manager is forcing coworker to wear a wedding ring even though she’s not married

A reader writes:

I have a question regarding a coworker of mine. I realize it is technically none of my business, I am in a different department and it doesn’t affect me directly, but it really bothers me and wanted to get your opinion of how slimy this is. My coworker is fairly young, 23, very pretty, and has an outgoing personality. She is in the sales/member services department of our company and has only been here about 3 months. It is part of her job to attend conferences with the manager of that department (she is older) and they are supposed to talk to other companies about joining our company. At the last conference, several men had hit on her, and I guess her manager was annoyed by it and felt this was distracting from her “doing her job.”

This manager “requested” (more like insisted) she buy a fake wedding ring and wear it during this conference, and future conferences. She basically told her, “Either wear that or I am going to have to reconsider bringing you to these conferences.” I am not going to ask the “is that even legal” question — but on a scale of 1-10, how inappropriate is this? I would imagine if it was my coworker’s idea, I might feel differently about it, but she didn’t feel she was doing anything wrong at the conference. And as far as I am concerned, it is not likely that a wedding ring (fake OR real) is going to ward off men who are attracted to her and hitting on her in the first place.

I feel for her because of the fact that she is so young, and new, and feels she can’t say no, but is uncomfortable with the situation. I just feel it is wrong and violates her to some degree. This young coworker does have a boyfriend, and says she talks to everyone at the conferences (not just the men) and has no interest in seeing them, dating them, etc…she is just doing her job by talking to them and explaining our company to these people. She asked me for advice, and I am not sure what to tell her. I don’t want her to go against what her boss is telling her, but still don’t think it is right.

What the ….?!

This is totally inappropriate and not okay. If the manager has a problem with how your coworker is conducting herself, she should address that — but it sounds like that’s not the issue at all; she just doesn’t like the fact that men flirt with her.

It would be one thing to give her advice about how to quickly shut that down — and even to tell her that she needs to do so, although it’s pretty hard to insist on that when it’s in the context of talking to someone about your company’s products. Hell, it wouldn’t even be all that egregious for her to say, “You know, if you want to ward some of this off, one way is to wear a ring.” (I happen to think that’s a ridiculous solution, and I agree with you that it won’t stop the flirting, but simply mentioning it isn’t egregious.)

But telling her that she’ll reconsider taking her to conferences if she doesn’t do it is so far, far over the line of what’s okay that I cannot imagine how her manager thinks this is acceptable to do.

Moreover, there probably are legal issues in play here. The manager is telling your coworker that she will change her assignments at work (the conferences) and stop giving her this particular professional opportunity if your coworker doesn’t take steps to make herself less appealing to men, which gets into some pretty sticky discrimination issues. I’m not saying it’s a slam-dunk case, because it’s not, but it’s certainly something no responsible company would want to spend the legal fees to find out for sure.

In any case … ideally, your coworker would say to her manager, “I am not comfortable wearing a wedding ring when I’m not married. I am conducting myself professionally and not doing anything to invite inappropriate behavior. If there’s something specific you’d like me to do differently in the way I handle myself at these conferences, I’m very open to the feedback, but I’m not comfortable wearing a fake ring, and I certainly hope that won’t impact the opportunities you give me here.”

If you have an HR department, she should also get them in the loop on this, because they will probably shut her boss down pretty quickly — and she can also ask them to ensure there’s no retaliation against her for this.

However, there’s open retaliation and there’s more subtle retaliation, and the latter is a lot harder to police. The fact is, your coworker is working for a manager who has issues with the way men respond to her, so she’s going to need to be prepared to assert herself against future weirdness as well.

{ 261 comments… read them below }

  1. Piper*

    Aside from this being totally cray-cray on the manager’s side, it’s not likely to work anyway. Wedding rings don’t really deter people from flirting (at least not that I’ve seen). I can’t believe the manager would even suggest this!

    1. Jamie*

      And as far as I am concerned, it is not likely that a wedding ring (fake OR real) is going to ward off men who are attracted to her and hitting on her in the first place.

      I differ with both of you. I am convinced that my wedding ring is the one and only reason I am not showered with proposals for both decent and indecent activity…not to mention jewelry, trips, and houses in the south of France. If not for this ring I would do nothing but deter would be suitors and get nothing else done.

      Or, you know, maybe not.

      Seriously – just when I think I’ve heard everything. Perhaps she should require the co-worker also wear a prosthetic dowagers hump and hulk around like Quasimodo?

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Jamie, you made me snort out loud. Let’s both ditch our wedding rings and run away together.

      2. Jamie*

        I should have goggled before posting – thought the Quasimodo thing was fiction and didn’t know it was a real thing people suffer from. I didn’t mean to be insensitive, I thought I was using a fictional thing to make a point…if I could delete I would.

      3. AMG*

        I just snorted and almost spit out my lunch! Hey, maybe the OP should do that in front of men who flirt with her. I’m sure I looked adorable doing it.

        1. VictoriaHR*

          Or at least she should wear a red contact lens and/or surreptitiously take an Alka-Seltzer so that she foams at the mouth, or something.

      4. dejavu2*

        This made me laugh so hard that I was forced to admit to my coworkers what I was doing so I could explain the cause. Whew!

    2. Kou*

      I have always been pretty surprised at how wearing an engagement ring made no dent whatsoever in how often that kind of thing happened to me. Hell, I have (and seen friends) told men flat out that I am not available and don’t want to be, and they will just dance around it and claim they just want to get coffee as all, nothing romantic. Sure buddy, I bet you approach strange women just to make more friends for your kickball team.

      Though my personal favorite is when you tell them you/your friend they’re asking about is taken/married and they go “Does that matter?” Dude.

      1. Mimi*

        That reminds me of the guy who walked up to me in a bookstore and, without preamble, asked, “Are you seeing anyone?” When I replied “Yes,” just to get him to go away, he countered it with, “Is it serious?” Sigh.

      2. Anonymous*

        My favorite phrase is “I’d hate to break up a happy home…. but an unhappy one??”

      3. Melissa*

        Yes, I’m married and it hasn’t really made much of a dent in guys hitting on me. They just attempt to be more subtle/underhanded about it.

  2. Mo*

    Wow that manager is totally crazy. I’m married and wear a ring. Just last month my husband and I were out with friends and I got hit on. In fact I was holding my drink glass in my left hand(not out of sight), and the guy even came up to me when I was standing next to my husband. So, no, I don’t think a ring is going to be a 100% deterrent for someone who wants to hit on her.

    1. COT*

      Not to mention–some people use conferences as a place to hook up even if they’re in a committed relationship back home. A ring may be a partial deterrent but it won’t stop everyone from assuming that she doesn’t want to hook up.

      1. Ally*

        Seriously! I go to a lot of conferences with my boss and we have both been hit on numerous times. It gives us a good laugh. Wearing a wedding ring will not prevent getting hit on, especially from men who are also married!

        This poor woman will now have to stress over if a man is going to hit on her and her boss get mad, even if she’s wearing the fake wedding ring.

  3. The IT Manager*

    Wow! That is out there. I have nothing else to add or suggest, but this is definately one of the more shocking letters to AAM.

  4. Frances*

    Alison’s advice is the best, but the mischievous part of me would be tempted to ask the boss if I could get reimbursed for the cost of the ring since she’s requiring it. Or wear an obviously fake ring. (I would not advise the OP’s coworker to actually do that, but I would be really tempted.)

    1. fposte*

      I like that. Pick out a really nice ring that you like and that costs quite a bit, and submit a PO.

        1. AnonEngineer*

          Besides, that would be a great story to tell: “Oh, that suits you so well! Your husband must really know your tastes…”
          “Well, actually…”

          1. Jamie*

            Are there men who still buy them without input or guidance? It’s the most important thing a woman will ever wear because a lot of us wear them every single day for the rest of our lives. I shudder to think what I’d be walking around with if my husband dared do this on his own…

            1. AL Lo*

              My husband bought mine on his own, and it suits me perfectly.

              When we were dating, I sent my sister a bunch of photos of rings that I liked, and told my now-husband that she had them if he wanted to see them, and if he wanted for us to shop together, I was fine with that, but if he wanted to do it himself, I wasn’t giving him unwanted help.

              He did know that I wanted white gold — no yellow — and that I was okay with a colored stone instead of a diamond if he wanted to go that route. He picked out 3 finalists himself, and then took my sister and his mom shopping to weigh in on the final decision. I had absolutely no idea what the ring would look like until it was on my finger.

              (And, for the record, the centre stone on my engagement ring is a sapphire [his birthstone], and my wedding band has the diamond [my birthstone] from his grandmother’s engagement ring.)

