I fired a manager for drinking on the job, my coworker shared my pregnancy news, and more

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

1. I fired a manager for drinking on the job, and now I regret agreeing to be a reference

Last year I fired a manager. She had a shocking number of personal setbacks in the 6 months or so before she was fired, all of which I empathized with her deeply about. However, she just couldn’t cope with the stress and depression that followed. First her behavior turned erratic, then she had a variety of public and private meltdowns on the clock, and then absenteeism set in. We eventually demoted her, then put her on part-time hours and told her that under no circumstances could she miss any more work. Well, not one day after being told no more absences, she was arrested for a DUI (while she was supposed to be at work) in another state. It also came out that she had been drinking on the job. She was let go immediately, but she promised me she’d use this opportunity to turn her life around. She swore she would stop drinking. I told her I would act as a reference for her, because I sympathized with her mitigating circumstances and because I believed she was passionate about making changes to her lifestyle. I said I would cite the reason for her leaving the job as “scheduling conflicts.”

For the first few months, it appeared she had stayed true to her word. She was looking great, stopped hanging out with the people who had brought her down previously, and got an entry-level job with my reference.

However, that appears to have not stuck. I assume the first job she got didn’t work out because I’ve been getting calls asking for references (no heads-up from her though). I’ve heard through mutual friends that she is still drinking, and one told me she was drinking and driving a few weekends ago. If this is true, I no longer want to act as her reference. However, this is hearsay, and if the gossip I’ve heard is only gossip, I don’t want to impede her success. I don’t have her current phone number, and she’s not on social media. I’m regretting offering to act as a reference, but at the same time it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I feel for her on a personal level but her drama has brought me so much stress already. I’m worried I’ll get another call about a reference from her before I hear from her again. I like this woman and truly believe that if she fixes her personal problems she has a lot to offer the professional world. Do you have any ideas about how to proceed?

Well, I think you made a mistake with the original agreement. If she later got hired in part due to your (false) reference and then had a drinking-related accident and it came out that she had had drinking-on-the-job issues with you too, that would really not be good for your employer. Or for the people who hired her, or for her, or for anyone else affected by her drinking.

As for what to do here, I’d reach out to her and ask how things are going. Be honest with her about what you’ve heard, and (unless you hear something compelling enough to convince you that what you heard was wrong) let her know that you’ve realized that you shouldn’t have agreed to misrepresent what happened when she worked for you, and that you’re no longer comfortable being a reference.

You can absolutely be compassionate and even empathetic without compromising your own ethics and your employer’s reputation by lying for her.

2. Not attending a colleague’s funeral

I work in a very tight-knit workplace where the culture is to be friends with your coworkers. We recently had a colleague dear to us all pass away and the services are quickly approaching. There have been a few emails sent, and I feel it’s the expectation that everyone attend. Due to my personal history, I am very uncomfortable at funerals and they make me quite anxious (my heart is beating faster just writing this). Is there a way I can convey that I am honoring the memory and grieving in my own way without hurting anyone’s feelings? If it helps, I was not friends with them outside of work, and only saw them in the halls in passing but always exchanged a smile and greeting.

I’m of the belief that you always show up at funerals, period (although it’s been made quite clear in the comment section that that’s not everyone’s point of view). But if you don’t want to, the cleanest way is probably to have a schedule conflict that day — an appointment you can’t get out of or something of that sort.

And send a card to the person’s family.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. My coworker shared my pregnancy news, which I’d told her not to do

I work part-time at a doctor’s office, and one day my heart started racing and skipping pretty bad and I got scared, so naturally I asked one of the nurses to take my blood pressure. I mentioned that I was newly pregnant and that perhaps that’s why I was having trouble, but to please not tell anyone as it was still extremely early in the pregnancy.

I ended up going to the ER and everything was fine. But I had to leave work and have someone cover for me, so the nurse must have told the woman covering for me why I had to leave and that I was pregnant and word spread from there.

