my company banned PDA, I’m concerned about my boss’s possible replacement, and more

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

1. Can I speak up about my concerns about my boss’s possible replacement?

I suspect that my boss is interviewing for other jobs. She is the most loyal, fair, and downright nicest boss I’ve ever had—a true advocate for her staff. If she were to leave, I suspect that a former colleague who tried to stab me in the back at a previous job would go for her spot.

I believe that I am a valued employee, as evidenced in my reviews. Would I be able to say something about this potential replacement beforehand, and if so, what could I say? Be honest about her bad behavior that I witnessed at my previous job? Or do I have to wait and see who gets hired, and if it’s my former colleague, say something then?

It depends on your relationships with the people who would be involved in deciding who to hire. If you have strong relationships with those people and a lot of personal credibility, you can say nearly anything if you go about it the right way. For instance: “I’m not sure if you’re considering Jane for the role, but if you are, I wonder if I could share some concerns I have about working with her.”

You definitely shouldn’t wait to speak up until after a hiring decision is made though; at that point, it’s highly unlikely that they’d reverse the decision. But you also need to wait until your boss announces she’s leaving. And of course, it’s also possible that none of this will ever come to fruition, so for now I’d just keep watching.

2. My company banned my husband and I from PDA, even on breaks

My husband and I recently started working at the same place. We were recently reprimanded for displaying public affection (holding hands, peck on the cheek) during our lunch break. I completely understand no PDA while on the job, but we clock out for an hour lunch. We’re not on the clock and not getting paid. I don’t feel they have the right to dictate what I do during that time. (Obviously within reason.) Do I have any legal rights in this regard?

If you’re on company property, even if you’re on a break, they have the right to ban that kind of thing at work. It might seem a little heavy-handed, but is it really a big deal to treat each other as you would any other coworker while you’re at work? And really, you’re both new there; no matter how unreasonable you find their stance, making a stink about this is exactly the wrong way to build a good reputation — do you want to be known the new hire who was upset that she was told no PDA at work?

Just treat each other like coworkers until you’re back at home.

3. Asking coworkers to stop walking behind my desk

How do I politely ask coworkers who are far above me in the “food chain” to please stop walking behind my desk without seeming whiny or petty? I sit in a low-walled cubicle in an open walkway, but the walkway is very clearly in front of my desk, not behind it — there is a narrow space intended only for the cube sitter to get in and out. I understand all of these people have offices and hence cannot relate to the violation of personal space which this feels like, but I am becoming more angry the longer I don’t say anything. I have no idea how to make a request like this to people who are so far above me and do not want to come off the wrong way.

For the record, I’m not the only one who finds this wildly annoying and rude — so much so that our office recently implemented a policy that the mail room staff could only use the main walkway when doing drop-offs during the day instead of short cutting behind everyone’s cube.

Any chance you can slightly reposition your desk or chair to make it more clearly not a walkway, or even just physically impossible for them to walk behind you? I think that’s your better bet.

4. I was sent home but didn’t realize I wouldn’t be paid

My job asked me to go home and return later due to an inconvenience. You see, I’m a delivery driver and my van wouldn’t start. Since we only have two vans (go figure), I was prompted to wait for the other van to finish its route in order for me to do mine. Fine. Now my fellow driver/supervisor asks me if I want to go home. I agree, since I knew there was nothing for me to do there or at home, but why not go home, right? It’s only 10 minutes away. Fast forward to the main issue. I get a message at the end of the day telling me that I was supposed to clock out for the time that I was asked to go home, meaning they don’t intend to pay me for doing nothing. While I can’t fault them for wanting that, I definitely feel uneasy about it, like I deserve to get paid for pretty much waiting to work offsite. Any advice on my next step?

I think you’re out of luck here. In hourly jobs, being sent home (or being offered the opportunity to go home) generally means you’re clocking out and not getting paid. That’s why they’re sending you home. I get that you didn’t realize this, but it’s a common enough practice that I don’t think there’s really any way to push back on it.

5. What to do when a reference dies

I’m a fairly recent college graduate with limited full-time work experience. Most of my experience comes from an administrative job I had while in college. My husband and I have just moved to a new state for his work, and while I was able to use some family connections to obtain a job, I’ve always seen it as temporary and have been continuously on the job hunt.

I’ve put out quite a few applications in our new area, which invariably ask for references. However, one of my former managers, who was my supervisor at my college job, just passed away. He was listed as a reference on all of those previously submitted applications. I am just beginning to get calls for interviews. How do I approach this subject with a potential interviewer so as to minimize the awkwardness as much as possible? I assume they need to be made aware that they will not be able to speak with him, and I certainly don’t want to run the risk of them speaking to his widow, who was also a manager in our small office.

I’d raise it at the end of the interview — saying something like, “By the way, I submitted references along with my initial application. Since then, one of my references — Bob Miller, my former manager at ABC, has passed away. I wanted to make you aware of that, in case you’re planning to reach out to references in the next stage of things.”

