can I suggest a candidate to replace my low-performing boss, job hunting with a fragrance allergy, and more

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

1. Can I suggest a candidate to replace my low-performing boss?

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed that I rarely see my boss performing or producing much of anything. As his employee, I was assuming (and hoping) there was a lot going on at a higher level that I was not privy to that was consuming his time. However, last week, while I was working late and he had already left for the day, his boss came into my office and vented about how poorly he is performing, and how frustrated she is with his work. While it was inappropriate, it made me feel better, because it validated my feelings. She later apologized profusely for speaking about it to me.

I like my boss personally, and he’s been very easy-to-work-for, so I do not want him to leave and be replaced with someone I do not enjoy working for. But I also happen to have a former colleague who might be looking for a new position, and who I know could do the job at a much more efficient level. I would like to suggest this person have coffee with our director, but I don’t want to cross over a boundary or imply that I think my boss should be fired. Is this inappropriate? Is there a way to do this without seeming presumptuous? (We are too small to have an HR office that I could submit a resume to, so it would have to go directly to the director.)

Normally there would be zero way to do this; the position isn’t open, and you’d essentially be saying, “Hey, fire my boss and replace him with someone I like better.” But in this situation, your boss’s boss opened the door to the conversation by complaining to you about how bad his performance is. Given that, you could potentially pull off saying something like, “I feel really awkward about saying this, but in light of our conversation the other day, I know someone with an amazing background in X who’s actually looking for a new role — is there any scenario where it’s not horribly presumptuous for me to put you in touch with her? If I’m being wildly premature in mentioning this, I’ll forget we ever had that conversation, but I wanted to throw it out there.”

This is only workable if you have a pretty good rapport with her, but I’m taking the fact that she vented to you as evidence that you do.

Also, in doing this, you want your own mental framework to be that talking to others who can do this work well might help your boss’s boss realize that the organization can do so much better, not that she will hire the specific person you suggest– since if she’s going to replace your boss, she should go through a full hiring process and talk to a number of candidates. But sometimes talking to one great person can help push a manager to realize that it’s time to search for a replacement.

2. How can I find out a prospective employer’s policy on fragrances and toxic cleaning products?

At my current office job, I am forced to sit in a cloud of air fresheners, cleaning products, and perfume, all of which bother me intensely, aggravate my allergies, and lower my morale. I’ve tried asking the people who sit near my cubicle not to use air fresheners, but one of them refused, and honestly the problem is so pervasive that we would need an across-the-board policy to make a difference. In this big bureaucracy, it’s a lost cause.

My question is, when I search for my NEXT job (which will be soon), how can I ensure that I work at an organization that cares about indoor air quality and puts restrictions on air freshener use? This is extremely important to me – I do not want my health to be compromised by my workplace. I simply can’t sit in an office where air fresheners are constantly being sprayed or where my desk is doused in toxic cleaning products. Do I bring this up at the offer stage? How can I suss out an organization’s culture when it comes to air quality, chemicals, and employee health? To me it’s a no-brainer that toxic aerosols should not be sprayed in an office, but most people don’t seem to notice or care.

You could certainly raise it at the offer stage, like you would any other health-related accommodation that you wanted to inquire about, saying something like, “I’ve found that air fresheners and some cleaning products (although be more specific here about what types of cleaning products) aggravate my allergies. I know many organizations are taking measures to minimize the use of those. Any chance you could tell me about the working environment in that regard?”

However, only a minority of employers have taken this issue on in any meaningful way, and so I think you’re unlikely to find many with a satisfying answer. That means that you might need to look into whether your symptoms are severe enough that you’d be covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act; if they are, that opens up new avenues for addressing this.

3. Applying for jobs right before going on a three-week vacation overseas

In the last week, three jobs that really excited me were posted – I’m dying to apply. I live in a small city where jobs in my field aren’t that frequent so I don’t want to pass on them. But I have a three-week overseas holiday coming up that begins three days after the closing date for all three applications. I don’t want to put something in my cover letter that immediately puts me in the do-not-interview pile, but I don’t want people to call me to arrange an interview and get a sorry-I’m-overseas-try-emailing-me voicemail, which seems both a shabby thing to do to HR and likely to look bad or thoughtless. Is there a non-off-putting way to phrase this in a cover letter?

I know (having perused similar in your archives) that by not cancelling the trip I’m showing where my priorities are, but it’s a big financial investment for me and I’ve saved up a lot of leave for it. So I guess it is my priority, I just want to mitigate its effects as much as possible!

I don’t think it’s so much about “showing where your priorities are” — it would be crazy to cancel a trip just because you might get called for an interview while you’re away. You should proceed with your plans, and no one should find that odd. But yes, it might end up being the case that you’re away during the period when they’re conducting interviews. If it’s a hard-to-fill job or you’re an especially ideal candidate, they might be perfectly willing to wait for you to get back, but you risk that they’ll move forward while you’re away. There’s not really anything you can do about that though; you certainly shouldn’t alter your plans, particularly since you don’t know if they’ll invite you to interview anyway, or whether they’ll even be scheduling the interviews for before you’re back.

It does make sense to include a note at the end of your cover letter saying something like, “While I’ll be traveling overseas from DATE to DATE, I’ll be checking email regularly and would love to set up a time to speak for any time after DATE.” You should also make sure that your voicemail is clear about the situation, and that you do check email while you’re away (ideally at least every few days if you want to be able to respond to an employer quickly).

4. I don’t find out my schedule until the night before I’m supposed to work

I just got a new job. We have one supervisor who is scheduling the whole animal hospital (boarding, reception, technicians, doctors, retail, etc.) — at least 40 employees. I usually don’t even find out my Sunday-Saturday schedule until Saturday before the Sunday of the coming work week (for example, I found out mid-day on 9/1 what my schedule is for 9/2-9/9). This makes it hard to plan any kind of doctor visits, plans or any errands I need to do. I’m used to knowing my schedule for the next two weeks. The past two days, my supervisor has texted/called employees at almost 11 pm telling then what time they work the next day.

I feel like this isn’t right, especially if I don’t know what time I should be in bed or am not able to plan my day because I’m not sure if I work the next day or what time I work until it’s almost midnight. I don’t know what to do or say. I don’t think it’s fair but I can’t seem to see any laws against it.

Yeah, it’s not illegal, just really, really bad practice for the reasons you mention. All you can really do is point out the difficulties it causes and ask if there are alternatives. For instance: “Jane, is there any chance of getting our schedules a few days earlier? When I don’t hear until midnight before a day I might need to work, it makes it really hard to plan.” You could also talk to your coworkers about speaking up as a group; presumably everyone else is frustrated by it too, and speaking up as a group can sometimes carry more weight.

If that fails, you should at least be able to fight back on the midnight thing — as in, “I need to know no later than X if I’m scheduled to work the next day. I’m often asleep by the time you send the schedule.”

5. When should I mention my visa status?

I’m a Canadian citizen in the U.S. on a employer-specific work visa. I’m looking to change jobs but stay in the U.S., and am worried about how to disclose that to prospective employers. At what point in the process should I disclose my visa status? And in what form? I don’t want to be deceitful, but I also don’t want to be dismissed before they have a chance to look at my qualifications. I’ve heard the advice of putting it on my resume at the top as “Current U.S. Visa status: would need sponsorship” but that feels quite brusque. For context, I’m planning on applying to large organizations that I know have some level of sponsorship program.

Yep, you should put it on your resume. If an employer is set up to do the work of sponsoring you, it’ll seem normal to them to see it there, and if they’re not, it’s useful (and considerate) to alert them to your status ahead of time so that they don’t start the ball rolling with you only to find that it’s an obstacle.

{ 306 comments… read them below }

  1. Dan*


    As someone who has been in your shoes, I can say that it will take awhile in my field to get the process going. You could probably skip any mention of it, especially if your interviews are out of town.

    When I had that happen to me, the employer wanted me to book tickets to the interview through their agency, and then I’d get reimbursed. The kicker was that their agency was only open 9- 5 est, and I was on the complete opposite end of the world.

    They got stuck with a $1600 plane ticket, which they paid.

    1. Victoria*

      To OP #3– If you have access to email (and it sounds like you do), you should consider installing Google Voicemail. It transcribes your voicemails into emails and sends you an email with a text and audio of every voicemail you receive. That way, if you get a call for an interview, you’ll be able to respond promptly via email and say that you’re oversees for X number of days but would be able to set up a Skype call or an in-person interview when you get back.

      1. Dan*

        The voice transcription is terrible, I would not rely on that. Not even for the purpose you’re suggesting. An email of the audio? Different story, but the point is the OP should plan to be able to listen to audio. Not rocket science if you bring your own device and have internet access. In years past, I used to use internet cafes overseas, where this could very well be an issue if you didn’t plan for it.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It sends you a sound file too though, so you can ignore the transcription (which I agree is remarkably terrible) and listen to the voicemail right in your email.

          1. StarHopper*

            I agree that Google Voice transcriptions are universally terrible, but I… kinda love them. Some of them are almost poetically bad.

            1. Vicki*


              A recent one I received contained this line: “Evidence of the programs and it’s wishes with the mulch it’d be a good 40 on location…”

            2. Leah*

              Google Voice really has trouble with one of my friends. Also, I get voicemails in a few different languages, so those transcriptions are particularly entertaining. I am sure linguists are studying this somewhere. If you log into Google Voice on your browser, you can tell them which transcriptions are good and bad. In job searching, I found the transcriptions useful for deciding if I want to bother loading the recording right then and there for a phone number not in my contact list or wait until I am on wireless.

          2. KC*

            At my old job, we used to email each other particularly bad Google Voice transcriptions. It’s the little things that get you through the day.

              1. Jamie*

                “It’s wishes with the mulch it’d be…”

                That will be my answer to any question someone asks me irl the rest of today.

  2. Dan*


    I work in a field that deals a lot with visa sponsorship. Trust me, they’ll tell you what he deal is. If you’re in a field where sponsorship isn’t common, then they won’t want to deal with it. You can probably get away with leaving it off unless you want to know for sure that it is a non starter.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I strongly recommend against leaving it off — you risk wasting your time and theirs if it’s a deal-breaker. If they’re set up to deal with it, having it on isn’t likely to hurt you, but the OP risks looking pretty out of touch if she doesn’t include it and it turns out to be an obstacle.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Agreed. I have interviewed candidates who had H1B issues, didn’t disclose them, and then I was told by HR after I had already decided I liked them and wanted to make an offer — “sorry, turns out we can’t afford her because of her visa status.” I was very much annoyed at having gone through bringing people through multiple rounds of interviews when there was a deal-breaker around from the beginning. (Same goes for a candidate who wanted a schedule that’s unusual for the industry — I would have rejected her off the pile, and I was not pleased when, after we fell in love and made her an offer, it turned out she would accept that offer only on condition of a schedule that would have had me covering her so often that, in some ways, I may as well not have hired anyone.)

        OP, I know you don’t want to be rejected without consideration — but sponsorship is so expensive that, if a company isn’t prepared to do it at the beginning, I don’t think it’s one of those small things that they’re willing to overlook once they’ve decided they like you enough to make you an offer (such as a planned vacation soon after hire, or being a small percentage over the salary range for the position). So I think you have to disclose it early.

        1. Duck Rover*

          I had the opposite situation: I disclosed upfront about my visa status, went through two rounds of interviews – including ones where they paid me to travel to the site and stay in a fancy hotel while they interviewed me for 2 days – and then called me later to say, “so our HR person says we don’t sponsor H1B visas for this level of position. Sorry. We should have asked them sooner.” This happened twice.

          But hey, at least I wasn’t out of pocket, I got to stay in hotels I can never usually afford, I got to see different cities, and I got interview experience. (That’s me putting a positive spin on it. I was real bitter at the time.)

          1. Looby*

            Similar thing happened to me (minus the hotel stays, you lucky thing!). Total disclosure about my status in my cover letter and phone interview. And after making me run around filling in paperwork for a background check and telling me I by far the most qualified candidate :eyeroll:, they announced I couldn’t move onto the next round because of my visa status. (PS, this was in Canada, I didn’t need a sponsor as such, I just needed a decent job)

        2. Dan*

          Huh. I usually get undercut by about $20k by those who need their visas sponsored. I know there’s cost invovled, but in STEM, us worker bees have come to accept that H1Bs exist to drive wages DOWN. (And merely increasing labor supply will do it.)

          But I have anectdotal evidence as well — some aspects of my field are contractually prohibited from sponsoring visas, and those wages are MUCH higher. In areas where sponsorship is more common, wages are much lower. (Think government contracts vs private industry.)

          Over to your candidate with scheduling issues, I hate to say it, but she followed conventional wisdom — wow them, and then give them the demands after they fall in love with you.

    2. LBK*

      That doesn’t really make sense to me. You’re saying there’s no chance a company who doesn’t normally do sponsorships would start doing them – so why leave it out? It’s not like a special scheduling requirement or a unique accommodation or extra vacation or something else that you’d normally wait until the offer stage to negotiate. From what you’re saying it’s always going to be a dealbreaker, so what do you gain by withholding it up front?

      1. Dan*

        Actually, yeah, there’s almost no chance. I don’t work in HR or employment law so can’t cite all of the rules, but in order to sponsor visas, there has to be some sort of demonstrated business need that can’t be fulilled by other labor. I don’t think you can hire a one-off “just because”. Like ya gotta do a bunch of paperwork and what not.

        But I operate on the basis that things either hurt you or help you. And the need for visa sponsorship can’t help you. There’s no circumstance where a guy needing visa sponsorhip is more desirable than a guy not needing one, unless they’re willing to undercut the citizen/green card holder on wages. (Think about it… the only thing a sponsorship need signals is that you’re not from the US. All that really opens up is discrimination issues on the basis of national origin, which are things we’re not supposed to do.)

        1. Jennifer M.*

          I don’t think it could be considered discrimination to reject someone who cannot fulfill one of the basic needs of the job – ie ability to legally work in the US.

            1. Colette*

              I’m not sure what you mean here. Not hiring someone who needs a visa could be racism, but it could also be that they don’t want to go through the visa process – and the effort involved in getting a visa for a potential employee is significant. I doubt anyone could win a discrimination complaint if the company said “we were able to hire someone else who did not need a visa”.

              1. Dan*

                Hiring someone who needs a visa because they will work cheaper is also racism (er, discrimination on the basis of national origin which is also a protected class) which is what I’m getting at. I work in a field where the salaries at companies where visas are sponsored are lower than companies where they don’t.

                Other people have asserted that the STEM crisis is a manufactured fallacy designed to keep the pipeline full of labor, driving wages down (or holding them steady). Visa sponsorship does one thing and one thing only — increases the labor supply. In order for companies to sponsor visas, they have to demonstrate they can’t get a qualified workforce domestically. I guarantee you in my line of work, I can do the same job as the guy who’s visa got sponsored. I just won’t do it as cheap as he does. (I know I can do it becaues a particular employer told me so. I also know what they pay.)