            2. KellyK*

              My husband and I picked ours out together. I thought that was the “norm” for wedding rings and it was engagement rings that the man traditionally picks and surprises the woman with.

              1. Jamie*

                I guess I conflate wedding/engagement rings because in my case both times I’ve had a bridal set. Although I lost my original wedding ring and my husband finally replaced it with the simple gold band I wanted. The other one couldn’t be worn as a stand-alone band since the baguettes nested around the engagement ring. So now I can wear the band alone while doing dishes or whatever and make believe I’m Caroline Ingalls or Olivia Walton.

                Because I don’t do that and if I did I certainly wouldn’t admit it online. No siree.

                1. AL Lo*

                  Mine are a set — the diamond on my wedding band actually rests on the engagement ring, so they’re soldered together.

                  Before we were engaged, my husband was marveling at how big a deal I was making about this ring that, in his mind, I’d only wear for a few months before replacing it with a wedding band. His mother doesn’t wear her engagement ring anymore, just a wedding band, and he hadn’t been observant enough to notice that most other women in his life (my sister, my mother, his sister-in-law, most of our friends) wore both rings together. I educated him very quickly that the engagement ring was just as permanent as the wedding band, and would certainly not be abandoned after the wedding.

                2. Rana*

                  That’s sort of funny, because one of the things I was looking forward to about being married (as opposed to engaged) was being able to stop wearing the engagement ring, as it snagged on every. freakin’. thing. and was just too much for me to deal with. (It wasn’t a hugely fancy one in any case; it was a ruby ring inherited from my godmother.)

                3. Ellie H.*

                  I am in the habit of obsessively staring at everyone’s hands to see who is and isn’t married, and my impression it’s about half and half in terms of women wearing the engagement ring too or just the band. It also strikes me that younger women tend to wear both more than older women, but that’s just a vague impression.

                4. Sara*

                  I have to admit I’ve always been a little mystified and fascinated by the ring phenomenon. Even in happier times w my husband I never wore a ring, he never wears one either. I mean, I can certainly appreciat e the beauty of certain rings (Im particular about rose gold) but…just never felt necessary to wear one.

                5. Jessica (the celt)*

                  Some women (*raises hand*) never had an engagement ring, so some of those women who don’t wear another ring with their wedding band may be in the same camp as I. I never wanted an engagement ring, because I don’t like diamonds and I hate anything other than a flat band anyway.

            3. genuinelyamanda*

              my husband purchased my wedding band/engagement ring with no input from me other than a passing reference to my ring size and I totally love it.

              It is a lovely platinum band with 5 diamonds across the top (not quite and infinity band) and serves as both my wedding band and engagement ring. I was super suprised especially since I recieved it about 2 months after we married….but that is another long story.

            4. Adam V*

              My (now-)wife showed me a flyer from a local jewelry store and said “I like this one. Not one *similar* to this one – *this one*.”

              Needless to say, I got her that one. :)

            5. danr*

              I didn’t… and we bought the engagement ring together too. Besides, the real engagement present was something completely different *and* a total surprise.

            6. Melissa*

              My husband picked mine out himself and I love it! The only “guidance” he got from me is that I wanted princess-cut.

          2. the gold digger*

            My husband and I picked out our wedding bands together. I didn’t want a ring at all because I hate wearing rings. (I am not wearing my ring as we speak and oh! the hassle of being hit on ALL THE TIME!)

            I didn’t want an engagement ring. I wanted an Engagement Trash Can and an Engagement Trip to Paris. I got both.

            1. Jamie*

              I remember that – the trash can! Which reminds me that my stainless steel trash can that matched the appliances was ruined and replaced with a white plastic one…

              Someone owes me an anniversary gift and I just may steal a page from your book and insist it be a stainless steel trash can.

                1. Natalie*

                  They are awesome! We have a few of their other products, too, and have been really impressed.

                2. Jessica (the celt)*

                  Dang, I didn’t want an engagement ring, but I should have asked for a trash can! I would love to have a better trash can, and I’ve been eyeing those SimpleHuman ones that you just wave your hand over. Yeah, it’s expensive, but it’s not as expensive as an engagement ring.

            2. Job seeker*

              Boy, you and I are very different. I like nice jewelry. My husband upgraded my engagement ring (bigger diamond and different setting) a year ago and I love it. The one I got when we were engaged was nice but this one is what I always wanted. He got me a beautiful pearl ring with diamonds for Valentines Day. I love pretty and I don’t think a trash can would be what I would want. Nope, I enjoy having a few nice pieces to wear.

          3. Mander*

            My husband surprised me completely, but he managed to guess the right size (well, with help from the jeweller) and bought something that I love. In fact I’ve started wearing it instead of my actual wedding ring (they are not a matching set) because I like it better.

            I didn’t have a clue that he was even thinking of proposing, so the topic of rings never even came up in conversation.

      1. Lisa*

        Yeah, its now a business expense, but I caution buying a nice one because HR could be like ‘oh hell no’. You could ask HR to give you a $ amount to stay within for this new request so that you are reimbursed. Let HR tell the manager that she is a doofus.

        1. Kelly*

          I think this is a great idea. She can report her manager without it seeming like she’s doing anything but following her instructions. lol

    2. Vicki*

      Good idea. Let’s go with an engagement ring with a thumb-sized “diamond” you can wave under the guy’s nose and say “Think you can afford me???”

  5. AdAgencyChick*

    This manager is a doofus.

    If the problem is that this woman was flirting BACK and helping the conversation stay off topic, then the manager should address that and tell her she needs to steer the conversation back toward business subjects. But if she was behaving professionally and men hit on her, a) not her fault; b) not something a wedding ring is going to change. Either way, the solution is not to make her wear one.

  6. Alli*

    Why is it on the woman to stop men from hitting on her? If the ring doesn’t work what’s the manager’s next suggestion, disfigure her face?

    1. Anonymous*

      Why is it on the woman to stop men from hitting on her?

      Because some people believe that a professional woman can and should be able to shut down inappropriate behavior immediately, and that if she can’t due to stupid reasons like needing to keep her job, it means she doesn’t want to. Like that post awhile back where a married manager kept hitting on a woman and everyone told her she must like the attention and that poor man and his poor wife this woman is leading him astray from, etc. Somehow in situations like this, men are Teflon. Women are responsible for shutting them down instead of the men being responsible for *not starting up in the first place.*

      Count on it, this manager’s sympathies lie with those poor helpless men this woman is ensnaring by standing there all attractive with naked fingers.

      1. Jamie*

        Which post was that?? I can’t imagine this group of commenters slut shaming anyone for that.

          1. Jamie*

            Thanks – hard to believe I could blank on a post where cupcakes are featured.

            And yeah – I didn’t get that from the tone of the comments either.

              1. Josh S*

                I agree–Anonymous GGP was overstating somewhat. But still, it was pretty surprising of a sentiment from this crowd.

  7. Zee*

    Not to make this into a high school drama, but it sounds like the manager is jealous that her employee is getting the attention.

    1. some1*

      I hate to agree with you (especially as a feminist), but yes, I wondered of the manager is threatened for some reason, too.

    2. Kou*

      I generally don’t believe this is as common a behavior as people think it is, but I really do think that could be in play here.

      My other thought, though, was that the manager is just highly uptight and genuinely believes it either reflects poorly on the company or just thinks it’s distracting from the reason they’re there. I’m sure most of us have seen instances where a pretty young lady with a lot of energy is trying to network and market her company at an event and all around her are dudes who are 100% not interested in the company but want to get attention from her. If the manager is very conservative that may strike her as inappropriate and contrary to their goals at the conferences– and I think that actually makes the wedding ring explanation make more sense. Since pretty much everyone knows a ring won’t stop crap, if the manager just has some more “outdated” standards that would also explain why that would be a solution in her mind.

    3. Anonymous*

      What would you say if the manager was a man? Sadly, I can imagine this scenario with a boss of either gender.

      1. Alli*

        A male manager can still be jealous. If he likes the employee and doesn’t like it when other men get in her space.

        1. Melissa*

          Or if he likes the men and is jealous that she’s attracting all their attention. Works that way too.

    4. The gold digger*

      I just saw a movie – and I cannot remember the name to save my life, but I assure you that I will wake up at 2:00 a.m. tonight with the title in my mind – where the husband tells the wife, who is nervous about seeing someone she knew in high school who was mean to her, “High school is over.”

      She replies, “High school is never over.”

  8. some1*

    I’m no super-model, but I am told I’m attractive and I get hit on from time to time. AND I have been friends with girls/women who were much more attractive than me, and let me tell you, if the young woman in question was cute enough to get hit on that much at the conference, she has been getting hit on for years and in plenty of contexts, so I am sure she has figured out how to politely deflect male attention.

