suggesting a coworker has a learning disability, putting personal appointments on a team calendar, and more

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

1. We have to put details of all personal appointments on our team calendar

I am a technical specialist with a large international organization. I have recently joined the organization and love the work. However, our team members (about 12 people) are required to put appointments on the internal online team calendar if we leave the office for personal or official reasons. This makes sense, but in the case of personal meetings like doctor appointments, kid-related events, errands, or other personal stuff which might occur during office hours, we are required to put the reason we are leaving the office in the calendar. The calendar is set up in such a way that all the team members receive an email for any appointment put on the team calendar, so, if you go to the doctor or need to go fix your car, everybody gets an email.

While I normally try to do all of this stuff outside of office hours, sometimes it is not possible. In those cases, I just don’t feel comfortable sharing my personal business with the rest of the team like this. I have a trusting enough relationship with my boss where I don’t mind mentioning directly to him why I might need to leave the office, but I also don’t feel like I should have to. So, my question is twofold: He has the right to deny my request to leave the office for personal reasons if he wants, but am I required to tell him the reason I am leaving if it is personal? Is it okay for him to require that we put our time out on the team calendar WITH the reason we are leaving, knowing that everyone on the team gets an email containing the time and the reason we are gone?

He can require it if he wants, but that doesn’t mean that he should — he shouldn’t, as how you spend your time off is no one’s business. It should be enough to simply say “personal appointment.”

But are you sure that that wouldn’t be sufficient? I’d start just recording your stuff that way and see if you get any pushback. It’s quite possible that you won’t — and that what he’s really saying is to simply specify the nature of the time away (work-related or personal) without providing details.

2. Suggesting that a coworker might have a learning disability

Is it ever appropriate to ask a coworker about a possible learning disability? I work alongside a coworker who seems to regularly transpose letters in written communication, for items where such transposition does impact clarity of our work (and could create confusion with our vendors). Our work is shared, and I’ve pointed out the errors as neutrally as possible thus far, but the problem still hasn’t improved. What can I do, as someone who isn’t managing him, other than to just correct his work when I catch it? It’s a very awkward position in any case and I do not actually know whether s/he has dyslexia or a learning disability. Our mutual manager has also, by past actions, chosen to abdicate his/her responsibilities of providing any type of critical (“negative’) feedback, so I’m not sure going to them would yield any result.

How’s your relationship with him? If it’s pretty good, I think you could say, “Have you noticed that you have a pattern of transposing letters? Since that can be a sign of dyslexia, I wonder if it would make sense to take a look at some of the resources for it.”

But if you don’t have much rapport, I’d stick to just pointing out the pattern itself without speculating on possible causes for it: “I’ve noticed that you sometimes transpose letters. I didn’t know if you were aware of it, but thought I’d mention it as something to watch for when you’re editing.”

3. Can my employer ask about recent travels in order to guard against Ebola?

My employer is requesting that all employees notify them where they have vacationed due to the Ebola scare. Is this legal?


4. Can I ask to do some of my workday during my commute?

I recently started a job with a 1-hour driving commute. The traffic really stresses me out, so I looked into public transit, which would take 2 hours (10-minute walk, 20-minute city train, 1-hour commuter rail, then a 10-minute bike ride). How would you react if one of your employees proposed that on 1-2 days a week, when there are no meeting conflicts, 2 hours of work could be included on the commute, especially since the commuter rail has wifi (and as a writer, the wifi may not even be that crucial)? In other words, working 10-4 instead of 9-5 on those days?

It really depends on the nature of your job (and to some extent, your workplace culture). There are some downsides for your employer (not being able to schedule meetings with you during those times, not having you in the office for quick ad hoc conversations, etc.), but it’s possible that the nature of your work would make those pretty minimal. It’s not a crazy thing to ask about, but since you’re new, I’d really pay attention to the culture of your office and how open it is to alternative work arrangements before you raise it. (And to make it more palatable to your manager, you might suggest it as an experiment first rather than a permanent commitment, or suggest that you do it several days a week rather than all five.)

5. Job candidates with more experience than the ad asks for

Do hiring managers hire an applicant with more than work experience than they need? For example, an ad says need a candidate with 3-5 years of experience required, do they even bother to look at CV of an applicant with 6+ years with the same credentials.

There’s not much difference between five years and six years of experience, and this stuff isn’t about cut-offs down to the month. It’s about the general range of experience they’re looking for.

So a few years of experience more than what was in the ad? Sure. But many more years? Generally not, unless you provide a compelling reason in your cover letter why they should, since at that point you’re really not the profile of candidate who they’re seeking.

{ 257 comments… read them below }

  1. Dan*


    Years of experience, while at first glace seems pretty cut and dried, really isn’t, as AAM alludes. Once you’ve been in your industry for a bit, you start to be able to learn how to read “job ad” tea leaves. Less than 2 years of experience required? Entry level work, not a lot of autonomy, and probably pretty boring. 3-5? They want you to work on your own and be a self starter. 10 years? They want you to have done client interaction, and have run teams.

    Also realize that the years of experience is a subtle give away as to what they’re willing to pay. If they only want 1-2 years of experience and you’ve got 5, you probably won’t get paid what you made at your last job.

    1. AnonyMouse*

      Yeah, those ranges are normally there to give applicants a sense of the level of the position (for lack of a better word), so they don’t apply for something way above or below their capabilities/expected pay etc. If you have 7 or 8 years experience and you apply for a job that’s listed as 3-5, that should be fine as long as you make it clear why you want that particular role and you’re okay with the salary range they give.

      I’ve also on rare occasions seen someone with, say, 2 years experience hired for a position asking for 3-5…but in my experience that’s much less common and the person would have to be kind of a special candidate.

    2. Sans*

      I agree, but here’s a thought: once you’ve been in the workforce a long time, (oh say, 30 years) you’re not going to find a job requiring that kind of experience. Heck, it’s rare to even see the 7-10 years request. I am not a manager — and do not want to be a manager. I am good at what I do (copywriter) and occasionally change jobs so I can write about something new, or for a better salary. I avoid anything that asks for under 5 years of experience, but other than that … I’m not going to see a request for “20-30 years of experience”.

  2. chrl268*

    Alison, your first paragraph of response to #2 is in italics – also #4 said 1-2 days a week, rather than all week.

    (Thank you for having such a wonderful blog)

  3. JAL*

    #2 – Please for the love of cake do NOT say anything. This is on behalf of me and the rest learning disabled folk of America. We choose to disclose our disabilities if and when it is appropriate. If we do in fact have a learning disability, it’ll just put us in an awkward position of you outing us when we didn’t want to be. Correct the individual mistake even if it happens a million times, and try changing your approach of teaching/correcting. We are not idiots…In most cases we just need to be taught in a different way.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        #2 Depending on the nature of your relationship with your co-worker, you might suggest that this person at least spell-check (which should catch most of the transposed letters) in addition to increasing the proofreading of documents turning them in. I’m aware that proofreading is not necessarily a fix for someone who might struggle with transposing letters, but a more careful reading might help. At the least, I would think that this would be a better/more helpful strategy (and possibly lead to less frustration for you) than pointing out/correcting the errors yourself every time.

        1. Annonymouse*

          I have a feeling the kinds of transpositions aren’t ones that can be picked up with spellcheck. I.E AE46GU7 part for order.

          And what makes you think they haven’t suggested these things in the past?

    1. Jeanne*

      Disabilities are no one’s business unless you are asking for an accomodation. I would be pretty offended if a coworker asked me that.

      Your coworker may or may not have a learning disability. If he has one, chances are he was never tested and doesn’t know. How is he supposed to respond?

      1. Ted Mosby*

        OP has to edit this person’s work, so it kind of is her business if she’s dealing with a lot of mistakes.

        1. danr*

          Then he deals with the errors and suggests using spell check. OP doesn’t speculate about a learning disability. As with the various letters about organizing a workday, this needs a proactive approach, not speculation about a personal problem.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I’m an armchair learning disability diagnoser because I’m steeped in LD research from raising my family (and also myself, hellooooooooooo ADHD, look a bird). So sure I think I know what is up in certain situations but I would never say it. All I do is use or suggest strategies that I think might be helpful for a person.

      You can’t say anything re a dx because:

      1) it’s personal and rude and presumptuous and
      2) where did you (I) get your MD?

      The diagnostic process for LDs is lengthy because it needs to be, and that’s for medical professionals.

      So sure I think the warehouse guy has mild Aspergers or one of my top sales reps is both brilliant + serious ADHD but all I do is just suggest strategies for them that I think might be helpful, ’cause what do I really know?

      Small related story: I was utterly convinced a friend of mine’s 8 year old was Aspie. Convinced. When problems got pervasive she came to me for advice and I got them to my fabulous pediatric neurologist. I literally trust this man with my son’s life and have for 20 years. The dx: not Aspergers. While he had many Aspie symptoms, there are lots of overlaps and not Apsergers. The dx was serious anxiety after a divorce + quirky behavior due to very high intelligence + watch for possible OCD. The treatment was no meds, counseling and situational changes.

      So, really, one doesn’t know.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        p.s. if somebody asks my opinion about themselves, and I think I know something, I might suggest what I think I know in one breath while handing out a medical referral in the next breath, as I did with my friend’s son. I believe that’s the bounds of propriety there.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I so totally agree.

          At most OP, you have been given insight that there MAY be additional difficulties going on for your coworker. Not only are we still not certain there is difficulty but we cannot be sure of the name of that difficulty.

          It could be as simple as your coworker is exhausted from taking care of a family member and never getting more than 2-3 hours of sleep a night. I have seen myself and others, flip letters and numbers regularly because of exhaustion.

          Insight is a good thing. It is an act of kindness to consider another person’s perspective. Insight also brings with it MORE responsibility. All you can really do is talk about the immediate concern and silently be aware that the other person could possibly mention having a larger, overarching problem.

          I am usually grateful for these insights, there have been times where I have started a conversation about a simple matter and I got blindsided by the discussion turning into a larger matter. yikes.
          Going the opposite way, there have been times that I ASSUMED (bad NSNR!) the person had problem A (terrible problem) and the person let me know that their problem was actually B (manageable problem).

          Focus on the immediate problem. “I see that you’ve gotten some letters switched here.”
          Suggest that it would lighten her day if she developed a plan for the problem.
          Use yourself as an example. “I kept doing X (insert a recurring mistake of yours). So I decided I had to do additional step A (insert doable action), in order to keep myself on track.” Using yourself as an example tends to show empathy and thinking on your part. It also helps the listener to actually absorb what you are saying.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Interesting fact: before my friend got her son into the pediatric neurologist, I gave her a number of behavior coping strategies that I had developed with my aspie son at that age and… they worked. Typical stuff that you do with an autistic child like, long warning time between transitions, soothing baths instead of showers, allowing them to stim/pace in specific areas (outside whenever possible!) instead of telling them to sit down, etc. Made a night and day difference in peace and happy.

            I think us lay people can do some good with suggesting strategies and leave the dx’ing to the professionals.

            1. Jamie*

              This – all of this and everything you wrote. I also know more than the average bear about lds, ADHD, autism, etc. and I wouldn’t suggest even a possible diagnosis to a co-worker if you have a gun to my head. No way.

              Although when I see people struggling with focus (scatter or hyper), organization issues, impulsivity I am full of all kind of helpful management tips gleaned by managing ADHD. I would never mention that they seem strangely familiar :) – just pass along the tips. Tips for time management and organization don’t need a diagnosis to be effective and you don’t need ADHD to have issues there. Now, I’m in the “it’s a difference not a disorder” camp, but not everyone is and some would find it wildly insulting to opine about it. Which I would probably find wildly insulting if I cared what other people thought about this kind of thing.

              I am also happy to hand out referrals or even give more personal advice if people come to me and bring it up.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Tips for time management and organization don’t need a diagnosis to be effective and you don’t need ADHD to have issues there.

                This is so true, and as someone pointed out upthread, situational stresses can also cause issues with that sort of thing. When we had the DISC personality class here, the instructor told a story about someone who had tested one way and then come back a year later and got a completely different result from it. She told us as an illustration to not take the DISC as gospel, because the guy had been dealing with HUGE personal stuff and in a year everything had completely changed.

                It’s not anyone’s business but his if he has dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, or purple spots on his arse. I would just use Alison’s suggestion about pointing out the persistent error and watching for it in editing.