              2. Chinook*

                “Not hiring someone who needs a visa could be racism, but it could also be that they don’t want to go through the visa process – and the effort involved in getting a visa for a potential employee is significant. I doubt anyone could win a discrimination complaint if the company said “we were able to hire someone else who did not need a visa”.”

                In Canada, we are currently undergoing a trnasformational shift when it comes to Temporary Foreign Workers and, as a result, it has been in the news a lot. If someone here were to apply for a job without acknowledging a need for a visa, then the company can love them all they want but not legally be allowed to hire them if there are Canadians eligible for the job. Even if there was no one else qualified, the employer would still have to do a labour market study at their cost and apply for the waiver, again at their cost (and, legally, they are not allowed to download the cost onto the employee). On top of that, just because they were eligible to hire TFWs in the past doesn’t mean they are allowed to now because of the shifting job market and laws (which were altered due to flagrant abuses of the workers, the safety of all employees on site and because Canadians were being denied jobs and shifts due to cheaper TFWs)

                This isn’t racial discrimination as it applies to all nationalities and a landed immigrant from the Phillipines has the same rights to a job as any Canadian whereas there relative who is a TFW doesn’t and there is no way of knowing which is which without them explicitly stating their status.

                1. Cucumber*

                  This doesn’t seem like anything new to me. I worked in Canada on a student work visa many years ago; I was offered permanent positions but there was always an issue with giving the job to a Canadian first (this was back during the currency crisis too, when youth employment was at an all-time low). I don’t actually have an issue with this, as I’ve seen exactly the issue Dan refers to with H1B visa workers being hired at low-ball prices, then treated shamefully by their hosting company, while qualified American or permanent residents are denied the opportunity.

                  I think it’s a shame that people get caught up in the racial aspect of it, because if you are, say, Asian-American and originally from the Indian subcontinent, you as a naturalized citizen are just as likely to be discriminated against on the basis of your citizenship status, as an Irish-American who grew up in Milwaukee.

                2. Jessa*

                  Actually to my knowledge of the US at least the visa process requires you NOT to be able to hire locally. The whole point of hiring visa workers is that they fill a niche that you can’t get. So it can’t really be discrimination not to do a visa thing if you can get someone locally.

              3. Alter_ego*

                I think by adverse discrimination, Dan means that companies are more likely to hire people needing visas, since they only benefit to doing so would be if you could pay much lower wages than you could pay someone with no visa issues. And since people do get hired on visas, then it’s lowering wages across the board, and it leads to discrimination against people without them, because they’ll ask for more money.

        2. Colette*

          It won’t help you, but it’s also not like you can just say “never mind, it turns out I don’t need a visa after all”. If they won’t hire you knowing you need them to sponsor you, there’s no point in wasting your time or theirs interviewing.

          1. LBK*

            Exactly. It’s not something you could end up compromising on once you get later in the process – like if your salary requirement is $10k higher than what they want to pay, so they agree to let you work remotely and then you choose to accept. You don’t have a choice whether you need visa sponsorship or not, so if the chance of the employer sponsoring you is zero…you gain nothing by applying. You literally can’t work there.

        3. UsedtobeaH1B*

          “in order to sponsor visas, there has to be some sort of demonstrated business need that can’t be fulilled by other labor. I don’t think you can hire a one-off “just because”. Like ya gotta do a bunch of paperwork and what not.”

          This is not correct. This is correct in order to sponsor them for a green card through employer. For H1B, you don’t need to show business need, only that the candidate is qualified to take this position.
          It’s pretty standard procedure and takes little effort if they know what they are doing.

          Also, each job has a prevailing wage associated with it and the company can’t pay below that. I used to work on H1B visa and my salary usually was much higher than my American counterparts. It comes down again to negotiation and how badly they want you.

          @OP, I never put on my resume that I had H1B status, if they asked me – I told them (even on the application). I did changed at least 3 jobs while on H1B and was even sponsored for a job from a department that usually do not sponsor but they really needed my skills and were looking for a person for 7 months.
          I used to bring it up at the end of the phone interview with the hiring manager if the HR person didn’t ask me before that or wasn’t a procedure to talk to HR person first.

            1. UsedtobeaH1B*

              I do not believe so.

              Here is the form for Labor Condition application for H1B – if you read the form, you can see that only employers who are H1B dependent (if you have 51 or more employees and 15% of them are on H1B then you are H1B dependent) need to provide the need for that employee. All other employers do not need to provide those things.


              Definition of H1B dependent employers

      2. Cassie*

        Being in a STEM field, we have lots of foreign-born students. Many of them stay on after their PhDs and get sponsorship from companies – I would probably say that many of the large companies who recruit from us know that those candidates are going to need visa sponsorship. In fact, we have so few US citizens that it’s almost like spotting Bigfoot. (And it does sometimes matter in our field – where the research can only be conducted by a US citizen for export control reasons).

        If I remember correctly, there’s a quota nationally for H1Bs – so timing may be a concern if your current visa is about to expire. I believe university-sponsored H1Bs aren’t counted in the quota (so fortunately I don’t have to worry about that with our researchers) but one of them mentioned it to me when his employment with us was about to end (and work eligibility was about to expire).

        I agree that it should be listed on the resume because usually the company does sponsor or they don’t. It’s better for everyone to know early in the game if it’s even a possibility.

    3. INTP*

      I agree with leaving it off. Even if they have a sponsorship program, they’re going to prefer candidates with no sponsorship needed. Disclosing right then might get you moved further to the bottom of the pile in terms of who gets a call. The only reason to put it out there on the resume is if you have enough opportunities that you don’t want to get calls from an companies that might not sponsor.

      My recruiting experience was in a field and city where this is a very common issue, though, so during the initial phone screen we asked every single person, including those who were obviously American citizens, if they had the right to work in the US without sponsorship. The most time you’d waste is 10 minutes. Even if this isn’t asked initially, you can just ask about sponsorship in the phone screen. It wasn’t expected to put it on a resume, the only thing considered deceptive was if you used tricks to hide your foreign-ness on your resume, which recruiters easily see through anyways (i.e. not listing the college name or listing your name as something super generic and Anglo like John Smith).

      1. Chinook*

        “including those who were obviously American citizens,”

        Without meaning to sound snarky but out of curiousity – how can you tell if someone is obviously an American over the phone or from their resume? There are Canadians who are learning, the hard way, they are still considered American citizens for tax purposes (due to quirk of birthplace of them or a parent despite never having lived there). And there are naturalized citizens who may have grown up with the accents of their parents or worked abroad as a benefit of their dual citizenship. Obviously, these are the reasons you are required to ask the question, but what groups do you feel obviously shouldn’t need to be asked?

        1. Judy*

          In the end, it doesn’t matter, because everyone has to be asked before their first day to fill out the I-9.

          Certain jobs would lend themselves to making it obvious, like being in the military or working for defense contractors.

          Sponsored visas are only for when the company proves a business need they can’t handle with citizens. That is different from permanent residency (green card) visas.

          1. Cassie*

            How much effort does the company need to make, to try to fill the position with a US citizen? The couple of times I’ve handled H-1B sponsorship (through our university), the researchers were already working with us on other visas. Obviously I don’t have the technical know-how to tell you whether this researcher is the only person in the whole wide world who can do the work, but my sneaking suspicion is that they were sponsored only because they were already there and their current visa was expiring.

        2. Cucumber*

          The accent, and tell-tale words. When I worked in Canada, people figured out I was American when I said “Zee”, not “Zed”. I grew up very close to the border so my accent was otherwise fairly indistinguishable from people in that province.

          I disagree with the suggestion that we pick up our parents’ accent, I think peers and the outside environment are more influential. I have friends who can barely communicate with their immigrant parents, and whose English accent is very much shaped by the area they grew up in and first learned English. My sister spent her early years in England while my father was working there; ten to fifteen years after leaving, and then spending years in the Midwest, her nickname in college was “Lady Di” because she still sounded faintly British; she didn’t pick up my parents’ Joisey accents.

        3. INTP*

          There are a lot of defense industry companies in my area that hire only citizens, and sometimes permanent residents, for security clearance reasons. If someone has worked for a long time at one of those as a direct employee, in a higher level position, you can generally assume that they have a green card and probably citizenship. If someone has spent most of their career in the defense industry, all of the schools and positions on their resume is American, and their accent is American, I tend to assume that they’re a citizen. That’s not foolproof of course, but if you’re not dealing with security clearances, you generally don’t have to differentiate between green card holders and citizens anyways (in fact, even if they specified “green card” or “I’m a citizen”, I was taught only to write down “Does not need sponsorship” in case of any discrimination complaints.)

          1. NoPantsFridays*

            Interesting. Reading this thread, I’m wondering if I should consider adding “Does not need sponsorship” or similar to my resume somewhere because I don’t need sponsorship in the US, I was born here. However, I have an “ethnic” name and I’ve lived overseas and in Canada for over a decade (my degree is from a Canadian institution, plus some work experience there, so the resume makes that apparent). I’m concerned employers might think I’m Canadian (not that there’s anything wrong w/ that, I love Canada) or that I’m a citizen of the country my name originates from. Employers might think I require citizenship even though I don’t. I have a job now but in the future it might be worth considering. I remember when I went to HR at my current company to show them proof of citizenship (my US passport), the rep looked at me kind of funny with this incredulous look and said, “you’re a US citizen?!” The best part is we had discussed this over email when she asked what identification and proof of work authorization I could provide, and I told her my US passport…apparently she forgot in a matter of hours.

            1. Cath in Canada*

              I have “Citizenship: Canadian and British” in the header of my CV, with my name and email address etc., to proactively address any worries they may have about my UK education. Before that I had “Status in Canada: Permanent Resident (no employment restrictions)”

              1. NoPantsFridays*

                That sounds good, maybe I can do something like that. I’m not in academia so I have a resume rather than a CV, so I might have to do something a little different…

  3. GrumpyBoss*

    #5: if you are applying to a position through an applicant tracking system, such as Taleo or Brassring, you are often asked about eligibility to work in the US right at the application stage.

    If this isn’t the case for you, I echo Alison’s advice: put it on your resume. Transferring a visa can be a real pain (not to mention an unbudgeted expense) that an employer isn’t able to take on. It’s incredibly frustrating when I find out well into the interview process that someone will require sponsorship.

    1. LBK*

      Yep, that’s what I was going to say – every application I’ve done has specifically asked if I would require sponsorship to work there.

      1. some1*

        Ditto. And the jobs I’ve applied for that just involved emailing my resume, most of the orgs had me fill out an application at the interview stage that addresses that question.

      2. Dan*

        My comments above nonwithstanding, I happen to agree with you — every ATS seems to ask the question, which is why I guess I see the resume as pretty much a non-issue.

  4. Brett*

    #5 We actually had a very good candidate permanently disqualified because they failed to disclose their visa status until the second interview. We were pretty much prepared to give them an offer when we found out. The person was less than 12 months away from permanent residency too, but now cannot work for us ever. (We ask for visa status on the application, and they put that they were eligible to work, but left out that the visa was employer specific and figured we would sponsor when the issue came up.)

      1. born in the 60s*

        Not clear it’s a lie – “left out that the visa was employer specific and figured we would sponsor when the issue came up” makes it sound like it could easily have been a misunderstanding. In which case banning forever is a loss for the potential employer too.

    1. Brett*

      I think the candidate felt it was only an omission from the application that would be dealt with later in the process. For us, it was a serious deception. I guess the message here is that not being upfront about visa status is a serious deception for some employers.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        I can see this. It’s unfortunate if it was truly some kind of understanding, but if you’re on an employer-sponsored visa, and are asked directly if you are able to legally work in the country, you know exactly what the answer is (even if it’s a bit nuanced). It’s doubtful the candidate answered that idly or unthinking like I would (as someone who would have no reason to think I WASN’T able to legally work). The candidate answered very deliberately. Might be an overreaction, but might not be… I don’t think it says anything GOOD about the candidate, at any rate.

  5. Joline*

    #3. A lot of places don’t even make it through the resume stack until two or three weeks after the close. So the timeframe might not be as much of an obstacle as you think. With a closing date three days before your vacation they could even not be scheduling interviews at all until after you’re back anyway. And, even if they try to contact you quickly – if you’re a potential good fit they might make concessions. I started a job a month and a half ago where I did the interview as a phone interview from a hotel room in Hungary (I and this new job are both in Canada) while on vacation. They called me before I left, I explained the situation, and we made arrangements. They tried to get the interview in before I left but it’s municipal work and they do not move quickly when it comes to scheduling.

    1. Melly*

      I was going to say this too. I’ve applied to a lot of jobs and it seems I never have heard back on an application before three weeks have passed. But yes Alison’s advice to communicate dates you are away, and making sure you check email a few times on the trip would be helpful. Definitely change your voicemail to say that you will not have voicemail access until after your return date.

      1. some1*

        Yes, this is pretty typical for me as well. I either get a call for a phone or in-person interview within a couple business days of applying, or I get contacted several weeks later.

        1. Dan*

          You know, I happen to agree with that. Sometimes I do get quick feedback… and other times, rejections six months after applying.

  6. Kara*


    Trust me, that is not the worst way to find out your schedule. There are some industries where scheduling in advance is impossible. My other half works in construction, on what we call “the mystery shift.” Literally, he never knows when he’ll be working. They usually let employees know by about 4pm what their schedule is for the next shift, which can start anywhere from 8pm that night to 9am the next morning. They try to let the employees coming in on an ‘early shift’ (8pm-2am) know by 2pm in the afternoon, but that doesn’t always happen. He’s been told he has a 12am start time at 6pm in the afternoon while he’s still working his current shift. They also never – ever – know what time their shift will be over. 8-10 hours? Please. His average shift is 12-15 hours, with the longest being 26. That doesn’t even count the days where they sent him out of town on a job, and had him stay for two more days after that. They got him a motel room and gave him per diem for a meal, but he didn’t know he was going so he had no change of clothes (gross, since they work outside all day), no toiletries, no nothing. He had to stop by a Walmart and grab a pack of clean underwear and some deodorant. We obviously would have planned for that if we knew, but since it’s a mystery shift, we never know. Doctor’s appointments? Hah. Need to go by the bank? Get real. I manage all of our finances and all possible appointments (teacher conferences, cable hookup, roof repair, bank, etc) because there’s no way to ever know if he’ll be available, or if he’ll have had any sleep. He’s been called back to work after 45 minutes of sleep. On top of all that, there are no guaranteed breaks of any kind, even on a 26 hour shift. If they’re in between jobs and have a few moments they can take lunch, but that is like a super moon kind of rare. Even worse, his dispatch is horrible, and they’ll sometimes get the shift start time wrong – which ends up with the on-call manager calling him three hours before he thinks he’s supposed to be up to tell him that his job was supposed to go 10 minutes ago and asking where the heck he is. Those are always fun. He does this 6 days per week, 55-90 hours (we never know what it’s going to be). And yep, it’s all legal. Not the best way to win quality employees, but legal. There’s just no way for them to know what jobs are going to go and when. The construction sites have to pass inspection before they’re allowed to work, and if they don’t the job gets pushed back. Unfortunately, it’s just how the industry operates.