Now everyone at work knows I’m pregnant (the news got out when I was only 5 weeks along) and I was in no way ready to share that news with anyone. And I was under the impression that the nurse would keep this info private, since she’s a nurse and knows about HIPAA and privacy laws, and also SINCE I ASKED HER TO. I am really angry and upset over this betrayal of trust and loss of control, but I’m not one for confrontation so I don’t want to get stressed out at mentioning my disappointment to her. It’s too late now anyway, you can’t un-ring a bell. It was no one’s job to announce such big news but my own and now that has been taken away from me, so I’m left wondering what I should do to avoid any awkwardness.

Should I even bother making an official pregnancy announcement to my coworkers now that everyone already knows? And if so, should I do it now (I’m currently 8 weeks pregnant) to avoid any awkwardness or wait until I’m 12 weeks, which was when I was going to announce anyway?

Wow, she was way out of line, both legally (HIPAA) and ethically. She sucks. (To be clear, HIPAA normally doesn’t apply in regular coworker situations, but it does cover medical professionals, and in this case she knew the information because she was acting in a medical capacity.)

I would seriously consider speaking to her and/or her manager and saying that you’re concerned that explicitly confidential medical information was shared without your consent. If you don’t feel like dealing with it right now, there’s no reason that you can’t bring it up down the road (even after you’ve had the baby) when you feel more ready to have that conversation.

As for whether to announce it now, that’s totally up to you! You had that choice taken away from you earlier, so you should proceed now in whatever way makes you the most comfortable.

4. I missed an interview invitation while I was recovering from surgery

I had surgery almost 3 weeks ago to repair an injury, and while I was recovering, I got a call from a prospective employer (that I applied to about 2 months prior) and never returned the call because I felt horrible. I’m finally back on my feet and I’d really like an opportunity for an interview at said company. Should I call back and explain my situation to them, even if the position is not open? I see postings from them often and I would like to do as much damage control as possible in case a future opportunity arises.

Yes, although I’d email. Explain that you were recovering from surgery for an injury, just received their message, would love to interview if it’s not too late, but understand that it might be. Your goal here is largely to close the loop — so it doesn’t look like you just ignored an interview invitation from them. If you get an interview out of it too, that’s great — but either way you’ll have corrected the misimpression that you just didn’t bother to get back to them.

5. My manager refused to let me see my performance evaluation

My manager waited 4 months past the time it was due to do my performance evaluation. I kept asking about it. He told me he had sent it in without sitting down to discuss it with me (which is company policy). We are also supposed to sign it. I NEVER saw it or signed it. It went in to corporate. He either (a) didn’t care if it was signed or (b) forged my signature. When I asked for a copy of it, he told me no. Is this legal?

It’s legal, but it’s probably against your company’s policies. Why not reach out to your company’s HR team and tell them that you’ve never seen the performance review that your manager submitted for you and ask if you can review it? (However that plays out, there’s clearly an issue with your manager, and/or with your relationship with your manager, so I’d put some attention toward figuring out what’s going on there, as well.)

{ 296 comments… read them below }

  1. Carson*

    #2 – YES! Thank you, Alison. Funerals are not about you. They’re about supporting someone or the family of someone you care about. No one is “comfortable” at a funeral and no one wants to go, but you go anyway.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I agree with you that funerals aren’t about you, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who knows the person even a little must attend. I’d give OP an easy pass here- I doubt the family would want someone dealing with a lot of anxiety for several days leading up to it, especially if the family won’t even notice you are missing.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I agree. I think generally you go (meaning canceling more enjoyable plans that might conflict with it, etc.), but it really depends on how anxious it’s making the OP (sounds like maybe a lot).

      2. we'll be able to save 15% or so of the children*

        I say suck it up and go. It’s going to be 1 to maybe 3 hours of your time. Consider it part of your job / part of your work community: everyone is being called upon to show unity and respect for the deceased.

        If you don’t go, it will be noticed, and not soon forgotten.

        I’m sorry to be unsympathetic, but when someone says they’re uncomfortable and anxious at funerals, and follows up by rationalizing that “they didn’t know the person well, anyway” – to me this sounds like you’re just trying to accumulate excuses in hopes that you won’t feel awful for not attending.

        Again: go. My father’s funeral was not a sad, weepy affair; it was a celebration of his life and his many accomplishments. Old friends re-united, and new friendships were forged.