            2. Observer*

              It makes sense that those strategies worked- One of the things that triggers anxiety is uncertainty. And, considering what seems to have been the major trigger for the overall anxiety, it must have been a big issue for this kid.

      2. Sarahnova*


        It is considered very bad form to armchair-diagnose people for a reason. Diagnosis is complicated and needs to be done by a trained professional with a protocol. Besides, the part that affects you is quite simple; your coworker transposes letters and in the work you collaborate on, you need to get spelling right. Right? So focus on that, and if you have any strategies to suggest *for the behaviour* specifically, great.

        Maybe he has a LD, and maybe diagnosis would help him; then again, maybe not. That’s up to him, and not something you should shove your oar in over.

      3. Canadamber*

        I have mild symptoms of Asperger’s but actually I just have Tourette’s and a variety of other mild conditions that typically go along with it. A lot of disorders in the spectrum that include Tourette’s/ADHD/anxiety/Asperger’s/depression and etc. look the same in children.

        1. JAL*

          I have anxiety and I know that alone can cause me to make errors in my work if it’s not managed. There are a host of things that can cause this problem, not just a learning disability. This is another reason that the OP shouldn’t speculate.

    3. Ellie*

      I agree — what’s the point of saying anything? If he is or isn’t dyslexic, all you’ll accomplish is embarrassing everybody involved with the inappropriate question. I say offer to be the proofreader for shared work documents just as you’ve been doing and otherwise let it go. You’re not his manager, you’re not his doctor, you’re not his teacher, and you’re not his mom. It’s none of your business, OP.

    4. Jazzy Red*

      OP, I have to agree that you should not ask your co-worker about a possible LD. However, if your co-worker’s mistakes could cause any kind of confusion, problem, or damage to the company, you MUST continue to bring each and every one to the attention of the manager. If you are quietly correcting them and sending the material on, you should stop. It’s up to the management to put the right person in the right job. If they don’t do anything about it, it’s still NOT your problem. Keep showing them the errors until they do something. That’s what they get paid for.

      From someone who seriously burned out trying to make everything good by picking up the slack from people who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do their own jobs right.

    5. RJ*

      If LW2 decides to label their coworker as disabled in some way, doesn’t that mean this person is regarded as having a disability and therefore could be entitled to protections under the ADA?

      I agree wholeheartedly with JAL…unless you are a physician treating this person, you don’t have ANY right to make an armchair diagnosis or label them. Even if by some stretch that LW2 was somehow qualified to diagnose people as learning disabled, unless this person is their patient, that is crossing a major boundary.

      1. Jamie*

        No – for ADA to kick in there needs to be a legitimate diagnosis for a qualifying condition where it meets the criteria. Employers can certainly apply accommodations for anything they want, but the ADA won’t require them to do so because a co-worker is playing Doogie Howser.

        ITA unless you a trained professional and specifically charged with treating someone you have no business diagnosing them. Unless you are me and the person is question is my mom and I totally diagnosed her posthumously with ADHD…because…yeah. But as it’s posthumous it’s not like it’s going to hurt her feelings (nor would it if she were alive) or career.

          1. Jamie*

            Interesting – I didn’t know that.

            I found this from lawupenn dot edu which fleshes it out. It wouldn’t protect the OPs coworker as it’s designed to keep employers from discriminating against a perceived or regarded impairment despite it not interfering with the ability to do the job. Even for diagnosed covered disabilities the ADA doesn’t protect the employee if the disability means they can’t properly do the job. Not saying the co-workers mistakes rise to this, but an employer deciding you have an ld which is causing work issues doesn’t protect the employee. Although I’m sure a labor attorney would be interested if they were fired for cause related to the “disability” the employer regarded them as having but that’s civil and labor attorneys get excited about a lot of things that make most employers settle…it only offers legal protections in very specific cases and there are only two which went to the supreme court – not a lot of cases on this.

            The legislative history of this provision, though scant, provides two examples of individuals who would be considered “regarded as disabled,” and therefore entitled to ADA protection: (1) a severe burn victim who is denied employment based on the employer’s personal discomfort with disfigurement; and (2) an individual whose pre-employment physical reveals a back anomaly, and who is denied employment despite the absence of any symptoms of actual back impairment because of the employer’s fear of injury and increased insurance or workers’ compensation costs.

            legislative history specifically notes that the phrase “essential functions” is included within the definition of “qualified individual with a disability” in order to “ensure that employers can continue to require that all applicants and employees, including those with disabilities, are able to perform the
            essential… functions of the job in question.”‘

          2. ethel*

            Technically, yes, but realistically, the ADA is a joke. The person with apparent dyslexia will just be fired for incompetence. Over and over and over.

    6. FamilyofRobot*

      This! I’m dyslexic and I would be uncomfortable if a co-worker asked me if I was. I work really hard to make sure my work is error free and have developed strategies over the years to manage it. I don’t need people guess diagnosing me.

      I think one thing to consider here is that LDs have a bit of a stigma attached to them. A lot of people think people with LDs are stupid or incapable of doing as good of work as others. Which obviously is so far from the truth. Whatever your intentions are OP, just bringing it up may make someone feel like that is what you are implying. So I would be very careful with this.

      1. JB*

        Really? I am surprised by this, and a little saddened. That just goes to show my ignorance about it. My only exposure to people with dyslexia (well, that I know of) is from after-school specials, which instilled a “they just learn differently” belief. And since so many people actually learn best in a way that isn’t how a subject is taught in school, I thought of people with LDs as “normal but more so,” if that makes sense. The one person I know with an LD (not sure what the diagnosis is, she transposes numbers but not letters, I think?) is so smart and capable that we forget that she has an issue until she reminds us that maybe she’s not the person we should ask to put double check the budget numbers.

        I’m sorry you have to deal with that. People suck.

        1. Jamie*

          There shouldn’t be a stigma, I cannot agree more, but I don’t know a single parent (including myself) of a kid with learning disabilities who hasn’t cried themselves sick over the bullies and their slings of retard, stupid, dummy, short bus jokes, people treating them differently as soon as they find out.

          It’s not everyone of course, plenty of decent people out there, but kids are f’ing monsters at time and people who have struggled with LDs ….many (most?) have a very understandable wariness about blurting it out.

          I see it every day – my son has severe and pervasive LDs and is doing well in college but the pressure he puts on himself to never slack, work 10x as hard, is exhausting and some of that stems from feeling like you always have to prove yourself. Prove you belong to be there, prove you’re not what the assh*les said you were. It extends to life outside of school though. He works part time in fast food and is doing really well but when he first started beyond embarrassed and frustrated when he didn’t remember everything on the first try, when he had to ask questions, when he wasn’t born with the knowing how to work a cash register gene. You can tell him all day long that everyone goes through that, but there is a whole level of needing to prove you’re not stupid…that you’re not less than…that is a whole different world of pressure.

          His experience isn’t universal of course, but I’ve dealt with other parents of kids with similar issues for a couple of decades now and it’s not uncommon either.

          The world is full of people who shouldn’t be allowed to speak – and they can leave lasting damage.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          It’s even worse for kids when they’re not diagnosed. I knew I wasn’t stupid, because I could read so well, but I actually had math teachers who called me lazy because my dyscalculia went unnoticed. And to this day, I have a phobia about being called to the whiteboard (in my day, it was chalk–now get off my lawn!).

          Not to mention all the people who are convinced they can teach me to do math things in fifteen minutes the second they hear about it. Yeah, you’re going to succeed where years of professional tutoring failed? Suuuure you are. So most of the time I keep it quiet or just say I suck at math. People who are okay at it say that too, so it just flies right on by.

          1. Raptor*

            I probably have this myself. It is made worse by the fact I am good at math (I typically passed math classes with a 95 or higher). This meant the problem went unnoticed… until I started to realize that things like, looking up a word in the back of the book, then flipping to the page, and reversing the numbers, isn’t normal. And for my math tests, I started to notice mistakes in them.. that I would get to the answer correctly, but the numbers would be written not exactly in reverse, but instead of 123, I would write 132. So it was really specific what numbers I reverse in a sequence.

            That’s when I dug in deeper, discovered other people in my family had this, but no one talked about it really.

            Since then, I’ve developed techniques to make sure that I catch these number reversals. I know what numbers I’m keyed into (5’s, 0’s). What numbers I’m likely to reverse (the last 2 digits). What errors I’m likely to make when repeating a number (I drop zero’s, I also increase or decrease numbers by 2 .. so 9 will become 7). I can also memorize strings of numbers pretty easily, but I have to be careful when first learning them. And I’m good at doing higher math like calculus graphs and such. I can visualize those.

            I have lots of coping techniques I have developed for myself over the years and I stick very strictly to them. That’s been the biggest help, the discipline of knowing where my weaknesses and strengths with numbers are and committing to the fact of ‘this is what I have to do to get around this’. If I get lazy and stray, there will be errors. So as long as I stick to the techniques, my mistakes pretty well vanish.

            The point is, people with dyscalculia aren’t necessarily bad at math, it’s just that we don’t see numbers the same way other people do. It’s okay to create cooping mechanisms that work for you.. and to realize where you are weakest and where you need to stop and take more time. Mine is pretty mild and I lovveeeee math and I see it everywhere now that I’ve come to understand everything is math.

            And, as I’ve gotten older and realized all this, when people want me to do mathy stuff, I tell them I reverse numbers and that I’ll get it done, but it will take me a little longer (cause I have a system I use, that’s slow but effective and I will double check) and not to give me anything that’s so critical as to mess up everyone else (like.. budgets). But that’s my personal choice to disclose this to people… and so I can understand getting out of things with ‘I suck at math’.

    7. FamilyofRobot*

      Also, a strategy that might work. I have a tendency to reverse letter order and I actually see some letters incorrectly. So a u can look like an a at first (and sometimes even third) glance. I proof read backwards, word by word, to catch errors. It helps get my brain thinking differently about what I am seeing and it doesn’t automatically fill in words. It’s extraordinarily helpful and I catch a lot of errors that way.

      1. JB*

        That is a super good idea, and not just for people with dyslexia. Anytime you are proofreading something you wrote, it’s good to try to find a way to look at it differently to catch stuff that otherwise might slide past your eyes. I am adding this one to my proofreading regimen. Thanks!

        1. Jamie*

          I was taught this by an old editor of my ages ago and I used it for my kids with dyslexia, every employee who has typo issues, and myself whenever something is critical.

          Hands down THE best proofing method for me. Because your brain isn’t just giving words a pass because it’s understanding the context and most of the letters are there and it knows what you mean.

          And whenever I am proofing something critical that I’ve written and looked at way too long I have to have another set of eyes read it to make sure I didn’t leave weird fragments in from when I changed wording mid sentence and didn’t clean up my old remnants, or just goofy verbiage because I know what I mean and I’ve been looking at it way too long to trust myself to vet how it will read to people who don’t live in my head.

          1. JB*

            Not only am I going to start doing this, I’m going to put it on my list of things to tell our interns, too, because telling them “you need to proofread several times” doesn’t always do the trick. I think giving them specific steps to do is more helpful. I think I’m going to tell them not to turn anything in to me if they haven’t done this yet.

      2. Elysian*

        Another option is to do things in a different font than you’re accustomed to – sometimes I proofread in Courier New just because (1) monospaced helps and (2) it looks new and different to my eyes. I’ve never heard the backwards on – that’s a good idea!

      3. Elizabeth West*


        I am re-editing right now and I’m sliding right over stuff because I’ve seen it so many times. Since this is for a submission, I’m going to try adding that in as a step.

        Reading out loud helps too, but Coworker might not be able to do that where he’s seated.

    8. Artemesia*

      I think it is on the person being ‘taught or corrected’ to figure out how to cope with the disability not the supervisor or co-worker who is not even formally aware there is a disability. The co-worker is not a child — what is needed here is not ‘specially designed teaching’ but rather better supervision that holds him or her accountable for not making repeated mistakes. The worker should by now have an arsenal of ‘tricks’ for coping with the tendency to make that kind of mistake e.g. proofing techniques, reminders and so forth. If it is helpful to have information presented in a different way e.g. in memo form rather than orally or grouped in one session rather than multiple instances of feedback then again it is on the worker to inform the supervisor of this.

    9. The IT Manager*

      Correct the individual mistake even if it happens a million times, and try changing your approach of teaching/correcting.