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. Ruffingit*

    #2 needs to have the question italicized. And I agree that it’s a really bad way to go about things for that couple especially since they’re new. People are already going to be watching to see if they can be professional with one another at work. Best to start off on the right foot in that regard and act as though you’re just co-workers and nothing more when you’re on the job.

  2. super anon*

    If you’re in Canada, many provinces (I don’ t want to say all because I’m not sure of every provinces laws) have protections in place for hourly employees and being sent home. For example, in New Brunswick the minimum amount of time a shift can be is 3 hours. If you get called in to work, but your employer sends you home early (before that 3 hour window is up), they have to pay you for 3 hours. British Columbia has a similar law, but instead the employer has to pay you for your entire shift (with some caveats, here is a link to that part of BC employment law if anyone is curious:

    1. Kathlynn*

      Um… you miss understood the BC law. They are only required to pay you for two hours min, not the whole shift. Unless the worker was sent home due to conditions beyond the employer’s control. Which is not what usually happens.

      1. super anon*

        Oops! I got confused by all of the if’s that are included. I’m new to BC and am still getting acquainted with the employment laws here. Thank you for correcting me!

  3. Ed*

    My wife and I work for the same company, and in the same building. Up until about a year ago, our departments were under HR. HR had quarterly meetings that we were required to attend. We ALWAYS hold hands when we walk (partly out of affection, partly because she has MS and is prone to stumbling). My supervisor called me into the office about a week after one of these meetings and told me someone had complained about us holding hands. Needless to say, I was stunned. There’s no written policy about this. The leadership of her department thought it was stupid (her department is under the department I’m in) and she didn’t get “reprimanded”. Everyone we’ve told about this thinks it’s a joke and was very petty on someone’s part.

    1. Vicki*

      There are times when I definitely want to see the AAM response to the hypothetical letter from the “other side”.

      Dear AAM: Two of my co-workers hold hands when walking to meetings. Should I complain to HR about this?

      1. Tenley*

        Well for one thing, there’s just such an astonishing amount of heterosexual privilege assumed (in the action and responses too) that it’s kind of shocking, given that it’s a professional setting, but that’s an aside.

        1. shellbell*

          I feel silly, but I think I don’t understand your point about heterosexual privilege. What am I missing here? Note – I’m gay.

          1. BRR*

            I’m gay as well and I don’t want to speak for Tenley (although I’m about to do it anyways), but I think it’s making the assumption that heterosexual couples are able to do PDA more in general while same-sex couple can often times not even be out at work let alone do PDA.

            No matter the reason I don’t think it’s relevant to the question that was asked.

            1. shellbell*

              Thanks. I guess I am lucky to live in a place where that way of thinking is not the default. I would never assume that gay couples can’t be out at my work. I know some places are like that, but lots of places aren’t anymore.

            2. Felicia*

              Heterosexual couples are able to do PDA more in general than same-sex couples, and often times a same sex couple holding hands is a “how do we tell the children?” “Why are they shoving their lifestyle down our throats” type thing, whereas for an opposite sex couple its not a big deal and not even thought of. I am gay and part of a same sex couple, and while it is a valid point about the world in general (though luckily rarely in my part of teh world) it also doesn’t see relevant to the question asked.

    2. Long time lurker!*

      Is she open at work about having MS? If so, I’d take that angle and say ‘I’m sorry someone misunderstood the situation. I often hold my wife’s hand to keep her from stumbling due to her medical condition.’ I can’t imagine a workplace – especially in Canada – that would pursue it further.

    3. bluefish*

      Just for a different perspective, I would find it a little odd and out of place if a married couple walked around holding hands at work. I certainly wouldn’t complain, but I do find it a little inappropriate while at the office. Now I understand the MS situation might make it different but I have a hard time believing that everyone you tell is stunned by this. I’ve worked with many married co-workers and they’ve all conducted themselves as coworkers at the office. Again, I wouldn’t be bothered enough to interject, but I would question the couple’s professionalism in general.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I agree with this. I can’t necessarily put my finger on why it bothers me, but it does. It indicates some kind of insulation from everyone else, and depending on position, there’s the potential for favoritism, real or perceived. Depending on the workplace, it just puts people’s backs up. Let’s say a married couple works on a large team and they’re always holding hands or sitting together. Another person on the team wants to speak to one member of the couple privately, maybe about a delicate work matter, but they feel strange about it because the couple is ALWAYS together. Like Alison said, it’s just not necessary to be all couple-y at work and it can cause issues, even subconscious ones. I’m like you– I probably wouldn’t complain about it unless it became a huge issue, but I would notice it.

        I used to work with a married couple who had the same role, and I didn’t even know they were married until he got promoted and she had to be moved off his team. Very professional. So it can be done.

        1. gr8 candidate*

          In group dynamics, we called this “sub-grouping”. It is uncomfortable for everyone else to view this couple’s visible statement of “we have a closer relationship together than we do with the rest of you” – it intimates conversation regarding the meeting and those in the workplace will continue outside the workplace. This is an unequal power alignment. Partners in the same group also prevents each partner from sharing freely as an individual, and not worrying about the boundaries of the relationship.