        1. Nina*

          My situation was the opposite. I was surprised at the people who showed up to my father’s funeral because I didn’t know a lot of them, and a few people who I would’ve expected to show up did not. But you know what? I didn’t care who was there either way because I was barely holding myself together that day. Even now years later, I still don’t remember most of the faces there.

          Don’t get me wrong, I’m truly grateful for the people that did attend, I just didn’t dwell on the ones who didn’t. I’m sure the family would like the OP to be there, but I don’t think they’ll be focusing on their absence.

          1. MK*

            I think the comment meant it would be noticed by the OP’s boss, coworkers, etc, not the family of the deceased.

          2. TeapotCounsel*

            I had the opposite experience.
            Like you, I had trouble holding it together at my father’s funeral. But, I remember clearly who was there, and now, years later, remember fondly the efforts they made to attend.
            Funerals are very important, and my two cents is that OP very much needs to attend. OP’s issues with funerals are unfortunate, but the solution is to overcome the issues, not skip funerals and hurt people in their most vulnerable moments.

            1. Jazzy Red*

              When my dad died, not one person from my work place came to his funeral. I worked there for 20 years. It was a real slap in my face, and I’ve never felt the same about all those people (we did a lot of socializing in those days, and I thought we were all friends. More fool me.) It’s been years, and it still hurts to think about that.

              However, there was one man I didn’t know at the funeral, who saw my dad’s obit in the paper, and had been in the same organization as Dad more than 40 years previously. He attended to pay his respects, and I’ve never forgotten how that made me feel.

              I’ve attended more funerals and memorial services than I can count, because now I know how much it means to the family.

              OP, if you just can’t bring yourself to attend, at least send a card WITH A HANDWRITTEN NOTE to the family – something personal about how their loved one touched your life. It will mean a lot to them.

              1. Kristie*

                Yes, be sure to write a note in the card. Something as simple as “his smile always brightened my work day” would go a LONG way. My father passed away two years ago and I have really found those types of condolences very comforting.

                1. OP #2*

                  I agree! This is what I remember most from the months after my dad’s passing and I look forward to sending a meaningful note to the family. (A more complete update from me is below).

              2. Bea W*

                No one I worked with came to my mother’s funeral. I had no expectation they would, because they did not know my mother. While they offered condolences, cards, flowers, etc to me I think of funerals as events where people who are grieving go to get closure more than events people attend out of moral support. People do that of course. I have definitely done this (and sometimes gone quite out of my way to do it) but that’s not how I personally viewed the funeral I had to arrange personally for my mother strangely enough.

                These comments really show how different each person is. It really is such a personal issue. What hurts one person might be totally off the radar for another. I guess it helps most to know the deceased and their loved ones. Short of that, it’s probably a lot of doing what feels right. So I guess I would ask the OP – what feels like the right thing to do?

              3. Phyllis*

                Actually, I think attending the visitation (wake) is more important. Well, maybe not more important, but I kind of feel like funerals are for people who know/have a personal relationship with the departed. Visitation is for paying respects, offering condolences, maybe sharing a fond memory. I never forget when my father died not one of my in-laws came, but a lady I worked with (that I thought didn’t even like me) worked her shift, drove home, put on a dress (this was in the days you didn’t wear pants to a funeral home and she lived 20 miles away) and came to express her condolences. That touched me more than anyone will ever know. The thing is, do something. Go to visitation, send flowers, write a card, something so they know you cared.

            2. jag*

              I agree and will add to it that many people are anxious and uncomfortable at funerals. Perhaps not to the extent of the OP, but it’s not rare. If the anxiety is debilitating, really affecting the OP that day or the next day, then I can see not going. But if it’s not that extreme: go.

          3. Bea W*

            I barely remember who did or did not come to my mother’s funeral, with the exception of her brothers, both of whom she did not grow up with and lived at other ends of the country and who did call and send flowers. I didn’t think badly of them or anyone else who did not attend. A number of people could not attend the service due to it being held on a work day. I can’t tell you if my mother’s co-workers attended. I don’t remember.

            I was totally surprised at who did come to either the funeral or the visitation. I certainly wasn’t expecting people to come out of the woodwork the way they did…I mean people who knew my mother back when I was a child and hadn’t had contact with her for 20 or 30 years!