      I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. Once a recurring problem has been pointed out a number of times, it is time for the employee – an adult – to deal with it by coming up with a coping strategy. The ownus is not on the person finding mistakes, it’s on the employee making them. And if the employee is not doing it, it is time for management to step in and do something.

      1. Chriama*

        I totally agree. This coworker’s mistakes are affecting the OP, and it’s not really OP’s job to keep checking in on him. I would point out the pattern of error to the coworker and tell them that they need to come up with some strategies for minimizing the error. All in all, I don’t think the learning disability diagnosis is that relevant here only because the OP should be focused on behaviour rather than reasons.

      2. JAL*

        And I disagree with you. Even as adults, we all have different learning styles and ways we learn. Yes, it’s up to the person to speak up, but what may work for one person may not work for another. I train people as part of my job – believe me. Neurotypical people learn differently and at different paces as well.

        1. Elsajeni*

          Of course if the OP is working with this co-worker in a training/teaching capacity, she ought to be aware of different learning styles and ways to adapt her training to the trainees’ needs, but I don’t see anything in the letter that suggests that that’s the case — it sounds like they’re just co-workers who see each other’s work because they share projects. In that context, it’s not at all her responsibility to come up with coping strategies for her co-worker, and in fact it could come off as condescending for her to step into the role of “teacher” to a peer.

    10. Ask a Manager* Post author

      These are all good points. I thought I was getting around actually diagnosing the person by just suggesting looking at the same resources that are available for people with dyslexia, but after reading these comments, I think that distinction is way too fine. So yeah, go with the second script instead.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree with this when it comes to dyslexia. Specific accommodations which aren’t really mainstream for non-affected people who typo blur the line.

        Other stuff, like ADHD type stuff – showing people ways of organizing notes, blocking out time for tasks, suggesting quiet unused offices where they can work if they ever feel the open plan is too noisy aren’t ADHD specific…they are generic enough to mitigate hectic office and not neurological difference. Now if I started opining about adderall vs ritalin vs vyvanse? Blowing right past that line.

        1. Chinook*

          As well, if they have dyscalcula (the numerical version of dyslexia), spellcheck is no help but there are a few math tricks to see if you reversed numbers. But, if you suspect that is the issue, it is better to give a tip or point out the pattern. The reason is irrelevant, how to fix and prevent errors is.

          1. Jamie*

            Yes – that’s still just giving what’s basically a proofing tip for math. Because there are plenty of people without dyscalcula who’ve spent ages trying to find which stupid numbers they typoed so they can balance a JE or breakdown…not that it happens to me every end of month or anything. :)

    11. Liz*

      I wouldn’t *ask* about a possible learning disability, but I would say that there are repeated errors with transposing letters and mention that these can be symptomatic of a learning disability like dyslexia… and stop there, unless you have specific knowledge or training.

      The reason I’m suggesting this is that I was once in your colleague’s place, and my friend very kindly told me once that she knew I wasn’t making careless errors, and she saw how hard I tried to avoid them, and was wondering if I had a form of dyslexia. (I knew that she and her daughter also had dyslexia, so she was coming from a position of “BTDT”.) Her encouragement led me to get tested as an adult, I gained some additional strategies, and the final diagnosis was quite a relief.

      1. Jamie*

        A lot of people like you have been helped and appreciate the heads up, but the danger of offending someone is much greater and it’s just so risky.

        I have 2 kids with dyslexia and when a co-worker expressed frustration to me about hers I told her about the blue film my daughter used which helped her. (My son, much more severely affected, had no benefit from it so huge YMMV issue.)

        It’s just a transparent sheet of plastic tinted blue and it helped my daughter read easier. I have no idea how that works, but it did for her so we had tons of them around the house. But I totally knew from the errors she was making but no way would I have brought it up unless she did first.

        But we were friendly enough that my kids issues had come up and I’ve always been pretty matter of fact about them and discuss it with me once and you’ll totally get that I don’t see lds as indicative in any way of potential or intelligence – just obstacles that can really suck. So I probably have a higher than normal percentage of people who talk to me about their stuff in this area, because it’s so not a thing I would judge anyone over.

        1. Liz*

          That’s true, it depends very much on the situation and the relationship. My colleague and I were pretty friendly (she was an older woman, very motherly, and took great care of us all when she became our supervisor) and she handled it very sensitively with no drama or stigma attached.

    12. Muriel Heslop*

      I actually AM in the field of diagnosing learning disabilities and I never say anything unless someone asks. Just don’t. Even in the most obvious of cases, your feedback isn’t helpful if it isn’t ready to be received. Unless this is your profession, wait until you are asked and keep being helpful regarding editing.

    13. Deni*

      Sorry but no. If you are making a million mistakes it is time for you to get help or get a position where you aren’t making errors. I am not paying anyone to double check your work. If you are that incompetent there is a serious problem.

    14. ethel*

      It’s also walking a very fine line of legality. Legally, an employer can only ask about a disability “(after employment begins), an employer may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations only if they are job-related and consistent with business necessity.” You have to document that or you’re opening yourself up to get sued. The OP may get fired for being inappropriate and possibly opening the company up to get sued.

      AAM, your answer wasn’t complete, was v insensitive to disabled people trying to get and maintain a job, and disregarded the letter and spirit of the ADA. I’m v disappointed that you didn’t even consider the legal or ethical ramifications of bluntly implying to a coworker that they have a disability.

  4. JJ*

    #2 – I’m with JAL on this, and would recommend Alison’s second script regardless of whether you have a positive rapport with them or not. Bringing up disability–especially “invisible” ones like learning disabilities–as a speculation can be humiliating for them if you’re right (because you’ve rid them of their disclosure choice) and infuriating to them if you’re wrong, so why bring up your speculation at all? And perhaps especially when you’re not their manager? Maybe–if s/he does have a learning disability–the manager is already aware of it, and that’s why OP may be perceiving them as not being critical enough with their feedback? (Not saying withholding negative feedback from workers with learning disabilities is great management, but I’m sure it can happen.)

    1. Just Visiting*

      I am with JAL and JJ (and possibly other people with initials for a username) on this. The coworker will open up to you when and if he feels comfortable disclosing. Until then, treat him like you would anyone who makes frequent mistakes: point it out, let him fix it, and alert the manager if it’s starting to affect your work. There is nothing more humiliating than someone correctly diagnosing your learning disability, even if they think they’re being helpful.

    2. AnonyMouse*

      Agreed. Mentioning dyslexia doesn’t really do much to help the situation, whether he has it or – if you mention the errors just as something to look out for, he can decide for himself whether he wants to share any information about why they’re happening.

    3. FamilyofRobot*

      I had a teacher in college who gave me a really hard time about my testing accommodations. He didn’t want me to get extra time because it “wasn’t fair”. When other teachers would give me the test in a sealed envelope to bring with me to the students with disabilities center, he would have another student escort me and hold the envelope and say “so you don’t cheat” as he handed it to them. He wouldn’t grade my tests when he graded everyone else’s, even though it was turned in only about an hour later. It was my fault though for not taking the test with the class. He was also rude to me in class, never answered my questions, and if I got anything wrong he’d shake his head and mutter things like “stupid” and “backward moron”. I swear, backwards moron… Who says that?

      I started getting to the point that I was having major anxiety going to his class. I would stand outside the door for 20 minutes sometimes unable to go in and face him. It was awful. Finally one day when he didn’t give me a test back with everyone else’s I’d had enough. I approached him at his desk and quietly said to him that he had to treat me the same as the other students and I expected to have my test back by the next class. He then yelled at me, in front of the whole class, that I was stupid and entitled and that I expected everyone to cater to me just because I was dyslexic. So he disclosed my disability to the whole class. He said I didn’t need my test back because I was going to fail the class anyway! There was more to it than that. It went on for about a full minute. The class was stunned into silence.

      I was embarrassed and livid and I went crying to the students with disabilities office to report him. I got out of the class and the school removed the whole thing from my record so that it didn’t look like I’d ever even taken it. I was a 4.0 student, and 1 semester away from graduating summa cum laude. Having an incomplete or a fail on my record was not an option for me. And yet, he thought I was incapable of passing his class. I was failing because of him.

      Anyway, point being, I think a lot of people with LDs experience things like that and it’s traumatizing in a way. It can make it a very sensitive subject. So unless someone brings it up themselves, it’s best to let them keep it to themselves.

      1. steve g*

        Wow so did they ever do anything to this professor? What a nitwit. I’m sure it killed his reputation with students. Also, if he was so concerned about you cheating, he could have just taken measures to ensure you don’t cheat….without the dramatic have-an-escort-to-the-room-thing.

        This kinda reminds me when I was in HS and I needed lots of special help in calculus…and I truly studied hard…borrowed my sisters scientific calculator….then during the test it got taken away from me in a dramatic kerfuffle. My math teacher said she was very disappointed in me. I had no clue what was going on. Apparently that computer has some of the more advanced calculus formulas worked in to them. But hello – it is not easy to actually use them, so they’re useless without the manual. I felt very targeted and was so pissed.

        But at least that was in HS – I wasn’t paying an arm and a leg for the class!

        1. en pointe*

          I really don’t understand bullying teachers / professors. Last semester, my friend’s mum passed away unexpectedly a week before finals, and our professor refused her request for special consideration. He said that an exam should be a “welcome distraction”. Head of School overruled the jerk, obviously.

          1. Anonsie*

            Oh yeah, I needed to leave for two days for an out of town funeral once as a teenager and was told “I know you can’t stop people from dying, but you really need to be here every day.” I wasn’t allowed to make up the assignments from the time I was gone.

        2. FamilyofRobot*

          No, nothing ever happened to the teacher. He was actually a dean of the department and I had heard that other students with disabilities has similar issues with him. The school was going to put an incomplete on my transcript and absolutely would not budge on that, saying they simply cannot alter a students transcript. That is until I threatened legal action. It was my bargaining chip to get it off my record. I dropped it after they agreed.

          Sometimes I do wish I had pushed a little harder. I was going into a very niche field, super competitive, and I was in line for a 1 year academic position that is very hard to get. 1 person selected out of 600 every year. All top candidates and I knew I couldn’t have anything on my transcript that might be questionable. An incomplete would look more like the problem was with me, than with the teacher. I was also planning to go to graduate school at a program that only accepts about 23 students a year out of about 1500 applicants. I’d worked damned hard to be successful and with how competitive it was I knew just a little thing could push someone ahead of me.

          FYI, I got the position and then continued on to the grad school after I completed it!

          And that is nuts about the calculator. Especially to do that during the test. That is something that should have been noted in advance so you could prepare adequately with the proper equipment.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Good for you. You showed him. What a jerk.

            I had to do the test thing for science class in my bachelor’s program, but only for the unit on physics. We ALL were allowed a cheat sheet with equation formulas on it (like “figure velocity like this: b = :P x argh”), but I had to actually take longer. So I requested extra time, got some documentation (though the diagnosis wasn’t formal at that point), and got it. The teacher was very understanding because he was LD himself. I still got almost all the damn questions wrong. :P

      2. FamilyofRobot*

        Oh and I forgot. This teacher was Vietnamese and had a very heavy accent. He claimed it was a language barrier and that I was discriminating against him by by not trying to understand him better. Um, I understood you clearly sir. He didn’t have any problem communicating his opinions to me and I had no need for clarification.

      3. jag*

        I don’t understand how extreme bullying offer a lessons on how people should approach something in a caring way. Are you saying that because people with LDs may have been traumatized in the past that bringing it up in anyway, even trying to be nice, will be upsetting?

        1. Future Trainer*

          I was saying it could be a sensitive subject and it may be something the person wants to keep private. Even bringing it up in a nice way may make someone uncomfortable. And it’s irrelevant to the asker in most situations. If there is an issue you mention that and try to find solutions to fix it. Whether the problem is caused by an LD or not really doesn’t matter.

          I wasn’t trying to teach a lesson, just offer a perspective as to why some people with LDa may not want someone to ask about it. Even when it’s not the intent, it can make people worry how they are treated will change.

      4. JAL*

        This is why I self accommodate and take care of myself now, and not ask for any help. I had enough of people discriminating me and treating me like crap because I have a learning disability. I struggle in some areas, but I am fully capable of living a successful happy life. I don’t think people get that and it’s stressful. Unfortunately, not all people can do this successfully and that’s why ADA is in place.

