my boss won’t let me floss at work, leaving during the busiest time of year, and more

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

1. My manager won’t let me floss at work

My manager has forbidden flossing in the bathroom at work, even in a stall! Her office has a view of the hallway to the bathroom. When she sees me, she comes out of her office to see if I’m holding floss, or follows me to the bathroom to make sure I’m not flossing.

I’ve tried telling her that I have to floss for medical reasons (I have periodontal disease), but she doesn’t believe me because I have “pretty white teeth” (1. I have nice teeth because I take care of them now and 2. it’s actually a GUM disease!). She says that if she can wait to floss at night, so can I. As far as I know, I’m the only person who flosses at work. Maybe someone complained? I’ve always tried to be discreet about it (flossing in the bathroom, off to the side, washing my hands and the counter after, etc.). Personally, I don’t think it’s terribly gross and regardless, I need to do it!

So now I floss in my cube when I know she’s in a meeting, but that really isn’t ideal. I still have to get up to wash my hands after, and I’m afraid that she will see the floss in my trashcan. Am I in the wrong? If not, what can I do to convince my manager that this is a reasonable accommodation to a medical need?

What the hell? Something’s up with your manager.

Try this: “Jane, you’ve made it clear that you don’t want me to floss at work. What I maybe haven’t made clear enough is that I’m following specific instructions from a doctor. I’d be glad to bring in whatever documentation might be needed for medical accommodations.”

And if you have an HR department, get them to tell your manager to knock this off.

2. Is it bad to leave during my department’s busiest time of year?

Every year, my department of 4 people hosts an annual event for our clients and prospective clients that is the biggest event of the year for our company. Two months before the event and two months after the event is extremely busy with all the prep and post-event work we have to do. Due to our small department size, we are always stretched thin and everyone has a major role in planning the event. However, I have been at this company for over a year and I am absolutely miserable. I’ve been job hunting but was wondering how irresponsible it would be for me to leave during these 4 months. I’m really aiming to leave as soon as I find a job!

Having been through the whole job hunting experience before, I understand that job hunting always takes longer than one would expect (thus my question might be irrelevant if/when the 4 months pass by and I have no job prospects), but I was wondering what your take is on for leaving a company during its busiest time of the year?

There are some jobs where it would be considered particularly crappy at certain stages of a project — even unprofessional. If you’re hired to put on one major event, for instance, you’re generally expected to stay and see it through; leaving two weeks before it would be something reference-checkers would be interested in hearing about. But in the case you describe, your department is just particularly busy one-third of the year. If you were the person leading the team during that time and were at a pretty senior level, then sure — you should try to wait until that period is over. (For instance, this is often true in political jobs; if you’re the campaign manager, you’re not going anywhere until that campaign is done, and everyone understands that.) But barring some existing understanding like that, no — you should move on when you’re ready to move on. That’s a normal part of doing business for your company, and they will muddle through.

3. Is this a terrible idea in a cover letter?

Tired of losing out to younger, less-qualified candidates, I have the urge to end my cover letters like this: “If you value good writing, attention to detail, and creativity, and if you’re not afraid to hire someone over 40, please contact me. I look forward to talking to you in detail about how my experience and skills could be an asset to your team.”

This way it gets it out there upfront, and also challenges them to consider an older candidate. Is this a terrible idea?

Yes. It looks defensive, sounds accusatory and/or bitter, makes an issue out of your age when it might not have been otherwise, and is likely to most people reading it feel really uncomfortable. If you’re losing out to younger candidates, it might be age discrimination, but it also might be other things — that you’re not interviewing as well as you think you are, or just the realities of a bad job market. Keep in mind, after all, that tons of younger candidates also feel like they keep losing out to less qualified candidates. It’s easy to blame it on age, but that doesn’t mean that it is age, and if you go into assuming that, I think you do yourself more harm than good.

4. Was this interviewer trying to find out if I’ve belonged to a union?

I had a job interview not too long ago with a small local company. Toward the end, right after a question about whether I’d ever been convicted of any crimes, the interviewer asked me if I am or have ever been a member of any organizations that require dues. I couldn’t help but think they were indirectly asking if I had joined a union, and even though I’m not a union member, it made me feel uncomfortable. I wondered if they would have immediately decided against me if I had said yes.

Is this a normal, appropriate question? Am I completely misreading it? I can understand a potential employer wanting to know about my hobbies and volunteer work, but this question seems oddly specific.

Wow. I think you’re right — it’s an attempt to see if you’ve been part of a union without asking. And no, it’s absolutely not appropriate, and if it could be shown that that’s how they’re using it, it’s possible that it would run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act.

If you could go back in time, I’d encourage you to ask them, “What sorts of things do you mean?” and see what they say.

5. Expressing interest in my fired boss’s job

My boss was fired a few days ago for stealing from the company. It wasn’t intentional; guidelines just weren’t clear on discount she was giving out. I am now acting in her position, though it was not officially offered to me yet. I feel like I’m the natural fit to take over for her, as I’ve been with the company 4 years and I have formed relationships with the other managers and know how to work with them well, as well as doing her job. The issues that complicate my situation are (a) my former boss and I have a very close relationship, which is making me feel stuck in the middle; (b) she’s filing a lawsuit against the company; and (c) I’m already the youngest person here, and I worry that I’m not taken seriously because of that.

How should I go about letting the higher ups I’m interested in taking on her job permanently without seeming over-eager, or jumping in her grave?

You’re not going to seem like either of those; this is a normal thing to speak up about. Just say something like, “I’m not sure what your plans are for replacing Jane, but I’m interested in the role. Is that something you’d consider me for?”

Do be aware that having a close relationship with the person who’s filing a lawsuit against your company has the potential to put you in an awkward position at some point, especially if you take on a leadership role there.

{ 407 comments… read them below }

  1. Jerry Vandesic*

    Any chance the flossing is leaving bits of food on the bathroom mirror? I worked with someone once who make a mess of things, and never seemed to clean up after himself. Or maybe the boss is worried that something like this could happen, and is a bit paranoid.

    1. M-C*

      It’s entirely possible that Flosser did leave a mess, maybe even once, and that it’s the reason why the manager doesn’t want her to do it even in the bathroom. And I’m sure everyone else will go on about Medical Reasons etc. But if I came upon a coworker flossing in their cubicle, I’d be majorly grossed out. The manager may be hounding her because she’s had several complaints already. Please, go to a bathroom on a different floor, or at the corner cafe, but don’t inflict that bit of should-be-personal hygiene onto your coworkers.
      And yes, unless your boss is a total idiot she’ll notice the floss in your waste basket and know what you’re up to.

        1. SH*

          #1 Am I the only person who isn’t grossed out? I’ve seen women brush, floss, put on makeup, change, etc in the restroom and don’t see it being a problem unless a client is in there too.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I’m not grossed out. It’s the restroom. I’d rather have people do that stuff there than at their desks. It’s what it’s for.

            1. Lily in NYC*

              I’m not grossed out either. I floss in my cube when no one’s around – to me, it’s like the tree in the forest quote: If a coworker flosses in the bathroom and no one is around to see it, did she still floss?

              OP, just floss in the bathroom stall and hide the floss in your pocket.

              1. fposte*

                Eh. I’m not crazy about flossing in cubicles–it’s generating the same amount of in-room detritus as flossing in the bathroom, but there’s no mirror to show the fact and it’s a heck of a lot harder to clean. But I’m not grossed out by flossing in the bathroom–is it possible people have been reading M-C as saying that she’d be grossed out by finding somebody flossing in the bathroom stall when she meant the office cubicle?

                1. Anna*

                  I’ve never flossed and had high velocity projectiles fly out of my mouth, so I’m not entirely sure about this concern. Most stuff is on the floss. When I worked in a cube, I flossed in my cube because it was a situation where if I didn’t do right when I thought about it, it wouldn’t get done. Of course, I also sat across from a guy who dried his sweaty running clothes on his locker door, so my perception of “what is gross” might be skewed. I found that MUCH more offensive than my flossing quietly and tossing it in the trash.

                2. fposte*

                  @Anna–Then you are an expert flosser indeed (though I don’t see it when it happens either, I just know that the mirror needs to be cleaned after flossing or brushing). In general, once your mouth’s open and you’re noodling in there, stuff comes out, whether at high or low velocity. Bathrooms are hard surfaces and are easy to clean; offices, not so much.

                3. Emily*

                  @Anna My parents have been feuding about floss-related detritus (the perfect word!) for almost 35 years. My dad is farsighted, doesn’t always wear his glasses while he flosses, and focuses on his teeth instead of the surface of the mirror, and it never occurs to him to examine the mirror afterward. My mom comes in after him to get ready for work or bed, steps up to the magnifying mirror to apply or remove her makeup and sometimes there’s a . . . splatter situation. It drives her bonkers.

                  I don’t care at all. It’s not particularly appetizing, but less appetizing things take place in every restroom on the planet. And I’d always rather someone floss and not wipe down the entire restroom than not floss at all. Flossing is great. Flossing Freedom!

                4. M-C*

                  Thanks fposte, yes I did mean that flossing in a cubicle would gross me out, because of flying detritus and untoward visuals, not in a bathroom. We do end up doing a lot of stuff in bathrooms that’s not very appetizing, that’s precisely what they were invented for :-).

              2. Shortie*

                I’m not grossed out, either. I don’t floss at work because I know it bothers other people and I don’t have a medical issue like the OP, but I don’t understand WHY it bothers other people. That’s what the bathroom is for. (I do, however, occasionally comb my long hair in the work bathroom so I don’t look like I’ve been living under a tree for a week.)

                While I’m on my soapbox, I also don’t understand why people get so grossed out by folks with allergies who discreetly wipe their noses. (Yes, even at work or in restaurants!) I do allergy shots and take the meds, but still have severe allergies. I’m tired of the dirty looks, but if I excused myself to the bathroom every time I had to wipe my nose, I would never leave the bathroom. So, yeah, that was off topic, but I feel better. :-)

                1. Koko*

                  The disgust reaction is one of the more fascinating parts of human psychology. It’s one of those things where people often can’t logically explain why something disgusts them–or even if there is a logical explanation, the disgust reaction happens so immediately that the logical thought process isn’t even having time to take place.

                  I noticed from an early age that many people seem to have heightened disgust reactions when they’re eating: things that are fine if a bit gross to discuss normally are verboten at the meal table. Like you not getting why flossing is considered gross but accepting that it is and so not doing it around people, I’ve never really GOTTEN why talking about bodily functions is considered more gross during mealtime than other times, but I accept that it is and modify my behavior accordingly.

                  I read about a study 2 or 3 years ago that found that people who identify as politically conservative tend to have stronger disgust reactions to a wider variety of things.

                2. Anx*

                  I know it’s considered rude to wipe your nose at the the table. And I do think it CAN be rude. But a discreet wipe where you keep the tissue away from shared surfaces and don’t contaminate anything should be fine.

                  Gustatory rhinitis makes it impossible not to need to wipe your nose at the table.

                3. May*

                  Shortie, you don’t understand why getting snot on your hands and not sanitizing them immediately before you touch anything else disgusts people? I have no words.

                4. Shortie*

                  May, your reply is interesting to me. I don’t get snot on my hands when I wipe my nose. I use a thick tissue folded in quarters, so nothing ever touches my hands. (I would assume this is how most people wipe their noses?) Then I fold the tissue over on itself and put it back in my pocket/purse to discard when I get home. Yes, I carry around a huge supply of tissues.

                5. Anon*

                  I had the opposite issue with a coworker – she got mad at me for going to the bathroom (or an empty supply closet or wherever) to blow my nose! I am self-conscious about making snotty nose-blowing noises anywhere that people are listening and would excuse myself to do it. Every time, she told me that I needed to not go hide to do such a thing and just do it in front of everyone – not in a reassuring manner but very insistent. It was odd. (I don’t explain what I’m going to do every time I excuse myself to a bathroom but this was a tight-knit, informal office where everyone knew about my respiratory issues, so it slipped out sometimes.)

                6. April*

                  It sounds like you are trying to be careful, Shortie. Have you considered taking the one additional step of carrying one of those tiny pocket sized bottles of hand sanitizer and applying it to your hands after wiping your nose? You’d probably get fewer disgusted looks if you added that one last step to your other precautions.

                7. April*

                  Oh, forgot to say: I do think that what you’d described isn’t too different from how most people would wipe their nose, but I do think most consider it appropriate to add a final step of handwashing (hence why the sanitizer would mollify most people).

                8. M-C*

                  Shortie, I think part of the problem is that people don’t realize that snot from allergies is a totally different thing from snot from colds. Nothing contagious, no gross cooties, it’s barely distinguishable from saliva. Not that I want my coworkers spitting on my keyboard or anything :-), but there’s a huge difference. And I too am a lot more careful when I could contaminate people than when I’m just reacting to something.

                9. Hlyssande*

                  Gustatory rhinitis

                  Holy crap this is actually a thing? THERE IS A REASON MY NOSE RUNS WHEN I EAT?!!!!!

                1. M-C*

                  Flushing floss would likely cause horrible plumbing problems. And she’d know who it was right away when the plumber explained..

            2. Willow Sunstar*

              I agree. I’ve seen toothpaste in the sink at work. At least people aren’t doing it in their cubes.

