fast answer Friday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s fast answer Friday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. My new boss won’t sit by me

I am in a new job and have attended a few meetings with my boss and other direct reports. Three times now, he has made it a point to not sit next to me in the meeting, when that would have been the first and obvious option upon reaching the room. I feel like he is uncomfortable around me or doesn’t like me. What do you think?

I think you’re assuming an awful lot based on something that might not mean anything at all. Put it out of your mind unless you get other signs that there’s a problem (but don’t go looking for them; it’s easy to convince yourself of this sort of thing once it’s in your head).

2. Was my email to my boss defensive?

This past Monday, I emailed my boss (who was in another city at a meeting) a note to inform her that because I started my workday earlier than usual, I would be leaving one hour early. This is exactly what I wrote (with names removed): “Hi, J. I came in earlier this morning and was here around 7:30. I’ll be leaving at 4 pm but will be on blackberry and checking messages.”

Today, my boss asked me into a meeting room and said that the email I sent above was very “defensive” in tone. She said it made her “uncomfortable” to read it. She said in future she expects me to manage my time appropriately as she does with her own boss. Do you understand where the “defensive” part is coming from? I don’t at all and thought I was being responsible and accountable.

No. Your boss sounds bizarrely overly sensitive. Ideally you would have asked her on the spot to help you understand — something like, “I definitely didn’t intend to come across that way and want to make sure I don’t in the future. Can you help me understand where I went wrong with this message?” But really, she sounds ridiculous; is this the only sign of oddness from her?

3. Online MBA programs

I am starting an MBA program. Because of my work schedule, I will be taking it online. How do managers look at online MBA’s. The two schools I am considering are Post University and Florida Tech.

Ideally, look for an online program that’s part of a not-for-profit, brick-and-mortar school; those generally get much more respect than online programs that aren’t.

4. I’m picking up the slack from my coworker’s frequent pregnancies

We have a girl in our office who keeps getting pregnant. Like clockwork, every other year she takes a 4-month leave of absence during our peak season. Our business revolves around the tax seasons and our field is very specialized, thus making it impossible to find a temporary replacement for her during her absence. When she goes on her leave, her work is split between two other people (me being one of them). So basically, we are told that we have to do her work on top of our regular work. My job is extremely stressful and difficult to get done as-is, without her extra work to do. I work a lot of overtime throughout the year that I do not get paid for because I am a salaried employee. When I have this other person’s work to do, it makes my life miserable (literally) and seems totally unfair. I do not have time to spend with my family after work because I am so tired from having to do two people’s jobs, I am unable to study after work to advance in my own career, I do not get paid for it, etc. I’ve talked to the boss about this but he says there’s really nothing he can do.

Do you have any suggestions? Can I refuse to do her job? Or is my boss legally required to pay me for this excessive work? Or?

The issue is less your coworker’s pregnancies and more your boss’s refusal to manage the workload better when she’s on leave. So take your focus off your coworker, since you can do nothing about her anyway, and put it on your own workload. Deal with this the same way that you’d deal with it if your workload was this heavy from some other cause: Talk to your boss, explain what your limits are, and suggest trade-offs (“I can do X and Y but not Z”). Read this for help. And if that doesn’t work, then consider looking for work somewhere that doesn’t do this to you.

5. Why did employer tell me that they’re interviewing other people?

I had a great interview last Thursday. I met the key players on the team and completed an Excel assessment. One question: The hiring manager told me at the end of the interview, “We have one more interview tomorrow, and I hope to have a decision made by the end of next week.” Why did they tell me they were interviewing others? Is this a bad sign?

They told you they were interviewing others because they are interviewing others. Which is normal and nearly always the case whenever you interview for a job, and they assume they don’t need to pretend it’s not.

6. Mentioning a parent’s job in your cover letter

Should I mention my dad’s job in a cover letter? If I was asked this question, I would give the questioner an emphatic “No.” Cover letters are about showcasing your skills and abilities, not how well connected you are in that field. However, a position that I just came across mentions in the job responsibilities “…develop an appreciation for the professionals working in [medical and emergency disaster preparedness] fields.” My father is a leader in the emergency disaster profession. It’s through him that I understand the need for professionals who can access information in this fledgling field. Additionally, I see how hard he (and his department) work to anticipate problems in their community and develop a multi-case scenario for the best possible outcomes. Is the answer still an emphatic “No”? Or is it alright if I mention my dad in terms of admiration and respect for his role in the field?

It’s fine to mention briefly that you’ve developed an appreciation for the field because of your father. But this should be a one-to-two line mention, not something that forms a major part of your cover letter.

7. Asking about salary before accepting an interview

I am a high-level executive assistant and am wondering if it’s ever ok to ask for the salary range before interviewing for a position. In my field, salaries are wildly disparate – a job assisting a CEO can pay anywhere from $30K – 150K. I recently interviewed for a job (there were 3 separate rounds of interviews on different dates) and I followed the standard advice and didn’t bring up salary until they made me an offer. I’m in the higher range for EA salaries and they almost fainted when they found out my current salary; I’m making $45K more than they offered (yes, $45,000, not $4,500). It was a complete waste of everyone’s time. Is there any way I can ask for a range the next time I’m offered an interview? If so, how can I frame the question without offending anyone? The problem is solved when using a recruiter, but in this economy there are a lot of great companies that are no longer willing to pay the expense of using a headhunter.

Sure. If you’re interviewing in a field where salaries are all over the map, it’s fine to ask about it once you’re invited in for an interview, saying something like, “Can you give me an idea of the salary range for this position so we can make sure we’re in the same ballpark?” Of course, if you do that, you need to be prepared for them to respond by asking what you’re looking for — and since you asked first, you probably need to answer.

{ 138 comments… read them below }

  1. Soni*

    In the first scenario (boss won’t sit next to you) are you of opposite sexes? If so, it’s always possible that he belongs to a religious sect in which touching members of the opposite sex is forbidden or strongly discouraged. I used to work with an Orthodox Jew who couldn’t even shake my hand because he was only allowed to physically touch women in his immediate family. Clearly, if your boss was OJ, you’d know from the distinctive dress/hair. But there are other religions with similar tenets, I believe, that would be much less externally obvious.