      5. Anonsie*

        Boy could I ever tell stories like this. It’s not just for learning disabilities, either. When I was in school I had an arrangement with the disability office for absences due to chronic illness, and at first I would tell professors up front that I might have an unexpected lengthy (1 week, usually) absence during the semester that was covered by disability services. I stopped doing that after the first year I was there because at least one or two professors every single semester would needle me for it– even if I hadn’t missed any class, some of them would just straight up make snide comments at me for telling them in the first place or tell me up front they weren’t going to make any arrangements unless the school literally forced them. My personal favorite was one who would periodically ask me when I came in, dripping with sarcasm, “How are you feeling? Think you might suddenly just so happen to be gone tomorrow?” even though I had never missed any of her classes.

        This is why we stop wanting to tell people what’s going on with us, or we get weird defensive patterns for explaining (or even covering up) our needs.

        1. FamilyofRobot*

          Ugh! That’s awful. My brother had a similar experience. He had a chronic illness in high school and missed about 2 months straight his senior year. Most of his teachers were great and accommodating. They sent work home for him to do and some of them even visited the house to go over coursework with him personally. But his English teacher would just not have it. He was out to get him for some reason and gave him a really hard time about missing class. He refused to send work home and failed him for it. He did things like what you described when he did get back to school.

          In later years, when my younger brother and I both had him as a teacher he constantly referred to my older brother and if we missed one class he accused us of becoming a problem like he did. I remember getting in trouble for missing a class one time. He brought me into the hall and told me he was deducting points because I was out sick. Then 5 minutes later he brought two girls out into the hall and I could hear their conversation because my chair was right by the door. They admitted they cut the class and he said they would give them a pass that time. Um, they cut, I was sick… but my older brother had a chronic illness that the teacher resented, so I paid for it. I just don’t get why some people become teachers.

          Interestingly, my brother is now an English teacher himself.

      6. JB*

        Wow. I do not get this. I’m sure there are students who would ask for accommodations for a disability they didn’t have if they thought they could get away with it–the same kids who seem to have relatives die with alarming frequency, sometimes more than once. But it doesn’t actually work that way, as he would have been aware of.

        Testing is supposed to see how well you’ve learned the material. If you receive some accommodations, the test *still* tests how well you’ve learned the material. The fact that you were turning yours in only about an hour later shows you weren’t even getting that much of an accommodation. It’s not like it was “everyone else gets 40 minutes, closed book, but she gets two full days, open book, access to the internet, and a friend there to help.” I mean, come on.

        1. FamilyofRobot*

          Right, exactly. I got an hour or two extra time because I was a slow reader. The length was determined by the level class and kind of exam. Multiple choice were an hour extra and essay exams were two. I could have also had someone read the exam to me, but I chose not to use that accommodation. I went to a location where school staff was monitoring me and sat in an empty room with a timer. There was no way I could cheat and it didn’t change anything. Like you said, it still showed what I learned.

          Not to mention that in order to receive the accommodations I had to actually provide proof that I required them. I had gone through extensive testing to determine I was dyslexic. It wasn’t like I just walked in one day and said “hey, I think I’m dyslexic and want extra time on my tests” and they agreed, no questions asked.

          1. JB*

            Yeah, this is not how a dishonest student tries to cheat, and it doesn’t give students with disabilities an unfair advantage.

      7. JAL*

        Oh, I had a professor that tried to get me to come take my exams at 8:30 a.m. when my class wasn’t until 11 because he thought someone would text me the answers. That professor was a little bit kooky.

  5. Noah*

    #4 – I would frame it in a way that benefits the employer. For instance, I use my work from home day as a chance to focus on long term projects without the distraction of being in the office. Although we’re an open plan office designed for collaboration, or so they say. It is way to easy for someone to stop by your desk when you don’t even have cube walls. No one, not even the CEO, has an office here. So, for me the quiet of being at home one day a week allows me to be more productive on something besides putting out fires.

    Like Alison mentioned, it is important to consider office culture here. My company is not exactly known for flexible working arrangement. Which is surprising because we have employees who travel a lot (myself included) and still seem to get work done. I initially had better luck with my manager suggesting a 6 week trial period than a permanent solution. It gave him a way out if it wasn’t working.

    1. Lindsay the Temp*

      I don’t think they’re looking to work from home, I think they’re looking to use train time as part of their work day…?

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        The gist is the same, though – OP wants a reduced office workday and is willing to make up those hours offsite. The company may or may not be interested in that arrangement.

    2. cv*

      I agree with framing it in a way that benefits everyone, if that’s the case. I had a long train commute for a while to a job in an office with a lot of distractions. I was in an in-between role where I often had to answer phones and deal with other immediate admin stuff, but also had more in-depth projects of my own. I occasionally worked on the train and used the time for things that benefited from the lack of interruptions – drafting a presentation or proposal, reading reports, etc. Given the nature of my job I could only really replace the in-office time and arrive late and/or leave early once in a while, but I would save up the train-suitable tasks and I got a ton done. It helped that I was semi-reverse commuting and the train wasn’t particularly crowded in the direction I was traveling, though, so I always got a double seat to myself and often got a table.

      I also agree with those who suggested framing it as an experiment, or trying to work on the train a couple of times on your own time before bringing it up with your manager to get a sense of how feasible it is. You could also look into how much a data plan and card for your laptop would cost, even if the commuter train is supposed to have wifi.

    3. HAnon*

      #4…I know where you’re coming from. A 1-hour commute both ways stinks (I have one right now!). However, when you accepted the job, you agreed to make whatever adjustments you needed to on your end to be at the office by a certain time and available for a certain period of time every day. You are expected (reasonably so) to be able to arrange for your own transportation to and from work, with some consistency. If you phrase the issue to your employer as “my commute is too long and it stinks” that’s not going to come off well, and it will look like you’re having second thoughts about whether or not this job is for you (due to the location). It might be more reasonable to see if the employer would let you work from home one day a week, where you have control over the wifi and the distractions and you don’t have to depend on whether the train is on time/wifi is working/etc. Make sure that you’re able to demonstrate improved productivity on the days when you are allowed to work from home and be extra attentive/responsive to emails, phone calls, etc. But above all, I would say don’t make the issue about the commute itself — it’s pretty much a standard expectation that you will get to work on time and be available regardless of where you are commuting from. Also, as someone who gets really stressed out in traffic, I suggest audio books and a rotation of new CD’s. If you’re constantly obsessing over how unfair the long commute is, you’re only frustrating yourself. See what you can do to make it more tolerable. (I say this as someone who obsessed over my long commute for about a year and then finally decided that I can live with it for the time being, so I don’t need to whine anymore.)

      1. OP #4*

        OP#4. YES. You’re right, I did agree to this arrangement, so they absolutely don’t owe me any favors. It’s been only a few weeks, and I’m just shocked that I have to fill up my tank almost 2X/week, not to mention all the tolls!

        I think you’re spot on about “getting over” my terrible commute and becoming more zen with it. After I “pay my dues,” I think I will approach working from home, which was briefly/vaguely discussed during my interview, but not spelled out. Then after the winter passes, I can look into the public transit option.

  6. Student*

    #2 I agree with those who say to leave the speculation about disabilities out of this.

    There is something you can do, though. After pointing out the mistake pattern, you can suggest that your co-worker run the written communication through a spell-checker before sending it off. “Hey, I keep catching the same spelling mistake over and over from you – could you run these through a spell check before sending them to me? Thanks.”

    If the letter transposition is a valid-but-incorrect word, offer to teach your co-worker how to use the find-and-replace function of most text editors.

    Keep the discussion about not making the same mistake over and over for you to fix. If your co-worker responds that she does indeed have a disability, then you cut her some extra slack to accommodate her but still try to get her to use tools that can correct the recurring problem. It’s okay to tell a dyslexic person that she keeps making the same job-impacting error over and over and give her tools to deal with that. It’s not okay to just fire her over it without trying to find a reasonable solution (like your current editing). Disabled folk are normal, and the large majority of them are not going to have a meltdown or threaten lawsuits over reasonable requests, just like your other co-workers.

    1. ProductiveDyslexic*

      +1 to spell checker and find and replace.

      The issue relevant to OP#2 is not whether the coworker is dyslexic, but that he is making mistakes that affect OP#2’s work.

    2. Arjay*

      In the circumstance of the misspelled word being an actual different word, you can customize most word processing dictionaries to flag words as misspelled even if they’re not. If the wrong word isn’t one you use frequently, this works great. So unless you write an awful lot about Christmas, you could flag “manger” so it would appear to be misspelled since you most likely meant to write “manager.”

  7. Jeanne*

    #1, I agree with the advice. I would just tell my boss I had an appt. I would say how long I would miss and how I would get work done. But I didn’t give details. I have medical problems and lots of appts. I bet your coworkers don’t want to write their details or read your details. Keep it simple and others will follow.

    1. Sam*

      I agree. If you start the trend of simply writing “appointment” on the shared calendar, even if you verbally tell your boss the details, others will follow. That helps your co-workers know not to put “marital counseling” or “well-woman exam” or “conference with Mrs. Jenkins regarding Sammy’s biting problem” in the shared calendar as well.

    2. Anonsie*

      Yep. We have a similar system and you can just write “time off” if you like, I go for slightly more specific “appointment” or some such.

      1. Liz*

        Hi there, this is OP 1. Good advice and this is what I have been doing. I just write “personal appointment” or “appointment” on the calendar, but have been sensing from my boss that this is not enough. Before I talk with him directly, I just wanted to get a sense of if I am being weird about this. So, that is why I asked the question. Just wanted to see if other people thought this was weird, or if I am just being uptight. :) thank you!

        1. Anonsie*

          I get that. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to put in something general so they get the gist of it, if only for the purpose of knowing how accurate your estimated return time is. Being out sick, for example,versus a scheduled appointment with a set end time. If they ask you for more that’s one thing, but what you’re doing already is perfectly reasonable.

        2. AnonyMouse*

          What I normally do at my office is write “personal appointment” or “appointment” in the calendar that everyone sees and tell my manager privately that it’s a medical/family/whatever appointment (but no more detail than that). That way it’s still relatively private but my manager gets enough information to know that it’s a legit absence…if you’re sensing that what you’re doing isn’t enough, maybe this would be an okay compromise?

  8. Anita*

    I think the problem for the OP here for question 2 is that you have mentioned the errors, repeatedly. And the person is not addressing the issue in a way that the OP can see. In cases like this, which might have legal ramifications, I see a bright, bright line where the OP only addresses how the person’s work is affecting their productivity – first to the coworker, and second to the boss, if there is no improvement and still an issue. I’d avoid any language that suggests a diagnosis – if you’re not a trained professional, you really don’t know what’s going on for them. Secondly, I’d avoid any suggestions about how to improve the situation. That isn’t your job – it’s the job of the person who is you coworker’s boss. You have no authority over the person.

    Instead of making suggestions, just be candid about how their performance affects you, and put the responsibility, and autonomy on them to address it in their own way. Are they slowing you down? Are you covering for them by doing a second read? Are you concerned that their performance will put you in an adverse light on shared projects? Point out those issues – compassionately – and let them know that you don’t know what the solution is, but that the current situation isn’t working. Then ask them what their perspective is. Maybe they don’t see it as an issue. Maybe they do. Maybe they didn’t know it was affecting you. Maybe they do, but don’t care. But before you assess, diagnose and recommend solutions – which is difficult to do and not appear tin eared or judgmental – just focus on the impact of their work on you.

  9. Amy*

    #5 – for a job requiring a graduate degree, excess years shouldn’t hold you back. There are a lot of jobs that are “entry level” within that range that a person could happily work for life. My current position didn’t require a lot of experience, but I wasn’t hired by a “hiring manager.” I was hired by a search committee.

    It’s also illegal to discriminate against people over 40, which would include people who are “overqualified.”

    1. Zillah*

      It’s also illegal to discriminate against people over 40, which would include people who are “overqualified.”

      By my understanding, that’s not quite accurate. It’s not illegal to consider issues relevant to job performance, even if those issues are related to a person’s status as a member of a protected class. If you’re hiring for a job requiring a lot of manual labor and you legitimately need employees who can lift over 100 lbs., for example, you’re allowed to only hire people who can lift over 100 lbs., even though that’s likely to result in your hiring many more young men than women or older men – you’d only run into problems if 1) lifting 100 lbs. was not a legitimate requirement of the job and/or 2) you refused to consider women and older men who were capable of lifting 100 lbs.