    1. Student*

      …and this is exactly what unions are for.

      There is absolutely no reason that construction has to be done in this fashion. With the shifts you are describing, his company probably doesn’t have much of a safety record, either.

      1. Kara*

        Actually, surprisingly, they’ve got a pretty stellar record. I sat in on one of their safety meetings (they held it after their benefits meeting, so I was already there and was interested) so I was able to hear the safety stats. I was impressed. The company has a Safety Man position that runs their safety program and has really reduced the number and severity of incidents in the last few years.

      2. Liane*

        While a union can be useful for this, it isn’t required to keep things like this from happening. Like so many other things in the World of Work, a good boss/manager/owner will do that. My dad owned his own construction & painting business with full crews on various sized projects, sometimes more than one at a time. They knew where they would be and what hours, barring severe weather or other serious emergencies, well ahead of time. All. The. Time.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah, agreed. This problem can be solved by getting good managers in place, it doesn’t need a union – tons of non-union companies with shift work have this kind of thing figured out. It’s not rocket science.

          1. Dan*

            It’s not, but if managment figured this was a problem worth fixing, why haven’t they done it by now? Many of AAM’s questions come from places with serious management issues that doesn’t take a genious to solve, but they haven’t. And often, for seriously bad management, AAM’s advice is to find a new job, because change isn’t going to happen from below.

            Change from below is what unions do.

            1. LBK*

              I feel that unions often contribute more heavily to the us vs. them mentality and create bad relationships between management and employees, where good managers feel limited in their capacity to manage by the restrictions of the union and bad managers are just forced into making decent decisions because they don’t have a choice, not because the union turns them into better managers. I honestly don’t think a union can turn a bad organization into a good one, either, it just might make the conditions mildly better. I’ve heard just as many stories about bad unions as I have about bad managers.

              1. Dan*

                Bad management does the same as unions at least from the perspective you’re putting forward. I’ve never worked for bad management and felt like we had a team atmosphere, in fact, they *really* foster an “us vs them” mentality.

                Better conditions and established pay scales aren’t a bad thing. Just this week, AAM fielded a question from someone who hasn’t gotten a raise in three years. Again, her advice was to leave, IIRC. Can a union in that regard be any worse than the status quo?

                Unions are not a cure for every workplace problem. If they were, they wouldn’t be disappearing. But they still have their place. I work in an industry that’s got its share of unions (and non-union shops for that matter). To my knowledge, the union shops don’t run any better or any worse than the non union shops. They’re just a tool. FWIW, one way the non-union shops keep unions off the premises is by implementing a lot of union-like strategies. Go figure.

                I posted elsewhere that if your staff votes a union onto the property, you as management have to ask where you seriously screwed up. Because you did. (This is for currently non-unionized shops. Places where unions already exist are exempted from my thoughts here.)

                1. Heather*

                  Exactly this. If your employees are considering a union, the “good owner/boss/manager” ship has already sailed.

              2. LBK*

                I think we’re getting far afield of the OP’s question here so I’ll try reel it in, but suffice to say that I often see unions suggested as solutions to problems in a workplace where the core of the business is just rotten – a union would be a stopgap for issues that will persist in different forms as long as the same people are running the place. Maybe you get pay scales and hours requirements set up and those aspects improve, but if your boss is still a miserable person who can’t manage effectively, I feel that you’ll end up basically playing Work Problem Whack-a-Mole with the union as your mallet until one of you caves in and leaves.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yep, totally agree. You still have crappy managers and miserable quality of life, and often you get new problems too (like being told “because of the union, we can’t fire your horrible slacker coworker who makes your job much harder,” which often isn’t true but managers end up thinking it’s true).

                2. Dan*

                  I know what you’re trying to say… I really do. And you know by reading my comments that I don’t think unions solve all of the workplace problems in the United States. In fact, with good management, you won’t need one.

                  But the reality is we work in a society that has few protections for workers rights. The union is one of the few mechanisms that the workerbees have to affect change from below.

                  Both you and AAM are coming at this from a management perspective, and neither of you like unions. Rightfully so, they’re certainly not going to make your life better!

                  TBH, if I’m so pissed off with my working conditions and pay that I’m willing to vote in a union, a protected lazy coworker is something I’ll put up with. Because disgruntled hard working people at a company with crappy pay and working conditions isn’t making my life any better! With a union, my home life and my paycheck are hopefully going to be better.

                  Is it that much harder to find a new job than it is to vote in a union and deal with everything that comes with it? In reality, most union jobs are in places that are seniority driven. In other words, the worker gives up quality of life and pay by being low man on someone else’s totem pole. Depending on the industry, that worker may not even have a nearby job to go to!

                  So sometimes, the best option for a worker is to unionize. It’s not a perfect tool by any means, but it is a tool. It’s making the best of a bad situation. When having no job is worse, and the status quo is marginally better, you don’t have a lot of choices.

                  As management, you guys are in better positions to make life at work for the bees more desirable without a union than with.

                  There’s reasons I went and pursued a profession that makes all of these issues null and void for me. I won’t have to work in those environments, and I won’t have to manage in them. Management sucks? You bet, I go find a new job. But not everybody can do that.

                3. LBK*

                  I actually do come at this as an employee more than a manager – I’ve been on the bottom of the totem pole a lot longer than the top, and I’m not a manager now. My perspective is much more heavily based on having bad coworkers that seem immune to firing, which makes me miserable. If I quit today, I would cite my horrible coworker and his inexplicable continued employment as the #1 reason. Buying into a system that might systematically make it even harder to get rid of him and guarantee him certain levels of pay and benefits sounds about as fun as punching myself in the face.

                4. LBK*

                  And that’s what’s at the crux of the issue for me – a union can absolutely help with certain more concrete issues like pay and hours. But they can’t prevent your boss from being a jackass, or from being lazy about hiring, or from not holding people accountable. You can’t ask the union to fire your useless coworker or make your manager answer emails faster. There are things that can make work miserable that you just can’t regulate.

                  I get what you’re saying, that if management sucks then at least a union can strong arm them into improving at least some basic things so your satisfaction can go from a F to a D-. But it’s still failing, and I just don’t think it’s worth it.

        2. Dan*

          I’ve done a lot of work in areas that are typically unionized… except for the fact that my shops never were. I’ve seen a union drive or two in my day (all failed). What I will say is that if a shop votes to unionize, management needs to ask themselves what they’re doing wrong.

          So no, a union isn’t required to fix this issue, but if management won’t, there’s reasons unions get voted in.

            1. LBK*

              You have to be careful of the consequences, though – because sometimes one of management’s core issues is that they’re keeping bad people on staff. When I was part of a retail management team with miserable employees, our solution was to set standards and then clean house – we fired about 50% of the existing employees, hired a team of rockstars and told the 50% that had survived that the new people were setting the bar for our expectations, so that was the standard they needed to meet if they wanted to stay. Most of them didn’t make it – I think out of a department of 20 people, only 2 of them were still there from when I started until I left.

              Morale for those who were still employed went through the roof, because we had brought in people who wanted to work on a team of high performers for management with high expectations. I’m sure the people who got canned weren’t too happy about it, but frankly once you’re fired your morale is not my concern.

              1. LBK*

                (And this isn’t to say that there weren’t other management issues prior to this process starting – bringing in a new team of managers including myself was the first step – but even if you’re a high performer you have to be ready for the idea that better management could mean a lot of your coworkers walking out the door, not everyone staying and getting exactly what they want.)

      3. 2 Cents*

        My brother in law works for a supermarket that’s fully unionized and gets his schedule for the week the day before. So the week ends Friday, and he finds out if he’s working the next day (Saturday) on Friday. So planning for the week out is near impossible. So union doesn’t always = harmony.

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      That sounds horrific, the long hours, the lack of breaks and the lack of time between shifts all of that would be illegal in Europe.

    3. Marcia*

      I don’t think the OP should feel better because some people have it worse. Some people are physically abused by their employers, some people are forced to take jobs with local armed groups (think Somalia, Iraq)–so what? The set-up you mention is ridiculous and unethical, and is only accepted because it’s legal.

      This is why people ask “Is it legal?” all the time. They know that without legal backing, people get taken advantage of. It’s quite shameful that this is legal in the US. The industry would find a way to change if it had to. You’re only making an argument for stronger labor laws.

      1. Kara*

        I wasn’t saying that the OP should ‘feel better’ about their situation because other industries are worse. There will always be a worse industry. I can think of at least three that would be worse that the one my other half is already in. My point was that in some industries it’s difficult for employers to know schedules in advance, and even if they ask to implement a policy that mandates they receive their schedule at an earlier time, it may not be possible. I was just giving an example of an industry where that is the case.

        I’m all for adding employee protection laws. Interestingly enough, the company my other half worked for previously is in the same type of construction industry, but they actually had TxDot laws they had to follow as far as what shifts their employees worked – his current employer doesn’t, all due to a technicality. He was previously a concrete truck driver, which is classified under transportation laws in a manner that requires them to follow the laws for long-haul drivers. They had a max number of hours they could work per shift (15), a max they could work each week (70), and a minimum number of hours they had to have off between shifts (8). Unfortunately in his current position – as a concrete pump operator – even though it does require a commercial license to drive his machine, they’re classified as a ‘mobile crane’ as opposed to ‘transportation’ and therefore do not have to follow those TxDot restrictions on hours. I wish they did. It would be a lot healthier for the employees as well as the industry.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          “even if they ask to implement a policy that mandates they receive their schedule at an earlier time, it may not be possible.”

          But, why is it that difficult in his current industry to know the schedule ahead of time? Sure, he doesn’t know it, but what is the underlying reason they can’t figure it out for him? Is it the work itself, or poor organization on the part of management? What makes it not possible?

          1. Kara*

            The nature of the jobs. He works the concrete side of construction. In order for a job to go (whether it’s a slab, tilt wall, curb, bridge, etc doesn’t matter) the job foreman has to receive an approval from an inspector. A lot of things like plumbing are poured under the slab, so they have to be perfect before they pour a layer of concrete over it (otherwise it’s an expensive pain to fix). Once the job is approved, the supervisor has to order a certain amount concrete and schedule it with the redi-mix companies who transport the actual product.

            Concrete has a life of about 3 hours before it’s unusable, and sometimes shorter during a Texas summer, so they can’t just have people come and go on whatever shifts because some jobs require more mud than others (usually commercial pours). Once the mud is ordered, the foreman has to order a pump, if one is needed. The pump places the concrete when a redi-mix truck can’t back up to it. One of the salespeople from the pump company has to determine what size of pump is needed (from 28m to 61m at this company), and then has to match a pump operator (what my other half is) to the jobs. A lot of the commercial jobs use the bigger pumps and they prefer to pour in the middle of the night because there’s less traffic, it’s cooler, etc. Residential slabs can’t be poured until after 7am according to zoning laws, and depending on what size pump you run you may be doing both commercial and residential, so they have to factor that into your schedule.

            There’s just a lot of coordination involved, and last minute orders, jobs that go too long (underestimation of concrete from inexperienced job foremen), jobs that don’t pass inspection, weather related issues, etc, can all throw a wrench into their scheduling. There’s no way for them to know what job is going to pass inspection and go for concrete even two days in advance. There’s more to it that would bore you to tears (it does me lol) but there really is some things that the company can’t control, even if they had perfect managers.

      2. Diet Coke Addict*

        Exactly. Just because some industries have it even more horribly doesn’t make her situation any better–and frankly, there are plenty of retail and shiftwork operations that manage to get their employees a schedule within reasonable time, so there’s no reason why her workplace can’t. Presumably the vet industry doesn’t operate that way–I imagine it’s her specific workplace being weird.

        1. The Other Katie*

          I worked at a veterinary clinic for over two years, and we never operated that way. We always had our schedules at least a week in advance, if not two weeks. That’s not to say that you wouldn’t get asked last minute (asked, not told) to come in if someone was sick, but I think that could happen anywhere with that sort of work. I think OP #4 just has a bad supervisor, who doesn’t respect the fact that their employees have lives outside of work.

        2. Dan*

          I worked for an airline for a few years, and IIRC we bid for schedules every quarter. So our schedules were fixed for a three-month period (or six, I can’t remember).

          Pilots bid for schedules 30 days out. When I did shift work elsewhere in the industry, I had the same shifts for years. Sometimes my days off would change, but that was at my request when better ones opened up.

          Scheduling is a well studied problem, even for dynamic demand and therefore staffing. I work on those kinds of things now. The only places with scheduling problems are those where the company doesn’t want to solve them. Or thinks they don’t exist.

          1. Tellus*

            “The only places with scheduling problems are those where the company doesn’t want to solve them. Or thinks they don’t exist.”

            Good quote. You can also change “scheduling” to “management” and it still works.

      3. Mister Pickle*

        Check out Deborah Tannen’s book You Just Don’t Understand. Without going into it deeply, “sharing” is a perfectly valid mode of communication. And sometimes it’s even the *preferred* mode. Ref this short, informative video:

    4. ella*

      Sounds like when I worked for event support for a hotel. Most large events were scheduled 6-10 months in advance, but stuff could always pop up–or another site lose a bunch of people–and then I’d get called. My weekly hours were anywhere from 4 to 90+ when (for example) the Democratic National Convention was in town. And no guaranteed breaks–you eat when clients stop calling you for help with their Internet connection. I worked in audio/visual support, so it was all moving gear around, hauling truss, laying and taping down cable, putting up speakers, etc. Not as physically demanding as construction, but not sitting at a computer either.

      That said…an animal hospital isn’t construction or audio visual. (And honestly, I don’t know why construction couldn’t be more regular, at least on a week-to-week basis; I can see why it varies seasonally or monthly, as jobs do or don’t come in.) With the possible exception of the staff who takes care of boarding animals, I don’t know why the person doing the schedule can’t do it on, say, Wednesday, assuming most of the doctor’s appointments and things are already scheduled. My supervisor at the hotel managed to do something like this–he would do a rough draft of the schedule around Wednesday, and if he had to change it, it was to add hours, not take them away. If he only changed a person or two around, he’d approach us individually, tell us to check the schedule again. If the whole thing blew up he’d email the staff a new schedule. Even in unpredictable jobs, advance notice is possible.