    1. Katie L*

      There have been studies (can’t think of them or find them right now) that talk about the differences between men and women in those types of situations. Women tend to sit by each other, so when a woman walks in the room and sees someone else, she’ll take a seat next to or near to them. A man will see someone sitting in a room and take a seat that balances them out–usually not right next to them.

      This is somewhat of a blanket statement, and there are always exceptions. However, in light of that, your situation is definitely not one to worry about–he could just be of that somewhat typical male-mindset.

      1. Liz*

        I’ve noticed this at my place of work, especially during larger group/staff meetings. Women enter the room and tend to sit next to someone they know, whereas men tend to leave an empty seat between themselves and the next person.

      2. Alisha*

        I have observed exactly this re: the gender differences with American men and women, but I’ve worked with guys from China, Japan, and India who also take a seat next to someone, so I’m guessing it’s as much cultural as it is gender-based.

        My boss never sat next to me either. He’d sit across from me in internal meetings, and if we were going to meet with a new client, he would try to sit diagonal. It actually worked out better that way because we could communicate a silent “You take this one” with eye contact if, for example, the client asked me a question about company philosophy (his domain), or asked him about the timetable to implement a solution (mine). When I was new to that job, I wondered too, but once I’d been there a year, I was fully comfortable with how he liked to do things.

    2. Anonymous*

      My first thought was, “Are you sitting with your back to the door?” Because yeah, you may think the seat next to you is the ‘first and obvious option’, but for a lot of people it’s not.

      For example, I’ve got PTSD and I will jump half a mile into the air if someone comes up behind me. I need to have a seat where I can keep an eye on everyone in the room and any entrances/exits.

  2. Laurie*

    #2, I don’t think the OP’s message sounds defensive. It does sound direct. Some people are just not used to direct communication – they want flowery language and pleases and thank yous. The OP’s boss could be one of those people.

    1. Janet*

      That’s what I’m thinking. There is also a chance that the boss wanted the OP to ask for permission to leave early and the directness of saying “this is what I’m doing” bothered her.

      1. Anonymous*

        My thoughts exactly. Defensive is the wrong term, but the OP was presumptious. She did not ask for permission at all, she informed her boss that she would be leaving early and that could be what annoyed the boss.

        With the boss out of the office she could well have wanted the OP there during normal hours and did not want to accomidate an early departure because the employee decided on her own to come into work early and leave early.

        This all depends on the environment, but I would at least pay lip service to asking permission and acting like my boss has a say on what hours I am in the office. “I came in early today and I’d like to leave early if possible. Is that okay?”

        1. Janet*

          I think that depends on the OP’s experience and office culture to be honest. I have 15 years of experience in my industry and am a salaried mid-management employee. I’d actually have problems with my job if I wasn’t given the autonomy to be able to make those sorts of decisions in the day-to-day at work. I would not do well at a job if I had to grovel for permission to an out-of-town boss to leave an hour early. That being said, if I was hourly or very very new to the business, permission may be expected initially.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m thinking that it wasn’t implying that she’s supposed to ask for permission, because the boss called it defensive and said “She said in future she expects me to manage my time appropriately as she does with her own boss.” That makes me think that it’s probably what Rachel mentions below — that she’s telling the OP to just manage her own time autonomously and not worry about “justifying” why she’s leaving early. But it wasn’t very clear.

          1. KayDay*

            That’s an awfully hostile reaction if the boss is trying to say it’s okay for the OP not to explain him/herself….usually if a boss is trying to empower your subordinates to make decisions autonomously, she should do it in a more positive way and not make it sound like a rebuke. (If the OP and the commenters on AAM are not sure what she meant, this boss clearly did a terrible job communicating.)

        3. Anonymous*

          My own instinct is always to ask permission to do a small schedule adjustment like the letter-writer’s, but whenever I go to ask permission every single boss I’ve had has gone “Pfft, you don’t even need to ask, just let me know what’s up” They’d all have been completely fine with and would have even preferred the email #2 wrote.

          1. Flynn*

            Yeah, with me, I just say “I’ll be leaving at X time because of Y, unless you need me to stick around” (and if for some reason I’m needed, I’ll negotiate that then, but as I usually pick the time carefully, it doesn’t happen often).

            I’m paid hourly, and my boss needs me to cover for stuff fairly often, but can’t always get approval to pay me (though she’s thrown a couple of professional tantrums and that’s getting better), so she appreciates me being flexible and is quite okay with me taking time off/longer lunch breaks as I choose, as long as I’m not needed.

      2. Nichole*

        Once, when my boss had just been hired and we were still CC’ing my training manager on all e-mails of this sort, my training manager gently suggested that I should phrase “I’m leaving early tomorrow” as “Is it ok if I leave early tommorow,” even if I already know the answer, as a matter of perception. I tend to be pretty direct in my e-mails, so I was grateful for the heads up that I was breaking convention (I’m fairly new to the professional world). I suppose her manager was trying to do the same thing my training manager did, just did a really poor job at it.

      3. Cassie*

        I assumed the OP didn’t need to ask permission (given the comment by the supervisor that she expects her to manage her time, etc). I think otherwise, the feedback would have been “you need to ask for time off/schedule change in advance”.

        I never ask for permission to take time off – I rarely take time off, but when I do, I tell my boss “I’m going to be out this date” or ‘I’ll be out for two weeks starting…”. His other direct reports do ask for permission (which he always okays), but I just never have. Sometimes he’ll ask if I’m going on vacation, but most of the time he just says “ok, mark it on my calendar”.

        I can see where the tone of the OP’s email might come across as slightly defensive – but only if it was in response to “why did you leave early?”. Then it would sound like someone is trying to justify why they left early (like if they were supposed to get approval but didn’t). But otherwise, the email just sounds direct (albeit a bit abrupt).

  3. Rachel - Former HR Blogger*

    #1 – I guess it depends on what department you work for but I work in HR and my boss and I never sit together at meetings. Although we’ve never sat down and coordinated a plan for this, we both instinctive understand that by breaking up we’re presenting an image of being approachable rather than the HR team that only mingles with itself.

    #2 – I understand what your boss means by defensive. What he/she is saying is that you don’t need to justify why you are leaving. When you write that you came in early and that’s why you’re leaving, you are implying that the boss is tracking you every minutes. What your boss is trying to tell you is that you don’t need to worry about him/her tracking your time. He/she trusts you to manage your time without reporting every minute. Perhaps next time just an email saying, “Hey, I’m headed out early today. I’ll be available by blackberry.”