          2. VictoriaHR*

            I’m not grossed out at all. Especially if the OP does it in a bathroom stall – whatever happens in there, IMO, should be absolutely positively none of the manager’s business.

            I vote that the OP start carrying a small ditty bag to the bathroom (like a small makeup bag or something) and keep the floss in there; that way the manager can’t see what she’s carrying. Keep a plastic baggie in there too. Floss in the stall, put the used floss in the baggie, and the baggie in the bag, then take the baggie home for disposal. Bring a new baggie the next day, rinse and repeat.

            This would obviously not work if the OP is male.

            1. MK*

              It solves the OP’s problem, but it also highlights the manager’s insanity. The OP will have resorted to organising a covert operation so that she can floss!

              1. Lisa*

                Which leads me to think that a reasonable HR dept isn’t going to help keep a crazy manager from using this as retaliation in some way. Nitpicking on things that were not an issue before OP goes to HR. Little digs or harming her more with reviews / raises / bad accts or clients. Just cause its illegal for the manager to do this stuff after a doctor’s note is given doesn’t make it not happen in practice and doesn’t help OP if he/she wants to stay at this job. Do you think HR can handle this in a way that won’t affect your future relationship with your manager?

            2. Colette*

              I’d have a issue with having to hide the floss (i.e. take it home) instead of just disposing of it. Having said that, it’s probably not worth losing your job over (although I’d be seriously considering whether this was someone I wanted to continue working for in general).

              1. Bea W*

                You could wrap it up in toilet paper or a tissue and throw it out or use the female products trash bin in the stall.

                1. SallyForth*

                  Love this idea. If the boss finds the floss in the female products trash bin there is a REALLY big problem going on.

              2. Heather*

                Although it might be fun explaining why you were fired to the unemployment people if the boss tried to fight her getting benefits. “I left dental floss in the trash can” is probably not one they hear too often :)

            3. Flosser*

              Can’t she just flush the floss? I’m not grossed out by it, I am a fan of good dental hygiene.

              1. University Allison*

                Don’t flush it. Stringy material + Murphy’s law says that it will get caught on something in the pipe, backing up the toilet, resulting in a flood, ruining the server room someone idiotically put directly below, wiping out all company information, spiraling the organization into bankruptcy.

                Or something. Don’t flush it.

            4. Nina*

              A ditty bag is a great idea. I have this cute red makeup bag shaped like an apple, but it’s way too small to hold any cosmetics, so I use it to hold a portable toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, and yes, floss. I have a permanent retainer behind my teeth, so if something gets caught, it takes a few minutes to take it out. The bag is perfect and no one can see what it’s for.

            5. Meg Murry*

              Throw some tampons in the bag too. Boss isnt going to stop you from going to the bathroom to deal with your tampons, is s/he? And if boss is male and asks you to show him the contents of the bag, he’ll probably never ask you about it twice.
              Most everyone seems to stop inspecting bags once they hit tampons – even customs officials, as my underage friend showed me when sneaking duty free alcohol into the US (she was legal to buy it in her home country but not the US, and it was also way cheaper to buy at duty free).

            6. LaSharron*

              If the OP is a male, keep the floss in his pocket, floss in an stall, and flush the incriminating evidence.

          3. Bea W*

            I’m not grossed out. It’s a normal grooming activity taking place in the normal setting for it. Now if someone were leaving used floss on the counter or in the sink or flicking debris all over the mirror that’s gross, but you would address that by telling the offender to clean up after herself not tell them to stop flossing.

            I don’t even really find pooping gross in the appropriate context – done in private on the toilet and completely flushed. I mean poop is gross but I’m not grossed out by it occurring in the right context. Pooping in the sink is gross. Not flushing grosses me out. I don’t find people using the bathroom appropriately gross. It’s a bathroom. So I am mentally prepared to see (and smells unfortunately) bathroom activities when I use it.

            1. Ethyl*

              Seriously! I mean, if M-C is grossed out about flossing in the bathroom I guess they don’t want to think about what I’m doing in there at certain times of the month. Yeesh.

              1. fposte*

                M-C didn’t say she was grossed out about flossing in the bathroom, though; she said she was grossed out about flossing in the office cubicle.

            2. NoPantsFridays*

              Yes, all of this. This is what a bathroom is for. I can assure you that flossing is not the grossest thing the bathroom walls have seen.

          4. Angora*

            Ref Flosser Police:
            Sometimes I am forced to wash my dentures out after lunch. No choice, but I try to do it in the corner sink where noone is next to me.

            Just use the restroom on the next floor. Do not do it in your cubicle … to me that’s gross.

          5. MissDisplaced*

            I’m not grossed out. I brush after lunch (and sometimes floss) in the work bathroom. I always wipe the sink afterward so not to leave a toothpaste mess.
            At one place I worked though someone came into the bathroom and saw me brushing and rinsing and said it was gross. But really, what’s worse, brushing your teeth or having stinky breath teeth?
            OP’s boss is a nut job though. A floss check… seriously? Stick it in your pocket, and clean up!

      1. Lillie Lane*

        A former coworker would sit at the lab bench and floss her teeth with the scrap paper we used to pin to the dead bugs we studied. I still shudder at the thought.

        1. Bea W*

          My dad would use his movie ticket stub to pick the popcorn and/or his dinner out of his teeth, only slightly less gross than doing it in a lab.

          1. bagworm*

            My partner uses his pocket knife. I’m not really grossed out by pretty much anything including this but it does seriously stress me out and is just weird. (Fortunately, he doesn’t do it when anyone else is around and stops if I ask him to.)

            1. Bea W*

              I’ve seen people do this. Knives and mouths just seem like an unsafe combination!

              My dad had a habit of licking the debris off the paper (or the toothpick, or whatever he found to use). I left that part out. :D

      2. UK Anon*

        OP tried flossing in the bathroom – even the stall – and was still told not to. It sounds like the manager has made it impossible for her to do anything else! And yes, people will “go on about Medical Reasons etc” because this is a perfectly good reason to be doing it and something which the manager should be allowing without question provided it’s done in a bathroom.

        You may not like the idea of somebody taking care of their teeth, but many, many conditions and disabilities require behaviours you may not be entirely comfortable with – it’s on you to deal with that rather than the OP’s health to suffer. I used to have to sit next to someone who cracked his knuckles – made me wince every time, but he’d dislocated a lot of his fingers and that stopped them becoming stiff. It’s pretty normal in a workplace to have to deal with people who have needs you personally may not like.

        1. Bea W*

          I understand and empathize with the cracking. I’ve had multiple nasty joint injuries and things stiffen up sitting at a desk all day. So I’ll quickly stretch whatever is stiff and things often crack, sometimes loudly. I’ve had this going on with my neck and a shoulder for 20 years and the move to stretch that area has become so automatic I often don’t realize I’m doing it unless it really cracks loudly and startles someone…or me.

        2. Anon*

          I don’t really buy that it’s the only option for the OP, though. If she can floss at her desk unnoticed while her boss is in meetings, she should be able to step out to the restroom during the same time periods. Floss is small and it can be hidden in a pocket, especially if you use a floss pick or tear off portions of floss in advance and keep them in a small ziploc or something instead of carrying the whole carton.

          I think that it’s rude to floss in an open area, just like it’s rude to cut you fingernails, tweeze your eyebrows, or do other personal grooming things there. I don’t think it’s intolerant of a medical condition to not want to see someone’s plaque – that is a normal thing to be grossed out by. If OP can attest that there is literally no way to accomplish it in the bathroom no matter what, then fair enough, she has done what she could and coworkers should complain about the weird rules and not the OP – but from the information given, I still don’t see why doing it in her cubicle is necessary.

      3. Colette*

        Huh? How would going to a different floor help, if the behavior itself is so unacceptable? (I don’t think it is, BTW.)

        It’s easy to look at someone flossing (for example) and say “I don’t have to do this at work), but … they aren’t you, and you aren’t them. People’s bodies behave differently in all sorts of ways.

      4. KellyK*

        If the flosser did make a mess, then the appropriate reaction is to require them to clean up after themselves. Micromanaging what they do in the bathroom is pretty ridiculous. I do agree with you that the cube isn’t the place for personal hygiene, but honestly, if the manager is prohibiting bathroom activities in the bathroom, the OP is completely justified in prioritizing their health over the hypothetical grossing-out of a coworker who won’t even see her flossing if she’s subtle about it.

        I sympathize with being grossed out, but I think medical needs trump being grossed out. I mean, I’m seriously grossed out by needles and blood, but if I had a diabetic officemate who needed to give themselves insulin or check blood sugar at work, and they weren’t allowed to do that in the bathroom, I’d just have to suck it up and deal.

        1. Pepper*

          I agree. I think that’s the biggest issue here. OP mentioned her manager searches her for floss and will follow her into that bathroom. That seems to cross a lot of boundaries. I would definitely address this with the manager directly or HR.

          1. Angora*

            Please tell your manager her following you into the bathroom makes you uncomfortable . . . or just turn around and ask if she needs assistance?

            Maybe if she’s forced to stop in her tracks she may realize it’s a bit odd. To be truthful, I would just go to a different floor and floss or do it before you return to the office. Just to avoid her. You can just send an e-mail to HR telling them about the odd behaviour and how it makes you uncomfortable, what is their recommendation.

            It’s an odditiy, and could be harrassment if she continues to do it after you tell her it makes her uncomfortable.

      5. Observer*

        How would you know if someone was flossing in a stall in the bathroom? And, why would it gross you out more than what normally happens in a bathroom stall?

        If the LW had made a mess, the solution is to tell her to stop making a mess. NOT to forbid her from flossing even in the bathroom.

        And, since when do normal managers – I mean ones who are NOT idiots, and have plenty to do, check their staff’s wastebaskets?

        1. Christy*

          Yeah, I could maybe sort of understand objecting to “dental floss home-runs” hitting the bathroom mirror and being left there, but in the stall? Does the boss know what other things people do in there? Wait, maybe we shouldn’t tell her – next she’ll forbid employees from changing tampons at work!

          Frankly I’d probably just stuff the floss box in my purse/pocket/bra,* go to the bathroom, and floss in the stall. And start looking for a new job, probably.

          *I’m not the only person who briefly stashes stuff there, am I?

      6. Beancounter in Texas*

        She’s cleaning the counter and washing her hands, so I imagine she’s careful to clean the mirror too if there’s any sign of her flossing there.

      7. Melissa*

        Well, she tried to do it in the bathroom and manager is watching her like a hawk. She only started flossing in her cube when the manager pushed her out of the bathroom.

        Other than flicking the occasional bit of food on the mirror by accident, I’m baffled at how it might be possible to “leave a mess” after flossing.

      8. Kassy*

        I don’t think you can write off “Medical Reasons etc” so easily. My husband has periodontal disease and yes, has to floss more often than the standard “once in the morning and once at night.” And I have to say, if it’s flossing multiple times a day or my gums rotting to the point that my teeth eventually fall out, you better believe I’ll be flossing.

        Also, how does using a different restroom address the issue? How does that make it any more courteous? It just shifts the blame off of OP.

        (Personally, I think flossing is among the least gross of the activities that go on in the bathroom.)

    2. OP 1*

      Yeah that’s a valid concern and something I’m aware of! I always wiped off the counter/mirror off after, though.

  2. Stephanie*

    #1 – Workplace flossers unite! No periodontal disease (although I’ve heard enough from my mom about deep cleanings to want to prevent those), but I’m cavity prone due to crammed molars. That’s really weird your boss is that fixated on your dental habits. Provided you’re not flossing out hunks of spinach and admiring them, it’s weird it bothers her that much. As goofy as this sounds, maybe bring in a note from your periodontist?

    #3 – Yeah, sounds snarky and defensive.

    1. Simonthegrey*

      I take floss sticks with me to work. Quick, convenient, not messy, and if my boss were batshit like this one, I could just stick it back in my purse and throw it away at home.

      1. VictoriaHR*

        Unfortunately those are terribly expensive and one of them may or may not work on your whole mouth, so you might need more than one each time. That would add up fast. Floss itself is cheap and, again, the OP should be able to do it because preventing it is just dumb.

        1. The Real Ash*

          They sell huge bags of them at dollar stores. It’s what I buy because I much prefer them to regular floss like Simon and Stephanie. But they don’t usually give them out free at the dentist’s office like they do little boxes of floss.

          1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

            I bought at least 100 for $2 the last time I purchased them. That’s much cheaper than emergency bowel obstruction surgery for a cat who would decide to pull it out of the trash and play with discarded floss, plus I will actually floss my teeth at my home desk if I have it handy.

            1. Angora*

              The alumiun ice cicles for the christmas tree is just as bad. I had to pull one out of Buster’s rump once … poor cat was so not happy.

    1. MK*

      Oh, I am sure many people love challenges in other contexts, like if they are going mountain-climbing for instance. But certainly no one is looking for a challenge when hiring. OP, I think you are misusing the word, which to my mind means difficult, but potentially rewarding. There is nothing rewarding about hiring an employee who has a chip on her shoulder about her age, what you are doing is proposing a rather juvenile dare ”what, are you too chicken to hire an older candidate” kind of thing.

      Also, how exactly do you know you lose to younger, less qualified candidates? I understand you might find out about their age, but how do you know their qualifications? Are you perhaps assuming they are less qualified because they are younger? Or, if they lack a specific qualification you have, have you considered this might not be important to hiring managers for the jobs you want?

