when snow keeps employees from leaving, sending people home early for holidays, and more

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

1. Employees don’t want to leave work to drive home in the snow

What do you do during a snow storm when some employees feel highways are not safe to travel on and do not want to leave work and yet some do? Is it an employer’s responsibility to provide a place of refuge in case an employee feels it is unsafe to travel the highways home?

If someone doesn’t feel safe leaving work because of road conditions, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t allow them to remain on your premises, unless there’s a security issue in doing that. What’s the alternative — turning them out into the streets and forcing them to drive in possibly unsafe conditions when they don’t want to? That’s not a good solution.

Let people stay if they want to, unless there’s a specific reason why that’s unworkable. (And if there really is a legitimate reason you can’t let them stay but they don’t want to drive, a really great employer will help them make other arrangements — whether it’s having someone with four-wheel drive help transport people, local hotels, or whatever.)

2. Can I ask to work from home for a few days if I can’t stop crying?

Is there any way to professionally ask to work from home for a few days in a row, without going too much into the reason why with my boss? My fiancée and I are in a bad place, talking about splitting up, and I can’t stop crying. It’s going to be very hard to sit at my desk at work (tried it yesterday and had to go out to my car for long periods, ended up leaving early to see a therapist).

My typical schedule is working from home one day a week, so it’s not unheard of on our team to be remote. But, I don’t want to disclose all of my personal details to my boss. I want to keep working as much as I can this week, and I have limited sick leave (which I’ll take if I can’t gracefully find a way to ask about working remotely this week). Any ideas?

If you’re comfortable with it, I think it’s reasonable to say, “I’m dealing with something difficult in my personal life right now and having some trouble acting like everything is fine. Would it be okay if I worked from home for the next few days?” (Ideally your boss will just say that she hopes everything is okay and won’t pry, but if she does ask what’s going on, it’s fine to say something vague like, “Just a difficult personal situation, but I’m trying to work it out.”)

If you can’t imagine saying that to your boss, I tend to think that the phrase “under the weather” covers situations like this one (you’re emotionally under the weather, after all). For instance, it would be reasonable to say something like, “I’m under the weather but want to keep being productive — would it be okay for me to work from home today and tomorrow?”

I hope things get better soon.

3. My office is having us compete for “perks” by working extra time

I work for an online state university that acts more like a private for-profit university in terms of “selling” registration. We have our busiest registration period coming up and as advisors/call center reps, our bosses want us to get hyped to work the busy, stressful month. To do this, our bosses have split us up into teams and are giving us tokens to redeem for work perks. These perks are normally denied to us advisors, but are university approved for everyone to use like teleworking and alternative working schedules. To earn these tokens, we have to go above and beyond our normal working requirements including being asked to work outside our normal hours without wage compensation, and giving up our lunch/breaks to better assist our students. As often asked, is the competition for perks legal for our management to ask of us?

We are are salaried, contracted, and exempt.

The idea of a competition to earn perks is legal in and of itself, even if it’s designed to get you to work extra shifts.

If you were non-exempt, some of what they’re asking you to do to compete would be illegal: Regardless of any perks that you might receive, your employer is required by law to pay non-exempt employees for all the time they’ve worked, including overtime. In that case, I’d recommend saying something like, “I don’t want us to get into trouble with the state department of labor, so I wanted to point out that state law does require us to pay people for all time worked, regardless of the competition.”

However, you say that you’re exempt, so this wouldn’t apply; as a exempt worker, you’re not required to be paid additional wages for additional work. That said, I wonder if you’re classified correctly; call center reps are normally non-exempt positions. It might be worth looking into the classification standards and seeing if you’re misclassified.

Speaking of perks…

4. Do I need to distribute perks evenly among my team?

My team of six was all in the office on New Year’s Eve, and my first instinct was to let everyone take off a few hours early in the spirit of the holiday. But I ended up not doing this, because I felt like only half of the team actually deserved it. I’ve been trying to deal with some performance issues on my team, mostly related to people not meeting deadlines. I am grateful to have some superstars on my team, who are rewarded privately with bigger merit increases, and excellent reviews, and I am working with the underperformers at to raise their level of work. We’re a very friendly/collegial team, but due to the nature of our work, it’s pretty much invisible (except to me) how each person’s performance stacks up against everyone else.

My options were to either give everyone a few hours off, give no one a few hours off, or single out a few people with a few hours off. They’re all non-exempt, so a few hours off really does mean getting paid to do nothing. All of these options felt wrong, but I ended up giving no one time off. Is there a fourth option that I’m missing? Or should perks like a few freebie hours be distributed regardless of performance?

I tend to think that sending people home early for a holiday should be a do-it-for-everyone thing, not something that you’re using to reward performance. That said, if you feel strongly that your lower performers needed to stay, I don’t think it’s crazy to discreetly say to the people you want to reward, “Hey, you’ve had a great year. Why don’t you head out early?” If someone else asks you why they didn’t get released early too, you can simply say, “We needed some coverage but not full coverage, and Jane and Fergus had finished everything I needed from them.”

More generally, no, perks don’t need to be distributed evenly regardless of performance. It often makes sense to treat people differently depending on how they perform. There are SOME perks, though, that are more of a group thing — for example, you wouldn’t want to invite only some people to a team dinner or other outing.

5. Is this company mishandling smoke breaks?

After 3 years, the company my husband works for here in Maine changed their smoking policy. Which was fine until they today. In Maine, they are required to give paid breaks, but the people were asked to now punch out to have their smoke off property. Again, this was tolerable. But after the first run, the company decided they did not want that many people punching out for a break. Remember, it was their rule. Now they are told that they cannot punch out to have a cigarettes until lunch. They have to wait 6 to 7 hours or were told they can quit their jobs if they didn’t agree. No e-cigs….no vapor products…nothing. They were told that “we gave you 17 months warning to quit smoking”

How is this legal by Maine standards? The folks are willing to bend but not to be told what to do like children.

In Maine, employers must give employees the opportunity to take an unpaid rest break of 30 consecutive minutes after six hours worked, if three or more people are on duty. No coffee, bathroom, or smoking breaks are required. So it sounds like the company is complying with the law, as long as they’re getting that break after six hours. If they’re pushing it back to seven, that would be a legal issue.

{ 377 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    Also speaking of classification standards, if you are an unsure of your own legal classification or the legal classification of those who work under you, IRS Form SS-8 can be submitted and the IRS will make a ruling as to the proper status. It doesn’t look like the easiest form to fill out, but sometime you need a set answer.

    1. NM anon*

      I had to do this previously. I thought it was pretty straight forward, just include as much info as possible and be thorough. It took several months to get an initial response and more than a year for a final decision.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Oooh, good to have someone who actually went through it! Did the IRS tell your employer at any point that you were the one who submitted the request for evaluation? I’m sure that if someone felt they were misclassified and could not resolve it with their employer they might be concerned about retaliation.

    2. Elysian*

      This form looks to be more about employee/independent contractor than exempt/nonexempt. I think the Department of Labor handles the exempt/nonexempt distinction, so I wouldn’t expect too much help from the IRS if that is the issue you want to resolve.

      1. Mike C.*

        Quite true, it’s just another form of common misclassification that comes up a whole lot and I had just learned about it, so I wanted to share.

  2. soitgoes*

    #4 is one of those situations that makes sense when you’re in the midst of it but doesn’t play out in a way that benefits everyone. Yes, it would be lovely to reward the best workers by giving them a few free paid hours. But that reads (to them) as punishment for the people who aren’t being given the time off (punishing them for poor performance by making them work more hours), and I don’t think it makes business sense to have the worst employees working the most hours. As much as you don’t think the employees have a sense of their peers’ performance, I can’t see how they could look around and see who was given the day off and not figure out how you made that decision. Don’t assume that they don’t have some sense of where they rank. I think a “gift” of extra vacation hours or the equivalent cash bonus would suffice for your better employees.

    1. Stephanie*

      Yeah…I was wondering too if it made sense to have the lower performers working the extra hours. I think that definitely is a perk you just give everyone and give the high performers bonuses or something similar.

      1. Worker Bee (Germany)*

        In general I agree with this argument that free hours right before a holiday should be given to all. But as Alison points out you could argue that you got all you need from the well performing employees. It is rewarding them and showing the others that it is worth to work on their performance (besides keeping the job, there are actual perks to being a good performer). I would love if my boss would reward those who perform well.

        1. Anna*

          I don’t think this is the place to do that, though. It feels like nitpicking over every possible reward for high performers. If I am a high performer, and I know I’m a high performer, this is not the place I want to be rewarded.

          1. Anna*

            To add, at my former job the decision to leave early before a holiday COULD come from your manager but almost always came from higher up in the main office and applied to ALL employees. At current job, because of its nature (we’re technically “open” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), we aren’t ever allowed to leave early and I do so miss it.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I agree with you, Stephanie. I think that New Years is one day out of the year. I am not going to solve any big issues by not letting people go home early on New Years. That one day won’t rehab a poor performer. And everyone will notice that they had to stay, perhaps not really understanding why. It seems that people have been rewarded or warned where needed so everyone knows their own status as an employee.

        From the employee’s perspective, if there is an expectation to be able to leave early, this could be a big let down. But, I have worked jobs where expecting to leave early was not reasonable and no one even questioned the possibility of leaving early. Conversely, I have worked jobs where people were made to stay, for no apparent reason and we ended up doing busy work so we looked like we were doing something. (We did eventually figure out it was because a few people were not pulling their weight.)

        Of course, I don’t know all the particulars of OPs setting. It could be that there was a huge deadline and they were in danger of not meeting it. Or there could be other things going on that would weigh in and cause me to think differently.

    2. The IT Manager*

      I think it’s fairly common in these situation to say “you can leave early if all your work is done,” but it sounds like that these lower performing employees might take advantage. But all your work is done is releative in situations where everything that needs to be completed before Jan 1 is done.

      I think I would have allowed everyone off with this statement “you can leave early if all your work is done” for the holiday. The rest of the year in non-holiday situations it makes sense that your high performers who are meeting goals have more leeway with time off without dipping into the PTO bucket than low peformers. “Clara, you did outstanding work with the Gallifrey project, why don’t you take Friday afternoon off.”

      1. The IT Manager*

        I think I would have allowed everyone off with this statement “you can leave early if all your work is done” for the holiday AND not policed it ie let everyone go.

    1. Meg*

      AAM copy/pastes from the letter she receives, and doesn’t correct the LW’s letter – she prints it as is.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I actually do copyedit for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sometimes clarity. I just missed this one! I’ll fix it. (I think what you’re thinking of is that I’ve asked people not to nitpick letter-writers’ writing.)

  3. Anonover*

    For OP2 — do you really need to explain? Or can you just say that you are working from home for a few extra days and leave it at that? Around my area, we can work at home as needed — usually people provide a general explanation (waiting to sign for a package, getting a house repair done), but no one would freak out if you just said, “I have to work at home on Tues and Wed.” Unless, of course, it happened a lot and not much work was being done.

    After the death of a parent several years ago, I was having similar problems. I cried on the way to work. In the bathroom at work. In the car again at lunch time. It was rough stuff. The best gift I gave myself was admitting that I couldn’t suck it up any longer and going to a grief counselor (and using my company’s EAP to do so).

    1. Cheesecake*

      I agree if OP already works from home, she doesn’t need to go extra mile to get an extra day or give extra details to justify this. But i’d talk to manager and explain what is going on (however vaguely), because it is just tough to work the work when this is going on.

      I am sorry about your parent, Anonover. It can’t be compared to what you went through, but my cat died a couple of years ago and i also could not have stopped crying. But i thought a)work and being around people will take this off my mind b) it is a bit off to ask my manager to take home office because of this. Both wrong. I took a couple of home office days and a day off. I think it is important to acknowledge we are human.

    2. Graciosa*

      This really depends on company culture and process.

      The large employers I have worked with require written telecommuting agreements, and employees are only eligible for this if they meet certain criteria (both performance and at least a year on the job). The type of ad hoc telecommuting you mention (waiting for a repairman, for example) is permitted at the manager’s discretion, but does require some level of explanation in order to differentiate it from just deciding to work from home (a privilege reserved for those with telecommuting agreements).

      Just to be clear, as a manager, “under the weather” would pass muster with me and I don’t need the details, but announcing a decision to telecommute with no explanation from someone who has not earned that privilege would definitely raise eyebrows. It would also produce a discussion of our telecommuting policy and a reminder of the requirements – which is understandable, but probably not what the OP is looking for at this time.

      Alison’s advice is good for the majority of cultures, and Anonover’s may work in some cultures but could cause problems in others at a time with the OP seems to be dealing with quite enough already. The OP should evaluate her culture and her manager to determine the best approach to getting the time off she needs.

      1. Cheesecake*

        That is why i’d not hide the actual story behind “under the weather” – not to create snowball of assumptions, i think OP’s actual personal reasons are understandable. But heck, if my employee with allowed telecommuting and good performance needs a day-two of extra home office, why would i make an issue and dig policy? I think OP’s problem is not that she will not be allowed, but she doesn’t want to explain her very personal issues.

        I worked for corporations with best telecommuting policy – “common sense”. Because occasionally there is a doctor appointment/repairs/under the weather just as, more often than not, there is overtime/ emergency/trips/weekend work.. Having said that, i obviously don’t mean it is ok to abuse the system; however, it is easily identified.

      2. Brenda*

        She does say that she already works from home one day a week on a regular basis anyway, so I would think that a request for an extra few days for “personal reasons” or “under the weather” would probably be fine, since there’s already a standard of working from home and presumably she has everything set up and approved.

    3. INTP*

      Yes – if the company already has a history or policy of allowing people to work from home occasionally for personal reasons or illness, she shouldn’t have to explain the full reason. She can just say she’s not feeling well or that she has a personal matter to attend to – either one is true.

      Some offices discourage this, though, to avoid situations like people “working from home” to avoid using their PTO when they are really too ill or too busy with their personal obligation to be at full productivity. One office I worked in banned working from home due to illness because people were “working from home” instead of taking sick days but barely being productive. In this case, I don’t think I’d try to work from home, I’d just take a few days and say I wasn’t feeling well. If working from home is just unprecedented in the company, the OP can try, but employers are likely to be skeptical about it, because sometimes people do try to work from home when they really should take a sick or personal day (even if the OP is a great employee and would be trusted to be productive, the manager may not want to set a precedent that other employees would expect to follow as well).

      1. Mike B.*

        Our office recently clamped down on WFH days after a couple of junior people got into the habit of abusing them (multiple unplanned, vaguely explained days in a week, often coincidentally the day after they showed up at work dressed for a night out). The new official policy is that WFH days are only allowed for inclement weather or unavoidable home deliveries or maintenence issues. Off the record, though, we took our stronger performers aside and quietly told them that we would not challenge any WFH requests they made provided they didn’t take advantage and were discreet about it.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Well, for something like the OP’s situation, it is possible to do the work when she’s upset if she’s at home. If she feels like crying, or there are tears coming down, etc., she has privacy and can just let them come. I’ve been in a very similar situation in a job that wasn’t amenable to telecommuting. I had to keep getting up and going to the loo. Of course, I got nothing done during that time.

        Recently, I was feeling pretty crappy about something and I worked from home and it really helped. I didn’t have to talk to anyone or be “on” all the time. If I felt like crying, I just did it and kept working. No one was home, so I could bawl as loud as I wanted and still answer emails.

        1. INTP*

          I’m not suggesting that the OP can’t get her work done. Just that employers are often skeptical of people whose illnesses or personal issues somehow preclude them from coming into the office but who want to work from home, and if this is actively discouraged, I think it’s better that she go along with the rules. Unless their relationship is very close and trusting, asking your boss to make an exception and let you work from home because you can’t stop crying might come across as unprofessional and isn’t worth saving a couple of PTO days.

    4. Sleepless in Chicago*

      As a manager of a three people team, I am currently struggling with the excessive WFH requests from a new team member. She started less than 3 months ago and is currently trained at about 70% on her daily duties. I am fine with WFH in cases of bad weather or emergencies (car breakages, etc.). So far, the new employee has asked for WFH privileges for close to 4 days, including a heater maintenance one afternoon and a sore throat on another day. Recently, she asked for another WFH due to a medical procedure requiring some recuperation/rest afterwards. I feel that she needs to take a PTO day; WFH will not be allowed since he will not be able to work a full day. I feel that this person has taken an advantage of me; going forward, I will grant WFH privileges ONLY when I feel that she is capable of “working” and not taking care of her other needs at the company’s expense. By the way, the remaining team members are not abusing this option.

  4. Gene*

    I’m trying to come up with a valid reason to not let people stay at work if necessary. Security? You trust them with X all day, they suddenly become untrustworthy when it snows?

    1. Stephanie*

      My guess was maybe the additional costs to keep the building open (like utilities and security). Or maybe liability issues (like they employees are only allowed to work so many hours in a certain period) or pay issues (where’s they might have to be paid for the crash time).

    2. MK*

      When you say stay at work, do you mean overnight? Because I can think a lot of reasons that would be problematic. If it’s a case of them waiting for a few hours for the roads to clear or for someone to pick them up, it’s usualy no big deal, but even then there could be issues. For example, in case of an accident or a fire, the insurance could deny compensation because the office was being used in a not-approved manner as a waiting room/hotel lobby, etc.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        That’s what I was thinking- overnight stays and could see where that could be problematic. Staying a few hours waiting for the roads to clear? No problem!

