembering for framing’s sake that this may genuinely be exhausting for many people, not even just this one contractor.

        1. zora

          Yeah, I wanted to flag that this is pretty frequent. My company has a 2-day offsite, but it is once per year, and I can handle it once per year.

          If it was once per month…… that is a lot.

        2. Jesca

          Yes, this is the key to it all. He has only been there two months and they are planning the third high energy meet-n-greet-athon. I think most employers do a week conference once a year and maybe one or two small team gatherings throughout the year.

          I have found over the years, with myself included (ahhh) that some people generally use “that person” to pass along complaints. Like, why are your staff telling you the details of his discomfort?

          I think it is OK to sympathize with people sometimes, and I sympathize both with you, OP, and your new consultant. On the one hand, he doesn’t want to miss anything (his desire to go), but on the other he doesn’t want to suffer. And with you, OP, you need people who can have the energy to engage full on for two full days straight every could weeks after traveling and all of that because, well, it is part of the job and company you work for. But at the same time, these schedules are pretty demanding on a lot of people. Maybe take this opportunity to directly engage this new guy (who maybe is a little whiny) to help accommodate but also maybe take it as an opportunity to pay attention to how the rest of the staff feel as well.

          1. Zillah

            Even if he did, I think that the theory and how it works out in practice aren’t always the same thing.

        3. Kittymommy

          Yeah, this seems like a lot to me. Two events race averaging 2-3 days and all in 2 months? Wow, I like traveling for work but this seems a bit much.

        4. AnonAnalyst

          This stood out to me as well. My team is mostly remote so we have a couple of events like this in a year…. But having one of these a month would be exhausting for many people, particularly when you’re adding travel. I hope this part of the job is clear to candidates before they take the job, because I think a lot of people (myself included) wouldn’t be super enthusiastic about it.

          1. eplawyer

            This needs to be part of the hiring process — how often the meetings are, how packed they are, etc. So people can self-select out. Or you can select folks you know will enjoy this packed of a schedule.

            The contractor expressed reservations at the time of the interview. That was the time to assess whether his skillset was so necessary to overcome the fact he might not actually be as positive about this as the rest of your team.

            If it’s part of the job, make it clear up front. Which doesn’t help right now. But he’s a contractor. It’s not too late to assess his value versus the company requirements for these meetings.

            1. Eye of Sauron

              If he had reservations up front, it would seem to me that he understood the travel and off-sites. It’s not up to the OP to determine if they can handle a person who takes a job knowing there’s travel, it’s up to the person taking the job to determine if they can happily meet the requirements.

            2. Temperance

              It was part of the hiring process. LW told Fergus what the job entailed, and he chose to take the assignment.

              1. Observer

                And the OP also made what they were led to believe were accommodations that would make it work.

                1. Temperance

                  I think she’s being really unfairly painted as uncaring and not accommodating.

                2. Decima Dewey

                  The OP did make accommodations for the consultant’s condition. That the accommodations apparently didn’t work out means that the issue needs to be revisited, but OP did make a good faith effort.

        5. Chinook

          It depends on whether or not there are different groups at each of these gatherings. I have done these things where I attended all 3 because I supported all 3 groups but 90% of the participants only attended one.

          As for the “forced social gathering” aspect, it is quite useful when you are spread out (in our case, over 1,000 km of pipeline, 2 provinces and one US state) to be able to interact with people you only talk to over the phone or via email. Being able to put a face and a personality to the anonymous person helps going forward as it creates better “social lubricant”/small talk opportunities while talking on the phone. Luckily, the ones I attended usually meant a large dinner at a nice restaurant and then people breaking off into groups to go karaoke or hit the hot springs or chat at a bar and watch hockey. And, if you wanted/ needed to, you could just go back to the hotel and sleep.

        6. Observer

          That’s a valid point. But it also makes his request to make the events week-long even stranger. That’s a lot even once a year. When they happen this often it’s not viable.

        7. Wendy Darling

          Yeah I had an employer that did this twice a year and at that frequency I could totally just tough it out even though it’s exhausting for me. Once a month would be totally brutal though.

        8. Laura

          Agreed. My previous team had lots of home-based workers, and we used to do ‘away days’ where we would all be in a room together for a day and a half, plus dinner/drinks in the evening (which was optional, but you were strongly encouraged to go to the extent concerns might be raised about you being antisocial if you didn’t). Whilst it was nice to put faces to names and be a bit more ‘off-duty’, I did find it very full-on. But it was once or twice a year, and I could deal with that. Once a month? Nope.

      2. ENFP in Texas

        Yeah, a two-day meeting packed with sessions and a team dinner is pretty standard in my experience. When you factor in the cost of travel and hotels, the goal is to get as much into the in-person time as possible.

      3. lulu

        yes, that seems standard. you want to maximize the time together in those 2 days because you don’t get to interact on a day to day basis. From what I understood, he has been skipping some of the meetings, not just the social event in the evening, which would not be so problematic.

        1. Specialk9

          Well yeah but he was skipping the sessions because he was pooping his brains out bc the supposedly-safe food wasn’t, and made him sick. Which isn’t the same thing as wandering down to the waterfront or grabbing a mint mocha.

      4. Emily K

        Yep, same at my company’s annual retreat. It’s an intensive 2.5 days of nonstop go-go-go…but it’s only once a year, and it is fun. We have employees around the globe and it’s the only time all of us are ever in one place, and 2 full days of meetings means 3 nightly hotel room charges plus 8 meals they have to pay, for all 750 employees. Adding another day to spread the meetings out would add 3 meals and another night in the room on to everyone’s tab – that’s easily another $20,000-$25,000 in additional costs with rooms going for $200/night and catering charges of $25-50/head/meal (cheaper for breakfast, more expensive for dinner).

        They do enough to make the retreat fun for us that although sure, in an ideal world it wouldn’t be so intense, most people genuinely look forward to it. It’s always a Wed-Thurs even, and we are always given all of Tuesday and all of Friday off as “travel days” where we aren’t expected to do any work to make it a bit easier on us. Most of us can handle two intense days per year.

        1. Specialk9

          It’s fun for able bodied people. Have you ever asked someone with RA or fibro or chronic fatigue? I’ll bet it’s not fun for them.

          1. Massmatt

            Thank you for finally appearing, Ms. “At least you don’t have an eating disorder, or CANCER”, your reputation precedes you!

            1. RogueVirago

              I may be misunderstanding you, Massmatt, but that feels like an unnecessary and rather unkind response. I didn’t read Specialk9’s response in that way at all. It’s pretty reasonable to flag that at high-intensity work events, those with chronic illnesses can struggle in ways that others don’t, hampering their participation in and enjoyment of those events – and it is really, really common for that not to be adequately considered or planned for. It’s easy for the organisers to get excited by what’s being planned and just not really think about those issues. I think it particularly becomes a problem when everything is considered mandatory and there aren’t sufficient accommodations for people who aren’t able to participate in all events, or need special food / downtime / ready access to bathroom facilities!

              There’s been more than one letter here on AAM about work events that are intended to be fun that don’t work for a LW for various health or other reasons, and they’ve struggled to get that across and get their needs met.

              I have no idea what Emily K’s work retreats are like, of course, but if they haven’t already been having those conversations about accessibility then it’s really worth doing so, or at least making it clear that they’re open to discussions with people about how their needs can be met at the event.

            2. Specialk9

              MassMatt, my comment is completely on topic.

              “Hey guys multi-day events can be really hard for those of us with invisible disabilities”
              “No no no we do this and really it IS fun!”
              “Ya sure about that? Have you asked people like me? Cuz I can tell you it’s not fun for us.”
              “OOOH CANCER AND EATING DISORDERS!”

              Dude, Matt, calm down. That’s wildly rude, and also ableist to try to shut me down from sharing the hidden suffering that those of us with chronic illness have, and to remind able people to think about us too.

              (And no you’d *never* know about me, I’m always smiling at work, always.)

              1. Emily K

                To be clear, I wasn’t suggesting that everyone loves them and nobody struggles. I meant that it’s a reasonable activity for the average employee, which is why I said “most of us.” Of course not everybody can eat sandwiches, but it often makes more financial sense to accommodate people with disabilities individually rather than spending a lot of money making the event to accommodate everyone as if we all have disabilities. We are a nonprofit and money just isn’t spent that liberally. They would much rather tell people to use their judgment about attending vs not attending when they feel up to it, then lay out another $25 grand to make the schedule less intensive for everyone when 90-95% of us can handle the intensive schedule.

                1. Invisible

                  You really don’t know it’s 90-95% though. While a higher proportion of disabled people can’t work than able-bodied people, a lot of people who do work have invisible disabilities that they don’t alert all their colleagues about. Even if it were true, 5% is a lot- you’re being noticeably less inclusive to 1/20 people, but it’s not just once- it’s every time you hold a physically intense meeting, and that adds up over time, just like how many old boys’ club meetings add up over time to lead to institutional sexism. You don’t have to spend an extra $20,000+ just to add 15 minute breaks or tone down the physical intensity.

                2. Specialk9

                  Exactly what Invisible said. I’m one of those invisible ill people, nobody would know from looking at me. For 3 years I didn’t even tell my managers, much less coworkers. (Because saying “FFS of course I’ve tried yoga” out loud would be unprofessional, lol. And because people judge being chronically sick as a personal failure )

                  I was recently on a 6-person leadership panel of a range of ages, and 1/3 of us had invisible chronic illnesses, that I know of.

                  I’ve finally gotten to the point where I have started being a bit more open (partly because now one of my diagnoses is “real” enough that it doesn’t get filtered as my being crazy/lazy/hypochondriac) and I’m finding that people will admit what they’re struggling with too, but quietly where others can’t hear.

                  I’m going to share, in the next comment, a link by a rabbi who blazed a path as the first transgender rabbi. They said that being chronically ill has been so much MORE stigmatizing, lonely, and misunderstood than being the first transgender rabbi. Think about that for a minute. It’s worth the read.

                3. Specialk9

                  “I’m used to feeling like an outsider; I’m the first openly transgender rabbi ordained by a mainstream movement (Reform Judaism). I am used to being rejected and told I should not exist. But nothing prepared me for the outsider status of being chronically ill.

                  Think about that for a moment: Approximately 0.6 percent of American adults identify as transgender, just under 0.2 percent of the world population is Jewish, and 100 percent of us will get sick, yet it is being chronically sick that makes me feel like an outsider. That’s how much our society fears and rejects the core human experience of being ill, of having a body that gets sick, that ages, that is not controllable.

                  I went from doctor to doctor looking for answers, but overnight I had gone from being a trusted rabbi and chaplain (who works with seriously ill and dying people on hospital medical teams) to a “hysterical” chronically ill person. Though I had seen it happen to my clients, I now understood firsthand that being disbelieved is nearly universal for people with chronic illnesses, especially those that are largely invisible or hard to diagnose or both. I had believed that as a health care professional, equipped with skills and advocates to navigate the system, I would be treated differently. I soon learned how hubristic that was.”

                  https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/01/10/opinion/in-my-chronic-illness-i-found-a-deeper-meaning.html?smid=fb-nytopinion&smtyp=cur

                4. Specialk9

                  Oh and Emily K, I in no way took your comment as rude, and I hope you didn’t with mine! I was only piping up that I also didn’t know about invisible illness until I got a handful of them. I don’t assume people do, which is why I bring it up. Education not rebuke :D

              2. LF

                Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Specialk9!!!

                It’s so difficult to navigate work & social situations with invisible chronic illnesses!

            3. Starbuck

              Wow. People don’t have disabilities or illnesses AT you. They live with them every day. How dare they bring them up, I guess?

      5. Media Monkey

        it doesn’t look surprising to me either. i’m sure i would be exhausted however (and i am not coeliac)

    3. HS Teacher

      Ain’t no fun like mandatory fun!
      I agree; it sounds exhausting, with or without a chronic illness.

      1. Eye of Sauron

        The OP states that the team is positive about the fun parts , and it really does suck to have someone who is actively a downer bring down others.

        Let’s take the OP at their word that they generally have a good time with active participation, and it’s one individual who is the problem.

          1. Eye of Sauron

            Eh… if the OP had described Contractor Bob as someone who missed a lot of the last meeting because of a medical condition but had a great attitude and really tried to be part of the team I’d agree with you.

            But the way Contractor Bob was described with the complaining and the unrealistic expectations I’m inclined to think he is a problem who may have a problem.

            1. TurquoiseCow

              So, people who can’t eat the food provided and are exhausted by the events should just suffer through them? Or leave without telling anyone?

              You have to advocate for yourself.

              1. grace

                Sure. But there’s ways to advocate for yourself without distracting everyone with your complaints or requesting outrageous things to make it easier for you. That’s neither appropriate nor helpful – to you, the advocate, or to the person who could potentially help you.

              2. Temperance

                OP clarified below that they provided him with gluten-free food, at his request, from vendors he suggested.

                1. Specialk9

                  And the gluten free food apparently had gluten in it because he had terrible GI distress and missed sessions. Which is really common for Celiac sufferers. (Not helped bc a lot of people consider gluten to be a not-real problem, just a fad or trend.)

              3. TheHamsterGirl

                I’m with Eye of Sauron and Grace here.
                If Contractor Bob had hit a point where he realized he was not in a good place to continue with the session he could have quietly talked to OP and said, “I’m really sorry, this is a great session but I’m not feeling like I’m able to complete the rest of the meetings, I’m going to lie down for a bit and see if I feel well enough to return later.”

                I work in an office that has a couple of people with similar chronic illnesses, one of them is a big complainer like contractor bob and the other simply advocates for themselves where they need to. The attitude makes an unbelievable difference.

                1. Zillah

                  Hmm. I can understand where you’re coming from, but as someone with a chronic illness, this doesn’t seem super empathetic to me. It’s great when people can put on a happy face, but sometimes, the accumulation of stress and history make it really difficult to. I’m not at my most rational when I’m anticipating a serious asthma attack.

                2. Wicked Odd

                  Bingo, Zillah. While you’re experiencing medical distress is not the best time to have to navigate office politics.

              4. Massmatt

                The events were described during the interview, he is making it all about himself with the bizarre suggestion that the entire event should be expanded from 2 1,2 as to a week to accommodate him! And he rejects the offer to teleconference in! He can’t have it both ways, either this is a horrible ordeal (then why take the job?) and he should be glad to phone in, or it’s a useful experience and he should attend.

      2. Snark

        Why are we second-guessing OP? How do your personal preferences around work-related activities help OP figure out how to handle this situation?

        1. Specialk9

          Because they sound ableist?

          Because those of us with chronic illness know that’s how we’re perceived – as morale killers and slackers – for being sick and fatigued, but it’s not a choice we make.

          I have an invisible chronic illness – not Celiac – and multi
          long day events are *awful*. I do them when necessary (and I smile like crazy to hide how I feel), but I swig caffeine, painkillers, and apply pain patches to get through. I ache and am exhausted for days.

          Letters like this are depressing. They hurt. They confirm all the reasons we hide our illness. People judge us for our illness.

          1. Specialk9

            And because the heart of the OP’s question was essentially, hey will I get in trouble for medical discrimination?

            From the letter: “My question is whether he has any protections, due to having an illness, that could get me in trouble if I did not allow him this third chance. He is, as I said, a consultant, but would love to also know if your answer would vary if he were a full-time employee, just for my own sake.”

            (To be fair to OP, it sounds like the letter was written in annoyance, and the comments reveal a warmer more compassionate side of the OP.)

          2. Michaela Westen

            I was sick all the time growing up from undiagnosed unmanaged allergies and I got this all the time. Lazy, slacker, downer, icky, gross… :'( A little help would have been nice!

        2. Lorelei Gilmore

          Agreed. And for what it’s worth it does sound fun to me. I can see maybe wanting a day off to recover afterwards, but for real. Where do I apply? ;)

          1. Lorelei Gilmore

            I thought I was replying to Snark. And I’m sorry for what you have to deal with SpecialK9 :(

            1. Specialk9

              Aw thanks! It sucks, especially because I remember when I was carefree, and *I also* didn’t know or plan for chronic illnesses back then. I think that’s part of why I’m speaking up so much on this thread. It’s really easy to see complaining and slacking instead of explaining and suffering.

              1. LavaLamp

                I understand so well Specialk9. I myself have a myriad of chronic illnesses but because I’m young, and LOOK HEALTHY I routinely deal with FMLA discrimination and people forgetting that I can’t in fact do the thing. So so glad that my work requires no travel.

      3. Penny Lane

        Assuming no illness, there’s nothing remotely exhausting about a 2 day session like this. You’re not doing manual labor for heavens sake.

        1. Flower

          I have a chronic illness (with chronic pain, which is exhausting), so maybe I’m not the best judge here, but even outside of a flare, where my daily pain levels are at a “I’m aware you exist, joints, but you’re not really bugging me that much and are pretty much just ignorable”, I’m *extremely* introverted. As in, “no meyers-briggs test I’ve ever taken has put me less than 75% introverted” extremely introverted (It’s a very flawed test, but in this context, useful benchmark). Spending a couple hours hanging out with people I *like* and am *choosing* to spend time with, doing something I *enjoy* doing, even in my own home, is exhausting. There is literally one person I’ve ever known who doesn’t actively exhaust me and we’re engaged.

          It may not be remotely exhausting to you, but good god, hours upon hours of forced human interaction in nicely structured settings (which don’t bug me too much, but are still tiring), topped off with apparently unstructured social time (which is inherently exhausting)? That sounds less (physically) painful than walking through a city sightseeing for >8 hours, but it sounds at least as exhausting to me. I honestly can’t imagine not being utterly exhausted by that.