      1. BRR*

        I think some people blame age when they’ve had a rough job hunt. That it can’t possibly be anything else but correlation doesn’t always mean causation. I also think some people overvalue their “life experience” when they’re job hunting, especially if they are lacking in the skills needed for the position. I agree with Alison that the tone of the letter is bad in multiple ways and to steer clear from it.

        Also I enjoy a challenge (challenge accepted).

      2. Ornery PR*

        “Also, how exactly do you know you lose to younger, less qualified candidates?”

        This is my question as well. There has been only one instance where I knew who was hired instead of me, and that is because it was a company I already worked for. How do people find out who was hired instead, and how do they know about their age and qualifications? Is this just a level of LinkedIn stalking that I have never thought to do? (I guess a lot of my job searching was before I used LinkedIn anyway)

        1. hellokitty*

          Perhaps is is my field, but it is rather easy to find out who was hired because the organization will generally post bios of their staff. Pictures are common too. I actually routinely use these in my job searching to try to figure out hiring trends, culture, etc.

          1. annie*

            Yeah, I sometimes look to see who got the job too, not out of stalkerness/bitterness, but just because I am curious if there was anything obvious that person had that I don’t. Sometimes the answer just makes me feel better (i.e. they had ten years more experience in a specific area, obviously I could not compete with that) and sometimes it is educational as to areas that I may consider working on (i.e. they have some particular skills/certifications that I should consider taking classes in myself).

    2. some1*

      Right. LW, as a job applicant you’re not in any position to make ultimatums, however thinly-veiled. The poster who compared it to “nice guys” not getting dates was right on. “Interview me or else you’re age-ist” “Go out with me or else you’re shallow.”

      1. Kelly L.*

        It didn’t make me think of the nice guy thing right off, but it did make me think of the dating profiles that say things like “No drama please!” :)

        1. some1*

          Yup, same concept. It implies the person reading the profile has to prove they don’t cause drama.

        2. Anonsie*

          “I’m just looking for a girl who knows how to have a good time, you know? Down to earth, but adventurous. Someone who likes climbing mountains and white water rafting one day, watching TV the next. Laid back.”

          If I had a nickel for every one of these guys I’ve seen on OKCupid…

          1. Koko*

            That whole “fun-sounding outdoor activity + staying at home watching TV” combo is usually translated best as: “I’m not very physically active, but the idea of dating someone as sedentary as myself is unappealing to me.”

  3. Artemesia*

    Wow the #3 idea sounds like those guys who whine that women don’t want to date ‘nice guys’ like themselves. It really comes across as hostile, and bitter and would scare anyone out of interviewing them even if they were the best candidate. No one wants an employee who arrives with a chip on his or her shoulder.

    The dues question was of course asking about a union. I’d have been tempted to say ‘Oh sure, several organizations — I belong to the Art Institute, and the Northside Rowing Club and my book group requires dues. And see how they come back to get at their hidden agenda.

    1. Elysian*

      Honestly I wouldn’t even have thought of a union, and I belonged to one. I first jumped to “Ummm, my sorority? In college? Do you really need to know which one or more about this, I don’t usually talk about this in interviews…”

      1. Lyssa*

        The first thing that came to my mind was Brownies, in 2nd grade.

        I probably wouldn’t even think of the UFCW, which I was a member of (foolishly – they were utterly worthless and manipulative) for a year or two during my high school cashiering job.

        1. OhNo*

          Haha, I was thinking of Girl Scouts too! I remember paying some dues for that when I was younger.

          I wonder how the hiring people would have responded if you just started listing non-union organizations. “Ah, yes, I’m a member of the Girl Scouts, the local Art Institute, the Audubon Society…”

        2. Elizabeth West*

          LOL “Why yes. Brownies, Junior Girl Scouts, my figure skating club, the Royal Oak Foundation, and a Doctor Who meetup group. Why do you ask?”

          I would love to see their face if I said all that!

      2. VictoriaHR*

        “Oh sure, I’m a member of the Soap and Cosmetic Makers Guild, which I pay dues for and get insurance from blah blah blah… also I’m in my local SHRM chapter which requires dues blah blah blah.”

        Of course, if the OP isn’t in any innocent non-union org’s that he/she could go on about, that wouldn’t work.

      3. Melissa*

        Yeah, the first thing I thought of were the community organizations I was a member of, or a variety of social and volunteer orgs I belonged to in college.

      1. Busy*

        Same – I thought they were trying to figure out if OP was going to want reimbursement for professional associations. Maybe I’m just naive though?

        1. De Minimis*

          That could be the case depending on the position….if it’s in accounting they might want to know about AICPA or state society dues.

          1. Elysian*

            That is a possibility, depending on the organization – I do pay dues to the Bar Association and whatnot.

            But I would assume that if the OP is worried about them prodding for union affiliation, that OP probably isn’t applying for a job with a lot of professional associations (as most jobs with professional associations wouldn’t be able to unionize).

            1. De Minimis*

              I think you’re right, if this were about those type of organizations they would just be up front about that, and it would also be a fairly standard question.

            2. doreen*

              That depends very much on both the geographic area and the sector/field – most lawyers aren’t unionized, but the largest legal services non-profit in my area is. (they even went on strike once) Nurses and social workers are often unionized and also have professional associations, etc.

        2. Melissa*

          But why wouldn’t they just ask “Are you a member of any professional associations?” It seems odd to phrase it this way.

      2. Bea W*

        They could have just asked that though. “Do you belong to any professional organizations, like (insert relevant example)?”

      3. Elizabeth*

        Me, too! Not to say that the union question wasn’t what was being asked (things like that have been known to go over my head before), but I’d have answered that question with the museum/fundraising professional organizations of which I’m a member.

    2. Eden*

      Yeah, I’m a AAA member…not sure how that would be relevant to my candidacy? They must be fishing for unions.

    3. Lora*

      Another vote for they are totally asking about a union, although I would have perked right up and asked if they covered membership fees to the American Society for Microbiology, the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering, the American Institute of Chemical Engineering, FASEB…I like conferences. Especially the sort held in Las Vegas, New Orleans, Orlando and San Francisco. The kind that cost the company several thousand $$ to send me to do a 20-minute talk and spend the rest of the week being wined and dined by vendors.

      1. Bea W*

        LOL – I have one coming up soon, and I find the whole thing so exhausting I just want to crawl back to my room and skip the wining and dining part. The speaking in front of several hundred people is fine. The vendor exhibition hall and the wining and dining part is overwhelming. I just walk into the exhibition hall, and I can feel the energy being sucked right out of me at high velocity.

    4. AVP*

      I’m really curious about this – is this something you’re not supposed to ask?

      I work in a weird industry where we have both union projects and non-union projects, and a lot of people can only work on one kind or the other (depending on whether they’re union or not, obvi). So I always ask people outright if they are or not, but they’re contractors and expect that. But is that a no-no in other fields?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If they’re trying to discriminate against people likely to unionize, that’s illegal. If that’s some totally legit, non-union-busting reason to ask, it should be fine.

        1. AVP*

          Got it, thanks! I work on projects where it’s decided in the bidding process whether it will be a union project or not so if we couldn’t ask just people we’d end up with a whole mess of crazy. These are short-term projects so if you’re trying to unionize, its much easier to just join the union and get work through them rather than in the middle of a job.

      2. Anonathon*

        This came up a lot in one of my past jobs too. We basically had to ask up front because the hiring process and the contracts were totally different for union v. non-union. I can’t imagine it’s a problem if you legitimately need the information — either to find out if they’re eligible for the project in the first place or how to contract them afterwards.

  4. ella*

    Interestingly, I am a younger candidate who keeps losing jobs out to older candidates who are applying for positions that they’re overqualified for because the economy is driving everyone down the totem pole. I’ve been told three times now, “You’re really qualified and you interviewed well, but we decided to hire somebody with an MLS/10+ years experience” (for jobs that are either entry level or one step above entry level, some of which don’t even require bachelor’s degrees). So I don’t even know what to tell you, OP #3. Good luck.

    1. Taz*

      The economy generally has been so rough on workers. I’m over 40 and in 2008-2009 applied absolutely everywhere trying to get anything at all. (I have experience both professional and in the service industries.) One of the big office supplies stores opened at a new location and I applied there; the hiring manager just gushed and gushed when I was interviewed that they’d had hundreds of people apply for the minimum-wage floor positions and he had his pick of the most qualified people, ever. Apparently a college degree as well as years of customer service experience still didn’t cut it among the pool of overly qualified candidates; he didn’t even bother to call to say I didn’t get a job. Honestly, I’ll never forget it and never set foot in one of those stores ever again.

      1. CTO*

        Unless, of course, a college degree and years of customer-service experience made you so overqualified that he didn’t hire you for fear you’d leave as soon as you could. But it’s still rude not to call you back! I had that happen once after interviewing and I’d be hesitant to apply at the same place again.

    2. Chris*

      Young MLSs unite!

      It’s a garbage market at the moment. 4 years out of grad school, still part time making 12/hr, no benefits. So I’m going back to school to redirect my career.

      I wish you luck! I picked the wrong time to get my degree…

      1. ella*

        Hurry up and get yourself a reference librarian position so I can be a circulation clerk! ;) Right now I’m treading water as a shelver. I’ve already redirected my career too many times, I want to stay in libraries, but getting out of entry level is so damn hard. Best of luck to you too!

      2. Joey*

        Frankly MLS’s career opportunities are dwindling and its more about companies recognizing that you don’t need a masters to do what many librarians have been doing. I can only speak to public librarians, but from what I’ve seen its more of a status symbol than an actual job requirement. I say that because if you look at similar job functions outside of a library you’ll see that few jobs actually require masters skills/knowledge. In fact I quantified job duties and found that about 2/3 of the time librarians were doing functions that required no more than high school, and about 20% they were doing bachelors level work. Of course I got a lot of ambiguous pushback from librarians, but they couldn’t argue with the data because they provided it. Although I’m sure it’s not easy to hear the masters level job you think you’re doing could mostly be done by someone with a high school education.

        1. ella*

          It is still a requirement in public libraries if you want to be a reference librarian, but the number of reference librarian positions is dwindling. I think you’re more likely to be successful (and use your degree) if you look at academic or archival libraries, or if you want to work for the Library of Congress, or something a little outside the most-visible public librarian job.

          We just hired a woman who got laid off from her job as a school librarian, and now she’s a shelver with me. Sigh.

          1. Joey*

            Well even most reference librarians don’t spend most of their time doing librarian level work unless they have someone triaging and only passing on the higher level stuff. That’s rare. Plenty of people with bachelors can do much of the same work.

          2. Joey*

            Id say if you want to be a librarian you need to specialize to make yourself more marketable. What I see that’s going to be needed are public librarians that know how to manage digital content, from managing web sites, to managing online resources, to knowing how to get more people to utilize a library’s digital resources. If you were a librarian that knew how to develop useful iOS and android apps you’d have people beating down your door.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              That’s what I was thinking–the move is away from shelved materials and onto digital. Even university libraries are using databases and I’m old enough to remember when they directed you to a rack of periodicals. The periodicals are all online now.

            2. ella*

              I actually don’t want to be a librarian, I want to be one of those pesky people who steals the job out from under the retiring librarian without getting the MLS. ;) In my district, one of the things we should be doing more of is computer technology stuff (both just having it available and more classes), and more time when our makerspace can be open. I know that this couldn’t be my ONLY duty, but honestly, put me in a makerspace with a bunch of kids asking me questions about Oculus, and I will be a happy camper. I know a lot of what’s in our makerspace on at least a basic level–audio equipment and robotics and a 3D printer and web designing and such–and can learn more pretty easily.

          3. De Minimis*

            My wife works as a shelver part-time, she recently went to an orientation and all of the new employees were part-timers.

            Apparently there is a ruckus now in their system because a new person has been hired to manage a branch but has no library experience or background at all.

            1. Joey*

              Frankly I’d rather hire someone with experience more similar to retail management over a librarian to manage a branch. Librarians that are branch managers don’t really do a whole lot of librarian work. Managing the building, inventory and people problems take up most of their time.

              1. De Minimis*

                Yeah, from my wife’s experience [also my mother is a retired school librarian who works part time in a public library] I’d say most of the job is basic customer service especially once you learn the layout of your library. I think some kind of retail/customer service management background would be good. Anything where you’re dealing with a lot of people and having to deal with a wide range of services/requests.

              2. Aisling*

                In our system, the branch manager doesn’t do any of that – only that which the mid-level supervisors aren’t able to handle. The managers are supposed to be outside the branch most of the time: civic groups, city council meetings, etc., to try to raise the level of library awareness in the community. It’s difficult to imagine someone being able to advocate for the library without an MLS – yet they just hired one without an MLS, who blatantly stated they were useless. True, they won’t be doing reference, but they need to advocate for the ones that do.

              3. ella*

                I think you’re speaking from your own experience here, and making it universal. The branch managers in my district do spend a certain percentage of their time on desk and doing traditional librarian-y things. Also, if you’re going to be managing a bunch of librarians, it’s useful to understand where they’re coming from and how they operate. Additionally, if you’re going to require that reference librarians have MLS degrees (as my district still does), I’m not sure it makes sense to have their bosses have less education and/or experience.