    1. Anonymous*

      As for #2 and how you understood the defensiveness:

      I see where you are coming from, but I had read it that she might need to do something after 4pm and came in early to make up the hours. The email, while direct, is vague and as another comment stated above, presumptuous.

    2. Jamie*

      #2 – that’s how I read that, too. Defensiveness was a strong word to use, but I took it to mean she didn’t have to justify leaving early.

      I used to do this, ask for permission about this kind of thing, and was told to stop. It makes people uncomfortable if it seems as though you think they are micromanaging your time, when they aren’t.

    3. mh_76*

      #2 – I agree with Jamie and this Anonymous. I also read it as OP needing to leave early and wanting to make up the time.

      Do you and your boss have an arrangement where you can make up time during the work week to cover time that you had to take off? If not, could you arrange that? In general, it’s best to clear any time variations with your boss in advance – (example) “Hi J., I need to leave at 4pm on Monday and would be happy to come in earlier in the morning [or make up that time during the work-week]. [some would suggest asking if that’s OK and, depending on your boss, that is or isn’t a good idea *]” That’s worked for me in previous jobs and the bosses were glad that I offered in advance to make up the time.

      * [somewhat on-topic…re: asking vs. politely informing]
      Years ago, I was in a job with a colleague who was close to accruing the maximum allowable vacation time. She had a friend coming into town from overseas. When Colleague asked our boss if she could take the time off, Boss said “no” even though it wasn’t one of the rare busy periods. Colleague then lost the time, thanks to the maximum accrual policy (which does make sense…in my state, the Law says that employers have to pay out accured vacation time at the time of “separation”, regardless of who initiated that “separation”). At a Union meeting later on, Colleague relayed her story to the Union Pres. who said that she should have not asked, but instead politely let Boss know that she’d be taking the time. That’s probably not advisable in every job or every field though. In the next job that I had, I planned my vacation time a few months ahead, ensuring that I would mostly avoid taking days off during the busy times, and would sometimes cancel the vacation days as they drew near if I realized that I didn’t need or want the time off…or if there was a sudden unexpected busy time.

  4. Catbertismy hero*

    Another thought on number 4: Could it be that the boss was put off by the tone of the message and just expressed it poorly? I would not necessarily be thrilled that somone changed their work schedule without notice while I was out of town, and did not even give me the courtesy of asking whether it was okay.

    1. fishie*

      I agree. I would say it was a little too directive rather than defensive. You should be asking your boss if you can leave early, not telling them that you are, particularly if you have a regular work schedule and your boss is responsible for your attendance.

  5. AmberBL*

    Just a pet peeve: if she works with you and has had several children, she’s most likely not a girl.

    Even if the question was not meant to be aggressive toward her, calling her a girl is patronizing and, in my opinion, immediately makes the OP sound like he has a problem with her and not the workload. Vocabulary is important!

    1. mh_76*

      Re: pet peeves
      A trend has started within the past couple of years to call all women “Miss”. I’m a grown-up. Please call me “Ma’am”. Would you like it if I called you “Kid” or “Geezer”? I’m not really age-sensitive but “Miss” does bug me. Also, I’m old enough to buy alcohol and have been for quite some time…please don’t card me.

      1. jmkenrick*

        My understanding is that many places are obligated to card you even if you don’t look like a teenager. I wouldn’t take that personally.

        1. mh_76*

          No, no, not taking it personally. I just find it frustrating…it’s one thing if they have a uniform carding policy posted / printed or if there’s someone carding everyone at the door…

        2. Alisha*

          Everyone’s different, but my husband and I love being carded. We take it as a compliment. Maybe I’m weird, but a couple times, I have thanked the wait-staff or check-out person.

      2. EM*

        At age 32, I still get inordinately excited when I get carded at places that don’t card everyone automatically. :)

      3. Flynn*

        Ha, here teachers are generally ‘miss’ or ‘sir’. So school age kids generally don’t call strange adults anything else!

        1. mh_76*

          …but I meant people in general, people who appear to be adults, calling any adult grown-up woman “miss”, whether/not that woman is a teacher (I am not). Are you in the UK? I ask because “here teachers are generally ‘miss’ or ‘sir’ ” and I’m pretty sure that that is the tradition. In the US, teachers (even at Big Name Private Schools) are usually Mrs./Ms./Miss/Mr. Lastname until college and beyond, then they are Professor Lastname (even if their official title isn’t “___ professor”) or Firstname.

          1. Alisha*

            It’s a Southern US thing as well. I use ma’am, miss, and sir, and it may strike some in my region as different, but at this point in my life, I only use it with a stranger whose name I don’t know, to ask a question, i.e. “Excuse me sir, do you know what time the next train comes?”

    2. AB*

      Agreed! And I’d be willing to bet this “girl” who “keeps getting pregnant” would be more than happy to let her husband go through that process for her. We didn’t exactly choose to be the ones who spend nine months uncomfortable at work and feel blamed for having to spend 2-3 months away from work. Cut us a break, for goodness sake!!

      1. Liz T*

        Thanks you so much, I came to the comments specifically to mention this. The OP makes her sound like a teen mom.

  6. AG*

    #7 – definitely ask. If you are the kind of person who commands the respect and seniority in your field that is implied by your salary, you’re probably on the “feast” side of our feast-or-famine economy right now, where experienced people are fending off job offers with a stick while entry-level people are thought of as un-persons in discussions about “talent shortages.”

    1. Lilybell*

      Hi AG, I’m the OP for #7; thanks for your comment. You are correct; I guess I am on the “feast” side right now. I am lucky that I have a degree from a top ten school (and 20 years of experience), because it’s not all that common in the executive assistant world and tends to get me an interview. Administrative jobs can be an awful mix of boring and stressful, but in my opinion, it’s one of the safer fields to work in during a down economy; an assistant with a good resume is recession-proof and always in demand. Regarding what you wrote about entry-level people – I just led the recruiting process for an entry-level position in my division. We received 250 resumes and only 3 didn’t have multiple glaring typos or ridiculously awful cover letters. It was so disappointing.

        1. fposte*

          Or she thinks it does–unless her interviewers are explicitly telling her that it’s the school that made a difference to them, it might just be that she had a great resume in its own right.