          30 years ago, the couples or very close friends were put into separate groups where the group norm “what happens in the group stays in the group” would be honored. In the past 20 years I have observed couples will refuse to participate unless they are in the same group – “we are best friends and tell each other everything” they say. Cr@p of bull. In the workplace the good of the business is what individuals are hired for – they were not hired as a couple – and their insensitivity to the dynamics of the group is indeed very uncomfortable.

        2. Chinook*

          I have to agree that showing PDA at work does create some kind of insulation from others or even the optics of some people being treated as more special. I also don’t see it as no big deal (though helping someone with MS to keep their balance is not the same as PDA). Then again, I have been married to both a military man, where we weren’t allowed any PDA on base even when he was out of uniform (made it really hard when he was confined to base while we were dating, engaged and even after we married – he was a private at the time) and now to cop where he doesn’t do any PDA in public in the town where he is stationed (not only to not show preference to a civilian but also to not single to bad guys that I could be a weak point for him). The only exception to this rule (and it is a rule that is punishable by these military and paramilitary organizations) is when someone is deploying, returning or has been injured.

          It may sound harsh, but keeping your private life and your public life separate is part of being professional and a good relationship should not be weakened by it. In fact, showing this type of restraint so that it doesn’t affect a spouse’s career is a way of showing respect for said spouse and their career.

      2. BRR*

        I’m also in the I find it a little out of place at work. I have zero issue if it’s to help with MS but can couples really just not restrain themselves in the workplace.

      3. Episkey*

        I agree, I certainly wouldn’t complain, but I’d think it was weird & inappropriate. And for the record, my husband & I worked at the same company for about 2 years and we would have never even thought about holding holds, giving each other a kiss(!), etc AT WORK. Our jobs didn’t work very often together, so most days, we went the entire day without speaking to each other.

      4. shellbell*

        I agree. There are quite a few married couples at my company. I’ve never seen this kind of behavior. I wouldn’t be offended, but I would find very odd and surprising.

      5. Elsajeni*

        I’m not sure the MS situation does make it different. I mean, I understand the impulse to be helpful to your wife, when you do happen to be walking next to her — but how does she protect herself from stumbling when she’s, say, walking to a meeting that Ed isn’t invited to? I would guess that either she has a cane or similar mobility aid, in which case she can use that even when she’s walking with her husband, or she doesn’t use anything, in which case the hand-holding might still be helpful but can’t really be sold as necessary — and holding hands with a coworker is out-of-place enough that “helpful but not necessary” may not be enough to outweigh the “that seems unprofessional and weird” reaction.

        1. Another Poster*

          I agree with this too. I was thinking what would his wife do if they didn’t work together? There are plenty of people with MS who go to work without their spouses and find another way to cope with mobility issues.

          I don’t really have too much of a problem with the hand holding but I can see it as mildly inappropriate depending on how they are doing it. I would be uncomfortable if two people were holding each others hands and caressing fingers and gazing into each others eyes at work. But if they were just walking down the hall holding hands I wouldn’t care. I guess the real issue is that some people might be uncomfortable with that and the workplace is supposed to be absent of those sorts of discomforts.

          I worked in the same office with my husband for about a year. We were in different departments so we didn’t spend much time together in the office. However, I did occasionally give him a peck on the lips when we parted in the morning or in the elevator. He would also hold my hand in the parking lot on icy days because I have some balance issues. I never thought of that as inappropriate, but I guess I wouldn’t repeat that again now that I have read these responses.

      6. Lizzie*

        I think I would find hand-holding out of place (never encountered it) simply because I struggle to imagine a time when I’d be able to hold hands with an SO at work. I need my hands for things like picking up stacks of photocopies, opening the fridge, and fumbling with too many keys starting before I even walk in the door. Plus, I work on the third floor and find holding hands while climbing stairs awkward. When I walk through the hallways during the course of my day, I’m never empty handed. I realize this isn’t the case for everyone, though.

      7. Carrington Barr*

        In a company of less than 50 people, we had THREE married couples.

        The thought of any of them walking around holding hands is simply absurd. How unprofessional!

      8. INTP*

        I agree with this. I’m not one to get in everyone’s business or anything but it CAN be uncomfortable to be around a couple that is engaging in PDA – even G-rated PDA if they are making a lot of googly eyes and whispering and such. There is a reason that no one wants to be the third wheel on a date! If you’re on company property, then you’re probably around people who are at work even if you are on your break. And companies have visitors who are not going to ask whether two employees engaging in PDA are actively on the clock before deciding that the company’s atmosphere seems unprofessional. The rule has nothing to do with caring what employees are doing on their breaks – it is about maintaining professional decorum in the workplace. If you want a break from decorum, leave the workplace during lunch.

      9. Cristalina*

        I guess I feel like there are inappropriate and appropriate ways of displaying affection in the workplace. Obviously if PDA is interfering with the job you are doing then it’s a problem. However, I don’t feel like a couple that works together and holds hands, for instance when walking to or from work or on lunch, would be inappropriate. I can see where companies however may run into problems between determining what’s appropriate and what’s not. I also feel like in a world where adultery runs rampant, allowing married individuals to express the fact that they are happily married would deter possible attempts at this sort of conduct. When did the rule in society become that to be professional we had to do away with emotions and disown our family members while working? I feel like this is unreasonable.