          1. Flower

            Note: I just kept reading and this point really does get hammered a lot. I’m going to apologize for hammering it again – I was taken aback by your statement (which seemed to claim a universal truth), but it really isn’t worth keeping on this point. Apologies.

          2. Espeon

            As a fellow introvert I concur. I’ve literally gone to bed at my own birthday party in my own home before because I was exhausted from the peopleing and noise and energy – and that was only about eight people for a dinner party after three hours!

            People I don’t know or like I have even less to give.

            The only person who doesn’t drain me is now my husband.

        2. Elizabeth West

          The short version: if you have a chronic illness, your basic energy level will probably be lower than that of someone who is well. It will also be finite–once you’ve used it up, then you’re done for that day. A big event where you’re expected to participate for many hours can take a huge toll. And you never know from day to day how much energy you’ll have.

          Imagine trying to work two ten-hour days while fighting off the flu. I would also encourage you, Penny, to look up spoon theory.

        3. Michaela Westen

          People have different capacities for activities and socializing. Just to name one, people who are shy or introverted or have social anxiety can find the socializing difficult and exhausting.

    4. The Cosmic Avenger

      Yes, that’s what I came here to say. The “lot of [mandatory] fun activities” part sounds like a waste of my time at work, and even though I’m healthy I might also ask to skip those and only attend the required trainings. If I want to socialize with coworkers, I do it on my own time, on my own terms, and at my own pace. And my employer respects that by providing lots of NON-mandatory opportunities to do that, and no one is shamed or punished for not attending those.

      At least provide all the training in the morning, then the optional fun activities in the afternoon, or vice versa! That might actually provide the contractor with a schedule that would fit their needs.

      1. Eye of Sauron

        It’s not about you though, it’s about the OP who says their team likes the fun stuff and one individual who is a downer.

        The point of these off-sites is face time for the team. Not to do training in a room and then everyone runs off in different directions to hide. If the point was training they could do that remote and save a lot of money.

        1. Jesca

          That mindset is the fast track to “we don’t hire people who do not like to socialize, communicate, think, act, feel, (add whatever other way to put in exclusionary clauses on employment here) like we do”.
          See the LW who tried to get her report fired for not being like her. Or see all the women in the world excluded or pushed out of jobs because they don’t meet the parameters of a “bro” culture.

          1. Laura

            I dunno. Not complaining excessively for two days doesn’t seem like a very unreasonable set of expectations.

            1. CarolynM

              It’s one thing to need accommodations or to be unable to attend meetings and sessions and social events to care for yourself or recover, and quite another to spend the time you are attending events complaining and telling people details about your gastrointestinal distress. It’s not the contractor’s Celiac that is detracting from the event, it’s his complaining.

              1. Wicked Odd

                Except that the alternative is often to undercommunicate the fact that you’re missing the sessions due to health reasons, ending with the assumption that you’re a lazy contractor who shouldn’t be renewed. You can see a lot of us here that have experienced similar things – with some disabilities, there needs to be an understanding that sometimes health conditions flare up due to a trigger, and that it can’t always be prevented. And you don’t want to just disappear on your team members!

                1. Nic

                  This. If you have an invisible disability or a chronic illness (or both), then very often, when your invisible barriers are stopping you from doing things that everyone around you takes for granted, you only have two choices.

                  Choice One: don’t say anything. Consequence? You just became invisible – either no-one notices that you missed out on stuff, or they think you flaked out and you’re unreliable, because they don’t understand the depth of your problems. Oh yeah, and nothing changes. The barrier stays in place.

                  Choice Two: say something. Consequence? Depends on the way you say it AND the way the other person hears it – maybe they write you off as a complainer, or maybe they listen (and let’s face it, this usually winds up getting into Tone Argument territory). Either way, something changes…

                  P.S. The thing that makes me second-guess the LW’s narrative, is their use of quotation marks around the word “recover” when describing the extra day’s stay they’ve given the consultant; if you doubt his need to recover, then ask him why it’s necessary, don’t give him a disability accommodation and then play passive-aggressive like it’s weird and unreasonable.

          2. Anna

            There are some industries where people who don’t like to be highly social and outgoing won’t fit in and probably it wouldn’t be the best fit for them. The OP has said her industry is entertainment adjacent where socializing is highly valued and enjoyed. This isn’t “he’s not like us, so we’re pushing him out.” This is, “he knew what the job required coming in and now it’s clear it’s an issue for him because he’s being very vocal about it.”

            1. DArcy

              It’s a fair point that “cultural fit” is a mindset fraught with exclusionary peril, but it’s also true that certain industries have well-established cultures which are *not* inherently problematic, but which certain potential employees are bona fide poorly suited for.

            2. WillyNilly

              I have worked in the party entertainment industry. The job is very multi-faceted, with one of the absolute requirements being “on” for hours. High energy, smiling, chit chatting while simualtaniously working, etc, for hours on end, sometimes three, four or even 5 4-5 hour parties on one weekend. And between parties, one still needs to be communicating with team members because moving the whole show – breaking down, packing the truck, getting to next location, setting up, is all a highly coordinated effort before the next 4 hour party shift.

              Getting to be the guest and have the fun instead of providing the fun is a huge treat, and when you are used to killer 2-3 day stretches anyway, not exhausting in a negative way.

            3. paul

              I really hate forced socialization stuff; this job would be godawful for me. BUT, if any field seems like it might legitimately require this sort of thing, entertainment/events does, you know? If you’re planning and executing events, and that’s your job, you’re probably going to be attending events.

          3. Observer

            Oh come on, that was a totally different issue. There it was “If you don’t like to booze and slack off, we’re going to make your life a misery. And because you’re new, I’m going to sabotage you so I can help my buddies out.”

            That’s totally not what’s happening here. I do think that the OP should allow Contractor Bob to skip some of the socials stuff. But, what they are asking for is not all the unreasonable given what they need to accomplish, and they HAVE been trying to accommodate him as much as possible.

          4. Leslie knope

            Why do posts like this always devolve into these types of comments? How many times can the whole “I’d rather die than interact with anyone ever for any period of time at work” argument be had?

            1. Nox

              That’s one of the flaws with the commenting base here. It’s not diverse enough because outsiders here who don’t conform to introverted or other uniform behaviors get chased out.

              You’ll continue to see the same commentary with everything unless AAM branches out to more diverse audiences.

              1. Specialk9

                You’ve made this comment several times, that you were attacked by the hive mind if AAM commentariat. I’ve found people to have a pretty diverse background and thoughts, but yeah sometimes it gets pointed, and sometimes people don’t want to hear that what they’re saying is a problem.

                I looked you up and only see 5 comments under this name – and people either agreed or didn’t respond to your comments. So I have no idea what your specific situation is. What was your handle when you got attacked?

                1. Nox

                  I’m not much a commenter, I just observe and speak up when a minority view point is necessary. searching around for me has no relevance to my concerns nor makes them less valid.

                  I’m a bit weirded it out by it actually and will not be providing further information about my posting history here.

        2. Doe-Eyed

          I would question if the OP is realistic about this. I’m not trying to pick on them, but I would suspect that almost every manager we have would suggest that our team is “positive” and “happy” about the events they plan and yet individually every person has expressed to me how tiresome, time-wasting, and boring they are.

          1. NW Mossy

            And conversely, sometimes you get teams where workplace-based socialization isn’t done (or done in a very infrequent way) and it leaves some people feeling undervalued because they like be rewarded with outings and such. It can really be an impossible needle to thread once you’re trying to balance the interests of more than three people.

            1. Eye of Sauron

              Agreed, in one office I worked in there used to be things like periodic lunch time cookouts, monthly cakes for birthdays, holiday parties, other low key work place socialization activities. Everybody enjoyed them spent a few hours every couple of months talking to coworkers, relaxing a bit, no big deal.

              Right up until we got one new person in the office who didn’t like ‘forced fun’ unfortunately she was the office manager so she just refused to plan anything. She quickly got the nickname ‘fun police’ the office turned into a drab place where people scurried off to their offices, nobody chatted, seriously half the time the lights weren’t even turned on in the hallways (safety lights were on, but it was sooooo dreary). Finally a new site manager came in and made her start planning things again.

              Pretty soon people could be seen chatting in the break room over a bagel, group lunches brought guys in from the field, people started collaborating more and initiating work discussions.

              It was truly amazing to watch both transformations. This was a group that worked out of the same office. Remote teams are even harder to get together and keep connected.

            2. Penny Lane

              NW Mossy is spot-on. An excellent observation. I get that some people are so scared of their own shadows that even “How are you?” freaks them out, but most people aren’t like that.

              1. Specialk9

                That’s pretty rude, Penny. If there is one thing this site teaches a manager, it’s that people are often hugely reluctant to speak up when they are unhappy about something, so managers should try to be aware of that, and be extra observant and find ways to figure out if everyone is really ok with something or just going along because they need a job. For example — and this is more extreme than the actual situation at hand but it’s still useful for illustration — I didn’t ever tell me they were being sexist, I just sorta laughed uncomfortably and then quietly found other places to work If a manager relies only on verbal feedback, they’re missing the glacier underwater.

          2. Specialk9

            Yeah, agreed. The people who tend to plan these events tend to be Fun! Energetic! Extroverts! and can’t empathize with anything else. (To be fair, when you spend months trying to plan something that’s fun, it’s hard to be generous that way. Other ways of thinking can feel like an attack.)

            1. Penny Lane

              Not even remotely. My business partner and I are both strong introverts. Sometimes we go to dinner after an event and sit and don’t talk bc we need to be in our heads. But we can absolutely plan (and have planned) large workshops, training sessions, etc for companies all over the world for groups from 10-50 people, and been fully “on.” This assumption that introverts can’t socialize is completely off base. Yes it exhausts us more and we won’t be the ones to put the lampshades on our heads at 2 am, but so what -none of that is required to make small talk with coworkers.

            2. Harriet M. Welsch

              A sweeping assumption/generalization here regarding an extrovert’s ability to empathize … and that’s an observation coming from a fellow introvert.

              1. Specialk9

                I wasn’t generalizing about extroverts, I was generalizing about the event planners I’ve known. But you’re right, it was too broad and not very charitable.

                1. Wicked Odd

                  I think you get stuck in that mindset, too. As an introvert who worked in internal communications for a while, in some ways the easy thing to do is join the happy bubbly parade and try to power through it.

          1. Eye of Sauron

            Not saying that at all, and it’s definitely ok for people not to have the same preferences, but being part of a group (especially a work group) means that you suck it up and don’t pee in everyone else’s cheerios.

            It sounds like Contractor Bob is going to try to figure something out (bringing his own food, which is very smart to make sure the control is there), and I hope they come to a resolution.

            1. Al

              Yeah, but the person in question doesn’t have a preference; he has a medical necessity. And you can’t “suck it up” when your medical needs aren’t being met. I’d bet a fair amount that the contractor is venting his frustrations to others in the hopes that he finds someone who agrees with him so he’s not alone in feeling like his needs are being looked over. I have no sympathy for thus LW (who fails to have sympathy/empathy for the contractor) and at least some sympathy for the person suffering through this monthly meetup from hell.

                1. Indie

                  I agree he wants to know how to handle disabilities and medical needs going forward

                2. Specialk9

                  Oh yeah, super concerned about Bob.

                  “He has blamed food cross-contamination and fatigue, and has been very conspicuous about this …It’s been distracting, and some of my other direct reports (including a manager) have felt like he’s set a bad example by leaving a mandatory training meeting and by not attending other parts of the day that her team spent a lot of time planning… I don’t really think he adds value as a member of the team because of his complaining and lack of attendance, and do NOT want him to attend in person. I think it would be better if he dialed in and did not bring down the collective morale.”

                  A FONT of compassion for someone who got sick, is this OP.

                  (Made worse because work was the one who provided contaminated food!)

              1. Observer

                That’s really unfair. We take letter writers at their word, and the LW has clearly been trying to make accommodations. But, while Contractor has a real issue, he’s clearly not being very reasonable. I mean, asking for a 2 day meeting to be spread over a week? That’s ridiculous on its own, and even more so when you’re pulling people from multiple sites together.

                1. Specialk9

                  What accommodation? They got supposedly gluten free food that wasn’t and made him terribly ill, so now they’re telling Bob to dial in.

                  I mean, it’s something, but I didn’t get any concern about Bob, or guilt that the food wasn’t actually gluten free and Bob was in pain as a result. It’s this impatient annoyed attitude that ‘dude he’s such a drag, why can’t he just let me shuffle him to the side’.

                  I have had a couple managers I finally confessed my chronic illness to, and they were both compassionate, thoughtful, generous, and trying to find options. I’m not getting that from this person. I’m just not.

                2. Observer

                  They got food from vendors who Bob had told them were ok. That’s a good faith effort to accommodate him. It’s not really their fault that it didn’t work. For him to respond to that by suggesting making these meetings a week long is just no reasonable. So, I get the exasperation.

                3. Penny Lane

                  Specialk, they got food from the vendor he chose. Here’s how people with normal social skills handle this – they go up to the meeting manager and quietly say I am so sorry, but I’m not feeling well, I’m going to skip X part of the meeting if that’s ok and I’ll check in later. People with poor social skills complain to all the fellow attendees. Which one is this guy?

                4. Not My Monkeys

                  @Specialk9, you’re being REALLY uncharitable to the OP. They’ve made accommodations for Bob. They allow him an extra night at the hotel to recover, they book him direct flights per his request, they provided him with food from a vendor he suggested. And now they suggested calling in because those accommodations didn’t seem to be enough, yet you – and Bob – still seem to think he’s being treated unfairly? Do you really think it’s more reasonable to require the entire company to extend their offsite from two days to a week because Bob doesn’t want to call in?

                  You call out a lot of people for uncharitable comments, and I have to say, yours regularly appear uncharitable to me. The OP has done more than most to accommodate Bob, and it sounds like Bob isn’t meeting them halfway.

                5. Specialk9

                  @NotMyMonkeys, thanks for the feedback that I’m being too sharp, I’ll watch out for that.

                6. Wicked Odd

                  I imagine that it’s very frustrating to read through this from both sides: people with chronic illness who have had bad experiences with work and social circles, and people that need to problem solve situations like this at work. I just hope that, as someone with a chronic illness, that this helps some managers and event planners understand why someone might not act 100% perfectly when they’re asking for accommodations… and that they still need those accomodations even if you think they should approach the situation differently. I’m going to step back now, though, because I don’t have it in me to feel more charitable towards the OP right now.

              2. Zip Silver

                Let’s be honest though, it’s not like a Celiac diet is particularly difficult to eat around. It’s one of the least restrictive medical diets out there.

                1. A.G.

                  I’ve worked with several co-workers who have Celiac disease, and they found it difficult to eat at corporate events. Salad dressings can contain gluten for instance! Gluten is hidden in a lot of foods.

                  The effects of inadvertently eating gluten caused one of my co-workers to lose an entire week of work. Celiac is an autoimmune disease and can be seriously debilitating.

                  I think that there’s a portion of the population foregoing gluten who don’t necessarily have Celiac disease, and it can cause those of us who haven’t experienced a person with the disease to not understand the (1) restrictions that are necessary for a healthy life, and (2) the ramifications to the Celiac patient if gluten is inadvertently ingested.

                2. ZucchiniBikini

                  I laughed hollowly when reading this. I cordially invite you to walk a mile in Celiac shoes outside of your own cooking environment and see how easy it really is(n’t). Even a few crumbs of contamination can make a Celiac extremely ill, so it is not all about the visible or stated contents of food – prep methods, tools etc also have to be perfect. Most Celiacs get both an immediate effect (usually gastrointestinal in nature) and at least a few days, up to a couple of weeks, halo effect of extreme fatigue, headaches, fuzziness, sometimes emotional disturbances. It is neither a trivial matter nor one that can be readily accommodated adequately at many, many sites.

                3. ZucchiniBikini

                  I should have stated, I have Celiac and when I travel for work, I bring my own food for breakfasts and dinners (my work travel rarely involves evening events). Working lunches are always a crapshoot and I really detest the necessity to roll the dice. It makes me – I think it makes most Celiacs – extremely anxious.

                4. OxfordComma

                  All it takes is one person who didn’t clean up properly on a counter and a couple of crumbs to get in something or one cook/chef who decides that gluten-free is a fad and that it won’t kill the person if some flour makes it into the dish and bam!

                  Don’t mistake someone who’s gluten-free by choice with someone who has a legitimately diagnosed case of Celiac Disease.

                5. Observer

                  That’s actually not true. To some extent it depends on how severe the case is, but cross contamination is a huge issue because gluten containing foods are all over the place, including a lot of things that you would not expect it to be in.

                6. Kella

                  I’m extremely curious where you got the impression that the Celiac diet is one of the least restrictive.

                  I have Celiac’s. If meat is cooked on the same pan as something that had breadcrumbs on it, I could get sick. If flour is used in the same kitchen as the one my food is cooked in, I could get sick. If someone uses a utensil to stir a pasta dish and then stir my food, I could get sick. If just one of the ingredients used in my food was manufactured in a facility with wheat, I could get sick. And that’s not even getting into the hidden ingredients that have gluten in them that most people are not familiar with.

                  Thankfully, my reactions to gluten are relatively mild in the moment, but they can put me at risk for an infection or other illness, and repeated exposures to even tiny amounts over time can make me unable to eat anything for several days. Any time you eat at a restaurant or eat food prepared by someone other than one of your closest friends, you are taking a risk. Eating 6 meals over the course of two days that were all contaminated sounds like torture.