      My understanding is that specifying years of experience is similar. And, really, what’s the alternative – not having anything in a listing to indicate whether the company wants 2 years or 10? That would be pretty unhelpful.

      1. LBK*

        And, furthermore, it’s perfectly legitimate to only want someone who has 1-2 years of experience in a given field because someone with 20+ years is probably going to be bored to death and bounce out of the position quickly. I don’t see how saying someone is overqualified is equivalent to age discrimination.

        1. Allison*


          Even if someone with 15 years of experience accepts an entry-level job, knowing the low compensation and lack of responsibility, because they just want a job (any job), either they’ll leave the second something more their level opens up, or they’ll eventually become an enormous pain in the bum in one way or another. I know it’s not fair to make an assumption about someone’s work attitude based on their level of experience, but it’s definitely a legitimate concern that usually leads employers to pass over candidates with way more experience than what they’re looking for.

          1. Amy*

            Entry-level people are even more likely to move on after a few years or less. They’re also more likely to get pregnant and quit working altogether. It’s wrong to assume an older worker will be temporary.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s definitely legal to discriminate against people who are wildly outside the level of experience that you’re seeking for a position — to not hire, say, a CEO for a data entry job because she’s overqualified.

      1. Joey*

        Except when that justification has the effect of excluding older qualified candidates. Euphemisms like “overqualified” are frequently what employers use to rationalize age discrimination.

        1. fposte*

          There’s certainly a risk of disparate impact, but that’s not been enough to make experience levels terms something the EEOC objects to; I think therefore that hiring according to those stated experience levels isn’t likely to raise legal eyebrows.

          1. Joey*

            There are plenty of cases of the EEOC finding age discrimination occurred when applicants were deemed “overqualified”. Of course that’s not to say you can’t hire someone less experienced, but it is to say you can’t automatically assume someone with 20 years of experience won’t be a good fit.

      2. Amy*

        My point was that “entry” level for a professional position could also be a terminal position, in which case amount of experience would be a plus, and the person wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to move on.

  10. SJP*

    OP 4 – But in reality you have (from your times) 1 hour 20 minutes where you’re on trains, not 2 hours. You can’t really work on the walk or bike ride in so… really you’re employer might say for the 1.20/1.30 minutes maybe but I don’t know..

    Also the thing is with this, if the Wifi on the train is down and you’re not able to work, would you still make up that time at the office or somewhere else?

    I dunno, we all have to do long commutes, It takes me an hour to drive 13 miles to my work (and believe me, traffic stresses everyone out, not just you), I can’t get work done in that time and that time is from my free time not work time but I don’t ask my boss for that time back.. so i dunno, I think your request is a little, well… if I were the manager id probably say no to your request. As Alison mentioned, you’re not in the office to talk to, or schedule meetings in, and realistically how much work can you really get done on a busy train compared to an office..(yes before people chime in that an office can be as busy as a train etc etc still, i’m not sold on the idea)

    1. en pointe*

      The OP has one hour 20 minutes on trains each way though. So easily two hours where working could be feasible. I’m also a little confused by your point about how you don’t ask your boss for your commute time back, so the OP shouldn’t be able to. As you note, you can’t get any work done on your commute. The key difference with the OP’s situation is that they can get work done on their commute, so I don’t understand the equivalency?

      Also, I would totally testify that work can get done in transit. I commute just over two hours each way for school and I think I’ve written probably 60% of my essays on the bus or train for the past two years (minus research and referencing). It’s a solid four hours of monotony to be put to good use. It also, and I swear this is true, repels the skeazy guys who hit on or stare at me when I’m not studying. It’s like my superpower. One textbook and BAM they leave me alone.

      I do think you make a really legitimate point that it might not be the same amount / quality as work done in an office, but I don’t think we really have enough info about the nature of the OP’s work to judge that conclusively. Or even the OP’s own ability to focus in that environment. I think this is something where some people could and some people couldn’t, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the people who could shouldn’t be allowed to. So I guess I’m with Alison that it’s going to depend on the nature of the OP’s work and the culture of the office. Even if this OP decides said nature or culture means it’s not worth raising, or their boss decides it’s a no-go, I do think this is an idea that could work well in the right situation.

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        I think it depends totally on the office as well, and to some extent the person. Train time can be really conducive to something like writing, and even if you’re only using it to knock out rough drafts instead of the serious editing and detail work that comes later, it’s still a time savings. People work on commuter trains a LOT–it’s very, very, very common to see people with laptops and working on commuter rail–so I can see an office with flexibility built in agreeing to something like this.

        1. Cassie*

          The public transit leg of my commute is about 40 minutes each way and there are times where I draft emails/letters (either in my head or on my smartphone) because it’s much easier to do so there (alone among a crowd) than it is while sitting in my cubicle.

    2. ac*

      I noticed this too. Even if your train ride is an hour, I imagine it would be difficult or impossible to be prodcutive that whole time. Maybe propose 45 minutes to account for getting on/off train, packing and unpacking laptop, etc.

    3. Graciosa*

      I agree with this – while someone on a train can certainly accomplish some work, it’s not necessarily going to be equivalent to working in an office with the rest of the team. I would be worried about confidentiality as well.

      This would come across to me as someone who is trying to get out of work. The OP would need a fair amount of credibility to make this request successfully – and even then, a manager might well be concerned about the effect granting it would have on the rest of the team (who would probably not perceive this as fair – almost everyone commutes).

      1. The IT Manager*

        This is exactly my first thought on reading the question. Working in a home office is not equivalent to working on a train because of distractions, desk setup or lack therof. As a supervisor I would question that the quality of work would be equavalent to that in the office or home or home office. I would expect in general that a writer might need to concentrate to get into the writing flow.

        A trial run might be a good idea, but I’d still be leary of the suggestion as a supervisor.

        1. Clover*

          A trial run on the part of the OP is exactly what I was thinking. It doesn’t sound like OP has actually even tried out the public transit commute yet. It might turn out to be a totally unfeasible environment to work in – some commuter trains are regularly busy enough that OP would need to stand for all of the journey, some are loud (with other passengers, frequent announcements, noise of the actual train, etc.), and most don’t have a reliable, strong wifi connection.

          I have done a job where some working on trains was expected because long commutes between offices for meetings were done by train. The level of work expected of employees at those times was essentially just checking and responding to e-mails and being available to answer calls. That was do-able but I don’t think I would have got any work that required decent concentration or a consistent wifi signal done.

          I would suggest the OP tries the journey and tries working on the journey before raising the idea with his manager.

      2. Colette*

        I think it depends on both the person and the work. I can work on a lot of things just fine with background noise and interruptions, so I could probably work just fine on a train, assuming I was able to get a seat with a table. (In fact, if I don’t get interrupted, I will often interrupt myself – my brain needs background processing time.) Others may find they need a quieter, less distracting environment to do the same sort of work – and that’s fine. It really comes down to whether the OP can work in that environment (and get the same results) – and, of course, whether her manager is OK with that arrangement.

      3. Jamie*

        If the request isn’t phrased very carefully it would probably read to me as trying to get out of work as well. Especially someone new who hadn’t solidified their reputation yet.

        I personally wouldn’t even bring this up until I had been there long enough that my reputation for getting sh*t done was rock solid. And then I would pre-emptively explain how I could work on a train.

        For many of us that would be unthinkable – aside from dashing off a quick email reply getting actual work done on a commuter train would be as likely for me as working in the pouch of a particularly active kangaroo. Everyone is different and some people can totally do it, but people do tend to lead off thinking with what makes sense to them and so you need to present how you could actually do substantive work in case the person you need buy in from is like me.

        And be very honest about the time. As others have mentioned you have to account for getting on, settling in, getting stuff together to get off. And what if the train is super crowded and you need to stand? I don’t do public transportation so what I know about it I learned from TV – but they stand a lot on those trains. If that’s an issue there will be days you won’t be working on the commute – how will you account for that?

        Also – have to be frank, everyone has a commute and some of us have really long ones – it’s going to take a lot of logic based arguments to why you should cut 2 hours off your work day when others have to spend time getting to work as well. And if they do it for you, they will need likely to open it up to others where the position makes sense and who take public transportation. It’s an unusual enough request that I can imagine the knee jerk reaction would be no because of the can of worms it would open.

        And if you’re in a culture where it’s common and expected for people to work outside of the office wanting time off for what others do in addition to their in office schedule will be very bad for your reputation. So huge YMMV issue, but heed Alison and know the culture before you bring this up. Being honest, this wouldn’t be well received in any place I’ve worked.

        1. Clover*

          Yeah, the reputation thing is key, I think. I know a couple of people at my current workplace who do conference calls in the car (handsfree) on their commutes so they can leave early and still take part in the call. It’s people who have established their work ethic though and generally those who are fairly high up the ladder.

    4. Mike B.*


      Even if the wifi is up for the entire ride, I don’t see there being much assurance of reliably getting two productive hours. What if the train is crowded one day and people are standing? What if there are a bunch of frat boys sitting behind you on their way to a day-long pub crawl? Too many variables.

      Additionally, it sets a precedent that isn’t always going to have good results even if it works well for you. When your coworkers see you arriving late and leaving early and learn that you’re making up the time on your commute, they’re going to want the same consideration–and some of them are almost certainly going to have commutes that are more difficult in terms of maintaining productivity. Your manager does not want to be in the position of having to monitor the work of every single person on her team to make sure they’re getting the same amount done on the train as they would in the office, taking into account the length of their commutes. But it would be very difficult to deny them the same privilege she’s giving you.

      Really, a long commute just is what it is–nobody gets credited for that time. If you can’t deal with it, your options are to find a different job or to move.

      1. SJP*

        Thanks all the commentators you lot put a lot of what I was thinking into words that I really couldn’t.

        Graciosa has a really good point about credibility and Jamies point about proving you really can produce rock solid work. Others did mention about things like drafts or emails which you may be able to get done, but on a busy commuter train, I am really not sold on the idea.

        It was also mentioned that we all have commutes, some longer than others but I don’t have an option to get a train for example. I have to drive. But i’m still not sold on the argument of being able to create the same level of work on a train as you are in an office.

        Yes, I agree that a lot of people do work on trains and get stuff done, but in your honest, if it’s really important work would you perhaps wait until you got into the office and had a good connection etc and focus , than do it on a train and it be average..

        More good points that I’m glad it’s not just me that that would have a bell go off in my head about had this person actually wanted to work on the train and will work, or are they actually going to be bare minimum and not really work? It would have to, as Alison and other mentioned, depend on on the type of job and person but I’m still on a No until I had more information

  11. GrumpyBoss*

    #1: I agree with Alison’s advice – are you sure that this level of specificity is needed? In my experience, it just takes one over-sharer to cause everyone to follow suit. As a manager, I’m not interested – I just want to know when you’ll be out and when I can expect you back. But that doesn’t stop some people from CCing the world when requesting time off with a dissertation explaining what the doctor appointment is for/what’s wrong with the car/who their second cousin’s niece is playing in the kindergarten production of Annie.

    If putting in time as “personal appointment” doesn’t cut it, talk to your manager one on one, and explain that you are concerned about privacy.

  12. soitgoes*

    For #2, I’m not sure I would come out and say that you think your coworker has a disability, but I would mention to a manager that your coworker is making mistakes consistently enough that you are forced to edit his work in addition to your own. Act as if there’s no disability in play; the coworker’s current quality of output is forcing you to take on extra work (basically a whole other job duty) and your manager might not know about it. A good manager would want to know if an employee is essentially doing another employee’s work for him.

    On the other side of things, if the coworker does have severe dyslexia and is working a coding-type job, that’s a legitimate problem. So give your manager a heads-up about the mistakes and then let him deal with it. I’d suggest you make sure to flat-out ask, “Do you want me to always edit his work before submitting it?” to drive it home that this is an ongoing and time-consuming problem.

    1. Artemesia*

      I’d be very thoughtful about how to phrase this because for many bosses YOU doing extra work so they don’t have to MANAGE is an excellent solution — for them. You think having to do part of this co-workers job is a problem, but your boss may see it as a solution that makes life easier for her.