    3. J.M.*

      My office has doors that automatically lock 30 minutes after the traditional scheduled end of our work day. If you stay later than that, you need to have the authority to set the alarm code when you leave. Managers have key cards and alarm codes to stay late, but most people don’t have that access, so working late is contingent on knowing someone will be in the office to set the alarm after you. This doesn’t ever really pose an issue as we’re all a bunch of worker bees, and there’s usually someone around if you need to stay late, but when I read that question, I assumed it was something of this nature. Also, the heat in our building shuts off automatically after a certain time, so I can imagine not wanting an employee (or myself) to be stuck in a freezing office waiting out a storm.

      I happen to work in a snowy area with many transplants that are not used to the snow. We have flexible work-from-home policies and plenty of folks that help carpool on bad days. It’s actually something they talk about during new hire onboarding, since it’s an issue every winter. But we always make it work as a team!

      1. AVP*

        I was thinking it was probably related to building access and key-holders not wanting to stick around.

    4. BRR*

      Just brainstorming so these might be terrible.

      Could it be somewhere like a bank with a lot of cash on hand and the security system is intense for the protection of money? What if the building has a security gate that can only be locked from the outside (not even sure if those exist)?

      In my head I imagined the scenario at a retail business. It just seems more likely in terms of not being able to stay in the building. My husband works in a department store and I can see the managers not wanting to leave employees. Not saying it’s right but that I can see it happening.

      1. KerryOwl*

        I would guess that a bank would have procedures in place already, and wouldn’t need to write for advice.

    5. J.B.*

      I was also wondering if the real question here had to do with payment or liability. Do we have to pay them for that time? Or what are the risks? I think the risks of letting people stay are a lot less than turning them out and that it would be the right thing to do here.

    6. MT*

      I would imagine that people the issue is that people who stay behind may complete some work, and would need to be paid overtime for that work. Or it could be that people staying late forces a supervisor to also stay late.

    7. sam*

      it really depends on the type of office/work space, which wasn’t clear from the question. In this day and age though, most larger companies should have some sort of BCP/DR planning that addresses weather emergencies. Last year our office in Atlanta had to host a bunch of overnight employees because of the snow/ice storm down there and the traffic armageddon that resulted. Our BCP team was responsible for arranging for any of the special security issues or other items that cropped up.

    8. Graciosa*

      It may not be a matter of trust, but rather a matter of fire regulations. Office buildings are typically not designed for overnight occupancy, and sometimes this is not permitted under applicable regulations.

      Having the appropriate government entity declare a state of emergency and order people to shelter in place takes care of this problem – but if there isn’t an official state of emergency, just deciding to sleep in the office – or even occupy it when not permitted – can be a major regulatory infraction by the company that allowed this to happen.

    9. INTP*

      At some small offices where I have worked, only 2-3 managers or long-term employees had keys to the office. I can see why they wouldn’t want to have to stay there until everyone left or give the keys they are responsible for to a group of people and not know who is going to be the last one out and wind up with responsibility for it. (Ideally all your coworkers can be trusted with stuff like that but sometimes irresponsible people have jobs.) Or it might be a business where theft is a concern and it’s rare or against a policy for there to be just 1-2 employees in the business at a time, especially without a manager/owner/partner (like retail or a medical office or pharmacy). And the managers might have personal things to attend to or just not want to drive on snowy roads when they are even more tired and hungry after waiting a few hours.

      I still think that in that situation, they need to come up with some alternative to kicking people out in the snow, though. That would be a great way to ensure that most of your employees call out anytime it might snow.

    10. C Average*

      It might also be about comfort levels around driving in bad weather.

      I remember last year, someone wrote in to AAM basically stating that she refused to drive if there was any snow at all and was trying to work out a work-from-home arrangement. A lot of commenters (including me, at least in my head) thought she was being pretty melodramatic and needed to figure out how to get safely from point A to point B even if it was snowing. If I were the employer of such a person and it began snowing lightly while she was at work and she tried to convince me she couldn’t get herself home, I’d be fairly unsympathetic.

      Maybe the employer feels that the employees’ concerns are overblown and that they should be able to get home safely at the normal closing time. (If there are also any of the concerns mentioned in this thread–overtime pay, overnight accommodations, security systems, basic facility issues, etc.–it would be doubly important that people be willing to get home if it’s reasonably possible to do so rather than stay late, risk worsening weather, and have to deal with potential complications related to staying at work.)

      1. Formerly Bee*

        That’s a good point.

        I will say that road conditions can be unsafe in very little snow, because of other drivers. But I say this as a North Carolinian. ;)

        1. Hlyssande*

          Even in Minnesota it’s a crapshoot. On the radio this morning I heard about multiple accidents including spinouts. Yesterday was even worse (20 car pileup in St Paul, no thanks!). Even without much snow on the ground, there may be black ice. Or just regular ice.

          Last year I came into the office on a day when I really shouldn’t have. I had to get pushed out of my alley to even get on the road and the whole way was extremely dangerous.

          1. Natalie*

            Yep. Snow & ice removal isn’t a perfect science by any means, and sometimes all you can do is wait it out.

            I’ve lived most of my life in the Twin Cities. Drove to Madison over Thanksgiving and got caught up in a surprise freezing rain storm. Even with all of us slowed down to 15 mph, it was really slippery and scary. I saw the aftermath of at least 4 spinouts in maybe a 40 mile stretch of the highway.

        2. Windchime*

          I say it also as a Seattleite. I was raised in an area where we had lots of snow every winter, and the only reason to be late on a snow day (even with LOTS of snow) is that I would have to shovel the driveway first so I could get out. But here in the Seattle area, people stay home and work from there (if possible) because nobody here knows how to drive in snow. I do, but that doesn’t help because of all the people speeding around and crashing into people. Drivers literally abandon their cars in the middle of the freeway when it snows here.

          1. Anna*

            I think the last time cars were actually abandoned was probably a few years ago when the whole PNW got hit with a bizarre and heavy snowfall. It doesn’t just happen. I know how to drive in snow and I live in Portland and even I prefer not to be in it because it can be scary no matter how much experience you have with it. The really bizarre situation is when people forget how to drive in the rain. The rain? Really?!

            1. C Average*

              Fellow Portlander here, and boy can I relate.

              I grew up in Idaho, where snow is heavy and pretty routine, and am a confident snow driver, but I will not drive in the snow in Portland due to the way other people drive. I rarely drive at all (I live in walking/running/cycling distance from work and can always take the MAX/bus if I need to), and I can recall several snowy days when I was literally the fastest thing on the road: I was walking past cars that were running but weren’t even moving.

              I really hate driving in the rain, I’ll admit it. I don’t have great night vision as it is, and when it’s rainy and dark I can’t make out the lines on the road. I have to slow down to make sure I’m staying in my lane. It freaks me out and, I’m sure, irritates other drivers with better vision.

            2. Anonsie*

              The rain thing is so perplexing. Every time it rains after a few days of no rain, traffic becomes miserable and accidents pile up everywhere. Like… Did you really forget what rain was after two clear days?

          2. Anonsie*

            It’s one of those things where, if you don’t have occasion to learn how to drive on snow or ice, you don’t know how and the danger scale becomes totally different for the same amount of snow.

            Also, in warmer climates, it often snows and the melts a little and then re-freezes and you get ice rather than just snow. And since it happens so rarely, the city doesn’t have a great system for removing it. So people chuckle when everything closes for a small amount of snow without noticing that it’s really because of the ice that’s not being dealt with. This is especially true where I grew up, and people don’t seem to realize it’s because there’s black ice under that half inch of snow and the city’s only got a couple of trucks for de-icer.

            Also… I want a snow day too sometimes, damn it!

        3. Stephanie*

          (Former) Dallasite here. Snow/ice around that latitude sucks. It happens, but not often enough that people are used to driving it or have snow tires. And the municipalities have like four snow plows…total. Plus, it’s warm enough that you get this thawing-refreezing-thawing cycle where you end up with a 2″ thick sheet of ice on the road (which one of the four trucks hasn’t salted yet).

          1. JB*

            Yes, exactly! I was a little annoyed last year when Alison told that woman who wrote in that she couldn’t possibly know what she’d get in a car accident on when the weather was bad, even though the LW said she had hills to deal with. I live in the DFW area, and for sure, if you encounter hills on those bad ice days, it’s a small miracle if you don’t get into an accident. I know for sure which days I can drive and which ones would send me careening off the road.

            The freeways are usually ok–or at least one lane is–after the few sand/salt trucks go out, but you have to get to the freeway first. And if the freeways re-ice, the only safe place is those two narrow tire tracks where all the cars have driven in that one lane. It’s not safe. Last year the melt/refreeze cycle was so bad at one point that I definitely the part of the road between the tire tracks was scraping the bottom of your car. And I know I did some alignment damage from trying to drive over the huge ice speed bumps that the roads became as they defrosted.

              1. JB*

                Fair enough. And I stand by my annoyance at other people presuming to know her neighborhood, the hills she drives on, and the road conditions of her area better than she does, and at assuming that there’s a high probability she is overreacting instead of just assuming the truth of her assessments and answering the question based on that. That was the part that I took issue with. If I say, “there’s a good chance I’m going to crash on that hill, what should I do,” and the answer is “you’re probably not going to crash,” that’s not helpful, and it implies I don’t have good judgment.

                Of course, a small part of my annoyance is based on the fact that in every region of the US I’ve lived in–all in the South–they say “snow” even when they mean there is ice on the road.

        4. LawBee*

          When I was a southern transplant to New England, I never had trouble driving in the snow or ice – because it terrified me, I wasn’t used to it, and I was super careful. My New England born friends, otoh, seemed to be constantly sliding into ditches, spinning out on highways, the lot.

          Conversely, where I live now has kind of a mirror problem? Opposite? I’m not sure how to describe it, but everyone in Ohio seems to be moving to my Deep South city. We rarely get snow, but it occasionally ices. We don’t salt the streets, we don’t have snow plows, none of that because it makes zero fiscal sense. All those Ohioans completely fall apart when we do get “true winter weather” because they’re used to better driving conditions! The rest of us just stay home and let them duke it out. :D

      2. summercamper*

        I think this has a lot to do with it. I’m from Flint, Michigan – the land of SUVs and snowdrifts. Dealing with bad driving conditions is part of life, and I can understand why employers might be bothered by workers who complain about unsafe driving conditions. In my neck of the woods, it is unheard of for employees to shelter at work unless there is a serious snow emergency which results in roads being shut down (and non-essential travel temporarily outlawed).

        Of course, employers in my area also have the good sense to send employees home early if the weather takes a turn for the worse and it’s looking like roadways will be shut down. If an employer didn’t allow people to go home in the face of an impending snow emergency, then the employer should be willing to deal with the consequences of that decision by providing shelter for snowed-in employees. A hospital, for example, would stay open during a snow emergency and ought to provide accommodation for essential personnel.

          1. fposte*

            I wonder if this isn’t a particular problem with distant corporate headquarters and other remote supervision, where they’re not really thinking about the weather where the employees are.

            1. Chinook*

              “I wonder if this isn’t a particular problem with distant corporate headquarters and other remote supervision, where they’re not really thinking about the weather where the employees are.”

              I would almost guarantee that is the issue. I worked for a large retailer with headquarters in NJ that refused to shut the Calgary, AB, store and let employees go home when the cops were literally closing the highway down that led to the store. As a result, 6 employees spent the night sleeping in the display beds.

              Ironically, when the same head office got hit with a massive snowstorm a year later and used that as the excuse for missing our pay day by two days, we were suppose to give them sympathy and be grateful we got paid only two days late. Since 4 of the late paid employees had spent the night in the store previously, they were lucky we didn’t all immediately quit.

            2. dahllaz*

              Or someone high in management who came from an area that receives a lot of snow and was moved to a site that rarely receives a lot of snow. And as a result, doesn’t understand it’s not just the employees not prepared to drive in that type of weather, but the city/county is not prepared for it either.

          2. Elizabeth West*


            Exjob kept us until closing one night when it was sleeting like crazy. It took me an hour just to get out of the office park and another forty-five minutes to get home. On what normally was a ten-minute drive.

      3. fposte*

        Yes, that post and this one make me think about local norms, and what you do if you have an employee who just isn’t up to dealing with local norms for bad weather travel.

        1. Chinook*

          Living in a place full of people from away who truly are surprised by how different it is to drive in the snow, you end up doing a combination of sympathy, tips on other ways to commute in as well as on how to drive in it (emphasizing doubling your commuting time), horror stories on how bad it really can get and a small dose of “suck it up, buttercup.” Those of us who grew up driving in these conditions also know which roads are used less frequently by those who are new to the area (like back roads) and stick to those and stay off the main routes so that we are less likely to become a victim of these drivers.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I can give people some leeway if work schedules allow, but if it’s a day when I need you in and the rest of us are making it, I’m going for the kindly version of “suck it up, buttercup.” (None of my employees live more than a few paved miles away in town, either, so it’s not like they’re coming in from the distant moors.)

    11. Dolly*

      Where I work, we absolutely cannot have people alone in the building due to safety concerns. Our line of work involves potential exposure to toxins in a lab and so we never allow anyone to be alone in the building.

      We would not be able to allow it even in the case of terrible weather.

      1. Natalie*

        Just curious, is there some kind of contingency for weather that is truly life threatening? Like a tornado or something?

        1. Dolly*

          We are lucky that we live in an area where there is an incredibly small risk of severe weather. Our plan pretty much consists of closing the office in the even of severe weather.

          1. Chriama*

            What if there was some sort of no-travel advisory? Is there a contingency plan to get people to nearby safe shelter? Or do you just let people leave as early as necessary?

      2. fposte*

        Dolly, what do you mean by “alone”–do you mean there has to be at least two people there, or there has to be somebody of a supervisory level present? It seems to me that if weather hits, it’s hitting while people are following the policy so there’s no problem if they all stay, so I’m thinking the issue would be more if Jane feels good to hit the road while Bob doesn’t think his Smartcar will make it through the drifts and wants to stay. Is that how it would go?

    12. MM*

      At the end of a shift I lock our register, check our balance of cash, and lock all the doors and windows. People aren’t doing that all day. I do it one time at the end of the day, and I don’t trust everyone on the team to do it properly.

  5. MK*

    #5, I think you are not being totaly reasonable about this. You seem to think it was wrong of the company to change “their rule”, but I am getting a very diferent picture by your letter. If I understand correctly, workers were at first allowed smoke breaks, without punching out, then they had to punch out, now they have to wait till their lunch break to do this. You state as the reason for this that “the company decided they did not want that many people punching out for a break”; frankly that suggests to me that your husband and his coworkers were abusing the policies, either by taking too many “quick” smoke breaks on the clock or going off in groups to have a smoke or not being considerate of the bussiness needs (as in, taking the smoke break when they wanted it, even when there was a busy time of day). It’s possible that the remaining staff struggled with the work flow or that customers complained about being made to wait while the employees were off smoking. The fact that the company isn’t allowing e-cigs or no vapor products, I think, supports my impression that this isn’t a health issue, it’s about the smoking breaks in this particular culture being a major distraction from and disruption to the work that needs to be done.

    I understand that being told by your employer that you have to quit smoking is crossing a boundary, as it’s not really their bussiness. But I don’t think in this case they are being told what to do like children, they are being told what to do as employess. This is not an insane rule and the company did try a more mederate solution (which didn’t work apparently because too many people were punching out for a break) before instituting a total ban. It would have been better if the workers exhibited their willingness to “bend” before the company felt forced to do this.

    Finally, and I say this as a smoker of 20 years myself, if you cannot wait till your lunch break to have a cigarette (and are even considering leaving your job over this), perhaps you need to reconsider your relationship with nicotine.

    1. CreationEdge*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the rule for clocking out was done intentionally to gather hard data about the length, timing, and number of smoke breaks.

      It’s quite a lot of measurable time and productivity lost to smoke breaks. The key word there is measurable.

      1. Lisa*

        I buy this. Why as a non-smoker should, I get less breaks than a smoker? I hated that, and my first employer told me that I had to limit my employees smoke breaks as no one else was taking that many breaks. So I did, I told the one smoker that she had to wait til 10 am to take her first break. She started at 8 am, and would be outside by 845, then 10, then 1130, it was constant almost hourly. So I said you need to be here in the office for 2 straight hours between breaks, she actually stopped going out as often when I did that rule. She also didn’t like having to go across the street to smoke cause of all the trucks going in and out so that helped. She did quit for awhile too after I said that she wasn’t allowed more breaks just because she was a smoker. My other workers resented her going out so often since we were in an industrial area and you couldn’t just walk around outside without 53′ trucks wizzing around you. So they got more mental health breaks and surfed the internet more often throughout the day without me policing them about it.

        1. MaggietheCat*

          I think it’s frustrating that mom’s have to clock out to pump (unpaid of course) and smokers take at least twice as many ‘breaks’ on the clock.

          1. Chriama*

            Could that be discrimination? People of a specific protected class aren’t paid while not working, while other people are allowed the same amount of time off and still get paid. If you could prove the amount of time smokers take (and the subsequent disruption of the working day) is comparable to the amount of time needed for nursing mothers to pump, I think the employer might have to legally allow it (or force smokers to clock out and go unpaid for that time).

    2. majigail*

      I would imagine it’s getting harder and harder to find a company that will put up with multiple smoke breaks a day, especially white collar jobs.

    3. MT*

      I worked for a company who required smokers to leave the property to smoke. That would require them to leave through the guard shack then get into their car and leave the property. We had insurance issues, If someone would have wrecked their car, our insurance company told us that we would have be liable if that person was on the clock.

      1. Jubilance*

        I worked for a government contractor that had a similar policy – you had to clock out & drive off the large property to go smoke. A coworker was fired for clocking out for smoke breaks but not accounting for the time on his timecard or making it up – HR & security could clearly see that he’d been on property a total of 7hrs after smoke breaks but he’d put 8hrs on his timecard.