          1. Lilybell*

            OP again – I have had more than one interviewer tell me that my university was the main reason they brought me in for an interview. Now that I’ve had a lot more work experience, I think at this point it’s just icing on the cake because I’ve worked at well-respected companies and stayed at each one for 5 years or longer

  7. Anon*

    Off topic question that I know I’ve seen answers for but can’t find.

    I’m working on a job application that is requesting 3 professional references along with the cover letter resume. Should I go ahead and include the references or is there a way to politely defer this until we (maybe) reach an interview stage?

    1. Mary*

      Heck, I applied for a job that wanted three letters of recommendation with my application. And this wasn’t a “just out of college with no experience” type of job. Frankly, I didn’t feel comfortable asking my references to write something like that for me, and was a little suspicious of a company that would do that instead of checking references themselves after an interview.

      I politely told them that I had some recommendations on my LinkedIn profile and gave them a link, along with my regular references list. I did get asked for an interview, but ended up withdrawing myself after the interview when I got another offer.

  8. Henning Makholm*

    #6 — I’m thinking perhaps it would trigger fewer weirdness sensors if you were able to word it such that you don’t mention that it’s explicitly your father. Just “I have close family who works in X, and I know through them that blah blah blah” might be less likely to be understood as if you’re claiming to deserve the job by right of the blood.

  9. Anonymous*


    I wonder how often this woman has become pregnant because the way the OP writes, it seems as if she is up to her 5th+ child already. Furthermore, I wonder if it’s an exaggeration, and she is only pregnant with her second child.

    Note that it matters or is my business how many children this woman has because it’s not, but the way the OP writes makes my skin crawl that he (or perhaps even she) has some sort of resentment towards the woman. What does the OP want – for the boss to tell the woman she met her pregnancy quota?

    1. nyxalinth*

      you know, I don’t have kids (I was never blessed with the “I want to be a mommy!” gene hehe) but even I found it an odd question, especially the comment about “Like clockwork, every other year she takes a 4-month leave of absence during our peak season.”

      It’s like the OP is saying this woman deliberately times it so she can get out of work during the busy season! The mom obviously had kids before so she would know sitting at home with a baby would be harder work and more stress than dealing with the clients.

      Try again, OP.

      1. JohnQPublic*

        There’s a quote that roughly goes “Once is an accident, twice a coincidence, the third time is Enemy Action”. Granted that’s about war but if it’s the third time she’s taken maternity leave At That Specific Time it is now a pattern, and no one in this day and age should be ignorant about how A+B=C. There’s no telling how many more times this may happen, there are cultures and religions that encourage fruitfulness. It is impacting this business, and the OP’s quality of life. The lady made a choice but the OP’s boss ought to do something about it, and if not then the OP should explore other options. Your family and your job have different values in your life, you should fight to protect what you value most.

      2. mh_76*

        Re #5

        That this woman has had multiple children around the same time of year suggests but doesn’t confirm that she is deliberately scheduling childbirth to coincide with tax season. If she has had 2 tax-season babies, maybe that’s just how the cookie crumbled. Or maybe she had problems with one of the pregnancies and had to deliver early. Or…the list goes on.

        If she has had (example) 6 tax-season babies in the last 12 years, all born in the same month (few-week eriod…or less), then she is likely deliberately sseeking to avoid tax season. But if she is deliberately scheduling, then why not have a baby every year? That is physically possible, hence the term “Irish twins”. OP will probably never know her colleague’s family planning strategies or if her children were surprises who happened to be born around the same time of year.

        The colleague’s family planning strategy and morals (possible # of fathers, religion, promiscuity, etc.) are not relevant. What is relevant is how badly management is handling the distribution of work, especially because they know in advance when this woman will begin her maternity leave (+/- a little bit of time…babies do come early or late sometimes). Other commenters have already made some good suggestions so I’ll end this comment here.

    2. Stells*

      I think the #4 OP is coming from a perspective of this woman seems to be planning her pregnancies so she can take off during the busiest times of the year – now whether that is true or not is irrelevant.

      The boss CAN work with the employees long before the busy season to make sure that the workload is more reasonable once the employee goes on leave. While it might be hard to find a contractor who can do exactly what the pregnant employee does – every field has independent contractors who should know enough to cover some of the work that is less specialized allowing the two remaining employees to focus on the higher level tasks.

      It is possible to find someone to come in on a contract basis to cover, but either the pregnant employee is not giving her boss enough notice or the boss isn’t willing to pay the premium for a contractor to come in for a few months.

      If the OP and nonpregnant peer would sit down, together, and explain to the boss that this workload is not feasible the next time the third member is out during busy season, they’d have more power to cause the boss to act. If there is work/clients that won’t get done, then the boss will find a solution.

    3. Anonymous*

      What if the woman is on her fifth child by the fifth different father? The OP did not give us the details so perhaps it is not an exaggeration. Just saying…

      1. Emily*

        Ah, yes. It’s very important to know whether she’s a Mormon or a slut, as these would each necessitate different workplace strategies for managing her workload while she’s on maternity leave.

          1. Ellie H.*

            I think the insinuation that the coworker in question is of low moral standards and promiscuous, and that her sexual behavior and family-planning agenda would be relevant to this concern, is much more unpleasant and unwelcome than Emily’s comment (which did in fact seem necessary to me!).

        1. Indie_Rachael*


          I’m not sure why some people feel the need to inject moral judgment in order to solve workplace issues. There are times when we need a personalized solution, to be sure, but you illustrate that this is not one of them.

  10. Laura*

    #6 (Dad in cover letter): I agree with AAM’s advice. I would put 1-2 lines. I bet it will come up in the interview and they may ask more about it and be very interested.

    1. mh_76*

      #6 – I’m in the “ok to briefly mention your Dad’s job” camp but maybe also mention agencies (companies, non-profits, initiatives, NGOs, etc) that are involved in Medical (HHMI, WHO, some of the Fed Gov’t agencies, etc) and Emergency/Disaster Preparedness & Response (FEMA, Red Cross…even locally…not just Blood, VOAD, Medical Reserve Corps, State & Local EMAs, etc).

      Do you volunteer for any related organizations?

      One correction: The field has been around for more than a century.

  11. Anonymous*

    #3: As a current part time MBA student, I would advise you to not only consider reputation & convenience, but potential workload as well. You mention that your workload is pretty heavy at work, and some schools have pretty condensed schedules while others have more extended timeframes for completion. It’s also important bc some programs are very much driven by individual timelines, while others require a lot of teamwork that can be challenging to schedule.