    It’s offensive to me that the manager, especially as a woman, feels the need to make her employee lie by omission because of something she can’t control.

    1. Jamie*

      Wouldn’t just be a lie of omission – it will easily lead to lies of commission.

      In small talk people often ask about each others spouses and who among us hasn’t had conversations with other women about our engagement rings? So she would have to follow through and carry the lie to her fictional husband…does she have fictional children? Wasn’t there an episode of Friends where Joey had a fictional wife and kids and Chandler congratulated him on how powerful his imaginary sperm was?

  9. Judy*

    When I was single in the late 80s and early 90s, I kept a plain gold band in my change purse with me all the time. I generally wore it on airplanes and when eating alone on business trips. It pretty much eliminated the “Want to go to the bar during the layover?”, “Where are you staying, would you like to go to dinner?” and allowed me to go to hotel restaurants alone instead of having to always order room service.

    It was suggested to me by an older co-worker when I was complaining about the fairly significant number of approaches during a trip. I never wore it while working, just during my solo traveling time.

    1. EmPowerMe*

      Fair enough. I think what distinguishes your situation is that it was your CHOICE, rather than an imposed demand.

      As a feminist, I staunchly believe that women should not have to contend with inappropriate male behavior… but realistically sometimes we need to take actin ourselves. It sounds like your strategy was effective in that context.

      1. Louis*

        Just one thing,

        Notting in the OP comment leads to beleive that the males behavior is inappropriate either. They flirt, she turn them down, they leave.

        You can’t blame a guy for trying to initiate something with a pretty girl. You can blame him for behaving like a douchebag when she turm him down.

        1. KellyK*

          That depends entirely on what the comment is and how far they go before she turns them down. Plus, there’s something sleazy about hitting on someone who’s being paid to be nice to you (salespeople, waitstaff, etc.), because they’re in a position where they aren’t necessarily free to brush you off.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            “Plus, there’s something sleazy about hitting on someone who’s being paid to be nice to you (salespeople, waitstaff, etc.), because they’re in a position where they aren’t necessarily free to brush you off.”

            Was just about to say exactly this.

            1. KellyK*

              She is in the sales/member services department of our company and has only been here about 3 months. It is part of her job to attend conferences with the manager of that department (she is older) and they are supposed to talk to other companies about joining our company.

              So she’s not just attending the conference; she’s in a sales role talking to other companies about membership.

        2. Original Dan*

          Thank you. I was thinking the same thing.

          It’s like we’re supposed to feel so bad for those poor girls that have to put up with being attractive. It’s just such a burden. Boo hoo :’-(

          Given, there are plenty of men who don’t take “no” very well, but c’mon, not all of us are like that.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Wait a second. When you’re at a professional conference trying to do your job, it’s annoying as hell to have to deal with men hitting on you. Keep in mind — just like with people who want to call to follow up on their job applications — it’s not just one person doing it; it’s multiple people. Having a bunch of guys coming on to you when you’re trying to work — and doing it in a context where your job requires you to be nice to them — is a legitimate complaint. It’s not a humblebrag.

            1. Mimi*

              …and by the way, it is a to be hit on EVERYWHERE YOU GO. My co-worker (who is just gorgeous and the nicest person you’ll ever meet) gets hit on whenever she gets gas, goes grocery shopping, walks down the hall, visits the dentist, or walks her dog. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. Sometimes you just want to live your life in peace!

                1. Louis*

                  Sure it can be a drag to get hit on continuously but the guy that try to initiate something doesn’t really know that you have been hit one multiple time already.

                  At some point he’s just showing his interest. IMHO as long he’s doing it in a tastfull manner and can take no for an answer, he’s not doing anything wrong.

                  Flirting in a work setting does occasionnaly lead to relationship (not necessarly a wise choice of relatationship but still it happen often enough).

                  It’s not like women wear a sign saying “I’m open to taking offer” or “Don’t bother, not interested” so a guy that is interested has to take a chance.

                  Taking rejection gracefully is a requirement for a civilised human behing, but asking him not to even try is not realistic imho.

                2. Rana*

                  True, but at least have some sympathy for the person who has to put up with yet another solicitation – especially since for each of these encounters there’s usually no way to predict whether the guy hitting on you will gracefully take no for an answer, or end up escalating it into a Huge Deal.

                  And time and place matter. A lot.

                3. Jennifer*

                  “It’s not like women wear a sign saying “I’m open to taking offer” or “Don’t bother, not interested” so a guy that is interested has to take a chance. ”

                  I *would* wear a “don’t bother” sign if I actually thought guys would listen to that. I am not attractive and I don’t flirt and I do my best to NOT send off signals of “I will fuck you!” to random dudes, but some people will not take no for an answer. Hell, “don’t bother” apparently does mean “I will fuck you if you keep harassing me about it” to those people.

              1. Original Dan*

                Oh good grief! In our culture, it is a blessing to be attractive. There is no shortage of studies that have proven attractive people get more opportunities and generally achieve greater success with less effort than the plain folk.

                We all have our personal challenges, but seriously, you’re not going to get many to feel bad for you because you’re just so damn cute …

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Come on. I haven’t seen anyone argue it’s better to be unattractive than attractive. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a pain in the ass to be repeatedly hit on when you’re trying to do your job; of course it is.

                2. Jamie*

                  Seriously – she’s right. My daughter works in food service and is the definition of our society’s standard of beauty. She’s blonde, perfect figure, big doe eyes, great smile…I know, boo hoo…but she’s also naturally sunny so she is one of the rare few who actually loves her McJob. She knows the names of all the elderly who come in, she knows the names of their pets…they come in specifically to show her the latest pics of their grand kids or dogs.

                  What she doesn’t love is having to walk the line of being polite to men who flirt with her when she’s just trying to get them the burger they ordered. Because she can’t tell them to f off if they don’t stop because she needs to be nice to “the customers” so she has to come up with polite non-answers for the personal questions and the come-ons. And THAT’S the problem Alison spoke of in another comment. When people are just trying to do their jobs it sucks that other people take advantage of the restrictions requiring them to be nice or at least not dismiss you out of hand because they don’t want to lose their job over you.

                  You may be equals as human beings, no question, but the power dynamic isn’t equal and no one should take advantage of that.

    2. Elizabeth*

      I have friends who have worn rings when they traveled in certain countries that have different attitudes toward women. Two female friends wore rings when they were traveling around Africa together so they could convincingly tell over-friendly cab drivers etc. that their husbands were back at the hotel, and a couple that I’m friends with wore rings so they could stay in hotel rooms etc. together without causing a scandal. But in both cases it was their choice, not someone else’s – and it was to fit in with a very different culture.

    3. Lanya*

      In my faith, we wear our wedding rings on our right hand, which can be confusing to outsiders. So if I am away on a trip or in a business situation, I will often switch mine to my left hand so that it’s very obvious that I am married. It is highly effective at deterring unwanted attention.

      But I choose to do that. I am not sure why this young woman’s manager thinks it was at all appropriate to make that kind of suggestion.

        1. PX*

          Not sure if its a faith thing, but I’ve always thought its a cultural thing? I go between Europe, North America and (east)Africa and see rings on left/right hands regardless of religion. I just judge based on the type of ring and ‘is it on the ring finger’!

  10. Joey*

    I thought people that hire young and pretty sales people hire them at least partly because they believe sex sells.

    1. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise*

      Maybe the manger is getting a little irked that she isn’t receiving any attention from the male folk.

      1. HAnon*


        Unless this woman is over-encouraging the flirting in a significant way, it’s just a fact of life — her manager should be glad that she’s attractive and engaging enough that people want to talk to her–people will remember their company if they like her! Sounds like some major jealousy issues here…unless OP’s wearing skimpy outfits and boozing it up while making sexually inappropriate comments, I can’t imagine that she’s not carrying herself in a professional manner. Telling her to wear work-appropriate attire and carry herself in a professional manner is one thing. Telling her to lie about her marital status is quite another…

  11. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise*

    A+ for mentioning sublte retaliation. It’s those subtle, backroom, office politic games that can get you everytime. Especially when you are junior in your career and don’t know how to spot the games people play.

  12. Canuck*

    I detect some jealousy in the OP’s boss. Because good or bad, most businesses would simply use that sex-appeal to generate more sales! Now, I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s fairly obvious that many companies use attractive people to sell things…. have you seen most of the sales reps for big pharma?

    1. ThatHRGirl*

      SERIOUSLY. I just went to a big job fair and our booth was directly across from them. Knocked me down a peg or two :)

  13. jmkenrick*

    And what if she’s asked about the ring? Or runs into a friend at the conference?

    The manager is essentially asking this employee to lie. That is so odd.