      2. Oryx*

        I worked in a prison with a similiar policy. Smoking wasn’t allowed anywhere on the property and when prisoners were released they would often want to light up as soon as they were out of the gates, but I’d see C/Os politely tell them to wait until they were actually in the car and out of the parking lot.

    4. Cherry Scary*

      There was a merger between my company and another several years back. before I was ever hired. One had a strict no-smoking policy (they will not hire you if you smoke) the other did not. The merged company kept the no-smoking rule, but they gave notice that this would become policy and offered support services and a transition period.

      If this company is taking away/reducing breaks to try to get people to quit, they’re going about it rather strangely.

    5. The Cosmic Avenger*

      The fact that the company isn’t allowing e-cigs or no vapor products, I think, supports my impression that this isn’t a health issue, it’s about the smoking breaks in this particular culture being a major distraction from and disruption to the work that needs to be done.

      There’s very little published research as to the health effects of e-cigarettes or vaping, so it’s not known if it’s healthier or unhealthier for you than smoking. That is a common perception, though, that it’s a healthier alternative, but right now there’s no real body of scientific evidence to back that up.

      I still think your conclusion is correct, though.

      1. Cube Ninja*

        There is PLENTY of scientific research out there, but a huge number of public health agencies are simply choosing to disregard it entirely. There are no *long term* studies, but preliminary research is extremely promising – at worst, e-cigs are ~95% less harmful than smoking.

        Stating that “it’s not known if it’s healthier or unhealthier for you than smoking” is, quite frankly, a completely inane statement. No tar, no combustion, 3,996 fewer chemicals, but we can’t be sure if they’re less harmful? Come on.

        1. Dolly*

          I’m sorry but many, many things seemed perfectly safe in preliminary testing only to be discovered to be obscenely harmful in long term studies. So until there are long term studies, I’m going to agree that we absolutely do not know and there is no evidence as to the health impact of e-cigs.

          1. Cube Ninja*

            It’s fair to say that there is no evidence as to the *long term* health impact, because that’s true. Suggesting that there’s no evidence that they’re less harmful than smoking cigarettes, however, is not fair to say.

            1. The Cosmic Avenger*

              The number of chemicals is a matter of conjecture on your part, since e-cigarettes are not yet regulated by the FDA. They could contain anything in any amount and users wouldn’t know it. Cigarettes receive a lot more scrutiny because they are highly regulated, so they are a better known quantity. There may be “evidence” that supports your belief, but that does not make it the final word or even conclusive.

              1. Cube Ninja*

                Funny, I wasn’t aware that FDA regulation was required for a basic study of chemistry and toxicology. There are multiple peer-reviewed studies on this subject (including several published via NIH’s PubMed service) and I strongly recommend that you review at least a few of them.

            2. Dolly*

              I don’t think it is unfair to say there’s no evidence that they’re less harmful than smoking cigarettes because there is no evidence of this. There is also no evidence that they are as harmful or more harmful. There is no evidence in any direction…because there are no long term studies.

              Also it is wildly concerning that the companies that make these refuse to voluntarily release the chemicals included in their product and use the excuse of “The FDA hasn’t required it” as a reason to hide htis information.

              1. Cube Ninja*

                The lack of long term study doesn’t invalidate basic science – if there is no combustion, there is no smoke, no tar, etc. Are you honestly suggesting that e-cigarettes are just as harmful as smoking?

                I’d love to see proof of companies (other than perhaps the big tobacco folks) refusing to disclose basic chemistry with that excuse – that would be totally unconscionable for any reputable vendor and a first for me seeing it.

          2. fposte*

            Well, and even if they’re safe, the default at work isn’t “everything gets to come in.”

            1. Cube Ninja*

              Correct – I fully support the rights of businesses to make that decision and prohibit any activity they don’t want to see in the workplace that doesn’t interfere with a protected class. Not argument at all that the employer gets to make that call and employees should abide by it.

          1. Dolly*

            By many institutions including universities, NG health research institutes, tobacco companies, hospital research institutes, etc.
            The point is we don’t know. It is all well and good to say it seems ok but there are a lot of chemicals in those things and it is possible there may be grave health impacts we just don’t yet realize.

            Or they could be fine.

            1. Cube Ninja*

              Out of curiosity, which chemicals specifically are you concerned about? Realize that there is a *lot* of misinformation (and in some cases, outright lies) about e-cigarettes out there. The one that immediately jumps to mind is a few recent articles about formaldehyde being contained in exhaled vapor.

              In general, the concentration isn’t any greater than exists in normal human breath. There was one specific instance in which the test showed a data point significantly higher even than cigarettes, but the lead researcher confirmed that result was not published as part of the study because it was clearly an anomaly and likely due to a hardware malfunction.

    6. INTP*

      Plus, unless there’s a specific smoking loophole to the law, if the company can legally require the employees to clock out, then these breaks are probably longer than 20 minutes. Not only is it bad for business to have many employees leaving for that length of time, it will absolutely create resentment amongst the nonsmokers if they aren’t allowed similar breaks.

      1. Elysian*

        I read the letter like they were clocking out but still getting paid – kind of as a record-keeping mechanism for when they took their breaks. OP says they’re required to get paid breaks, which as you mentioned is also the case under federal for short non-meal breaks, so I just assumed they were clocking out but still getting paid.

        When I was waitressing, some staff members would get extra smoke breaks and it definitely created resentment. I would be literally doing their work while they were out smoking – refilling drinks, greeting tables, sometimes even taking orders – and then they would get the tips and I would never get a break. It definitely created resentment. For some reason smoking breaks were considered more legitimate than just a regular break or a walk break or any other kind of break time, I hated that.

        1. INTP*

          Yeah, when I worked retail the smokers basically got unlimited breaks if they smoked with managers, who didn’t like to smoke alone. One manager would even deliberately sabotage people that were trying to quit so she could keep her smoking buddy. Seriously – my coworker would state that she was trying to quit and have the nicorette and everything and this manager would dangle cigarettes in front of her face and beg her to go out for a smoke break. I’ve never had an addiction but from what I understand, it would be tough for anyone with one to maintain resolve under those conditions. Obviously many of us weren’t happy about it. They made it easier for people to get out of there for smoke breaks than to get coverage to go use the bathroom!

        2. Busy*

          I’m with you, Elysian. This is exactly how/why I started smoking when I was in college. I got really tired of covering for the smokers and wanted a break too, and if that meant I had to pick up smoking, so be it. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em? It took me almost five years after I quit the waitressing job to fully kick the habit. Ahh, the stupidity of youth.

          1. Elysian*

            I bought some cigarettes to carry in my purse and ‘be seen’, lied, and said I was smoking. I’m glad I never actually picked it up, but yeah… the problem is real.

        3. Koko*

          Cigarettes are a stimulant. That’s why managers in food service and retail look the other way at excessive breaks. Working on your feet and interacting with other people, often at late hours of the night, can fatigure a person and a regular stimulant break keeps the worker bees buzzing faster. Same reason the coffee is always free.

          1. dahllaz*

            But not actually doing the same amount of work as the non-smoking employees would also cut down on the amount of fatigue felt by smokers. At least, it seems it would to me.

          2. Elysian*

            I really don’t think they thought about it like that. I think its just socially accepted in the settings that I’ve been in that “smokers NEED breaks” and other people “want” breaks.

        4. Kathi*

          Nah. They are 10 minute breaks. They have to clock out therefore unpaid. Not worth the rushing around says the husband. It is a factory so they all get the same break at the same time. There are two of these breaks and are not paid when they punch out. Not worth losing a buck or two either on our end.

    7. Bwmn*

      I used to work for a children’s hospital where over the course of a few years, they continually restricted the policies related to smoking where it went from there being smoking huts on the hospital premise to the point where you weren’t allowed to smoke on any breaks (even off premise) and if you received too many warnings about smelling of cigarette smoke you could be terminated. So in terms of how invasive an employer can be regarding smoking – it can definitely go far further.

      1. jordanjay29*

        Honestly, as an asthmatic non-smoker, I can appreciate a hospital not wanting their workers to smoke on campus or even SMELL of smoke. If I’m the one in the hospital, and my nurse or doctor smells of smoke, I’m going to be holding my breath every time they’re around. How is that good for MY health?

        1. KAM*

          Good and good – I totally agree. I hate the smell of cigarette smoke and would be disgusted if I smelled it on someone trying to take care of me or my child in a medical facility. I had a massage once where the therapist reeked and it was awful.

        2. INTP*

          Same (not asthmatic but with an extremely sensitive respiratory system that is very reactive to smoke). I don’t know how many classes I’ve sat through distracted and ill because someone came in late (therefore I couldn’t get up and move away from them) reeking of smoke and sat down near me. Unless you’re showering, washing your hair, and changing your clothes, you’re probably bringing the toxins back into your workplace so it IS their business.

        3. catsAreCool*

          I was also thinking I wouldn’t want kids exposed to smoke. Smokers don’t always seem to realize that the smoke can be smelled on them for a while.

        4. Emmy*

          I don’t have asthma but I still hate the smell. If someone was providing care for me and smelled strongly of smoke I would definitely be grossed out, so I appreciate this type of policy. It’s as inconsiderate as strong perfume, really.

      2. Chriama*

        Invasive, sure, but a valid business need. So even if smoking was a protected activity, I think it would be allowed. It’s just like how you can’t have a job ad that requires people to be able to lift 50lbs if the most they’ll need to lift if 15lbs because that has a disparate impact against women, but if you’re hiring people to unload trucks and they regularly lift items weighing 50lbs then its a valid business need.

      3. fposte*

        There are hospitals that will no longer employ smokers, period; it doesn’t matter if you’re only smoking at home.

        1. Bwmn*

          If I recall at the time (this was a while ago and I haven’t worked there in years), a big concern among some employees wasn’t so much about the employee smoking but rather living with a smoker. Either way, there were similar rules associated with scented lotion/perfume (it may have been as extreme as you can’t wear anything but there may have been some wiggle room in there for light scents).

        2. Andrew*

          In 1969, when I was 8 years old, I broke my arm. I have a clear memory of the doctor smoking as he put it into a cast–and no one would have thought this remarkable in any way.

    8. Jennifer*

      It could be worse, smoking has been banned entirely from my workplace, anywhere on the giant property. Theoretically you should have to drive off the property (you’d have to) or quit smoking, period.

      Of course, realistically speaking I saw people smoking YESTERDAY, so come on. They think we’re going to walk up to smokers and say “You’re not supposed to smoke here,” but yeah right.

    9. Kathi*

      I guess one of the issues was abuse of the break. My husband was one of 5 that did adhere and did punch out. However we learned that quite a few ignored the new rules and left the property. This led to the more stringent ruling. There are obvious liability issues when an employee leaves the premises while still on the clock. This is a small factory so everyone’s break is at the same time. There is also a demerit system. With each instance a point is added to your record. After 3 years my husband has only had a half point as he hit a deer and was late. The smoking rule is being adhered to on his part. I guess most had questioned the legality of it. They are well within legal standards but did take a bit of a juvenile approach with the whole “if you don’t like it then quit” attitude but have since calmed down on that. Most of the men still punch out for their break, but the husband says it’s too much of a hassle to do that and rush around. Especially in these subzero temps. He just waits for lunch. Jobs are way too scarce in these parts to quit over something this dumb. But you would be amazed. Thanks tho.

    10. Cactus*

      I worked for a company that usually had ridiculously busy schedules. There were many days when my co-workers and I had no opportunity to take a lunch break. But the smokers would be outside puffing away every hour or so, getting other people to cover them, screwing up the flow in one way or another. One of them was the manager, and she got pissy at me once for taking less than 5 minutes to grab a snack and a cup of coffee (so that I wouldn’t faint at work). It’s an awful double standard, especially since my “break” involved walking to the end of the hall, while hers meant walking downstairs, outside, and to the edge of our parking lot.

  6. De (Germany)*


    “now they are told that they cannot punch out to have a cigarettes until lunch. They have to wait 6 to 7 hours”

    Is it really 6 or 7 hours or is that an exaggeration? For most people I know, lunch is somewhere around the middle of a workday, between 5 (7-12 or 8-13) to 3 (9-12, 8-11) hours after they started.

    1. Fucshia*

      I’ve worked shift jobs before where you sometimes end up with a 1/7 or 7/1 split just because of how coverage needs to be arranged. But, at least at my jobs there were also two 15 minute breaks worked in the day.

    2. Christian Troy*

      I am a bit confused about this as well. I remember working in retail and food service that you had to take a break after hitting hour 5.

  7. Apollo Warbucks*

    #5 If I had to guess I’d say that asking employees to clock out was a way of quantifying the amount of time lost to smoke breaks and now the company has realised its a lot they want to reduce the unproductive time.

    Could a compromise be reached? Where the employees take their lunch in stages, 15 min in the morning 30 min at lunch time and another 15 min in the afternoon that way everyone gets the same total break and the smokers can get a nicotine fix.

    In my office people love to complain about the smokers getting more breaks than others, so clear rules about what was acceptable helped make sure people knew everyone was being tested equally.

    Or could the employees set up a roater system so only half the smokers go out at one time so theres always people working. This might help depending in the nature of the work, at my old job we could all just leave at the same time and it made no difference, but at my new job the team have to stagger lunch breaks because someone has to be there.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I was thinking the same thing. The company might have realized they’re losing tons of work time by smoke breaks (which I frankly think is a reasonable concern – 10-15 minute breaks several times a day certainly add up).

      It sucks when the rules of the game are changed, no doubt. But smoking is becoming less an less accepted socially and by employers who have to foot the costs of lost productivity due to smoke breaks, increased health care costs, lost productivity due to sickness, etc.

    2. INTP*

      Breaking up the lunch time might be complicated. The employees most likely cannot choose to waive their 30 consecutive minutes of break, even if they want to, so if the lunch break is 30 minutes, they can’t break it up. Short breaks are supposed to be paid by law so if the breaks are 60 minutes, even if the employee wants to do 15-30-15 instead, the employer would most likely have to pay them for 30 minutes of that time. (Unless there’s some loophole where employers can make you go unpaid if you choose to leave the work site? I’ve only held jobs with strict rules about breaks and mealtimes in California.) If the standard lunch is 60 minutes, they might could do two 30 minute breaks, but even that would create issues with scheduling if coverage is a concern and they just don’t have much incentive to complicate everything to appease smokers considering that most of the population (and therefore workforce) doesn’t smoke.

      1. Kathi*

        Again..it is a factory. All breaks are at the same time for everyone so no extra breaks are asked for nor would they be given. There are 2 10 minute breaks at 8 and 10 am. And lunch at noon. No one can break those down. The workday starts at 5 am and they leave at 3:30 pm. Long day for sure. Also no smoking would ever be allowed inside and the e-cig and/or vape product would have only been an out of doors option or in their own vehicle. I believe where not a lot is known on long term affects then the ruling is across the board and considered a smoking product. And that is fair. We smoke, yes. But, I have always made it a rule not to smoke in my home and I do not smoke around friends who do not smoke. That, to me, is just common courtesy.

  8. nep*

    #2 — I can’t imagine telling my boss I’m having a tough time being at work because of personal problems. Much prefer the ‘under the weather’ line, or better yet something vague. Could reframe it — working at home for a certain period would be better because of x, y.

    1. Sadsack*

      Yes, telling the manager you are trying to work out personal issues at home may make her wonder if you are really working a full day while at home.

      1. Sadsack*

        OP, this isn’t a slam against you though…I am sorry you are going through this. I have been in the exact same situation during an awful breakup. I ended up taking sick time because I wasn’t in a position at the time where I could get my work done at home. I think that sometimes being in the office where I would absolutely have to try to keep it together would make me tend to fall apart all the more. Maybe OP can get more done if she stays home, but I would still be wary of telling my manager that’s what is going on.

        1. kozinskey*

          I think it really depends on OP’s relationship with her manager. I think saying “under the weather” is generally a safer bet, though.

      2. LBK*

        I think it depends on your relationship with your manager. I’d have no problem telling mine that I was having personal issues I needed to deal with without worrying about the perception. My manager trusts me.

      3. INTP*

        This is true but I think it would apply if the OP said she wasn’t feeling well, too. To be honest, I would question what kind of issue could prevent someone from being able to make it into the office without affecting their productivity at home. (Unless it was something specific and concrete and requiring minimal involvement on their part, like “I have to be at home to let the cable guy in sometime between 10am-2pm.”)

        1. nep*

          This is what I was thinking too — Why would I be productive at home when I’m not in a state to be productive at the workplace?

          1. Helka*

            Because there’s a much lower energy load to being at home, so more of the energy someone does have can be devoted to working, instead of to all the peripherals. Commuting, presenting professionally, small-talk interactions with coworkers, etc etc…

          2. fposte*

            It reminds me of the post about the woman who had really bad dysmenorrhea, and it makes me think of my own Crohn’s disease; at home I can arrange accommodations that I can’t at work, and I can stretch a day out longer, if I need to take breaks, without having to be away from home later.

          3. Anonsie*

            Being in private at home allows you to spend less attention and energy trying to appear normal, and requires less attention and energy to start in the first place. If you’re feeling gross, rolling out of bed and to your desk or laptop or whatever is definitely easier on you than doing your whole morning routine and commuting and trying to be presentable at work all day. For me at least, that leaves more energy and focus for actually working. Or if you’re spending a lot of time in the bathroom or something, odds are good that’s easier to work out at home than in an office. Or if you’re coughing and blowing your nose constantly… I can think of a lot of things.

          4. Elizabeth West*

            I can work at home if I’m mildly ill (or see my comment above about working through tears) because I don’t have to get dressed, I can recline on the sofa, and I don’t have to commute to work and drain my energy driving. It’s quieter and I’m able to self-medicate with soup or whatever.