                7. DrWombat

                  Pretty much all of this. I’ve gotten glutened off the gluten-free menu at restaurants before, simply because there was cross-contamination. It is -incredibly- restrictive and the effects can persist for weeks. I tend to just bring my own food when traveling as much as possible, but for long conferences, it can be exhausting, and it’s not like food staff is terribly thrilled if you just order a soda and pull granola bars/jerky out of your purse when everyone is ordering off the menu. That said, I’m of the “better safe than sorry” type and I tip well to make up for the inconvenience. But it’s incredibly restrictive and not taken very seriously by restaurants (and most hotels will simply say there’s too much cross-contamination for them to make -anything-. The gluten-free option for one conference lunch I went was literally a plate of lettuce and cucumber)

                8. Beckysuz

                  Haha if only that were true. I was diagnosed with celiac 22 years ago, back when it wasn’t a fad and no one knew what it was. It’s actually shocking how many ways they can hide gluten in food. And the damage that eating gluten can do to your intestines can take six months to heal. It does seem on the face of it that it’s easy, just don’t eat bread and pasta….but the reality is much harder unfortunately. Made harder by all the dummies doing it for shits and giggles. Honestly I’d eat my body weight in butter covered baguettes if I could so I don’t really get avoiding gluten if you truly don’t have to but whatever. I rarely eat out anymore and bring my own food most places. I make my own dressings and marinades. Basically if I didn’t make it I don’t eat it. I am also allergic to corn (actual allergy, celiac s of course autoimmune) so that doubles the amount of worry about others prepping my food. There isn’t a pre packaged food in the world that doesn’t have some type of corn product. It’s insane

                9. Zillah

                  Let’s be honest though, it’s not like a Celiac diet is particularly difficult to eat around. It’s one of the least restrictive medical diets out there.

                  Excuse me?????

                  That’s just… not true. At all. Like, I have gone entire days without eating because I can’t make my own food and it’s not worth the blinding migraine and stomach issues I’ll have if I guess wrong or someone screwed up. And I’m not even particularly sensitive.

                10. acmx

                  Everyone missed the sarcasm in the race to remind others how no one understands them.

                11. sssssssssss

                  Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, you did not just say that. As a parent of a child with a dairy and peanut allergy, I find that much easier than to handle a gluten-free diet. When we camp with groups, my son’s restrictions are easy to accommodate most of the time. The gluten-free kid shows up with his own cooler every single time as the parents feel it’s easier.

                12. Observer

                  @acmx

                  This is NOT a “race to remind others how no one understands them.” I don’t even have celiac. It is a response to a ridiculous comment. If it was intended to be sarcastic, it should have been labeled as such.

                13. Michaela Westen

                  This is so interesting. One of my allergies is to soy and it’s the same sort of thing. There are hidden soy products in everything and even restaurant professionals usually don’t understand the stuff called “vegetable oil” is really soybean oil.
                  I would probably have to bring my own food and/or work closely with the kitchen to get limited soy-free options.

          2. Danger: Gumption Ahead

            Technically the OP hasn’t hired him at all. He is a contractor, not an employee, and if these events are part of his contract then he did know what he was signing on for.

      2. Massmatt

        It sounds like this job and company would not be right for you, then. But unless you are brought in as a CEO you don’t get to dictate a company’s overall culture, especially when it is working for the majority of the employees.

      3. Susan Sto Helit

        If the point is to only attend the required trainings though, then the offer to have him remote in solves everything. It’s only if he actually WANTS the option to attend the social events as well that that becomes a problem.

        That’s where I come down on the whole fun/not fun debate. I’m willing to believe that these events ARE generally considered fun, because otherwise why not just gratefully accept the offer to stay home?

    5. LBK

      I mean…a 48-hour marathon meeting/networking session sounds like a very standard definition of a work off-site to me? That doesn’t mean they aren’t exhausting, but that’s not an unreasonable/unusual ask either. It does sound like they’re being done pretty often, though.

    6. MissGirl

      It doesn’t matter if it’s your cup of tea or his. This is the job and this is what he signed up for. I don’t take a job as a traveling consultant because I hate being on the road. And I especially don’t take the job and then complain about it.

      OP make the best allowances you can, then say, “This is the job, does it make sense for you to continue your contract?”

      1. J.B.

        Yes, but if the important part is the training and you restructured the training part (say some in an evening, some the next morning) so that the contractor could travel during some of the socializing time, that would make a difference. Then he could have the option of calling in or attending for a more limited stretch. As he is a contractor, maybe that would be enough.

        Also, the guy has been there two months and they are talking about the THIRD such event? How do they get any work done?

        1. Anna

          Not for us to worry about…? The OP knows their business a lot better than any of us do.

          1. J.B.

            I’m sorry I phrased it that way – I did so before I saw the OPs response about entertainment industry below. It is definitely possible to get in a “socializing, event” mindset for jobs that do not require it. Worth examining but then working with the job as it is.

        2. Myrin

          By having the events be the work. OP clarified that “most of the social events are not “strictly social.” […] Part of what we do involves entertainment, and while some team members are coordinating these events, participating in them is a way both to get brand immersion and to interact with leadership and customers. “.

          1. J.B.

            And if they’re absolutely essential to the job then they are. While my bias is obviously against major events like this ;) it can definitely be possible to go the other way of “this is what we do”. And it is worth thinking about what it is specifically the contractor does. If he’s emcee for various things then -no probably not possible to avoid or cut short events. If he is doing something peripheral then he might benefit from meeting colleagues but in a more limited way.

    7. Marcy Marketer

      My team has off sites which I fly in for. They are basically similar to conferences where you attend sessions all day and socialize at night. Like conferences, the off sites are draining for me, a healthy-but-low-energy person, but I see them as a part of doing business. If you’re having people fly in and stay at hotels, you really do need to get as much done as you can during that time frame, and also make sure there’s enough events that people feel they’re getting their money’s worth. Not saying there shouldn’t be reasonable accommodations for those who need them, just saying that off sites, while tiring, are pretty normal and can be useful.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP, it doesn’t sound like anyone has had a direct conversation with him about what’s concerning / problematic about his behavior during these events. And if there are ways that he could contribute meaningfully and be less complain-y, it’s worth pursuing opportunities to make small tweaks that would enable his participation (obviously, switching to a week-long gathering is not a small tweak). It sounds like you feel like you’ve made accommodations for him, and he’s let you down. But it’s not clear to me that you’re communicating or reflecting that back to him.

    You don’t want phone-only participation to look or feel like a punitive measure when it’s really about improving the experience for the group. So put him on notice and give him a chance to improve before imposing the phone-in option. He may not realize that he’s coming across as complain-y and draining (or that he’s being totally TMI with folks), and putting him on notice might be the shock he needs to behave constructively. Even if it fails to change his behavior, at least you’ll have been clear and given him one last opportunity to make the in-person option viable.

    1. Seespotbitejane

      I had a coworker for a while who didn’t have Celiac but had another severe condition that created very noticeable gastrointestinal distress that sometimes required urgent attention, frequent doctor’s visits and unplanned absences. They were a good worker but would *not* shut up about their entire medical status at any given time and it was super TMI and frequently gross. But the reason they did that was because they were very concerned about the perception of all these absences, and also the…well I pussyfooted around it earlier, but sometimes they just couldn’t keep food down and would gag or throw up while eating. They had also lost a job due to this condition earlier. They wanted to make sure people knew that they weren’t making excuses to miss work, that they had a serious health issue, and that this gross stuff that sometimes happened was out of their control.

      All of this to say, at least the TMI piece of it might be this guy’s way of saying, “I’m sorry to miss part of this expected team activity, but I really can’t continue because of these reasons.” This might be the kind of thing that will clear up on it’s own if you make a point of being supportive and showing that you don’t hold it against him.

      1. Amber T

        This. And even if your true intention was to be kind by letting him dial in to the important stuff, he sees it as punishment. Because of his health, he can’t keep up, so he’s uninvited. It sounds like he has some reasonable ideas to help ease his time there this time around (bringing his own food) and some unreasonable (extending the trip to a week), but he’s trying. So figure out what you would need from him (ie, if he needs to leave/not attend a session, an email/text saying “hey, I need rest, I’ll see you at 3,” etc.) and try to meet him in the middle.

      2. Jesca

        And make him feel like he can communicate with you and not feel shamed. And that OP also have his back when other coworkers complain because he ate a salad that said no gluten but was! It sounds like OP has gotten a lot of information second hand without ever talking to the guy about it all. Maybe he learned his lesson and knows what he needs to do. Like you said, I am sure it can be very embarrassing and feel awful to suffer and then deal with the looks!

        1. Catnpoodle

          What shaming? OP suggested solution to the problem. We are taking the OP at their word.

          1. Delphine

            People tend to feel shame about some things by default. It’s not that the OP shamed him, it’s the OP should treat/speak to the employee in a way that makes him feel more comfortable and less defensive about his condition. Because that will reduce the shame he might be feeling.

          2. Specialk9

            OP was pretty judgmental of someone who was given contaminated food at work, I believe by OP. Bob was sick, and OP made some really awful value judgements about him as a worker.

            (Caps mostly mine for emphasis)
            “So far he has attended two of these team sessions and has left early or missed entire portions both times. He has blamed food cross-contamination and fatigue, and has been very CONSPICUOUS about this …It’s been DISTRACTING, and some of my other direct reports (including a manager) have felt like he’s SET A BAD EXAMPLE by leaving a mandatory training meeting and by not attending other parts of the day that her team spent a lot of time planning… I DON’T REALLY THINK HE ADDS VALUE as a member of the team because of his COMPLAINING and LACK OF ATTENDANCE, and do NOT want him to attend in person. I think it would be better if he dialed in and DID NOT BRING DOWN THE COLLECTIVE MORALE.”

      3. Seriously?

        Yes! I think the TMI to avoid the perception of shirking could be a big factor, especially since they are holding his absences against him. Mark the sessions that he absolutely has to be that and let him rest or attend the rest at his discretion. If that still doesn’t work then resort to dialing in, but it sounds like one more shot would be the best option.

      4. TurquoiseCow

        That’s a good point. If he suffers through and no one realizes his suffering, then he’s considered a slacker for taking off. If he complains, everyone knows he’s suffering, but they complain about the complaining. It’s a no-win situation.

        1. Specialk9

          In this case, he got both. “Not sorry I poisoned you, you complainypants slacker!”

          1. Not My Monkeys

            Again, ridiculously uncharitable. The food was from a vendor SUGGESTED BY BOB. Take your personal experiences out of this and look at it objectively because frankly, you’re projecting.

      5. Bryce

        In a similar vein I tend to overshare about some mental issues I have, but the reason I do so is because when I was first diagnosed the stress of feeling like I had to hide everything led to a lot of complications. When you’re trying to manage a panic attack, worrying about people knowing you’re having a panic attack doesn’t help.

      6. she was a fast machine

        Exactly this. I’m prone to over-share about my own chronic illness in an effort to ensure people take it and me seriously since they haven’t in the past.

      7. cyan

        Celiac here. This really touches on the fact that since Celiac disease is an invisible disease, it’s like having to say, “No, it’s a real disease with real problems and real pain and real consequences.” We want to be involved in work things, but some things are just really awkward for us (e.g. getting something gf that’s contaminated, not being able to eat) so it sometimes feels like we’re punished for what’s out of our control.

    2. machiamellie

      ADA-wise, it’s really problematic to tell someone that they can’t talk about their medical condition. I get that this guy is a contractor though.

      1. Someone else

        But also there’s a difference between “you can’t talk about your condition” and “you are talking about your condition so frequently that it is a distraction and disruptive”.

          1. Someone else

            Yes but my point was primarily, if you substitute his condition for him complaining about anything else that isn’t what they’re there for, with the frequency with which he’s doing it, it’s still problematic. It’s not the “what” of the complaining that is the issue; it’s the complaining itself. Plus OP’s updates make it pretty clear this guy was offered lots of accommodation, they ordered the specific food from the specific vendor he requested. It’s unfortunate he seems to have gotten dosed anyway, but the employer seems to have handled all of that right in terms of making the arrangements in the first place. He was involved in the selection. I’m not unsympathetic that he may have felt really really shitty. But there is a point at which you need to either excuse yourself and go recover (and thus not be talking about it with colleagues because you’re not in the room) or if you’re sticking around, stick to the topic at hand.

            1. AlsoGF

              But is it too much to ask for the employer to express sympathy that the cross contamination occurred or validate that they believe the cross contamination happened at all? Because OP’s letter reads as though they think the contractor is merely whining about cross contamination as an excuse. Sometimes when people complain to excess or over explain its a reaction to not feeling heard and/or believed. I would advise OP to research Celiac in a bit more depth and exactly how easy it is to contaminate food and how little gluten can cause a reaction. Because it could very easily not been the vendor that was the problem but the handling of the food once it arrived on site—shared utensils, serving dishes, accessibility to others.

              1. Someone else

                I disagree that the letter reads as though they lack compassion. But I guess we don’t know what’s actually happened. If the complaining were something like:
                Jane: Hey Bob, you seem down, everything alright?
                Bob: No actually I feel pretty sick because my food got cross contaminated. But hey how about the Eventblahblahs…

                if the company thinks that’s excessive, boo to the company. On the other hand if the “complaining” is more like:
                Jane: Hey Bob, what are your thoughts on the Eventblahblahs?
                Bob: Oh I can’t even think about that, I’ve been so unwell.
                Jane: Of course, sorry to hear that. Miguel, what about your Eventblahblahs?
                Miguel: Well I was thinking of-
                Bob: It’s just really so difficult. I can’t trust any of the food here. I’ll be sick for days.
                Miguel: Yeah that sucks. But the blahblahs-
                Bob: These trips are just such a pain.
                Jane: Bob, do you need to go back to your room?
                Bob: No. I’m here and ready to go!
                Jane: OK so about those blahblahs-
                Bob: I’m so uncomfortable and tired.

                Then it’s entirely reasonable that the company does not appreciate Bob’s complaining, even if they do feel bad about what happened.

                1. Decima Dewey

                  Are Bob’s coworkers interpreting his explanation of why he had to miss a specific training as complaining and excuses? One of the people complaining about the complaining was a manager who said Bob was setting a bad example. But when a medical condition flares up, it has to be dealt with. For example, I’m diabetic. If my blood sugar plunges, I need to get off the floor and take glucose tablets to get it up to the right level. It affects how I think and if I were to wait to treat it I might end up hitting the floor. It may be that Bob’s coworkers need some education on celiac and its effects.

  3. CaliCali

    I agree that this merits more conversation and clarification. It sounds like he doesn’t want to feel left out, but also wants things to be somewhat specifically on his terms, and that’s a bit of a can’t-have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too situation. Pushing on it a little may get you to a point where you come to an agreement about what the best approach would be.

    1. WellRed

      Yes, I was really put off by his wanting EVERYONE ELSE to stay a week. That’s really entitled. I do wonder if he’s recently diagnosed and will eventually a. feel better and b. not talk about it all the time. Which doesn’t help the immediate problem, of course.

      1. SoSo

        Yeah, I was wondering the same thing too. My husband has had a gastrointestinal disease for almost 20 years now (Crohns), and has become a pro at managing his symptoms and flare ups. He knows what foods to avoid, how much sleep he needs so he’s not fatigued or with an upset stomach all day, certain medicine to have on hand, etc, etc. He hasn’t had a full scale flare up in several years. On of my childhood friends, on the other hand, was diagnosed with the same disease just a few years ago and has had a heck of a time trying to get her symptoms and problems under control. She doesn’t do well avoiding problem foods, doesn’t know what meds work/don’t work, and hasn’t found all those little solutions to living life with a gastro disease. Maybe this guy is in the same boat and is just having a hard time adjusting. It can be especially hard with gastro diseases when you’re traveling and don’t have nearly as much control over your food or schedule.

        That said, I also agree about the entitlement. Having everyone else cater to his schedule for an entire week?Yikes. The best thing he could do to deal with it is to pack his own food and make sure he’s getting plenty of sleep- even if that means using a break between sessions or training for a quick nap in his hotel room.

        1. Ermintrude Mulholland

          This! My husband has coeliac but wouldn’t even dream of asking for an extra day’s hotel to ‘recover’. My thought was that either the guy is really new to being diagnosed (so potentially still healing inside hence tired, and still discovering how many things contain gluten!), or he’s potentially super super slack on actually keeping on top of what he should be eating (possibly the denial ‘oh just one bread roll won’t hurt’ denial stage.
          Either way, the requests for extra days and weeks seem really ott, and made me personally read the guy as kind of whiny/entitled too.

  4. Christopher Ezold

    Alison – love your blog!

    I’m an employment attorney (doing both employee and employer side work). Even though the OP is labeled a ‘contractor’ does not mean that they really are a contractor under the law. There have been recent cases in which ‘contractors’ were found to be employees protected by the ADA, Title VII and other laws. Further, state anti-discrimination laws sometimes reach beyond the federal protections and protect contractors. Therefore, OP needs to be very careful here – especially because the worker in question appears to be the rare contractor who is NOT provided through a service, but is on their own.

    OP sounds like an employee of a large organization, and they likely have internal or external counsel. OP should absolutely pass this by them before doing anything, both to ensure compliance with the law, and to ensure that OP doesn’t make a mistake in this tricky area.

    1. Jesca

      I LOVE when the employment attorney’s weigh in! It is one thing to learn business law and torts in a class room, but a whole other to hear the practical applications.

    2. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

      Yup! I was being paid as an independent contractor improperly (my responsibilities/workflow very clearly made me NOT a contractor). I won unemployment because I could prove that I was being used to do regular “employee” type work (boss had been “kind” enough to respond to/confirm a couple of emails where I detailed my current responsibilities and provided status updates on projects, etc – he also made several “great job” or “this work is great” replies which helped when they tried to change tactics and say that they fired me for negligance, rather than laid me off).