  12. Samantha Jane Bolin*

    It sounds to me like #4 resents more than just a colleague having children. The statement “I work a lot of overtime throughout the year that I do not get paid for because I am a salaried employee…” made me think that he/she feels like they are expected to do too much already. My guess is that his/her colleague probably has 2 or 3 children, which seems reasonable to me.

    ITA w/ Anon @ 9:26, sounds like this person wants the boss to tell the colleague she’s not allowed to have anymore children. Wouldn’t that be an interesting conversation………

    1. Katie L*

      Don’t you think that it’s unlikely this will continue much longer? Unless this woman is of a belief that birth control is wrong, she probably won’t be having that many more if, as the OP seems to be saying, she already has tons of kids. It sounds like the “worst” could be over.

      If it doesn’t look that way, the OP has likely gone through years of intense and challenging work and should be able to use that to his advantage in a job search. (Beware, it never looks good to be mean to pregnant women, no matter how many kids they already have.)

      1. Chinook*

        Or, since they mentioned they don’t spend as much time with their fmaily as a result, maybe it is a guy who doesn’t get any parental leave when his wife has children. If you cut out the anti-male hatred, you may see why he may resent having to do all this extra work and doesn’t get to spend time at home with his children because he he is doing the work while she is spending time with hers (1 year parental leave with an option to use some or most as paternity leave – yet another reason I love Canada!)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If the employer is covered by FMLA (has 50 or more employees), they’re required by federal law to allow both men and women 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

    2. Mike C.*

      I think that OP is just overworked and after a bit of rest wouldn’t blame her coworker for having kids. If you’re in a bad work environment, it can skew things considerably.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Gotta agree with Mike C. It isn’t the kids that are the real issue. It is that there is an imbalance of work between the OP and the other person. Management isn’t handling this correctly. If the OP has to work OT all the time to cover for the other person being out, then they should be rewarded in some way.

        I think the key issue is to factually present this to the boss – “Hey boss, Kira has been out for 4 of the last 7 heavy times. Is there a better way to balance the work load?”

  13. Sabrina*

    #3 I agree. There’s three types of schools, public, private, and for profit. University of Phoenix and DeVry/Keller are for profit schools. There are B&M private schools that offer online degrees but they can be hard to find. I’m currently going back to finish my bachelor’s and found my private non-profit school through my community college. They have an online MBA too, if you (or anyone else) is interested: It’s 110 year old university based in Columbus, OH. So far I’ve been happy with them. (Well happier than I was with DeVry).

    1. MovingRightAlong*

      Ohhhh. Thanks for posting that, I was about to ask AAM what she meant by a non-profit school. I never realized private schools can also be non-profits. *dusts off public university diploma*

    2. Shawna*

      I can recommend Linfield College in Oregon as a B&M school with an online program for Bachelors-level degrees. I belive they do ofter Masters programs, but not sure if they are online, hybrid, or what.

      I received my BS in Accounting from Linfield. I live/work “only” three hours from the college, but only visited the campus once before graduation–for a seminar held the first weekend of the term for one class. A couple of students from even further away attended remotely, though, so it is possible to never step foot on campus, but they are a “real” school with on-campus students, as well. It’s a private school, though, and not cheap!

  14. Andrew*

    #1—I really hesitate to bring this up, but are you sure your scent (for lack of a better term) is OK? This could mean body odor or perfume….perhaps you could discreetly ask a third party?

  15. Laura*

    #1: Andrew: I wondered that also. Someone in my company is really, really sensitive to scents. We have company wide memos sent out to avoid scented hand cream, perfume, even too much deoderant/aftershave. So it could be that simple!

  16. Emily*

    Re: #1, another possible explanation is that the boss likes to see the room/table get filled out, rather than having one side fill up and the other side be half-empty, so he tries to seat himself opposite the OP when they’re both among the first to a meeting. I have been in many a meeting where say, the entire front row on one side ends up empty because of a cluster in the back and on the left, and sometimes the presenter will sheepishly try to encourage folks to fill in. Or any of the other reasons mentioned above or another. Best not to speculate on what motivates people to do what they do, and instead just deal in the facts of what they are saying and doing and how that actually impacts you.

    #4 You mention that your work is highly specialized so it’s not feasible to bring in a temp to sub for her. Are there any routine, low-skill aspects of your job? Maybe you do a lot of high-level analysis but you still have to run reports, print letters, stamp and address envelopes, purchase things online, make phone call inquiries, etc? Perhaps you could propose to your boss to hire an hourly wage temp worker for the duration of your coworker’s maternity leave who would take over these low-skill tasks, freeing you to spend your time concentrating on the high-level tasks.

  17. AD*

    Re: Online MBA’s

    Most part-time MBA’s are structured for busy working professionals. Have you already done research to see what is in your area? If you are in an area that doesn’t have any of these “weekend MBA’s” or “executive MBA’s” or whatever, that’s one thing, but if you are in any city of a decent size, you should be able to find something flexible.

    Building connections with other students and having in-class discussions are some of the most important parts of the MBA. An online degree doesn’t allow either.

    1. Dan Ruiz*

      “…An online degree doesn’t allow either.”
      Not true. I got an online MBA and got plenty of both.

    2. Anon1973*

      “…An online degree doesn’t allow either.”
      Not true. I got an online MBA and got plenty of both.

      Agreed. Online programs have class discussion and networking. The process is different, but it’s still a core part of the class.

  18. C.*

    #1 Like someone else said unless there is an odor issue I think you are reading way too much into this. Sometimes people just have seating habits, how or where they would like to sit, which direction, which side of the table. I prefer to sit in the end chair at meetings so I can stick my leg out. I’m sure this has nothing to do with you and is only coincidence. That being said who is he sitting next to? The employees who have been there longer? People of his own level? Maybe he has been sitting next to Jon in meetings for the last few years and that’s where he likes to sit. I wouldn’t worry about it.

    1. khilde*

      This is what I was thinking, too. People generally have their preferences and habits and places that they typically sit. We are creatures of habit, after all.

  19. Cruella Da Boss*

    This is the most intellegent answer for #4 that I’ve read so far.
    Let’s focus on the actual problem and not on the fact that Suzy Broodmare can’t seem to say “no,” or that Dan Dumpybutt seems to resent pregnant women.