          5. Cath in Canada*

            I’ve worked from home on days when my bad shoulder’s in an acutely painful phase – it’s much easier to find a comfortable sitting position, and to ice / heat the area, on a sofa with a laptop than it is in an office chair.

            OP, I hope Alison’s advice works out and things improve for you soon. I had no choice but to go to work after the worst break-up of my life, because I worked in a lab and had critical experiments running, and it was The. Worst. Crying in the bathrooms for half the day is not only not fun for the crier, but super awkward for anyone else who comes in too. I hope you work through this situation soon.

      4. nep*

        Also, though, I think there’s a lot to be said for being able to put oneself in a mindset to work despite personal issues. Of course, depends on the gravity of one’s situation and I’m not minimising what the OP’s going through. Just that it’s part of discipline to weather storms and work.

        1. fposte*

          I’m inclined to agree with you on that, and I think this is an underappreciated consideration sometimes (I’m thinking of how in the first world war the men with shellshock, aka PTSD, did better when they were sent back to their units than when they were hospitalized longer-term). But it’s a know-your-workplace thing. I could cry in my office intermittently without having much impact on my work, but a phone CSR, say, is just asking for trouble.

  9. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    #3 pisses me off.

    Pay people. I run a not-a-call-center environment where we have very busy peak periods and I need extended coverage. My senior inside sales reps are classified as exempt because among other things, they are commissioned, they manage their own teams and make a lot of independent decision and I *still* pay them when I need more hours or weekends beyond their normal schedule. I wouldn’t think of not paying them if I am the one asking them to please check in on Saturday and help push some of the busy season crush orders out or help out this pile of customers.

    Beyond being the right thing to do, it’s an exercise in management discipline. More work (in this set up) should be more revenue. You should be right staffed to handle normal volume without paying more, and then if you need more during peak, that should mean more revenue which is the ability to *pay* people to handle more.

    I’m not sure exactly how these folks in the OP are exempt anyway. We had to be diligent about making sure our inside sales people meet exempt requirements so that they can work extra time if they want to on their own and not run us into trouble. (It’s natural if you’re commissioned to not want to be required to drop your customer at exactly 4;44 because you have to punch out.)

    1. Sophia in the DMV*

      Hmmm- I might be reading the OP’s post wrong but my sense was OP is an advisor who feels like a call center rep bc the university operates like a for profit institution

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        I’m sorta familiar with the set up she is describing. The advisors aren’t advisors as much as they are sales reps. Their goal is to sign callers up into classes and the metrics are based on how many students they book. (If I am correct which, I’m not the OP so, I just think that’s what this is.)

        1. LAI*

          I’ve also heard about this. I had a roommate who was hired as an “admissions advisor” for a well-known for-profit college. It turns out her job was cold-calling contacts to try to get them to enroll at the college.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Not the OP, but I believe the response to an inquiry about their exempt status would be “Because shut up, that’s why!”

      And I want to high-five you for realizing that it’s better for everyone if you incentivize weekend work. It happens very rarely for me, I usually just get 1:1 comp time, which is enough, plus it’s usually due to work-related travel, which IMO is a perk. The last time I went to a conference I had dinner with some internet friends whom I finally got to meet in real life!

  10. AcademiaNut*

    Regarding snow, I think it depends a lot on the climate in the area.

    If you live in a place that regularly gets heavy snowfall, then it’s reasonable to expect people to have plans for what do to when it snows that don’t involve sleeping at the office. If you live in a place where heavy snowfalls are quite rare, then a once in a long while emergency sleepover is a different matter.

    I’ve lived in both extremes – places where it can dump a couple of feet and it’s business as usual, and snow tires and snow driving skill are considered basic defaults, and places where a foot of snow shuts down the city, no-one has snow tires or even chains, and the roads quickly get clogged by the people who have no clue how to drive in snow and get stuck and abandon their vehicles.

    1. Zahra*

      Even in areas used to snowfall, there are exceptional snowfalls once every few years that justify sending people home early if you can. There was a memorable Valentine’s day snowfall in my hometown where it snowed about 1 inch per 15 minutes during “rush hour” on top of the snow that had fallen earlier in the day. Snowplows were stuck in hills, city buses and school buses too. Some women giving birth got a lift by snowmobile to the hospital. I lived 10 minutes by city bus from work. It took me 5 hours to get home. When all was said and done, 60 cm (2 feet) of snow had fallen, most of it between 4 and 6. There were abandoned cars everywhere.

      The thing is, many businesses told employees to go home early (mostly office jobs) and those made it fine. It’s all the others who had a big problem. :(

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        Unless your business is essential services, if you have people stuck at the office, you’re probably doing it wrong.

        As a sales organization, I hate closing the office and watching dollars flow out the window, but you can also triage letting people go by their distance and other commute factors. I am fortunate to work with people who pull together when times are tough so we don’t get blow back from Close Jane if Far Away Mary gets to leave in snow before she does.

    2. Allison*

      I live in New England, and one think I look for in an employer is someone who will allow people to work from home when the weather’s bad, or when dangerous weather is anticipated. We’re all used to snow, we are expected to know how to handle it, and our roads are usually cleared and salted in a timely manner. However, it’s also important to keep people out of those situations if you can, and it’s always helpful to limit the amount of cars on the road.

      1. Liane*

        Some can sure be unreasonable. I have a good friend who lives & works near Albany, NY. His company is one of those that demands people come in when the state/governor has said everyone should stay off the the roads. Friend gets the “You SHOULD HAVE come in!!” lectures, even though his job IS one that lends itself to working at home & the company has given him what he needs to do so easily. In fact, he works from home fairly often–and productively!–for illness or even the odd “mental health day” all year round.

    3. INTP*

      I read that one as people weren’t wanting to sleep in the office, just maybe wait it out for a few hours. Sometimes visibility is horrible for the worst part of a snow fall and people would feel safer waiting a few hours for it to lighten up, especially if they drive on the freeways. I generally agree though. I’m a non-native resident of a cold area, and I don’t drive in the snow (after 10 years of mostly living in socal, I’m doing well to drive in the rain), but I do make arrangements and work from home or take a bus or even walk if it’s not too cold on days when snowfall is predicted. I wouldn’t take a job where public transportation or working from home weren’t an option and would consider it my obligation to drive in unsafe (to me) conditions if I did. (This is assuming it’s a “normal” snow for the area and not a surprise blizzard or something much worse than normal for the area, in which case it would be ideal for the employer to at least make an effort to help people find somewhere to wait it out or park their cars overnight and take taxis/buses.)

    4. Anonsie*

      Yep. I’ve lived in places I would feel ok driving in deep snow, and I’ve lived in places where any snow or ice means I’m staying the heck inside. Different cities & climate zones mean different dangers, different ways of the municipality handling the roads, and different skill levels of your fellow drivers. There are a lot of factors that go into this.

  11. shellbell*

    To #5, I’d say this some nds generous. Many employers forbid employee from smoking at all during work hours even if they leave the premises or do it on their lunch. This is just the way the world is now. Smoke on your own time (lunch). It does sound like this was a while coming so it wasn’t a total surprise.

  12. Rebecca*

    #5 – this sentence caught my eye: They were told that “we gave you 17 months warning to quit smoking”. I’m not sure what industry/workplace this is, but there are health care providers in my area who no longer hire people who use nicotine, and have become smoke free and nicotine free work environments.

    A 17 month warning is quite a bit. Could your husband chew nicotine gum, since the smoke breaks are obviously still allowed, just at lunch time?

    1. Cherry Scary*

      I’m not sure this was framed as a timeline to quit when the policy change was announced though?

      1. Chriama*

        Yeah, it sounds like the company is saying “when these new policies came in you should have seen the writing on the wall” which is a ridiculous expectation. However, the new rules are still legal so I don’t think your husband has much recourse.

  13. HeyNonnyNonny*

    #4 Please only make this an all or none perk! I work in an office where one class of employees sometimes gets an official early release on some holidays, and one class of employees doesn’t. Trust me, we know what’s happening when the other workers start to sneak out and try to talk in hushed tones about leaving early. Even knowing that there is a solid reason for the employee classes, it’s still a hit to morale.

    1. LBK*

      If the people getting out early are high performers, frankly I’m not as concerned about the morale of low performers.

      1. Chinook*

        “If the people getting out early are high performers, frankly I’m not as concerned about the morale of low performers.”

        True, but often the different class of employees are professional vs. administrative (which means, ironically, that the administrative staff suddenly have very little work to do with no one to support).

        1. LBK*

          I don’t think that’s necessarily unfair either. I get out earlier on holidays than the call center people because their job requires someone to be on the phones until we close. Different positions have different needs and capabilities.

  14. Allison*

    OP #2, I was in a similar situation a few months ago; I was in a terrible emotional state and I knew I wouldn’t be able to act cheerful in the office, so I worked from home for a couple days and simply told my manager I wasn’t feeling well. Which was true, I just didn’t specify that I wasn’t feeling well emotionally. He didn’t need to know the details of my personal life.

    Some people like to mock the term “mental health day” as an excuse to blow off work without a real reason, but lots of people do legitimately need a day or two here and there to take care of their mental or emotional well-being, whether they suffer from mental illness or they’re dealing with tough personal issues.

    1. fposte*

      I think some of that is use, though–to me, if you’re ill, whether from depression or flu, you’re not taking a “mental health day” but a sick day. A “mental health day” is a vacation day to take a break from stuff. I’m not saying that’s universal, but that’s the differentiation I’ve heard in workplaces. So if you’re talking to somebody who’s accustomed to that use, using “mental health day” if you’re ill with depression sounds like trivializing to the audience because of the terminology, not because of the illness.

      1. Allison*

        I wouldn’t say you should tell your boss you’re taking a “mental health day,” just saying that there is some legitimacy in taking a day to take care of your mental well-being. You’re right, that term shouldn’t be used to describe it.

        1. fposte*

          Ah, okay, I misunderstood. And ultimately I think what’s important is to cut people some slack, whatever it’s called.

  15. TotesMaGoats*

    #3-I would encourage you to check your policy manual for the institution, especially if you are large state institution. Giving you “perks” for enrollment can be anywhere from frowned upon to illegal (in the sense that the state higher ed board doesn’t allow it).

    We aren’t allowed to give out gift cards, of any denomination, for exceeding enrollment goals because it sounds like we are paying staff to get enrollments. FWIW.

  16. Graciosa*

    Regarding #5, another way to view this as a cultural or terms-of-employment issue.

    A company can decide to implement rules that prohibit wearing blue in the office, require a five-carbon form with 27 approvals to order a pencil, or mandate that the first fifteen minutes of the work day is spent in a team meeting which finishes with a rousing rendition of the company song. The fact that these rules did not previously apply doesn’t limit the company’s ability to add them at any point in time.

    The merits of these decisions are certainly debatable, but they are legal – which leaves your husband with making a decision about whether or not this is where he wishes to work. His employer has made the terms of his employment clear, and it does not include future smoke breaks.

  17. SmokingBabe*

    #5 If I’m not paid for my lunch break, no one is ever going to tell me I cannot do something that is legal in the USA…SMOKE a Cigarette! If employers are going to start basing hiring practices on whether or not someone smokes is only asking for a law suit. If I’m off their property, not being paid by the employer, they do not have legal rights to infringe on peoples rights of using a product that is legal to do and purchase in the USA, where I live. It’s discrimination and a precedent for a good law suit! Employers know this. They cannot take away your freedom, especially if a product is legal to sell, purchase and use a product in the USA. Any employer that states they do not hire smokers to me personally can bet I will be contacting a lawyer immediately. There’s always a way to take action towards discrimination in any form, that’s what this is. Breaks are paid, if you cannot stop usage during paid time then you are indeed crossing the company policies but if you are NOT on company property or being paid, this is YOUR time and freedom to do anything legal in the USA. Employers have absolutely no legal rights over your rights as a citizen of the USA.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Actually, discrimination is completely legal. Discrimination against people who are in a protected class is what’s illegal. Smokers are not a protected class, and they absolutely DO have the right to set those rules. As mentioned above, some health care organizations now refuse to hire people who use nicotine.

      But good luck with that lawsuit.

      1. Windchime*

        Yep, I work at one of those places. Our campus is tobacco-free and there is a clear policy stating that we don’t hire tobacco users. There are a couple of people who sneak out for a smoke a couple times a day anyway; nobody pays attention because we aren’t in a customer-facing area and they aren’t going out every hour for 15 minutes.

        My workplace has an on-staff lawyer and they always make sure to do their best to follow the law, so I’m pretty sure this is a legal stance they are taking.

      2. Cube Ninja*

        “some health care organizations now refuse to hire people who use nicotine.”

        Which is incredibly short-sighted, since that includes people using patches and gum as well. Unfortunately, the current atmosphere appears to be “once a smoker, always a smoker”.

    2. AnonAcademic*

      “Employers have absolutely no legal rights over your rights as a citizen of the USA.”


      OP #5, I recommend nicotine gum to get your husband through the longer stretches if needed.

        1. LawBee*

          Pretty much the same thought process that’s behind “America has free speech, beezotch, so I can say what I want with zero repurcussions!”

          Nope, wrong. We have LIMITED free speech, and it doesn’t protect anyone from people being angry at them.

    3. soitgoes*

      Broadly speaking, this isn’t true. It’s legal to purchase and consume alcohol in the US, but not many employers would be cool with you taking 5-minute drinking breaks. It’s legal to take medicines that are prescribed to you, but sometimes they impede your ability to work. It’s definitely not accurate to claim that since X behaviors are legal that an employer has no discretion over who works for him. It’s legal to not have a college degree, but employers are allowed to require one. I’ll add that, as a non-smoker myself, I’ve worked with some heavy smokers, and it ALWAYS becomes a problem when the smokers take more breaks than the non-smokers. Theoretically the non-smokers could take five minutes every two hours to walk around the parking lot, but it’s not something that non-smokers work into their daily lives the way smokers do.

    4. JB*

      I don’t know if you were being serious, but in case you are–employers can certainly decide not to hire someone who smokes. Smokers are not a protected class. There is no against not hiring them. Employers are free to discriminate in who they hire, so long as the discrimination isn’t against certain groups. Smokers are not one of those protected groups.

      1. cataloger*

        This varies by state. For example, in Kentucky, they are protected: as long as an employee complies with workplace smoking policy, an employer may not discharge them or discriminate in terms of wages, benefits, or conditions of employment because of being a smoker or nonsmoker, or require them to refrain from using tobacco products outside of work as a condition of employment.

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          This. It’s protected in KY because tobacco has been a major part of the Commonwealth’s economy for nearly a century, especially in the central part of the state. I remember the trains lined up with bales as a kid, ready for the annual burley auctions to the various tobacco companies – it was a big deal.

          IIRC, the only KY workplaces that outright ban smoking on premises are schools and the Toyota plant. Everywhere else is fair game with places provided for smokers.

          1. AdminAnon*

            My office (in Louisville, KY) bans smoking on the premises as well, but we are the national headquarters of a youth service non-profit which began as a branch of the YMCA, so there is that. I believe that Humana also bans smoking on the premises, which makes sense.

          2. fposte*

            I was surprised, when looking it up, to see how many non-tobacco states enacted laws protecting smoking; I’d assumed it was pretty much a tobacco state thing, but it’s well beyond that.

            However, even in states that do have protective legislation, there are a lot of exceptions–health care and schools are two likely ones. The Toyota plant interests me as an exception, but that’s probably an exception for the same reason the state passed protective legislation–economic interest.

            1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

              It was controversial when proposed while I was in high school. Apparently it was eased to allow some smoking areas; a Google search tells me that the plant in Mississippi is the only smoke-free plant in North America. I assume that Toyota takes the stance to eliminate wasted time and increase overall productivity per lean prinicples – that’s just a guess.

        2. JB*

          That’s interesting, and kind of sad. But then it’s a matter of being a right of that state, and not your right as a citizen of the good ol US of A.

          I guess SmokingBabe should move to Kentucky, then!

    5. Kat M*

      Actually, they can also prohibit you from drinking on breaks. And since second and third hand smoke have real health consequences for the people around them, they can very well decide it’s a liability issue.

      Also, it’s legal to fire anyone for any reason, so long as that person does not belong to a legally protected class. Yes, in some areas, there are laws for smoking discrimination, but that does not apply to every part of the country. They can decide to fire you for smoking (or not hire you), they can decide the same thing if you have a tattoo or what have you. Those are all legal choices, but that doesn’t mean an employer has to support them.

      Finally, this is a lifestyle choice. If you choose to smoke, you choose to take the consequences that come with it. Just like alcohol consumption, an employee can choose to do this in the privacy of their own home, after work hours are finished. There are some who could argue that a person doesn’t NEED smoke breaks, just like we don’t need guaranteed happy hours. And for those who say it’s an addiction-that’s not really the company’s concern. If it impacts business, a company can certainly decide which lifestyle choices are not allowed, so long as it doesn’t relate to protected class status.

      Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s allowed everywhere. There are good reasons for that.

      1. Laufey*

        Also, it’s legal to fire anyone for any reason, so long as that person does not belong to a legally protected class.

        You can fire a person that belongs to a protected class as long as you’re not firing them for belonging to that protected class. I can fire a woman if I have proof she is embezzling funds, but I can’t fire her because she’s female. I can fire a man for performance, as long as I’m not firing him because he’s Jewish.

        In any case, smokers do not belong to a protected class.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Right. And if I understand it correctly, everybody’s in all the protected classes just by virtue of having a race, a gender, a religion or lack thereof, etc. So you can’t fire someone for being a man or a woman, or for being white or black or Latino/a or Asian. The protected classes mean more like “classes of things you’re not allowed to discriminate for” rather than “a class of employees who are more protected than everybody else,” and I hear the latter a lot.