      10. Chris*

        Yes, I am frankly shocked that any couple (barring situations of medical assistance) would think it is ok to show any type of affection at work. I wouldn’t complain, but it would definitely cause me to question the couple’s judgement.

      11. Piper*

        This. I’ve worked with a lot of married couples and have never seen PDAs at work. It just sort of seems unprofessional. If I saw one, I wouldn’t care enough to complain, but it would be a little odd. Helping with MS is a different story, but just in general PDAs at work just don’t fly for me.

    4. some1*

      In your situation I can understand holding your wife’s hand because of her MS, but your supervisor is allowed to tell you to stop doing something even if it’s not expressly forbidden in writing somewhere. Company handbooks can’t cover every situation that might come up.

    5. Kathryn*

      I work in the same department as my husband, and for a long while our cubes were across an aisle from each other. We DO NOT PDA at work. At most, when we go out to lunch just the two of us, he will offer me his arm and I’ll take it. In the building, we’re coworkers. We both manage teams and have to work with each other as professional colleagues with out excluding others. We’ve worked to establish ourselves as separate professionals rather than a coupled unit, I don’t see any benefit from displaying more of my personal life at work than I do already.

      The MS is a bit of a red herring – I have a musculo skeletal disorder as well and injure myself easily and frequently. I have to be able to operate as a professional on my own, and part of that is walking to meetings.

      It may be petty for someone to complain, but its also pretty silly to insist on canoodling at work.

      1. Liz*

        I agree, especially the acting as professional colleagues. My husband and I were in the same department for almost 4 years at work. Sure, we held hands while walking to/from our car, but not once we stepped inside the building. There was an occasional goodbye kiss, but only if no-one else was around. During the day, we treated each other like colleagues not spouses, which also meant we didn’t call/talk to each other constantly nor did we always eat lunch together. (In fact, we rarely ate together. The times we did were generally those when our whole department went out for lunch.)

        1. Piper*

          Yeah, I met my husband at work and while we were working together, no one even knew we were dating. The found out after I quit and showed up with him at the next holiday party. Work can be kept professional even if you’re a couple.

  4. PK*

    #4: If you’re in CA or another state that specifically outlines rules for split shift pay, check that out. If you showed up but they didn’t need you or needed you for a very small amount of time before sending you home, there’s a minimum amount of hours they have to pay you.

    1. CAA*

      In California, the split shift premium is $10 (one hour at minimum wage). It sounds like he’d be entitled to that, because this split was employer initiated.

      However, if he ended up working less than half a shift before he went home, then he’s eligible for reporting time pay, which is probably more than the split shift pay. In that case, they have to pay his regular rate for half of the first shift (which includes time worked before he was sent home), and all of the second shift after he was called back. Plus if the total hours actually worked in the day was over 8, they have to pay overtime for the excess hours.

  5. Sandrine (France)*

    I understand the “No PDA” rule.

    I’m not a prude or anything, and holding hands or a peck on the cheek or even lips won’t phase me. I’ll be honest. If there as such a policy in place and I witnessed similar PDA and I was the one to witness it, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash.

    Now, you have to understand that you still have to maintain a certain image while at work: whatever you do will impact your professional image. And PDA is part of the “not good for your professional image” package. Sure, you’re on your break, but if the PDA is what people remember of you, then what ?

    1. Artemesia*

      The peck on the cheek wouldn’t bother me although I think it is a bit unprofessional — but that is presumably quick and at a departure. Holding hands I find actually creepy. It seems adolescent and showoffy in a setting where it is so inappropriate to call attention to one’s sexual relationship. If I were a manager of such a couple I would also have much less confidence in them as employees and as people for potential for advancement. Nepotism issues are a challenge in an organization; couples who are clingy add to the sense that you can’t trust either to be professional when an issue might come up where favoritism might occur or where confidentiality would be important. I wouldn’t be promoting a person who used such poor judgment at work.

      1. Whippers*

        Yeah, and plus, do they go around holding hands at home? And even if they do, can they not just wait to get home? Although, I have to admit that I find holding hands in any context kinda creepy and infantile.

        But in this case, it just seems very strange that they can’t bear not to have physical contact for the course of a workday. If they didn’t work together, they wouldn’t be able to do this so I think they should treat working together in the same way.

          1. misspiggy*

            As does my husband – in front of others, at least. For him it’s about being considerate to others, and not bringing sadness to those who don’t have that level of affection in their lives.

            1. Whippers*

              @misspiggy. Yeah, that’s true. there’s something a bit ostentatious about it. I actually don’t mind kissing in public (like as a hello or goodbye) or hugging, but there’s something about handholding that I find particularly cringeworthy.

          2. Whippers*

            Yup, fraid so. Obviously I don’t expect everyone to adhere to that point of view, but it’s mine.

        1. Treena Kravm*

          Really? Couples walking in the park, on a ski lift, on the subway, at the movies, or even at home on the couch watching a movie with some guests in the room? All creepy?