                I have tons of retail experience, but have also been declined for a job in a library that was more customer-based because I had no library customer service experience. There’s some similarities, but it’s a different philosophy at its core. You can’t just take somebody out of a store and plop them in a library and have it work.

                1. Joey*

                  You need an MLS to do librarian stuff like programming collection development etc. Managing people doin those things doesn’t require an MLS.
                  Just like you don’t have to be a doctor to run a hospital.

                2. Joey*

                  There’s nothing inherently special about most aspects of library customer service that requires higher level of education. Shelving is stocking and checking out books and other materials is cashiering. Most reference inquiries are basic and can be answered by a cashier, page, or someone with a bachelors. Few inquiries actually need a qualified MLS. It doesn’t take a librarian to open and close a building, show someone how to work a public computer, market library services or find a copy of the latest Harry potter book to check out. This is a shock to nearly every librarian I know. And I worked at a public library system with more than 500 employees and hired Librarians from all over the country.

                3. ella*

                  I’m just saying what’s been told to me as to why I wasn’t hired for a job. Could I have learned? Sure. Are there skills that travel from one to the other? Sure. Was there someone else who had more experience at that particular skill than me? Probably.

                  When I say “reference librarians are required for XYZ,” obviously I don’t mean that only people with MLS degrees posses the magical knowledge that gives them the ability to perform the thing. I’m saying that’s how my district has divided up the labor. Which is different than how your district has divided up the labor.

        2. OhNo*

          Actually, the MLS’s career opportunities are expanding, it all just depends upon what you learn while you are in school. If you focus on reader’s advisory, collection development, and adult public library services, then yes, your career options are much more limited than they once were.

          If, however, you focus on metadata and the organization of knowledge, researching skills, data management and other tech-related skills, you have more options than anyone would dream possible. Many commercial companies are beginning to realize the benefits of such skills in their data management sections, and an MLS (or an MLIS, or an MIS) can be a big leg up in job searching within those fields.

          1. Lauren*

            I keep reading statements like that online, but have never heard of anyone saying “Gosh, I would love to hire an MLIS but I just can’t find one.” A lot of MLIS grads don’t apply for the jobs you’re talking about because those are not skills taught in most library schools. (My library school offered a “tech” class that had us make Excel graphs using 14 data points. And then they talk about how we’re valuable in the shiny new world of big data. It makes me want to cry.)

            1. OhNo*

              It is sadly true that many library schools skip over this kind of instruction, which is just a shame. I know there are a lot of schools that still focus on the “old school” library work – reader’s advisory, adult services, and the like – which is too bad, because it leaves those grads woefully underprepared for real-life work.

              And you’re right that a lot of jobs the an MLIS is good for won’t explicitly ask for an MLIS… but if you read the job postings, you will often realize that’s EXACTLY what they’re looking for. Good at research? Check. Experience with data management and metadata creation? Check. Customer service skills? Double check.

          2. HM in Atlanta*

            This!! Knowledge capture, management, and usability of the captured knowledge is huge. I spent a year trying to find someone to help develop and manage a knowledge archive. A lot of people had great ideas about how to manage a company library, but no one could talk about (or give ideas about) how to manage electronic libraries, make data usable on mobile devices, etc.

        3. Stephanie*

          Seconding OhNo. OldJob always hired a couple of MLS holders because we dealt with researching, organization of knowledge, information overload, etc. We did patent searching and would get very weird requests from clients (like “We want you to look through product catalogs between 1980 and 1999”) and the MLS holders were good for helping you with “WTF? How do I even find that and sort through all the noise?” questions. Ours also had some basic data mining experience.

          I’m outside the library field, but I’d guess going forward, maybe the schools need to emphasize the information management/database skills over the organization kids’ storytime skills.

          1. Non-traditional holder*

            To me, it’s a chicken and the egg issue: Is it that schools don’t emphasize these non-traditional jobs? Or that students are only interested in traditional library work?

            1. LPBB*

              From my experience in library school (2010-2012), I think that too many students are only interested in traditional library work. I was the only student in my cohort that was interested in solely special libraries and one of a few that were interested in not-people facing jobs.

              So many people sigh longingly and say “I’d love to work in a library!” when I say that I have an MLIS. There is a perception out there that working in libraries (and bookstores) is nothing but deep conversations about books and occasionally helping a photogenic youngster discover a life-long love of reading and knowledge, when the reality is much different. Anyway, I think a lot of students come in with that mindset.

              1. Joey*

                Agreed. Most librarians I know got an MLS because they love their memories of old libraries or love to read. That’s not where libraries are going. The best ones realize they’re no longer doing librarian work, but are doing process improvement, managing budgets, project management and people managing.

        4. TK*

          I think many librarians would unambiguously tell you that the reason they spend so much time doing lower-level work is because they’ve been given no/not enough money to hire lower-level employees to do that work. They would gladly stop doing that and come up with all sorts of new “librarian-level work” they could be doing if there were funding to hire people to do the lower-level work.

          1. Joey*

            True, but that’s the nature of efficiencies. The work that’s required to keep the library open and operating at the most basic level becomes more of a priority than doing librarian type work.

      3. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

        I got my first librarian job 6 years out of grad school. And I had 10 years of information services/librarian work before graduating.

        Libraries are an incredibly fucked job market.

    3. OlderAndWiser*

      I feel for you (and for me). I am a PhD with 20 years experience who took an entry level job because the job market is so tight and I was laid off. I know that a better fit would probably have been a less experienced, less educated person, but I need to feed my family so the company is getting a bargain and I get to keep a roof over my head till the market improves. Sorry.

      1. Joey*

        I don’t mean to direct this at you but I wanted to clear up a misconception. Employers typically aren’t getting a deal when a highly educated person takes an entry level job. Frequently, that higher education is of no benefit to performing the job you were hired for. And frequently although the person can do the job they’re not going to stick around for long or invest a whole lot in that career path. So what usually happens is you have a highly educated person who is frustrated that they’re being underutilized, doesn’t want to be there, and is actively looking to leave as soon as possible and the employer knows it. Not a good deal on the employers side. Id rather have someone in an entry level job that actually wants to use it to help their long term career plans.

        1. LBK*


          If you’re taking an entry-level job, the chance of your advanced degree actually having any impact on your ability to do that job well is minimal. I can’t think of anything I do at my job that I could’ve possibly studied for in school, aside from really general stuff like basic computer skills and time management, and you don’t need a PhD to get those.

          1. hellokitty*

            “…they’re not going to stick around for long…”

            They’ll stick around for a while. It’s not like good jobs are being created every day. Give people a break.

          2. Melissa*

            It depends on what the entry-level job is, of course. I worked as an intern at a market research firm, and my doctoral training in social psychology (which also included advanced statistical analysis) definitely helped me and had an impact on my ability to do my job.

        2. ella*

          Yeah, this. I think one thing that mitigates it (in libraries, at least) is that for the super-entry level stuff like shelving, districts are used to a fairly high turnover there anyway. I heard my boss say once that the average lifespan of a shelver is about a year. I’ve been doing it for 18 months, so my time has to come soon, right? Especially since I’m one of those higher-educated, underutilized, frustrated people.

          *goes back to libraryjobline*

    4. OhNo*

      As a young MLIS grad myself: network, network, network. A lot of my cohort are in the same position you are (and I am), with low-paying part-time work. The ones I know who have managed to get full time jobs got there because they knew somebody. I know shelving isn’t glamorous, but if you use it as an opportunity to meet and get to know the librarians in your library/system, you might be able to get a foot in the door for the next opening.

      (If it helps, I have a success story to share with you: A friend of mine was working as a shelver for about two years after she got her MLIS. She made friends with a librarian in the system, who gave her a heads-up about a substitute position opening, which she managed to land. A year later and she is now in her second interview for a full-time position in the system – the first full time position that has been open in this system for five years!)

  5. Golden Yeti*

    #2-OP, just wanted to say thanks for submitting the question, and Alison, thanks for posting/answering it. I work with a small group, too, and we’re *always* strapped in some way. My manager recently told a coworker half-jokingly (obviously meaning for me to hear it), “Yeti doesn’t know it yet, but I’m never ever letting her leave.” Creepy factor aside, I barely even cracked a smile because I don’t have the energy anymore to pretend I’m not burning out. Still, I know when the day comes that I do leave, it’s going to leave a huge hole in the company, and aside from any management guilt trips for leaving, I probably will also struggle with self-imposed guilt for leaving those dependent on me in the lurch.

    1. JoJo*

      Don’t feel guilty. It’s management’s responsibility to anticipate that people will leave and plan accordingly.

        1. Kay*

          Definitely. I just left my day job (been working 2 jobs for 2 years) and my boss never made me feel appreciated, never gave me any benefits. There wasn’t any reason to stay once the paycheck became less than I was making at my other job.

          I gave my notice, did everything I could to help with the transition, but he hadn’t even interviewed applicants when my last day came. I felt bad for some of the other people, but it wasn’t my fault and I had done everything I could do to make it a smooth transition.

    2. Graciosa*

      If you no longer have the energy to pretend you’re not burning out, you need to get out yesterday. Also, start establishing some sane limits on your work hours (do you really care if they fire you for not working overtime?) and then use the extra time for your job search as soon as you’ve caught up on your sleep.

      Alison’s fundamental point that management is generally responsible for maintaining appropriate staffing (and assuming that turnover happens and is a normal part of what managers deal with) is really good one. Individual workers are not responsible for making sure management never has to make hard choices about work priorities. That’s the manager’s job.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      You leaving for your own good is the company’s problem, not yours. People leave jobs. If they can’t handle that, it’s on them, not you. You have to do what’s best for yourself. The others will survive.

  6. Up, Up, and Anchors Aweigh*

    1 – Uh…… WHAT?! (Sorry, I know it’s bad etiquette to use all-caps, but this is…ridiculous!!)

    4 – I don’t know that it was inappropriate to ask… but it sure comes off as odd. I’ve never been in a union, but I’ve been part of a couple other organizations that require dues. (One’s a fraternal organization, the other is my school’s alumni organization.) I bet _lots_ of people are like that – they belong(ed) to dues-requiring groups but never to unions. I mentioned some, but there’s also fraternities, sororities, ecological groups, chambers of commerce, and on and on. That said: It is your right to form a union It is your right to join a union (or not join – the Supreme Court ruled that you can’t be compelled to join a union). Keep that all in mind.

    1. Uncomfortable Interviewee*

      It’s not the only odd question they asked me. Another one was to rate my humility on a scale of 1 to 10, but excluding the number 5.

      1. Lizabeth*

        Run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit with this particular company – both of these questions are major red flags. I used to work at a company where the owner was terrified about the employees unionizing – it wasn’t pretty on so many levels. Plus the company was way too small to even be a blip on the union’s radar!

      2. Sigrid*

        What the hell?

        I’d counsel running on the strength of the probable-union-related question anyway, but that kind of question is icing on the cake. They don’t know how to hire. What else don’t they know how to do? Run.

      3. Lizabeth*

        I would have been tempted to answer the question with a question: How does humility related to the job position that is open?

      4. Not So NewReader*

        So let’s see how would this work.

        “I am the most humble person…” [No, you’re not. You are bragging about your humility.]

        “I think that I am not very humble.” [What? Can’t you admit when you make a mistake? NEXT!]

        1. NoPantsFridays*

          Haha, yes, it’s a catch 22. One of my friends used to joke, “I am the humblest person you will ever meet.”

      5. ClaireS*

        That’s so strange it’s nearly funny. I often ask friends to rate things on ridiculous scales: on a scale of 3-65, using only prime numbers, how did you like that movie?

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          And on a scale of 1-10, I often reply pi or e. For the OP’s situation, I’d probably reply 5.5, since that is the mid-point (not 5).

          1. Smilingswan*

            I like that. I told my nephew to divide pi by two the other day and to let me know when he was done. So far, no response! ;)

            But wouldn’t 4.5 be the midpoint? (I admit math is not my strongsuit.)

      6. Observer*

        I’m not going to say run, but I will say that if this job is still a serious contender, you need to look VERY closely at the place. Union busting is bad enough. But, this just sounds plain crazy.

      7. wendy*

        “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way,
        I can’t wait to look in the mirror, I get better looking each day,
        To know me is to love me, I must be a hell of a man,
        Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble, But I’m doin’ the best that I can!”
        –Mac Davis

      1. Up, Up, and Anchors Aweigh*

        I didn’t know about dues for Girl Scouts… of course it does make sense that they have to get their money somehow.

  7. Newsie*

    This is totally, utterly not helpful… but Alison, I enjoy the “If you could go back in time, I’d encourage you” phrase. It makes me feel that perhaps, OP #4 really can time travel.

    Sorry, guys.

    1. Uncomfortable Interviewee*

      Right? I wish that were the case. But in any case, Alison’s retrospective advice is much appreciated and I’ll be keeping it in mind for future interviews if such an issue comes up again. Thanks, Alison!

    2. Anonymous*

      And sadly, that’s how we know time travel will never be invented. Because if it will have been, we’d already know about it, due to visitors from the future. Or past. Whichever.

  8. Ann Onny Mousse*

    Damn Alison, after lo these many years of listening to your considered, measured, logical input – you’ve failed me. Flossing in public is just gross, as are other personal grooming moves – like clipping nails, plucking eyebrows, etc. Yes, you(general you) need to do this, but I do NOT want to see this, any more than I want to see your Brazilian…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I totally agree it’s gross to floss in public. But if she’s in a bathroom by herself, that’s not public, and I can’t see why the boss cares. (Although I do think maybe the OP could just move into a stall and end the issue, assuming the boss isn’t going to follow her in there too.)