      Ultimately it didn’t matter what the company classified me as, it mattered what I was actually doing.

    3. LBK

      I’m confused by this – are you saying that just because they’re labeled as a contractor doesn’t mean that’s a correct classification? Or that even if they are truly a contractor, employment laws cover them just like any other employee?

      1. Christopher Ezold

        LBK – that’s exactly correct. The law controls whether you are a contractor or an employee, NOT the label you’re given by an employer. The label is one small part of a larger multi-part test, and the test vary depending on who is looking at the issue (the IRS, the DOL, state UC or WC agencies, etc.). The primary factors tend to be whether you can make a profit or just an hourly wage, whether you control your own work, whether you use your own tools, whether you control your schedule, etc.

        A higher level official at the federal Dept. of Labor has stated something along the lines that the DOL believes that most workers are employees. I don’t have the exact quote in front of me, and it’s 0nly a statement, not policy, but it shows that the federal government is much more likely to find a worker to be an employee than they used to. I advise all of my employer clients to be extremely careful about who they classify as a contractor, as a mistake can be exceptionally expensive these days.

        Some states have employment laws that cover contractors, regardless of whether they are truly employees. It’s a bit of a complicated web, really, and you need to know your own state’s rules (or those of multiple states if you work or employ workers in more than one).

        1. LBK

          Gotcha – I think Alison was writing the letter from the position that it was a given that the OP is being correctly classified, so that’s where I was confused.

          1. Christopher Ezold

            I agree with you – but the description of the worker given by the OP raises some questions as to whether the worker is actually an employee, not a contractor. Mandatory offsite meetings with team-building, etc., smells very much like ’employee.’ It’s an issue their counsel needs to review to ensure they haven’t stepped in something ugly.

            1. ..Kat..

              But, is it mandatory? OP is willing to have the contractor participate remotely. It is the contractor who does not want to do so.

              1. Specialk9

                OP called it mandatory. “some of my other direct reports (including a manager) have felt like he’s set a bad example by leaving a mandatory training meeting and by not attending other parts of the day that her team spent a lot of time planning.”

    4. JB (not in Houston)

      Alison is aware that what the employee is labeled with doesn’t dictate whether someone is an employee or a contractor and has talked about that in the past, and I assume she was taking the OP at their word that the employee is correctly labeled. But this is good advice if the OP is wrong about that.

    5. Thornus67

      It sounds like some of the people OP called contractors aren’t independent contractors but rather borrowed employees (or temps, whichever term you prefer). Part of the fun of employment law is calling three of the four types of workers contractors/contract workers (ICs, borrowed employees, or the rare employee-at-contract).

      With the main IC at issue here, there could be some issues here with mandatory training and the like at these functions. An employer providing training is one of the main factors the IRS looks at when it’s making its determination. There could be some issues with the borrowed employees too just because of the mixing of social and work aspects. I know that’s why some businesses basically build a wall to keep ICs and borrowed employees from receiving the same perks that true employees receive, just as a practice of making a clear demarcation to point to if any misclassification issues arise.

  5. Jerry Vandesic

    I am surprised that the OP is including contractors and consultants in social events. Most companies where I have worked have policies that contractors cannot participate in things like team building and group meals, since that could be evidence of an employee/employer relationship. I have had to leave people out of events since they were contractors.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.

      That is my thought as well. In my company, this is a non starter. Team building with contractors is just not a thing, because they are contractors, not outside employees. Blurring the lines in the spirit of unity, as illustrated in this post, creates questions and murkier legal issues.

    2. RJ the Newbie

      I was about to post the same thing. OP is being generous. Many of my old employers would not have made half this effort.

        1. Penny Lane

          The part where she ordered food from his approved vendors. The part where she approved direct flights and an extra day in the hotel. The part where she thought about solutions including bringing his own food and about dialing in.

          She didn’t judge him on his illness. She judged him on his complaining and non-proactive way of addressing the situation.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          People use the language interchangeably, but this OP seems to draw a clear distinction between “contractors” who are employed by an outside agency and seconded to the OP’s organization and “consultants” who are independent (freelancers or business owners) and have an individual contract with the OP’s organization.

        2. WellRed

          I was actually wondering the difference myself, Frank. I feel like a consultant should be even less necessary to include in these. They are a professional billing for their time and expertise in a way that contractors don’t seem to. (This is my take).

    3. Interviewer

      This. Sometimes it’s painful, but we do not invite contractors/consultants to company events. Training is handled separately for contractors wherever possible. I would be concerned about this type of mingling that the OP describes, but perhaps their HR department has managed to distinguish the two types of workers in other significant ways. We have simply avoided having them at these events altogether. Perhaps that is a route to consider.

      If not, keep in mind he may be upset to lose out on face time with the team, but by missing sessions, your company risks having to repeat them for him later (using whatever resources that takes). Then he could then bill your company for attending both sessions.

    4. Chinook

      Depending on the work they do, having contractors and consultants attend can be beneficial to everyone. In our case, part of one of the sessions was to get feedback on new procedures and guidelines we were looking at implementing. By inviting a couple if supervisors from our larger contractors (some of which were First Nation’s companies), we were able to get their input before rolling it out and they were able to see why we were doing it and the the discussions that take place. As well, we had full-time consultants who worked in the office on semi-permanent projects that had vital information to impart as well as who benefitted from hearing what the field staff were doing.

      In all these cases, because the field guys were working 200 to 300 km away from each other and 1,000 km away from head office, it wasn’t going to be easy to have these conversations in such a way that we could go off topic/ramble into what someone is really thinking like you do when you have a chat at the water cooler.

  6. Eye of Sauron

    I like the approach of having a very clear conversation with him which includes clear expectations on complaints and attendance, see if he thinks he can do it. If he does, then give it a try. If he doesn’t go with the call in. If he attends and continues to be a problem then have him call in for the next one.

  7. carla

    The letter reads kind of clique-y, like you don’t like this person who has a different personality and different needs from the rest of your group, and would rather exclude him than deal with him. (We all know that calling in to a mostly in-person meeting is often an inadequate way to participate.) To me, the only issue here is the fact that he missed some portions of a mandatory training last time. I think that should be the focus of your troubleshooting, not so much the morale/social stuff.

    1. HS Teacher

      It read to me as if the bigger issue is the complaining, which can definitely hurt morale. I agree with Alison’s advice to have another go at a conversation, but I can understand why the OP is exasperated by this contractor.

    2. Llama Grooming Coordinator

      Ouch.

      So…LW, do you understand anything about celiac disease? It can actually be quite serious for people with the disease, and it doesn’t seem like you realize how sick the consultant (let’s call him Fergus) could get from cross-contamination. At the very least, you need to have a safe food situation for him!

      Other than that, the letter does read a little cliquey, just from the phrasing you used. On the other hand, Fergus sounds like he might not be the most fun person from your account. I’d urge you to accommodate him as much as reasonable (that is, getting special meals would be cool, tripling the length of the off site is not), but I think shunting him off because he’s kind of awkward to have is a little bit cruel.

      1. Original Poster

        We have ordered special meals for him at every single meal from facilities he indicated were safe. Definitely never would want to be cruel or cliquey.

        1. Original Poster

          Also, wanted to add that I think he is super smart and valuable and am cringing at the thought that he would feel we were cruel and cliquey to him. I was frustrated by this experience but really want him to feel welcomed and accepted.

          1. Jesca

            Maybe you could sneak into one of those mandatory meetings about work cultures, what they are about, and working with people who are different than you (and even annoying). Maybe that will help the moral of your people. I mean unless he is corralling them altogether during dinner and forcing them to listen to him talk, I doubt he is as big of a downer as it seems. You can walk away. You can say hi and then move on. And your employees can have direct conversations with him about not wanting to hear all the deets of his illness. Alison has a ton of advice on those awkward situations. She has even written a book! So that may help on that side of it. On the other side, sometimes yeah people can’t do marathon two day meetings. I would just talk to him, lay it out, and see what works! It really isn’t as huge a deal as you think it is.

            1. Penny Lane

              Completely normal and expected in my line of work. It would be odd and rude to exclude important consultants and contractors from social events associated with conferences and training.

            2. Kate 2

              If your colleagues have to avoid you because you are complaining so much, that really is a problem! And having the gall to suggest the whole company caters to your schedule by more than doubling the time spent meeting suggests that Contractor is the problem.

          2. Indie

            I think it’s that he might be more hyper aware of standing out, than you all are deliberately cliquey. Soo..he explains his absences with TMI complaints, wants to hide his own needs behind the cover of a change in doing things for *everyone*, doesn’t want to miss out because it makes him conspicuous. I think a talk where he’s reassured that it’s ok to be a bit out of step might be revealing.

            1. Original Poster

              That is a good idea to reassure him that he is welcome to leave if he needs to–it’s more of the complaining that’s the issue than the actual absence.

              1. Drop Bear

                OP, I think if you want to reassure him he is welcome to leave if he needs to- which is commendable – you might need to have a discussion with your reports who think he’s setting a ‘bad example’ by missing sessions. There is no point in your reassuring him if he gets a different message from others (one of whom is a manager). Even if he ends up attending via the phone, if they don’t change this attitude, how are they going to respond/treat him if he has to leave his phone during a session? Attending via phone won’t guarantee that his symptoms won’t flare up, it will only reduce the likelihood of it happening.

              2. DrWombat

                Given how little celiac is taken seriously by society, he may feel like he needs to go TMI to basically reassure the group he is trying his best and it’s not like this is happening willingly. It can be very embarrassing to deal with the side effects of celiac, especially if accidental glutening happened, and some of us have been shamed in public for it in the past and may feel somewhat sensitive (I’m remembering a group road trip on a bus where due to food that was supposedly allergen-free but wasn’t, the bus driver literally asked what was wrong with me that I needed the bathroom within half an hour of leaving the hotel, in front of all of my colleagues). Seconding the reassurances idea, but make sure it’s actually not being held against him. Also depending on how long post-diagnosis he is, his gut flora may be still working itself back to normal which can lead to its own issues even in the absence of gluten. I know my gut took the better part of a year to do so, and it was embarrassing. Best of luck!

                1. Gadget Hackwrench

                  Yeah this. One bit of wording in the original letter that stuck out to me was that he was “blaming food cross-contamination and fatigue,” which… I dunno. The way it’s worded seems to imply that either you don’t believe that the food cross-contamination and fatigue exist, or that you don’t believe that they are valid reasons to need to bow out of something. They really really are. Getting gluten-ed is pretty serious, as others have mentioned and I defer to them because I do not have celiac, but I will expound on fatigue.

                  When healthy people say they are “fatigued” that’s not an equivalent severity to the medical symptom called fatigue, much like when healthy people say they are “depressed” it’s not equivalent in severity to the mental illness depression. Fatigue, for context for you OP, is a level of physical/mental exhaustion that will lead to staring at a turned off TV for 3 hours because the remote is by your feet and you’re too tired to sit up to get it.

                  Now I hear you “but he was walking to his hotel room,” well yes. Luckily it does not come on all at once. You feel it creeping in, and you take action to get out of public and on a soft horizontal surface (couch, bed, maybe a recliner) before it takes full hold. Technically speaking even at peak fatigue one CAN still walk… it’s just a torment that makes grown adults cry from the sheer difficulty of doing it… but I mention it because it does mean that in the case of a fire or some such disaster we can remove ourselves, because actually burning to death is enough motivation to make people walk on broken legs, so at least there’s that, for saftey.

                  Oh… but asking for everyone to be there for a week is bizarro. That’s just not a feasable thing. It’s a good sign though that he says he wants to bring his own food to prevent getting glutened again. That means he’s taking efforts to maximize his ability to participate (now that he knows that the vendor, at least in that city, can not be trusted not to cross contaminate.)

        2. BackHomeAgain

          I did want to mention that while a particular chain restaurant may be safe in one area, depending on the area your conference is in, that same chain may not be safe there. Local culture can affect whether the necessary attention is paid to cross-contamination. I have celiac disease and spent an entire vacation cooking everything that went into my mouth because when I checked local restaurants on the gluten-free forums they said, in effect, “In this area, just don’t try it. You will get sick.” Him saying that he will bring his own food is what you do when you give up on restaurants because you know it’s not going to work otherwise. It would be helpful to get him a kitchenette room if you decide to have him try another trip.

          1. Specialk9

            Yeah. For instance, Massachusetts has really really serious food allergy laws, in part because a local high profile chef had a kid allergic to everything, and the chef got politically active and got laws passed so kids could be safe in restaurants. They don’t mess around! (But it’s still not safe enough for some people, they can’t be in the same room.)

          2. Leela

            Not to mention because going gluten-free has become a trend, waiters and restaurants can be incredibly dismissive and disrespectful, and often don’t take you seriously. I went to a restaurant and my friend and I both got different burgers, and I got mine with a gluten-free bun. They put the gluten-free bun on hers and we only noticed because she bit into hers first and said the bun was weird. We brought it up to the waitress and she brought me a new burger in like, 2 minutes. I asked if they’d made a new one or just re-bunned it, and sure enough that’s all they had done. That could have put me in the ER. The waitress was so annoyed she actually slammed my plate down when she brought the new burger. This is actually a pretty typical restaurant session for me. It’s so stressful I’d truly rather just not go at all, but because I’m a person who knows people I find myself in restaurants around mealtime fairly often.

        3. JHS

          As someone with my own set of food intolerances, I can tell you that caterers can sometimes make huge mistakes (I once got a meal I literally could not eat at a conference where the people with celiac were given couscous and told to eat around it. The company were very rude as well; apparently three months notice wasn’t enough to prepare a meal I could eat). Granted this is less likely as he’d picked the facilities, but if he was going off recommendations instead of personal experience he could have had trouble. I have had four different caterers mess me around quite badly after promising me they would accommodate me.

      2. Snark

        Well, there’s a solution available to Fergus, which is to call in to the training sessions, and he’s not taking it, so what is OP reasonably expected to do? Whatever his illness is, and however severe it is, he’s been offered a fair and workable solution and rejected it.

        1. Specialk9

          You’re being weirdly dismissive on this topic, and usually you’re a lot more open to people pointing out why something is a problem.

      3. LBK

        FWIW it didn’t come off that way – it read to me like him staying home seemed the simplest and safest solution so that he wouldn’t be burdened both with tiring travel and worrying about cross contamination. And he also seemed to be acting like he didn’t want to be there, so that would be a natural solution.

    3. Snark

      Y’know, this post is full of people second-guessing OP and sniping at her org’s practices, and it’s real not great. She didn’t ask what we, an internet commentariat that self-selects for introverts, think of her working sessions. She asked how to navigate a particular consultant who’s being a downer.

      And the morale issues and constant griping and unrealistic demands are absolutely worth focus.

      1. Pontoon Pirate

        Hey – I always appreciate your candor and perspective, as I think many others do, but lately you’ve gone from Snark to defaulting to an “Incoming Hostile is Oscar-Mike” tone. I say this because I know you called yourself out for it yesterday or the day before, so I hope you’re ok.

        On-topic, Original Poster, I am glad you’re open to working with Fergus on workarounds that allow him to attend as much as he’s able. I think a compassionate conversation that hears out his issues but asks him to partner with you on minimizing the complaints is a good way to go. It also sounds like the recent directives given regarding contractor participation might actually benefit him.

      2. Leslie knope

        Yes, thank you. It’s super grating to see the same arguments come up in every post about any kind of social activity related to work. We get it, y’all are introverted. It’s starting to get annoying and sandwichy.

        1. Penny Lane

          Introverted doesn’t mean “turns into a pumpkin at 5:01 pm” though. Just because a lot of people on here don’t ever seem to socialize, or don’t have the ability to navigate a social setting, doesn’t mean that some degree of socialization is an unfair or unrealistic expectation in the real world.

        2. SS Express

          I feel the same! Yep, some people find it draining to go to all-day meetings followed by a social event. I’m pretty extroverted and I find it incredibly draining too! Introverts don’t have a monopoly on getting worn out. But it’s common in lots of roles and industries, and there are often real reasons for that. Managers who organise these things aren’t just clueless idiots with no regard for other people’s comfort and I’m getting a bit sick of seeing so many comments suggesting that they are.

      3. Kate 2

        Just wanted to say I don’t think you have been over-snarky *at all*. I also think your comment is great and right on the money.

    4. Massmatt

      “Cliquey?” Really? I don’t think that is accurate in any way. The OP has indicated many substantive problems with the new hire, it’s not as though she wrote in saying he wore the wrong sweater or lacks school spirit.

  8. Observer

    Run whatever you do by counsel (not HR, unless they really know the law and when to loop in the lawyer.)

    But, I would say have a really clear conversation with him. Make he social stuff optional, but make it clear that he needs to attend all of the training and most of the other meetings, and that he need to dial down the complaining and the over-sharing. If he cannot commit, or doesn’t have a good plan to make things better than they’ve been, then you tell him that he needs to just dial in. Otherwise, give him another chance.

  9. DCompliance

    So if he is complaining about the food or the length of the meetings, he needs to be advised to redirect these issues to management.

    Management can address with him discussing his gastrointestinal issues to everyone, but they can also address to their that there are outside factors which may require this consultant not stay for the entire meeting.

  10. Lars

    As someone with pretty severe Celiac, if his disease did act up, it could easily take him out for a full day, without getting into gory details. The complaining should be addressed but it’s a painful thing to deal with and would require him to leave – maybe immediately – to avoid a disgusting scene. I don’t know that I’d hold that part of his behavior against him.

    1. WellRed

      I think it’s the complaining that’s the behavior they take issue with and that’s within his control. They’ve also given him an out.