            I did have a co-worker who committed suicide. I think we all attended the service, but I don’t think anyone would have held it against people for not attending. Attendance at funerals and wakes and grieving in general is such a personal thing, and I don’t feel like it’s right to judge someone for handling a really personal matter in a way that is right for them.

            Not everyone feels that way though. There are people who will silently (or not) judge, but only the OP can decide if the anxiety of attending overrides whatever fallout might happen for not attending.

            I’d also like to add that if you want to support the surviving loved ones, it’s the weeks abd months after the funeral when everyone else has moved on that can get really tough. The need for support doesn’t end when hearse drives away.

        2. CanadianDot*

          Saying “suck it up and go” is all well and good, but if the person has any kind of an anxiety disorder, or a panic trigger regarding funerals, it may very well be better that they don’t attend. Being the person at the funeral having a panic attack is humiliating, and takes focus away from the person whose life is being remembered. No matter social convention, it’s not worth it to have any kind of PTSD-type thing triggered. My suggestion would be that the OP convey their regrets in a card, or some personal message to the family, and then have a coworker who will be there, and whom they trust, tell anyone at the funeral who asks that the OP is ill or the like.

          1. Meg Murry*

            Yes, this. If OP thinks they will have a full-on panic attack or break down in some way that is distracting to the grieving family, then OP should not go. If OP is anxious in a normal but uncomfortable way (sweaty palms, slightly racing heart) then I think the “suck it up and go” advice applies – because honestly, no one likes funerals, and short of people that do them for a living (such as long time funeral directors, pastors or hospice workers) I’m pretty sure just about everyone gets anxious at the thought of a funeral, so it really depends on the degree of anxiety. OP could sit in the back of the service and slip out if she really needs to. If the anxiety is unpleasant but not crippling, it would probably be better to try to go to this lower stakes funeral for someone you don’t know well – because what if next time it is your boss or close peer who you really don’t have an excuse to skip?

            If OP really can’t bring herself to go to the funeral, could she at least make it to the viewing if there is a separate one? In my area, most people who didn’t know the departed well usually go to the viewing held the afternoon or evening before the funeral – you walk through a receiving line, shake hands and exchange condolences like “I’m sorry for your loss, Bob was a great guy”, maybe have a cup of coffee and leave. Far less stress/pressure than the actual funeral.

            1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

              Now, I don’t have funeral anxiety, pretty much at all, but I cannot handle viewings unless I have a 100% guarantee that it will not be open casket. My issues with open casket are so great that they override my entire ability to be a collected, sympathetic person. OP obviously knows there limits, but I think there are some pretty serious caveats that someone who already has funeral anxiety should consider before attending a viewing.

                1. Audiophile*

                  I attended a funeral once, where the casket was open and able to be viewed before the funeral started. Trust me, as a kid, this was traumatic. Even for the adults around me, this was very traumatic.

                2. Bea W*

                  Often the casket is in full view when you walk into the room, and the family will be standing near it. It’s really hard not to see the body, and all it takes is a quick glimpse. I don’t even panic badly, but I often go to the funeral but will skip a viewing unless I am close to the family or am unable to make the service.

                3. Jennifer*

                  I literally sat in the farthest back corner on the edge of the room at the last funeral I went to so I didn’t have to see the body. Thankfully, the deceased’s mother understood and didn’t give me crap about it.

                4. Xanthippe Lannister Vorhees*

                  The open casket ones I have been to the receiving line is positioned immediately after-if not in front of- the casket, making it unavoidable unless you wear blinders or close your eyes.

              1. Bea W*

                Ugh. Open casket. I can handle it, but I can’t actually go up the body the way people do. My mother wanted that, and had picked out her clothing and gave specific instructions about make-up and such. I did it because she wanted it and arranged it. Left to my own devices…oh hell no, and I am totally okay with people who have seriously anxiety issues bowing out of post-mortem rituals that freak them out. I figure we’re all in enough pain over a death, I don’t want people to put themselves in a position where it’s even more awful for them.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            We lost a very well-liked employee at Exjob, and I didn’t go either. I had stuff on that day, and to be honest, I was afraid I would get too upset (I cried at work when the manager told me). I did sign the card, and told the kids how sorry I was when they showed up to retrieve something of his. Not everyone was able to go, so I wasn’t alone.