  6. Juli G.*

    I’ve worked with a lot of married couples… it is very common at my large company (as in, my boss is fairly new and how common it is blows his mind). Only one ever gets the talk of being unprofessional and those are the hand holders.

    I’m not saying it’s fair but it’s the way it is and while I can’t say for sure, it likely had an effect on some of their promotional opportunities (i.e. Mention one for a role and the manager says “Oh, the one that is always with his/her wife/husband?”).

    To my knowledge, no one ever talked to them about it because it wasn’t against any policy but they may have been better off if someone had.

  7. Mister Pickle*

    I’m sort of shocked at how casually people here are talking about married couples working together! It could well just be my own baggage: many years ago I helped my first wife get a job at the company I work for (we were newlyweds, she needed a job). We didn’t work directly with each other, but her office was just down the hall. Two years later we were divorced. Without going into details, our close proximity at work was a large contributory factor.

    But some couples can deal with it, I guess. What I’ve seen is typically that the couples voluntarily put the kibosh on PDAs at work: one or both of them don’t consider it professional and so they have their own no-touchee-no-kissee rule at work.

    The situation where the wife has MS is rather different – depending on how “out” the couple is about the MS, at the very least I’d think mgmt would say “okay, carry on” and if anyone asked about it or complained, mgmt could respond with “for them it’s okay. Now shut up and mind your own business”.

    Totally not getting the remark about “heterosexual privilege”. If you’re saying that heterosexual couples can get away with work PDA but homosexual couples cannot? I do not feel you can make such a broad sweeping generalization over all business cultures.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Not all business cultures, no, but we just had a letter two days ago by an employee who was ordered to pretend to be straight at work, so the issue does exist.

    2. Dan*

      Heh. I have an ex girlfriend at my current job. I started a year ago, she started 5 years before me. I don’t think she knows I work there, and I plan on keeping it that way.

    3. Ashley*

      My husband and I work together – it is a LOT of time together – one of the lines in my husband’s vows were “even though we spend nearly every minute, every day together, it still doesn’t seem like enough”. I can absolutely see how it can be bad for some couples. Thankfully our departments rarely interact so really the only time I see him is walking in and out of work, and the occasional lunch date. It was definitely an adjustment at first and not a situation I would recommend to most people.

      Married couples are actually quite common at our company, though, due to the lack of jobs in our area. In my department alone (HR) there are three of us married to other people in the company.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I’ve seen married couples in the same workplace a lot when I worked in a small town too (because of the lack of jobs). I never saw anyone holding hands or kissing at work, though I sometimes saw dating couples do those things in the parking lot before or after a shift when I worked in a factory.

        I wouldn’t want to work with my husband all the time–maybe on a project or two but not all day every day. If we were fighting, I’d want to go to work to get away from him, LOL. (Assuming I had one. :P)

    4. Koko*

      The privilege comment is true but irrelevant. Just because something requires privilege doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Men have gender privilege that allows them to walk the streets alone at night with less risk. That doesn’t mean men shouldn’t walk alone at night because it’s not fair to women who can’t. The point of teaching about privilege is so people are aware of different opportunities and restrictions different groups have, and armed with that knowledge can challenge the larger social structures that impose those restrictions. Not because people with privilege are supposed to renounce and never use it.

    5. QualityControlFreak*

      My spouse and I worked for the same company for about 15 years. He was a supervisor, and I could not work for him. I was in QA and could not audit his areas. It was an enormous corporation, so this was a non-issue. We did the peck on the cheek in the parking lot first thing in the morning (early shift, usually dark). We’re not hand-holders and rarely saw each other at work until we met up for the commute back home. It worked fine. I don’t like PDA; that is something I prefer to keep private. And we both kept our work lives very separate. We tend to run parallel even in our private life; no “joined at the hip” for us.

      I understood the “heterosexual privilege” comment to be a reflection on the attitude of the OP and some of the other commenters regarding employers’ policies on PDA (“Can they really do this?”) when same-sex couples in many, many workplaces have no protections whatsoever against discrimination, adverse employment actions, even harassment – on the basis of sexual orientation alone. For those couples, and people who are directed to “appear to be straight” at work, such questions could appear privileged.

    6. Another Poster*

      My sister and her ex husband work at the same company and have since before they were married. They did not meet there, they were high school sweethearts and went to college together, then got work at the same corporation. Their cubes are just a couple of aisles apart and they work together occasionally, see each other often. It wasn’t working together that caused the divorce. It was really awkward for a while because a lot of people in the office knew they were married but did not know they were getting a divorce…it’s not something you just tell everyone. In casual conversation they’d ask one how the other was doing, etc. which was uncomfortable for all at the time.

      Married couples working together can have challenges, but I don’t think its something that is a bad idea for everyone. The fact that no one knew that they were getting divorced attests to the fact that they kept their personal lives private and behaved professionally at work both before and after, otherwise people would have noticed a change in their behavior.

  8. Mister Pickle*

    #1: if she’s that good, maybe you can – tactfully, and in confidence – ask her to take you with her?