      1. Specialk9

        It’s not though, they mentioned several times how bad it was that he missed mandatory sessions, and ALSO that he was too open about his missing those sessions was only because of him getting very very sick. I literally can’t imagine what Bob could have done to have won in that situation!

        1. Penny Lane

          He was too open with the other attendees as to why. Again, go back to normal social skills – taking the meeting head aside and quietly saying you aren’t feeling well and aren’t going to attend X – no different than if someone developed a migraine or ate something that disagreed with them. That’s not what he did.

          1. Specialk9

            But those of us with chronic illnesses know that we’re judged either way. He chose to try to make it clear that he’s not just slacking, that he’s actually really sick. And he still got judged by multiple people, both for slacking / disrespecting people / setting a bad example by skipping mandatory sessions, AND for trying to tell people that really I’m not a slacker, I’m in really bad medical pain, no not that fad gluten thing, no actually it does all this stuff to my body.

            I’m obviously bringing a lot of my own stuff here, but I’m trying to share how the 3rd hand perception OP has could very easily match my experience as a chronic illness sufferer, rather than able assumptions.

      2. AlsoGF

        Is it really fair to expect that someone who is experiencing severe gastrointestinal distress to not complain?! This isn’t the same as eating something that doesn’t agree with you, it can literally feel just like food poisoning or stomach “flu.” Would you fault someone who had a virus for complaining too much?

        1. SignalLost

          Yeah, actually. As someone with IBS and with a family member with *severe* IBS (as in, several colon resections secere) I do fault anyone with a chronic illness who can’t work out how to say “I’m not feeling well, I’m going to do X” rather than telling everyone around them how awful everything is and how badly they feel and details about that … because I promise, having a chronic illness is not a get out of jail card on everyone wanting to hear what’s happening to your butt. Complaining helps no one under any circumstances, whether you have a migraine or a chronic illness it is rarely appropriate at work, and socially-functional professionals can generally figure that out. I can and will completely judge someone, particularly someone who has been given so much assistance in finding solutions, for sitting around and complaining.

    2. Bow Ties Are Cool

      Yes, to me the issue is the (what sounds like near-constant) complaints, and the over-sharing about his medical issues. If someone is unwell, of course they might miss a session or two. People get sick, even people without chronic conditions. But I think most people would agree that the thing for him to do would be to say “I missed yesterday’s session/I’m going to have to miss the next session because I wasn’t/am not feeling well.” Nobody wants to hear about your gut problems, dude. “Not feeling well” is a good place to start AND stop.

      1. Leela

        As someone with celiac I wish that were true. But telling people I’m “not feeling well” just leads to outright dismissal all the time. And people giving a ton of useless, unsolicited medical advice. And acting like you’re faking because it’s so frequent and you don’t look like what they’d call “sick” because they don’t understand. Seriously, most people have no idea how much BS people with invisible illness have to deal with. I’ve been threatened with disciplinary action because I have to spend more than half an hour in the bathroom several times over the course of like 3 hours if I get cross contamination, and I might have to go to the ER too. Also, if he doesn’t mention how bad it is, people really don’t take celiac seriously now that going gluten free by choice is a thing. He’s probably really sick of dealing with the eye rolls, the “are you reallllllllly though because I read an article that it could be blah blah blah”, the constant judgement etc because I know I am, and I’ve felt extremely pressured to go into details about what’s happening because people just don’t believe you otherwise.

    3. SpaceNovice

      Yeah, if he’s suffering horribly when it’s preventable with some more precautions, he has full right to complain. It’s awful and it sucks! Hell, I’d be livid myself if people expected me to eat food that had a chance of getting me sick. Cross-contamination is no laughing matter.

      In fact, at all the workplaces I’ve been, people have gone out of their way to avoid even risking triggering my allergies. Not because it’s expected, but because they’re people and so am I.

      1. SpaceNovice

        I mean, it’s definitely possible that the complaining is excessive. But then again, so are the symptoms he’s been feeling every single time he’s gone.

      2. Blueberry

        The OP upthread wrote the they order him separate food from places he’s approved to be safe.

        1. Specialk9

          But the food OP ordered was contaminated and made him terribly ill. So… Thanks?

          1. SS Express

            The food the OP *ordered* was the gluten-free meal that would be safe for him to eat. The food the supplier *provided* was not, because they didn’t correctly fulfill the order. It’s in no way his fault that he ended up getting sick, but it’s not like she’s to blame either. She did her reasonable best to accommodate him, based on what he himself said would work.

            1. Specialk9

              Oh no, I get that. But it still happened, and OP in her original letter didn’t seem to feel any responsibility or to acknowledge the direct line between him being in pain and missing sessions, and her food (ordered in good faith, but contaminated). Instead she’s annoyed at Bob and making lists of how he’s being a pain, instead of being stricken by the poisoning (and it is poison to those w this autoimmune disease) and being pissed at the restaurant/caterers, instead of at the guy who just got terrible food poisoning and wasn’t all smiles about that.

              1. Not My Monkeys

                Why should she? She didn’t prepare the food. You need to stop attacking the OP. It’s perfectly reasonable she thought the food she ordered from Bob’s requested vendor would be safe.

                1. Not My Monkeys

                  To expect the OP to feel responsibility for Bob’s illness is so unbelievably unreasonable

          2. Sarah

            What would be appropriate beyond what they did? I don’t understand what you’re expecting from OP and the company she works with. Prior to the event, she gave this consultant the list of “safe” vendors, presumably as provided by the event space, and had the consultant choose who he believed would be the best to provide his meals. The company then ordered those meals per his request. That’s a reasonable accommodation. It didn’t work, and that’s upsetting, but the OP’s company did their job.

          3. SamPassingThrough

            I am confused as to what you are looking for by constantly placing blame on the OP. It’s clearly not the OP’s fault that the caterer messed up and contaminated food; nor was it Bob’s fault for eating said food under the impression that it is safe, given that he is the one who provided the caterer’s name after all.

            1. JHS

              It’s difficult emotionally in that situation because the person who did something wrong was at the caterers and not in the room. When my catering requests were ignored and food I couldn’t have was served to me, the conference organisers felt terrible, and I did my best to reassure them that it wasn’t their fault, though I couldn’t help being upset because I was hungry and having to pay for a lunch I couldn’t eat. The last time I relied on a caterer someone suggested that someone else took my food, which did not help the fact that I had nothing (I still doubt that, as there was a plate of food I couldn’t eat with my name under it; caterers seem to look at my list of intolerances, pick one thing on it, or not on it, and cater to only that. It wouldn’t be so annoying if I didn’t specifically say “Salad with any of the following ingredients is fine”…). And I’m at least in the position that I can see straight away if my intolerances are on a plate; cross contaminated gluten isn’t necessarily visible.

              OP probably feels frustrated that they did everything right on their end and the consultant still got hurt, and the consultant is probably wondering just what else they need to do to get food that’s safe and feels annoyed with the situation, but not necessarily with the OP. I’ve had people get upset with me for being upset that the food providers mucked up my order, because they thought I was upset with them when I wasn’t.

              1. Specialk9

                Yes this exactly. I’d expect OP to feel bad about Bob getting food poisoning, even though it was not OP’s FAULT per se, instead of blaming him for acting the way most of us act when we get food poisoning. I didn’t see that in the original letter, though in the comments she says she did feel bad, and I do get the feeling that her annoyance when writing the letter may have cooled.

                I’m just pointing out that he ate tainted food and his behavior wasn’t that weird in that context, and he shouldn’t have his rep ruined by this, which seems to be happening.

      3. Eye of Sauron

        Why would you assume the OP isn’t ordering food that the contractor could eat… that’s a really weird place to jump to.

        1. SpaceNovice

          OP isn’t doing it on purpose, and is definitely trying to accommodate, so that’s not what I’m assuming at all. The food might leave the designated facility gluten-free but is getting contaminated elsewhere. And this sounds like it’s happened multiple times, so obviously something’s going wrong–I’m suspecting the contamination is happening after the food is delivered. It could even be as simple as the silverware being an issue. Or the napkins. Or the room not being cleaned properly from previous meals. Or just the other people eating stuff with gluten around them.

          (For example: I can’t eat Kashi cereal anymore because they use a freeze-dried version of a fruit I’m allergic to in just SOME of them. Some tiny bit of dust gets into all the cereals, some more than others, and make me sick.)

          At this point, it may be that the contractor needs to bring food from home or be the one to accept the delivery of the food that they can eat. Or, alternatively, calling from home via phone–which is truthfully probably the best solution, and the solution the OP came up with, but the way it was proposed made the contractor feel it was a punishment.

    4. Future Homesteader

      Yeah, here’s hoping that bringing his own food will make things easier! My MIL’s celiac is so bad that basically can’t eat anywhere but in her own house, so she brings her own food/only buys packaged foods she knows are safe. If I didn’t know her, I would have a hard time believing just how little it takes to set off her symptoms, and just how many places gluten hides. His attitude may or may not be its own issue, but maybe if he can find a way to avoid flare-ups at this event, it’ll go a long way!

    5. lalalalalalalala

      Lars, completely agree. I have celiac and frankly, I HATE talking about it. I hate being the odd person out when it comes to provided food or choosing restaurants. When I go on trips, first place I stop is a grocery store (ideally Whole Foods) and stock up on snacks, bars, and pre-made things.

      I’ve given up on eating food provided by a company unless it is fully packaged (aka a bag of chips). (Sorry, a salad from Panera isn’t going to work out…)

      1. cyan

        +1 if I didn’t confirm that a place is Celiac safe, wasn’t there in person to grill the wait staff/manager/chef, and pick it up myself, there’s no way I’m going to trust that it wasn’t cross-com’d and is safe to eat. Some of us sufferers get some serious symptoms for a loooooong time!

  11. KimberlyR

    I would definitely be wary of the contractor bringing down morale. I’m sure your team is a mix of “excited” and “resigned to it and determined to enjoy” and it would suck if he brought those people down to the level of complaining that he is displaying. Giving him another chance would be a kindness but I would be clear that y’all expect fairly cheerful demeanors throughout, as the whole group is there to mesh as a team and his attitude makes it difficult for him.

  12. SpaceNovice

    Please please please make sure that he gets food that isn’t cross-contaminated. That can be a HUGE cause of his problems. You don’t, technically have to as he isn’t an employee, but it could be an easy fix. Cross-contamination of foods I’m allergic to has caused EXTREME FATIGUE before in me, even in minuscule amounts. (This is an example–celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder and not an allergy.) If you really want to have him on-site, do some research on how to prevent cross-contamination. Work with him to figure it out.

    Also: celiac disease is sometimes co-morbid with other autoimmune diseases. If the precautions with the food don’t fix things (and make sure they’re 100% airtight), then there might be something additional at work here (or it could just be really bad celiac disease). Mind you–that’s something he’ll have to look into himself.

    1. Dust Bunny

      He said he was going to bring his own. Since the LW/LW’s company are presumably not the ones preparing it, there is a limit to how much control they have over this. Even if a caterer swears there’s no cross-contamination, you don’t have any way to know for sure until the guy gets sick.

      But they offered to let him attend by phone to avoid the food problem and alleviate the fatigue, but he’s grousing about that, too. I would assume that a full week on an off-site location is a budget-buster, so there aren’t endless solutions here.

      1. SpaceNovice

        Yeah, bringing his own is probably the best solution. Even if the caterer DOES do everything to not cross-contaminate, it can be introduced at any time between when it is made to when it enters his mouth. So yeah, bringing his own food is the best solution.

        Yeah, I can understand why he’d complain about attending by phone but the full week thing is definitely a no-go. These sorts of meetings are only designed to last a couple of days. Extending them to a week, even if affordable, wouldn’t make sense.

    2. Serendipity

      My mother is a coeliac, and is so sensitive that she can be made ill from the contamination of shaking hands with someone who has just eaten a sandwich. Licking a postage stamp will have her home sick for three days.
      It’s not an allergy or anaphylactic reaction, but it’s an extreme fatigue that’s difficult to manage.
      I am very sympathetic to your contractor, and I’m not convinced they’re being flaky. Cross contamination can occur if other staff members have touched the plate that the gluten-free food is on and may have nothing to do with the vendors.
      Please let them provide their own food for the next conference before banning them from being there

  13. Original Poster

    Hi, OP over here. Thank you for this feedback, Allison (and to those who have commented thus far.) I think I’ve been hesitant to ask him for how these training sessions could work better for him going forward because he has complained so much and I did not want to encourage more venting–but I love the language of asking him for how we can inspire a more “positive, engaged vibe” from him. That is so spot on.

    I would be fine with him skipping anything that was strictly social. Like a happy hour. However, I do need to clarify–most of the social events are not “strictly social.” Without identifying what my company does, part of what we do involves entertainment, and while some team members are coordinating these events, participating in them is a way both to get brand immersion and to interact with leadership and customers.

    And yes, I have been instructed by legal recently not to invite contractors to social events–this is fairly new guidance we were just given. But the majority of events during these sessions have food/entertainment woven into the day and are often about specific product launches and programs, and ensuring everyone who does work for my team understands them is a critical part of their day to day duties. Cocktail hours and team dinners are now supposed to be for full-time employees only, and that would reduce the hours he has to be “on.”

    Thanks again!

      1. SignalLost

        That seems likely to be the reason that OP’s company has initiated the change in their requirements, yes. They seem aware of the issue.

    1. Amtelope

      I would try a message in three parts:

      1) “I’m sorry we weren’t able to provide safe food for you in the past. If you’re able to bring your own food, I think that’s a good solution to the problem if you attend.”
      2) “We need everyone to be positive and engaged while participating in events. If you think fatigue may be a problem for you, let’s come up with a solution we can plan to use if you find that you can’t participate actively in all the events.” Maybe you can make sure that he has a computer equipped to dial in remotely in his hotel room, so that if he’s feeling well, he can participate in person, and if he’s not feeling up to a session, he can go back to his room and view it remotely.
      3) and I do think you have to say this — “If you do need to skip or leave an event, you need to do without complaining to other participants that the event is too long or that you don’t feel well. Please just let me know discreetly that you are leaving so that it doesn’t disrupt the event. Can you commit to that, or should we plan for you to participate remotely?”

      1. Washi

        I like these. And I think since it sounds like there are a number of external people at these things, you definitely have standing to address his attitude/TMI sharing by telling him what how you would like him to handle these situations in the future.

      2. Original Poster

        Thank you, this is great! FWIW, we did order him his own food. Sounds like he got impacted anyway.

        1. Sally

          That is not surprising to me. I don’t have celiac, but I’m very sensitive to wheat (and unfortunately, several other common foods), and if I ingest even a tiny bit of something that makes me sick, I can be sick for 3 days. It really sucks when this happens, and it’s more likely when I’m traveling and have less control over what I eat. I’ll usually try to get a room with a refrigerator and bring some of my own food, which helps. I’m also a contractor who works remotely from my team, and I can understand not wanting to be left out of any activities that would help me get to know my colleagues better (which helps me do my job better). I often am the only one dialing in to meetings, and it would be so much better if I could be there in person.

        2. aes_sidhe

          There must be some cross-contamination, and it may be as simple as other employees getting into the food and accidentally getting gluten in his food. His food needs to be kept away from everyone else, if it’s not being done already.

        3. Observer

          Cross contamination is a real issue, especially when most of the people around don’t really get the concept.

          If he is really up to providing his own food and keeping it away from everyone else, that could make a HUGE difference. Just make sure you give him fridge or something to keep any perishables in.

    2. J.B.

      From this, I think the number of events makes more sense. I think you should think carefully about (and talk with your contractor about) what his role is and the importance of him to these events. If meeting his colleagues is very important then is there a way for him to do so in a smaller setting or less frequently? The more he travels the more variables he has to deal with health wise. If you know what is most important for him specifically then you can structure around it. Afternoon of one day, morning of the next day or similar. I can understand how calling in wouldn’t communicate much he needs to know and wouldn’t meet anyone that way. But it seems like he will never have the spoons for a longer event.

      (I could never survive at your company. That’s way too much for me.)

    3. SoCalHR

      OP – I commend you for being very gracious to the many people questioning (directly and indirectly) your empathy toward your contractor’s condition when you have made it clear that you took more-than-reasonable care to accommodate his needs thus far.

      1. BRR

        I second this. The OP is incredibly kind and is open to reading everyone’s comments which I feel are assuming the worst (some might have missed the OP’s additional comments). I think the OP has received some great advice in how to follow up with this contractor and hopefully it helps.

      2. Specialk9

        They are certainly being gracious in the comments, for which I also comment them –but the original letter was far from kind to Bob, or kind to people with chronic illnesses.

        And no, actually, the accommodations were inadequate, without apology (I’d be groveling then, and in tears) and instead heaping blame and judgment when he got sick.

        If I were Bob – and I’ve been open that I’m Bob-adjacent, I’d take my valuable skillsets to somewhere with less ableism and more empathy for disabilities.

        1. Ridiculousness

          I don’t understand why you are attacking this OP. I really feel you are putting Bob on a pedestal and it’s not warranted in this case. It’s also comments like yours that puts everyone on the defensive and doesn’t invite an open discourse.

        2. Susan Sto Helit

          You clearly have a lot of personal investment in this, but I think you’re being unfair.

          The OP initially made all the accommodations that Bob asked for – an extra day to recover, direct flights, and ordering all his own food from vendors he approved. Yes, it turns out that wasn’t enough – but that’s not her fault. Bob asked for accommodations, Bob got what he wanted, and it turned out that Bob underestimated the level of accommodations that he would need initially. What was she supposed to do – find a whole load more accommodations to make that he hadn’t even asked for, because he didn’t know he’d need them yet? No one is psychic, and no one can see into the future either.