    I’m sure the boss is just as dismayed by this seemingly endless turn of events as the employee, especially during peak season. Serving up a suggestion on the front end may be the best course of action.

    I think having a temp come to pick up the slack on the mundane, day-to-day tasks so that you can focus on the specialized work is an excellent idea.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s what I was trying to say in my reply — you can’t do anything about pregnancies, and they’re not your issue anyway — your boss’s management of workload is!

      1. Anonymous*

        ITA! Maternity leave is something bosses typically have months of notice about, so the problem here is definitely how the boss is addressing (or not) the workload issue. If you have a “peak season” the boss should have a pretty good idea about what is to be expected during the leave and understand how to work through it effectively.

    2. Anonymous*

      Based on my experience with public practice firms, some partners just don’t care as long as the work gets done. People come, people go but as long as the clients stay, all is well.
      I do agree this is a mgmt issue, not a coworker issue. Decent small accting firms often are very variable in workload. 60hrs in busy season but slow way down in the slow season – 3or 4 day weekends, etc… Continued long hrs means they need to hire someone to help.

  20. Anonymous*

    #4 I work in the tax field and we had to sign a contract when we were hired that said we agree to work overtime during our busy season and that no excessive time off is permitted for any reason. So basically, we were told we can’t have babies during tax season! It works great for me because I don’t have nor do I want kids. This has also worked well for everyone else in our office – if someone wants to have a baby they have one during a time in the year when it doesn’t disrupt the entire workflow of the office. We can’t change the fact that our livelihood depends on 1/1 – 4/15 work and billing so this was our employer’s “workaround”. If someone insists on taking one or more of those four months off then they should look to another career path because people in our field just can’t accomodate time off during tax season. I think your co-worker should find a new career path that suits her personal needs.

    1. AD*

      Are you in a very small office? If not, they can’t deny you FMLA leave, no matter what you’ve signed.

      I think you also have some mistaken notions of how babies are made.

      1. KellyK*

        That seems ridiculously controlling. The timing of having a baby is incredibly personal.

        I also wonder if this kind of policy might also be viewed as discriminatory toward both female employees in general and female employees with medical issues that make getting (and/or staying) pregnant difficult. Taking four whole months “off” from trying to conceive can really screw things up for someone who doesn’t get pregnant easily, and might prevent them from having a kid at all.

        For that matter, what happens to the pregnant woman who “timed it right” and isn’t due until after tax season, but miscarries during? Yeah, we know you’re grieving and still recovering physically, but you’d better get into work the minute they let you out of the hospital–people need their taxes done!

      2. Anonymous*

        Yes I am in a very small office and for the record, no, I do not have some mistaken notions of how babies are made.

        We chose to work in this field to make a lot of money and to do what we’re good at and if someone can’t wait a few months to have a baby they shouldn’t be in this field (or they should consider going part-time so we can get someone to fill the position that can work the hours we need them to work). Try telling the IRS we’re going to file half of our clients’ returns late (or with penalty if we put them on extension). Not going to work.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If your office is small enough not to be covered by FMLA or federal discrimination statutes, then yes. But if it’s not, then the law is the law, no matter how impractical it might seem for your line of work.

        2. Jamie*

          Of the women that take maternity leave most do it a handful of times over the course of their careers – if that.

          To think that if a woman can’t or won’t reproduce on the schedule dictated by her employer that she “shouldn’t be in this field” is ridiculous.

          I really hope that person who posted that is not in a position to hire, and if they are I hope they can overcome their own biases and treat people fairly.

        3. Student*

          I would bet quite a lot of money that you only hold the women in your office to this standard. I doubt the men are asked to be celibate between April and July so that they don’t become a father during tax season, and I seriously doubt that your office expects them to not attend a child’s birth if it falls during tax season. It’s sexism – it may be legal because of your office size, but it’s sexism and it’s bad business.

          Do you ask people to stop providing elder care for four months of the year? Avoid car accidents? Not attend funerals or weddings? Postpone major surgery? If your office has no plan in place for having someone absent during your peak season, that’s just plain bad management. You will get caught up by the lack of planning eventually, whether the trigger event is a pregnancy or cancer treatments or a car accident. Having a plan is what any sane place would do, because emergencies happen to people deeply dedicated to their job just as easily as they do to slackers.

          1. A Bug!*

            It’s not even just April-July, because you have to take the length of the parental leave into account, not just the delivery date.

            For a four-month parental leave, if you don’t want it to overlap into the busy season at all, the “no-go” window is eight months long.

            And then you’d have to add to that if you wanted to be extra considerate of your poor, suffering, child-free coworkers, because you’d need a little buffer in there in case of early or late delivery.

            1. Anonymous*

              Agreed. If you’re a tax accountant you should just get yourself neutered. It’s the only course of action that makes sense :-)

        4. Malissa*

          While I believe that you are a bit harsh in your views, I can totally understand what you are saying. In the accounting world there are times of the year when even taking a sick day is frowned upon.
          Tax accountants are expected to be in the office every day between the first of the year and tax day. Corporate accountants have to be there for each and every quarter end. Quitting at the first of the year is an offence that will get you blackballed in the local market.
          Most accountants that I know that end of victims of bad timing often just work from home during maternity or sick leave. Also most places train a temp if somebody is going out for a planned leave. There are ways to work around the the situation.

          1. Chinook*

            Since I have seen the person in charge of payroll for a small company take care of business outside of her dying father’s hospital room because people still need to get paid (she was able to delegate everything but the really odd stuff that came up – hence the call), I know that some people understand that some things can never be delayed at work and you understand that that is part of your job when you sign up. Working for an accounting firm, I have seen a partner work from a hospital bed while recovering from a dangerous infection so that he could get everything done in time (he drew the line at writing up invoices – they could wait). I agree with those in the field who say you know what is expected of you.

            As for the payroll manager, her employer was understanding enough to let her go to remote Newfoundland for over 2 weeks (12+hours of flight time, plus 6 hours of driving at both ends) where there was dial up internet, no cell phone service and limited voice mail (why have answeering machines when most everyone was just a loud yell away across the Bay?) and she compromised by agreeing to check her voicemail whenever she had cell service (only at the town where the hospital was) so she could troubleshoot. Everyone was happy.

        5. Liz*

          It’s possible to hire more people during a busy season or otherwise plan ahead. There’s no reason that employees should be responsible for eliminating the possibility of interfering life events in order to meet deadlines.