      If nothing else, if there’s no way to change it (and if the supervisor’s been doing it this way for awhile, it’s unlikely that she’ll change her ways), I’d just tell them I’m unavailable to work on Sundays. That way I always have a day’s notice at least.

    5. Lily in NYC*

      That sucks, but that doesn’t mean OP doesn’t have a valid complaint. This is kind of like breaking your leg and having your one-legged coworker tell you to suck it up because he has it worse.

      1. Dan*

        We were talking about this the other day. In America, we always have to put on a smiley face. We’re not allowed to express discomfort or unpleasantness.

      2. Kara*

        I never said the complaint wasn’t valid. I’m not telling the OP to ‘suck it up buttercup’ or diminishing their pain of scheduling problems. As I said before, I was merely pointing out that there may be a valid reason for why scheduling is set in such a manner.

        This is why I hate posting comments.

        1. Dan*

          AAM doesn’t want us to pick apart word choices, so I’m going to choose my words carefully.

          You didn’t “merely point out that there may be valid reasons for why scheduling is set in such as manner.” You wrote a huge long paragraph talking about how your situation is worse, loaded with frustration, and even lead it out with the statement “trust me, that is not the worst way to find out your schedule.” I’m not sure you listed valid reasons at all for your husband’s scheduling problems, other than bad management.

          You say you didn’t diminsh the OPs pain or problems, but you certainly showed no empathy. You’ll have to forgive the rest of us who see it differently.

          1. Judy*

            I wrote something earlier and deleted it before posting, basically saying that I didn’t see a valid reason, or any reason beyond “they do it that way because that is how they have to do it.”

          2. Emma the Strange*

            At the end of her comment, she does mention a reason:

            “The construction sites have to pass inspection before they’re allowed to work, and if they don’t the job gets pushed back. Unfortunately, it’s just how the industry operates.”

            Since it came at the very end of her comment, I think it was pretty easy to miss.

            Also, not saying I think that inspections make it impossible to have a saner scheduling system, I just wanted to point out that she did mention a potentially valid reason. If regulatory or labor market forces forced the company to adopt a better system, they’d find a way to cope. Also, other commenters have indicated that this is not nessecarily typical of the construction industry.

            Also, Kara, my sympathies to you and your husband. Your situation sounds sucky.

          3. Anoni*

            Why is everyone jumping on Kara about this? Sheesh! I don’t think she was making the point that everyone thought she was trying to make. To me,it just sounded like she was comparing “war stories” so to speak. I thought there was a rule about this?

          4. Snaps2325*

            Dan, I feel like you’re becoming the comment police. Recently, you seem to be picking apart other people’s comment and it’s honestly making me not want to comment here anymore because I fear you’ll tear apart my logic or word choice or just be dismissive.

            In general, if we find that 2-3 people have made the same comment in response to someone else, can we just move on instead of piling on a well-meaning commentator? Kara has said that her initial comment was well-intentioned so why must we continue to tell her how unempathetic or unnecessary her comment is? This is becoming too much!

            1. Kara*

              Thank you both. That’s how it was intended. I didn’t realize it would prompt such an attack against word choices.

              1. Jamie*

                Even though so many people communicate so much via text these days it still happens all the time where tone is misinterpreted. That’s why when there is something that could be taken two ways it’s important to clarify before assuming the negative. I do think as a society we’ve gotten better at it since such a huge amount of our communication is done electronically, but there is no perfect medium. I’m better in type for clarity because I always forget something when I’m talking, which causes me to jump back to previous topics and there is no verbal cut and paste – but at least in person you can tell when I’m being snarky and when it’s clearly friendly.

                People do need to chill on assuming the negative.

                1. Anon for this*

                  … this was not supposed to be an Anon for this, but now I don’t want to correct my screenname because this is what I used for the open post. But anyway, I was not trying to be Anon to agree with Jamie!

    6. Miss Betty*

      I worked in construction (in the office) for years. There’s absolutely no reason for this, it’s just poor management. It’s definitely not “how the industry operates”!

    7. Cucumber*

      Kara, neighbor (you mentioned TxDOT), this is awful. Maybe your husband could pack a “go bag” with a change of clothes and toiletries for last minute overnights, and keep it in the car. I’m also thinking that when that dispatch screws up, or he has to go out of pocket at the last minute, these are unreimbursed job expenses that should go on your taxes.

      1. Kara*

        That’s exactly what he did, and he actually had to use it last week. Unfortunately it didn’t go over as well as expected – rats in their shop had chewed through the bag and left little presents for him. His deodorant also melted and was all over everything. Lol, perils of living in Texas.

      1. Kara*

        His former company actually had an employee die of a heart attack caused by heat stroke in his car in the company parking lot about two years ago. He said he wasn’t feeling well, asked to leave early, one of the managers offered to drive him to the hospital but he declined, and then he went and sat in his car with his head on the steering wheel and just died. It was really sad. We attended the funeral. Poor guy was only like 43.

    8. Phyllis*

      If it’s normal for him to be sent out of town on a moment’s notice, maybe he could keep a bag packed with a change or two of clothes, toiletries, ect. so if this happens again he’s prepared.

    9. Pennalynn Lott*

      Holy crap. I sure as heck hope I don’t live in / work in / shop in / or drive on anything your other half (and his company) helped build. (Did they do the high school football stadium in Allen, TX, by any chance?)

      1. Kara*

        Not that I’m aware of. They’ve actually worked on the new Baylor stadium, and the A&M stadium renovation. I wouldn’t worry about the quality of their work – they aren’t the largest pump company in the area for nothing. Actually, what causes foundation problems later on is what the concrete finishers do to the mud – add too much water to it so that it’s easier to finish and they don’t have to work as hard. It happens, more often than one would think. We’re looking at purchasing a house in the next two years and I’ve been told there’s a certain builder that he will refuse to purchase because he’s seen too many of their jobs completed this way – and the amount of lawsuits they have over foundation problems backs him up. The pump operators don’t have any control over this though; they just do what the customer (or the customer’s contractors) tell them to do.

  7. Laura*

    #2 You have my full sympathies. I get experience everything from asthma to migraines, depending on the particular fragrance/chemical. Fortunately, I work in an office that has a fragrance-free policy (technically), but there have been a few times where I’ve had to remind coworkers or ask managers/HR to enforce, and it can be kind of touchy. I would definitely look into ADA accommodation if it gets to that point. My managers were extremely helpful about enforcing the policy once they realized it was an actual health issue, and not just “I don’t care for that fragrance.”

    Good luck!

    1. Jeanne*

      It can be very touchy. I shared a space with 4 people years ago before anyone cared about fragrances. The one woman wore WAY too much perfume. One day I came in and had trouble breathing because she wore too much. I went to my manager who refused to help. I asked her if she could back off (not in those words). After that she stabbed me in the back every chance she got.

      Many places will take it more seriously these days. Maybe they have a policy or will make one. Maybe they will give you a space with less people. I am surprised you mentioned cleaning chemicals. I have always had to clean my own desk. All I got was vacuuming and trash removal.

    2. Cruella Da Boss*

      THIS! One would think with rising healthcare costs that companies would take notice of this kind of thing. I have pretty serious allergies and stay medicated year round. I have , on average, four sinus infections a year and they all started by something that triggered an allergic reaction here in the office. I have tried, unsuccesfully, for several years to get my employer to set a “fragrance” policy. The best I could do was get everyone to stop burning scented candles in the office, but then it was only because it was a safety issue. The citrus scented products do not cause an allergic reaction like the floral ones do. Our company uses a cheap cleaning chemical that is “garden meadow” scented, because the owner wants to save money. When I said something about it causing a reaction, one of the managers interjected with ‘ WELL, I THINK IT SMELLS GOOD!” (tho I never said anything about how it smelled). Perfumes and aftershaves are a particularly touchy subject, because of the personal nature involved. We have one woman who wears so much fragrance, that you can tell when she has arrived at work from anywhere in the building.We often joke about it. “Oh, I smell that Jane has arrived.” or “Jane has been through here this morning.” One of our VP’s wears so much aftershave, that the scent transfers to anything that he has touched. He used my telephone one day and I wound up having a reaction so bad, (while medicated, no less) that I had to go home. I use my maximum allowable sick days every year, and for the rest of the time, have to come to work sick, which is not productive for anyone. There are several of us here that all suffer from similar allergies, but I am the most vocal. It all could so easily be avoided with a simple “no fragrance” policy, much like our dress code. One would think that an employer would care about its employees health more than that. I am going to look into the ADA accomodation as well. Perhaps then my employer would take this issue seriously.

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        So I am not for a moment suggesting that people should have to breathe fragrances that trigger migraines and breathing problems and allergic reactions and whatnot. I want to be perfectly clear that this is not the purpose of my comment. :-)

        But most products have fragrances. They just do. All-natural and unscented and fragrance-free products often have “fragrance” among their ingredients. There is no standard for what these words mean. So you try to pick a product that does what you want and need it to do, which you can’t smell once you’re done using it so you hope that means nobody else can smell it either*, and which doesn’t make you break out in hives, and your colleague says AAAAH, FRAGRANCES – I mean to say, (a) people can certainly adjust their habits and products to accommodate someone whose health is affected by their choices, but I feel like they should be allowed to adjust their product choices to something else that is commercially available at normal prices, rather than a whole office having to buy special soap and shampoo and whatnot, and (b) at some point, either the person with sensitivity to fragrances or the person with sensitive skin who can only use a very particular range of items is going to have to “win”. (I was out once with a friend who has a guide dog, and people were very correctly moving around to get out of the dog’s way, and it turned out they were also moving around to get out of the way of a guy in a motorized wheelchair, and when the dog and the guy in the chair saw each other everything stopped while they both had to think about who had the right of way.)

        * Perfume and cologne are not necessary the way shampoo and lotion are. Fragrance that serves no purpose other than fragrancing is safe to ban, as far as I’m concerned.

        1. SimonTheGrey*

          I worked at a place that specifically banned all lotions, perfumes, and aftershaves. No, they couldn’t do anything about people’s dryer sheets or shampoo, but those kinds of smells don’t tend to linger as strongly as topically applied ones. It was nice because you didn’t drown in Axe every day.

      2. Aunt Vixen*

        Not sure why my comment is awaiting moderation – no links and no sensitive words, as far as I can tell. Hope I haven’t inadvertently done something wrong, Alison, but if I have I’ll certainly try to atone for it!

        1. Traveler*

          I’ve had all kind of things go into moderation that weren’t offensive. It’s probably just the program being overly sensitive. AAM’s mentioned that before.

      3. Traveler*

        Oh man. I hate when people say “Well I think it smells good!” Yeah, the problem is not whether or not it smells good, the problem is that the chemicals in it are making me ill.

        1. Kyrielle*


          Best look on someone’s face ever: when I replied, “I do too! Unfortunately I’m allergic to it. I wish I weren’t.”

          Like it had never occurred to them that I could like the scent, *but still be allergic*. Um….

          1. LBK*

            I wish we could choose our allergies! I would gladly be allergic to mushrooms if that meant I could eat kiwi and pineapple again without feeling like my mouth is melting.

            1. Pennalynn Lott*

              FINALLY! Someone else who can’t eat kiwi and pineapple!!! I have never met anyone else who had this problem. I discovered I was allergic to pineapple in my senior year of high school when I threw this awesome Hawaiian-themed party and, of course, served fresh-cut pineapple. Fresh cut by me. Who needed to take a sample bite of each perfect cut. Who then ended up with a swollen face and difficulty breathing right as my first guests were arriving. Ugh.

              I’ve never eaten enough kiwi in one sitting to get the swollen face / hard-to-breathe reaction, but that’s only because I was able to recognize the “uh-oh-my-tongue-is-swelling” sign first. Oh, and because I now only eat the centers of kiwis, not the outer fruit (so just the whitish part inside the seeds). I have almost no reaction to that part. I cut kiwis in half, scoop the little center out with a spoon, and then give the remains to my boyfriend. :-)

          2. INTP*

            Right? There are SO MANY fragrances that I wish I wasn’t allergic to because I would actually like to use them. I would love to burn scented candles in my house or use a body lotion that smells nice. But, I’m allergic, so I can’t. I used to only react to certain types of scents that I didn’t like, but now it’s pretty much everything.

            I’m thinking that a lot of people interpret “allergic reaction” to fragrance as the mild sense of nausea or headache that it’s normal for anyone to get around a smell that they really loathe. Their little brains can’t expand to accommodate the idea that other people have symptoms unlike anything they’ve experienced.

      4. LCL*

        “There are several of us here that all suffer from similar allergies”
        I’m wondering about the building’s ventilation/HVAC system. If it has ever been serviced, or cleaned. This is one of those maintenance issues that is often overlooked by property owners. If you are using all of your sick leave and have to take allergy drugs year round, and always feel worse at work, there could be building issues besides cleaning products.

        1. Jamie*

          Absolutely. One of my kids was always getting sent home sick in 4th grade and they got crappy with me for sending him in when he was clearly ill. He was fine at home and so I took him to the doctor – was fine there, too. Soon as he was in class he would develop what looked like (but wasn’t) a serious sinus infection, get huge black circles under his eyes…pretty soon everyone started getting sick and they found crazy mold in the ventilation system – closed the school for cleanup.

          Doesn’t’ have to be mold – anything could be in there.

  8. PK*

    Hopefully this is on topic enough– I’m in a similar situation as #4. Not nearly as bad, but our schedules have been changing a lot (this was not something we signed on for when we were hired, though I realize it may just be what the position just is now), and we’re permanently understaffed due to layoffs so there’s a lot of work and no wiggle room in the schedule for vacations and sick days. My co-workers and I have all realized that we’re becoming miserable and we’ve talked about going as a group to our manager and seeing if she can beg TPTB to hire a person back to our team, which would alleviate the need to re-arrange our schedules so much. What’s the best way to bring this up as group? I’m really not sure how to appropriately navigate the politics of this.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      Could you all refuse to change your schedules at short notice, just tell the boss you’re sorry but have made plans as you thought you’d be off work.

        1. LBK*

          It’s a somewhat extreme solution if speaking to the manager doesn’t work, but I could see it being a method of underscoring the necessity of a better backup plan. That could legitimately happen – that is, everyone could actually be busy around their scheduled shifts and not available to come in on short notice. If that happens, what’s the boss’s plan? Schedules shouldn’t all come with an asterisk that says “You may actually have to work more hours so be free at all times when you aren’t at work”.

          1. Ezri*

            “Schedules shouldn’t all come with an asterisk that says “You may actually have to work more hours so be free at all times when you aren’t at work”.”


    2. LCL*

      Y0ur situation has two separate but related problems. The first is you are short staffed. The second is you can’t take vacation or sick days. Ask your manager to meet with you to discuss scheduling practices. When youhave the meeting, focus on the vacation and sick days. You and the group should have some ideas about how vacations can be staggered, and how to schedule sick days. Tell your manager that you want to make the schedule work, but you all are only human and need to be able to take time off because stuff happens. Finish your talk with your explanation of where staffing is short, and what you think you need to fix that.