            What upset me most workwise was when we had a company meeting some time later and the bosses did not even mention the employee. His birthday was on the list, but they didn’t even say “As you know, we lost Bob in X month. He will be missed.” It was like he didn’t exist. I don’t know if they were asked not to mention it, but that really rubbed me the wrong way. Given the state of management at that point, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just treated it like a firing–“Well, he’s gone and we all know it; there’s no point in even saying his name.”

            1. Jennifer*

              Maybe it made them feel bad to think about his birthday when he wasn’t there to celebrate it.

        3. OhNo*

          I strongly disagree. At my mother’s funeral, I found the presence of her coworkers very uncomfortable. It was one thing to mourn the loss of a parent in the presence of family and friends — people I knew, who were doing mourning of their own at the service. But having a lot of coworkers there, some of whom clearly did not know my mother well, and a few of whom were clearly using the funeral as an excuse not to go into work that day, was really uncomfortable.

          OP, Unless you genuinely want the chance to mourn this person, I say let the family grieve without your anxious, potentially awkward presence. Send a card to the family and tell your coworkers that you have an unavoidable doctor’s appointment or something that day.

          1. Florida*

            I can remember working at a place where the CEO’s father-in-law died. A few VPs went to the funeral. One person who was on the bottom of the totem pole, fairly new to the office, and had very little contact with the CEO went to the funeral. That might have endeared the CEO to the person, but everyone else in the office viewed her as a slacker who was just trying to get out of work.

            Normally, I’m in the never-skip-the-funeral camp. But if it’s that distant (the father-in-law of someone who is 2-3 steps removed from your boss), just send a card.

          2. Miss Betty*

            I agree with you. I’ve always thought I wouldn’t want my co-workers, no matter how much I liked them, at a parent’s or sibling’s funeral. My dad’s funeral was 1000 miles away so I didn’t have to worry about that and I can’t convey what a relief it was that I didn’t. (Some of his co-workers were there and that I didn’t mind at all.)

            1. Michelle*

              I agree with @Florida, too. I had enough to deal with when my father passed in December of 2014 and adding coworkers into the mix would have made it more uncomfortable. I can see maybe your direct supervisor or if you are particularly friendly with someone, but not a whole office of people.

              (My father’s funeral was 700 + miles away, in another state, so no one from work came but they sent a beautiful flower arrangement and cards to my home).

          3. ThursdaysGeek*

            I spend 8 hours a day with my co-workers, which is a lot more than I spend with some friends. It would be weird if no co-workers came to my service, since they too are part of my life.

            I’ve gone to co-worker’s services. But it’s never just to get time off work: it’s always been somewhat inconvenient to me, but something that I need to do anyway. I’ve even driven 300 miles to attend the service of a former co-worker (along with some others from the same job).

            When I attend, it is not to get out of work or do some sort of odd brown-nosing. It’s because I cared about that person, or I care about the person who lost a loved-one.

        4. Jeemey*

          At my stepfather’s funeral (held in the morning, on a weekday), at least a dozen people from his office showed up plus probably another 10 or so from some of the places he had worked previously. It really meant a lot to my family. I can’t exactly explain it, but seeing that he had so many people who cared about him enough to take time off work and drive across town in Houston traffic to attend his funeral was really uplifting. Several of my mom’s customers (she’s a hair stylist) even came. I was already struggling to hold back tears as they filed by us, introducing themselves and offering their condolences when I looked up and saw 4 people from my office. That let loose the tears, but they were a good kind of tears – of course some of sorrow, but also tears of gratitude for the outpouring of love and support.

          I learned a lot from that experience. Funerals are for the living. If you can go, you should go. It matters.

          1. sunny-dee*

            It’s a little different, but I had a miscarriage two weeks ago. A handful of people at work knew, and they were so amazingly supportive. It meant (and means) so much for people just to be there. They can’t do anything to fix it — but hearing them say “I’m sorry” or “I care about you” was healing.

        5. nona*

          I’d generally agree, but OP says it’s due to some personal history. Depending on what happened, they really might not be able to do that.

          IMO go if you can.