    I will say, from my time in retail, that it’s really difficult to navigate away from flirtatious overtures when you’re being paid to be friendly and open with people about your products, and I totally get that’s a sticky situation. But this is just a crazy response.

  14. Gobbledigook*

    She should get the gaudiest mood ring she can find and say to her boss: “Do you think this will do the trick?”

    In all seriousness i am having trouble not using profanity to describe how crackers this boss is!

  15. AnotherAlison*

    I assume the manager was the one who hired the young, pretty employee. The manager should consider her an asset, not a liability. While she has to keep her conversations business-focused and appropriate, her looks can open doors to conversations with people who may otherwise ignore her (because she’s young, green, and they assume she has no decision-making power).

    And I agree with others, the ring wouldn’t stop the attention.

    1. Jamie*

      I was sarcastic up top – but it would stop some of it.

      Don’t get me wrong – she shouldn’t wear one and I think this is an insane request – but I remember being single and there was nothing that slammed an attractive guy in the “not in a million freaking years” category like a wedding ring. It was the jewelry equivalent of a cold shower. Next! I bet there are tons of guys who might be thrilled to flirt, but lost all interest in flirting with a married woman.

      Again – so not the problem here – I just can’t believe there are that many men for whom being married is an irrelevant status.

      1. Joey*

        You’re talking about guys with morals, ethics and professionalism. Guys that hit on women while they’re trying to sell something to them don’t have those qualities. They know exactly what they’re doing.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I’ll probably draw fire for this, but I wouldn’t say that all those men are unethical and unprofessional.

          Obviously, if a guy point-blank asks you to go to his room, then he’s a scumbag, but I do think some men flirt with women when they talk with them because they do not know the proper way to approach a woman in a business situation.

          The type of conversation I’m thinking is if someone asks me how long I’ve been in Chocolate Teapots, and I say 15 years, and the man says something like, “You’re kidding. Did you start when you were 12? You look so young.” I don’t consider this appropriate. I doubt they’d say that to a baby-faced guy. Another example is when they act like they’re your date at conference dinners, making sure you have wine, etc. Umm, I can do it myself, but that’s how they would treat their normal female dinner companion, so I think it can be confusing. I don’t consider the guy immoral for making that type of comment or behavior.

          1. Jamie*

            I don’t even consider that flirting – that’s just being flattering. I get that all the time when I tell people how old my kids are – “What? did you have them in grade school?” At least in my case it’s never been flirty – just people thinking compliments are small talk.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              I don’t like strangers talking about my appearance, even if it’s a compliment. My age & weight seem to be fair game for comments, and it’s not really cool with me.

              1. Jamie*

                I agree that it’s not anyone’s place to make personal comments. It doesn’t bother me personally, but I totally get how it’s not cool and if people were smart they wouldn’t touch those kind of comments.

          2. Hmm*

            At conferences, I’ve noticed men always seem to want to “buy me a drink.”

            The drinks are free, man. You aren’t fooling me.

            But I think the reason is because of exactly what you stated here.

        2. Anonymous*

          Exactly. I was actually told by a friend that I should wear my grandmother’s diamond like an engagement ring to *attract* men; she said guys only want something when they think it’s already taken.

          I said “…And this is something I *want* in a husband?”

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Maybe my ring is too small, but it never slowed anyone down. (Or, there were just so many guys lined up to hit on me that it did slow some down, but plenty still tried.) ; )

        My theory is that there’s some correlation to age. The OP’s coworker at 23 may not look old enough to be married. I was married very young. Maybe the young male mind can’t process two seemingly incongruent signals – young & cute, but already taken! I was always slightly annoyed that I had to explain that I was married when I already had a ring on.

      3. Job seeker*

        Maybe this young lady just doesn’t know what to do in a business situation. When I was in my early 20’s I had a lot of male attention, especially at one place I worked. I worked the main desk in the lobby and I had older and younger guys stand there and try to flirt with me. One older man kept telling me how he had bedroom eyes. Honestly, I did not have a clue what in the world he was talking about back then. I got in trouble because I pretended to be using the phone when a couple of these guys came up. I could not get them to go away nicely.

        On the flip side, later when I worked for an engineering firm I got asked out by several of the engineers there. I did date a couple of them (married one) but this one guy in management asked me out. I thought that he was married. He wore a wedding band and was young like me. When he called me to ask me out I mentioned this. He told me he was not married but just wore this ring to make girls think he was. That sounded so crazy. I did not go out with him and later on I found out he was not married.

        Still, I do not think this young lady should be told to wear a ring. She is probably stressed enough wanting to not offend anyone because of her job but not knowing how to just tell people in a business environment to please leave me alone.

        1. Anonymous*

          That guy with the ring sounds like someone probably once told him that “married men look more managerial/powerful/etc” and he took it to heart

          1. Job seeker*

            Ha Ha. So funny. I still remember that guy. But, seriously I do understand being very young, not knowing how to deal with flirty men in a business setting. It is intimidating to have older men (young ones too) that are the customer and you are suppose to be nice. It was hard when all I knew to do back then was pretend to be on the phone talking to another customer. My supervisor got very mad at me and told me she was once young and pretty too and men used to bother her. I understand this young girl all too well.

    2. CoffeeLover*

      Ahhh the challenges of the beautiful :P.

      Joking aside though, I agree that being good-looking increases the amount of people that approach you, and then it’s up to you to a)make it clear your not interested and b)make this person a contact. If anything, the boss should think it’s an asset; she’s making more contacts! I mean obviously if the coworker is keeping things professional and not reciprocating the advances. I also sense the inklings of jealousy.

  16. Hard @ Work*

    Well, unfortunately, it reads like this lady is a positional leader in the company. And by that, I mean that she probably obtained her position not for any ability to really lead, but by seniority or some other kind of connection and has used her authoritative position for an extremely inappropriate reason. I don’t believe this behavior to be the quality of a real leader. I also agree with the other posts – a ring is not repellent. Pepper spray is. Of course, I’m kidding about the pepper spray bit, but seriously, get real. Biology is a fact, and discrimination is illegal.

  17. EnnVeeEl*

    I think the manager is jealous of the attention this young lady is getting.

    And although she gave in to this ridiculous request…It won’t stop her from getting hit on, and it won’t stop the manager from being a hater.

    The manager is going to be mad when someone compliments this young lady on her shoes (male or female), , thanks her for helping out on a project, etc.

    When someone shows you who they are (petty, vindictive, envious, unprofessional) believe them. This poor woman will have more problems out of this manager.

    1. Jamie*

      Agreed this manager sounds like she will be a problem on many levels.

      And I think it should be illegal to have a problem with compliments on cute shoes. How else am I supposed to make small talk with women I don’t know well? Shoes/bags are my go to – with out that I got nothing.

      1. EnnVeeEl*

        I have to agree. I like compliments. I like to give compliments. I’ve never gotten a compliment at work that I felt was something else – like someone hitting on me or something. They were just being nice.

        When people have said inappropriate things to me at work, it was pretty clear it was inappropriate, and they were hoping it opened the door to me responding. Uh, no.

        This manager, however…is NOT NICE.

        1. Job seeker*

          I agree completely. Maybe this older lady is just a little bit jealous of this girl. I agree this manager is not nice.

      2. The gold digger*

        Am I the only person who has ever had a conversation with the woman in the stall next to her about the other person’s shoes? Because I have seen some really cute shoes in public restrooms.

  18. Bess*

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees some insecurity on the manager’s part. Because of that, it may well be difficult or impossible to get the manager to see reason (although hopefully not). But still, way, way over the line.

    And I have to echo that a ring is not going to stop all advances. Some, probably, but as someone who is young, female, not too bad looking, married, wears a wedding ring, and works in a male-dominated field, I still get hit on at work and conferences — especially conferences. There seems to be a certain type of man who is (usually) married himself and seems to see conferences as “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” (even when the conference is in Columbus, OH), i.e., whether or not anyone is married or otherwise in a relationship is irrelevant to conference hook-ups. It’s creepy, and really frustrating when you’re there to talk business, but it exists.

    Also, given that the employee in question is young, pretty, and in sales, it’s possible that some of the men think that sex is actually a possibility — a “perk” if they buy from your company. Really, really creepy? Yes, but I’ve seen men assume that (in pharmaceutical sales, I don’t know how common such assumptions are in other industries). Again, that type of creepy guy is not going to be put off by a wedding ring.

    All of which is irrelevant, because the boss has absolutely no right to require her employee to pretend to be married.

    1. EnnVeeEl*

      I’ve encountered this type of man at conferences. Just on The Prowl. I’m sure there are women that do this too. I guess I could be flattered, but seeing as I feel they are approaching anyone and everyone to see if they will take them up on their “offer,” it’s kind of hard to feel special.