    1. LB*

      I most certainly would, but not sure that’s a likely possibility. I was thinking that if I didn’t say anything, and my former colleague ended up getting hired, I could ask not to report to her. I’ve seen that happen before.
      I think I have a lot of personal credibility, but am worried speaking up would put that into question.

      1. misspiggy*

        I think you’d have to have some very hard evidence of wildly unprofessional behaviour on the part of this person to make this request without damaging your credibility.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        You really can’t do anything about your two concerns until your boss makes an announcement. At that time, you could ask if she’ll be hiring an assistant, and if you can apply. (I once had a boss who I would have followed to the ends of the earth, so I know how you feel about that.)

        As for your feeling that your former coworker might apply for the manager’s job, you don’t even know if s/he will do that. I would wait until I had some greater measure of certainty that this person did apply, and then bring my concerns to TPTB, as Alison suggested.

        1. LB*

          Thanks for your insight! I realize I’m jumping the gun a bit, but just testing the waters.
          My former coworker’s conduct was pretty unprofessional, but really the crux of the matter is that I’d feel really uncomfortable working with her, based on her behavior towards me at my previous job. So I fear her hiring would impact the quality of my work, and it certainly would impact the quality of my life there. So my saying anything beforehand would sort of be a test of how much they value me.
          There’s no real way I could be certain that this former coworker is/would be applying for the job w/out me saying anything to the powers-that-be. So I’d be evaluating the risk of saying anything vs. not saying anything, and keeping fingers crossed.

  9. Dang*

    Couples holding hands at work doesn’t bother me, but it wouldn’t enrage me to be told not to. While it does seem silly, it just doesn’t seem like a hill worth dying on. If it’s that important to you, maybe take your breals offsite?

    1. Deedee*

      I don’t think PDA in the workplace is professional at all. I actually feel that is disrespectful to the people around you. I had a coworker whose husband walked her to work sometimes on his days off which was sweet, but they would always have a big smoochy kiss right at the doorway of the office. The smacking slurpy noise they made was absolutely disgusting to have to listen to. I mean you can look away but it is a bit strange to also have to plug your ears! And really awkward for those trying to walk in behind them while they were in their clench right in the doorway. Even a peck on the cheek is strange (to me) in the workplace but at least it is quieter. I figure you can smooch/peck/whatever at home before you walk out the door.

          1. Jean*

            To clarify: That’s “yuck” for the SLOP SLUP SLURP behavior, not for the phrase that so aptly describes it. Intimate relations are by definition not appropriate beyond the bedroom walls (or whatever, but definitely inside one’s front door!). A peck–even on the lips–is not the same as a SLOP SLOP SLURP.

            You should totally use this phrase as the refrain in a children’s book in which a grouchy little kid bemoans the way his parents engage in PDAs. I’m not sure how to end the story, however. A “traditional” ending would have the kid’s parents saying “we used to say the same thing to OUR parents!” and an illustration of the kid/narrator being totally wide-eyed in horror. Nowadays that kind of “happy ending” is too well-rooted in heteronormative and getting-married-ative assumptions to be universally applicable or acceptable. (Well, it never was, but the folks to whom it didn’t apply just kept quiet or ground their molars in the closet.) Not all adults grow up to get and/or stay married and that’s okay (unless they want to be paired up, in which case my message is “you’re perfect by yourself but if you want a partner, I hope the universe is holding one for you.”)!

  10. Graciosa*

    On #2, I’m definitely among the group that thinks PDAs do not belong in the work place, where I expect everyone’s interest to be professional rather than romantic. However I only chimed in to add that I don’t think there needs to be a policy in place in order to enforce this. We can’t prescribe behavior for every possible human situation, so I think we should reserve policy making for a few key items like vacation accrual and FMLA and leave things like this for managers to deal with. Otherwise you waste a lot of time updating to do things like write an ADA exception for MS patients into the PDA policy.

    For #3, if you can’t move larger pieces of furniture, I would use your trash can to block the non-path behind your desk (or possibly a potted plant on one side and your lighter-weight trash can on the one you use to get in and out of your space). Just make sure you’re not obstructing an emergency exit path.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      I vote for a policy that says no Jr. High antics. That would cover PDA, gossip, cliques, etc. Just think how nice it would be!

    2. Lili*

      I was going to suggest potted plants as well, very strategically positioned. A discreet and elegant way to say”Private”.

    3. AnonyMouse*

      Yeah I’m also of the opinion that a workplace could reasonably ask employees to refrain from PDA if and when it comes up without writing a formal/specific policy. I think people sometimes get a little hung up on what The Company Rules are in a work setting, but the fact is if your manager thinks your behaviour is inappropriate or unprofessional they can usually (and probably should) ask you to stop, even if there’s not a policy covering whatever it is you’re doing. I know it can sometimes be helpful to have policies in place so everyone knows what’s up, or to prevent things from being applied unfairly or inconsistently, but to me PDA seems like something that could be dealt with as it arises…it’s probably not an issue for many people since most coworkers aren’t in relationships.

  11. Mister Pickle*

    #3: on the tv show _WKRP_, Les Nessman put down tape on the floor to delineate where the (non-existent) walls of his office should be.