      1. PK*

        Sorry I suppose my first comment wasn’t very clear— our schedules are being arranged BECAUSE of the need to accommodate sick days and vacations. So we are allowed to take them and do, but because of the layoff, we have to move our schedule around by as much as 3 hours to try to fill in the gaps. I do realize that there are a lot of workplaces where this is the norm and expected, but it wasn’t what we were hired on for, so if there’s any way that we can bring it up, we want to, because we’re all experiencing low morale because of it. I just don’t want to do it poorly.

        1. Jeanne*

          I see nothing wrong with a group of you taking your concerns to the manager. You all know how to be polite and respectful. If you are shortstaffed, there are probably some less important tasks that are not getting done. You could make a list of those. Talk to your manager about how she would like you to prioritize tasks. I see nothing wrong with asking if there are any plans to hire another person.

  9. Sophia*

    #4 At some point doesn’t it become “being on call?” Aren’t there laws about being on call when you’re non-exempt?

    1. Natalie*

      Their are, but they only cover whether or not you get paid for being on-call, not how on call time is managed. It doesn’t sound like the OP’s on-call time would count as working time, anyway – they aren’t required to stay on the employer’s premises, and they aren’t restricted from conducting day to day activities during the on call time.

  10. MK*

    Alison, I very much doubt that there is any acceptable way to address OP1’s situation. The boss’ boss commited an indiscretion by complaining about her employee to one of his employees and she apologized for it. I don’t think she will appreciate being reminded of her inappropriate act, especially if it seems that this act triggered more inappropriate behavior on the OP’s part. To me your script would make the OP seem very presumptious, as if they are trying to take advantage of the boss’ boss venting to exert influence they don’t have and undermine their own boss. It would be out of line for the OP to suggest their boss being replaced and I don’t think the boss’ boss ranting, which was in itself out of line, cancels that.

    1. AnonyMouse*

      Yeah, I think mentioning the conversation again might make the boss’ boss uncomfortable, given that she apologised profusely after it happened. Of course it depends on the person, but if I accidentally broke down and vented to a subordinate about their boss and then apologised for my indiscretion, I’d hope they wouldn’t mention it again.

      1. AnonyMouse*

        Oops, posted before I was done! I was going to say that I do think the OP can mention her former coworker if she does it tactfully, but not in the context of their earlier conversation or the boss’ poor performance. If the director is interested, she can fill in the blanks herself.

        1. Ethyl*

          I was wondering if it might be ok to bring it up as just “hey this is a person who really knows this stuff, maybe they have some advice” or something, but it would still depend entirely on the situation. I can think of bosses I’ve had where it would be ok and ones where it definitely wouldn’t.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Eh, I could see this working in our company before we got bigger. Companies too small to have HR can have more blurry lines and less hierarchy. It was easy to form trust bonds that jumped structure.

      When I read the OP that’s what I flashed back to. If there’s a bond of trust between OP and boss’s boss (which it sounds like from boss’s boss’s vent), Alison’s strategy sounds like a good bet to me.

      OTOH, if it was a weird break from a higher up who doesn’t have much of a relationship with the OP, best left alone I guess.

    3. LBK*

      I think it depends entirely on the relationship between them. I can think of two jobs I’ve had offhand where I could easily have had that kind of conversation with my manager’s manager. The industry probably makes a difference, too – if it’s service industry, generally the relationships amongst those at different levels of the hierarchy are closer since you usually end up working together more than a corporate environment (where I’ve spoken to my manager’s manager maybe twice in the 2 years I’ve been here).

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, it depends on the relationship and the people. I can think of bosses I’ve had where I could have done this easily — it was a trusted relationship and I was confident in our dynamic. (And really, being willing to take those exact types of risks — against the backdrop of those sorts of relationships — has served me really well career-wise.) And I can think of employees I’ve managed who could have pulled this off with me. It’s definitely relationship-dependent.

      1. Mister Pickle*

        This. In my experience (and for better or for worse), it always comes down to the relationship and the trust between the two people. It doesn’t really matter what the “official business relationship” is; if you and your boss’s boss’s boss have enormous sympatico, then that door is always open. It may not be “fair”, but it’s just the way things work.

        Of course, it can require a certain fairly high level of people skills and judgement to figure this stuff out. Not to mention time and even some chutzpah. I remember very cautiously approaching a certain person – who is an internationally-known expert in my field – to ask for a letter of reference and he said “I’d have been soooooo pissed off if you hadn’t asked me!”

    5. AVP*

      This actually worked pretty well for me once – it wasn’t my director manager who sucked, but someone slightly higher in the hierarchy than I was (let’s call him Bob) who my manager, the CEO, and I all worked with closely and all had our own various reservations about. I was hiring for another position in the company and inadvertently interviewed someone who wasn’t ultimately right for that role, but I thought, “Wow, he could do Bob’s job so much better than Bob does!” I very delicately brought him to my manager’s attention, and a few months and a lot of meetings later we ended up firing Bob and bringing in the new guy.

      Also, as a manager, if I do something inappropriate I don’t mind being reminded of it. You live and learn, and you hopefully don’t need people to walk on eggshells around you if being direct would make an uncomfortable situation better in the long run.

  11. AnonyMouse*

    #1: This may or may not be an option depending on your organisation size and a few other factors, but would it be at all possible to pass your former colleague’s resume on to the director without mentioning your boss’s job? As in, give it to her and say something like “I know we don’t have any appropriate vacancies at the moment, but I’ve worked with Jesse before, and he’s really one of the top experts in what we do here. I think he’d be a great culture fit, too. He recently told me he might be looking for a new role and I know we’re not hiring right now, but I thought I should get his resume to you so we can have it on hand in case anything comes up.” Obviously, you don’t want to make it seem like you’re hinting too hard that “in case anything comes up” = please fire my boss. But I know they would have appreciated something like this at places I’ve worked in the past, whether or not there were any problematic employees.

    #3: I’ve done this before and had it work out fine – at least in my field, there’s typically a phone screen before an in-person interview, and they probably won’t mind calling you on your trip or arranging to do it via Skype (if you’re okay with that). Like Alison said, you could just put a note at the end of your cover letter saying you’ll be out of town but checking email and available at X number for phone interviews (or whatever you feel comfortable with).

    1. A Dispatcher*

      Re #1 I like this better. The boss’s boss can apply it as needed, and it avoids reminding him or her of the earlier venting indiscretion, which may be quite uncomfortable.

    2. CainUK*

      Agree with this tact. You could also say “I told Jesse you would be a great person to speak with over a coffee to get advice on careers in our field. I’ll leave you their resume in case you want to reach out.” It would let you suggest they actually meet, but not reference anything to do with current/future vacancies to avoid all that awkwardness.

      1. Questioner #1*

        Thanks! I thought about presenting it as that–a “networking opportunity” with a good person in the field, and just suggesting a casual coffee without mentioning anything about my boss. Because, even if the position was vacant and I could be more candid, there’s not guarantee they would hire my person.

    3. Chloe Silverado*

      I like this idea for #1 as well. The boss’s boss may realize what’s up given the conversation that they just had about the boss’s poor performance, but at least the OP won’t have it on record that she pushed for the boss’s boss to hire her former colleague for her boss’s job.

  12. Apollo Warbucks*

    #1 Maybe it’s not the best move to proactively offer a replacement for your boss just yet, I’d keep your boss’s boss in the loop about any problems with your boss and only offer the replacement as a suggestion when and if the position is advertised.

    1. Questioner #1*

      I have not been pointing out when something is specifically my boss’s error, and not mine, but I may need to be more vigilant about doing so, as I’m realizing some things could easily be blamed on me…especially if he is worried about job security.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        You know what, I am good at orchestrating events to play out in my favor and my number one strategy is:

        See what happens next. Let things unfold. Watch.

        Your boss’s boss already knows there’s a problem. You were dealt a bunch of good cards by her taking you into her confidence, don’t overplay your hand.

        1. Cindi*

          Exactly what I was thinking. See what happens. Maybe your boss gets put on a PIP and improves. Or maybe he gets fired. But it’s his job and I wouldn’t want to be the one seen as pushing him out the door. It’s up to his boss. Now, if he does get fired or leave on his own, then hell yeah, recommend your friend. But I wouldn’t do anything until then.

  13. #3 here*

    Thanks for the extra advice, everyone, and Allison for advice about phrasing the email-and-I’ll-call-you line on the cover letter. In my industry/town, there’s a chance I wouldn’t be interviewed for ages, but I think a better chance it’d be in the first week of my trip – when I’ve had interviews, I’ve typically heard less than a week after closing and had the interview scheduled for the following week. It’s a small city and a small country, and companies are commensurately small and therefore pretty quick. I just had one scheduled for this Friday that closed on Wednesday – hopefully I’ll get that one and it will all be moot!

    1. 30ish*

      Good luck! I hope you’ll get to enjoy your trip! I’m in the exact same boat – three weeks vacation/traveling planned and waiting to hear back from several job applications. I told myself what Alison said, that I can’t possibly move my vacation just in case I’ll get an interview during that time. But I get that it can feel like you’re missing out on a great opportunity. Of course a great job is always going to be more important than a single vacation, but on the other hand I feel like we often don’t value our off time enough and are too eager to sacrifice things that may have once-in-a-lifetime status. Any individual trip may not be that important, but if you never make it a priority, you’re simply never going to make certain experiences. Anyway, I hope you’ll get the job you’re interviewing for!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Exactly. Taking time off to refresh and rejuvenate is very important. And even if it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime trip, it’s already been booked and probably paid for. Most people can’t afford to just chuck all that out the window for an interview–and then they might not get the job, even if the interview goes perfectly!

    2. meg*

      Can you get a Google voice number? It’ll be easier for them to leave a voicemail if they call you, and you can listen to it from overseas.

      1. INTP*

        This was 2011 so things might have changed, but when I was overseas, google wouldn’t let me sign up for a voice number. It was for American IPs only.

  14. Sarah*


    I like the idea of the op submitting the resume without mention of the specific role.

    But, what do people think about just giving the friend the director’s contact information? They could then send a cold application and the op is not involved.

    1. Colette*

      I don’t think you should give out someone’s contact information without their knowledge and agreement, and I don’t think a cold application is likely to be effective. (It’s the personal recommendation that would help the OP’s friend, not just knowing what the director’s email address is.)

  15. Lulu*

    #5 I required sponsorship until recently, and I never put immigration status on my resume. When looking for jobs at small companies that disqualifies you pretty much immediately. I always disclosed when asked, never lied about it, and always tactfully brought it up during the first interview. My current company was not planning on sponsoring visas, but they liked me so much during the interview they decided they would for me. I love my job, and it never would have happened if I had written that I require sponsorship on my resume.
    I do find it very often on resumes of people who have foreign sounding names and accents (if they want to clarify they are eligible to work), but I was the opposite and didn’t.

    1. Joey*

      This is what I was going to say. I would imagine most employers who don’t deal with them regularly wouldn’t even bother looking at your résumé or with looking into the specific requirements of sponsorship. But if they like you enough, I would imagine they would educate themselves and at least consider it. It might turn out to be a waste, but from the applicants perspective that’s better than nothing.

  16. ella*

    #2–When you get to maybe a second interview stage, could you ask to see the office you’d be working in, or meet the team? It’d give you a chance to sniff around, so to speak.

    (Disclaimer: I’ve never interviewed for a job where this sort of thing would be the norm or even possible or expected, so maybe other folks have a better idea of how/if this would work.)

  17. aLLison*

    #2) Not sure what line of work you’re in, but you may want to target jobs that allow you to work from home, where you wouldn’t have to deal with these chemicals. If you do interview for an in-office job, is there any way for you to tour the office and maybe even use the bathroom to determine if the environment is acceptable?

    That said, the people spraying air fresheners during the workday seems like a rude, weird thing. Is that normal? I’ve definitely worked with people who wear perfume, and I worked in an office where someone applied perfume in the bathroom causing it to smell very strongly of some Bombshell by Victoria’s Secret, but I’ve never seem people spray stuff in the actual office. Why would anyone find that so necessary that they’d insist on doing it despite someone’s allergies?

    I wonder if a Google search would yield names of companies who’ve taken measures to cut back on these chemicals, or even companies who’ve banned perfumes. Could be worth a look.

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      Similarly, I know that in my neck of the woods, many healthcare and healthcare-adjacent places have taken steps to promote a scent-free environment, as have many government and other public buildings. Some even have it posted on the doors.

    2. The IT Manager*

      I agree. I can’t say I’ve ever encountered someone spraying air freshener in the office. It seems a strange things to do. If someone did do that I’d almost expect it to be some weird passive-aggressive implication that someone or someone’s stuff near their area is stinky.

      Also the only personal who has ever cleaned my desktop with toxic cleaning products or not has been me.

      1. Judy*

        I’ve never been in an office where anyone but me cleaned my desk. The floors got vacuumed, the trash emptied by the cleaning staff. But I was responsible for cleaning the desk top. When moving, we could put a request in for the new area to be cleaned before we moved, but once our things were there, no one touched the desk.

      2. sophiabrooks*

        At my job, no one really sprays air fresheners, but many people have brought in those glade plug-ins or the like. We all have individual offices (because we are in a re-purposed dorm) so it is mostly OK unless someone puts one in the hall or the office directly across from me.

        1. Liz in a Library*

          Yeah, in my last office that wasn’t a home office, tons of folks used things like reed diffusers and flameless candles in their individual offices. As long as they kept them at a low output, they usually couldn’t be detected outside the office. I’m sensitive to certain chemicals in fragrances but not all, and I could always tell when meeting in a room that had one, but was fine in my own office.

    3. ACA*

      That said, the people spraying air fresheners during the workday seems like a rude, weird thing. Is that normal?

      My boss wipes down his entire office with lemon-scented bleach wipes when he arrives at work (and usually again before he leaves at the end of the day), then uses Lysol air freshener to make sure it’s extra clean. I’m not sure I’d necessarily call that “normal,” though.

          1. LBK*

            Depends on the product but I would consider Lysol as more of a cleaner – when I hear air freshener I think Febreeze, which AFAIK doesn’t do anything but fight smells.

            1. Traveler*

              Well that’s true – I don’t think Febreeze does either, though I’ve never really looked closely enough. But I was just referring to ACA’s statement of “Lysol air freshner” because they market themselves as an “air disinfectant” but come in a variety of scents too. I never used it as an air disinfectant (so many questions there) but it was good for soft surface stuff.

              1. LBK*

                Oh, duh. Clearly I can’t read today. Somehow I missed that ACA specifically said it was a Lysol air freshener.