        6. Indie_Rachael*

          I think you ought to refer to a woman’s timing in conceiving a child, rather than when she has the baby. These are two very different things and, yes, it does suggest that you have some ways to go in this whole area when you continue to use the wrong terminology.

          I also work in taxation, and it’s one of those things you just have to deal with. People get sick or have babies or deaths in the family and the rest of the office picks up the slack.

    2. Samantha Jane Bolin*

      Somehow I don’t think this arrangement would work well for everyone in the office. If people do abide by this “policy”, what do you do when multiple people are out of the office for a couple of months because they have kids based on the company’s schedule?

      I agree with AD about “mistaken notions.”

      1. MaryTerry*

        Maybe everyone should schedule when they’re going to have kids: “Sally has scheduled to be out from May through August, and Sue has September through December. Sorry, this year is covered, no maternity leave for you – you’ll have to get your request in sooner.”

        1. Anon*

          Where is this 4 month maternity leave coming from? I can’t imagine a professional woman taking 4 months off. I thought the average was 4-6 weeks?

          1. A Bug!*

            It’s in question #4 in AAM’s post. The asker’s coworker takes four months off for parental leave.

            I’m not sure why any professional, man or woman, shouldn’t be able to take that much time or more without being judged harshly for it, though. While I realize the United States is not especially friendly to employed parents, it’s not uncommon in other countries for workers to be entitled to a year or more of parental leave without endangering their job security.

            1. Anon in the UK*

              I work in tax in the UK. On the one hand, it is less stressful in some ways because individuals have nearly 10 months between the year end and the filing deadline. On the other, you still end up spending the 4 weeks before deadline in a panic.

              However, in a country with women regularly taking six months or more off for maternity leave, I have *never* worked for any accounting firm that has hired a temp to cover for an absent new mother.
              And frankly, though I realise it’s the firm’s decision to cheap out and not the woman’s, there has been more than one occasion on which I have said ‘congratulations!’ while mentally adding ‘oh hell, I get to cover a third of your work as well as my own’.

              1. A Bug!*

                Right, but that doesn’t mean you’re blaming the parent for your added workload or suggesting that they “should have timed it better”.

                As long as you understand that the cause of your added workload is ultimately management’s refusal to compensate for the missing person, there’s nothing inherently wrong with resenting the extra workload itself. But often the resentment focuses on the new parent instead, which is a problem.

    3. Anonymous*

      I wonder if this commenter is a bit mistaken about the actual policy, and it just hasn’t yet come up because it’s a small office and one one has “fallen pregnant” during the verboten time(s). If the policy states “excessive” time off is prohibited, then surely a modest maternity leave is “allowed,” as well as time for necessary emergencies of other types as well. Just no vacation, time off for appointments that can be scheduled at other times, or year-long maternity leaves. Surely?

    4. Mike C.*

      Why in the hell would you sign an agreement like this? Did you not actually consider the implications of signing this or did you just assume that an employer can require anything they please? You might as well let your boss stick a video camera in your bedroom to ensure that you are following “company policy”. Or is it enough for all the women in your office to provide evidence that they are using proper birth control?

      I don’t care what dates you are busy, there are things in life you can’t explicitly schedule. To give your employers that sort of power over you makes it more difficult for the rest of us to stand up against overbearing employers.


      PS: There are plenty of nations with seasonal tax regulations that somehow are able to coexist with generous and required p/maternity leave laws. Some allow for a year or longer. Somehow those organizations are able to still function! How could this be?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        For what it’s worth, if the company isn’t tiny, it’s covered by federal regulations that trump the agreement — so in that case, the agreement won’t be enforceable.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, I understand that and am comforted slightly by that. But by saying ok to crazy expectations it serves to make them the norm.

          And lets face it, laws can be changed. I can easily imagine the idiot state legislator of the week making a speech about how, “many people already agree to allow their employers to decide when they have kids, so why should the law get in the way”.

    5. HR Gorilla*

      I think it’s important to note that the policy prohibits “excessive time off.” It could very well be that the employer therefore does not allow vacation/PTO for leisure-type of time off requests, but of course they’ll still be required to comply with FMLA (if applicable) and PDL (Pregnancy Disability Leave–again, if applicable). My organization also has two distinct busy periods each calendar year, and for one of those periods (about a month in length), we have a blackout policy in effect regarding vacation requests. This is stated upfront in the Employee Handbook and in policy acknowledgements, and is just ingrained in our work culture. BUT–we approve leaves of absence during that blackout period all the time, because a baby will be born when it’s gonna be born, and people also have other major life events that will happen.

    6. Natalie*

      Sincere question – what would your office expect an employee to do if they became pregnant accidentally?

    7. Frustrated not-mother*

      ” if someone wants to have a baby they have one during a time in the year when it doesn’t disrupt the entire workflow of the office.”

      I’m sorry but when I’ve been trying to have children for years and when I finally ‘fall’ pregnant I’m not going to abort just because my workplace will be busy! Yes, you could say “don’t have unprotected sex between April and July” but a)not your choice or your business, and b) What about early/late babies?

      I personally was six weeks early and I know of one person who was about 3-4 weeks late….so by the time you work in that variation March – September is off the cards entirely.

  21. mh_76*

    #5 – Alison’s right, that’s normal. I’d worry if I had interviewed for a job and they didn’t mention interviewing other candidates…unless they offered me the job on the spot. Also normal: cancelling of interviews because they offered the job to someone else.

    1. Shane*

      Honestly I think they told her that because she didn’t ask about a timeline for the hiring process during the interview and the interviewer wanted her to know what it was anyways.

  22. Tax Nerd*

    How large is your employer? If they have more than (I think) 15 employees, they’re in danger of a pregnancy discrimination suit one day. Even if they prevail, it could be bad for business if word got out that they treated a pregnant woman unfavorably. I’ve had coworkers take maternity leave during tax season, and it is deucedly inconvenient because the rest of us had to pick up the slack. But I was with a larger firm, so there were more than two people to absorb the work.

    I agree with AaM that the problem is that your boss isn’t doing anything to lighten your workload. I am well very aware that people who run tax practices are absolutely in love with “salary/exempt” status. Why hire three people to work 40 hours weeks when you can get two if you just make them work 60 hours every week, year round, and you can just pocket the year’s worth of salary that was saved?