      1. Ann Onny Mousse*

        Shared employee bathroom when one can walk in at any time? F’ing disgusting. According to every dentist, everywhere, we should be flossing most of the day, so the medical excuse is pretty flimsy.

        I love you, Alison, I do, but if I walked in on you even shaving your (hypothetical) bunion, I’d gag.

        Please people, your brushing teeth/flossing/nail clipping/plucking/more gross things is personal maintenance, please do not do it on the company clock, any more than you’d wash your clothes.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t have a bunion! Suddenly this has become uncomfortably personal :)

          If her dentist is telling her that she has a particular need to floss after every meal, it’s totally reasonable that she’s choosing to floss after every meal. It’s crazy that the boss is following her into the bathroom to check up on this. (And if the boss finds it gross to see, following her into the bathroom is the exact opposite of what she should be doing.)

          1. Ann Onny Mousse*

            Ugh, my hypothetical bunion accusation was completely beyond the pale! I beg forgiveness, I expect your surgically restored feet are now lovely beyond comprehension…

            BUT… OP says she’s done it in her cubicle! Ick, ew, gross! And, for further clarification, ick ew gross!

            1. CoffeeLover*

              I think her right not to lose her teeth trumps your right not to be grossed out. It’s basically the same thing as telling a diabetic she can’t do insulin shots in the bathroom because you think needles are gross.

              1. Stephanie*


                Periodontal disease can be serious. My mom had to have a molar removed due to periodontal disease (and the bone’s too damaged for an implant). OP really may need to floss after every meal to reduce pocket inflammation. That being said, OP should probably take it to the bathroom and be sure to clean up after herself.

              2. Zillah*

                Agreed. Sure, dentists say that we should all floss more than we do, but the OP has a particular medical issue that makes it pretty pressing. IMO, it’s kind of like people who need to eat snacks throughout the day – even if snacks are frowned upon in general, it’s such a minor accommodation for a medical issue that I just don’t see what the big deal is. Sure, if the OP is getting food on the mirror, that’s one thing… but if that’s the case, the boss needs to bring that up instead.

                Sometimes, health issues are annoying to the people around you. I can’t imagine people in offices with one bathroom are overjoyed if they work with someone who has IBS, for example… but for me, that falls under the category of “Deal with it. It’s a minor inconvenience for you and a serious health issue for them.”

                1. AdminAnon*

                  As someone who does work in an office with one bathroom and a co-worker with IBS, I agree. If it’s not fun for the rest of us, just imagine how she feels! Then again, I am very firmly in the mind your own business camp on most issues, especially at work.

              3. BRR*

                Really good analogy! As long as the OP does it in the bathroom it shouldn’t be a problem at all but especially since it’s a medical need. The fact that your boss monitors what you do in a stall is a bit concerning. I know it was about you carrying the floss but that stall door and really the bathroom door is something that once I cross, my boss loses her authority.

              4. Ezri*

                That is a fabulous analogy. After getting my wisdom teeth removed I had to clean the sockets out after every meal – it’s really, really, gross, but necessary. If OP has to floss to keep her teeth, she should floss.

                Keep in mind as well, OP’s first inclination was not to floss in her cubicle. She only started doing that because her crazy boss won’t let her floss in the bathroom!

              5. Adam*

                Agreed. And it’s the bathroom. Think of all the potential gross things that go on in there. Flossing and Cleaning Up After Yourself should be in the top 10 of those. Probably not even the top 50.

              6. Anx*

                As someone with a needle phobia who has a physiological response to disgust, I agree. I would never want to inconvenience someone for taking care of themselves. There’s a way around it.

                Also, some people stink up the bathroom so badly that it makes me feel nauseated and sick. Bathrooms are sort of gross by design.

              7. hellokitty*

                Periodontal disease is possibly linked to heart disease. And I find it bizarre that people are so grossed out by flossing or brushing your teeth. What I do find gross is do those things in a bathroom stall, which some have suggested. Every surface you touch in there (doors, handles, etc.) is entirely coated with germs. (This is the real reason we wash our hands after using the restroom.)

                Maybe I’ve done too much community theater and seen too much in coed dressing rooms. I suppose that if there were room for a sense of humor, the OP could post some sort of funny warning sign on the door, but that’s really calling too much to the situation.

                1. Melissa*

                  Yeah, I was wondering if I was the only one who was not grossed out by brushing your teeth and flossing. Especially flossing – it just seems so benign and minor, even if she was doing it at the sink I can’t imagine thinking anything other than “Wow, she’s so much more diligent about her oral health than me.”

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              My feet are truly delightful.

              But I feel like it’s part of the social contract that we’ve all agreed to overlook what goes on in the bathroom, as long as people are neat and clean up after themselves. I mean, it’s a bathroom. Much grosser stuff goes on in there. (Agreed that doing it in the cubicle is not okay though.)

              1. Joey*

                Well i disagree that we should overlook what goes on in common bathrooms. I’ve seen people get naked and using the sink as a bathtub, shaving, popping zits on the mirror. Personally I find sloppy teeth brushing (the kind where toothpaste foam is falling all over the place) pretty over the line too. I can’t imagine tartar being flinged on the mirror any less disgusting even if you wipe it up. If you’re going to do it have the decency to contain the nastiness in your mouth unless its time to rinse.

                1. The Real Ash*

                  I think that you should acknowledge that there is a *huge* difference between someone with a medical need using the bathroom to floss and someone getting completely naked and washing themselves in the bathroom sink. Those are in no way comparable.

                2. LBK*

                  I’ve seen people get naked and using the sink as a bathtub

                  Where the hell were you working when this happened?

                  Also, the tartar on the mirror thing is a little gross, but if the OP is wiping it down afterwards I don’t see how this could possibly bother you unless you frequently lick the mirrors in public bathrooms. And how would you even know unless you were in the bathroom with her?

                3. Joey*

                  I used to work with a guy that did triathlons and biked 12 miles to work in the Texas heat. He’d wear his lance Armstrong wear on the way to work, strip down in the staff bathroom, use a wash rag to take a bath in the sink and get dressed for work. He didn’t wear underwear under his bike stuff. C’mon dude, I don’t want to smell your funk or see your junk ever.

                  If its flying on the mirror or if toothpaste foam is falling all over the place I’m going to be worried will hit me if I’m close enough.

                4. LBK*


                  I’d be perfectly happy if I could go my entire life without having to see any of my coworkers’ penises.

              2. J-nonymous*

                Off topic: once I was in the bathroom at the office – the kind with rows of stalls – and I heard a lady emit a Very Loud Belch. I was so disgusted, despite hearing much worse sounds coming from other stalls in the past, because it wasn’t the *expected* sound.

                On topic: this boss is ridiculously controlling a situation which doesn’t need to be controlled.

            3. Cari*

              OP had to do it in her cubicle (when her boss isn’t around) because it’s apparently more private and discrete than the bathroom, in a bathroom stall!

            4. Observer*

              Yes, she’s been doing it her cubicle because her boss is FOLLOWING HER TO THE BATHROOM! Talk about “ew, ick, gross!”

        2. Cari*

          OP #1 went into a bathroom *stall* to floss and that still wasn’t good enough. You know, where it should be private enough to do the usual business, so why not flossing?
          If you’re watching co-workers or employees flossing in a bathroom stall, it’s not the co-worker/employee doing something gross – it’s *you*.

          1. Elysian*

            Agreed. I read this question and honestly my first thought was “What if the boss forbid ‘going to the bathroom’ in the bathroom? It makes the bathroom smell!” You can’t forbid everything you find gross. Just let it be if its in the bathroom and its not destructive.

            1. Fact & Fiction*

              Honestly, I feel that, if someone’s sensibilities are THAT delicate that normal bathroom activities offend them, they should probably find a work-from home situation. Or, you know, do what most of us rational, grown @$$ adults do, and mind your own business when you’re tending to your, ahem, business. ;)

        3. Magda*

          “According to every dentist, everywhere, we should be flossing most of the day, so the medical excuse is pretty flimsy.”

          Wow. Sorry, but this attitude galls me. The OP’s dentist has given her a clear directive in order to care for a disease she has. It’s not equivalent to cosmetic activities like clipping nails or plucking eyebrows. Gum disease can have systemic health consequences that go beyond the mouth and teeth, and it is totally unreasonable to expect OP to put herself at risk for those consequences on the grounds of personal distaste for flossing. I think it is reasonable to expect OP to be discreet and clean up after herself, but it sounds like she was already trying to do that.

          1. OhNo*

            +1 from me as well. The whole attitude of “your medical excuse is flimsy” is really abhorrent to me. No one should get to decide for other people what parts of their medical directives are reasonable or not.

            Plus gum disease is super unpleasant. Unless the boss is willing to have the company cover the OP’s restorative dental work after her teeth are removed, they should get out of the way and let her floss.

            1. KellyK*

              No one should get to decide for other people what parts of their medical directives are reasonable or not.


        4. Artemesia*

          Don’t most people brush their teeth after lunch especially if they will be doing anything interacting with the public? No? Is that why stinky breath is so common in the workplace?

          Flossing in the bathroom is hardly gross unless the person is someone who shoots bacteria laden matter about — which is why doing it in a stall is a good idea. There is no reason someone can’t clip their nails and pluck their eyebrows at home — but flossing and brushing really can’t wait.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Brushing your teeth is fine, as long as you clean out the sink. I’ve done it at every job I’ve had and not one person has complained. I don’t mind when other people do it, as long as they wash their spit globs away.

            It’s the ones who splash water everywhere who bug me. But at least they’re washing their hands.

        5. KellyK*

          Flossing and brushing your teeth, as well as fixing up make-up, washing your face, or reapplying deodorant are perfectly normal bathroom activities. If people clean up after themselves, I don’t think someone else being grossed out is their problem. (Lots of people are grossed out by poop and not every work bathroom is well ventilated, but that doesn’t mean people should be expected to hold it until they go home, or go use the restroom at the nearest McDonald’s.)

          I don’t think washing your clothes is really a good analogy here, because it’s something most workplaces don’t have the usual facilities for, and that you can easily do at home.

          If you only brush/floss once or twice a day, sure, you can easily do it at home. But if your dentist or orthodontist recommends doing it immediately after every meal *especially* if that’s based on an existing disease, not just standard prevention, it’s perfectly reasonable to do at work.

        6. Ethyl*

          Like, you do KNOW what people are doing in the bathroom right? Urinating, defecating, and changing menstrual containment units? That flossing grosses you out so much that you think it should be kept even out of the bathroom is really your issue, not OP’s.

        7. Observer*

          Firstly, her boss forbade her to floss IN A STALL.

          Secondly, just because you think she doesn’t need to floss doesn’t make it so. Periodontal disease is actually pretty serious – and it’s not just about losing teeth, although that’s a real issue (with some serious health repercussions of their own.)

          Even with a shared sink, it is YOUR problem is you can’t deal with people using the sink and / or mirrors for things that people reasonably and typically use sinks and mirrors for.

        8. Smilingswan*

          Many people don’t realize gum disease can lead to all sorts of cardiac issues. It’s definitely a big deal, and if her doctor has given her strict instructions to floss, it’s probable that she is actually in danger of, say a heart attack, if she doesn’t.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        I would hazard a guess that if the OP had been discreet, this would have never even come to the manager’s attention in the first place.

        Sorry, count me in the group that thinks it’s super nasty to see/hear other people flossing. It just skeeves me out, and I can’t help think of food particles flying.

        OP, I suggest you do it in the stall and then take your used floss with you.


        1. OP 1*

          I get that flossing grosses some people out. I’ve always been as discreet as possible about it though. If someone was in the bathroom, I’d walk out and wait a few minutes.

          This “ban” happened shortly after someone (from another department) walked in me flossing. She saw me, went into the stall, and before she came out I had already finished and cleaned up the area. So maybe she complained?

          And I mean, come on. It’s a bathroom! Flossing is one of the tamer things going on in there!

          1. Chayele*

            I have to clean my teeth every time I eat, too, and I bought a big pack of these rubbery picks at the drug store. That way you can pocket it and throw it away at home, and she won’t catch you with floss. They’re marketed as “bristle picks” and a few other things, and I find them handy.

          2. SandraDee*

            For some reason, this conversation reminds me of the scene in Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts was trying to hide the fact that she was flossing in the bathroom, and Richard Gere thought she was doing something illegal.

            1. Who are you?*

              Just watched this the other night and this is what this whole conversation brought to mind. :)

          3. lifes a beach*

            The floss picks are a great way to go! I had gum disease and had real issues with flossing in general. The Dental hygienist suggest these because they are small and portable and easy to use. I do not do it out in the open, but in the bathroom or private. My last dental visits have been A+ and I no longer need treatments! I can’t imagine someone objecting to what you do in a stall, how does she know what you are doing in there? That is just weird!

            1. Helka*

              Agreed with the floss picks — I have a very small mouth and my jaws don’t open wide, so trying to use standard floss and actually get my molars is pretty difficult. The picks make it much more doable.

      3. Smilingswan*

        But if her boss is actually checking her for floss (which seems like a violation of privacy to me) like she says, hiding in a stall is not going to work.