          1. Natalie*

            Yep. It’s more of a protected characteristic. (Also, there are protected activities – anything that falls under the broad concept of labor organizing, whisteblowing in certain contexts, refusing to do something illegal, etc)

          2. Helka*

            The only protected class that you can be not in is age — it’s perfectly okay to not hire someone because they’re too young for a role, age discrimination protections only apply to those 40 or older.

            (Pregnancy is rolled in under gender, it isn’t its own protected class so far as I can recall)

            1. LBK*

              Which is just so weird to me – for example, someone who’s qualified for a manager position but doesn’t get it because they’re too young so the employer doesn’t think people will take him seriously. Why on earth would we legally allow that?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It’s because the age discrimination laws were specifically designed to prohibit discrimination against older people (although the fact that they kick in at 40 seems bizarre to me, but maybe at 41 I’ve lost my grip on what “old” really is), especially because of people with more experience often earning more than younger people.

                1. Miss Betty*

                  I’ve read somewhere, and I think it’s a true generalization, that “old” is usually about 20 years older than yourself. I think 30 is more like it (for me). Also, I think you’re right about losing your grip on what “old” really is – I think I’ve done that, too.

                2. LBK*

                  Oh, I understand that, I just still think it’s silly. I’m sure “you’re too old” is a much more common form of age bias than “you’re too young,” but either one doesn’t seem great to me.

              2. Chriama*

                Disparate impact. Someone will eventually become older, but an old person will never become younger. The law isn’t about forcing employers to have common sense.

          3. Katie the Fed*

            The exception is age. Age as a protected class only applies if you’re over 40 – you can’t claim illegal discrimination on the basis of being too young.

            1. bearing*

              Wait, though, can’t a 42yo claim age discrimination if he is discriminated against for being the young guy in an office full of 55yos?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Fascinating. I think the answer might be no (similar to how you can’t prove discrimination if the people getting better treatment than you are in the same protected class as you), but I could definitely be wrong. Would love to hear from an employment lawyer on this.

    6. fposte*

      There are multiple employers, mostly in health care, that won’t permit employees to smoke, even at home. Such policies are legal in the majority of states, since most states have no laws protecting smokers (and there is no federal law protecting them). Absent a law protecting your private activity, your employer is absolutely legally free to discriminate against you for it, whether it be playing Hetalia, watching reality TV, or wearing green.

    7. Graciosa*

      I think there is a misconception about “rights” versus “laws” and this post is a good example.

      There is a common belief in an inalienable right to free speech in the United States – but remarkably few people actually READ the first amendment which begins with “Congress shall make no law”.

      It does NOT say “Your private employer shall make no rule”.

      The various protections against discrimination are actually laws (statutes passed by Congress) prohibiting certain types of behavior – but fewer behaviors than people think. If you want to complain, you have be able to point to the statute being violated.

      Since Congress’ right to legislate if often predicated on the commerce clause, most of these statutes have threshold size requirements so that there is at least an argument that the employer is big enough for its behavior to impact inter-state commerce.

      This leaves people who are “discriminated against” because their employer prohibits obscene t-shirts, smoking, intoxication, late arrival, or gang tattoos complaining mostly to their friends – but I’m actually okay with this. We have quite enough legislation already, thank you, and one freedom we do have as individuals is still to vote on our employers with our feet.

      1. Accountant*

        Exactly, and it’s protection of free speech, not protection from *the consequences* of saying whatever you want. People always start howling about how their free speech has been limited when they get fired for saying or wearing something lewd or racist, but no, their free speech is not being limited, they are just facing the consequences for behaving inappropriately. And the constitution does not protect you from that.

      2. INTP*

        Thank you. You have the right to engage in certain behaviors without LEGAL consequences. That doesn’t mean you are protected from any consequences to those actions at all. (And with smoking in particular, people seem to confuse it not being illegal everywhere with the right to engage in it anywhere, like in apartment buildings where your neighbors have to breathe it.)

        1. INTP*

          (And by legal consequences I mean being prosecuted criminally by the government, not being sued by your company for breaking an NDA to practice your “free speech” or something.)

      3. ThursdaysGeek*

        Although, if they add an Amendment to the Constitution, making smoking a right, perhaps SmokingBabe’s lawsuit might have some validity. Until then, probably not.

    8. Oryx*

      Discriminating against smokers is not illegal. It’s only illegal to discriminate if the class is protected, which smokers are not. For instance, there are many organizations in the healthcare field (most of the major hospitals in my area for one) that won’t hire anyone who smokes, even if they only smoke on a lunch break.

    9. recruitergirl*

      The company I work for – a large health and well-being company – does not hire smokers in some states. We even do a nicotine test as part of the drug screen panel. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but it’s completely legal in certain states.

    10. MK*

      Your outrage seems to be based on a misreading of the OP’s letter. The company isn’t telling them they can’t smoke on their lunch break, on the contrary it says they can only smoke when on that break and not during their working hours, for which they are being paid.

    11. Sigrid*

      Actually, employers can refuse to hire someone who smokes, and fire you if you start smoking while working for them. All the hospitals in my area have such rules, as do hospitals all over the country. My hospital has random nicotine checks that work just like drug tests — if you don’t pass, you’re fired. This is made very clear when you’re hired, and I have seen it in action.

      Smokers are not a protected class.

    12. Sydney*

      Freedom. Discrimination. Lawsuit.

      You keep using these words, I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

    13. INTP*

      It sounds like the employer is not trying to stop people from smoking when they are off site and off the clock. They are just saying that they can’t go off site more frequently than they are legally required to provide breaks by law. And they are perfectly within their rights to control what people do on their private property, just like you can tell people what they can and can’t do in your own home. I’m not sure what your or the OP’s outrage are about here. Is it the fact that they aren’t granting special breaks to people just because they have a nicotine addiction?

      Also, sooooo many smokers bring back 3rd hand smoke that their coworkers have to breathe. It isn’t really your own private business if the toxins aren’t contained within your own private atmosphere. This is why healthcare and other settings often ban it. If they don’t, it’s difficult to enforce the requirement to shower and change clothes after a cigarette and a very ill patient will wind up having to breathe the 3rd hand smoke.

      1. catsAreCool*

        “sooooo many smokers bring back 3rd hand smoke that their coworkers have to breathe.” This!

    14. shellbell*

      It is totally legal to discriminate against smokers and to forbid people from smoking on their lunch. Many employers already do this.

    15. Cassie*

      Our university is a smoke-free campus (as of a couple of years ago) – this means that people who need to smoke will need to walk off campus (which, depending on where you are located on campus, may be a 15-minute walk one way). We had a fair number of employees who smoke (either regularly or on occasion) but it would be impossible to take a smoke break within the set 15 minute break time.

    16. Penny*

      I hate that litigious attitude. Everyone wants to sue everyone for something. What about my right as a non smoker to breath in air not filled with poisonous chemicals? Who should I sue? Every smoker I walk by on the street? I don’t get why so many smokers feel it’s their “right” to smoke, but don’t respect other people’s right not breath in their toxic cigarette smoke. You can’t even argue it’s not hurting anyone else, because the smoke (that you exhale and from the end of the cig) blows right into other people’s faces.

      I wish smokers would stop whining and realize that no one on either side of the argument is getting what they want so get over it. I’d be happy if cigarettes (includes all those new stupid e-cigs) were outlawed, but I don’t get my way. That’s life. I put up with smokers everywhere I go, parking garages, restaurants, on the road when I want to enjoy a few rare days of nice weather and the guy smoking in the car next to me forces me to roll up my windows. But smokers seem to think they should have a free for all and be able to smoker whenever and wherever they want. The best I can do is try to avoid environments where smoking is prevalant. Heck, even as a teen I stopped going to my dad’s house on his weekends because me and everything with me came back reeking. Apparently the addiction was stronger than the desire to see his kid every other weekend.

      1. C Average*


        A year or so ago I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts–I’m thinking it was Freakonomics?–and they did a segment asking listeners to do a thought experiment about guns, imagining that they were a brand-new product just coming to market. How would they be received, marketed, regulated, etc.? How much of the culture around them exists just by virtue of history and precedent?

        It’s instructive to do a similar thought experiment about cigarettes. If someone introduced a brand-new product that had a smell non-users disliked, contributed to health problems, contributed to litter, and caused workers to leave their posts periodically throughout the day, would it receive acceptance and even legal protection? No freaking way. The only reason it does is tradition and precedent.

  18. Joey*

    2. Bouts of uncontrollable crying? And you think you can be productive at home?

    Take some time off to sort yourself out. Don’t sabatoge your work rep by trying to work through big time emotional issues

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I don’t know, I can see it working. When I’ve gone through rough patches I can keep it together at home but when having to talk to other people it gets harder.

      1. Joey*

        See I’ve had this happen with a report and as a manager I just could not picture the employee getting anything done when all I saw was crying, faux therapy with other co workers and just way too many times where the employee couldn’t focus. I just couldn’t picture productivity. It seemed like a request be away from work without using leave

        1. Katie the Fed*

          It probably comes down to the people involved and how well you know them. I think most of us allow more leeway with someone who’s a hard worker generally and not prone to disrupting the office, vs the one who always has some excuse about something and isn’t that good of a worker.

          1. C Average*

            I think it depends on the workplace and the type of job, too.

            I’ve had jobs where I worked mostly in solitude and had hands-off bosses, and I could (and did) easily survive a rough patch with no noticeable loss of productivity.

            In my current job, where the office is open-plan and people are social to the point of nosiness, if I were to show up looking downcast I’d get grilled about it. (In the summer, when I was having bad allergies and had puffy eyes, I had numerous people interrogate me about what was wrong. “Uh, pollen?”) It’s an environment where being downcast can’t go uncommented-on, and it would be hard to stay as productive as normal and not be a distraction to others here.

            Nearly everyone in my group, including our manager, has taken work-at-home days when dealing with something personal and has managed to be available and productive from home. Asking to work from home while dealing with a difficult personal situation would hardly even be remarked on here.

            1. Jennifer*

              Hah, my job is like this too. If I’m anything less than 100% perky (say, at 8 a.m.) at all times, I get reported on and have to have a Talking To about how I wasn’t perfect in the meeting.

              Hell, yesterday I got asked “Why don’t you ever bring fruit to work? Don’t you eat it?” Um, what? Why the hell do you care?

            2. Anonsie*

              Yesterday when talking about the open office plans, there were mentions that people take way more sick days on average when they have to be in an open office. My first thought was, of course. When everyone can see you at all times, the bar for being presentable to be at work is suddenly much higher.

        2. HigherEd Admin*

          I would be perfectly capable of doing work while crying from the comfort of my couch. I would not be capable of doing work at my desk while trying to hide the fact that I’m crying from my coworkers.

          1. Laurel Gray*

            So would I. And to add to the comfort of the couch, I would be in yoga pants and a tee, sipping tea, with my blankey between me and my laptop. Unfortunately at my current job, I can’t work from home at all so any time off like this would be sick or personal time. . It is definitely on the list for my next employer!!

            OP #2, I wish you all the best of luck and happiness in whatever you decide/outcome.

            1. Koko*

              In yoga pants, sipping tea, sitting at my favorite chair at the kitchen table by the big window that looks out over the pond in my backyard, with a purring cat nestled next to my laptop.

              HigherEd Admin nailed it – it’s not the crying itself that gets in the way, it’s the effort required to avoid or minimize the appearance of crying. At home I’ll just let myself cry some tears and throw myself into my work as a distraction while the tears are streaming down my face. At work every time the tears start to well up I have to take a minute to give myself a pep talk, “No, you’re not going to do this right now. Pull yourself together. Someone might see you! Work. WORK.” Having to give yourself a mental pep talk every 20-30 minutes becomes a pretty big distraction.

              1. Koko*

                I also wonder if some of this could be introversion/extroversion related. As an introvert, “presenting myself” is already something that takes energy from me. On a normal day, it’s a reasonable and manageable amount of energy. On a day I’m grieving, the difficulty level of “presenting myself” is increased AND my stamina bar is depleted. Double whammy.

                Crying on the other hand doesn’t take any energy at all from me. In fact, a good cry can sometimes be very relieving and relaxing.

          2. the_scientist*

            Definitely. I’ve been in a situation where I could work and be pretty productive from the privacy and comfort of my home, but the energy it would take to hold myself together in public was more than was available to me at the time.

            That said, I worked through the loss of my grandfather and in retrospect, really regret it. I was finishing up grad school and under the gun to get my thesis finished and submitted in time to graduate/not have to pay more tuition so I attended the funeral and visitation, but otherwise I was writing or packing/planning/executing a move to a city 3 hours away. Looking back, I really, really wish I’d actually just disconnected for a day or two and allowed myself the time to genuinely grieve, rather than pushing it out of my head and focusing on work. Obviously the death of a person is different than the loss of a relationship, but losing a significant relationship is a major emotional loss and if it comes to that, I think it’s worth the OP seriously considering using banked PTO/vacation/whatever to completely unplug.

          3. Hous*

            Yeah, in times of heightened emotion I tend to cry in pretty short bouts–I’ll remember whatever is happening and have a few minutes of sobbing and then I’ll recover and get back to whatever I was doing before. It’s pretty easy to work around that in private, but leaving to go to the bathroom to cry several times throughout the day just makes me feel worse about the whole situation. My current employer doesn’t have a work-from-home option for my position, so it’s just a binary decision for me if something happens, but having that as a choice would work out pretty well for my emotional processes.

        3. Kelly L.*

          Confirmation bias, I suspect. If you had any employees who worked well during rough patches, you probably never knew they were going through a rough patch. You only noticed the one who did have a hard time coping at work.

          1. Joey*

            Not really. I just think if it’s bad enough that you can’t function at work it’s probably best that you take time off until you get it together. I’ve had plenty of people that I knew were going through hard times but kept it together at work. I just think if you’re distracted at work by your issues it’s probably going to distract you at home too.

        4. Connie-Lynne*

          I totally did this once, and it did help. I’d had some bad news, and while I was able to telecommute into all my necessary meetings and keep it together for the 30 min or so of the meetings, keeping it together for the eight or ten hours I’d be at a desk wasn’t possible.

          Yes, I was slightly less productive than I’d have been otherwise, what with the occasional breaks to stare off into space and be sad, and the slightly less attention to detail than usual, but by and large I was reasonably functional and it helped to have a few days by myself.

          1. Joey*

            This is why I didnt do it. besides reduced productivity and the increased chances of making mistakes most co workers will feel like they have to walk on eggshells with someone who’s openly struggling with emotional issues. It’s in everyone’s best interest for that person to take time off to get better and come back when they’re ready to go.

            1. Chriama*

              But I think a viable alternative to that is working from home. Do you disagree? When I’m feeling bad, sympathy is the number 1 trigger for me to start crying (or my mom being around, because moms are basically designed to comfort you when crying haha). So I could be at home, getting teary every few hours or so but still working, whereas being around people (who might start asking if I’m ok) would make things worse.

              1. Joey*

                I just don’t think changing the location really helps productivity much. It might make you more comfortable but being consumed by personal issues doesn’t magically go away just because you’re at home. You’ll still be struggling with focusing on work all day long. The only difference is being at home allows you to step away more often and for longer periods of time. And I can’t imagine that you’d be as productive or co workers wouldn’t be hesitant to call you if needed. I just think you’re more likely to hurt the team than help. Sort of like when a hurt teammate thinks he’s helping by staying in the game when he really shouldn’t.

                1. LawBee*

                  Honestly, it sounds like you just don’t like working from home, because everything you said above could apply to any telecommuting employee. And I would bet everything I own that there are plenty of telecommuting employees who managed to be productive while going through emotional issues, and their boss never knew it.

                2. Joey*

                  It has nothing to do with work from home. She shouldn’t be working at all regardless of where it is. I just don’t believe it’s possible to be productive anywhere if you’re consumed with personal issues.

                3. Koko*

                  I definitely disagree with that – lots of personal troubles that make you cry at several discrete times per day don’t consume you continuously all day. And working at home doesn’t allow me to step away more often and for longer periods of time–it eliminates the need to step away at all because there’s no one I need to step away from. I can work just fine when I’m crying. What I have a hard time with is working when I’m self-conscious that everyone can see me crying.

              2. Koko*

                Oh my gosh, yes. I really dislike telling people when I’m having a hard time because receiving concern from other people triggers my pathological need to make everyone else happy all the time regardless of how well I’m doing. Then not only am I having to deal with my own suck, I’m now expending extra energy to reassure the people I confessed my problems to that I’m actually fine and they don’t need to worry about me and see I can crack jokes and smile and it’s totally fine really I promise you can totally carry on as normal!

          1. Joey*

            It’s not one person. No one who is overly distracted is productive. And bouts of crying is a pretty strong sign that you’re overly distracted.

            1. Koko*

              Actually from a biochemical standpoint, strong waves of emotion last an average of 90 seconds. At home, you cry for 90 seconds and then move on with your life. At work, you start feeling sad, try to stop crying, wonder if anyone is noticing, feel the need to remove yourself from the room until you don’t feel sad, start thinking too much about your own sadness because you’re trying to pay attention to it enough to decide if you’re ready to step back into the office…it’s not the sadness itself that is distracting, it’s dealing with trying to meet social expectations for appropriate demeanor and appearance at work that distracts me when I’m very sad.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                This. Sometimes endeavors to stop crying, make the tears come heavier and more frequently. But if a person can just let go for a few minutes without having to force themselves to stop, it is easier to get back on track.
                Having to keep up appearances makes it into a two part problem.