      And yes I’m married and have been for YEARS. I wear a ring. They don’t care.

      1. Bess*

        Yes, to be fair, there are likely women who treat conferences the same way. I just don’t have personal experience of being hit on by them.

      2. Original Dan*

        A ring actually attracts this type. If she’s married, then it’s “no strings attached”, and she has reason to keep it quiet. Perfect.

  19. Kelly*

    Sounds to me like her manager is actually jealous of the attention this young lady is getting. I doubt very seriously her beauty is interfering with her ability to get the job done or the manager would be making suggestions on how she can improve her performance and not focusing on her looks being an issue.

  20. AMG*

    1. Time to run screaming from this crazy manager and get a new job.
    2. I hear jealousy from the manager in this as well.
    3. My husband,who is also in sales FWIW, sweats he gets hot on more now that he wears a ring.

  21. Ann O'Nemity*

    I wish we had the first hand account from either the flirtation magnet or their manager. The description of the manager seems so outrageous that I wonder if there is more to this story than what we’re hearing.

  22. Ariancita*

    OP needs to try to put a stop to this. Because…

    1. The wedding ring won’t solve the problem
    2. So then, what next?

    What is the boss going to require of her when the OP continues to attract flirtatious male attention at conferences?

      1. Jamie*

        I kind of had a posthumous crush on him in high school. He had this sexy vibe going on…kind of like Alexander Hamilton.

        And with that I will stop sharing.

        1. fposte*

          There are so many things wrong with that statement I don’t know where to start, but it has planted the fascinating picture of Richard Nixon fighting a duel, shoulders around his ears.

          1. Jamie*

            Actually posthumous was the wrong word since he didn’t die until ’94…but I don’t know what the word is when you have a celebrity crush on an older man’s younger self – maybe we don’t need a word for such a disturbing thing.

            Also, James Coburn when I was in Jr. High.

            And if I ever have a mural painted your dueling scene will be the front and center.

            1. Jamie*

              That’s my favorite! All his life he had those eyes that look right through you with the heavy brows…and with that I have new desktop wallpaper!

            2. Ariancita*

              Seeing this young picture of Nixon gives me hope about all my unrequited crushes….eventually, in the end, they will all have hair growing out of their ears.

            3. Jean*

              Gaah! Okay, he’s cute, but not cute enough to get me to forget Watergate, the ensuing coverup, the Saturday night massacre, the multitudes of (expletives deleted), the eighteen minutes of missing tapes, the hearings during the summer of 1973, or the once-famous poster showing mug shots of all of the guys involved–with “apprehended” stamped over every single photo except that of R.M. Nixon.

              I know this is waaayyy too political, so feel free to delete this comment. I’m just an old liberal who cannot shut up on some topics. I’d also be very happy to find work in a simpatico/similarly partisan organization.

            4. Sara*

              Well, now you having me googling pictures of all of our presidents when they were young. Darn they were handsome men. :-)

              1. fposte*

                There’s an amazing book about a project to create lifesize was models of George Washington at 20, 40, and 60, and one of the main point is that 20-year-old Washington, six foot tall, red-haired, and a killer dancer, was a serious hottie.

          2. Ariancita*

            Wow, my comment has taken an….original…turn. Is this where I confide my secret crush on Spock? :)

                1. karenb*

                  When I was younger I wanted to, and fantasized about, marrying R2-D2. Weird right along with you!

                2. Jamie*

                  Ariancita – I have no idea if you intended that the way I read it, but I just did an honest to god spit-take on my monitors.

                  Funniest post ever. You win.

            1. MeganO*

              One of my favorite things about my husband is that he can do the one-eyebrow “Fascinating.” Love love love it!

        2. Oxford Comma*

          Not with you on the Nixon thing, but I always thought Alexander Hamilton was probably pretty hot back in the day…

  23. Lexy*

    So… when I got married I started getting hit on WAY more than before I had the ring… Maybe I’m just a skeeze magnet, but it definitely attracted more than it detered.

    Not that that is even relevant since even if it *DID* work this is an insane request made by a jerk. UGH.

    1. -X-*

      I’m a guy.

      Once I was married, it seemed as a broad generalization I had more women being flirty with me than before. But I don’t think it was actually looking for “action” in most cases – rather they felt they could be flirty for fun without consequences.

      Had a baby recently (or rather my wife did) and it’s gotten even more intense.

      1. Original Dan*

        Same here. My ex hated it because sometimes I would be approached when she had stepped away for a minute.

        Honestly, I was flattered, but it was upsetting because it made her upset.

        Alas, now that I don’t wear a ring, the flirting has receded to crickets :-/

        1. Chinook*

          Atleast they waited until she walked away. I have had women ask for DH’s number while I stood next to him!

          1. Jean*

            There must be some sort of wisecrack that’s useful for these occasions. The problem is that it needs to combine a suitably polite surface message with a succinct-but-discouraging, or disapproving (or downright hostile) subtext. Unfortunately I’m too tired to think of anything other than the totally inappropriate “I have it on good authority that he likes to include his wife in _all_ social activities.” Delivered deadpan, of course, or with the barest hint of matter-of-fact cordiality.

            Maybe I need to take myself and my bizaare sense of humor offline and to bed?

      2. Lexy*

        I was travelling by myself several months ago and found a great lively local pub near where I was staying to get dinner. TWO different (seemingly mostly sober?) men found a way to ask me to leave with them. Even when I was single I never had dudes I wasn’tn actively flirting with/paying attention to try to get me home with them. It was bizarre.

        But I think for the most part you’re right, it’s a little innocent flirting between married people that isn’t even going to make it to hand on the knee territory.

      3. Ariancita*

        I think there is some validity to this assessment. I know I feel “safer” with someone who is married because I feel (wrongly, I’m sure for some guys) that it’s safer to be less on guard (I won’t say flirty, because that’s not it, but more friendly/open). With single guys, I have found one has to be really cognizant of how friendly gestures can be misinterpreted (especially if you come from an isolated rural area where you are expected to smile big, be super welcoming, and talk a lot to strangers and then find yourself living in a big city).

      4. CoffeeLover*

        I feel like I’m taking this on a tangent, but I read a study awhile ago (re: my memories a little fuzzy on it), that showed that women are generally more attracted to taken men while men are less attracted to taken women. I think the theory was that back in caveman days, a man with another woman meant he could provide so he was more attractive (think lion pride), on the other hand, a woman with a man meant man #2 would have to fight for her, so she was less attractive because it would mean conflict. They tested it by first having one group rate the looks of someone when they were by themselves and then another group rated them when they were with their significant other. Men with “gfs” were consistently rated hotter than when they were single, and women with “bfs” were rated less attractive than when they were single.

        1. CoffeeLover*

          Of course, as the others’ comments show, married women get their fair share of creeps… when their husbands are at a safe distance of course :)

          1. Kathryn T.*

            Or even when not.

            The worst is when a guy really sleazily and aggressively hits on (or gropes) me when my husband is standing RIGHT THERE, and then when I point out that I’m married to this handsome gentleman, the guy apologizes. . . to my husband.

    2. Broke Philosopher*

      I am not married, but I’ve noticed that if I go to a bar obviously on a date I got hit on much more than if I go out with my girlfriends! Very strange. I once had a guy wait til my gentleman caller got up to close his tab, then hit on me, and then went and apologized to the gc when I told him I wasn’t interested. Gross.

      1. Another Emily*

        Maybe this is the romance equivalent of how it’s easier to get a job if you’re already employed..?

  24. Mike C.*

    So to the guys reading this – when you hear from a female coworker, friend, sibling, SO, etc about things “they have to deal with” in the workplace, these are the types of things they are talking about.

    This example is particularly crazy, but it’s good to know that this sort of thing is real, and it’s out there.

    1. Jesicka309*

      I didn’t think it was a real thing, being pretty young and in my first post degree job in a gender neutral office…until our boss’ personal assistant quit. She mentioned off handedly that I’d be covering until the new girl started. The convo went like this:
      Me: new girl? So we’ve hired someone?
      Her: not yet, still interviewing.
      Me: so it could be a man, not a woman then, couldn’t it?
      Her: no. It won’t be a man
      Me: but…
      Her: it won’t be a man, don’t be ridiculous.

      And our boss is a woman too! :( I don’t know whether it’s because no men applied or were screened out for being ‘over qualified’ but it makes me sad that a pa position is automatically assumed to be for girls.

  25. mmdd*

    HAH! Imagine if she were married and her manager told her to take off her wedding ring at these conferences! Also, denying someone professional opportunities based on marital status has human rights claim written all over it…

    1. Jamie*

      I’m sure some states have expanded protections, but marital status in and of itself is not a protected class.