    2. ella*

      People who clip their nails on public transit make me want to run away screaming, and seeing someone floss isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but I’d much rather them do it in the employee bathroom than at their cubicle.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        We had a vendor come in to meet someone for lunch at Exjob, and while he was waiting, he whipped out his clippers and started clipping away right there in the waiting area! He got huffy when I asked him to stop, but NO. JUST NO.

        1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

          Judge John Hodgman just had a mother-daughter dispute oon his podcast about the public nail clipping issue–hilarious!

        2. Cari*

          I totally get flossing/cleaning teeth throughout the day, but why can’t people leave full on nail clipping to the before/after day routine at home?? Someone sorting out a chipped nail – fine, I get that. Otherwise… I just don’t see it.

          1. NoPantsFridays*

            Right, the flossing and nail clipping scenarios aren’t comparable to one another unless your nails grow so superhumanly fast that you have to clip them multiple times per day.

      2. DMented Kitty*

        OHOHO… I’ve seen a couple where Girl started popping Guy’s pimples with a comedone extractor like it’s the most normal thing to do in a train. I was sitting, and they were standing in front of me. That was just GROSS.

    3. monologue*

      wow this comment is super rude. I don’t have it as bad as the OP, but I got bad gums genetically and I’m prone to cavities between my teeth, so I know what the OP is talking about. Regular brushing doesn’t help too much with this. You need to floss or waterpick regularly.

      The OP was flossing in a bathroom stall. They only did it at their cubicle because their manager was being a weird jerk about doing it in a bathroom stall which is for pooping, btw (definitely grosser than flossing!). Flossing at work is medically necessary for the OP. You need to get over your personal ideas of what isn’t and isn’t gross and put up with people like them.

  9. GrumpyBoss*

    #3: I’d have no problem hiring someone over 40. I would, however, have a problem even interviewing someone who made a statement like you are proposing. In addition to what AAM said about it being defensive and insinuating discrimination (both of which are on point), it isn’t the call to action that you mean it to be. You have so little real estate on that cover letter to catch someone’s attention. Don’t waste it on insecurities around previous failures in your job hunt.

    1. AB Normal*

      As a woman quickly approaching 50, I totally agree with GrumpyBoss.

      In my last jobs (all of them well-paying and with great benefits, including the current one), I’ve been working with much younger people, some of which hired before, some after me. It was never an issue for me to be hired, respected, promoted, because of my age.

      People of any age/race/academic credentials/gender who think they are being discriminated against would probably benefit from reading the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but too often it’s a rationalization that doesn’t help because it prevents you from looking at what is really keeping you from being hired (which could be your resume or cover letter, how you interview and demonstrate you will add value to the company if they hire you, and so on).

      1. Sarahnova*

        I agree that it’s a bad idea for an individual to fixate on “I’m being discriminated against” to the exclusion of considering their resume, cover letter, interviewing skills, vibes they give off, etc., but we know from decades of reliable academic research that there *is* systematic discrimination on the basis of age, race, and gender in the workplace.

        I agree with Alison’s advice, I agree we should all try to be the best we can be and present ourselves as well as we can, and I think we should also try and be aware of and counter our own and our organisation’s biases as much as possible.

        1. Colette*

          The problem is that it’s almost impossible for one person to prove (or solve) systematic discrimination. Certainly, people involved in hiring should try to be aware of their biases and take steps to overcome them, but as a job hunter, there’s not much you can do. Even if you found a way to get hired by someone who has conscious or unconscious biases about the group you’re a part of, what is working for that person going to be like for you?

          1. Fabulously Anonymous*

            Not only that, I don’t think calling someone out on it in a cover letter will have much effect.

            1. Sarahnova*

              Perfectly true, which is one reason I agree. When you are the hiring manager, though, I think it’s worth being aware of, e.g. diversity stats for your organisation, inclusion strategies, trying to make sure open jobs don’t end up with all-white-male shortlists all the time, etc.

              But that is stuff to be done on the other side of the hiring process and is not relevant to the jobseeker or this specific OP. I just felt it was important to offer a counterpoint to the idea that “if you’re good enough, people won’t discriminate”.

              1. KellyK*

                Very good point. It’s not that people won’t discriminate if you’re good enough, it’s that you can’t, as an applicant, really do anything about discrimination, so being awesome and trying to make the employer aware of your awesomeness is pretty much all you have to work with.

      2. Artemesia*

        And someone who is sour and accusatory in their cover letter would presumably be the sort of person who would resist authority, cry discrimination at the drop of a hat and generally be a pill to work with. This may of course be untrue but the hiring person only has a small sample of behavior to work with when evaluating a candidate. In my experience, any negative sign exhibited during the hiring process came back to haunt us in spades once the person came on board. We would overlook something because of the experience and talent the person brought and then that ‘something’ would be like nails on a blackboard for as long as they worked for us.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Fifty something here. I totally agree with Grumpy Boss.
      Age becomes a crutch, enabling a person not to examine other parts of their presentation that would be a deterrent in the hiring process.

      Each age has its advantages and disadvantages. Combining the two, I think that it’s a wash. One company I worked for wisely (I thought) paired people of different ages together. What one could not handle, the other one could handle. We were expected to work off of each other.

      As an aside, OP, do you really want to work for a company that sees a person’s age? It’s a push to get hired and then a bigger push to keep the job. I would rather work for a company that wanted ME and my abilities. I chose not to stir the pot when it comes to age, they don’t want me then let me know up front so I can move on.

    3. Graciosa*

      Perfect analysis.

      I also have no issue with hiring someone over 40 – actually, I think there’s a good possibility I just hired someone over 60 but it’s not relevant to job performance and never occurred to me to ask. The chip on the shoulder is a major turn off at any age.

      I understand that it’s hard to keep up a positive attitude in this job market – and that, yes, age discrimination does happen – but if the goal is to land a job, this type of cover letter is totally counterproductive.

      1. Artemesia*

        I do think that age discrimination exists and that usually it is fairly subtle, but more often than not people are rejected for what they present. The last person who implied age discrimination when I was hiring was well qualified on paper; he was in my final 10 resumes. Then I called people within our organization for whom he had done some work in the past; they were quite negative about precisely the things we were most interested in in this role. We might still have interviewed him, but he also had an entirely unprofessional Email and contacted our AA several times a week demanding an interview. When we hired someone else, he wrote a long tedious Email demanding to be told why he wasn’t interviewed, that he was obviously more qualified than anyone else for the job, that the job was ‘made for him’ and implying that age discrimination was involved. The person we hired was 58.

        1. Joey*

          Absolutely. Although the best way to combat it is show that you’re tech savvy, are current on trends, and work fast.

  10. Beth Anne*

    #1 – I can’t believe your boss FOLLOWED you into the bathroom?!!? Talk about lack of privacy. I want to know what this person has against flossing. I’d probably end up doing what you’re doing or doing it in my car or something but for real you shouldn’t have to do that!

    1. Fact & Fiction*

      Unfortunately, there are many crazypants (technical term, yo) people out there who absolutely do NOT respect boundaries. My literary agent tells horror stories about aspiring writers following her into convention bathrooms and shoving manuscripts under bathroom stalls. I’m pretty sure she’s not actually kidding, although she probably plays it up a bit for comedic effect.

  11. Sandy*

    #4 confuses me a bit. What if you are required to be in the union?

    I’ve never had a non-unionized job… whether or not you supported the idea of a union, you had to join in order to work at that workplace.

    In fact, at my current workplace, if you have religious reasons that you can’t pay union dues (they spell this out in your employment contract), you have to pay the equivalent amount of your dues to an organization of your choice, and you’re still part of the union.

    1. FatBigot*

      Which religion or sacred text teaches that you cannot be part of a union?

      I really want to know because we cannot be representative of the workforce if there is a set of workers who silently rule themselves out of membership.

      1. Kate*

        I honestly have no idea, but our employment contract uses that lien very explicitly.

        I’m rather curious myself…

      2. KSM*

        The phrasing was about paying *dues*, not membership itself. I could see an issue if the union uses dues for investment purposes (e.g. a union-provided retirement fund) and its investments are developed in a way that might be considered usurious (usurious lending being prohibited in Islam; how this is interpreted depends on the believer’s exact school of thought, but loans with any interest can be frowned upon).

      3. Fucshia*

        Some unions support political causes that might go against your religion. In those caases, you would not be required to financially supoort that union since it would be like donating money to that cause.

        1. Contessa*

          That’s the main reason, yeah. It’s an issue under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Paying the equivalent amount to a charity is a common accommodation.

          1. Joey*

            Well except you can frequently just pay the portion of the fees that are used to negotiate on your behalf and not pay the other fees that go to things like advocacy.

        2. De Minimis*

          If I remember correctly, the “political action” monies are separate from the dues and are collected via fundraising campaigns. I don’t think they are allowed to use the dues for anything other than the union’s operating expenses [sending leaders to training, conferences, etc.]

        3. Uncomfortable Interviewee*

          That sounds like it could be related to the interviewer’s motive for asking that question. He stated outright that his company presents itself as having traditional values, and the company’s staff page mentions that several employees have gone on missions and/or attend church.

    2. doreen*

      Most of my jobs have been in agency shops- which means that even though you don’t have to join the union you still pay a fee to the union because it still negotiates for you , represents you in disciplinary action etc. Fee-payers don’t get to vote or run for union offices ,votes on contracts receive member-only benefits provided by the union but they also generally either don’t pay or can get refunds for the portion used for political advocacy.

      I don’t know what useful information the employer thinks it will get with this question. There are many agency shops where joining or paying a fee doesn’t tell you anything about a person’s views – the most anti-union person in the world will still pay the fee.

      1. Lora*

        Perhaps they want to know if you’re aware of the market rate for this particular job? A couple of places where I worked, the staff were grossly underpaid compared to the market rate–the union shops and a few others were making the market rate, and basically the companies didn’t want to hire anyone who actually thought they deserved $14/hr and benefits.

  12. Cari*

    OP #3 – I understand you frustations, I’ve seen my dad go through the same age-related BS with his line of work. Not even retirement age and even the job centre think he’s too old to find work for him. However, if your cover letter is sounding that bitter and defensive, consider where else in the application process you may be coming across that way and stop doing it.
    Make sure you’re focusing on the positives, like your skills, relevant experiences and achievements, without dragging your age into it.

    1. Artemesia*

      It also really helps to network like crazy as there are lots of difficult to fill jobs where someone knowing someone with the skill needed is critical.

      1. Cari*

        Oh totally! That’s where my dad could have done better in his industry to be honest. Not really into the whole making friends and influencing people aspect, and very much not into the macho culture younger coworkers seemed to thrive in :(

    2. Observer*

      Oh, we know that age discrimination exists – look at the letter yesterday from someone concerned about hiring an older intern. At least there, the issue is not age per se, but still… Worse, look at some of the responses. Yes, there are some horror stories, but the level of broad brush assumptions is brutal.

      On the other hand, you make a really, really good point about how this kind of line comes off. It feeds into every stupid stereotype out there, and it provides perfect cover to anyone who is prejudiced, and puts off even people who are NOT. I mean, who really wants to work with someone who trys to get your attention by saying “I DARE you! Yeah, you’re just to wussy to take me on!”

      In other words, this is not just bitter and defensive. It sounds awfully childish, NOT like a mature person who has learned a thing or two about getting along.

  13. Perpetua*

    #1 – The manager is definitely way out of line with the following, but the best option is probably to floss in the bathroom stall, where it is truly nobody’s business what you do in there.

    1. In progress*

      As I understood, she was already flossing in the bathroom stall, but that was unacceptable to the manager. She checks the OP for floss before she even goes to take care of things privately. It’s like just the fact that the OP might be flossing, somewhere, has disgusted the manager.

      1. Perpetua*

        I know that the OP already tried it, but my suggestion was to keep/start again doing it there instead of in her cubicle or the general bathroom area. The manager is being completely unreasonable with coming out to “check” for floss or going into the bathroom, there’s no doubt about that, but while some people will agree with the manager that flossing in the more public areas is not acceptable, no sane person would forbid the OP from doing it in the stall, so it gives the OP a firmer ground to stand on.

        1. AB Normal*

          Precisely. If the OP is not going to be caught doing it in her cubicle while her manager is in a meeting, likewise she’ll not be caught doing it in the bathroom. I don’t see the logic in doing it in your cubicle under the circumstances.

        2. Judy*

          If she can floss in her cubicle when the boss is in a meeting, she could floss in the bathroom when her boss is in a meeting.

      2. nep*

        My understanding from reading the post is that the OP flossed in the ‘public’ area of the bathroom (mentions ‘off to the side’, ‘cleaning off counters’). But that the boss included even stalls in the ban.
        As others have said, it’s perfectly acceptable to floss in a stall — that seems like the best solution. How weird is it, though, that OP must do even that clandestinely. Sheesh.
        Bummer that a manager would discourage such a healthy, smart practice as flossing regularly.

      3. OP 1*

        She called me into her office and told me no more flossing. I apologized if I grossed out anyone and suggested just doing it in the stall. That’s when she said no flossing, period.

        Once she came into the bathroom after me and, I guess because she didn’t hear any, uhm, expected noises, she said “I hope you aren’t flossing in there.”


        1. OP 1*

          She is kind of lacking the empathy gene. She says that if she can wait to floss at the end of the day, so can I and that my teeth look fine.