        1. ACA*

          I think it’s technically an “air sanitizing” spray – kills germs or bacteria that cause odors, that kind of thing. It still leaves a cloud of fumes in his office for about an hour afterward.

        2. Jamie*

          Actually Lysol is a sanitizer as well – the amount of good it will do is debatable – but it’s certainly marketed to do more than a typical air freshener.

          I’ve never worked in an office where people sprayed all day long, or ever outside the bathroom, but I’ve worked with people who use the plug in things, but everyone has been considerate if someone says it bothers them.

          I take it back, I did spray back when my desk sat right outside the men’s room. Self defense.

          I don’t love a lot of fragrance, and most everyone can agree that overload isn’t pleasant…but I don’t have the health issues with the exception of certain perfumes triggering a migraine but very, very rare for me that I encounter one that does so.

          I can’t tell from the OP’s letter if she’s it’s a specific health issue to certain things or her allergies are triggered by all fragrances. The part about spraying aerosol toxins in the air and toxic cleaning chemicals makes me wonder if it’s a more global stance against certain things whether they trigger or not? Which she’s entitled to have, if so, but there is a huge difference to an employer between spraying air freshener is triggering a health issue and no one should be spraying toxins in the air.

          I think it will be difficult outside of health care to find an office where they are committed to not using any scented cleaning products because the non-scented versions do tend to be pricier, but if it’s crucial for her she’s smart to screen for them. I personally wouldn’t want to work in a place where there was no air freshner in the bathrooms and where people couldn’t wipe down their desks with a Clorox wipe – but if someone had an issue with it I’d be happy to accommodate as long as they could give be an alternative. Could I wipe something down if they weren’t there – is it fumes or residue? If you want people to stop doing something they need to do – and yeah wiping or spraying the shared surfaces after I just saw typhoid Mary cough all over them is a need – then you need to suggest alternatives for them to meet their needs.

      1. Traveler*

        Haha. This was totally me when I worked around kids though. After two nasty bouts of strep throat that made me feel like death walking, I became a little off about disinfecting things.

        1. ACA*

          That’s a legitimate reason, though! On an average day, the only people who go in my boss’s office are him, me, and the custodian.

      2. Juli G.*

        We did at one job because our boss would come out of his office, crop dust us, and then leave.

        But those in the area agreed on the scents used so we were sensitive to one another.

    4. Elsajeni*

      The air fresheners could be something more like a Glade Plug-In type of thing — more of a “room fragrancer” that you use just because you find the fragrance pleasant, rather than an “air freshener” that you spray around because something stinks. I have a neighbor who has one of those in her office. I don’t think that’s weird or rude in the same way that spraying air fresheners around would be, but it’s definitely still something that could be a problem for someone with allergies — my neighbor rotates different scents in and out, and while some of them are mild and stay contained to her space, some of them (Tropical Escape, I’m looking at you) are stronger and can be smelled from the hallway.

      1. Demeter*

        At my office, a woman near me has a Glade “Sense & Spray” automatic air freshener that is motion-activated and sprays into the air periodically. It’s awful.

    5. Traveler*

      I don’t know that it’s “normal” exactly, but I’ve worked at places where people were very sensitive about smells – but in the opposite way. Any sort of food odor, paper, plastic, etc. was cause for madly spraying something floral. Which to me, was awful because then it just smelled like a combination of the two.

      1. aLLison*

        Ick. As much as I like home fragrance in the form of candles and plug-ins (at home!), I detest sprays. I have a few that I sometimes use IF no one (except maybe me) is gonna be in there for a while, but gahh, breathing in that stuff after it’s just been sprayed is awful, whether you have allergies or not. Even if it works, it just masks a bad odor with an unpleasantly strong smell.

      2. Natalie*

        That is exactly why I hate any sort of scented spray in the bathroom – it just smells like a combination of waste and floral spray, which IMO is a million times worse. Just close the door!

        An old roommate of mine loved a “powder” version, so our bathroom regularly smelled like dirty diapers. There were no children in the home.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      The only time I’ve ever done it was at Exjob, when someone *ahem* polluted the office with their personal gaseous emissions (to be fair, they had a medical thing and couldn’t help it). Or in the bathrooms here, they have some kind of spray that kills odors dead. I just haven’t seen air fresheners used that much unless there was some kind of bad smell.

      Candles I’ve seen in other offices, but you had to have permission to burn them. I would imagine if someone objected, they would have said to put it out. At Exjob, a manager who moved into former manager’s old office burned a pine candle for a month to get rid of her perfume smell.

    7. INTP*

      I’ve seen it when there was smelly food. Apparently some people find it more pleasant to simultaneously smell cheap synthetic fragrance and tuna than just tuna. I think they’re insane. At one office there was a freshener spray kept in the only bathroom (with a “Please use me!” label) so if someone did a #2, it smelled like a lovely combo of poop and teenager body spray.

  18. aLLison*

    #4) My sister had a job like that, where she had to call on Sunday to know her schedule for the next day. Not fun. But if it’s not set in stone that far in advance, could you schedule a doctor’s appointment and then request the day off? How far in advance do they allow that?

  19. Jean*

    #2 – Alison, thank you so much for your ongoing* attention to the challenges facing people who react physically to fragrances. I agree with what somebody (you? a commenter?) said upthread — that it’s best to frame the discussion in terms of physical distress rather than “I don’t care for that particular fragrance.” The person who has never before heard of a fragrance sensitivity may be offended by what seems to be an unsolicited criticism of his/her taste in perfume (aftershave, body lotion, etc.) but most people are happy to accommodate somebody’s matter-of-fact, no-judgement-attached physical disability.

    I have a personal connection to this issue after seeing a close relative develop–in mid-life–an asthmatic allergic reaction to fragrances. Fortunately my relative doesn’t need to find employment but has had to walk out of many community and private events (performing arts, religious services, volunteer training sessions) when someone else’s personal fragrance induced an asthma attack. It’s not fun trying to explain the situation when it’s practically impossible to speak, plus it’s frightening and exhausting to suddenly have to struggle to get enough air. (After many such experiences my relative has learned which occasions NOT to attend and which situations need special advance planning, e.g. can the hotel please NOT use air freshener in the bedroom.)

    tldr: Thanks for shedding light on this topic. I sympathize with people who enjoy having a distinctive “fragrance signature” for their person or their space, but I prioritize the right to breathe over the right to olfactory self-expression!

    *Saw your link to the November 2012 discussion but can’t take time now to read the whole thing because I have to go to work! yay!

    1. INTP*

      I luckily don’t have asthma, but I have very sensitive nasal passages that often get inflamed and make it harder to breathe when I’m around fragrance or smoke. I had to leave my little brother’s OUTDOOR track meet because someone else in the audience had a perfume that I was reacting to. I know that my allergies aren’t society’s problem, but if you are making people sick outdoors, you are wearing too much perfume!

      I also appreciate AAM’s attention to the topic. I hope that people will think twice before applying perfume when they are going somewhere that others are forced to stay in proximity to them, like the office, airplanes, class, etc.

  20. LBK*

    #2 – I sympathize with your issue, but I am a little confused. It seems like you’re conflating two different things: strong fragrances and toxic chemicals. Perfume isn’t a toxic chemical (unless it’s Sex Panther, I guess). Is your issue with strong scents and cleaning products have a tendency to leave those lingering, or is it with cleaning products that have toxic chemicals being used in the office? The latter sounds like more of a moral issue than a medical one, so I’d make sure this is clarified before you bring it up to someone. If you presented this to me the way you’ve done it in the letter, I’d be unclear on what your actually issue is.

    1. LBK*

      (Also I realize toxic chemicals are a medical issue, too, but if you present it as “I don’t like cleaning products with X in them being used around me” I think that comes off as more of an environmental concern rather than you being concerned about your personal health.)

    2. ella*

      If the OP is just reacting to strong smells, that’s different than if she has chemical sensitivies. Scented things (be they air fresheners or perfumes or cleaning products) may contain certain chemicals that are known to cause allergic reactions in people. (I don’t personally know what they are but I have friends with sensitivities and they know what to look for on ingredient lists.) OP was maybe misusing the term ‘toxic,’ but if her coworkers are using perfume that contains these trigger chemicals, then for her, perfume is kind of toxic, because it’s causing this allergic reaction.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I think the use of the word toxic is the issue for me. “Toxic chemicals” implies things like bleach – so when you throw that phrase into the same sentence as perfume, I’m definitely confused. I agree that in a sense you’re right, and to some degree these chemicals could be considered “toxic” to the OP if they’re causing a strong reaction, but I think that phrase should be used with caution if the OP wants the situation to be understood and taken seriously.

        (Also, on a side note, can I say how much I love that when you Google “toxic” the first result is the Britney Spears music video?)

        1. Carrington Barr*

          “…but I think that phrase should be used with caution if the OP wants the situation to be understood and taken seriously.”

          THIS. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t make it “toxic”. This reminds me of the overzealous health-food nuts who sniff that everything in the supermarket these days is “toxic”.

          As a scientist — no, it isn’t.

          1. LBK*

            Heh, don’t get me started on the rampant overuse of the terms “toxic” and “toxins”. You don’t need to spend two weeks eating nothing but lemon juice and cayenne pepper to “cleanse” your body of “toxin” – that’s why you have a liver.

          2. Traveler*

            It’s not about “not liking something”. When I am exposed to a fragrance that I react to – I become violently ill and often end up at the ER. For people who have these reactions it is absolutely “toxic”.

            1. Traveler*

              That said, I would still probably use different wording since a dismissive attitude toward people who have these problems is still so prevalent.

              1. fposte*

                I also think that’s a more colloquial definition of toxic that doesn’t jibe with the legal one or with the popular one LBK alludes to (in both cases it’s inherent in the substance rather than being about an individual reaction), so it’s going to risk problematic misunderstanding–it sounds like an overclaim rather than information about a reaction.

                1. Traveler*

                  It sounds like LBK is referring to a toxin – and I think there is a difference between the definition of toxic and toxin. They’re not interchangeable.

                2. Traveler*

                  Though my objection was more to Carrington’s statement about “not liking something”. I can understand since there is truly a prevalence of overreaction in our society to anything we don’t completely understand – and suddenly labeling it “toxic”. But I don’t think this fragrance problem – for those who truly have a medical reaction – is a case of that. When it’s a matter of an expensive hospital visit, and several days of intense misery its very frustrating to hear things like “it’s just something you don’t like” or as mentioned above “I think it smells good!” So I can also understand people with these problems leaning more towards verbage like “toxic” in an effort to communicate the seriousness of the situation to people who would otherwise dismiss it.

                3. LBK*

                  fposte nailed it – using “toxic” in that way doesn’t mesh with its more commonly accepted definitions, so it’s very likely to come across wrong if the OP phrases it that way.

                  If you have a severe peanut allergy they’re technically “toxic” to you, but I would still find it very weird if you asked me to make sure there were no toxic nuts in the office. You’re not wrong, but your concern doesn’t come across the right way and I may not take it as seriously. (Although “toxic nuts” sounds like something that appears in a lot of AAM letters…)

                  Also, the toxin thing was a sidebar, not meant to be related to this conversation as a whole.

                4. LBK*

                  So I can also understand people with these problems leaning more towards verbage like “toxic” in an effort to communicate the seriousness of the situation to people who would otherwise dismiss it.

                  But that’s my exact point – I think using that term has the complete opposite effect if your point is to convey the seriousness of the medical condition. If you tell me you don’t want us using toxic chemicals in the office, I’m going to take that as an environmental concern and probably not put too much thought into it (sad as that may be, but it’s the reality). If you tell me you have extremely sensitive fragrance allergies so you really need perfume and cleaning product use cut to the bare minimum, that is a concrete issue I can understand and address.

                5. Traveler*

                  (Although “toxic nuts” sounds like something that appears in a lot of AAM letters…)

                  Haha. Oh, I actually laughed out loud at that one. I agree with what you and fposte are saying LBK. OP should focus on the seriousness of the medical issue, as “toxic” is a problematic word. I just have a lot of empathy for OP that’s making me really defensive about this issue.

                6. LBK*

                  That’s fair. I’m a lot more sympathetic to the issue than is probably coming off – it’s actually because I feel for the OP and want her concern taken seriously that I’m advising such extreme caution about how it’s phrased. I know these kinds of issues can often be easily dismissed when they shouldn’t be, so even the slightest changes to word choice and framing can make a big difference in getting through to people.

                7. fposte*

                  @Traveler–they’re not interchangeable because they’re different parts of speech, but “toxic” is an adjective that refers to a toxin. Sure, it’s not an exact use in everyday speech, but even the more watered-down use is drawing on that for its emphasis–people don’t say “toxic boss” to mean they couldn’t get along with her, they mean that she was poison to those around her. The default presumption really is likely to be that you’re calling these things toxins, not that you react badly to them, and that’s going to muddy the case if it’s about reactions.

                8. Traveler*

                  “people don’t say “toxic boss” to mean they couldn’t get along with her, they mean that she was poison to those around her”

                  Agreed – but she’s still not literally poisoning them – she has ill effects, she’s debilitating, etc. The fragrance may not be literally poisoning him/her, but its debilitating and harmful to the person’s health. That’s what I was defending about the word “toxic”- that colloquially we use it for a lot more than just referring to an actual “toxin” (rightly or wrongly is certainly up for debate, and often hyperbole in most cases).

                  That said I still completely agree that in addressing these issues OP is better served at explaining that s/he gets ill from the fragrance or has an allergic reaction because of the problems with using “toxic”. Though – as mentioned above, even the word “allergic” is problematic since many people have also abused it.

                9. LBK*

                  Agreed – but she’s still not literally poisoning them – she has ill effects, she’s debilitating, etc. The fragrance may not be literally poisoning him/her, but its debilitating and harmful to the person’s health. That’s what I was defending about the word “toxic”- that colloquially we use it for a lot more than just referring to an actual “toxin” (rightly or wrongly is certainly up for debate, and often hyperbole in most cases).

                  That makes sense, although I do think people are better about understanding the implications of applying a metaphorical term to a person better than to other things – it’s pretty well understood that a person isn’t literally toxic. When you start talking about sprays and perfumes and cleaning products, the literal definition will probably be assumed to be the default.

                  (Sidenote: I think there was one episode of House where the patient’s body was somehow producing an airborne poison that was killing people. Whole new meaning of a toxic coworker.)

          3. hermit crab*

            Well, if you want to be really pedantic about it, EVERYTHING is eventually toxic, even water and oxygen. My toxicology professor would want me to point out that the dose makes the poison! :)

          4. Demeter*

            FWIW, many air fresheners contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are “known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm.” I would consider that toxic…but maybe not in the official sense? See a 2007 study from NRDC – “Hidden Hazards in Air Fresheners”.