        6. SJP*

          I disagree, if someone is likely to have an anxiety attack and be upset leading up to it, I say don’t go. Yes it shows unity but i’m sure if you just dropped by the persons desk who sent out the emails calling for people to go and just say “Funerals make me extremely anxious, to the point I could have an anxiety attack. I’m really sorry but I don’t feel I should attend as It’s extremely uncomfortable for me and to suffer mentally due to this isn\t something I want to go through. I hope you can understand. ”

          I just attended my Nan’s funeral yesterday and helped organise it and if someone said that to me i’d completely agree. I suffered a nosebleed yesterday at the start of the funeral from stress and upset so I can sympathise with OP 2

        7. Belinda Gomez*

          Also, the more exposure one has to upsetting events/things, the easier they become. Better to go, support the family, and learn how to control your own reactions.

          1. SJP*

            Why would someone go and have a panic attack and make a scene at a funeral? I just think if someone is that uncomfortable and is likely to have an attack which will be embarrassing and potentially distressing to the family, then don’t go! CanadianDot summed it up well above. I know that if yesterday someone at my Nan’s funeral did that and knew they might i’d have been a bit annoyed, it takes away from the remembrance of that lost person. All i’d remember is someone having a panic attack and annoying me while i’m trying to listen to the service and fondly remember someone, than the service.
            Fair enough if they were overcome with emotion and had a panic attack cause of that then fair play, but it OP’s case that wouldn’t be the case, it’s an acquaintance who they exchanged pleasantries with so their panic attack wouldn’t be through grief it would be through trigger anxiety…

          2. AM*

            People often make this argument when it comes to panic, anxiety and phobias but using exposure as a treatment is something done in stages. If someone’s terrified of heights, step 1 isn’t to visit the Grand Canyon.

            1. Michelle*

              That maybe a viable treatment options for some, but not all. My son has anxiety/panic attacks. He goes to therapy and take meds, but never has the doctor suggested exposing him to the thing that triggers the attacks. I even asked about exposure and he said no, don’t do it.

              CanadianDot’s response is perfect. If OP went and had an attack, people would ask “why did she/he go if they knew it could trigger an attack”.

              1. SJP*

                Exactly.. I just cannot see it going well. OP says it makes her heart race just thinking about it, that is anxiety and fear. I just don’t think it’s a good idea for them to go and I think the family would rather a card and a sorry I cannot be there, than someone having a panic attack at the ceremony

                1. Belinda Gomez*

                  A racing heart isn’t the same as a panic attack. If the OP has a history of panic attacks, perhaps OP should consult a medical professional about it. OP is not a minor child, but an adult.

            2. Sospeso*

              I do think it may be worth it for the OP to try to attend the funeral. Just to try. Sometimes, if I know that I should probably do something I don’t want to do, I give myself a “get out of jail free” card, so to speak. (And I say should here because the OP seems to be feeling pressure to go to this funeral, feeling that he/she “should” go.) There’s always a choice, right? And in this case, the OP doesn’t have to necessarily commit to going and then staying for the entire service. Maybe in this scenario for the OP, this means just getting dressed and driving to the service. Maybe next time it means walking inside for the service. The time after that, perhaps it’s sitting in the back for the service and quietly ducking out if necessary. I think that all of this can probably be done in a way that’s sensitive for the family.

              As many commenters have pointed out, it sounds like the OP is anxious about this, which is perfectly valid – I don’t mean to suggest otherwise! I am just concerned that one day there will be a funeral or memorial service that the OP will really wish he/she could have attended. It might make sense to begin with a lower-pressure scenario like this.

              Unfortunately, I find that the older I get, the more funerals I find myself wanting/needing to attend. I am always glad I have gone – to remember the person, to let the family know what they meant to me, to hear about the person as a whole person instead of the slice of them I knew.

              1. Sospeso*

                And if even thinking of it is too overwhelming, it may be worth talking to someone about it. No judgment here, just a suggestion. When things begin interfering with my day-to-day life, that’s when I typically sit up and take notice.

          3. Dynamic Beige*

            I was coming here to post something like this.

            OP, one day someone you love and care about is going to pass away and you will be expected — required — to attend that funeral. If you go throughout life giving in to your fears, they tend to multiply and magnify.