    No, I don’t think you should do that. But – what is the floor like? If it’s tile, could you get away with using tape to put a large, conspicuous arrow on the floor, that directs foot traffic around the front of your desk?

    I’ve seen these “roller pad” things in carpeted offices, that are some kind of thin, hard plastic that lies on the floor and makes it easier to move and adjust a wheeled desk chair. It doesn’t have to be used on carpet. If you put one down under your desk (and extending it backwards a bit) it might be enough to discourage people from walking behind you.

    Is there any kind of “attractive nuisance” behind your desk that is encouraging people to walk behind you? (a window, a piece of art, etc). If so, then maybe put some thought into hiding it?

    And 2nding Graciosa: if you can position a trash can and a potted plant and maybe even a 2nd trash can marked “recycling” to create an obstacle course along the path behind your desk, that might discourage people from going that route.

    This kind of thing would bother the hell out of me. All of the above aside, I’m not sure I’m visualizing the setup correctly. I used a tape measure to try to get some feel for this, and if the ‘back edge’ of your desk (ie, where you’d put your keyboard) is less than 6 feet from the wall, you’re working with a bunch of really rude people. Or there’s something about this that I’m just not getting.

    1. Mister Pickle*

      I re-read #3’s letter, and noticed the last line: “instead of short cutting behind everyone’s cube”.

      This leads me to wonder: are people walking behind your desk because it is a shorter path to get somewhere?

      If so, it might be tougher to solve this issue. It’s one thing to discourage blindly rude people; it’s another to change purposeful behavior.

      One thought: are there several desks in a row? If so, the people on the ‘ends’ are key. If y’all can keep people from entering behind the ‘end’ desks, then you’ve likely solved the issue for the people in-between.

  12. Ashley*

    My husband I work together – same mid-sized company, different departments. I actually work in HR – and we treat each other as close coworkers, nothing else, at work – as a matter of fact, frequently we have people ask if one is related to the other given our unusual last name – they’re shocked when they here we are married.

    It is bizarre to me when married/committed/etc people display any PDA at work. Hand holding, hugs, kisses, pecks, etc – if you wouldn’t do it to you coworker, don’t do it to you significant other at work. That’s what the other 15 hours of the day are for.

    1. Lili*

      I leave in North Europe as an HR Generalist. Many companies here do not allow couples to work in the same workplace.

    2. EvaR*

      #3, Some good ideas here to change the “shape” of your desk and cube slightly. Two more that I can think of. Changing the way that your chair faces so you are facing wherever the people are coming from, so that it’s a visual reminder that they are moving through your space when they see your face, although that might be distracting for you, or getting something like an office candy dish or something (I’m picturing a little row of cubes, then a walkway in front of the row, so maybe chip in with your surrounding cube mates, who probably also dislike this.) that is on the trajectory that people would be moving along if they were using the walkway you want them to use. Once people start moving in one direction, they generally keep going rather than backtrack. Even leaving the candy dish there for a month or so might change people’s habits.

  13. danr*

    #3,,, You could get one of those collapsible orange traffic cones and put it behind your chair in the ‘traffic lane’. People will probably veer off out of habit. Just be sure to collapse the cone when you leave for the day.

    1. QualityControlFreak*

      Agreed. It sounds to me like this is a row of desks (or one long counter with workstations side by side) along one side of a public hallway with a narrow aisle for access behind the desks/counter. If this is the case, (a) this is a sucky design for the folks who have to work there and (b) get a couple of cones and make a couple of signs; “Not a Walkway” or some such. One for each end. Ask management first. But have a simple fix in hand, that you yourself can carry out, when you approach them. Traffic control is not hard.

  14. Kathlynn*

    Okay, so everyone is acting like the only time one would hold hands is when walking, during your paid time. But it is possible that this place as a break room and they just want to hold hands while they eat. I don’t know, I don’t really find it unprofessional. But I’ve only worked in retail type positions. Then again, I also give hugs to coworkers occasionally (like when they are having a really bad day), and I’m not a fan of touching. Nor am I a fan of other types of PDA.

    But I also wouldn’t make a big fuss over it, and would follow the rules, like any other ridiculous rule, and not hold another person’s hands.

    1. INTP*

      It’s just not something that’s done in an office, in my experience. It would be very unusual. And in office break rooms and lunch rooms, professional behavior rules are still active. You can’t complain about work, curse loudly, or take off your uncomfortable clothing items if those are generally things that you couldn’t do at or around your desk. If you want to engage in not-office-friendly behavior, the best thing to do is to leave the office during your breaks. They have a right to determine the image they want to project in the workplace and you have a right to leave it when you aren’t being paid (at least in California in the vast majority of industries, you do).

    2. Diet Coke Addict*

      I think it would be even more unusual to spot a couple eating while holding hands at work. Holding hands while walking (in a park or at the mall, I mean) is somewhat normal and sweet–holding hands while eating is seen as something teenagers who are gushy-in-love do. It is unprofessional, for certain.

    3. Artemesia*

      Do they hold hands at home when they eat? I have literally never seen anyone do that.