  21. Mike C.*

    Re: 2

    Sensitivity to fragrance is one thing, but what’s this about “toxic” cleaning chemicals? Is the OP lumping them together because they both smell, or is this an unrelated belief that things like bleach and ammonia should not be used to clean things?

    1. ella*

      I’m not sure about the specifics of cleaning products, but from what I understand, the reactions/sensitivities are not caused by the smells themselves, but by the chemicals that companies use to create the smells. The chemicals are even in some “fragrance free” products, so people with these sensitivies end up reading a lot of ingredient lists. It’s possible that the cleaning products and the air fresheners contain some common chemical that’s causing the reaction, or the cleaning products could be mixing with the other scents in a way that just smells noxious. It’s also possible that the air fresheners are the rest of the staff’s way of drowning out cleaning smells that they dislike. I’d be curious if the cleaning products cause the OP to react if it wasn’t accompanied by the air fresheners and perfumes (not that I’m suggesting that she conduct this experiment as it sounds really uncomfortable).

      I think of chemical sensitivity sort of like gluten intolerance–it’s a real thing that real people have and it can make their lives really hard; but the number of people who claim to have it is probably larger than the number of people who actually do. But regardless, accommodation is not that hard, it just requires awkward conversations here and there.

      1. LBK*

        Right, but a chemical causing problems for someone with sensitivity to it isn’t the same thing as it being “toxic”. It’s the specific wording that’s weird and seems to be mixing two different issues – I had the same comment above.

        1. alma*

          I didn’t take a super literal reading of the word “toxic,” but rather the OP expressing that is toxic to THEM personally because of the physical distress it causes.

          I don’t think tomatoes are a “toxic” food, but I wouldn’t quibble if my aunt who is intolerant of them used that term.

    2. fposte*

      Though I think the OP leans a bit toward discussing this as an ideological/political issue rather than a health one myself, and for best results, she’ll want to stick to framing it as a health issue, just as if it were something like a peanut allergy.

      1. ella*

        Though if she’s going to frame it as a health issue, I would highly encourage her to discuss it with her doctor(s), if she hasn’t already, and get more information about what chemicals specifically cause issues, so that she can be as concrete as possible with her employers. Chemical sensitivities are really easy for people to dismiss because if you don’t have them, they sound kind of wacky. It shouldn’t be framed as a health issue if it isn’t a health issue. I’m not saying it’s not a health issue, just that it would be helpful if she did some homework.

        …Then again, it’s also entirely possible that I just worked in food service for way too long and had too many people tell me they were allergic to X when really it was just that they didn’t like X, and now I’m kind of a jerk about it.

        1. Judy*

          Except for the thing my sister (an MD) told me (an engineer) when I was pregnant for the first time… Medicine is still much more of an art than a science than you think.

        2. Colette*

          Yes, the only health-related statement I see in her original letter is “aggravate my allergies”. The rest of it is very emotional and reads more like she doesn’t like the products than that they cause actual medical issues for her.

          If it’s truly a medical issue (that has, ideally, been diagnosed by a doctor), then she can reasonably ask people to change their behavior to meet her preferences. If it’s just that her preferences are different, then she can ask (once) nicely, but then should let it go.

      2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        yes, yes yes. As i said below, do not go for Erin Brockovich on this. Talk about it’s impact on your personal medical needs. Even if your employer does care about “indoor air quality” that is such a new idea that there’s not a lot of mainstream science/best practice to tell people how to maintain good air quality. For right now, it’s a matter of people with allergies getting upset about things – and we all know how many different things you can be allergic to – one man’s airborne strawberry is another man’s aerosol hairspray.

        1. sally*

          What about the fact that the health of ALL employees is, in fact, negatively affected by the presence of air fresheners, whether they enjoy the smell or not? The chemicals in most commercial air fresheners are linked to asthma, birth defects, lung problems, cancer, migraines, and more. To be fair, the amount you breathe in at any given moment is minimal, but chronic, long-term exposure is most certainly not a good thing.

          A recent study showed that women who were exposed to elevated levels of two common phthalates — commonly found in air fresheners — during pregnancy were more likely to have children who developed asthma. If I were pregnant, I would not want to be breathing in chemicals all day at the office.

          So then, knowing that the scented products are harming everyone to some degree, does it make sense to frame it more broadly than just a personal sensitivity?

          1. LBK*

            No, I don’t think it makes sense at all. Especially in the context of interviewing for a new job – if you go in there talking about the environment health impact of chemicals being used in the office, I think you have a very high risk of coming off like a whackjob, unless it’s for a particularly socially conscious company. It would be like asking in an interview what the company’s paper policy is because you want to ensure they’re doing all they can to reduce deforestation – a noble cause, sure, but totally weird and not appropriate to bring up in most job interviews.

          2. Colette*

            Definitely not. You aren’t a better judge of what is harmful to other than they are, unless you have recognized credentials that make you an expert in the subject. There are people who honestly believe that vaccines are harmful to most people- that doesn’t make it true.

          3. Jamie*

            If this is a significant hazard, and I haven’t read any of the studies, then it will probably be a social change the way second hand smoke was addressed. I’m old enough to remember when people could smoke on airplanes and when I was little I visited my dad’s office who was an exec in one of the biggest companies in the world and on his desk was a very full cut glass ashtray. So we’ve seen, as a society, smoking go from something pretty socially acceptable where those complaining about second hand smoke were seen as outliers to where it’s banned in most (all?) buildings/transport open to the public.

            But as it stands today the use of fragrance and scented cleaning products/air freshener is totally mainstream – so going in addressing it as a global problem will get you branded as high maintenance and a humungous pita from jump …because fragrance as a public health hazard just isn’t on most people’s radar.

            A specific allergy or medical need to avoid certain chemicals is completely different – that’s about wanting a work environment where you won’t have adverse medical reactions.

            And keep in mind that nothing is risk free and people are comfortable with different levels of risk depending on the situation. There are studies that show a sedentary job can increase the risk of some health issues (as you can see by how specific I am I don’t have links to a study) but it’s a very small percentage of people who use standing desks. Sure, some may walk more than others to combat it, but a lot of us know it’s an issue and if giving a standing desk would absolutely still sit to work. (Assuming standing desks mitigate some of that risks.) Because people weigh risk against comfort and pleasure all the time and no one makes 100% smart lowest risk choices every time.

            So to belabor my point, if someone wanted a standing desk because they felt it was beneficial for everyone in general and this was brought up before hire it would still come off as difficult in many companies. If someone needed a standing desk due to a specific medical problem that made it painful to sit for periods of time that’s a reasonable accommodation to most people.

            If there is one thing people agree on it’s not liking their personal choices dictated by others when not necessary.

            tldr – it will absolutely hurt the cause to base it on a more global issue of the environment, because it will get you branded as difficult before you’re even in the door.

    3. Liz in a Library*

      I’ll just throw out that for me personally, the smells of bleach and ammonia are the two worst (pretty much guaranteed to trigger an asthma attack, often accompanied by coughing to the point of vomiting). I have no beef with them as cleaners once dry and the scent dissipated, but I absolutely cannot be in the room while they are being used. So it could be a fragrance issue with the cleaning chemicals as well.

      1. Jamie*

        I don’t have the sensitivities so maybe this is a problem, too, but I’ve long loved the cleaning properties of vinegar. Safe for pets and once dry no smell on hard surfaces. For doing walls I did a formula of water, vinegar, and ammonia and for my hard wood floors I make a spray of vinegar, water, and olive oil. That’s replaced Murphy’s Oil Soap for me, which makes me sad because that’s one of my favorite smells in the world.

        Vinegar does a great job on windows, too. Just throwing it out there in case it doesn’t trigger sensitivities – and it’s really inexpensive, too.

        1. Colette*

          And when it’s wet, it smells like you’re making Easter eggs.

          (Seriously, I use vinegar for cleaning, too, and I also use it in place of fabric softener.)

          1. Jamie*

            It totally does smell like Easter eggs. I use it in laundry for setting colors on clothes with white and colored patterns keeps them from bleeding – I didn’t know it softened as well. Cool – that will save some money.

        2. Liz in a Library*

          Vinegar works for me, and is largely what we use for cleaning now. I can’t speak for others, but the smell doesn’t bug me and dissipates quickly. Works really well on just about everything, too!

  22. Cat*

    So I’m surprised by the answers to #2 – I’ve never worked in an office where air fresheners were pervasive, and I would have thought that the OP would have a pretty good chance of being fine in future offices. Is this a regional thing?

  23. Kai*

    Perhaps I’m being naive, but I don’t fully understand the practice of scheduling varied shifts for certain jobs. I know it’s pretty much the standard, especially in food service and retail jobs, but why? Is there a major benefit to it?

    1. LBK*

      What do you mean? As in not scheduling everyone for the same shifts every week?

      Assuming that’s what you’re asking about, there are a number of reasons. A major one is people taking time off, so you have to move the schedule around to accommodate that, and when I was writing schedules some people actually complained about working the same shifts all the time. They wanted it mixed up more.

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          Well, certain shifts are really crappy at certain jobs. At some places the opening shift is awful since there’s a ton of set-up. At most places, closing is terrible because it involves all the cleanup from the day. Some people hate always working the busy shift, some people hate working the dead evening shifts. By mixing it up you’re not constantly sticking the same people with horrible shifts and nobody is getting “favourited” by getting all the best/easiest shifts.

          1. LBK*

            Yep, exactly. For example, the opening shift at a coffee shop usually sucks since you have to wake up super early to get the store ready and then deal with the morning rush, so you can’t make the same people always work it or they will actually murder you.

            1. doreen*

              And in addition to the differences between the actual work on one shift vs another, there’s also the fact that jobs with changing schedules are not usually the M-F, 9-5, don’t need coverage sort. Most people don’t want to work every Friday night or Saturday afternoon or need a particular day off here or there for some reason. Even jobs that provide a relatively fixed schedule end up making changes when Susie wants her usual Tuesday morning shift off or Wakeen wants to go away for a weekend and take both Saturday and Sunday off (or they make Wakeen or Susie find someone to trade shifts with) Funny thing is, as much as people complain about constantly changing schedules , I’ve seen even more complaints when the schedule has been fairly consistent and then changes – it’s apparently easier for people to handle a constantly changing schedule than one that could change every week but usually doesn’t.

    2. Julia*

      Well, if you are in any sort of environment where you have to respond to customers, i.e. Retail, banking, restaurants, etc., you need to schedule the help to take care of the customers. I would imagine manufacturing would need to adjust schedules depending on the workload, getting a big order out, that sort of thing. Some businesses like to not have set schedules so that people remain flexible. I work in such an business, and if people need time off for a drs. Appt. or such, all they have to do is ask and we schedule around that.

    3. Elsajeni*

      Different expected sales from week to week is a big part of it, too — when I worked retail, a lot of days were staffed basically the same, so we could have had consistent schedules on those days, but if our management had done that, any day where we had an unusual sale or coupon, a new item arriving in store, or a major holiday approaching would have put them in a position where they’d have to pull people who were accustomed to only working, say, morning shifts and put them on a busy afternoon shift instead. I think part of the variability is directly due to that variability of staffing needs, and part of it is also just management not wanting to get into arguments about “But I only work mornings!” when they do need to change things.

  24. Janis*

    #2 — I feel for you. We too have no policy. A very nice woman who sells scented warmer candles (or something like that) brought one to her cube, plugged it in and let it rip! She probably was so used to it that she didn’t smell it anymore but to me it was just gaggy. No one did anything and, when asked, some of her coworkers said they liked it. Bleck.

    1. the gold digger*

      People really do get used to these scents. I was next to a woman at a concert last week and was almost gagging at her perfume. I finally got my handkerchief out and held it under my nose as a filter. My rule for perfume is don’t. Don’t wear it in public. Nobody else wants to smell your perfume!

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        I HATE perfume, and I think it’s rude to make other people smell you like that. But, there are a few – precious few- people in the world who understand how to wear so little that only your SO can smell it when their face is right on your neck.

      2. aLLison*

        I think that’s a little black and white; there’s a world of difference between wearing a hint of fragrance and walking around in your own, personal cloud of flowery death.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Speaking of flowery death: when I was a college student and was hit by a skunk, that bottle of ‘Charlie’ was very useful for the jeans I couldn’t afford to throw away. After several washes, I doused the entire bottle on the jeans and hung them outside for a week. Perfume has its uses.

  25. JMegan*

    #2, I might even find a way to approach it before the first interview. As in, when they call to schedule a time for you to come in, you say “I’m very sensitive to perfumes and artificial scents – is it possible to request that the people on the interview panel avoid them for that day?” It’s not an unreasonable request* and it gives you the opening to address it more fully when you get there. “Thanks for accommodating my ‘no scent’ request, I hope it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience for you. Can you tell me a bit about the culture/policies around scent in your office?”

    Of course, if they do treat it like an unreasonable request, and the hiring manager insists on bathing in Axe that day, then you have your answer. But most people will be fine with it, and I can’t imagine it would be a barrier to hiring you. If they want you, they’ll figure out a way to accommodate it, and if they can’t or won’t, then it’s probably not the right job for you in any case.

    *Disclaimer – I’ve never worked anywhere that doesn’t have a no-scent policy. So it would be a totally normal thing to request in my world, and it’s safe to assume that you would not encounter perfumes either at the interview or in the office. YMMV.

    1. Jamie*

      I have never worked anywhere with a no-scent policy and I can unequivocally say that right or wrong this request would be cause for some eye rolling unless it was very, very clear it was a specific and severe allergy – like a peanut allergy. This could make one look like a prima donna before the interview in a lot of environments not used to these kind of requests.

      And they would need to be specific as I would have no idea how far to take no artificial scents. Sure, you can have people skip the perfume/cologne and take the air fresheners out of the bathroom – easy. But what about laundry detergent/fabric softener, deodorant, hair product, hand lotion, etc?

      Just for myself the products I’ve used this morning with artificial scent:
      Body wash
      face wash
      facial moisturizer
      hand lotion
      Clothes washed in Tide/Downy

      None of which is overpowering by any stretch, but if one were to smell my hair, clothes, or hand lotion it’s detectable. I’d be happy to skip the perfume for someone, but would I change my personal care products and laundry stuff? I don’t know – that’s a lot to ask and not a small expense.

      1. aLLison*

        I was under the impression that a no-scent policy would only pertain to perfume, body spray, cologne, aftershave, and anything applied at the office like hand lotion and sanitizer. If someone’s body lotion was particularly strong they could be asked to apply something else in their morning routine. You are right that there’s no way an employer can force people to eradicate all scented products from their lives, but I really don’t think that’s anyone’s goal. No one would call that a “reasonable accommodation.”

        1. Jamie*

          My question about how far to take it was to JMegan who was posing the hypothetical about a candidate asking the interview panel upfront to avoid “artificial scents.” And I know I’ve see it discussed, maybe here, that people have issues with laundry detergent co-workers use…so I don’t think it’s that far afield to wonder about how far one would take it to be free of artificial scent.