          Yes I have nice teeth; it’s my gums that are pissed off!

          1. Perpetua*

            You have my sympathy for having to deal with that level of WTF-ness (and I can hardly imagine an otherwise perfectly reasonable manager being so hung up on that little detail and dealing with it in such an inappropriate way). What, if your teeth were horrible-looking and about to fall out, then it would be okay?!

            1. OP 1*

              Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be on the team if my teeth looked gross. My manager tends to hire fairly attractive looking people.

              That’s a whole other issue though :/

              1. Joey*

                Id tell your boss somethin like “Its not that I just want to floss. I have a medical condition that requires me to floss this much. I’m happy to bring in a doctors note if you’d like.” If she still says no go to HR and just tell them you have a medical condition, need to floss and your boss is saying no.

              2. hellokitty*

                These are the people doing the hiring for organizations. It explains a lot of people’s problems with interviews.

          2. LBK*

            This is honestly just batshit crazy. Unless your manager is a dentist, she has absolutely no idea how to judge the health of your teeth.

          3. Payroll Lady*

            And this is when I say ” OK no more flossing at work, I hope you don’t mind your dental premiums going up, since I will need additional specialized dental care to make up for the missed flossing”

            On a side note: I have a bag of the floss picks in my drawer, everyone knows and everyone is welcome to take one if needed, and they do. I’d rather see someone floss than see spinach in their teeth!!

          4. nep*

            Oh, man. She’s missing more than that. This sounds just nuts. She’s got issues. I feel for you. Hope you’ll find a solution that allows you to properly care for your mouth and spares you this craziness at work.

          5. Persephone Mulberry*

            “I’m sorry, but my periodontist (don’t say dentist) disagrees with you.”

          6. neverjaunty*

            Your boss sounds like the kind of person who tells a cancer patient that at least it’s easy for her to stay thin.

            Escalate this to HR. You have a medical need and your boss is telling you that you are not allowed to take care of it because she doesn’t believe your diagnosis is real.

        2. Kelly L.*

          That’s nuts. I’d be tempted to TMI her the next time by saying “Nope, just reeeeaalllly constipated,” though I probably wouldn’t really say it.

        3. HeyNonnyNonny*

          Obviously the solution is to start making “expected sounds” while flossing in the stall. A few grunts and, uh, dramatic noises will cut short any interrogations!

        4. CTO*

          I wonder if it would help to call her out on how invasive this is: “Jane, did you really just ask me what I was doing in a bathroom stall?” or, “Jane, why did you follow me into the bathroom?” It probably wouldn’t make a difference with someone as loony as her, though…

          1. LBK*

            I like this. Sometimes people don’t realize how crazy their actions are until they hear them being described out loud.

        5. Bea W*

          Once she came into the bathroom after me and, I guess because she didn’t hear any, uhm, expected noises, she said “I hope you aren’t flossing in there.”

          Next time she follows you, make the grosses noises you can think of in there. If you have smart phone, there are even apps that can help you out. Maybe she’ll think twice about following you in there again.

        6. Malissa*

          There’s an app called mytoot. I’d down load it and make liberal use of it when she follows you into the bathroom.

  14. Chris*

    I may be ignorant here, but don’t women often take their purses into the bathroom? Why not stash a ziploc in there for used floss? Or for little floss stick things.

    Of course, that’s looking at the symptom, not the crazy that’s causing it

    1. Rebecca*

      I don’t take my purse to the ladies room at work, I leave it in my bottom desk drawer. We have a cabinet in the bathroom with essentials, if you will, so we don’t have to carry our purses back and forth. A floss stick in this case would be perfect, unless the OP’s manager starts to search her upon entering and leaving the bathroom.

  15. KayDay*

    #1: Ok, I will fully admit that I am, indeed, grossed out by flossing, generally (and also a little weirded out by people brushing their teeth at work too!). I absolutely hate flossing and just find it…ick. In exchange for my dislike of flossing, I get a lot of cavities between my teeth and my dentist always tells me that all my teeth will fall out pretty much any day now.

    However, there are some situations when you just have to deal with things that make you uncomfortable. And this is definitely one of them. Flossing is a reasonable thing to do, and the bathroom is an appropriate place to do it. And this boss is incredibly bizarre that they would actually follow someone to see if they were flossing.

    As Alison more eloquently said, it’s a bathroom. That is where the gross stuff is supposed to happen. You know what grosses me out more than flossing? Pooping. But I’m never going to give anyone s–t (ha, pun!) for pooping in the bathroom, even if I think they could hold it until they get home.

    1. BRR*

      I wanted to let you know you’re not alone in being weirded out by people who brush their teeth at work. However, I let it go; I don’t look at them weird or say anything. They do it in the bathroom and don’t make a mess. It just weirds me out but since it’s not actually a problem I have to ignore it.

      1. invisalign*

        Well, as my name says I wear invisalign and HAVE to brush my teeth every time after meal (I’m down to three meals a day, but still it’s pain in the arse), I have to do it in a bathroom, and I try not to use the heavily used ones. I go to the remote bathroom, but even there I was walked in a couple of times while brushing my teeth, or invisalign trays. So far, no one had anything bad to say to me.

        1. BRR*

          As I said, it weirds me out (as does the person who takes their contacts out at 3 pm every day), but I know objectively there’s nothing wrong it. It’s my own idiosyncrasy.

      2. Brittany*

        It weirds me out too. Especially when you see people doing it immediately after a meal. That’s the worst time to do it! The enamel on your teeth is more sensitive and susceptible from the food particles so you’re actually doing more harm than good. It would be better to take a swig of mouthwash and brush a little later.

    2. Bea W*

      Some people prefer to hold it. I hate pooping in shared bathrooms. I’m always worried and embarrassed about any imagined smells or sounds grossing people out. Unfortunately, poop happens.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        With probably four hundred people on campus and a huge multi-stall bathroom on each floor, we invariably have to deal with poop noises/smells. That said, I don’t like doing it in there either.

        We have this spray in our bathroom that will mask ANYTHING. I don’t know what’s in it (probably something we shouldn’t be breathing!) but it works. Sometimes I spray it just because I like the scent. We’re so spoiled–our bathrooms are nice.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But I’m never going to give anyone s–t (ha, pun!) for pooping in the bathroom, even if I think they could hold it until they get home.

      I love the idea of telling people they should hold it until they get home. I feel like if the OP’s boss thinks of this, she will try it.

      After I had the most beautiful wallpaper ever hung in one of my bathrooms (it looks like you’ve walked into a regency-era ballroom), I really wanted to forbid pooping in there but couldn’t figure out how to enforce it.

      1. BRR*

        Something similar happened on Flipping Out on Bravo, it’s about a house flipper/ then designer who works out of his home. He part joking part serious was questioning letting his employees use his bathroom to go number 2. I think he settled on you can but actively discouraged it.

      2. Anonymous*

        As a grown woman who’s had Crohn’s since I was a small child, I find these kinds of attitudes rather disturbing. If I had to “hold it” until I got home, I wouldn’t have been able to leave my house once in the past 21 years.

          1. Anonymous*

            I gathered as much in this case, but I’m not always sure *everybody* who expresses opinions like this is joking. I may be over-sensitive due to years of getting the side-eye (or worse–up to and including actual gagging noises) from others in public restrooms, but hey, nothing I can do about it. And I guarantee it’s more unpleasant for me than it is for the unintended & unwilling audience!

    4. Omne*

      A little late but I’ll give it a shot. I hate flossing, always have. For the last 30 years I’ve used a Water-pic every morning and my gums are perfectly healthy and my teeth are always good when I go in for cleanings.

  16. ConstructionHR*

    #1 I’m thinking I’d start leaving bits of unused floss around different parts of the office where the boss was likely to find them, e.g. the conference room, boss’ office, kitchen etc.

    1. Allison (not AAM!)*

      If it wouldn’t make ME completely nuts, I’d stick a piece of spinach in my teeth and smile widely at the boss every chance I could….. :-Þ

    2. Persephone Mulberry*

      Or I’d just start carrying a string of floss around with me everywhere, all the time. Never use it, just carry it.

    3. DMented Kitty*

      Or start leaving a piece of floss in everyone’s trash can. That would drive the boss bonkers.

  17. Chloe Silverado*

    #2 – A key employee just left 2 months before a major annual event that creates a ton of work for our department. Although it was frustrating, we recognized that she found another opportunity more in line with her career goals, redistributed the work and got through it. Yes, we put in some late nights, but everything got done. In many fields, there really is no good time to leave. To mitigate the damage, leave behind written instructions about any tasks or processes that only you do, where to find files, etc. and be clear about the status of any unfinished projects. I did this at my last job (the kind where there was no good time to leave) and my boss really appreciated it.

  18. Not So NewReader*

    OP 1. Your boss has waaaay too much time on her hands and this is taking up way too much space in her brain. I would be tempted to find out why she feels this is a hill to die on.

    I know growing up I was taught that public bathrooms were filthy beyond imagination. (Drilled into me to that point, that one should avoid using public bathrooms. I guess germs only exist in public and never at home??) I am wondering if part of her issue is that she thinks you are exposing yourself to MORE garbage, as opposed to helping yourself.

    Anyway, I think it would be a good move on your part to contact your doctor on this matter and find out what he has to say. Then go back to her and let her know that you discussed this matter with the doctor. (She might find this unsettling and decide to back off.)

  19. Bea W*

    This is one of those things I’d just fib about if it seemed like the best option. The OP mentions the boss doesn’t even want someone flossing in the stall, but unless she plans on following the OP in there she’s not going to know. It’s crazy the OP has to floss in secret. Does this boss tell people not to poop in the bathroom because that is way more gross than anything that gets caught in between your teeth.

    1. Cari*

      Unless she’s like toilet water manager, and peeks through the cracks in the stall doors to see that OP#1 isn’t flossing.

      1. Bea W*

        That is exactly the first person that came to mind when I read this letter, the manager who was peaking in stalls!

        1. Livin' in a Box*

          I used to have a boss that did that! She was convinced that I was texting on the toilet so she’d peek through the crack in the stall door.

  20. Grumpy Old Woman*

    OP #3 here — I love all the great comments! I was sort of half-joking…. note that I said I am “tempted” to write that, not that I have done it. And I had a sneaking suspicion that Alison, and you all, would think it was a terrible idea. That said, I do appreciate hearing that I am way off base. It is really hard not to lose perspective in the midst of a protracted job search, ya know? Sometimes you just need a reality check. I have been going to this support group kind of thing full of over-50s, and many of them have exactly the kind of victim mentality many readers commented on. Maybe they are rubbing off and I need to stop going. VERY interesting to hear that youngers readers have lost out to more qualified candidates. I guess it goes both ways. So thanks, all. I am starting right this very second to get rid of all traces of defensiveness about my age.

    1. Fact & Fiction*

      I think most of us can understand your frustration. This job market absolutely bites, and it’s hard not to get discouraged or start to wonder whether other facts might be playing into a protracted job search. I know it’s hard to keep your chin up, but keep pushing forward and hopefully the right opportunity will come your way soon!

    2. BRR*

      My SO used to spend a lot of time around people all looking to get into an industry with very few openings and thus were all having a difficult time finding employment. I really think their negativity bounced off of each other and amplified. It’s a tough job market and I think being able to attribute it something that you cannot control is a comforting mechanism. Keeping yourself in the victim position is not going to get you a job though.

      The real issue with finding employment is there are tons of people looking for jobs. We’re hiring for a mid-level position and there are six candidates who were all great. Many positions have 100s of applicants. When I was job hunting I always thought of it as my odds were less than 1% of submitting my materials to getting an offer (it’s depressing but it kept me grounded). I don’t think it’s a young people loosing to old people or vice versa, it’s just for most industries a buyers market.

      Good luck!

    3. Joey*

      Id dump the support group if I were you. Its sort of natural to link age with unemployment when those are the commonalities.

    4. Observer*

      Interesting point about the support group, and perhaps something you should bring up with the facilitator. It’s actually a common problem, and in some fields facilitators are specially trained to make sure that the group remains supportive and doesn’t become a downer.

      I’m over 40, too, and this tends to worry me.

    5. Anx*

      I think age-discrimination is VERY real and usually so pervasive because it’s often unintentional or the result of subtle biases.

      I think your age IS hurting your job search in some way, and isn’t just an excuse. But every age group is facing a generally poor economy compounded with specific age issues. Boomers can’t afford to retire, Gen X isn’t getting promoted as quickly as the hoped and Gen Y is still trying to break into the professional world (obviously this is super over simplified).

      Most labor stats I read show that despite age discrimination for the 40+ crowd, that they have a lower unemployment rate than young adults do. I think the layoffs are scarier though because there’s a feeling of ‘running out of time’ to get back on track. It also may be easy to envy young people for not having as many expenses. But remember that young people are giving up on their dreams of home ownership or having kids to remain more flexible in the current job market.

  21. Annika Potatoes*

    OP1: How long are you taking in the bathroom? There is a woman in my office who flosses and brushes her teeth after every meal. She then reapplies her makeup. She probably spends 60 min+ a day in the bathroom. But even if she didn’t, she always SEEMS to be in the bathroom or in her way there. People notice it. It’s weird and annoying.

    1. De Minimis*

      That would be my only issue, if it were a case where space was limited and it’s taking a lot of time [though it really shouldn’t] and making it unavailable for others.