    I’m in a very specialized tax field, and I’ll admit that it’s hard to get a temp or contractor in, because they have to be trained on your tax technical issues, your software and procedures, and you may have to instill some client knowledge in there, if at all possible. Trying to do all the training in the midst of tax season on top of everything else makes for some excruciatingly long days.

    Most small offices I’ve seen end up using a paraprofessional. This is someone who might work 40 or whatever hours a week during tax season, then 0-20 the rest of the year, but they do so on a yearly basis. The training period is a one-time thing, and that person is up to speed and ready-to-go on everything at the beginning of tax season. (Ironically, almost every tax paraprofessional I’ve worked with is a woman who wanted to stop working crazy hours and spend more time with her kids.)

    1. Mike C.*

      Wow, it’s almost as if there are reasonable solutions to the issue of too much work! I think you should write a business book or start a speaking tour. Do you have a good suit?

    2. EM*

      The owner of my small company has discovered that if you pay well and allow top talent (usually women with kids, but not always) to work part time, the benefits to your business are enormous. More businesses should pay attention to this model.

  23. Vicki*

    For #2 I’d ask the OP: Do you ave a set schedule? If so, you should plan ahead with your supervisor if you’re going to change your hours. If not, you come in when you come in, do your work, and leave at the end of the day. There’s no nee to make a big fuss over it.

    It could come across as defensive if you read the email as “I want to leave at 4pm and I’m afraid you’ll be upset so I want you to know that I came in early and also I’ll have my Blackberry on, so I hope it’s ok (don’t yell at me!”)

    From your boss’s response, I think she’s saying “You’re an adult. Get your work done and be on-call to anyone who needs you if they have a reasonable expectation that they can contact you between 4 and 5. Other than that, I’m out of town and wouldn’t even know if you hadn’t told me. So why did you feel you had to tell me?”

    But she should have said that (not “sounds defensive”) and yes, you need to have a chat about saying what you mean and being clear.

  24. Anonymous*

    Other answers to question #1:

    -My boss never sits next to me in a meeting. He tends to sit somewhere where he can give supporting glances and communicate non verbally to aid us in presenting a united front to higher management. If they are sitting somewhere where they don’t have to obviously seek out your attention that could be part of the reason.

    – Another reason is that as you are a new employee he wants to watch your body language and how you handle meetings without being too obvious.

    – A prior job the boss liked to split the team up around the room so that if the meetings got defensive it wasn’t one side/block of people against another side/block. It helped open up communication a little in those meetings that never seemed to get anywhere due to too much “Well if department X would only…” would happen.

    I also agree with the scent/perfume response about as I’ve done that in meetings due to being very sensitive to heavily applied perfume. One co-worker would reapply before any meeting and I’d seek to be as far from where she usually sat as I could!

  25. #1-OP*

    I don’t wear perfume and don’t think I have anything going on in the scent department or bad breath whatever. What made it stand out to me is that in one meeting, he had set his papers down in a seat and then left for something, and when I arrived late and sat down at the seat next to his papers, he came back in the room and walked around to the other side of the table to sit down. Someone actually commented, isn’t your stuff over there? And he moved back to my side, kinda making a joke about it that he was just fooling everyone. It was very weird to me. I think if he hadn’t been called out, he would have stayed on the other side. Then in another meeting he had the option of sitting at the head of the table that was closest to me (where he always sits), and he walked all the way around and sat at the other head of the table. I could barely see him most of the meeting because someone was sitting in my direct line of site.

    I have no other reason to assume he isn’t happy with my performance. My individual 1:1s go fine with him.

    1. AB*

      Is this a male-female scenario? Perhaps he has a past of indecent conduct or has been a victim of the rumor mill in the past? Maybe sitting next to you (assumed female) in his mind could set him up for further issues of that sort? Just a thought…

      1. #1-OP*

        Yes, I wondered myself if he is uncomfortable because I am a younger female. I am usually the only young female in our meetings.

    2. sparky629*

      Or you could just ask him in a non accusatory, professional, calm manner, if there is a problem. We can all speculate until the cows come home but… only he knows why he won’t/can’t sit next to you.

      If you have a comfortable relationship, you could ask in a joking-non offensive manner.

    3. EM*

      Or you could have a boss who does the opposite. I once had a training class that my old boss was also taking. He came in late (typical for him) and to my dismay sat down next to me. It was really awkward when we were paired up to practice the Heimlich maneuver and rolling over a body (it was Red Cross training). I’m a woman and he’s a (creepy) man.

      I really think the reason for his behavior is that he doesn’t want to seem like he’s doing anything inappropriate.

    4. Anonymous*

      Remember it might not be related to you – it could be someone else in the room he is picking a place based on. Or as said below it could be to do with making sure that there is no possible accusation of impropriety*.

      * I suspect this further option isn’t the case but I do know of a In-law related person that does it to me – He deliberately sits opposite the youngest lady of the family or the youngish ones with the low cut tops. *shudder* Yeah, I stopped wearing anything that showed cleavage after that family event! I suspect this isn’t the case for OP though.

    5. Henning Makholm*

      As long as we are throwing out hypotheses, the boss’s reasoning might as well be: I will place myself such that I and my trusty lieutenant OP together have clear lines of fire towards everyone around the conference table.

  26. EM*

    For number 2: this may be your boss’ not so graceful attempt at telling you that you don’t need to check in with her for things like that. If you are in a professional or white-collar job, I think most reasonable bosses expect that their employees manage their time appropriately and don’t need to be informed, especially when they are out of the office. Believe me, you’d rather have this kind of boss (weird response aside) than the type of boss who demands you clock in and out as if you were hourly or demands to be notified every time you arrive or leave.

  27. Liz in a library*

    #6: I did something like this when I applied for a job at our state Dept. of Education. I said something like, “Growing up with a mother who was a successful school administrator, I learned that X, Y, and Z are so important in the education field” and then elaborated on how I developed those things as an adult. I didn’t get the job (it went internal), but I did get a positive-toned question about it in my interview.

  28. Ketaki*

    We have weekly status meetings on every wednesday with Manager and director of the company. last wednesday when I entered in the conference room for meeting, my manager was talking with the director standing. I asked “May I sit?” Does that show I am eager to sit?.. Since director said to me “Are you tensed? Relax…” Please let me know if this is kind of over reaction?

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