  13. HeyNonnyNonny*

    OP 4, how recent is ‘recently started’ for your job? I would be very wary of proposing any sort of alternative work schedules without a solid track record of good work.

    1. en pointe*

      Oh, good catch. I think it still comes back to how big the office is on flexibility generally, but even then, if the OP is very new they may not have a good enough read yet on the culture, i.e. how big they are on face-time, whether they even consider flexible arrangements at all, whether it’s only more senior / longterm employees who get flexibility, etc., to determine whether this might be a likely possibility.

  14. Cheesecake*

    OP#2: I understand your desperation in this case:no direct authority and boss ducks out. But the worst possible solution here is pointing on potential disability. You need to talk to him openly about how this impacts work in general and you. Do not make it personal. It is not your job of finding reasons why quality of his work is bad.

    And honestly, if I had learning disability and that made my work suffer – i’d explain myself to the manager and try find a way how to deal with it. You co-worker does nothing to improve or explaining himself . So trying to be nice and suggest help with his probably learning disorder will only make things worse.

  15. Laura Treider*

    I am in a similar situation. I found, however, that the train wifi was often overloaded and slow and I was having to fight to get a table on the train. I ended up just choosing to drive and I started listening to audiobooks to cut down on the commute stress. I am so fond of my commute now! Middlemarch, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, it’s the best!

    1. en pointe*

      Sorry, unrelated, but you guys seriously have wifi and tables on your trains? I need to move to where y’all are living. (Or buy a car, which I almost have enough to do. Yay!)

      1. LBK*

        Boston has these on the commuter rail, but as Laura says, the WiFi is often overloaded so you can’t really do anything on it and I think there’s only 2-4 tables per car so they’re hard to lock down.

      2. Allison*

        Not sure where Laura is, but some trains in the Boston area have wifi, and many cars have tables in the middle. They’re highly coveted by people who want to get work done, but they also attract families and chatty groups of people, even at rush hour.

      3. bluephone*

        The OP clearly doesn’t live anywhere within SEPTA’s service boundaries (Philadelphia, PA and its surrounding areas). What is this “trains with tables” you speak of?

    2. Case of the Mondays*

      OP could pay for a hot spot on his cell plan for personal wifi and he also wrote that he doesn’t need wifi to do his work. If he is salaried/exempt, I’d suggest doing some extra work on the train for a few weeks first and then making the proposal. As a lawyer, for example, I bill my hours. My boss can see that when my family travels 20 hours by car, I usually bill over 8 of those hours because I’m bored in the car (as a passenger). If I bill a full work day, I don’t take that day as a vacation day. However, I don’t preemptively assume I will be a productive worker those days. I request the days as vacation days and if it turns out I bill a ton, I then don’t include those days on my PTO sheet (with manager approval.)

      So, I think OP’s request would have more teeth if he could say “over the past couple weeks, I’ve noticed I’m consistently working two hours during my commute. Could I flex that time going forward? If for some reason I can’t work on my commute I will make up the time.”

    3. Turanga Leela*

      Yes, OP #4, test out the wifi to see how realistic your plan is. The internet on my train is extremely spotty. You may still be able to do work on the train if you have offline work—I’ve used my train commute to read documents and write drafts. It actually works pretty well.

  16. Allison*

    OP#4, it seems like you’re paid hourly and on a set schedule, where you’d need to “officially” change your hours, which makes me think your workplace isn’t all that flexible. If it was a place where people came and went, worked from home as needed and weren’t considered “late” if they came in 5 minutes later than usual, they’d probably have no issue with you doing some work on the train and then knocking that off the number of hours you’d need to work in the office.

    It may still be possible, however, to establish an alternate arrangement, but I agree with the other posters that it’s crucial to establish some credibility first. Not just as an employee though. Wait until you’ve been taking the train for a little while. Get a good sense of how the wifi works (I know you said it may not be necessary, but your employer might be more willing to let you work there if you can respond to e-mails easily), get a sense of how often you’re able to get a seat. Is there a quiet car? Is the quiet car enforced? What’s the noise level usually like? Once you understand what conditions you’d usually work under, ask your employer to let you try working on the train a couple times a week to see how it works, then go from there.

    Working on the train is a great idea in theory, but may be harder than you’d expect, so it’s best to propose a trial period first.

    1. Jamie*

      The letter didn’t read as non-expemt to me, but I could be wrong. I have a lot of flexibility as far as my comings and goings but if I had a schedule change where I was routinely in the office only 6 hours a day it would be noticed. If I needed the accommodation they’d give it to me, but it would be a lot of damage control on the part of tptb and HR to others who would complain about unfair treatment and immediately want the same deal. Under C or director level no way would it even be an option.

      This is complicated even if exempt. If non-exempt it’s a whole other kettle of fish and I’d never okay that. For non-exempt all time must be paid, and we (as is common practice) round to the nearest 15 minutes. How is that time being tracked? Way too much of a PITA for time tracking at least in my environment.

    2. OP #4*

      I am a contractor who is paid hourly. However, both exempt and non-exempt employees are treated the same way: we’re expected to arrive and leave at a certain time (I haven’t had to “clock in” in over a decade, even while I was a contractor!!!)

      1. Jamie*

        I don’t know what state you’re in – but in Illinois the fact that you aren’t setting the terms including the hours you will work could be an issue in whether your properly classified as a contractor. You should have a lot more leeway to set your terms than an employee would.

        And plenty of salaried people clock in, it’s not always to track hours for the sake of clock watching. Billable hours, job costing, tracking how much time certain positions are here to see if we need to add staff to overworked departments, safety regs to know who is in the building in case of fire, reception can have a GUI to see who is in and out via clocking in. Point being there are lots of legitimate business reasons to have people clock in.

        snippet from the ILL dol

        6) The nature and degree of control by the employer. Analysis of this factor includes who sets pay amounts and work hours and who determines how the work is performed, as well as whether the worker is free to work for others and hire helpers. An independent contractor generally works free from control by the employer (or anyone else, including the employer’s clients). This is a complex factor that warrants careful review because both employees and independent contractors can have work situations that include minimal control by the employer. However, this factor does not hold any greater weight than the other factors. For example, a worker’s control of his or her own work hours is not necessarily indicative of independent contractor status; instead, the worker must control meaningful aspects of the working relationship. Further, the mere fact that a worker works from home or offsite is not indicative of independent contractor status because the employer may exercise substantial control over the working relationship even if it exercises less day-to-day control over the employee’s work at the remote worksite.

        There is other stuff like using at least some of your own equipment, the type of work and impact to business – this was #6 in a list. I find it interesting as Illinois is cracking down lately on misclassifications of contractor/employee and there are hefty penalties to be paid if they find people labeled as contractors who are operating as employees (100% employer provided facilities and equipment, control of hours and schedule, etc.)

        I work with contractors and it’s always about what needs to be done and scheduling the work where it’s good for both of us – I’d never presume to assign one office hours in the way you’re describing. Temps are different, because they aren’t contractors they are employees…it’s just their employer is their agency and not the company which houses their desk.

        Whenever the state is a little low on cash they find something tons of people have been violating for years and start fining the heck out of it. It is an election year.

  17. LQ*


    When I started with my team my supervisor had a similar request, everyone was putting WAY to much detail into their request. I just started sending my out with “Personal Leave” vs a work out of office thing which I would put the useful amount of detail on. Everyone else has cut back on the details too which is great. My boss has never complained about not having enough detail. When talking to him about another project he said the reason for putting it on the calendar is just so that people know oh LQ is out of the office today so I’m not going to try to hunt her down. I vote just say that you’re out for personal or sick or vacation or appointment, whatever word you want to use that works with your company environment. If your supervisor pushes back then raise privacy concerns.

    1. Jamie*

      This was never required by my company (because I work for reasonable people) but some people send out emails letting you know they will be out of the office volunteering WAY too much detail and believe me, no one is asking!

      It became a running joke at one point so that every time someone would post tmi of their own volition I’d send an email to my friend with TMI of the adventures of Pop-Tart, the Christmas Penguin. He’s a holiday decoration we put in the front yard each winter, but you should see the hijinks he gets up to! He’s quite the rascal!

      I personally only care about times and availability. When will you be gone/back and are you available via phone/email (for positions where it’s relevant) during that time. Available/not available/limited availability (meaning may be somewhere where can’t have phone on or you’re turning the damn thing off)/available for emergencies (which is only used by me and when I’m so freaking sick that whatever you need immediate attention for better be mission critical and worth interrupting my vomiting/migraine/finally just got to sleep after being up all night vomiting from a migraine.)

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        Right. Only reason I would put more detail would be if I couldn’t be certain about time and availability. I will be back by 2pm vs. I’m going to the dentist and last time I was there for four hours, so I hope to be back today but worst case I’ll see you tomorrow.

  18. TotesMaGoats*

    While I agree with all the advice given to #1, I guess I must be the oddball out on this. What is so horrible about your coworkers knowing that you need to take the dog to the vet, kid to the doctor or run to the bank? I’ve never worked anywhere that people so zealously guarded their privacy. Everyone tends to know what’s going on with each other, not just me as the manager. I think that is reinforces that we all are human and we tend to be a little bit more forgiving when we know that there is something going on with a coworker.

    #3-Really? You are going to balk at your employer wanting to know if you’ve been to a country where a highly infectious disease is running rampant? Did no one read Outbreak?

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      I think it’s one thing if you have an office where gossip isn’t a big deal, but I can think of a lot of things people wouldn’t necessarily want the whole office to know about–therapy or counselling being the big one. Lots of offices would seize on something like that as a chew toy–or any number of other things that people who aren’t friendly with their coworkers wouldn’t want them knowing about. It’s probably very, very culture-dependent in each office.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        I’m absolutely sure that it depends from office to office. And while I probably wouldn’t tell people that I was going to counseling, some of the other things people refuse to share like a bank errand just seems absurd. I consider myself lucky to have worked where I have.

    2. Jazzy Red*

      Re #1, I’m with you! There’s nothing like having an appointment email sent to the entire department that says “9:00 GYNO PERFORMING PAP SMEAR TO CHECK FOR CANCER”.

      1. Judy*

        Or based on yesterday’s conversation.

    3. illini02*

      That was my thought too. You could just put “Doctors Appointment” as opposed to “Couple’s Counseling”. I can’t see him needing an extreme level of detail. But I admit, when someone puts on our team calendar “Dentist appointment” it just seems like a more valid reason than “Joe leaving early”.

      1. LQ*

        Why does the validity of it matter? Assuming I have the time and I’m getting my work done…why does it matter to you?

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Validity shouldn’t really be an issue here. If someone is missing more work than they should, the manager should address that. But otherwise it’s really not coworkers’ business.

      3. Case of the Mondays*

        I think it depends on the industry. If we are in “all hands on deck” mode going to the dentist during that time is reasonable. Taking a day off just because you have vacation time would be frowned upon. That is the issue with the PTO buckets. If a manager doesn’t know the reason it makes it harder to approve/deny. I don’t really need to get permission for my time off. I just need to exercise good judgment and get my job done. However, someone is passively watching to make sure good judgment is being used. Need surgery right before a trial? No problem, we will get someone to cover for you. Want to go on vacation right before a trial? Nope. That is your case and you are responsible for it. Best friend getting married right before a trial? That is a circumstance beyond your control and we might try to work with you to accommodate it. Basically, we don’t schedule leave that conflicts with our cases but if something comes up in our life that does conflict with our cases we can ask for an exception. If no one can cover and we have to ask the court to change the date, we have to say why. The court determines if it is a valid reason.

        1. GrumpyBoss*

          But ultimately, this is a management decision if this info is needed to make a determination on PTO. In the case of the OP, everyone in her department gets notified of the reason with a calendar invite. If the manager has approved it, why do the coworkers need to know the “why”? They just need to know the “when”.

      4. illini02*

        Validity was a poor word choice. I personally don’t care why you are out if its not impacting me significantly. I guess it just is nice to give a bit more information than just “leaving early”. If you are taking vacation, I don’t care if you are going to Europe or staying home to watch netflix. Its just some information as opposed to “out” is nice.

        1. Kat M*

          But if you’re not their manager, why? I don’t get it……What are you going to do with that information?