                1. Koko*

                  Yes! There’s this positive feedback loop where you feel sad on a gut level, and then your stupid hamster brain in an instant starts spinning its wheel thinking, “Hmm, why do I feel sad? Let me think about it, come up with a list of reasons why everything sucks, come up with a list of reasons why I suck, come up with a list of reasons why I won’t be able to make anything better, and then I’m going to tell myself to give up and I’m going to just think so hard about my sadness until something gives!” And then all those negative thoughts trigger more gut-sadness, which triggers more sad-thoughts, which triggers more gut-sadness, and so on. It’s hard to prevent or stop the gut-sadness, but if I refuse to let myself have sad-thoughts, I can just feel the gut-sadness instead of thinking about it. Let my throat clench up and a few tears slide down my cheek, and then my throat loosens again and my eyes dry. Depression is so much more about thought than it is about feeling in my experience.

              2. Joey*

                My friends and family who have dealt with divorce and deaths of close family members would beg to differ that feelings of despair and sadness only last 90 seconds

                1. Koko*

                  I said biochemically, and on average, and thank you for assuming I’ve never dealt with death or divorce. There’s a difference between your general mood and the acute waves of emotion associated with neurochemical changes in the brain. The average neurochemical change for an acute emotional episode lasts roughly 90 seconds. You don’t magically feel better when that 90 seconds is over, but you don’t feel acutely heartwrenched for hours on end. When I dealt with my own traumas that led to severe depression, my therapist taught me how to tell the difference between the biochemical reaction that made my throat close up and my heart rate quicken and air difficult to breathe, and the general mood of sadness that filled the hours in between those moments. I can work through the general mood. I can’t work through the 90-second periods where I can’t breathe. Very few people experience physical symptoms like that continuously for hours on end, although they may be severely depressed for months or years, like I was.

      2. JB*

        Exactly, plus there are many parts of my job that I could do while crying. But I’d rather not be crying at the office.

      3. Boo*

        Yeah I’m with Katie on this one. When I’ve had rough patches, like when I lost my dad, I was able to keep it together alone but when I came to work and had a bunch of people asking me how I was and making sympathetic faces it got way harder not to break down. I know they meant well, but it did trigger a few crying spells in the bathroom, which I then had to try and hide, and then got more “are you sure you’re okay” from people, setting the whole thing off again.

        1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

          There’s nothing worse than being emotionally fragile and having a constant barrage of people asking you “Ohhh, are you OK?” “How are you dooooing [downturned face]” “Are you sure you’re doing OK?”

          I was, but now I need a minute, so thanks.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          One of my favorite aunts used to say that the tears come up easier with a softer person. We both agreed that it’s that kind, gentle little voice and thoughtful words that cuts to the heart and the tears start flowing.
          Knowing this worked out well for us- when tragedy struck we both knew to talk to each other in a matter of fact voice and direct the discussion to practical activities for the day. We checked in with each other a couple times a day but in a practical way- “So how did you do with task X and project Y today?” If there was a hurdle in the task/project we would throw around ideas on how to get over the hurdle.
          It was a good combination- the regular check-ins were an unspoken acknowledgement that “yeah, this is a rough thing you have going on” but the actual conversation was talking about the day’s goals.

      4. INTP*

        Yeah. And the uncontrollable crying might not be hours of sobbing, but a few minutes of tears about as often as an employee would chat at the water cooler in the office. The issue is that it’s embarrassing and unprofessional for those tears to happen at the office, even if they’re only distracting you 20 minutes a day.

        I also see the other side, though, and think it would be reasonable for the manager to question whether the OP would really be productive at home. It’s remotely possible for the OP to be fully productive in her state but as a manager, unless there was already an established precedent of people working from home due to personal matters or illness, I’d lean towards encouraging her to take PTO instead, unless the person had an impeccable work ethic and I knew they’d never agree to work when they really shouldn’t.

    2. Oryx*

      Having the option to break down and cry in the comfort of my own home where I can curl up into my bed and wail for a good 15 minutes and and then get on with my work is going to make me far more productive then having to sneak away to the bathroom ever half hour to silently cry and continue to hold it in. The stress of trying to keep it together is way worse than just crying it out.

    3. Allison*

      Possibly. Working from home means comfort, being able to get extra sleep, eat food that’ll make them feel better, maybe OP can play music or have the TV on in the background, no one’s around to stress them out, and there’s no pressure to act happy. Ideally, yes, OP should take personal days or sick days to really get some rest, but that may not be possible for a few reasons. Maybe OP doesn’t have any, or they have a lot of work they don’t want to fall behind on, or they feel work will help take their mind off things – some people need to feel useful and productive.

    4. LBK*

      I don’t totally agree but I’m also skeptical of the people who are saying they would have no problem working while crying at home. Maybe I’m a particularly aggressive crier but I can’t imagine, like…sitting there writing an email while bawling.

      Working around them would certainly be easier at home – break down for a minute, get it together and then keep working – but working through the tears? Strikes me as weird.

      1. HigherEd Admin*

        Maybe I’m a particularly aggressive crier

        This phrasing made me chuckle.

        I certainly wouldn’t be able to write an email while bawling, either, but I’m also not the type to bawl for 15+ minutes in the situation that OP describes. In the moment of the tragedy? Yes. Immediately following the tragedy? Yes. But the subsequent days, while I’m processing and grieving? No. I might have a 2 minute breakdown or generally tear up and be sad, but nothing that would prevent me from working. But when I’m work, those 2 minute breakdowns turn into 15 minute ordeals because I have to first hold the tears in, then decide to give in to them, then rush to a private space to let it out, then spend 5 minutes recovering and making sure I look office-presentable. By staying home, I eliminate going through that entire process several times a day, and allow myself to be productive and look like a mess.

        1. fposte*

          I’m remembering the day my father died, which was a Saturday; I’d ordered clothing, and I basically tried on skirts and cried.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          My cry pattern is kind of odd. Several weeks after a loss and everyone else is back on track seems to be my time to break down. Delayed blatting and it sneaks up on me. UGH. The only good thing here is that I know that this happens to me so it’s not a surprise to me, just very odd to those around me.

      2. Joey*

        I don’t think I’ve ever been able to trust that anyone could focus on work at the same level while they were so overcome with emotion that they were crying.

        Yes you can go through the motions for some things but the quality and quantity of work goes out the door when you’re not focused on what you’re doing.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          You seem to be missing what several are saying: it’s not the crying that takes away focus, it’s the attempt to appear professional around others when needing to cry that takes so much time. Sure, taking time off is ideal, but second best is not having to look professional around others, being able to quickly cry and get back to work, and not dealing with having to find a place to cry, keeping it in until you get there, cleaning up afterwards, and all the other things that are taking you away from work. A 30-second sob at home will take 5-10 minutes at work.

          When my mother-in-law died, I found myself crying as I drove to and from work. I was usually able to keep it in until that time. And really, it didn’t usually last more than about 30 seconds. But if there are a dozen bouts of that, it can be 12 minutes of interruptions at home or 1-2 hours at work.

          1. Koko*

            When I battled depression my favorite place to cry was on the train home from work. I was severely clinically depressed and cried on a daily basis for months. (And I certainly wasn’t going to take PTO for 5-6 months!) I would have held it in all day putting on a brave face at work, and then I’d get on the train and it was a long ride and it was dark out by then and I was alone with nothing but my own thoughts about everything wrong in my life…I remember the first time I decided “I don’t give a you-know-what who judged me from crying on the train, because I don’t know these people and my tears are more important than their judgment” and just let myself cry. Not making any noise, just silently but continuously the entire way home. I guess it became a habit, and it probably didn’t hurt that I began to realize the best way to discourage people from sitting next to you on public transit is to have snot and tears all over your red face.

            It was only after I finally began to recover that I realized that unlike most people struggling with depression, I had never experienced insomnia or anxiety at night. I had inadvertently trained myself to do all my wallowing and stewing and despairing on the train so by the time I got home I just felt exhausted and ready for bed.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        Then you’ve never done it, obviously. I have. Many times. It’s much easier when you’re not doing it in the office because you don’t need to devote any energy to holding it in.

        1. LBK*

          Are we talking about sniffling while being teary, or body wracking sobs? In the latter situation I don’t see how you’d be physically capable of doing things like using a computer.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, but then you just stop for fifteen minutes, conclude by wiping your face down with cold water and sandpapery toilet paper, and go back, which you can do without having to explain yourself to anybody and feeling like you’ve sent ripples of distress through the building.

            1. LBK*

              I totally agree that that’s easier and makes more sense to do at home than attempting to struggle through it in the office. I think I’m just picturing the scenario wrong.

              1. fposte*

                It could also be the OP is talking about something more sustained than many of us tend to experience. But I feel weird quantifying grief in serious detail.

          2. Koko*

            I’m someone whose emotions are pretty close to the surface and I cry very easily – at almost every movie I’ve ever seen, for instance. At Walmart commercials, for instance. I cry easily from laughter, I cry at the ballet and when I hear Canon in D played by a symphony, and I cry a LOT when I’m sad. But it’s rarely been anything I would describe as “body wracking.” Sometimes there’s noise but it’s more associated with labored breathing because my throat closes up when I’m having sad tears–it’s not actually a vocalization I’m making. You could probably see my chest shaking but no more than it does when I say, clear my throat or cough. The rest of my body…doesn’t move. My nose gets very stuffed up and runny at the same time and I will need a LOT of tissues. But I’m not having a seizure or flailing around or anything.

            1. LBK*

              Oh, I’m totally the same – I’ve cried twice this week alone watching The Wire. But it’s more like you said, kind of heavy breathing, my throat closes up a little and my eyes run. That’s controllable and I can function through it. I guess my assumption is that bouts of crying from real-life issues would be more severe – if my boyfriend broke up with me or my cat died today I’d pretty much be curled up in a ball unable to move or communicate for a while.

      4. JB*

        Well, I’ve done it, so I know it can be done. But what works for some people doesn’t work for everyone, of course.

    5. illini02*

      I completely agree. If you are that emotional, you should just take a sick/personal day and return to work when you are fully functional. I’m not being heartless either. If you were physically sick, but not contagious, and had to run to the bathroom every hour, I’d say the same thing.

      1. Mephyle*

        I think lots of people are seeing this through a lens of the things they do at their job. There are some types of jobs where emotional trauma would distract you from your tasks, increase your likelihood of mistakes, blur your focus.
        There are other types of jobs where you could get your tasks done in between (or even during) crying bouts with no problem.
        So that should be a factor in deciding whether to attempt to work if you’re allowed to work at home, or to just take leave altogether.

    6. Tomato Frog*

      I remember working the day after a breakup and the hard, distracting thing was keeping the tears in. When I was at home, I had no trouble getting things done. It was more a physical than emotional reaction at that point.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree. The grieving process itself is almost easier than the process it takes to remain composed-looking. Unfortunately, time spent worried about looking composed takes away from time spent actually grieving. In turn, that can actually prolong the grieving process.

  19. illini02*

    #1 I can think of some reasons you wouldn’t want employees to stay. If you are at a school for example. While I agree with Alison that you should try to help out, sometimes its not reasonable. There may be no hotel nearby, a cab could be ridiculously expensive, and maybe they live in an area where no one else is going to ride share. Again, while I think the nice thing to do is to help them find a way home, I don’t think you are required to. These are adults afterall.

    #2 While I don’t think its “wrong” to ask for a couple of more work from home days a week, if the boss says no, I don’t think you should push it either. Either take the sick day if you need to, or pull yourself together and work through it. Not to sound callous, but a POSSIBLE break up doesn’t exactly equal something that someone needs to stay out of the office for days for. There is a reason that most places give “bereavement” leave and not “break up” leave.

    #4 I think you should have just given everyone the early day off. If you are already rewarding your top performers, it seems like this may have just caused more resentment that your intended effect of just not rewarding low performers. If it was like many, they probably weren’t doing a ton of work on New Year Eve anyway. so to spite them, you punished your good performers too. Would letting these low performers leave early really have made a big difference? I can’t imagine that if you are already working with them on their deficiencies, that they would think that since EVERYONE got to go home early that they must be superstars now. If you are going to let some people go home early, let everyone do it, unless you offer an incentive to stay. If you made that incentive something that those lower performers wanted, maybe you would have had them there early.

    #5 Really? So you are mad because your husband and his smoking buddies are continuing to get more breaks than non-smokers? I doubt you’ll get a lot of sympathy for this one. I know smoking is hard, but its not a right to get to take multiple breaks a day to feed your addiction.

    1. Natalie*

      That’s a little heartless re: #2. The OP isn’t breaking up with someone she’s known for 3 months – this is her fiance, who she has presumably been with for a long time. I ended an 8 year relationship amicably, and it was more emotionally draining than quite a few deaths I’ve experienced.

      1. illini02*

        I didn’t say I don’t sympathize, just said its not something you should push if the boss says no. Take a sick day if you need to

        1. Chriama*

          Why would you bring up the breakup at all? Just say you aren’t feeling well or that you’re dealing with a personal issue and need to work from home for a couple days. She already works from home regularly and she isn’t asking to be out for a month. I really don’t see much being wrong here.

          1. illini02*

            I completely agree. I never said to bring up the personal issues. I just said she should ask to work from home. If the boss says no, and you really can’t function, then take a sick day.

            1. Chriama*

              Ah, got it. Yeah, if the only other option is to come in to work, then I agree that taking a sick day is probably better. If you need to leave to cry every so often people will notice something’s up and that just makes your personal business more public.

      2. LBK*

        Yeah, I don’t think it’s reasonable or fair to try to rank the sadness of various events or how much time is “valid” to spend processing them. The only bereavement time I took when my father died was for the funeral and I went back to school the day after, but if my current relationship ended I would easily be out of commission for a few days.

        This is why general PTO buckets are the best, because then you don’t have to feel like you need to justify the severity of the reason for your absence.

    2. Chriama*

      #1 – depending on the situation, I could see an employer being held liable for their employees’ well-being. If there was ample warning that the weather would be getting worse and the employee was non-essential but forced to complete their shift, and then the employer didn’t help accommodate them (either staying in the office or paying for a hotel), I feel like you could maybe sue for that and win, especially if you could show that the employer has a history of that behaviour.

    3. Kathi*

      Wasn’t looking for sympathy here. Just a legal question. And, no, it is not a question of extra breaks either. It is a factory. Everyone gets the same breaks. No more…no less. And my husband decided it wasn’t worth his running around…punching out…and going off property for a 10 minute break. Also not worth the loss of a few quarters either. He’s a smoker…not an idiot.

  20. Emmaline*

    #5 – I don’t think it’s unreasonable not to allow e-cigs and vapor products. I apologize if I’m misreading, but from the phrasing of your comment, I think it sounds like the alternative you were hoping for would be to use these products while still working without needing to punch out (because it’s not the same as a regular cigarette). As a non-smoker, I would be angry if people were suddenly allowed to use e-cigs and vapor products around my desk. I don’t want to have to inhale that stuff. It may not be exactly like cigarettes, but it’s often scented and is still affecting my air quality.

    1. Natalie*

      In my state they were just added to our Clean Indoor Air Act, so you couldn’t use them anywhere you can’t smoke a cigarette anyway. Certainly not indoors.

    2. soitgoes*

      There’s actually some debate as to the safety of vape products. When you smoke an e-cig, you’re inhaling flavored, nicotine-laced water into your lungs. It could very well be unhealthy for non-smokers to be around that.

      1. Brit*

        There’s also some concern with the safety of the batteries in those products. Plenty of stories around about batteries blowing up and causing house fires.

    3. LBK*

      Aside from that, I just find the image of smoking e-cigs while working really unprofessional, especially in an office environment.

  21. Abbey*

    To OP #2: I am going through almost the exact same thing right now–a few days ago, my long-term boyfriend and I broke up. How was I supposed to sit at my desk all day and act like everything was fine when everything else about my life was falling apart? I managed to make it through the first day, though I cried a bunch, but I found if I kept my head down and made as little conversation as possible, and talked to two close coworkers about it, the day got better as I went. While you should ABSOLUTELY stay home if you need to, just know that it was helpful for me to escape from my personal life for a while and focus on work. It was kind of nice to be surrounded by people, and those that I told talked some things out with me and helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. So hang in there, and know that you WILL feel much better eventually, even if you feel like a mess right now. Also, taking it in small chunks and not looking at the big picture has been a huge help for me–what can I do TODAY? I can look for a new apartment, I can get through one day without crying, I can fold and put away the laundry. Whatever that small thing is, take it as a victory.

    1. JC*

      I feel for OP#2, too. I remember breaking up with my long-term boyfriend when I was in college. I had to run out of a class midway through because I could not stand sitting there any longer, which was really out of character for me. And this was just breaking up with a college boyfriend, without the added stresses of breaking up with a fiancee and/or someone you live with. I hope you get through this period the best you can.

  22. MaggiePi*

    To OP #4
    As a non-exempt employee who has been on the receiving end of this situation, here’s my perspective:
    If you can within your system, and you want to, I would recommend giving your high performers additional PTO as a perk/bonus. Then if there is a holiday afternoon that is important to a high performer s/he can decide to use it for that (if you don’t let the whole office out early).
    There are times, such as NYE where nothing social is actually happening until well after my normal work hours and I wouldn’t choose to use PTO to leave early, but I would LOVE to have a few extra hours of PTO to use when I want it.
    Of course, if your high performers don’t usually use up their PTO then maybe it’s a moot point, but I know many non-exempts who would appreciate both the bonus PTO and the flex to use it as they want.

  23. C Average*

    It’s interesting to me, reading the comments, how sharply gender-divided the comments are regarding dealing the emotions associated with going through a rough patch.

    Like other women who have commented here, I’ve kept a low profile at work and/or stayed at home when going through difficult personal stuff. Many of the women on my team have done so, too, but I don’t think any of the men ever have.