  26. Tiff*

    I think the young friend should just tell the boss lady point blank that she’s not comfortable wearing a fake ring and that a ring wouldn’t stop them anyway.

    The boss is insecure and she was not going to take that cute girl to another conference anyway, so might as well tell her the truth.

    Stuff like this is really hard for younger folks to get around though. At that age you’re too young to truly assert yourself. I know I took more stuff than I should have when I was 23. Or 26.

  27. QualityControlFreak*

    Hmm. Wearing a ring may stop *some* of the advances. I’m quite old, even, have been married for DECADES, and wear my rings to work every day. And once in a while, I still get hit on.

    Then there was the fellow who said, “If you weren’t wearing that ‘No Pest Strip’ I’d be asking ALL about you.” I laughed out loud.

    Works for the nice guys. The sleaze balls not so much. I agree with the “manager is jealous” theory. Also nuts.

  28. Janet*

    From a slightly different perspetive: I used to have to go to so many conferences at an old job. And my manager was very pretty – tall, blonde, thin, tanned. I am not a troll or anything but I certainly was the less-attractive of the two of us. She got hit on ALL the time. And she wasn’t interested. She was engaged and she never would have dated a work contact even if she wasn’t. However, she never quite shut down the advances. I very much felt like Velma to her Daphne. Was I jealous of the attention? Not exactly. I did not shed any tears that a bunch of elderly doctors did not want to go to bed with me. However, I was annoyed at feeling invisible constantly. It wasn’t the male attention I hated missing out on but the sheer assiness of the “I don’t want to f*ck you so I would rather you don’t exist right now” attitude of some of them. Another co-worker and I used to joke that we’d love to walk up to some of them and say “Hey, you’re still allowed to speak to me even if you don’t want to sleep with me.”

    If I thought that her putting on a wedding band would have improved the situation I might have been tempted to ask if she’d try it.

    So while I don’t think the person should put on a ring – that won’t make a difference – I think there are some ways that everyone can figure out how to make everyone in a conversation or meeting feel as if they belong there. I’m not trying to blame the victim or anything and I disagree with the manager’s methods but there’s nothing worse than feeling like the third-wheel on a business meeting that you have to be a part of.

    1. Tiff*

      Yeah but those guys were jerks. Depending on who I’m out with, I may be the “ugly friend” or the “pretty friend”, but either way a man with few morals is going to show his behind. I had a guy squeeze himself between my girlfiend and I at a bar, angle his back to me and essentially squeeze me out of a conversation. Now, I wanted my friend to tell him to buzz off but I also knew he was going to buy her a drink, so I tolerated his wack presence so that she could get a few free drinks. Then he was dismissed.

      But that was our little “girlfriend code” when we were younger. In a work setting there is no room for open jealousy, especially from management.

      1. Laura L*

        “Then he was dismissed.”

        I love how you phrased that! I’m picturing your friend as a the queen of England!

      2. Janet*

        I love him being dismissed! And yes, I get what you’re saying from a social setting – things can be tolerated a bit more.

        In a work setting? Well, we always talk about managing up – and I think that there’s also something called “managing out” – figuring out how to manage how other people treat you and treat others when they’re around you. I do NOT think a fake wedding band is a great way to “manage out” but I also think “I can’t help it if guys flirt with me and not my boss” is not managing out either. You can’t help it if they do, but you can manage the conversation and cut the flirting down and keep everyone involved in the work discussion.

  29. AB*

    If, as many here suspect, the reason for the manager to ask the subordinate to wear a ring is in part due to jealousy, I’m not impressed with the manager’s analytical skills.

    1. Nobody gets less physically attractive because they are wearing a ring.

    2. The reason for conflicting information about the consequences of a young, attractive woman wearing a wedding ring is simple:

    a) the number of bachelors interested in a serious relationship (the number of “legitimate interested parties)” approaching the lady will likely go down (since she no longer appear to be in the right co-hort of single ladies);

    b) the number of married men interested in a “night of fun away from home” approaching the lady will likely go up (because a married woman is much less likely to want to divulge the indiscretion, thus reducing their risk compared to hitting a single woman).

    So, depending on the type of event (with a higher proportion or young men interested in a serious relationship or older married interested in adulterous activity) the act of using a fake wedding ring would have a different effect. But regardless of it reducing or increasing the number of men hitting on the employee, I doubt it would reduce her popularity to a point of satisfying a jealous manager.

  30. Kelly O*

    I have never been so happy to be the fat girl wearing glasses in my entire life.

    I don’t think I’ve ever actually been hit on in public ever. Even when I was skinny and/or single. Although I do have bitchface.

    But yeah, I am happy about that right now.

    Anyone wanna share my cheese fries?

    1. Jamie*

      Ah, the bitchface…comes in handy all over the place – no matter how cute you are if you look like you want to cut them they scurry away.

      And yes please for the fries!

    2. Tiff*

      I swear “bitchface” could legitimately resolve 85% of the problems presented to AAM.

      “My coworker won’t stop clipping his toenails on my desk, help!” – solution: Bitchface

      “Mom says I should deliver candy grams with my face outlined in powdered sugar. Is this a good idea?” – solution: Respectful bitchface.

      “My boss says I should wear a prosthetic forhead so that no one hits on me ever. Is this legal?” – Super King Kamaya-maya Bitchface

      1. Natalie*

        Now I want a mug with “Solution: Bitchface” on it. I will keep at my desk in a passive-aggressive manner!

    3. Liz in a Library*

      That was exactly how I felt. My bitchface has the added bonus of being not just harsher but also less attractive than my non-“getting approached by strangers in public” face, so it very satisfactorily fends off a lot of this. Hooray!

    4. Rana*

      I love the bitchface. I will also say that getting grey hair also cuts down a ton on the stupid comments.

    5. QualityControlFreak*

      Two thoughts.

      1. Bitchface is contra-indicated in a client-facing position.

      2. It doesn’t always work. Some people enjoy being scared. Trust me.

    6. Jennifer*


      I have occasionally been hit on in public, but not often. Dorothy Parker was right about the “seldom.” Thank goodness. I have often thought that I’m glad I’m not hotter, or I’d have even more creeps going after me than I have now (once in a while).

    7. MeganO*

      Ahh yes, bitchface. Love it. I, too, want a mug.

      I do worry that mine is problematic (I’m a librarian in public service) as there’s a lot of overlap between my bitchface and my concentration-face. I have had people ask me if I’m upset or mad at them – no, I’m just trying to figure out a problem for someone!

      It sure does get the job done when strategically employed, though.

  31. HR Pufnstuf*

    Not right but not seeing anything legally actionable about the “request”. Might be a couple of states that would raise an eyebrow but that’d be as far as it goes.

  32. PPK*

    Since this has been filtered through a 3rd party (the OP)…I’m going to throw out a new (probably crazy) theory….is it possible that the manager was trying to help the employee? Was it really a threat to leave her out of conferences? Maybe the manager is concerned that the pretty employee will be harassed (beyond flirting) or end up with unwanted guests at her hotel room. The only ideas the manager has is to wear a ring so the employee might deflect these guys or not take her to the conference, for fear of something happening to her employee.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Someone who’s going to harass or assault you will usually do so whether you’re wearing a ring or not.

      And while I know this comment was well-intentioned, denying women professional opportunities out of a desire to protect them from men is, uh, problematic at best.

      1. Rachel*

        Yeah, it’s real problematic, on a whole lot of levels all at once. I’m not sure what would make me angrier, being hit on or being “protected” from being hit on. Creepy either way.

      2. NYC*

        And even if this manager was somewhat ‘kidding’ when she said “Either wear that or I am going to have to reconsider bringing you to these conferences” – it is still not right. This shouldn’t be up to her. I agree with Alison- the best thing that this manager could offer to this younger employee is HOW to deal with situations like this for real, as in teaching her. Not persuading her to pretend she is something- as in married. It is just not right. And another poster commented- what if she got caught lying, especially to someone who didn’t agree with that kind of charade…would that make you trust this person (and company as a whole) less? Possibly.

      3. PPK*

        I wasn’t thinking these were better or even good motivations (or good solutions). Just different ones than the manager being jealous. If the manager’s motivation was paranoia about safety, the OP might address the situation differently rather than assuming the manager is inwardly seething with jealousy.

    2. Jamie*

      By this logic my husband is less likely to be sexually assaulted in a mall parking lot than I am…however low my risk may be it’s greater than it is for a big ol’ male cop.

      If he decided to protect me by not allowing me to go out unescorted we’d have some serious marriage ending issues – it’s the same thing. You can’t penalize people because others may not behave properly.