    4. soitgoes*

      I think that, even if you’re vague, you don’t necessarily want other people to know that you see a doctor as often as you do, or that you’ve negotiated more paid days off than them. It’s also really not anyone’s business if a coworker happens to step out of the office for a few hours on a random afternoon.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s one thing if you choose to share those details with coworkers, but the OP’s concern is that she feels like she doesn’t have a choice.

      Also, it’s one thing to say who cares if you need to run to the bank — but if there’s a precedent of always sharing and then you run into a situation where you don’t want to share (for example, marriage counseling or other highly personal appointment), now you’re in a situation where it stands out that you’re not sharing. Better not to have the rigid expectation to begin with.

      1. Artemesia*

        Absolutely — personal appointment is as much as should be on a shared calendar. If someone is taking ‘too many’ times out of the office, the manager may want more detail — but the entire office really doesn’t need to know the details of your personal life.

    6. GrumpyBoss*

      I stated above that I don’t really care why someone is out, but that’s not entirely true. Sometimes it is fun to be excited for your coworkers, i.e. If they are taking time off to go to Paris, I would love to join in the excitement! It’s also nice to commiserate – “I need to leave early because Combat went out AGAIN!”

      Where I think it becomes to much is being told you have to share some of the mundane and regular experiences with your coworkers. Even more concerning is the atmosphere of judgement that this creates with coworkers. If I take two hours off, I’m not sure why my coworker should have an opinion on what I’m doing. Be aware/upset/happy I’m not there. But being aware/upset/happy that I’m not there because I am getting a cavity filled falls squarely in “nobody else’s business”

    7. LV*

      Yeah, I’m with you on #1. Is writing “Cathy – dentist @ 9” or “Bob, yearly checkup Thursday afternoon” that big of a deal versus writing “personal leave”? They’re not going to crowd around you and ask how many cavities you had or have you gained weight versus last year’s checkup. Of course you have the right to take your personal leave whenever you want (within reason) but refusing to give any information about it seems needlessly combative.

      (I’d be really annoyed if I got an email notification every time a coworker had to leave the office for an appointment, though. That’s the part I would push back against.)

      1. Helka*

        And what if someone doesn’t want to share the details of their actual physical health problems? My coworkers don’t need to know what I’m going to the doctor for, let alone that I’m even going to “the” doctor (or rather, three or four different specialists) six times in the next two months. I don’t want to be having that conversation with anyone. My boss knows so she can approve the time, and even she only knows any details for the time I had to leave immediately in the middle of the work day because it was an emergency. Other than that, it’s “I need Monday afternoon off for a medical appointment, is that cool?”

      2. Jamie*

        It actually is, to me anyway. Because sometimes, at least for me, there are periods where you have a lot of doctors appointments in close succession. Yearly gyn, flu shot, eye exam, annual “yep, I still have migraines” appointment, my kid’s neurologist all seem to fall within about 1.5 months. If I told everyone I was going to the doctor all the time they’d think there was something wrong. And yeah, doctor visit people do ask why – like it’s not a loaded question. Maybe I don’t mind telling you about my ear infections, but I don’t really want to talk about my gynecologist.

        Besides – I have loads of PTO on the books almost always, so if I’m burning a PTO day to get stuff done why is it anyone’s business if I’m getting a pedicure or a root canal? If I’m not using PTO and am cutting out early because I worked a bazillion hours ditto…why does it matter if it’s for an appointment or because I’m sick of the sight of my desk and need to watch my TV?

        If people are taking unacceptable amounts of time off that’s for management to manage. If they are cutting out in an all hands on deck situation and management is making sure it’s for emergencies only people need to trust that and it’s between the person and their manager. If I need you to work and your manager says you can cut out early I’m not entitled to know about your health issues, or family emergencies so I can vet the reason for myself. If it’s not my call to deny the time off I have to live with it anyway, so why should I get personal information for no other purpose except to give me additional data with which to judge or excuse you – neither of which is my place?

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          I know I’m not the only person to have worked in an office where if someone says “Oh, I was at the doctor’s yesterday morning” the answer is “Oh, how come?” or “I have to go–dentist visit” it’s “Oh, getting a filling or just a cleaning?”

          Some people really do want to fill in everyone else with their medical details. Some people don’t want to share those things (like me!) and I don’t think it’s particularly strange to not want my coworkers to know all my business. It’d be one thing if I liked them and was friendly with everyone–but I have some coworkers I hate and some I don’t give a crap about, I have zero interest in them knowing anything about my personal details!

          1. Anon for this*

            Right. Or asking about your dentist appt launches into a story about their last root canal, or whatever.

            Even when people are being genuinely nice it gets old. I was out sick yesterday (thought it was the flu starting but seems better-ish. Sore throat/headache/congestion kind of thing and 6 people have stopped by to ask if I’m feeling better, what was wrong…it’s nice and people are friendly but it sucks calling in when you know you’ll have to assure people you made it through the sneezing without incident when you get back.

            1. jennie*

              I know, I hate that! People are generally just being nice but I always feel you have to put on a show and prove you were sick enough to justify a day off.

        2. Case of the Mondays*

          You are very right that whether the leave is appropriate is between you and your manager. I left that out of my comment. I think in the “all hands on deck” situation people fear resentment from their peers and that is why they feel the need to say “ugh, sorry I can’t help tomorrow morning. I have a doctor’s appointment.” It is totally unnecessary and if more people stop doing it hopefully it will become less expected.

        3. EbolaQuestioner*

          I wouldn’t want people to know every little detail either. The manager might need to know, but no one else does. One type of defense might be to say you’re going to the gynecologist and then give way too many details. You figure most people won’t ever ask again!

      3. Heather*

        They’re not going to crowd around you and ask how many cavities you had or have you gained weight versus last year’s checkup

        You obviously don’t work with my former coworker.

      4. Observer*

        It’s not a big deal till Cathy gets an email that she really should try that great dentist who has Sunday hours, and Bob gets to hear his coworkers talking about how his doctor must hate him because he eats too much…

        These are perfectly normal activities, but there are plenty of reasons why reasonable people don’t want to share all of the details. And, really who needs to know?

      5. Anonsie*

        They’re not going to crowd around you and ask how many cavities you had or have you gained weight versus last year’s checkup.

        Ohohohoo I have definitely worked in more than once place where this is exactly what would happen.

    8. jag*

      “What is so horrible about your coworkers knowing that you need to take the dog to the vet, kid to the doctor or run to the bank?”

      Because if/when you have to do something less “normal” that you actually want to keep private, you’ll either share that or write something banal that seems out of place, thus drawing attention to it.

      1. loxthebox*


    9. LCL*

      Re #1, I agree with Totes but there are many people who are so private it is virtually a fetish. In past conversations about this subject at work I have made some people angry by referring to a cult of privacy. My manager had to speak to me more than once about not announcing the category of leave (vacation or sick leave). So I do what I’m told and just say an absent person is on leave. I think this is an over the top interpretation of privacy but that is my manager’s expectation so that’s what I do.

      1. Kat M*

        I agree with your manager, though. Sick leave can be pretty dicey-pregnancy, chronic conditions, etc. I’ve known people at work who were managing cancer. Vacations-people can get surprisingly judgy about that, too, whether it’s perceived level of privilege, the fact that you’re taking time off while someone has to cover for you, etc. Or someone could use vacation leave to go to a loved one’s funeral (not everyone has bereavement leave) and may want to keep it quiet. Maybe a woman fears she’ll be mommy tracked if she has to use sick leave for a child.

        I don’t see the big deal with saying that someone is out for the day/week. If people want to share, they’ll share. And, as someone who can be quite reserved, the way you win the trust of a private person is by respecting their privacy.

      2. Heather*

        I can understand why people get angry when you refer to a cult of privacy. You’ve just told them that they’ve been brainwashed into believing that they have a right not to share details of their personal life with the entire office.

        If you want to tell the entire office that you’re going in for a pap smear, you can (although I doubt anyone wants to know that), but you don’t have the right to share information like that about anybody else. That’s not an over the top interpretation of privacy; it’s common courtesy.

        1. EbolaQuestioner*

          What Heather said. People have a right to privacy. Why is any of this anyone else’s business.

      3. Observer*

        Has it occurred to you that the problem is not a “cult of privacy” but a “cult of erasing boundaries”? You may be right, in any given situation that a particular piece of information is harmless to share. But what makes you think you have the right to make the decision for someone else?

        Insistence on knowing things that are none of your business, even if they are harmless things to know, really pushes the boundaries. And, generally speaking, sharing information about others without their permission just goes ahead and crosses them in a big way.

      4. Artemesia*

        Bless your manager who understand that being all up in everyone’s business is not necessarily an asset in the workplace. Why would you have to be told this more than once?

        1. LCL*

          New boss, new rules.
          My manager phrases things in a very elliptical, not straightforward way sometimes. And stating what kind of leave was taken used to be the culture of this work group pre reorg; it was marked on the unit schedule in public view if someone was on sick leave or vacation, and in another location for the payroll staff, and that is how I was trained to do it.
          And Heather, you are reading too much into what I wrote. I would never announce anyone’s medical details, or ask for them. This is exactly what I am referring to when I talk about the cult of privacy; the person hearing the phrase assumes I want to know every last medical detail and tell it, when really I want to know what kind of leave you are taking and when you will be back.

          I have observed that following my manager’s rule is more inclined to lead to gossip and speculation.

    10. Natalie*

      Eh, I’d be more inclined to trust my employer to know where I had been on vacation if people weren’t straight up panicking about something that is NOT REALLY A RISK. Some Rwandan boys were kept out of school for 3 weeks because of this nonsense. Fun fact – Rwanda and Liberia are roughly as far apart as New York and LA.

      1. Natalie*

        And as a sidenote, everyone realizes that Outbreak and Contagion are fiction, right? In order for their plot to work, ebola has to be an airborne virus. It’s not. The flu is, and it kills between 3,000-50,000 Americans a year, but sure, let’s freak out about ebola.

    11. Anon for this*

      #1 – “My husband is in court-mandated counselling for alcoholism, and his therapist has asked me to come along to one of his appointments.”

      No matter how friendly I am with my team, there are some things that really don’t need to be shared. “Personal appointment” should be plenty of detail.

    12. Cassie*

      For me, I wouldn’t want to see why my coworkers are out because it’s none of my business. I don’t care if they’re at home waiting for the cable guy or if they’re getting a root canal – the bottom line is that they are not available to handle requests (no working from home for the vast majority of our employees) and anything that is urgent will be handed off to someone else. I also don’t particularly want to share why I’m out if/when I’m out.

      I manage my boss’s calendar so naturally I see what appointments he has – it’s relevant because I need to know if I can schedule other meetings on the same day (e.g. if he has an eye exam where his eyes will be dilated or has to prep for a colonoscopy, I can’t schedule other meetings around the doc appointment). But it’s not information I need to share with other faculty/staff – they just need to know that no, Cassie’s Boss is not available for the whole day. Heck, I don’t even want to know such intimate details about my boss’s schedule! (I’d be fine if he blocked out the whole day and just put “busy”).

  19. Lisa*

    #1 – Get creative.

    My dentist appt now says ‘ Appt to be scolded for not flossing’ on my shared calendar.
    I also recorded my niece’s ‘Rocket Launch’, and can’t wait until someone tries to book a meeting with me that day.

    As a side note, my old office thought that multiple dentist appts meant that you were secretly interviewing. I started dressing for dental success to keep the rumors flowing.

    1. Ludo*

      That is really funny. As a kid, I would dress up to go to the dentist because it would help me be excited and not scared. It is a habit I’ve continued as an adult. I’ve definitely received commentary from coworkers who think “dentist appointment” is code for “looking for another job.”

      1. Person*

        I don’t think this is funny. I work somewhere where people say this kind of thing about others when they are out of office, and it’s incredibly damaging. Rumors are just as harmful as truth sometimes, and I do not like giving anyone anything to hold onto, which means I do not ever say what my appointment is for. It is just an appointment.
        Some people also use this kind of information to gain leverage over you and power-trip, and will ask you probing personal questions during meetings with others present. I do not want to talk about my personal life in meetings, but if I deflect that question or say “I would rather not discuss my private life right now”, that is ‘abrasive’. I worked somewhere once where my lovelife was discussed during morning synchups and if I changed the subject to work, it was made an even bigger deal, all in an open-plan office where everyone is hearing about this… it is a way to undermine and infantalize a person, by talking about their personal life instead of their job.