          Cross-contamination is an awful thing to happen, but that it did was something out of her control. That is down to another company not doing THEIR job properly. You’re adding a whole lot of emotive language to something that I understand is a very emotional issue to you, but this shouldn’t be about that. Accusing people of being ableist and lacking empathy /when they have already made a whole lot of accommodations without complaint/ isn’t going to result in a productive response. It might just make people even more afraid to hire people with similar conditions because apparently the penalties for doing your best and it just not working are as bad as not doing anything at all in your eyes.

        3. paul

          Special: they used vendors *that the contractor chose!*

          They operated in good faith here, holy crap. They literally cannot ensure that no one at these events has a spec of gluten on them. But it sounds like these events are a core part of their business–not in a “forced fun” way but that they’re in the business of entertainment and event planning.

        4. Lindsay Geee

          accommodations provided by OP:
          1) direct flight to location, which usually costs more
          2)extra day in the hotel to recover before travelling home, costs of an extra night in the hotel & extra food if that bill is being footed by the company
          3) gluten-free food, ordered specifically for Bob from a vendor they recommended. This obviously didn’t go as planned, but the correct measures were taken to get Bob the food he needs.

          What else was OP supposed to have provided?

      3. SamPassingThrough

        +1 for commending OP for being gracious, especially in the face of unfair accusations and hostility. Some of these comments are borderline personal attacks and quite relentless.

    4. The OG Anonsie

      Can I just say– I braced myself as I started reading this one, and I was pleasantly surprised. Most of the time when I see people talking about other workers with chronic illnesses, even if they’re being overall accommodating, there’s just this overall tint of distaste that you can feel through the whole thing. There’s just a faint wash of ableism over top the way most people talk about this stuff even when they’re ostensibly doing what they’re supposed to. You feel it a lot when you’re the person with the illness, and it’s hard to point out to others so you kinda end up steeping in it no matter where you work. It’s actually a major part of why I’m a similarly independent consultant, like this guy is.

      But I really get the sense that you’re actually trying to do what you can here, and not just because you feel you have to do some minimum to avoid getting sued. Even though he sounds like he’s on the difficult side, you’re going, ok, tell me what you need and we’ll do it. We like your work so let’s figure it out. I really appreciate that, it’s seriously not an exaggeration to say I more or less never see it. Please keep this positive attitude about accommodations and the people who need them, even if this specific dude turns out to be an impossible pill.

      1. The OG Anonsie

        Although, I do agree with some of the other commenters that it sounds like you don’t entirely believe that his problems could be as bad as he says they are, which is addressed just fine by others elsewhere in the comments. Recovery time is a whole stupid but entirely real thing when you’re essentially always sick. Like, just imagine how you feel when you’re sick and stay home from work and then imagine you feel like that every day and have to work all the time anyway. So you have to figure out what you can get through on any given day to be able to stay upright and ok for what you have to do the next day. It’s like having an internal battery that won’t charge above maybe 50%, and everyone else walking around with 100% batteries are snidely wondering why you don’t just do more battery-consuming stuff like them.

        But I respect that, even if you don’t really get it from his experience, you’re still trying to make everything work out. It sounds like you’re still listening to him and understand that he’s going to (generally) be the best source of decisions around himself while separating that out from whatever personality issues might be at play.

        1. Flower

          “It’s like having an internal battery that won’t charge above maybe 50%, and everyone else walking around with 100% batteries are snidely wondering why you don’t just do more battery-consuming stuff like them.”

          Oh wow I really want to start using this to describe things. I don’t usually get lots of direct comments in relation to my illness (I’m mostly surrounded by people who either get it because I’m open about my issues but try not to bring it up too much or because they happen to have the educational background to be aware (aka, educated on the subject, either by me or not)) but there are always the subtle things that people don’t think about and this is such a good analogy.

            1. The OG Anonsie

              I’ve found most people don’t really do better with the spoon analogy. Something about using spoons specifically, I guess the applicability of spoons as energy trips people up. If you use the same basic explanation but replace spoons with something they’re more used to taking as an exchange for performance (battery life, gasoline) it sticks a lot better.

              1. KellyK

                Yep. Spoons are really great for people who *already get it* as a quick reference or as an inside joke. And the person who came up with spoon theory used them as something *tangible* in an extended conversation about a typical day, where her friend literally handed her spoons when she used them for a task.

                But the battery is a much clearer metaphor for explaining the concept to someone who’s not familiar with it.

  14. Boredatwork

    OP – I can definitely be described as someone who’s personal stuff doesn’t mesh with all day conferences. I have food allergies, and I also tire easily, severe introvert. Just being in a room with strangers is physically exhausting.

    I don’t think you’re off base wanting to have a certain “vibe” at your conference. I think you should accommodate his food allergy, every conference I’ve been to has succeeded in not poisoning me. I think it’s time to have the “are you asking for a medical accommodation” talk, and if he is, then discussing special circumstances.

    1. Tracy

      If being around strangers is literally physically exhausting, it sounds like you shouldn’t be doing any type of work where interaction with anyone new is even remotely possible. Or is that already your situation? Maybe you can recommend a similar opportunity to the OPs employee.

      1. KellyK

        Wow, that came off as super-sarcastic and extremely harsh. Yes, some people find it physically exhausting to be around strangers.

        It’s kind of weird that you suggest they find a job where they never interact with strangers, since jobs where you’ll never interact with anyone new, ever, don’t really exist. And that makes it sound like you either don’t believe Boredatwork or like you think they shouldn’t be in the workforce at all because their issues might be inconvenient for other people.

        Realistically, most people are going to be exhausted by their jobs at some point. Every day for people who do hard physical labor, or for people with severe chronic illnesses (for whom getting out of bed and putting on clothes may as well *be* hard physical labor). More occasionally if you mostly work at a desk but occasionally have to help with a move or do a bunch of running around. But it’s pretty much universal, and not really helpful to suggest to someone who finds something exhausting (without any mention of how much it exists in their current job) that they avoid it at all costs. Especially when it sounds like a veiled accusation that surely they *must* be exaggerating because no one could function in the world if what they said was true.

  15. Mary Sue

    I make my living as an outside contractor, and I have celiac disease. I don’t think a lot of people understand that our immune systems treat a microscopic crumb of gluten like the worst flu you have ever had.

    The last time I got glutened, which was at a work social function, I did not eat or drink anything at the function. The problem was that somebody scattered crumbs of what they were eating across the table, and I touched the table and then at some point, my mouth. And that caused my immune system to go haywire for eight days.

    I wonder if part of his complaining is an attempt to educate your group. There are a lot of jokes about how gluten-free is nonsense. There’s one in the new Deadpool trailer actually. And the fact that people seem to take this very serious illness lightly is very frustrating to many of us who live with celiac. So sometimes we overshare in an attempt to make people understand.

    I don’t think it would be too much if you took this employee aside and said “hey knock it off with the gross details.” Working with them

    1. SpaceNovice

      +1 to all of this. This poor contractor has experienced symptoms EVERY TIME he’s gone on an off-site. It’s seriously and dramatically his health and well-being. (Also, I’m so that happened to you, Mary Sue.)

      1. aes_sidhe

        The fact that it’s happening every time makes it sound like no one takes celiac seriously and doesn’t get options for him to eat that are gluten-free nor are they telling him that the food might contain gluten. You don’t give celiacs gluten any more than you’d give peanuts to someone with a peanut allergy.

        1. Bea

          Op confirmed they ordered specifically what he requested. So it’s more likely that he’s being cross contaminated elsewhere (see the comment about crumbs from another coworker on the table another commenter experienced) or that his preferred vendor in the conference area is a flake (another comment covered this idea as well). It’s nothing to do with malicious intent or the company itself being lazy and not taking his illness seriously.

          1. Susan Sto Helit

            That’s true – if the celiac is severe enough it could be from touching doors/lift buttons, or the hotel room not having been cleaned well enough between guests, or the gluten-free bread being put into a regular toaster or all sorts of things.

            It might be worth asking Bob what he does when he travels for himself, if he ever does. Is it common for him to have these symptoms when traveling in unfamiliar places, or is it something he usually manages to avoid? That might help to make it clear if this is a universal problem with no clear solution or if something that’s specific to your events that you might be able to focus on, if you can only pinpoint it.

        2. Eye of Sauron

          Except for the fact that the OP stated they are getting him food that he has ok’d.

          Good grief, it’s like everyone has decided that the OP is an ogre that has it out for this guy and seems to be missing all of the pesky details from the OP’s letter and updates.

          1. SpaceNovice

            I think a lot of people are trying to point out that cross-contamination can still happen despite getting food that the contractor could eat but text makes it sound overly harsh. I know a few of my comments suffered from this. The OP is definitely trying but was not fully aware of how bad cross-contamination threats can be. (Past tense now because the AAM readers shared more than enough information to make them aware of it, and they now have the knowledge to find a better solution. Which I have no doubt they will.)

        3. Temperance

          Ignoring the fact that OP has clarified that she and her org have ordered Fergus food that he has deemed safe from the places of his choosing, it’s on Fergus to clarify that he can’t have gluten, and to make sure that his food is safe. He’s an adult, not a child.

            1. Nursey Nurse

              I get that you’re taking this letter personally. I have chronic illnesses too, and it’s frustrating to feel like people don’t understand or care about the ways they impact my work and home lives. But you’ve posted scathing comments all over the thread and I’m left wondering what your point is beyond calling the OP and your fellow commenters jerks. What specifically do you think that the OP should *do* about the situation? They stated that they’ve already ordered special, gluten-free food for Bob from contractors that he suggested, and apparently there was still cross contamination. So they’ve come up with the idea that he be allowed to participate remotely, which you also object to. What’s left? Do you think Bob’s suggestion that they all spend an entire week in their target city is reasonable? How else could they accommodate Bob?

              There’s a reason that disability laws, even when they do apply, only require reasonable accommodation. It’s rarely going to be possible to completely mitigate a disability in a workplace situation. While I understand your complaints about OP’s attitude, which could be read as dismissive, it seems to me that they are trying to take steps to accommodate Bob. So again, what do you think they could be doing that they aren’t?

            2. Ridiculousness

              that Was out of line specialk9. I don’t understand your personal vendetta against Bob and the OP

        4. The OG Anonsie

          Folks are clarifying that they did get GF options from vendors the consultant suggested, but folks– that happens all the time. You get supposedly GF options from supposedly GF friendly places and they turn out to be contaminated constantly.

          This isn’t the LW’s fault, but it’s a consideration for anyone to make. Sometimes introducing too many new things or too many overall variables introduces way the hell more risk than you can imagine until you’re the one who has to guard against it. Even when the relevant person is doing everything they know to do to protect themselves, things very often go awry because you just can’t control every detail in these situations.

          When your friends or colleagues with whatever specific needs seem like they’re being over the top or controlling about their requests, this is why!

          1. bonkerballs

            I think people are making those clarifications because they’re responding to people (like aes_sidhe) who are saying the OP isn’t doing anything or caring about her employees condition and that’s just not true. OP can only do so much. She tried ordering special gluten free food from places her employee specifically suggested. Now she’s suggesting he bring his own food or call in. That’s three different accommodations she’s offering to make this work. That is not the mark of someone not taking this seriously.

            1. The OG Anonsie

              Right, but I’m not saying the LW isn’t the one taking it seriously, it’s whatever supposedly GF vendor who still had contaminated food that isn’t doing what they’re supposed to. I’m also pointing out that these things also happen pretty constantly and you often can’t trust that GF stuff is actually GF enough. That even when someone like the LW does take it seriously and does everything that the consultant asked to make something work out, sometimes there are still problems. Every variable has an additional margin of error, and when you introduce a lot of them it also introduces a lot of new places things can go awry.

              But that’s ALSO not the fault of the person with the illness, you know? This isn’t his screwup, either, which is the tone that I’m getting from a lot of the comments pointing out how much the LW has done. There’s a tendency for folks to see someone given an accommodation that doesn’t work out and go “we did SO MUCH, why are you still being difficult?” Or perhaps “why aren’t you taking care of yourself? we did what you asked, so if you still have a problem it must be because of something you’re doing and it’s now your fault.”

              And let’s say the consultant in this situation had said up front that their attendance wouldn’t be possible because their restrictions would be too difficult to accommodate correctly on the road. How many businesses would accept that as reasonable, and how many would say it was overly dramatic because they could just get them separate food?

              I just really want people who read about situations like this to come away with information and perspective that makes them more understanding when they encounter disabled folks in their own lives.

          2. Temperance

            I totally get that accidental exposure happens, we’re more reacting to the idea that it’s LW’s fault somehow when she’s gone above and beyond.

            1. Marthooh

              Hi Temperance!

              I guess you didn’t notice that the OP called the Celiac sufferer Bob, since in your comment above you called him Fergus. That name is usually used in this column to indicate that someone in a letter is being a jerk.

              Also, it’s perfectly true that Bob is responsible for letting people know he can’t have gluten, but I don’t know why are insisting on it, since apparently he did so. If a vendor says their food is gluten-free, there is no way to find out if that’s true except by actually eating it.

              If you have a problem with the way commenters are responding to the OP, then you should take it out on the commenters, not on Bob.

              1. Nox

                I didn’t know Fergus was restricted to jerks…i thought it was the usual repetitive whitebread name people use here for some reason.

      2. GlutenFreeisME

        I do have Celiac, and I love to travel.. but the first rule to any condition/disease/illness is that everyone is different. We have different reactions, sensitivities, etc. I do not seem to be very sensitive to cross contamination, but I have a friend that is incredibly sensitive to it and has horrible reactions. But we both come prepared with our own food, which may be what the Contractor has to do and OP should be willing to support him having some down time so he can eat in private and not get 1000 questions (trust me on this!).

        I like to use raw chicken as an (extreme) reaction of cross contamination. If your salad had raw chicken on it, would it be ok for them to just “pick it off”, or for the chef to have raw chicken on his hands while he prepares your food? Of course not! Replace raw chicken with croutons, or bread, or whatever – and that is what cross contamination can do to attack Celiacs.

        1. Lorange

          Oh wow, that is a great metaphor. Hopefully I won’t have to use it in conversation but I’m filing that away in my Celiac Education mental file.

        2. DrWombat

          OMG that’s brilliant. Also stealing to use. I unfortunately get the gut and skin symptoms if exposed, so I tend to travel with my own food if possible, but I’ve had people insist that oil can’t cross-contaminate food for example, or that their friend with celiac doesn’t react to cross contamination why should I. It’s exhausting. My brother can handle more than I can, whereas cross contamination leaves me looking and feeling like a plague victim for a week. I wind up eating a lot of steak and steamed veggies when going out, as it’s safest.

    2. Future Homesteader

      I loved the phrase “get glutened” (I mean, I hate that it happened and the consequences). It’s not something you do on purpose or make happen, it’s something that happens to you (with terrible results).

    3. Boredatwork

      I prefer “poisoned”. It usually elicits the appropriate response. It’s a shame that celiac disease isn’t like having an allergy because when people start being jerks, I love pulling out my epipen, putting it on the table just to be “safe”. Reminding everyone to stab me in the thigh and call 911 promptly.

      1. Penny Lane

        My daughter has celiac, I’m very familiar with it. I have a food allergy myself though it’s generally manageable. I find calling being exposed to a food allergy being “poisoned” or taking out an Epi-pen and putting it on a table to be unspeakably tacky.

        1. KellyK

          If people are trying to pressure you into eating something that’s likely to send you to the hospital, they’ve been worse than tacky. I wouldn’t jump straight to “poison” or “Here’s my epi-pen,” but when sweet and subtle doesn’t work, sometimes blunt is what you’re left with to get the point across.

    4. Original Poster

      Thanks for explaining that. We did order special meals for him for every single one of these events, from a facility he requested, so that does explain the “how” of the situation. I do feel terribly that he’s suffered physically as a result of these events.

    5. celiac maniac

      I think part of the “gluten free” jokes are because it has devolved into the latest “diet fad” by the soccer moms of FB. Those of us that suffer from an actual immune disorder get lumped in with those folks.

      1. aes_sidhe

        My coworker was always ordering gluten-free food at lunch “because it’s healthier.” She almost had a stroke when I told her to start reading labels to see what all they used to replace gluten in foods. Needless to say, she stopped after she read some labels.

      2. Bea

        Yes. I’ve heard so many people throw out “oh I’m going to try going gluten free, it’s healthier!” as if they’re ordering diet soda or fat-free dressing to watch calories. I have folks in my life who are poisoned by the stuff and seeing it so lackadaisical by that kind of person sets off me off twitching.

        1. Observer

          On the other hand, for people who really do have in issue with either gluten or wheat, it’s a bit of a blessing. I’m sensitive to wheat, and for years it was SO hard to get decent food. Today? Sure, there is plenty of junk, but it’s become relatively easy and affordable to stay gluten free. If this fad is what made it happen, I’m fine with that.

          1. The OG Anonsie

            I feel like it’s a really weird mixed bag. On the one hand, there are actually GF options in stores and restaurants and stuff now. On the other hand, people associate it with people fad dieting rather than having a serious restriction, so they don’t take it as seriously and contamination issues still come up.

            1. Observer

              Contamination issues have always been a problem. How many people do you know who “don’t believe in” allergies? Look at some of the discussions that come up on this site if you doubt that there are a LOT of otherwise intelligent and decent people who REALLY do not get it.

          2. Specialk9

            Yeah it’s a problem, that people assume GF is eye roll soccer mom fad diet.

            To make it more complicated though, there’s all this new research on how wheat actually can cause problems with people who don’t have Celiac. There’s a chemical called zonulin in wheat that causes leaky gut – which also was considered to be made up froofroo, until it was scientifically proven and went mainstream. So lots of people who don’t have Celiac or a good sensitivity DO actually find benefit from GF. Not that derisive comedians know about that.