      1. Rana*

        Exactly. My very first thought when I read this was “Yeesh, manager, blame the victim much?”

  33. Annie in SoCal*

    I worked retail in my twenties and was amazed at how many guys seemed to feel it was open season because I smiled and was friendly while I was waiting on them. I finally got sick of it and started wearing my grandmother’s wedding set to work. It did in fact stop a lot of the pickup lines, but one guy got very indignant with me because I “hadn’t given him his chance”!

    1. LAM*

      I work in retail and was actually thinking about doing this because of all the guys who think your flirting when you’re trying to help them find sizes or whatnot. Good to know it works in that kind or setting.

  34. Darcie*

    Am I the only person that doesn’t see a problem with this? It’s a small thing that she can do to make her boss happy. Her boss isn’t asking her to not shower, wear less makeup, or do anything that makes her look unappealing and also unprofessional. Her boss is asking her to wear a piece of metal — the reasons for her asking might be insane, or might not be insane… but it’s not a crazy thing to do. Some people wear fake rings on purpose. My sister is in sales as well, and says she finds people treat her with more respect when she wears a fake ring. You do what works. However, I like Alison’s advice about collaboratively dealing with the male attention better.

    1. AB*

      ” Her boss is asking her to wear a piece of metal — the reasons for her asking might be insane, or might not be insane… but it’s not a crazy thing to do.”

      It could create awkward situations if during networking someone (say, another woman) comments about the ring. What would you do then? Say it’s a request from your manager?

    2. Kate*

      Yes fake rings can be advantageous sometimes. But it’s up to the wearer to decide. I think the problem is the manager asking her to wear a ring and implying that if she didn’t her opportunities would be limited otherwise. And presumably if these are business contacts they are meeting at the conference they will be meeting again at some point. What’s she supposed to do then, remember to put on her fake ring every time she meets with these people, be it at a conference or in their office? That starts be be a big lie to keep track of when your “married” and when your not.

      My first job out of college, my boss’s boss (the VP of my department) flat out told me to NEVER wear a dress or skirt to work. The chairman of the company was old school- people presented to him in suits and ties, the women in suits- both pants or skirts. She told this to one other young co-worker too. I think it more had to do with the fact that she was a bit of a feminist. She was older and had a lot of experience in the corporate male-dominated world. So this could have been seen as advice from the older and wiser of how we wanted to be perceived. But the way she said it I had no doubt that I would be on her s#!t list if I actually showed up to work in a skirt one day.

    3. Jessa*

      If the boss has an issue with the attention the employee is getting, she needs to deal with having the employee handle it better (because if the employee is handling it, it’s none of the boss’s business.) And if the employee is handling it badly, that’s indicative of more than one social problem. And it needs to be handled, not “go wear a ring, or else.” because that’s not fixing anything. If guys hitting on the employee are making things uncomfortable then there are other issues, and one of them might be “wear less sexy makeup and more work appropriate stuff.” But the boss needs to get to the root of the problem. IF whatever is happening reflects badly on the company that’s one thing. If the boss is just jealous that needs to be dealt with too.

      1. Darcie*

        I think at a conference, it’s totally the boss’ business. This employee is trying to represent the company, and if men hitting on her if impairing her ability to be effective (for example if men aren’t taking her seriously because they’re busy flirting, and by extension not taking the company seriously), then that’s a reasonable thing for a manager to be concerned about. Sure, “wear this or else” is some pretty crappy management, and there are better ways of handling it, but I see wearing a ring as one of several potential strategies.
        I guess I don’t see it as a big deal. When you’re working you sometimes have to present yourself differently than you really are as a person.

        1. jmkenrick*

          I think I understand what you’re saying, but wearing a wedding ring and pretending to be married when you’re not IS a pretty big deal. I mean, that’s a whopper of a lie, and if it’s not one you’re comfortable telling, it’s weird having your boss tell you to lie.

          I, for one, would not feel comfortable or happy doing that. Plus, presumably she’ll meet people and make contacts and have to follow-up. People make small talk about families all the time – it’s par for the course – and now suddenly she’s in the position of having to fake that. That’s not really an ethical request for the manager to make.

          Additionally, if a man doesn’t take the employee seriously because she’s young and attractive and he’s tokenizing her, I think it’s doubtful a ring will do much to change that.

        2. Mike C.*

          I’m sorry, but personal items and statements (to some, even those of a religious nature!) are not a reasonable thing for a manager to be concerned about.

          It’s disgusting, sexist behavior and it shouldn’t have to be tolerated.

    4. Rana*

      She’s asking the employee to lie. That’s a deal-breaker for me, right there.

      She’s also blaming the victim for her own harassment, and threatening to punish her for it.

    5. Diane*

      I had a boss tell me to wear a padded bra because she claimed when I got cold, it distracted the men. Hey, it’s just a piece of fabric. Why would you think I’d have a problem with it?

      1. Jamie*

        Actually, I don’t think your boss should have told you what to do to address the problem – but letting you know that you didn’t have proper coverage was something she should have brought up to you, discretely.

        Now if you wanted to address it by changing bras, heavier sweaters, or other methods that’s up to you…but it is a managers job to address problems of unprofessional dress.

        1. Diane*

          I agree that she should have brought it to my attention calmly and in a low-key way. But her approach was to joke about it to a coworker until I was offended, then yell at me to change clothes. Mind you, I usually wore turtle necks and sweaters, and when I finally, tearfully asked a male colleague if it was a problem, he said he hadn’t noticed and my boss was an ass. But I was young, naive, and didn’t know how to calmly respond to absurdity.

      2. Mimi*

        I get what you’re saying; on the other hand, couldn’t she deal with the guys being distracted? “Marvin, quit staring at Diane’s chest and get back to work already.”

    6. Zed*

      What if her boss were asking her to remove her wedding ring because male customers didn’t respond as well to a married woman? Or to wear a cross instead of a Star of David?

      1. Sara*

        Or, what if she did wear a burqa, and her boss was asking her to take it off to be more appealing to men?

        1. Rayner*

          Or in a less extreme example, a hijab. Or more modest clothing and was being told to unbutton a few buttons, or pull up her skirt.

    7. Rayner*

      The problem is, she shouldn’t have to do it at all. “Stop flirting with me,” from the coworker or “Here, coworker, let’s sit down and discuss some strategies for dealing with the guys at the conference, because it’s getting kind of out of hand,” from the manager is a lot better than faking being married. Which is what she’s asking the co-worker to do.

      It’s cool if the co-worker doesn’t mind. If she does, she’s being told that her roles will be limited because of it.

      And it’s not just a piece of metal to some people. It might be an important symbol of their relationships, and being ask to fake it is wrong.

  35. Anonymoose*

    I see a lot of people commenting that this manager must just be jealous of all of the attention the younger woman is receiving from men. Have to say, I find that pretty disgusting. There’s no other context in which this woman might be unhappy with this sort of interaction or distraction in what is meant to be a professional setting? Really? The only possibility is that she’s a desperate hag who is insecure with her looks and/or mad that she’s not getting sexual attention from boys?

    Most women aren’t so one dimensional.

    1. AB*

      Anonymoose wrote: “I see a lot of people commenting that this manager must just be jealous of all of the attention the younger woman is receiving from men. Have to say, I find that pretty disgusting. There’s no other context in which this woman might be unhappy with this sort of interaction or distraction in what is meant to be a professional setting?”

      I agree — I posted a comment taking that assumption (starting with “If, as many here suspect, the reason for the manager to ask the subordinate to wear a ring is in part due to jealousy, I’m not impressed with the manager’s analytical skills.”), but to be honest, that never crossed my mind before starting to read other comments.

      My first guess would be a misguided attempt to solve what the manager sees as a problem (too much attention on the employee being distracting and preventing her from doing the work the manager expects to be done during a conference).

      Since in my 20s I used to die my dark blond hair brown to reduce the attention of the opposite sex, I am not too fast to attribute this to jealousy either. I’m like Kelly O: when I see a woman getting all the attention instead of me, I just celebrate the fact that it’s not me!

    2. jmkenrick*

      I agree with this. Jumping to this conclusion isn’t likely to help address the issue.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      I agree. And it’s important to keep in mind that we don’t have a first-hand account. It’s entirely possible that the manager asked the young employee to spend less time fielding flirtations and more time on selling. And perhaps in the course of the conversation, the manager even suggested wearing a wedding ring. Can you picture it?

      Manager: Please focus more of your time on selling the products.
      Employee: But all the guys keep flirting with meeee! I can’t help it! What I am supposed to do?
      Manager: Redirect the conversation to work.
      Employee: I don’t know how!
      Manager: Groan. Have you tried wearing a wedding ring?