    As I think about it, I can’t recall a single instance of a male colleague doing so (or at least talking about doing so). Presumably, every bad breakup involves another party, and men are just as prone to general life misfortunes as women. Why are they so much less susceptible to crying jags? Is it cultural, biological, or both? Is this a general thing, or just a feature of the men I know?

    I remember, in particular, a meeting I was in with two men I work with and know well. One of them had to leave early, and the other stayed to wrap up. Once we completed the meeting action items, I asked him how he was doing in general, and he told me his fiancee (whom he’d been with for five years) had called things off and broken up with him. He seemed a little embarrassed to even be talking about it, but it was clear he wanted to talk about it. He’d had this fairly major life event, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in the office who even knew it’d happened. It stands out as an unusual conversation to have had with a male colleague, yet I’ve probably had literally dozens of such conversations through the years with female colleagues in what Joey pretty accurately calls faux-therapy sessions in a comment upthread.

    I know these are bigger topics than a comment thread can or possibly should take on. It’s just interesting to observe the divide and ponder why it exists.

    Men, have you ever found yourselves fighting back tears in the workplace and/or opting to take a day off or a work-from-home day due to personal issues? Women, have you ever worried about the impression it creates when your emotions bleed into your career like this?

    1. illini02*

      I have for a death in the family, not a relationship though. This is a great point though, because I think its a bit of both. I don’t think women necessarily “hurt” more, but men are able to compartmentalize these things more. JUST MY OPINION. But yeah, my comment upthread was more like just take a sick day or suck it up and work through it.

    2. Kelly L.*

      I think men (speaking generally here) are socialized not to talk about it, so even if a guy was staying home because he was upset about a breakup, he might say it was because of something else, like a feigned illness.

      I’m a big feeling-stuffer, for whatever reason, and I tend to just kind of be distant rather than cry when a sad event actually happens, and then I’ll end up crying weeks later because Barnes and Noble is too crowded. (True story.) I’ve generally found it therapeutic to just haul myself into work and use it to get my mind off the other thing, but I know not everyone’s brain ticks the same way.

      Also interesting: the LW does not state their gender.

      1. Gooseberry Yogurt*

        Even more interesting because they use the term fiancee, denoting that their partner is a woman. Of course, it could be a same-sex relationship, but it speaks volumes about gendered assumptions re: crying that everyone is convinced the LW is a woman despite never identifying themselves as such.

        1. Rex-a-ford*

          … I just learned something here. XD
          I did not know there were two words depending on the gender. I have also spelled it “finance”.

    3. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      I wonder if in large part it’s because men are socialized to have an outlet for their feelings in aggressive–not sad–behaviour. I’ve certainly known men who in the throes of a breakup/divorce/major family trauma/whatever tend to become much more short-tempered, irritable, lash out more often, etc., and I wonder if it’s due to an emotional redirect. Women are generally socialized to where it’s OK to be sad, down, upset, etc., during emotional upheaval, but men are usually not–but aggression, snapping, or other negative behaviours aren’t “socialized out.”

      1. Kelly L.*

        And you might notice Apollo is grumpier than usual, but not realize it’s because his girlfriend decided she’d rather turn into a tree than be with him! ;)

      2. QualityControlFreak*

        Interesting point. My sex is female, but gender is something a little more mutable. (I’ve been told I’m “a woman who thinks like a man” – the latest time by my son – and I do think a lot of it has to do with the way I was raised.) I’m much more comfortable expressing anger than sadness. When I have dealt with the loss of a friend or family member, I’ve preferred to go to work and stay busy. It helps me to put the grief “over there” and deal with it bit by bit in private moments. Yes, I compartmentalize.

        1. fposte*

          I find the anger thing interesting, because a lot of times when crying comes up it’s contrasted with raised voices as an often gendered expression of emotion. And many women posting seem to find raised voices very troubling, which makes me think that that may relate to many women’s discomfort with anger generally. I personally vote for being comfortable with both anger and sadness, if possible.

          I’m fortunate in that I have a workplace where if I did cry, it wouldn’t be a big deal (I have and it wasn’t), but I’m with you in that I wouldn’t find staying at home preferable. And I love to work at home, and definitely find it preferable when I’m physically laid low. But I haven’t had any problem with not finding enough time to grieve in the face of losses, even when I go to work, and work gives me something to work toward at the same time. It’s comforting.

          1. QualityControlFreak*

            “I personally vote for being comfortable with both anger and sadness, if possible.”

            Absolutely! As humans we do have to deal with both. I’m not sure why anger is easier for me, but I think it feels stronger; like I have more options to act on or more control over the situation. When I’m sad, it feels more like I have no alternatives and must just endure what fate has dished out. If that makes any sense?

            I just found C Average’s thoughts intriguing as my son and I have been discussing gender of late.

            1. fposte*

              It’s funny, because I’m a woman who sometimes is perceived at having more male thought and communication patterns, which I think is partly a result at being largely raised by a single father (and how that interacted with my own character and tendencies). But my father was very uncomfortable with anger and had no clue what to do with it, so my comfort with anger came more from sports and music/choir with temperamental directors. I’m not always delighted with it, but I think it’s really helpful to have experience that changes a raised voice from “fire alarm-get out of the building immediately!” to “Oh, this is all-caps.”

    4. Connie-Lynne*

      WRT crying, specifically, it’s pretty clear that men in USAn culture are socialized in a way that makes crying less acceptable in general. That said, as a manager, I have indeed dealt with men crying (in 1:1 meetings), although it’s rarer.

      I’ve also seen that hard emotional times affects the quality of men’s work, too — a death in the family or a breakup can cause men and women both to be more snappy, less patient, or to have less awesome judgement than they usually do. Obviously there’s confirmation bias here on my part; after all, I won’t know about the people who it doesn’t affect that way, regardless of gender. I’ve had people request time off or WFH in those situations, though, and they’ve overwhelmingly been male (because I work in a male-dominated field).

      1. illini02*

        I don’t want to start the whole “crying in the office” debate again. But in general I think crying in the office isn’t good for either gender, just like slamming a door or other overly emotional things are. If you are in a state that you can’t handle it (which can happen for a number of reasons) I think you should take a personal day and stay at home

        1. Editor*

          I once read something about the difference between male and female emotional reactions that quoted one man who seemed to be fairly normal after a divorce. It turned out he got up every morning, threw up, then went about his day. He wasn’t crying, but he was having a physical reaction to emotional distress — and throwing up every day is really not good for a person.

          My adult son does have emotional reactions, but he tends to have headaches when he’s upset emotionally. When he was in elementary school, he often had an upset stomach when he was dreading school (he was bullied for a while and didn’t tell us about it).

    5. Anonsie*

      Eh. I mean, is this really news to anyone at this point? Men and women are socialized to channel those feelings differently, there are different behaviors that are acceptable, etc etc. I don’t think there’s any debate to be had that men and women can both be shaken up by a breakup in the same ways but may make it look differently to their colleagues based on what they think will be accepted and what wouldn’t. News at 11.

      I’m opening up a big barrel of arguments with this point, but it hasn’t been mentioned and I’d like to bring it up. Women are also more likely to have lower earning power than their male partners, intentionally (as part of a plan with their partner/fiance/husband/whatever) or not (because the world is cruel), and re-establishing yourself as an independent adult is expensive. I’ve known a lot of women whose breakups meant major financial struggle and all the fear and anxiety that comes from that, so their overall distress was more related to a major life upheaval and financial insecurity than just being sad about the relationship itself. Especially for those who had sacrificed some of their earning potential for a future that no longer existed, for kids or otherwise.

      1. fposte*

        That’s a good point–it may not just be about breaking up, it may be about breaking leases, finding new places to live with a lower budget, etc.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Thank you for saying this. When I started living on my own, I was not just processing the loss of my husband but also processing money problems, huge medical bills, furnace issues, leaky roof issues and a hundred other things. It was not one thing. It was lots and lots of things all at the same time. The weight was staggering.

        My point is that when someone experiences a loss- it could be a breakup or it could be a pet or anything- we have no idea how many ways that impacts their personal life. Not only is it not appropriate to go into all that, but there really is not enough hours in the day to accurately measure that impact. The best we can do is not judge and have a quiet respect for the person who is struggling. We don’t know when it might be our turn to struggle with a substantial life change.

    6. Rex-a-ford*

      I had broken up with a Fiancee shortly after starting my first professional job. It was a really emotionally difficult time for me. I think I had depression on and off for like a year. But it didn’t really affect work too much. There was one night I cried instead of sleeping. So I called my boss and told him I’d be late. Working from home wasn’t an option, and I was already known for being an excellent worker, so he didn’t mind.Actually, when I’ve done that, my manager assumed with was of that nature. o -o. maybe I looked like I had been crying or something. But that was about the extent of it affecting work, that I was aware of. I’ve had good relationships with my manager and co-workers. They’d understand if I needed to take a day off, so there wouldn’t be any issues with that, but my boss is pretty lax about that anyway.

      Looking back, I have always kinda wondered… WHY didn’t that affect my work performance? I don’t really know. I guess I was able to compartmentalize things. I remember crying on the way home from work, and at home. But not at work.I’m also branded “over-emotional” by my family, and will cry at movies and stuff. So… I think I’m a little on the more expressive spectrum when it comes to emotions. Wish I understood myself better. :p

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I totally get that “I wish I understood myself better” thing. That is part of the reason I started reading up on the grieving process. There is always more to learn, because each loss/grief is different so the impact is different and the way grief manifests is different.

        Okay, this is getting annoying with all these “differences”. [Insert massive explanation here.]

        Punchline: After you go through and figure out the hows and the whys of your own grief process, you STILL have to respect your process. And that is the truly important part- respecting your own unique process.
        Yes, it boils down to “Eh, that is your way. Do what it is you need to do.”

    7. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      As a man, I’ll tell you what I’m thinking on this. Brickbats? Shields are up.

      OK – Men are conditioned – as I was raised, part of “being a man” is to put emotions away and get on with the task of doing your job. This doesn’t mean that a death in the family, a child’s or spouse’s illness, extenuating family circumstances can’t be balanced with work responsibilities — it means you do your best to not let them interfere with your work. And something like a broken relationship – we don’t bring it into the office.

      In other words, most men won’t allow emotions to bleed into their careers. That tends to be expected of a man. Yes, it’s a double-standard. A man going through a divorce or break-up will usually still come to work, and while he won’t necessarily hide his emotions, he will use his work duties as a shield and a diversion.

      Two examples =

      1) I had to deliver a guest lecture at a conference, and my mother-in-law had passed the previous afternoon. Since I couldn’t do anything about arrangements, I got into the car the next morning, drove to the hotel/conf center, and did my job. Does this sound cold? Perhaps, but that was my “escape” from reality. My wife was invited “come on to the conference, too” but her disdain for being in a room with 200 computer geeks precluded that.

      2) During the year my daughter was deployed in the middle of a war zone, we encountered a lot of stress. I asked my boss to pile more work on me. Including travel. It served as an effective distraction from more important things.

      Men are conditioned, and deemed successful, if they can push these emotional challenges aside and focus on work. I am reading here that some women feel that they can’t do that.

      Sorry folks – you want equal pay, equal opportunities – you’ve got to act and perform “equal”.

      Now throw those rocks…

      If a man called in and said “I can’t work today. My girlfriend just walked out on me yesterday, I don’t feel up to working” or , “I’m still crying, my BFF and I had an argument” … he would not be given much space on it. I’m reading here, that women actually expect to be granted that space.

      1. illini02*

        You articulated this perfectly. We men feel emotions, stress, etc, but we are conditioned to not let those things interfere with the tasks at hand. While I would feel perfectly fine saying “My mom is in the hospital, I need a couple days off”, it would never occur to me to ask for work accommodations to deal with a break up (or even worse, a potential break up), but yeah, it seems many women think this is perfectly reasonable. Its such a foreign concept to me, which is why I might sound heartless about this

      2. fposte*

        I’m a fan of the value of “suck it up” a lot of times myself, but you’ve committed a logical fallacy here: “Sorry folks – you want equal pay, equal opportunities – you’ve got to act and perform “equal”.”

        No, that’s not how it works–that makes “how men do things” the goal of human aspiration, and the whole point is that you’re only half of the world (less, actually) and therefore not the bosses of it all.

        I agree an employee can’t be significantly less productive overall and expect the same kind of pay and advancement as somebody who brings more value, but that’s the same within genders as well as across genders. And outside of sales-type metrics where every point counts, good productivity doesn’t preclude taking a day off here and there, whether it’s because you broke your arm or broke your heart. What matters is the overall value of the employee, not whether the reason for the absence is approved of by any particular gender.

        You can admire the colleague who’s getting work done in her oxygen tent or you can think maybe she could let it go. The first one isn’t automatically right, even if in some circles it’s popular.

        1. illini02*

          I don’t think its as much of a fallacy as you make it. Yes, I do agree that it is going on the assumption that how men handle it is right, while in reality neither is. However, I can see many managers (including female managers) treating a woman who called in for accommodations because of a breakup differently than they would treat a man. Mainly, if a guy called in with that reasoning, he probably would be denied. So I do think that if a guy would be expected to work through something, that the woman should as well. Part of the problem though is that, as the artist stated, that type of thing wouldn’t even occur to many guys to even try to do, whereas it seems to be an expectation for women. I don’t know what the best way to handle it is though. Do we want to encourage everyone to take “emotional health days” for breakups or fights or the winter blues, or do we want to encourage our employees to not let their personal lives impact their professional lives?

          1. LawBee*

            The fallacy is – in part – equating how people treat those who are having a tough personal time with equal pay, equal rights, equal treatment under everything else.

          2. fposte*

            But you’re still engaging in the fallacy of assuming that the default way is the way for men. Why would expecting women to work through something be the change rather than expecting workplaces to cut the same slack to men?

            I think there’s an interesting discussion to be had about productivity and personal life that might color that question, but the notion that the way men get treated is automatically the standard isn’t viable.

            1. illini02*

              I didn’t really say that though fposte. I didn’t say that the default way is the man way. I said that there are differences and I’m not sure which is the best way or way that a job should encourage. In fact, I said that neither is “right”. I specifically said ” I don’t know what the best way to handle it is though. Do we want to encourage everyone to take “emotional health days” for breakups or fights or the winter blues, or do we want to encourage our employees to not let their personal lives impact their professional lives?”

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I am a big fan of “You have X amount of PTO. It is your call how you use it.”

                There is nothing to be gained by judging how people use their time or what they need time for. I watched a subordinate leave her pet at home to die from something that could have been fixed, because she chose not to leave work. And I have had people take three days off for a hang nail. There’s all kinds of people out there.

                I think that some of the discussion here presumes that people want advancement. Not all people are climbing the ladder. Another assumption I see is that everyone wants to keep the job they have. A person could decide that the job was over a while ago and “screw it, I need this time, I am taking it.” (This happens sometimes with major life changes.)

                Last thought, it could be just me, but I have noticed around me that the people who never take sick time, never call in for any reason are the ones who die young. Additionally, the person who is always going off to work in times of crisis is the one who is vulnerable to alienating their family. These things apply to both men and women.

                There is a time and a place for “suck it up buttercup” and then there is a different time and place for “okay, take some time out for this one”.
                I’d vote for looking at patterns over a period of time rather than one particular request. Just my take on it , though.

        2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          “I agree an employee can’t be significantly less productive overall and expect the same kind of pay and advancement as somebody who brings more value, but that’s the same within genders as well as across genders. ”

          Fallacious artist here. If the emotions get the better of you – and get in the way of doing your job effectively, you won’t get the advancement.

          I have never heard of a man asking for a day off because he is too distraught for work because of a break-up with a girlfriend, or a bad date. Yes, if you broke your arm – that’s an injury – and if you need the day off due to pain, or medical treatment, that is acceptable – regardless of the gender.

          On the other hand – what I’m trying to say is if you claim you can’t work – because of a romantic breakup – and you’re at home crying – you won’t get the advancement.

          Some agreed with me – women are more likely to do that. A day off because of a breakup — if EITHER gender asked for that — it might go against them. And I think what we’re seeing here is that women would be more likely to ask for that than men. As I said – men and women who “suck it up” and go forward will have the advantage. And I think a comparison of a broken arm and broken relationship carrying equal weight? Uh… I can’t go for that. Perhaps, some can, but not me.

      3. AcademicAnon*

        Let me flip this around for you: What don’t you WANT to be able to express your feelings the same way women typically do and not be penalized for it? And FYI I’m of the “suck it up buttercup” when it comes to emotional stuff and work and I’m a woman.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          Expressing feelings is one thing. Doing so in a manner that affects your work performance is something else. Whether you’re a man or a woman.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        So many generalizations here.

        What it comes down to for me is this:

        People are different and have different needs. Men and women alike – everyone responds differently to different stimuli. Just as some people need 8 hours of sleep to function and others are fine with 5, doesn’t make the long sleepers worse – they’re just different.

        As a manager I need to recognize that my employees are different and have different needs. To the best of my ability, I try to accomodate that. The question I ask is what can I do to make sure my employees are able and willing to perform at their best. Who cares if a man is having trouble coping with a girlfriend walking out – if he needs a day off I’m not in a position to judge. I had a member of my team who needed to take leave when his beloved dog had to be put to sleep. Who am I to tell him he should deal with that differently?

      5. Anonsie*

        Interesting point at the end there, considering the original advice whole comments section has been saying the exact opposite of what you’re claiming it does. You may notice the advice so far has been to not say any such a damn thing, what with “I’m just real sad” not sounding particularly compelling no matter who you are or whether or not that sadness is normal or valid.