            1. teclatrans

              Thanks. I am not celiac, but I have done a gluten elimination diet where reintroduction of gluten caused physical and psychiatric symptoms to flare up. And yes, my elimination diet was a “fad” diet, one that gave me empirical evidence that if I want to feel healthy, I need to avoid gluten.

              Tl;dr is, I hate those comics, and that attitude.

      3. Jill

        Exactly. My daughter has celiac so I understand what it’s like. That’s why I get pissed off at the people who claim to have a gluten allergy who really don’t. I read that some people are calling gluten the new MSG, in reference to when lots of people were saying MSG made them sick (blind tests showed it really didn’t). But that results in celiacs getting lumped in with the “making it up” people. And restaurants are now getting frustrated with all the people who claim to have allergies who really don’t, so they become reluctant to provide allergen-free options because it is so time consuming to do it right.

      4. AlsoGF

        See I think that’s really unfair to people who are sensitive to gluten but are not diagnosed as Celiac. So many people roll their eyes and tell you gluten intolerance isn’t a real thing, but for me, I have tried adding gluten back into my diet and I can’t do it. I convinced myself that everyone else else was right and tried eating it off and on over the past 6 months or so and ignored the migraines and acid reflux that is not controlled by any medication… until I went to my dentist for a checkup and he told me that I had lost the first layer of enamel on my back molars in just 6 months and asked if I was experiencing acid reflux. I know there is a difference between celiac and gluten intolerance but the fact remains that for me, there is very tangible evidence that gluten affects me negatively and I am so tired of being accused of following a fad diet and being essentially stupid and that my symptoms aren’t rea since I don’t have an autoimmune disorder.

        1. KellyK

          +1

          It’s really ridiculous that you were trying to eat inn a way that worked for you and people gave you crap about it, to the extent that it damaged your health that badly. People seriously need to mind their own business.

        2. Observer

          It turns out that there is some interesting evidence for “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”. Again, nowhere near as common as it’s make out to be, but a very real problem, nevertheless.

      5. DrWombat

        Yep. I had a (thankfully former) coworker accuse me of going GF to lose weight because I wasn’t skinny and only skinny people got celiac. She was one of those people who declares themselves food police against anything she found unhealthy, even if it was literally a regimen my doctors had prescribed. But since I was overweight, I must be lying about celiac so I could be trendy and lose weight. *eyeroll*

    6. Fellow Celiac

      As a celiac diagnosed going on ten years now, I have to agree that a lot of people don’t understand how bad the reaction is, how easily it’s triggered, or the lengths you have to go to in order to avoid it. I, too, find myself wondering if the contractor hasn’t had time since a recent diagnosis to figure out the best steps to take when eating outside his home?

      To avoid any kind of problems no matter what 100% guaranteed, you only have two options: (1) Bring your own food, and your own place setting, and eat it on paper plates with plastic utensils that you packed yourself. This would likely not look good in a work setting, but your only other option is (2) order only gluten-free food that’s labelled as such, from a restaurant that knows how to handle gluten-free orders (like PF Chang’s), not just something that doesn’t happen to have wheat/gluten in it, and THEN you need to harangue every single person who handles that food from the restaurant to the contractor’s (just-rinsed) plate and utensils to not open or handle the food UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. This is virtually impossible, because someone, somewhere, at some point, will feel helpful and get the food ready to serve. (This once meant my sister and I couldn’t eat at a wedding where they’d ordered food from PF Chang’s just for us — then put it on the same plates everyone else was using, from the same kitchen. If they’d left it in the restaurant packaging we could’ve had it.) All in all, bringing your own food, and usually eating alone in a controlled environment where you’ve cleaned your utensils with cleaners you know are uncontaminated, is really the only thing you can do if you’re that sensitive. When you’re in public, you eat in advance, apologize and explain briefly to people if they inquire, and Be Friendly so people understand you aren’t snubbing them.

      The thing is, what a lot of people don’t think about is how isolating celiac disease can be. Food is social; if I can’t eat together with you, I feel isolated and left out, even though it’s not really anybody’s fault. This contractor’s behavior reminds me of my father in the first few years of his own celiac diagnosis — you see a sort of “acting out,” pushing back against the realities of the disease both practical and social. Someone who’s still struggling with the very severe, fastidious, and isolating reality of celiac disease is very often going to, say, eat food that MIGHT be contaminated because dammit he shouldn’t HAVE to be this careful — and then gripe loudly because it shouldn’t have been bad for him! My father did this for years; and probably would have done it years longer if he hadn’t seen how my sister and I stopped having problems when we stopped eating out, and had us telling him that he’d made his bed now he had to lie in it.

      So in other words, OP, keep in mind when dealing with this guy that he probably already feels unfairly socially isolated through absolutely no fault of his own, and may be under tremendous amounts of stress because of it. You can’t help him figure out how to manage his disease, but the more you can move mountains to make it the least possible amount of socially isolating, the kinder it will be to him.

      1. Jill

        I’m sorry you have to deal with this severe of a case of it. My daughter is much less sensitive – she can eat a GF pizza that’s made in the same oven as the regular pizzas, for example – so it is much more manageable.

      2. Student

        If you’re a Celiac with very severe symptoms like that, though, you do have to come to terms with the social impacts, just like you have to come to terms with the dietary impacts. That social adjustment is not the OP’s problem to manage. It’s the OP’s job to give reasonable accommodations and options, and set reasonable limits. I think it’s very reasonable for the OP to give the option of attending by phone so the contractor can attend without risk of being exposed to gluten at the conference, or attending the conference with reasonable accommodation to leave the event due to illness but require far less complaining.

        We all recognize that the contractor was out of line with the request to extend the meeting substantially. It’s just as impractical to expect the OP’s group to put up with constant complaints about the conference due to the contractor’s symptoms. The contractor needs to manage the social impacts of his disease, such as the disappointment he can’t do everything he’d like to do, in the same way that he manages his needs for specific foods. He can express some mild disappointment for a short period, he can suggest or host social events that are easier on him, but he can’t lash out at the team over it or spend an entire conference as the local Eeyore.

        1. SpaceNovice

          Yeah, the more I think about it, the more it sounds like the contractor is definitely being a little too vicious in his complaints; it sucks but OP is trying. Phoning in is a reasonable accommodation, but truthfully they should go for video. Maybe even rent a telepresence robot with the money they save by him not going in person

      3. Another celiac

        I’m only a few years post-diagnosis and I get this completely. My boss *loves* lunch meetings and thinks that “THERE’S SALAD!!!” is all I need to eat safely. The social part of celiac disease is by far the most challenging for me.

        1. Beckysuz

          Ugh salad. At a wedding last weekend that was literally the only thing I could eat. Dry salad. Hubs and I slipped out early and I made myself gluten free waffles in my jammies later

          1. Serendipity

            And the places that advertise gluten- free chips but fry them in the same oil as the crumbed chicken.
            Or the places that offer gluten-free dessert and bring out fruit salad (with ice-cream, if you’re lucky)
            Or the gluten-free salad that has the croutons picked off the top.

            In America I believe you have high fructose corn syrup in everything because corn is plentiful. In Australia it’s wheat starch or wheat glucose in every-blessed-thing. I used to struggle getting chocolate bars without gluten added, though thankfully this is changing

      4. Beckysuz

        Yes yes yes. It can be very isolating when food is so much a part of socializing, and there is nothing you can eat without worry. And it can be very stressful having to manage well meaning people trying to feed you. Friends or co-workers will proudly show you the “gluten free” treat or meal they got for you. Its hard to have to either reject their offering and risk hurting them or eat it and get sick. My sweet as can be mother in law is always doing this. She so lovingly wants to feed me but so often it’s something I know I can’t safely consume. I can tell her now but when I first started dating my husband I was sick a lot after visiting her. At work and in social situations I’ve learned to just tell people I ate before so I’m good. Sometimes I just don’t want to explain for the millionth time that no I actually can’t eat anything at all on that giant table of food.

      5. SpaceNovice

        Fellow Celiac, this is an incredible comment and exactly what was needed. I hope OP reads you comment especially. You’re probably right about the contractor not fully accepting all of his situation and even if he has, it might be the pressures of the off-site itself causing him to take risks. I’m so sorry to hear that your case is that severe.

  16. ENFP in Texas

    “but one of whom is a consultant and bills us through his LLC.”

    So he’s a third-party vendor, and is asking the company to extend the meeting several days? Is he going to pay the lodging and meal cost of extending the session for everyone else, or is he expecting the company to foot the bill for his request?

    Also, is he billing the OP for his time at the off-sites?

  17. Mononymous

    Disclaimer: I have both Crohn’s and Celiac, so I’m looking at this letter from the perspective of the consultant.

    I got an overall sense of side-eye and exasperation from the LW toward the consultant while reading this letter, and not much compassion or acknowledgement that chronic illness is a real thing. I especially didn’t love that the word “recover” is in scare quotes, as if in disbelief that someone could actually need to rest more than they (presumably able-bodied) do. I’d encourage the LW to google “spoon theory of chronic illness” and really reflect on that essay, because it’s an excellent resource to help able-bodied people understand what living with a chronic illness can be like.

    Now, is the consultant’s frequent complaining and TMI oversharing great? No, not if that’s actually what is happening. Certainly asking for the offsite to be extended to a week is too much. But LW, is it possible that this person is escalating his attempts to advocate for himself because he can tell he isn’t being heard? I agree with Alison that you should speak to him about the complaints, and especially ask him to stop bringing these things up with people who can’t do anything about it—his peers don’t need to hear about his reaction to the food that was served, and the gross details aren’t relevant to anyone but perhaps his doctor. But if he needs to quietly step out for a bit during one of these jam-packed days due to illness, you absolutely should not call him out on that! Sometimes our bodies just don’t cooperate with us, despite our best attempts to prepare or push through. People typically know their own limits—please believe them when they tell you what those limits are, and try to work with them as best you can.

    1. Drop Bear

      This. Not only is he not being heard, he is having to deal with: ‘some of my other direct reports (including a manager) have felt like he’s set a bad example by leaving a mandatory training meeting and by not attending other parts of the day that her team spent a lot of time planning.’ A remarkably insensitive (and self-focussed) attitude in the LW’s reports – especially in one with management responsibilities I think. Do they think he can schedule his symptoms? I think apart from anything else LW needs to deal with this attitude – the man has a illness, he’s not being bloody minded or playing hooky.

    2. BackHomeAgain

      +1

      I have Celiac and Fibromyalgia, and getting gultened can take me out for a week with pain, lethargy, and TMI symptoms. Few realize how isolating it is, especially when people just write you off for being annoying. I do end up over-explaining when someone says “Well can’t you just take off the croutons? How bad could it be?” I do emphasize pain and lethargy so as not to gross people out.

      And when someone does pay attention and treat it seriously it means so much. I had to change churches and told the new pastor I had Celiac and wouldn’t be able to have communion wafers but would have the wine. I actually cried from gratitude when he ordered gluten-free ones and made sure he followed procedures during communion to make sure there was no cross-contamination. My old church had just shrugged and left me out of that part.

      1. Beckysuz

        My church has a separate marked tin of gluten free communion wafers. It’s so nice!

    3. Lorange

      Yes, I have celiac too. This part “So far he has attended two of these team sessions and has left early or missed entire portions both times. He has blamed food cross-contamination and fatigue, and has been very conspicuous about this, telling other people on the team all about his gastrointestinal distress,” especially upsets me. When I get cross-contaminated food, it’s not a “my tummy hurts” situation, it’s an “I feel like I was maybe roofied and also I guess I’m going to sleep on the bathroom floor tonight” situation. I literally cannot leave the bathroom. Imagine a boss expecting you to attend a meeting while in the midst of food poisoning. Of course he’s missing entire sessions or leaving early!! The food served has made him ill. FULL STOP.

      I think you should let him attend in person with his own food in tow. It might be fine to talk to him about his complaining, but he has every right to talk about what he can and cannot eat. In his situation, I would have packed my own food from the beginning and just dealt with the fact that some people would think I was a Food Weirdo. This is still what I do and it sucks but oh well. It’s better than sleeping on the bathroom floor.

      Does he have to travel to attend these meetings? That is also harder for celiacs because you can’t just pop in somewhere for a sandwich, or help yourself to the continental breakfast. Whenever I have to travel for work, I stay at extended stay type hotels with fridges and kitchens and have groceries delivered. It’s extra work and extra stress but worth not being horribly ill.

      1. Lorange

        One other thing people don’t often realize about celiac is that after you have been glutened and gotten the TMI part over with, there are still lots of other symptoms, because it’s an autoimmune disease. Everyone is different, but it might help to keep in mind that this person’s body is now attacking itself. When I’ve been glutened, it has taken weeks for some symptoms to fade such as: headaches, nosebleeds and body aches that keep me awake at night and do not respond to medication. I’ll have weeks of not sleeping well because I keep waking up because my feet hurt. It can take weeks for your digestion to return to normal as well.

    4. Specialk9

      Totally my read as well, thank you. I get the feeling that us Sickies read this one very differently from the Able.

    5. Flower

      +1
      Don’t have Crohn’s or Celiac, but am chronically ill. I think this OP means well, but doesn’t fully get chronic illness (which, honestly, is both understandable if they aren’t chronically ill, and hey, if they aren’t, that’s great! I’m legitimately happy for every person who doesn’t deal with a chronic illness).

      To the OP: I get that it isn’t possible to totally rearrange your schedule for this one person and it is inappropriate for him to ask for it, but please, do your best to work with him, and please, please do so with as compassion as you can muster. Other commenters suggested that this guy might be fairly newly diagnosed – to me, it also reads that way. While Mononymous says that people typically know their limits, people who have only recently been diagnosed or started experiencing symptoms might not actually know them. Even those of us who have dealt with our symptoms for a long time sometimes step over our limits – the newly ill frequently screw up. if it’s true that he’s pretty newly ill (though you probably shouldn’t ask – just keep it in mind), understand that he might do that and you might need to renegotiate a few times as he works out how to handle his illness and what his actual limits are – he might not yet know how many spoons he has, so he’s using them and using them and suddenly, he’s all out, and there doesn’t seem to be any time available to find them again.

  18. a name

    I am wondering if part of the issue is that he’s a contractor and doesn’t want to be bothered with the BS of team building. His job is to come in, do his thing, and leave. That’s why you hired an outsider, not an employee.

    1. Jessie the First (or second)

      The contractor asked that the off-site be extended to an entire week, to spread out the activities and training, rather than stuffing it into 2 days. So I don’t think the issue is that he doesn’t want to be bothered. (If he didn’t want to be bothered by 2 days, I can’t imagine in a world in which he’d want an entire week instead!) I think this may be a case of unrealistic expectations from the contractor. And perhaps a lack of awareness of his level of complaining.

      1. Thornus67

        Well if he’s an IC, he can just take those two days of billing and make it five days instead!

        (I kid. I believe he’s asking for a truly ethical reason.)

  19. machiamellie

    As someone with both a physical and a mental disability, I would be offended by being told by management to not talk about my conditions at work. I get that this guy is super annoying in his complaining but I’d be wary of telling him not to discuss his condition. By all means, recommend that he have a positive attitude, hopefully that would help.

    1. Amber Rose

      I think there’s a difference between not talking about it, and not constantly complaining about it. It’s one thing to respond to “how are you?” with “I’m a little off because [illness]” and another thing entirely to subject anyone who will listen to a stream of complaints and descriptions of said illness.

      1. Specialk9

        Yeah but OP has never bothered to talk to him, and is getting second hand complaints about him missing sessions bc he’s bad (distracting, bad example, not adding value, complaining, bringing down morale), AND for explaining how awfully devastatingly sick he was by being poisoned at work in TMI detail.

        How precisely could Bob have won?

      2. SamPassingThrough

        This.
        It is one thing to express discomfort or mention your illness, another thing to go into full blow-by-blow with graphic details of said condition, especially when you’re on an off-site event where people are trying to network and are being socially inquisitive in a professional setting.

        I’d imagine it must have been pretty graphic if it is noticeably affecting other participants.

    2. Student

      There’s a huge difference between being told not to ever mention a disability, and being told to tone down the intensity/duration/detail of complaints, or being told to direct complaints to the right person.

      If the contractor has a food-based illness such as Celiac, nobody expects him to never mention it. We do expect him to (1) inform the person or people who could help accommodate his needs, preferably in advance. (2) Excuse himself from an event if he’s ill enough that he can’t work, by notifying the relevant manager and not by going on about substantive symptom details. (3) Not go into details of his gastro symptoms with his co-workers at every opportunity; not talk about how miserable he is to any co-worker who will listen politely. (4) Once he’s explained his dietary needs to somebody with control over the food, he shouldn’t complain to all his co-workers about the food options on offer infinitely – because they can’t do anything about it.

      Okay at work: “I’m not feeling well. I think my Celiac has hit me. I need to excuse myself from this event; I’ll catch up with you all later.”

      Not okay at work: “Oh, my bowels feel like they’re about to explode. It must be this disgusting food. I’m sure I’ve gotten cross-contamination from some careless slob who handled your bread rolls. I’m headed back to the toilets; I can’t wait for this day to be over.”

      If he finds a willing and interested audience, it’s fine for him to explain what Celiac is, what accommodations he needs, and give a general explanation of the impact on him if he doesn’t follow the dietary requirements of the disease. An hours-long play-by-play of his intestinal distress is not something to share with co-workers.