      Employee (to co-worker): My manager is making me wear a wedding ring to conferences because I’m young and beautiful and everyone flirts with me!

  36. Original Dan*

    There’s no other context in which this woman might be unhappy with this sort of interaction or distraction in what is meant to be a professional setting? Really? The only possibility is that she’s a desperate hag who is insecure with her looks and/or mad that she’s not getting sexual attention from boys?

    Can you offer another explanation?

    1. Anonymous*

      Can you, Dan? Are you saying that the jealousy justification is the limit of your imagination? Or are you indicating that you just think so little of women, generally speaking, that this kind of petty superficiality and single-mindedness seems totally realistic?

      I’m not trying to be an ass to you, I just don’t understand why you’d ask that.

      In my opinion, the desperate hag scenario bespeaks a very low opinion of women. To imply that the only plausible logic for a woman’s vexation in this situation is that obviously she must (A) be insecure with her looks &/or (B) want sexual attention from men is really ugly. Consider what is really being suggested here.

      1. Original Dan*

        Ha ha. It’s not the limit of my imagination, but I’m realistic enough to recognize that it’s a reasonably plausible explanation. And considering the number of other posters who also recognized the signs of jealousy, I don’t feel like the crazy one here.

  37. S*

    Although I think the manager sounds a bit crazy (!) the fact is……it’s a third person account. And it could have very well gone down just like Ann O’Nemity mentioned above and we’re just blasting on someone without having any side of the story. Not to sound like a hypocrite but (and I hate to admit this) but my first instinct was that maybe she IS jealous…..but then I remembered how it felt to be called the “fat old jealous bitch” at work when in fact……looks/age/etc had nothing to do with anything. (I was 26 when this happened btw).

    1. fposte*

      Sure, all of the OPs could be misrepresenting, and so far we’ve never gotten anybody else’s side of the story. In general, though, we go with the OP’s version of the story because that’s what we get, and since we aren’t blasting anybody directly, it doesn’t really matter what we say about her.

      1. S*

        Generally I agree with that, but in majority of the cases I’ve seen here the OP is directly involved. There was some other speculation elsewhere in this thread that there may be more to this story than just what the OP’s told us….

        1. fposte*

          Sure; there’s just about always some speculation that we’re not getting the full story on a post, and often we probably aren’t. But since our discussion has no effect at all on the people involved and we can’t explore all the possible things that might have happened aside from what an OP actually says, it makes sense to largely take the OPs at their word.

          1. S*

            That’s true……you have to forgive me…..I come from another forum where when people talk about something crazy, 99% of the time they’re called trolls and not believed. Very very extreme but it’s hard not to be skeptical sometimes. This is one of the things I love about this blog/commenting section, the trust that an OP is given that I hardly see in most other forums.

            1. fposte*

              And my feeling is that even if they *are* trolls, we get a good conversation by treating the question seriously, whereas just dismissing a post shuts down the discussion.
              Whereas if we were talking about people we actually knew and might have an effect on, I totally agree that we should not just condemn somebody without hearing the larger picture. I guess I just need to make sure I change gears when I turn to real life :-).

  38. Anonymoose*

    This reminds me of a former supervisor I once endured. She, too, was a cute 20-something (whereas I was, ahem, not). On her VERY FIRST DAY — again: as MY SUPERVISOR — she told me her last boss didn’t like her, and I quote, “…because I was younger than her, thinner than her, and I had perkier breasts than she did.”

    I think it’s more likely that her last boss didn’t like her because she was a great big condescending asshole.

    That’s certainly why I didn’t like her. (And I have no doubt that she thought I was “just jealous” of her…and her allegedly perky tits.)

    1. S*

      Ugh what a jerk!
      For every “jealous old woman” is an equally arrogant, egotistical and clueless girl. (Not calling anyone in this story that, just speaking generally).

  39. Rayner*


    That is so wrong, it’s beyond thinking about. How on earth could a manager – or anyone, in fact – suggest that?

    Why should a woman of any age have to put on a wedding ring and pretend to be married in order to discourage men to stop flirting with her? It’s not 1870 ! No means no, and if they’re at a conference and this occurs /at/ the conference (as opposed to say, happy hour at the pub afterwards), then it shouldn’t be happening to the point that the manager needs to suggest a wedding ring at all. A bit of gentle flirting can be nice for both parties but if the co-worker is unhappy – or the other party is – then it needs to stop because she says so. Not because, “Oh, you’re married?”

    If the co-worker in question is being pressured by men not leaving alone after she’s declined, the manager should work with her to develop strategies to deal with men being pushy or not taking no and working on bringing her confidence up, but putting on a wedding ring as a solution is at best, weak, and at worse, a minefield for HR, especially because the manager is threatening to limit her duties and stop bring her to conferences purely on the basis of not wearing it.

    If she’s not focused on the job at the conference – or if that’s how the manager perceives it – , then the manager needs to address that. And you know. Manage. Not suggest a bit of expensive bling as a deterrent.

    It brings up all sorts of issues – such as what happens if she were to meet a person from the conference as a client/user of their company, and suddenly have someone point out she’s not wearing the ring? It could make her look a bit … not dishonest, but not exactly good, because she’s lied to them before.

    From a personal perspective, the co-worker might not want to wear a ring because she’s not married, and some people believe it’s bad luck. Or it may be religiously important for her to not wear it one because they have different symbols of marriage etc. Or she may not be able to afford a ‘realistic’ looking ring for work purposes only when it wasn’t expected or reimbursable.

    Choosing wedding rings can be very significant for people, and wearing one to deter people from flirting may feel like a bit of a ….fake thing? Dishonest?

    Baaaaaaaad idea all around.

    Also, I don’t know whether it is jealousy on the manager’s part. It could be incredibly poor handling of the situation, and just not dealing with managing appropriately, rather than “oh, she’s being flirted with again WHY AM I NOT BEING FLIRTED WITH#! ‘co-worker’ wear a ring so you won’t be so attractive to people!” Then again, it might not. But jumping to the attractiveness conclusion is more than a bit sexist.

    1. Zed*

      Yeah, there’s a lot of reasons why a woman might be uncomfortable wearing a fake wedding ring. In addition to the ones you mentioned, she might find it very awkward indeed if she goes to one of these conferences and meets a man/woman she actually *is* interested in dating! (Not that a professional conference is or should be a dating service, but… things happen.)

    2. S*

      You know, after I commented, I totally forgot that this manager was willing to deny her professional opportunities if she refused to wear a wedding ring. IMO that’s unacceptable, and…frankly I think it makes her a plain ol jerk!

  40. Anne*

    I think we need a tag specifically for the entries where Alison’s answers start with “What the…?!”

    Those are always the best.

  41. Joey*

    This reminds me of the dentist that fired his assistant for being so attractive he didn’t want to chance having an affair with her.

  42. mel*

    Wow, yet another example of the misogynistic view that men “simply can’t control their actions” and that women need to be blamed for everything they do. Forget training male employees to act professionally and treat women as adults of equal standing (instead of just a smurfette)! CLEARLY it’s way more effective to blame the women for being attractive and throw a blanket over them in public.

    I’m not even that attractive and yet I still can’t have a day at work where I’m not ignored or called pet names or proposed to, nor can I take the bus without being accosted or touched by some stranger, or offered small amounts of cash for sexual acts. My heart goes out to this woman.

    1. Original Dan*

      I still can’t have a day at work where I’m not ignored or called pet names or proposed to, nor can I take the bus without being accosted or touched by some stranger, or offered small amounts of cash for sexual acts.

      Wow. That sounds awful. And it’s not the norm. If you are dealing with this on a daily basis, you need to move or get the authorities involved.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s actually pretty common for women in reasonably metropolitan areas who spend any amount of time on public transportation, walking, or otherwise around large groups of strangers.

      2. Rana*

        What Alison said. It’s a lot more common than you’d think, not least because often the presence of disapproving male witnesses tends to discourage the worst of it. Thus these sorts of things women experience get dismissed, because most men never see them.

        1. Rana*

          And it pretty much starts at puberty. Which is why it gets so tiring, and why each separate incident can add up to a bigger deal than it seems on the other side. To the man, it’s one interaction, engaged in with one woman; to the woman, it’s one more interaction of that kind in a very long line of them, some of them with rather creepy outcomes.

  43. Manda*

    GRRR!!! This angers me!

    I’m a strange girl who does not wear any jewellery, ever. I have never liked it, nothing will ever change that, and I will not make an exception if I ever get married. If someone ever tried to force me to wear jewellery for any reason, I would be fuming! A fake wedding ring is about the worst case scenario.

    Aside from that, absence of a ring implies absolutely nothing anyway. It can mean available, single and not looking, in a relationship, or in rare cases, even married.

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