      I did see this in a public bathroom once at a restaurant, there were only two sinks and two guys were using them, brushing and flossing their teeth. There was a line of us waiting to wash our hands, but we all had to wait or just give up [gross] due to the inconsideration of others.

      1. De Minimis*

        Yeah, these guys were having a conversation and I think were also deliberately taking their time just to be annoying. There was a language barrier so no one could tell them to hurry up…

  22. Lily in NYC*

    #4- I think I would mess with them. Do people pay dues to be a part of the Juggalo Nation? If so, that would be my answer.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Speak for yourself. I get lots of positive comments when I wear my Juggalo face paint to work. Just today, my boss said he recommends that I receive EAP. That means Excellence Award Program, right?

    1. Fact & Fiction*

      I have no idea what this means, and I’m kind of afraid to Google terms I don’t recognize…LOL.

      1. LBK*

        It’s a culture that sprung up among the fans of the “music” group Insane Clown Posse, known for wearing KISS-esque black and white facepaint and holding a very weird/trashy event called the Gathering of the Juggalos every year. They consider each other family members whom they often defend violently. It’s kind of like an extremely unambitious gang. I don’t really know how else to describe them but just look it up, it’s generally SFW but totally weird.

          1. De Minimis*

            Back in my former location, the police got all wound up about the Juggalos. My guess is they focused on them because they were an easy target compared to the “real” gangs that were operating in the area.

  23. This is me*

    #1 I consider myself to be somewhat of a clean freak, but flossing in the bathroom? BFD. As many people have already pointed out there are much worse things going on in there. OP, I say floss in the stall if you must. If another issues arises with your wacko of a boss, run to your HR department. Best of luck.

    #3 While I empathize with the OP, I can’t help but think that this person is just blowing off steam from being passed over for a few jobs. I doubt that he/she seriously considers this to be a valid statement to make in a cover letter. If he/she does think it’s appropriate, there are probably some more concerning issues of judgement going on.

    1. De Minimis*

      I agree about #3….I can understand the temptation to blow off steam, but it’s best to just let it go. I know though the frustration level can really be bad if you’ve been looking for a while.

  24. soitgoes*

    I find the debate over “Is flossing inherently gross” to be in line with those rote talking points that we all have opinions about despite rarely encountering in real life. Truthfully, I’d rather that more people flossed at all. I don’t care where they do it.

  25. C Average*

    I’ve read through all the comments here, and I must say I’m surprised by the level of grossed-out some of you are by brushing and flossing in shared bathrooms.

    Why? These seem like pretty basic, harmless personal-grooming activities for which the bathroom is the appropriate place.

    I always brush and floss after my morning coffee because I just find it pleasant not to have coffee breath all day. I tend to be the first one at the office, so it’s rare that I encounter anyone else in the bathroom when I’m doing this stuff, but now I wonder if I’m being silently judged when someone does see me cleaning my teeth in the morning.

    1. OhNo*

      I’m also kind of curious about the reasoning behind this… I’ve seen a couple of people mention the idea of “flying chunks” which, okay, would gross me out a little bit, too. But as long as they clean up after themselves, then what difference does it make?

    2. Cari*

      The only thing gross about brushing teeth in a public bathroom point of view, to me, is just I see public bathroom sinks as inherently dirty. Clean enough for washing hands, but not clean enough to be linked to your mouth (drinking from, cleaning teeth). Once I’ve left the bathroom (pulling the door open by the part of the handle that looks least likely to be touched), I can use hand sanitiser to give my hands another clean. Can’t exactly do that with my mouth though. It’s totally ridiculous and I know, more germs in your mouth than anywhere else etc., but public bathrooms are just Unclean and Germy, and nobody washes their hands ever – to me.
      Bathrooms are for where you clean or floss your teeth though. Public or otherwise, so I don’t see the big deal if that’s what others need or want to do.

      1. Windchime*

        But even if the bathroom sink is full of germs, why would that matter unless the OP is licking the sink, or laying her floss in it before she flosses?

        I don’t really want to see anyone flossing at their desk, but people brush their teeth (and perhaps floss) in our bathrooms at work all the time and I don’t see anything at all wrong with it. I’d be grossed out if they didn’t clean up, but I’ve yet to see that happen and there are a couple hundred people in our building. (I am speaking only of the ladies’ room; I don’t know what goes on in the mens’ room).

        So put me in the camp of “flossing is cool, as long as you clean the mirror”.

        1. LBK*

          But even if the bathroom sink is full of germs, why would that matter unless the OP is licking the sink, or laying her floss in it before she flosses?

          Agreed. It’s not like your sink at home is antibacterial either – maybe it doesn’t get as much use, but I’m assuming you don’t spray it down with Lysol after every time you wash your hands, either.

          1. Jamie*

            Yes – but home germs are a little more controlled. You know the last time it’s been cleaned, and how it was cleaned…more importantly unless you’re letting strangers in to use the facilities you know who has been in there.

            My kids/husband may be germy but if I had to share a glass with someone I’d sure pick one of them over a stranger. Stranger germs are a whole different ballgame.

            But I’m in the who cares if she flosses as long as she cleans the mirror camp. Although have to admit more than a little grossed out at the thought of her doing it in her cubicle. That’s way less sanitary because you can have surfaces that aren’t easily wipable and debris could go anywhere. Ick.

        2. Cari*

          I have to clarify: *I* would find it gross for *me* to floss/clean my teeth in a public bathroom, for the nonsensical reason I provided (just cannot get over that feeling). I can’t apply that same thinking to someone else doing it, nor do I want to – it’s their business :D

      2. Laura*

        But your hands are going to be touching things other hands have touched – faucet handles, door handles, etc. (And I’m a big fan of grabbing the door handle with the paper towel, before tossing it in the trash.)

        Hopefully, your toothbrush will only touch the running water – unless someone has gummed up the inside of the faucet (uh, how? I don’t even want to know!), that’ll be fine. And floss? The dispenser, your hands, your mouth, then the trash when you’re done. It’s never going to touch a surface in the bathroom. The only worry is your hands, and if you just walked in, they have not touched anything in the bathroom either.

        1. Cari*

          I honestly can’t reasonably explain why I feel the tap/ tap water isn’t as clean as from home, other than I know how clean my home tap is. And also the air in the bathroom is less contaminated by toilet business than public bathroom (usually no lid to close when you flush, so many more different people using them etc.), so something in my mind goes “all those particles are going in the air and settling on the taps” and then I feel gross. My hands don’t feel clean if using a tap that doesn’t turn off automatically either, come to think of it.

          (I never think of grabbing a bit of paper to do that, thanks! :))

    3. LBK*

      Seriously, I spent a while talking myself out of feeling weird about brushing my teeth at work occasionally. I thought there was no way people could be considering it as weird as I was making myself feel, but apparently they do! Now I feel awkward again.

    4. Fact & Fiction*

      I think that, for the most part, it’s just a mental roadblock most people have; which is kind of ironic if you understand how germs actually work, and the sheer number of them that are in places you wouldn’t even suspect. We all have our own personal bugaboos, and that’s understandable, but I do think we (general we) need to recognize when a hangup is our own problem and not take it out on others.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, Koko talks about disgust upthread, and it’s a really interesting social/emotional response that’s rooted in a lot of things that aren’t reason. Which is true of a lot of societal elements, so that doesn’t make it wrong or evil, but sometimes it has to bow to reason when it comes to shared spaces.

    5. TMI*

      I’ve been thinking about this, and I find that I’m more grossed out FOR the person brushing their teeth, while I’m perhaps pooping 3 feet and one partition away from them. I don’t find them yucky, but I just don’t know how they can stand it. :)

    6. Melissa*

      As a note (and you may already know this), but you should wait 30 minutes to an hour after drinking coffee or anything acidic before brushing your teeth. After drinking acidic stuff your teeth are softened, and if you brush them the abrasion can further erode your enamel. Your saliva naturally remineralizes your tooth enamel, though, so if you just rinse with tap water and wait your teeth will be more prepared for the toothbrush if that makes sense.

  26. Cruciatus*

    #2 has me concerned for my own job. I work at a school as the sole administrative assistant for one of the pathways. There are other AAs but they work for their own pathways as well. Anytime between August-June is not really a good time to leave. There are a lot of things I do that will go towards the students’ grades (exams, processing evaluations, etc.) But I’m looking for another job… Just had an interview this past Monday. Is it more acceptable to leave an AA job at a bad time or am I being a huge jerk if I leave soon? There is always something coming up and the work needs to be done little by little and this place is known to be soooo sloowwww in hiring. I was already worried about bad timing if I leave soon, but now Alison’s answer has me worried that I would actually be a huge jerk to do so!

        1. Cruciatus*

          All the stuff that won’t get done on time is one of the things I’m worried about most the day I have to tell my boss I’m leaving. He’ll be surprised, sad, and possibly very worried about all the things that won’t be getting done while I’m not there. And I don’t want to leave him or the students in a bind, but the likelihood I’m going to get hired between August-June is probably much higher than during the 6 short weeks that there are no students here from June to mid-July.

    1. Fact & Fiction*

      I’ve worked in AA roles in the past, and I don’t think you should worry. Just document your job role and keep a project task list (with status notes, etc.) if at all possible. That will make it way easier for whoever has to move into your position when you leave. And good luck! =)

  27. SerfinUSA*

    Maybe I’m just not well socialized, but my first thought upon reading about the floss-stalking was that the OP should, when questioned about the purpose of her bathroom visits, pull out a Depends and loudly proclaim “No, I’m not going to floss, I’m going to change my adult diaper!”. Or something equally private and hopefully shaming to the manager for having asked.

  28. Nina*

    #1: It’s one thing for her to be annoyed if you’re leaving food particles on the mirror (anyone see that movie Kingpin? ) or leaving a mess on the counter, but her following you into the bathroom and monitoring what you do is an invasion of privacy and grossly inappropriate. Talk to HR, because she doesn’t have that right to decide what you do for your health.

    I don’t see a problem with flossing/brushing teeth in a bathroom. What other place can you do that, really? I would rather brush my teeth than go with bad breath all day.

  29. Clover*

    Flossing wouldn’t gross me out, assuming the flosser is cleaning up properly after themselves (i.e. not leaving flecks of dislodged food on the mirror/in the sink). However, I have to admit I do find it somewhat irritating when people are in the communal bathroom going through long personal hygiene routines (just flossing seems unlikely to take that long but some of my co-workers do long make-up routines and thorough teeth brushing + flossing + mouth wash + face washing + moisturizer extravaganzas after lunch). It’s awkward to go into a stall and do your business when someone is standing two feet away at the sink grooming themselves.

    I fully accept that this might just be a me-quirk though and when I walk in on people doing this I sometimes act like I just came in to wash my hands and then retreat to another bathroom!

    1. Purr purr purr*

      I thought that too. If the guidelines weren’t clear then they shouldn’t really have fired her at all, let alone fire her for something as serious as theft! That would be the perfect opportunity to make the policies clear so that the issue never happened again.

      1. Observer*

        I thought so too. On the other hand, maybe it wasn’t so unclear, or there is something else going on. The OP on this has mentioned (in a response later than your comment) that for some reason the boss is not eligible for a lawsuit, which is odd. Also that the former boss is trying to get the job back with the intention of quitting immediately after just out of spite, which isn’t going to happen because she burned a lot of bridges. That doesn’t sound like just a few errors on giving out discounts.

  30. Brett*

    As someone else who also has to floss after every meal, a letter from your dentist sounds like the best option. My dentist has made it pretty clear that the particular type of bacteria I have could easily cause a periodontal abscess in just a few days (and I only have a couple of 4mm pockets with no 5s or 6s). If the OP is being told to floss after every meal to control periodontal disease, they are probably at significant risks for these kind of abscesses.

    And this is important, because periodontal abscesses are directly linked to cardiac disease and are even capable of causing fatal cardiac infections. Quite simply, not following your dentist’s instructions to prevent periodontal disease can actually be dangerous. The dentist should be able to spell out this risk quite clearly, and why not accommodating the treatment is fairly outrageous.

  31. OP #5*

    OP 5 here, in the last week or so since I sent in that email, the situation has completely snowballed. My former boss is ineligable for a lawsuit now, but she has begun trying to get her job back to spite a few higher ups, then quit, Which knowing how my company runs, and all the bridges she’s burned since her firing, it’s not going to happen.

    Now I’m left with triple the work, indefinitely, fighting for the position with an under qualified current staffer who’s having an affair with a higher up, and worrying my former boss isn’t putting in a good recommendation for me because she wants back just to spite everyone.

    Simply put there’s more drama than high school, which I find sad. LOL

  32. vox de causa*

    OP #1, is it possible that your frequent flossing is taking up more of your workday than your boss would like? Forbidding you from even flossing in a stall makes me wonder if it’s something other than “That’s gross.”

  33. anon-2*

    #1 – do it anyway, in the stalls. I can only imagine what would happen to your manager if he/she went on to discipline you over that one. That would be one rootin’ tootin’ barrel of laughs up in HR. I’d love to see a write-up on that.

    #4 – when I was in the Cub Scouts, I paid dues. When I joined a hobby club, like a camera club, I paid dues. A neighborhood association. Paid dues. Start listing those things. If questioned further reply “you gotta problem with the CUB SCOUTS?”

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