          Fwiw I agree that full on eradication of scents of all coworkers wouldn’t be a reasonable accommodation.

          1. JMegan*

            No, I’m not suggesting full eradication of scents. Unless someone had a really specific and really severe allergy, I don’t think that would be a reasonable accommodation – although if they *did* have that kind of allergy, it would make sense to mention it up front.

            Again, this is coming from my perspective of nobody wearing perfume to the office ever. (And the comments about air fresheners and scented candles are *really* outside my norm!) If I were to say that to an interview coordinator, I would be surprised if the answer were anything other than “Oh, it won’t be a problem, we already have a policy in place.” I know it’s a big culture shift for a lot of other workplaces, but I do think we’re at the beginning of the curve on this, where no-scent policies become more normal than not.

            To answer the specific question of how far do you take it, generally it only applies to perfume and scented lotions – things that would be noticeable by an average person sitting at a workplace-appropriate distance. If it’s a general no-scent policy, it will typically mention deodorants and detergents and whatnot, but that part would not be enforced unless it’s really noticeable. (Again, if it’s a case of accommodating a specific person, the policy would be more rigidly enforced.)

            1. Jamie*

              The candles are throwing me for a loop as well, I’ve never imagined an office where this would be allowed – but apparently it’s a thing.

              I love candles in theory – but I have cats and I’m paranoid which is a bad combo…so I can only have a candle burning if I’m in the room to supervise it. It would freak me out at work if I walked in and someone had a candle burning.

              Thanks for the clarification – it’s really interesting how some offices handle this.

              1. AnonyMouse*

                I worked in an office where a scented candle was burned on one or two occasions, but it was a pretty specific set of circumstances: only three employees, all of whom were fine with it, candle could only be burned when we were there to supervise it (obviously!), subtle scent, and the candle was a gift from a donor to our office – since it was meant for all of us, the office was really the main place it could be used. I can’t imagine it being normal or okay in a different sort of workplace, but I quite enjoyed it in our setting!

              2. LD*

                Jamie, your comment about cats and candles reminded me of the time I had a candle burning and my curious kitten (and aren’t they all?) got close enough to burn most of his whiskers off on one side. Scary! Now all my burning candles are inside hurricane lanterns large enough to prevent curious cats from getting close. You can see the flame, but you can’t touch.

        2. Natalie*

          I came across at least one recently (maybe here?) that included shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc. Personally I think that’s overkill.

          1. Lia*

            Then I certainly hope my employer is footing the bill for new shampoo, conditioner, soap, detergent, etc. FWIW, I don’t like scented laundry products (they make my kids rashy, plus I find the scents overpowering), but I don’t know that I have ever seen fragrance-free shampoo or conditioner.

            1. Natalie*

              Indeed. And I use an SLS/paraben free shampoo and conditioner because otherwise my hair goes from “curly” to “stuck fork in an outlet”. I’m not even sure if I could find that, plus scent free, plus generally available and not an arm and a leg.

              1. Annalee*

                I have to apply lotion to keep my hands from bleeding. I have to pay a lot for my lotion, and it took me a long time to find a lotion where (actually worked AND could afford it AND could use my hands after using it) evaluated to true. My spouse is sensitive to scents, so believe me, I tried to find a scent-free option that would work for me. There isn’t one.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        I’ve worked at a place with a no scent policy and it seemed to be a bit haphazard. If the owner (who was sensitive) was affected, you were sent home. Many perfumes bothered him, but not all colognes. I don’t think any personal cleaning scents ever caused him a problem, and I have no idea if the professional cleaning services used anything special. (I suspect they used standard products, after hours.)

        The front door said it was a scent free working area. When I arrived for my interview I was glad I don’t normally wear perfume, because they didn’t warn me about that ahead of time!

    2. Janis*

      I don’t know…that candidate would indeed cause eye rolling if that is her request at the interview stage. Not that I might not be understanding (see my previous post about a gaggy candle in a cube), but that seems a bit…much. My fear would be that the next candidate would require a balloon-free work environment.

    3. born in the 60s*

      “I’m very sensitive to perfumes and artificial scents ”
      So what? To me, this request is annoying.

      “I’m allergic to many perfumes”
      THIS I’d take more seriously – it makes is clear that the scents cause you a problem. “Sensitive to” just suggests you notice them very much.

  26. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    #2, fragrance allergies suck. I’m in a different position than you are because (a) I’m the boss and (b)I have an office with a door, (c) I don’t think I’m as sensitive as you, but I can empathize. It’s so different than, say, food allergies because everyone around you has the ability to make you sick – even if it’s with hand lotion they put on at home after a shower 5 hours ago!

    Have you ever used Citrus Magic air freshener? It’s just orange and lemon oil. It does not bother me at all – and EVERY other air freshener does. There are also generic versions that are a little cheaper. Would it help at all to suggest replacement products to your neighbors or bosses?

    Even thought I can understand, it’s really annoying to me when someone comes to me with a mysterious allergy and no ideas about how to resolve it – like they are expecting me to launch some sort of large-scale environmental investigation (in a small non-profit, that would be insane). I’m not saying that you’re doing this, but sometimes people approach it in an accusatory, Erin Brockovitch style – which a runny nose and headache does not warrant. A suggestion for improving the situation? That, I can work with. Perhaps you could try telling current and future employers what cleaning and air-freshening products ARE okay for you, and asking if they’d be willing to switch.

    1. fposte*

      That’s a good point–broader environmental allergies aren’t very specific and it can be tough to pin down the exact cause, whereas with a peanut allergy it’s a lot more straightforward. The less specific you are about what the actual agent is, the more things might be implicated, and the tougher it is to get people on board.

      1. chewbecca*

        I’m fairly certain I’m allergic to something in our building. It’s either mold lurking somewhere, or I’ve considered the possibility that I have a sensitivity to fluorescent lights.

        BUT! I’ve never brought it up to anybody, because there really isn’t a feasible way to fix it. It’s an old building, there’s really no way to avoid some form of mold. And as much as I’d love our maintenance guy to remove all the lights in the lobby and just use a lamp, I don’t think that’d go over too well.

    2. Catherine in Canada*

      Every once in a while, I visit all my neighbours with boxes of unscented Bounce in hand.
      I give them a box and ask them to please use it instead of their regular (devil’s-breath) scented stuff they are currently pumping out of their dryers and into my backyard. So far, everyone has been very pleasant and cooperative about it.

      1. LizzieB*

        That wouldn’t work for me. I like the smell of my dryer sheets, and I’d be some peeved if a neighbor came asking me to do something differently in my own home. You’d have to be deathly allergic to something for me to consider it- disliking the smell of clean laundry isn’t enough.

        1. Jamie*

          I have to agree with this. If there was an allergy and someone was getting sick, fine, but then the considerate neighbors should avoid the trigger all year round. But because of a preference – didn’t like the smell? I would nicely suggest they take it up with the architect of the subdivision or whatever and – I would be offended that someone was trying to micromanage my laundry for their preference.

          1. Diet Coke Addict*

            Concur. I would be polite about it to them–because of course you are polite to someone making a request like that–but it would leave a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

      2. Episkey*

        Wow! I really think you should stop doing this — it is quite rude to expect other people to change what they are doing in their own homes. While I agree it sucks that your neighborhood is set up to have vents blowing in your backyard, that’s not your neighbor’s fault! I would be really irritated if someone did this to me. Granted, I don’t even use dryer sheets (we switched over to knit dryer balls), but it would be like if someone came and asked me to stop cooking Italian food because they didn’t like the smell of garlic or something.

        1. Jamie*

          Nothing makes me happier than the smell of garlic…and now I’m starving. And want to know what a knit dryer ball is. And thinking about these instead of the 5 million things I need to do is some weird defensive mechanism…so down the rabbit hole of google to learn about dryer balls and to Outlook to scare up some lunch partners for Ricobene’s. Their chicken Vesuvio sandwich is 4 meals easy so one does not attempt one alone – but delicious and I need to go to a happy place.

          And to stay on topic…for the low performing boss I’d just pass along the resume without reference to that specific role – bosses boss is smart enough to figure it out, but then the OP didn’t actually say anything.

          1. Judy*

            Love the dryer balls.

            But I’m an All Free & Clear user and attempting to reduce the chemical loads at our house, which seems to be making my skin happier.

          2. Cath in Canada*

            There’s a restaurant near my office that produces the most intense garlic smell every few days. Other people hate it, but I love it and it makes me really hungry.

            Also, agreeing with others that short of a life-threatening allergy, I’d be (politely) annoyed by a neighbour telling me which products I can and can’t use

    3. O'Bunny*

      I’m a little late to the party, but I have similar problems — sensitivities and allergies to a bunch of things. My big problem is that I’m allergic to *natural* products, citrus derivatives and nightshades in particular. Orange and lemon oil? Instant migraine, of the “rush home, medicate, lose the next 24-48 hours” variety. Perfumes and air scents that use bergamot (hint — most of them) — same reaction.

      And no, sadly, standard hyposensitization regimes don’t work for those sorts of thing. No biweekly shots for me. The only action that works, per my allergist? Avoidance. :-(

  27. BadPlanning*

    Maybe OP #2 should start looking for jobs with a generous work from home option (if that’s available in the field).

    Even if an office bans obvious things like candles, air fresheners, perfume — you can’t force everyone to start use fragrance free deodorant, shampoo, lotion, detergents, etc. Although usually those types of scents aren’t as powerful unless you’re really close to a person.

    I used to have a coworker would wore too much of something. Aftershave? He definitely left a cloud of scent.

  28. Cucumber*

    #3 – Go on your vacation, have a fantastic time, and come back refreshed. If they really want you, they will make arrangements when you return. If they are more “meh”, you probably wouldn’t want to work with them anyway.

    I am in the process of moving to a new job; I did something similar, went out of town for two weeks right after the phone screening. I didn’t worry about the job, because I knew something else might come down the river if this one wasn’t really interested in me. Came back, contacted the employer, they scheduled a meeting with me later that week and offered me the job less than a week later.

    Focus on relaxing and enjoying yourself, it’ll make you a better candidate in every way. By the way, I didn’t read AMA once on vacation, but then I had two full weeks to enjoy when I got back! (I’m one of those crazy people who enjoys binge-reading advice columns).

  29. tt*

    I can empathize on the fragrances. Some scents trigger my allergies, though not nearly as badly as OP #2, but my real issue is my stomach – for whatever reason, some smells make me sick to my stomach (and it’s not a pregnancy-related thing, so there’s no end in sight). And as other people have mentioned up thread, it’s not necessarily a judgment on how “nice” the smell is or not, because there are some things I think smell nice but still make me queasy, whether because it’s too strong or has some ingredient I can’t figure out. I haven’t identified any consistent element of the products yet. Last year I had to tell my intern that some product she was using (we never figured out what it was) was making me queasy, so I needed her to sit further away from me in group meetings, and also in our one-to-one meetings with the office door open and my fan on. That was awkward!

    At least it’s not as bad as some of my coworkers, who get really severe migraines that can be triggered by smell.

  30. soitgoes*

    #2 is complicated by the fact that most of the people who cite fragrance allergies are lying. I’m not suggesting that the OP is lying, but I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve encountered someone who claimed that exposure to a Bath & Body Works body spray would result in a hospitalization. Yeah right, ya know? Allergies and asthma of that severity are not that common. It’s the workplace version of the gluten-free nonsense: people claiming to have a serious illness or allergy just to get their way or have their subjective preferences prioritized. This is what you’re coming up against, so I’d suggest being as specific as possible. Name specific scents that cause reactions, and explain what the reactions are.

    1. Pennalynn Lott*

      soitgoes: Last year I all of a sudden became allergic to my Yankee Candles. Same ones I’d been burning for years. As in, literally, the same candles, because I don’t burn them that often. I bought new Yankee Candles and got the same reaction: major sneezing, watery eyes, and then my throat closing up and me having to grab my rescue inhaler and run outside. It didn’t result in hospitalization, but I had control of my environment and could (A) get rid of the allergen, and (B) go outside while my boyfriend opened windows, turned on fans, and aired the house out. If I’d been confined somewhere with the candles, it could well have ended with a trip to the ER.

  31. Callie30*

    #5 – Yes, absolutely disclose and also don’t assume that the employer is familiar with how sponsorship works with a visa (and don’t appear to be annoyed if they ask). We had an applicant recently and while she was very nice and we wanted to hire her, the visa obstacles (potentially hiring an attorney for advice/fully complying with the law, etc.) were too much for us – We are a smaller non-profit. I could tell she as frustrated when we asked questions as to how it works (and it’s not extremely clear online), but it wasn’t a familiar process for us.

    #4 – This situation is awful. Yes, talk with your boss and see what can be done!

  32. itsame...Adam*

    you gone hear alot of opinions and as an H1B holder myself here is another one. Do no hide it but don’t mention it yourself until interview phase. Generally HR will toss your application immediately if they see the word sponsorship before you even talk to decision makers. You want to mention it on your first interview when you actually talk to managers. If they like you they have much more sway to make an H1B happen rather than a HR rep who doesn’t want the extra paperwork. Alot of times they don’t know the process so be prepare to give them a light rundown how it works.

    My advice, don’t hide it and explain it during the first interview (inperson or phone)

  33. Annie*

    OP #2 I worked in a place where fragrances of any kind (room or on your body) were banned/heavily frowned upon. It was a professional association (in the medical area) and it got to the point where if someone used scented body lotion there was an issue. Finally it came down to a ban on perfume, air fresheners/unlit candles, and scented soaps in the office bathrooms & kitchen and we had a cleaning company who used only organic/unscented products.
    From what I found any medical field based office (including the professional associations and doctor’s offices/hospitals) are relatively fragrance free.

  34. Not So NewReader*

    #4. The one thing I have done and it has worked VERY well, is to suggest to the person writing the schedule that you have one day off that is the same every week. Present it as, this will mean I don’t have to ask for time off to get my car inspected or have a doctor’s appointment because I know I have that day available each week, I can just schedule appointments for that day.

    Bonus points if you can say “I will work X day because I know it is busiest day each week.” OR “If on a particular week I do not have any appointments that day, I would be available to cover for someone who called in.” Look around for something that would appeal to the boss as a good deal for her.

    This can even work if you have a nutty boss. BTDT. Personally, I enjoy having at least one week day off where I can run my errands and get appointments taken care of. I was willing to work on weekends in exchange for this. (There is a lot less traffic and the lines are shorter on weekdays.) One boss was so impressed he gave me one weekend day off on a regular basis just as a thanks for not complaining about working the other weekend day.

  35. Yuu*

    #2 – Look for a place with plants! Lots of greenery in the office can mean the air is naturally filtered for those kinds of allergens.

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