      Doing it at work looks like a ‘statement’ and the statement I see is ostentatious flaunting of ‘just how loved I am and in love we are.’ which I find creepy and pathetic. It is just inappropriate in the workplace.

      Not everyone thinks so; obviously you don’t. But a fair number of people will see it like I do and it will hurt their career in many organizations even if ‘allowed.’

      1. LV*

        I seriously doubt any couple who’s holding hands at work or anywhere else puts that much thought into it. My husband and I (who don’t work together) like holding hands when we’re walking together somewhere just because the skin-on-skin contact is pleasant – and as far as public displays of affection go, hand-holding is actually pretty inconspicuous. Tbh, if someone told me that they considered our handholding to be “ostentatious flaunting” and “creepy and pathetic” I would assume they were either single and very bitter about it or unhappy in their relationship. Why else would they get that angry about a minor display of affection that’s widely socially accepted?

        1. Jamie*

          This – I know I’m late and have been awol, but I love hand holding and it makes me sad to see that’s not universal. I don’t flaunt my relationship at anyone, but just like I wouldn’t take off my wedding ring so people who wish they were married wouldn’t be sad, I wouldn’t not hold hands…it would also never occur to me that anyone would care.

          That said, not at work, totally unprofessional and I don’t work with my husband so not an issue…but hand holding has a collateral benefit besides making me happy. Keeps the longer strided people from walking too fast. :)

    4. observer*

      No, people are talking, mostly, about on break. Yes, even in the break room. It’s just hugely unprofessional in a workplace context.

    5. Lynette*

      My husband and I hold hands when we pray over our meals. It is important to us to feel close to each other and close to our God when speaking to him through prayer. If a couple is not being allowed to do even this let’s say on their lunch break is that not an infringement on their rights? However, I think making a big deal out of this would be unwise too. Why not leave the premises on your break and then you can do whatever you please and enjoy being in a more peaceful non-judgemental atmosphere?

      1. observer*

        You would probably have to make a case that your religious beliefs *require* you to hold hands when you pry over your meals, not just that it’s something important to you. In any case, that’s not what is being described here. Do you know of ANY religion that actually requires kissing over a meal or the like?

        Bottom line – this is totally not about religious accommodation, and I think that it’s a bit of a red herring.

  15. esra*

    #3 I feel your pain, I had a terrible boss, was in full bitch-eating-crackers mode, and he would constantly cut behind my desk and hit the back of my chair. Because he didn’t want to walk in front of his boss’ door.

    I moved my desk back four inches and sat back far enough in my chair so he couldn’t get through. I would definitely recommend something subtle, no tape, no traffic cones.

    1. #3*

      My desk is stationary and is attached as part of the low-walled cubicle, in the front of it, so I cannot move my desk or chair to become an obstacle.

      The space behind my desk is only about 2.5-3 feet I would guess, but apparently inviting enough for people to cut through and startle me constantly.

      I may try the garbage can solution several people suggested — thanks!

  16. observer*

    Re: the PDA. As others have noted it really has a negative impact on your image. That means less opportunity for advancement. It also means less opportunity for interesting assignments that might separate you even for a short time – “oh, she / he is too attached to SO to deal with that effectively.” It also totally invites gossip and speculation about your private life – much more so than the typical sharing that happens in most workplaces. You’ve gone waaay into TMI territory.

  17. Shortie*

    Apparently I am weird, but I really wouldn’t care if my married co-workers held hands. I wouldn’t personally do it if I worked with my spouse because I’m just not that touchy-feely, but I’m not sure I would even notice if others did it. That said, I also don’t understand why being asked to stop is that big of a deal . . .

  18. Parfait*

    I’ve worked with many married and otherwise significantly coupled couples over the years. NONE of them have ever acted as though their partner was anything other than a colleague while in the workplace — or even while at lunch in a cafe nearby that lots of staff patronized. If keeping it professional until you get home is a hardship, one of you should start looking for another gig.

    I actually just remembered that I was one of those partnered-up pairs in a job I had almost 25 years ago. We didn’t PDA any more than sitting together at lunch and arriving in the same car. And we were like 20! If we could keep it professional, grown-up married folks can for sure.

  19. Stephen*

    Would it be possible to leave the premises on your lunch break? I think the issue is that in a break room you are still in the workplace setting even if you are on your own time. If you want a little time to yourselves to act like human beings instead of having to keep up the fiction that professionals don’t have feelings, I don’t see how anyone could be upset with the two of you holding hands while you walk to lunch (assuming you aren’t in uniform). You could even brown bag it and eat outside down the block.

  20. Dmented Kitty*

    I don’t have issues with holding hands, just not in a professional setting. I probably wouldn’t be all uppity about seeing a couple do G-rated PDA at work, though. Also people would always (even if they try not to) have to think about the other significant half whenever there are work-related stuff, because they’re so used to seeing the Peanut Butter and Jelly in their own personal bubble.

    My husband and I started dating when we were working at the same office (different departments). We never did PDA within the premises. We kept it outside the workplace, and heck, even if we did go have lunch out with mutual friends (also from work) we aren’t all over each other, out of courtesy.

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