        It’s also quite a stretch to say that because the bulk of the people supporting personal time off around here are female that women as a whole expect to get more time off than men for more trivial reasons, as if the gender as whole is expecting special treatment for our delicate little fee-fees. What you are actually seeing is a number of managers, who around here are predominantly female as the readership appears to be predominantly female as whole, saying that a high-performing employee should be allowed to telecommute or even take a day off completely when something important and personal comes up, regardless of what that is. An employee who adds value should occasionally be able to be away from work for whatever reason is necessary for them, whether that’s a vacation or illness or needing to go to court or whatever. They are advising that such time be requested as neutrally as possible without getting into personal details, because those details don’t really belong in the workplace.

        You would be hard pressed to find someone who found that to be totally unreasonable or gender-biased, or an example of needy women demanding special perks that aren’t otherwise allowed to men. This is an across the board good practice of good management to reward and retain quality staff. Trying to shoehorn accusations of sexism in here is asinine, especially when topped off with the assertion that this somehow has something to do with women in general being offered professional opportunities. The people here at the moment promoting telecommuting and PTO for good employees happen to be female, therefore women expecting equal opportunities in the workplace are out of bounds because maybe there are women who would take such a personal day for things a man may be less likely to request? Are you actively promoting a scenario where, regardless of my individual performance and temperament, I’m going to get stuck into a little box that says Do Not Encourage, Probably Weepy because women in general are encouraged to cry and men are punished for it? Do you think that’s really a reasonable situation, or are you willfully ignoring the holes in such a line of thinking because you want to make a point provocatively?

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Alison, is the readership predominately female? Or are the posters predominately female? Is there a way to figure that out?

            1. Laufey*

              According to the almighty Google (https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/2580383) – it’s based partly on statistical likelihood and partly on user-given data. Google can sometimes read forms to determine sex/gender from forms, especially on Google sites. Additionally, if a person visits sites that tend to have largely “female” subjects and female viewers, the person is deemed more likely to be female (and vice versa for men) – so it’s a somewhat iterative process that based largely on overall population demographics (as compared to the AAM sample group). In both methods, cookies are required for ongoing tracking.

              This also said, Google routinely gets my gender wrong, and my home computer and work computer have different associated genders, so it’s not omniscient (it also frequently gets my age and location wrong).

              To find out who Google thinks you are, go to Google Ads Preferences (first option when you google it). (From here you can also opt out of various ads).

              1. LBK*

                This also said, Google routinely gets my gender wrong, and my home computer and work computer have different associated genders, so it’s not omniscient (it also frequently gets my age and location wrong).

                Does it think you’re female at home and male at work? That would be a pretty interesting sociologically discussion all on its own.

                1. Laufey*

                  It thinks I am male at home and female at work (I am actually female). It’s a little weird, because I work in finance, which does not scream particularly female (to me, at least, and the XXs are definitely outnumbered both throughout the industry and at my job). It used to also think I was older (and originally, significantly so) than I actually am – however, now it is correct, but only due to a birthday on my end.

                  I do a significant amount of research for my job covering a wide range of industries, though, so my google ads at work are all kinds of messed up. Except Pandora. Pandora is freaky good. Freaky.


                2. LBK*

                  Interesting! I also work in finance and yeah, definitely a male industry. I would love to talk to one of the engineers who builds those things and see what information they use. I’m curious how much of it is based on data and how much on assumptions/stereotypes.

              2. Anonsie*

                We were talking about something similar at work recently– Amazon has started adding diaper packs, baby wipes, baby clothes, things like that to our recommended items every time we log on even if we have never ever browsed any children’s or maternity items before, on Amazon or otherwise. It also keeps asking us to subscribe to regular shipments of consumables like diapers before suggesting things we’ve actually bought before. None of us have kids or ever shop for baby things for other people but it’s constantly being suggested all of a sudden. We thought maybe it has figured out that we are women in the 25-35 range and are marketing according to whatever they think we’re most likely to buy? I’m pretty sure I’ve never looked at anything infant related online before, anywhere.

                It also keeps suggesting bags and jewelry to me even though the only apparel related thing I’ve ever shopped for on Amazon is a pair of 8″ leather work boots for when I operated a chainsaw several years ago. I do buy clothes online otherwise, though, so it may be getting that tip-off from somewhere else.

                1. LBK*

                  Facebook used to constantly give me dating website ads but weirdly they faded a few months after I got into a relationship – one that isn’t listed on my profile anywhere. My relationship status is and always has been blank. My guess is that it decided after I checked in/took pictures with the same person a lot that I must be dating them. Creepy!

                2. Anonsie*

                  Well that’s spooky as all get out.

                  Not spooky but more funny, the ads on another website I go to that’s more relationship-focused have gone weird for me. My (male) partner is Asian and it’s come up a few times on the board when we were talking about cross-cultural relationship issues, and now I’ve started getting these banner ads for weird websites where you can purportedly “find” Asian women. To date? To hire for “dates?” I have no idea, but they’re in bikinis in the ad so I think they believe I have unscrupulous motives. Swing and a miss anyway, contextual advertising.

                3. LBK*

                  Maybe it’s a support group for Asian women with terrible senses of direction? You can go help find them after they’ve gotten lost wandering around the woods!

          1. Anonsie*

            I’m at least guessing the commenters generally are by at least a slim margin, based entirely off my skimming of names & associated genders when reading and not any actual analysis. I wouldn’t know who was reading and not commenting (and apparently neither does google, which is… kind of a relief?).

            1. LBK*

              Yeah, I think I’m imagining the readership base to be accurately represented by the demographics present in the commenting community, but that’s probably not true. I think the commenters definitely skew certain ways that there’s no reason the readership overall would also skew. For example, we’re a pretty liberal bunch, but there’s nothing about the majority of Alison’s actual posts that would cause the readership to skew that way too.

              1. Anonsie*

                Before when I said “readership” I was specifically referring to the people who comment rather than the readers as a whole, since the comment I was originally replying to was talking about the discussion here. I didn’t consider was probably a misnomer until y’all pointed it out.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yep, I think the commenters skew female, but the commenters are only a small portion of readership … and I bet that women in general are more likely to comment on blogs that explore interpersonal stuff, as this one often does, as long as those blogs are reasonably civil.

      6. ThursdaysGeek*

        Sorry folks – you want equal pay, equal opportunities – you’ve got to act and perform “equal”.

        In addition to what fposte has said, that your statement equates “equal” as “how men do it”, you started out by pointing out how men are conditioned to suck it up and get on with doing your job. Women also are conditioned: “It’s ok to cry, honey.” “It’s not good to hold in your emotions.” “There, there, it will be all right.” We’re taught that we’re supposed to cry and get it out. A stoic little girl who won’t cry is a tomboy — see the pointing towards being male?

        That’s one of the reasons when I’m comparing male and female characteristics in myself, I sometimes say I’m a guy, but oh, I sure see the female conditioning I was taught, and that by parents who treated my brothers much the same as my sisters, much more than other parents in that era.

        On the other hand, if adding more work when you’re hurting is one way of dealing with loss, and another way is taking some time off — which will the business prize more? So yes, you’re right that being conditioned as a male is the more equal option.

      7. LBK*

        Sorry folks – you want equal pay, equal opportunities – you’ve got to act and perform “equal”.

        I was with you up until this sentence. You can’t argue that this is all about gender roles and socialization and then at the end say “The solution is for women to just fall in line with what men do that makes them successful,” with the implication that the male way is the right/best way. The solution is that we a) shift cultural perceptions so traditionally female actions and behaviors aren’t seen as negative or incorrect in comparison to the way men do things and we can evaluate all behaviors more objectively, and then b) break down socialization and gender roles so that this divide of expected/accepted behavior based on your sex is irrelevant so we can come up with one human code of expected behavior.

        Right now, we’re getting much better as a society at recognizing what things women are taught vs. what men are taught, but the reaction is still largely to start socializing women into male behaviors rather than meeting in the middle and socializing everyone to just act like a person.

        1. CanadianGoose*

          I’ve been reading the responses to OP #2, and in particular the debate on how men and women handle difficult times caught my eye. I thought was particularly interesting was that eventually the discussion degenerated into an argument of whether particular reasons for taking a day off are worthy, even though that was not at all the OP’s question. In fact, she *wanted* to “suck it up” and keep working; the problem was not a desire to take the time off, but an inability to bottle her emotions and stop crying.

          From that point of view, it was certainly interesting that there were repeated posts from commenters who identified themselves as male who were of the opinion that if she’s crying she can’t work, and from female posters who reported that they would have no trouble working through the tears. The point to take from that is perhaps that (for various social reasons which influence the behaviour of the genders) it is not the best idea to judge the mindset of a person from external cues. If the OP thinks that she can give in to the odd crying jag and otherwise do the job that she is expected to do, why should she be treated differently than a man who stoically goes to work and shows no external signs of his distress?

    8. Winter*

      I think there’s actually a physiological reason that men don’t cry as much. Our hormones affect how easily we tear up and how much control we have over it.

    9. Student*

      Crying (And other emotional outbursts) is a socialization issue. It is a learned behavior.

      Women tend to cry more because they are taught to cry more as young children. Men tend to cry less because they are taught to cry less as young children. A crying little girl gets favorable parental attention – concern and help with whatever caused the tears. A crying little boy gets told to toughen up, to stop “acting like a little girl”. So, the little girl keeps crying because it works for her, and the little boy doesn’t cry because it doesn’t work for him. After you become an adult, it’s very hard to switch this ingrained behavioral response. As adults, crying women continue to receive positive attention and reinforcement of the behavior in many situations (though certainly not at work). Adult men continue to receive much more uniform, more intense condemnation of crying.

      I’m female, but I grew up in a household where crying was condemned in a general sense, regardless of gender. When I cried, I received only strong negative reactions from my parents. I soon stopped trying to communicate needs through crying. As a consequence, I have difficulty crying as an adult. I don’t cry easily. When I do cry, I seek out privacy out of a continuing feeling of shame towards crying, and I get a massive headache every single time I cry. I can also state that I have occasional massive hormone swings, especially when I was younger, and the hormone swings that make me super-sad do not result in crying. So, personally, I doubt the hormones/biology have much to do with susceptibility to crying, though I certainly recognize they can affect my mood.

      I am by no means saying that emotional outbursts are necessarily inappropriate with all this. I just thing you’re more likely to do the ones that you get short-term payoffs from. You could swap the female-sadness dynamic with the male-anger dynamic and ask why men have so many more angry outbursts than women, and my answer would be that men get rewarded for angry outbursts while women get shamed for them. There’s nothing inherently wrong with anger or sadness; we just view them through some weird gendered cultural lens.

      1. Anonsie*

        I’m inclined to agree with all of this. I was brought up the same way and I tend to respond similarly.

        A weird consequence of this is that I sometimes have to pretend to be sad when I’m not because having a really calm reaction/no reaction on my end often gets me a really negative reaction from other people. Instead of being seen as me being collected and level-headed with something that is troubling to me, it comes off as me just being a big ol’ B Word who probably hates flowers and kicks puppies. It makes me look unsympathetic in general, which translates into me being perceived as untrustworthy.

        So for all the “ladies have to stop looking sad to be taken seriously” that gets thrown around, ladies having measured responses also don’t get taken seriously because then we’re big meanies. That’s some catch, that catch-22.

  24. OP #4*

    Thanks for the input, everyone. It sounds like there’s general agreement that a highly visible perk like taking off early should be an all or nothing deal. In retrospect, I think I should have given everyone a few hours off. Saying something like “If you’re done, leave early” wouldn’t have really made sense for my work group, because our work is never really “done”, there’s always something that can be worked on. I think that in the moment, I was feeling a bit frustrated with a few team members in particular, and that colored my decision. In the future, I’ll have a game plan on how I want to handle this kind of perk.

    Maybe when I have my 1:1 meetings with team members, I’ll can tell everyone individually, “Hey, if you can wrap up your work on the Beta Teapot Rollout before Tuesday, feel free to take off at 2 pm on the day before Thanksgiving!”

    1. illini02*

      Eh, I still think you have the same problem. You are still giving some people what is essentially a holiday perk and not others. I like other’s thoughts of offering PTO or something, or at least not doing it around a holiday. But when you do it for a holiday, its kind of a slap in the fact that half the group gets to leave early and the other half has to stay. Plus, I’m guessing it would look like favoritism. If those are the high performers, you probably show it somehow, and people pick up on this stuff. If I saw my bosses favorites getting to leave early for a holiday but the other rif raff didn’t, I’d be upset.

    2. soitgoes*

      I agree with illinio2: I think you need to completely wipe “letting my favorites leave early before a holiday” from your brain as a perk option.

      I have to ask…are you so stuck on this idea because you’re trying to find a way to offer a perk that doesn’t cost extra money? Or a perk that you can keep off the books somehow? This blog is full of comments from people who are not Christian and therefore have no real use for a few extra hours on Christmas Eve (or have personal reasons for not caring about Thanksgiving or NYE), but would love to take off on their own religious holidays. Dovetailing these free “perk hours” into government holidays might be convenient for you as an employer, but other people might not perceive it as a reward worth crowing about.

      1. LawBee*

        Yeah, NYE is completely not a thing in my life. I don’t care about it at all, so I would always work the full day that day. Other people took vacation, whatever. I’d work 1/1 and not care, honestly. It’s nothing more than a calendar change, just like 5/31 to 6/1 is.

        Arbor Day, on the other hand. . . (I kid.)

      2. OP#4*

        The situation is this – I’m a manager of a small group in a big company. Around noon on NYE, I thought “Hey, I should send the team home early!” Then I immediately thought “But Jane totally let that deadline slide yesterday. That was unacceptable, and she probably SHOULD be working a few more hours to finish up.” And then I thought “But Wakeen met all his deadlines, and I’d really love to do something nice for him.” And then I thought “I should Ask a Manager”.

        There are no undercurrents or shady dealings at work here – I’m not trying to keep anything off the books, not trying to save money, not trying to play favorites (I really like everyone on my team, and I would be horrified if anyone thought I was playing favorites). I’m just trying to over-analyze the message that I would send by granting my team an unexpected treat. :)

    3. LawBee*

      I think you should just either make it a 1/2 day firm policy stick it in the handbook “The office is closed 1/2 day on NYE” thing, or separate it from NYE entirely. What’s hanging you up appears to be the fact that it’s the day before a holiday. Either close the office or don’t, but if people want to take that day off, they can use PTO.

      That frees you to award your high performers however you want as far as time off goes.

    4. Mitchell*

      I don’t think the problem is that it is highly visible. I think the problem is that it is occurring around a holiday. You need to decide if you are giving people the afternoon off because of the holiday, or as a reward for their hard work. If it is a reward for hard work, it makes sense that employees have to earn it and only high performers would get the afternoon off. But if you are giving people the afternoon off because of the holiday, just to be nice, I think you should be nice to everyone.

      I’m not explaining it very well, but I think there is a difference between something you get because your office is a nice place to work (free coffee in the break room, flexible work schedule, discounted transit pass) and something you get because you are a high performer (a raise, a bonus)

      1. OP#4*

        Good point. I happened to know that most everyone had some kind of NYE plans, so I knew that a few extra hours on that particular day would be especially appreciated. Last year I actually gave the whole team a few hours off on a random sunny Friday, and several of them chose to stay at work, and save the free hours for another day. Which was not really my intention, but I was too new at managing to feel comfortable saying “sorry, this is a today-only offer”.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I think that this puts too much reliance on a perk that happens once a year. I think that cutting back on this perk will do nothing to improve the performance of the employees that need to improve.
      In the cases that I have seen this done, it did nothing to inspire improvement in the targeted employees but it did actually lower morale in everyone. The better employees left the company.
      Now clearly, there were other problems running at the same time but the holiday thing was just another item to add to the list.

      I think what you should do is test this out. See if the low performers are doing better this week or this month. Then check on your high performers and see how they are doing. Run the comparisons- not so that you can tell us about it, but for your own knowledge and thoughts on matters.

  25. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #1 – living in New England where “anything can happen” with the weather.

    With today’s weather forecasting capabilities, a good management team should know whether to have employees come in or NOT come in, if they can work at home.

    That’s what my company does – sometimes ORDERS us to W@home.

    At a former employer, I was docked a day for refusing to come into the office when the area was in imminent danger of being struck by a major hurricane.

    When it hit – and this is not an “Onion” story, I am not making this up – they sent the employees out – into the hurricane – to fend their way home. Now, that was a day’s pay I was very happy to lose, with a big laugh. It is still a “Dinner Table Story”, to this day.

    A year or so ago, our Governor raised hackles with some Draconian bosses – by declaring an emergency BEFORE a major snow storm hit – public transportation would be shut down, and there would be a “curfew” on travel after a certain time – public safety and health workers (obviously) exempted. While the right-wing kook radio shows started whining about “ewwgghh what a nanny state!” between laxative commercials,

    This was to serve two purposes —

    1) If Dingbat McGarrity decided to go out in the middle of the storm to get a pack of cigarettes and a lottery ticket, and ended up having his car towed out of a ditch, he could be fined for breaking emergency travel conditions and

    2) Big Mean Boss could not order his workers in – “dammit, I got here, I walked the full three blocks from Executive Penthouse Towers to the office, you can get there, too!” because he would be asking his employees to break the law.

    You know, there were very few fatalities in that storm … it makes sense…

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Oh boy, I can so relate. I have been told to come into work when it was illegal to be on the road. I chose to stay home and suffered “the treatment” for days because of that choice.
      It was worth it to me, too. No job is worth dying for.

  26. Not telling*

    I’ve never understood why so many smokers think they are entitled to regular breaks–whether paid or unpaid. What is it about a nicotine addiction that twists the thinking into the idea that it is smoking is a protected status or that smoking entitles one to work less than one’s peers?

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