        1. Lisa*

          But, its my appt. And I do not care about feeding the rumor mill on my own dentist appts. I also created a culture at my job, where it became a joke that getting up from your desk was code for interviewing.

  20. Apollo Warbucks*

    #4 I really don’t see how you can make this request work, there’s no way you will produce the amount or quality of work you could in the office or at home. I occasionally take the train for work and get a little work done mainly writing responses to emails or catching up on reading or writing policy documents and system guides.

    If the commute is a real killer then I think you’ll have more success in building a case to work from home a couple of days a week.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it really depends on the work. I could easily get the same amount of work done on the train as I do at home; it just depends on the job.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        And on whether you can work in that environment. I saw people working on computers occasionally on the tube in Central London, but I wouldn’t even try to take mine out–too noisy and crowded. I’d rather just read the Metro and zone.

      2. catsAreCool*

        Sometimes a train might be better than the office – your co-workers won’t be bugging you as much :)

    2. Lily in NYC*

      I just can’t imagine it not causing resentment from other coworkers with similar commutes. OP can’t be the only one who travels an hour. I get the frustration, I have a painful hour-long commute on a smelly subway. But I would never expect my office to give me special treatment because I chose to live so far from work.

      1. Colette*

        If the other coworkers are able to get as much work done during their commute as they do in the office, why wouldn’t they be able to do the same thing?

        I could see that there might be a point where you’d need to have a policy of “you must be in the office from 10 – 3 for meetings” or something, but otherwise, if they can get the same work done on the train as they can from their desk, why does it matter?

        1. Lily in NYC*

          For me, it’s about being available in the office. If the person still takes an hour for lunch, that’s a pretty short day. Comes in at 10, works for 2 hours, goes to lunch, then leaves three or four hours later? No way. I work in a place where most people really need to be in the office to do their jobs, and not being available for short-notice meetings at 9:00 am or 4:30 pm would look really, really bad.

          1. Turanga Leela*

            This is why Alison’s response is so spot on–this really depends on the nature of the work and the workplace culture. In my office, being gone at 4 would be no big deal, and plenty of people leave early to get the train. On the rare occasion we have late meetings, we schedule around them specifically. On the other hand, an hour-long lunch break would be very unusual for us. Most of us eat at our desks and take occasional short breaks, e.g. the one I’m taking now.

      2. Turanga Leela*

        I actually don’t think this is special treatment. OP isn’t asking for any accommodation for the one-hour drive; he’s asking if he can do work doing a two-hour train ride instead. A lot of employers would be happy to incentivize employees to take public transit, and at least where I live, most employees won’t take them up on it anyway. They might resent the OP for coming in late, but they will probably wind up saying something like, “I don’t know why you go through all that trouble.”

        1. Lily in NYC*

          I think asking for a shorter time in the office is asking for an accomodation. Just like asking to work from home. But I work in a place with tons of early morning and late afternoon meetings, so it just wouldn’t be acceptable here.

        2. OP #4*

          As stated in the question, I would not allow it to interfere with meetings. If I had an entire week of meetings at 9am and 5pm, then I wouldn’t take the train the entire week. Of if a late meeting came up, I would take the later train.

      3. OP #4*

        Actually, it’s a small group and I currently am the only person who does this commute 5 days/week. There are 2 others who do the commute 2-3 days a week (otherwise at the downtown office near their residences).

  21. Mike C.*

    Regarding #3, can I at least ask employers/managers/bosses to be f*cking reasonable about this issue? The nations you should currently be looking for are Serra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

    Not Rwanda. Not Egypt. Not South Africa. Not Kenya. Not Nigeria. Not “Africa” in general.

    Too many people are freaking out and letting their xenophobia flag fly without bothering to understand the science or listening to public health experts. Look to the Centers for Disease Control and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), not the folks on television trying to get attention for themselves.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Sure, sure. Next thing you know, you’ll be recommending not screening for Zombies. Fear all the things.

      1. Jamie*

        We will always screen for zombies. Must be ever vigilant because if they get in they are coming for IT first.

        (The tastiest brains are in the IT department. It’s a fact.)

      1. Felicia*

        I’ve seen that and was thinking of posting it here! screening for “Africa” is not ok and kind of stupid.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, a local high school cancelled a trip to Madagascar because of Ebola fears.

          Madagascar, are you kidding me?!

          1. Heather*

            It would amuse the hell out of me (because otherwise the stupid would make me cry) if said high school was in Dallas or NYC.

            Not that anyone there is going to get Ebola either, but both have had more Ebola patients than Madagascar!

            1. Natalie*

              A few weeks ago, a college rejected a bunch of international students from Nigeria on the grounds that they weren’t accepting new students from any country with confirmed ebola cases. The college is in… wait for it… Texas.

          2. My Fake Name is Laura*

            I heard that story this morning and promptly quipped, “That’s like canceling your trip to Seattle because someone in Texas had Ebola”.

            1. Artemesia*

              A teacher quit when asked to take a 21 day quarantine on returning from Kenya because ‘parents were concerned’ and ‘abundance of caution.’ We are a nation of bedwetters. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear.

              1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

                My mom went on safari in September–everyone else booked that week cancelled due to Ebola fears. She had a great time.

          3. OriginalEmma*

            Anyone who has played Plague, Inc. knows that Madagascar is THE PLACE to be safe from an epidemic.

      2. Natalie*

        The only thing better would be if they dropped in an outline of the US for scale. Africa is huge, people!

          1. Mike C.*

            Kai Krause? That’s a name I haven’t heard in long time! I spent so many hours in middle/high school playing around with Bryce.

          2. Artemesia*

            This is really interesting. Because of the map projections we normally use, most people have a very distorted idea of the size of Africa which appears much smaller on typical maps than it is.

    2. misspiggy*

      +1. And only if you have been to those countries within the last month would it be relevant for your employer to know.

    3. jag*

      “not the folks on television trying to get attention for themselves”

      I read this at “not the folks on television wetting themselves.”

  22. Joey*

    #5. I have a different view and this is generally the view most of my colleagues have. If a job says 3-5 yrs exp required that generally means you need that much experience to have the minimum skills necessary to do the job. Obviously when you have more than that you’re minimally qualified. Now if you have a ton of yrs it will depend on whether I’m looking for someone who eventually wants to move on to other things or not. For example I might want to hire someone as an admin as a stepping stone to a bigger role or not. That won’t be in the job ad.

  23. Case of the Mondays*

    For the appointments question, do you think they just want to know if you are available for phone calls / monitoring emails / can respond to emergencies? My boss likes to know when I’m on a plane for a day for that reason. “Out for a medical appointment” usually means I’m still replying to emails. For something where I’m going to be knocked out I say “out for medical appointment, will not have phone or email for day.” You might be able to meet their needs while keeping your privacy by designating when you will and won’t be accessible. Some employers may want to know the reason for your leave so they can gauge if you are being reasonable about your accessibility. At my job we are expected to be accessible while out except when that would be unreasonable (in a movie, at the doctors, on a plane).

  24. OP #2*

    Thanks to those who’ve taken the time to respond to my question. I fully understand how sensitive this subject is and that’s why I brought it up to Alison because I figured I’d get her opinion (rather than say nothing and sit on it “forever”, as I have currently done). The mistakes aren’t things that could be fixed via spellcheck or anything of that sort — a lot of times they are acronyms for which the mistake actually refers to another acronym, which is why it’s concerning to me (if it was just regular typos I honestly wouldn’t care). Anyway, I’ll think on this, but unfortunately I am not close with my coworker and I think it would be incredibly difficult to broach the subject. Anyway, I appreciate everyone’s input!

    1. Helka*

      Yeah, if you’re not close to him especially, do not go there. Bring up the behavior and the issues it’s causing, bring it up to the boss in terms of “I’m using X amount of time per day/week/etc to correct Bob’s materials, is this a good use of my time or should I just let what he’s doing stand” but do not speculate about reasons or causes, look very strictly at effects.

      Another thing to consider is that if you’re not close with this coworker, you’re really not in a good position to judge whether he has a learning disorder or not. Transposing letters in acronyms might be as simple as lazy or clumsy typing. One indicator does not a disorder make.

      1. Sadsack*

        True. I have a bad habit of transposing letters, and I don’t think I have any disability. I am just not a good typist. I find that I do it more often with IM conversations than with emails, probably because IM is more like stream of consciousness for me, especailly if I am having a conversation with a work friend about something not necessarily important. Even here I do it and don’t realize it until after I have submitted my post. I think it would be good to bring up these occurences to the coworker. Maybe he is just going too fast and needs to slow down and proofread before hitting send.

    2. Creag an Tuire*

      “A lot of times they are acronyms for which the mistake actually refers to another acronym.”

      Could your co-worker be having an auto-correct problem? I remember in a previous job needing to refer to “CNAs” a great deal, which Microsoft Word kept “helpfully” changing to “Cans”. Even if that’s not what’s happening here, maybe suggesting that could draw attention to the larger problem without stepping into the minefield of learning disabilities.

      1. KJR*

        Interesting possibility. I have to type HSA (as in Health Savings Account) on a regular basis, and it always gets corrected to HAS.

  25. Mimmy*

    #2 – Agreeing with the crowd – please don’t ask about any disability…it just makes the person feel really awkward if he does have it and defensive if he doesn’t. Disclosure should be his choice and his alone.

    If the frequent errors affect your work, mention the confusion it sometimes causes with the vendors; I think it’s okay to point out these type of things even if you don’t manage an employee, as long as you say it more in a collaborative tone rather than acting as if you were the manager. If that doesn’t help, then I would go back to the manager and emphasize the affect it is having on the overall work and your own productivity; explain what you’ve tried so far. Unfortunately, the ball will then ultimately fall in your manager’s court.

    Sounds pretty frustrating, please keep us posted, OP!

  26. HR Manager*

    #1 – Maybe the manager is looking to straddle the middle line here. Manager may want more than just “Susie Out” but not necessarily “Susie is taking elderly mom to check out her gout”. I do put a bit more details into my reminders, to let people know if I can be reached via mobile or text.

    On a side note, at a previous company, our team started developing a little competition on creating (tastefully) amusing Outlook reminders when we were out. My jury duty for instance might read “ready to lock up criminals in XXX town” It was fun, and made all those pop-up reminders a little more interesting.

  27. Joey*

    #1. I bet your boss wants a reason as a way to see if you are available to respond by phone/text/email while you are out of the office. Id raise it like this “Bob, I feel a little weird sharing details about my personal reasons for being out. Is there a reason the team needs to know the details of why I’m out? Could we accomplish that another way by stating in the calendar”available/not available to respond”?

  28. Helka*

    #1 – I agree with Alison’s approach of just deescalating how much detail you give. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would be to have all my time off mailed out to all my coworkers! Ugh. The way my team handles it is just a daily email at the start of the day. “Jane is out. Wakeen will be leaving early. Mary is Wakeen’s backup, let her know if any issues with Wakeen’s area arise.” That’s all we need to know.

    #2 – Asking if someone has psych issues is like asking if they’re pregnant. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

    #3 – Legal but stupid. I hope you’re not sharing body fluids with any of your coworkers!

    1. HR Manager*

      In all fairness, sometimes body fluids is shared unintentionally. I have a co-worker who has sneezing fits and sneezes about 10 times in a row. If you are unlucky passerby who wanted to borrow his work phone to make a quick call, you may be getting a nice handful of his body fluids.

  29. Elizabeth West*

    Re #1–I remember some TV show (unfortunately not what it was–might have been on HBO) where a character said, “I’m taking a personal day.” Her boss asked, “For what?” And she snapped, “It’s PERSONAL!” I always think of that when someone says personal day.

  30. MissK*

    I’m learning disabled (non-verbal learning disability) and can sometimes transpose letters and numbers. I’m a journalist, so I know I have to be extra careful.

    I’ve tended to hide my problem, because the one time I DID bring it up, saying I needed a small amount of training, I wound up being fired.

    Don’t suggest something is wrong with your co-worker; maybe (lie) say you have the same transpose problem, and here are some things that helped you out. Make up a cousin with a LD so you sound relatable and say Wow, she has the same issues. She got re-tested as an adult. I don’t know; this is not my forte.

    LD is weird and wonderful. I wonder if your co-worker has gifts that balance out the weaknesses, like I do.

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