  20. aes_sidhe

    As someone with celiac, I can vouch for the fact that he’s not able to control when or how frequently he has issues. No one wants to say, “Sorry! I had to leave due to rampant diarrhea and stomach cramps!” There are some people so sensitive to gluten that some gluten-free stuff, when it’s prepare in a facility that does process gluten, can set them off. When it starts, it can last all day long which makes meetings and “fun activities” difficult since all you want to do is find a bathroom and then get in bed until it passes. Celiac has a debilitating effect on people and how they go about their life.

  21. SMH

    As someone with digestive issues, this post makes me very sad. It is an embarrassing condition to have, and is often seen as a character flaw. I don’t want to miss activities. I don’t want to be sick. My symptoms are often out of my control, and I never know when they might strike. If I found out people thought of me as a lazy complainer simply because of my illness, I would be crushed.

    1. WellRed

      Not seeing lazy complainer here, but that the complaints are graphic and endless. Hes an adult, just excuse himself. It does sound like a few managers could use some education.

      1. Specialk9

        He did excuse himself, and terrible character flaws were ascribed to him. Despite knowing he was desperately sick.

    2. Mephyle

      When he explained in detail, people thought he was slacking or taking unfair advantage.
      What would they think of him if he just excused himself with little or no explanation? That he’s even worse than a slacker?
      I think it’s well worth taking note of what someone said upthread: what OP and others are considering ‘constant complaining’ may from his point of view be him trying to educate them.

  22. Oranges

    OP,

    A slight tangent but, these mandatory company meetings sound like my own personal hell and having one every month(?) would make me hit the door pretty fast and I’m assuming any other introvert also (we do make up around 25% of the world….). If it is important to your company that all employees be extroverts than by all means continue on. However, if not please think about ways to make the introverts happy during these marathons of draining social interactions.

    Love,
    An Introvert

    1. Temperance

      The company is in the entertainment business, so I’m fairly certain that LW’s company is extrovert-heavy.

      1. grace

        And even if they aren’t, they’re probably people who deal with this on a regular basis — it’s entirely possible to be an introvert and still handle these meetings with dignity, rather than constantly complaining they’re too long to anyone who will listen.

        The constant ‘introverts can’t handle this!’ every time the topic comes up about anything tangentially related to this can be so frustrating to read. Introverts are as capable of socializing as extroverts.

        1. Arielle

          Yeah, my company is extrovert-heavy and has meetings like this once or twice a year. It is exhausting but there are things you can do to practice self care and still be a team player. Some that come to mind include: selecting a similarly introverted person as your roommate, opting out of anything optional, taking walks around the conference center at break times, getting a cab back to the hotel from the late-night party and going to bed.

        2. Eye of Sauron

          Thank you, I was thinking this too.

          Last week I was at a work event that was 4 days long, 6:30 AM – 12:00 AM+. This was attended by introverts, extroverts, and those in between. I can guarantee that everyone who attended felt the same pain at some point and spent at least one (if not more) recovery days after.

          I classify myself as a Type-A Hermit. So umm yeah the best and worst of both worlds. Yes there are conditions we all prefer and thrive in, but that doesn’t give us excuses to dictate to others (and this goes both ways), like everything else in life it requires coping, give and take, and understanding for both the introverts and extroverts.

          1. BRR

            I love the classification type-a hermit. That definitely describes me as well. I think even if not preferable, people can suck things up for parts of a job they don’t like. This may be a deal breaker to some and there’s nothing wrong with that but it sounds like these events need to be structured this way and some people are able to power through it.

            1. Oranges

              Thanks, that’s what I was thinking. Not that I couldn’t but that it would definetly be a negative thing that I would have to go through.

              And not to abandon them all together since team-building is important just… is there a way to make them easier on people like me. Yes, I could self care and power through but it would take up a ton of my energy and anything to make it easier would be nice.

        3. Leslie knope

          Yes! I’m an introvert as well and it gets borderline ridiculous sometimes.

        4. genuine artificial

          Yes, thank you!

          Co-signed from another introvert. With warning to plan for it and know what to expect, so that I could arrange for hermiting decompression afterwards and so forth, this would be fine. Exhausting? Sure. But plenty doable. And if I didn’t feel I could do that, or that I could but it’d make me miserable, well, I wouldn’t sign up for a job that required me to do it on a more or less monthly basis! I’d look for a job that didn’t have off-sites like that, or only had them once a year, or had ones with more downtime for recharging, or whatever I needed. Everybody’s got dealbreakers, and things that they can do but have tradeoffs, and so forth. Let’s not assume all introverts have the same ones.

          The contractor expressed reservations when he signed on, which means this was communicated to him up-front as a requirement of the job. It’s fair for him to say “actually, it turns out this is less doable than I thought” (which it doesn’t sound like he’s saying) or to say “I thought X and Y were sufficient accommodations but they’re not working out for me in practice” (which is sort of being said, but could use more clarifying on both sides, from the sound of things), or to say “actually I don’t want this job after all if it means all these off-sites” (which he’s not saying.) It’s not fair for him to say “actually, why don’t you shift around your entire off-site model?” whether it’s because of his medical considerations or because Won’t Somebody Think Of The Introverts.

          1. Oranges

            Not shift around. More like make more things non-mandatory so I can have some breathing space. Or even not look askance when I need to go to my room instead of interacting with people.

            I have limited energy and a company that required me to spend so much would be a no go FOR ME. I assumed that it would be the same for other introverts. I could be wrong. I’m okay with that.

    2. Bea

      I’m introverted and even my own family exhausts me when they are just being regular humans.

      However I can handle a monthly event if it’s part of my life. I’ve learned coping mechanisms and can unplug at night because if it’s two or three days, it just means that upcoming weekend I’ll be extra hermity. So your assumption is incorrect.

      It’s part of the job, it wasn’t sprung on anyone. So if it’s that crushing to someone, seriously rethink the career choice instead of making it someone else’s issue.

    3. Kate 2

      I am a super shy, introverted, high-functioning autistic person with a few other s/fun/s conditions that make travel painful and even *I* can suck it up for 2 days.

      1. Oranges

        The regularity of them would be too much a drain on me. I’d self-select out of the LW’s company and that’s FINE. I’m just trying to mention that these monthly get-togethers DO have that cost and IF it makes sense she could find ways to decrease it. It’s a cost benefit analysis that I don’t have enough data to do.

        Example: If she’s in sales or any other business which needs people to be extroverted, then it wouldn’t make sense to cater to introverts since they wouldn’t make up a substantial portion of her company. If on the other hand she’s just doing them because she’s an extrovert and hasn’t thought about introverts then I would suggest that she give breathing room to those who are. However that shakes out.

      2. Haligolightly

        Super cool for you – I’m glad that *even* *you* can suck it up for 2 days.

        But your capabilities don’t define anyone else’s capabilities, even if they have the same/more/less conditions as you. Individuals are individual in their capacity to adapt and suck it up. News at 11.

  23. Mel

    I have a lot of sympathy for the contractor. I have fibromyalgia, and two days of a crazy busy schedule with minimal down time and loads of evening social stuff would do me in. Knowing myself, when I get flared up because of crazy events like this, I am very vocal in my discomfort. I have yelled at organizers for nin-work events for failures of taking mobility difficulties into account, then apologizing when I’ve had 10 minutes to recover. I try to keep a much better tabs on my pain-induced irritability at work, but sometimes it slips out (but not to yelling).
    If I were in the contractor’s shoes, I’d ask to attend the two days, but with frequent breaks and politely bowing out of evening social events so that I could recover for the following day. I’d also personally want a few days after to recover, but at home myself.

    1. Specialk9

      At a conference where I was presenting, I was confabbing with two other presenters about how hard it was to manage with chronic illness because the conference center was entirely sideways (no elevators) and required literal MILES of walking every day.

      It was good to let the smile slip and be honest about the pain and exhaustion, and wonder why organizers of big events are so blindly ableist. But I’ll admit I didn’t speak up about it, because that’s not Nice, and I’m building my career here, and people don’t like to hear that kind of thing. So hrrrm.

      1. Penny Lane

        If a wheelchair or scooter would help, would that be an option? In my world, no one would blink twice.

  24. Just Sayin'

    I have sympathy for the contractor, but if he cannot fulfill the needs of the role, there is the option to hire someone new. I suggest this just in case he doesn’t respond to the coaching feedback above.

    It’s often much easier to replace a contractor than an employee.

    1. Specialk9

      True! If he is disabled and can’t do 2 days a month of work but is otherwise great with an in-demand skillset, fire him! Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t apply to him since he’s a contractor. Woohoo!

  25. Jill

    I’ll support the comments that said the OP seems to be extremely unaware of how sensitive to gluten some celiacs are and how important it is to keep the GF completely isolated. Just ordering from approved places isn’t enough, you need to keep the food completely separate. And he also doesn’t seem to understand how sick celiacs can get from gluten.
    Maybe the contractor did give TMI when he got sick, but that doesn’t override the fact that the company did not truly accommodate his very necessary dietary restrictions.

    What the OP needs to do is have a full conversation with the contractor to determine if it is feasible to meet his dietary needs at the next conference.

    1. Bea

      They’ve already established he’s bringing his own food after the mishaps. So there is no need for that conversation.

      1. bonkerballs

        Not to mention, they were originally ordering him special food from places he himself recommended. OP’s been pretty clear that they’ve been working with him to get his needs met.

        1. teclatrans

          Yes, but that was adding to her exasperation, since she thought she’d done what was necessary and he STILL complained and wasn’t functional. I think the comments section has done a good job of clearing up that misunderstanding.

        2. Turtle Candle

          Right. They were ordering food *from a place he recommended.* It sucks that he still got glutened, but surely it would also be offensive to second guess his own request around this issue, so what exactly was LW supposed to do?

  26. Molly

    I don’t know if this has already been suggested but could he attend some of the events in person and others by phone? Say, he comes to a morning/noon event, goes back to the hotel (I presume sleeping arrangements have been made?) and attends the afternoon event by phone, then has gathered enough strenght for the social event. Being easily fatigued myself I would love if something like this could be arranged. Or to make the evening/night-stuff optional.

    1. mf

      Yes, I think this is an excellent idea. He can even plan ahead of time to call in to sessions that don’t require a lot of active participation on his part. And if he’s not feeling well, he can at least rest and listen on mute.

  27. Kitty

    Wow, I get that it’s crammed into two days for budgetary reasons, but as an introvert two full days of back to back meetings and then compulsory evening social events sounds like a nightmare to me. That said, loudly complaining during the sessions isn’t really professional.

    1. Observer

      If it’s the kind of thing you can’t handle, it’s not the job for you. It’s not just budget, by the way, although that is the easiest to quantify. These things happen too often to stretch it out so much. You’d be moving to a situation where the get togethers would be about 25% of the year, which is a LOT for anyone.

  28. Agent Diane

    Upthread people have suggested the accommodation of attending some stuff in person and others by phone/video from the hotel room. This seems like the best option to me. If Bob runs low on spoons quickly, 2 days dialled in to a party happening somewhere else would be both physically draining and mentally frustrating. “Hey Bob, listen to all the fun we’re having without you!”.

    However, given his illness, you may also need to accept that an attack might come on when he’s attending an in-person portion of the day as our bodies don’t always behave to a schedule.

    Also, as the company is in the entertainment field, you might want to do some all-colleague training on how to accommodate and respect people with chronic illnesses and other disabilities. For example, when Bob gets his “from home” food out, your colleagues should – if curious enough to ask – accept Bob’s response and switch the conversation. If they make a deal of it, or dismiss it, then he may feel the need to be graphic to justify his actions. But it’s not just about Bob! It’s about whether the ents your company put on are inclusive of people with disabilities. If not, your brands are probably not appealing to as many people as they could.

  29. Massmatt

    OP, it sounds to me that you were aware of some issues with the new hire, made some accommodations, but it is not working out. From what you have said the new hire seems to bring more downside than up when he attends the events yet is not happy with calling in either. This after getting him food from vendors he recommended. IMO from the many problems you went over in the letter you should let the new hire go.

    1. Gadget Hackwrench

      Dude… seriously? Firstly this is a contractor, not a “new hire” and secondly who in the heck fires someone over them having trouble with their illness while on a two day conference? We have no idea what the contractor is like to work with the rest of the time or what the quality of their work is. Recommending termination is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay premature.

  30. MyBossSaidWhat

    As someone with physical disabilities, I get where your temp is coming from. It doesn’t matter what the problem is. Part of that experience is that people think you’re lying, malingering, malicious, or somehow deserve your disability. Usually those folks are very vocal and no one stands up to them. He probably does feel like he has to educate people. There is a very good chance that someone on your staff has made a snide remark to him about his illness. I’m sorry, but that’s just how it is.

    It sounds like he doesn’t meet the needs of your organization, but the fact is that too many employers expect temps to put their entire life on hold and sacrifice everything for a company they’re only going to be out for a few months. That’s not a realistic ask either.

    Either way, you guys don’t sound like a match.

  31. Marthooh

    Hey, OP, why did you put “recover” in scare quotes? That makes it sound like you don’t really believe in his illness.

    1. Someone else

      I interpreted that as an actual quote, as in that’s what he said. Sometimes a quote is a quote. It doesn’t necessarily imply disbelief, just that the phrase came from Bob.

  32. Observer

    OP, I do want to highlight one thing here that some others have mentioned as well. You write “and some of my other direct reports (including a manager) have felt like he’s set a bad example by leaving a mandatory training meeting and by not attending other parts of the day that her team spent a lot of time planning.

    You need to push back on that, and do so definitively and with no room for argument. They need to back of and lose the attitude. The man is SICK and basic self care when sick is NOT “setting a bad example”!!

    I know that the ADA probably does not apply here. However, it probably does apply to some of your people. And in any case, it provides a good model of how to deal with people who have issues of various sorts. If this guy is otherwise a good match for the role (and can get his complaining under control), then they need to accept that he is not always going to attend every single event that everyone else attends. Especially until you and he figure out how to insure that he has a safe food supply.

    Oh, and make sure that EVERYONE knows that there will be SEVERE consequences to anyone who decides to mess with hos food in any way, shape or form for any reason, ESPECIALLY if it’s to “prove” that he’s just a whiner.

    1. teclatrans

      Yes, thank you, I don’t think this part has gotten the attention it deserves. OP, if you recognize that your contractor has an illness and may leave to leave or not attend events, why the heck aren’t you pushing back? If that’s the attitude he faced, this may well explain his complaining and TMI.

  33. Orlando

    Celiac here:

    I’d suggest to try letting him bring his own food.

    I really believe OP is acting in good faith, and it’s not his fault the ordered food was contaminated.

    That said: the contractor likely complains because he feels he has to. “Fatigue”, “not feeling well” etc are often dismissed, or attract irrelevant medical advice. “Celiac disease” is also dismissed or not well understood. He very likely feels he has to prove it’s a real thing.

    Letting him bring his own would take away the huge amount of stress associated with trusting someone else to not blow up one’s intestines. It would also show him he’s being taken seriously, thus taking away the need to prove he needs to be taken seriously.

    If OP tries that and the contractor still complains, then sure, go back to the phone/video option. But right now it seems like a solution was suggested and dismissed, which makes it seem like exclusion for illness even if that was not the intention.

  34. Big Biscuit

    If I’m understanding correctly, there’s a lot of room to accommodate. There’s no law saying he has to attend the evening festivities and he can leave the room as much as he needs to during the meetings. The OP was great to even give the consultant an extra day after the meeting to rest up, right?

    Look, I don’t want to pass judgement but the one week thing? Come on, how could you ask for that with a straight face if you have any business sense? I don’t get any inherent negativity about this, when I attend meetings like this, they are usually so jammed packed I’m not paying attention to others dietary restrictions or bathroom breaks. Accommodate like before or tell him it’s going to be a dial in. Unless of course, he wants to pay for the three extra days of meetings himself!

  35. Noah

    “In both cases, you’d want to be careful about not appearing to say, “Your illness is bringing down everyone’s morale.” (For legal reasons if he were an employee, and for ethical/compassion reasons since he’s not.) I know that that’s not what you’re saying at all — just be careful that your wording can’t inadvertently be taken that way.”

    True, that’s not what OP is saying. She’s pretty clear that what she’s actually saying is she’s not going to let him go to the event because he asked to stay for an entire week. Why not suggest a shorter stay instead?

  36. Penny2

    I definitely work with someone just like this except in his case, it’s tinnitus, vegetarianism, and being smarter than everyone else in the room. He always finds things to complain about, even when things are going well. He complains about the food in the office caf not being plentiful enough for vegetarians (even though more than half the team is Indian, traditionally vegetarian, and it is), the driving from various locations costly for his gas expenses, and occasionally made worse because of his tinnitus, etc.

    I work with someone that my complaining coworker once worked with and when inquiring about his disposition to be unhappy and high-maintenance, that person said the coworker was the exact same at their previous job, and always had something to gripe about. In short, this is likely who this person *is* and chances are, they’ve brought down other teams before with the same poor general attitude.

  37. Christopher Ezold

    Employment lawyer here. Just because the worker is paid as a contractor – even has his own LLC – does not mean he isn’t an ’employee’ under the law. If he is, then the ADA applies, and this gets more difficult to deal with for the OP. The DOL has been clear that it considers most workers to be ’employees’ regardless of what either the employer or the worker agree to. The worker may actually WANT to be a contractor now, but if terminated, may decide that he wants to have been an employee to obtain unemployment, workers’ comp, reduce his tax burden or bring a claim. The OP should raise this to legal; legal can make the determination on how to treat the worker and the OP can avoid this minefield. I agree with Alison that at least for ethical reasons, the OP should discuss potential accommodations with the worker BUT that might end up being evidence that the worker is an ’employee’ – another reason to move this decision up the chain of command at the very least, if not to legal.

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