            When I was a kid, a grandparent died. I was scared and upset (it was a sudden passing with no kind of warning a kid would understand, like a long hospital stay) and just didn’t know what to do/was so freaked out by it all so I told my mother I didn’t want to go — and she agreed that I didn’t have to. Which, looking back now, is totally bizarre and I cannot believe she did that. She could have used that experience as a way to teach me about it, instead she let me avoid it probably because it was easier for her. The next funeral that happened was hers and I’ve got to say I knew nothing about what to do/how to behave/what was expected of me and it was so hard. I had no previous experience of seeing how people beyond my family (which ain’t large to begin with) deal with death and sadly, she wasn’t the type of mother who sat me down after the funeral and talked about it, discussed how I felt and why I felt that way. We just carried on and didn’t really talk about it if we didn’t have to. So yeah, totally healthy way of coping /s

            If this is a coworker you didn’t know very well, I mean in the sense that you don’t know their family — you’re not that kind of close, I encourage you to go so you can desensitize yourself a little to the whole process of funerals and also because your other coworkers will wonder if you’re not there. Not every funeral/religion is all doom and gloom, repent ye for the wages of sin is death — some of the things that various cultures do to honour the dead are actually kind of interesting. You don’t really know this person, you’re not expected to take an active part. Sit in the back and if you feel that it’s getting to be too much, quietly get up and go out into the hall, use the bathroom, do some breathing. Really be mindful of what specifically is bothering you. Is it reminders of someone else’s death/funeral? Is it a reminder that you yourself are mortal? No one likes being reminded that our time here comes to an end one day. If anyone asks, you don’t have to be explicit about it but a simple “I’m sorry, funerals remind me of when my [insert name here] died …” Pretty much everyone has gone through losing someone and know it can be traumatic and bring up stuff — especially the stuff that we thought we had dealt with. Whatever it is you’re avoiding dealing with is only going to get more powerful and hold more sway over you if you don’t confront it and work on dismantling the hold it has over your life and choices.

            However, if you really, really, really just can’t, then at least go to the visitation if there is one. I’ve done that a few times to pay my respects to the family involved when I knew I either couldn’t go to the funeral due to a prior commitment or I didn’t think it would be appropriate to do so because our relationship/connection wasn’t that strong. That might be a way to start confronting your fears in a lower pressure environment where you’re not required to stay for a long time.

      3. PEBCAK*

        I also think there’s a difference between not attending and sending a card (as AAM suggests), and not acknowledging it at all. When my dad died, there were people I heard zero from who I assumed should have heard about it through the regular gossip network. Some of them were more “friends of friends” who I wouldn’t have really expected to see at the funeral, but then a week later at holiday parties, they were saying hello and asking what was new with me like they had no idea. Then it gets awkward, and so on…

        Point being, if you are not close enough or don’t want to attend the funeral, it’s still on you to say, “sorry for your loss” in one way or another so that we can all acknowledge it and move on.

      4. Bea W*

        Totally agree here and I say that as a person who will drop whatever to attend a funeral. It is enough if you can’t attend to send your condolences even saying you are sorry you are unable to attend the funeral. This is one occasion where the thought really does count.

      5. Chinook*

        If the funeral OP is contemplating going to happens during the workday, she could look like an office hero and still work around her discomfort by offering to cover the office while everyone else goes.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        They’re also support for the family of the person who died. Many people take great comfort in seeing how many people turn out for a loved one’s funeral, since it’s a visible demonstration of how many lives the person touched.

        That doesn’t mean that OP has to go, but I did want to expand the definition of what funerals are.

        1. Editor*

          When my husband died unexpectedly before he hit age 60, we scheduled the funeral for a weekend so people could more easily attend. Some people had conflicts, but really, I was too frazzled to figure out who came from his office and who didn’t, mostly because I’d only heard their names and hadn’t met them. (His employer didn’t hold events spouses were invited to. Company-wide holiday parties and so on were held during the day and the staff were collected in buses and transported to the function site.) I did see the names in the guest book, but I didn’t keep score. Some of the people he worked with every day were really devastated. They never had the chance to say good-bye to him either, and they weren’t getting the sympathy I received.

          My co-workers and direct reports were another story. I had a lot of lingering resentment that my direct reports couldn’t be bothered to show up, although they did send flowers. They were very awkward about extending sympathy and appeared to be uncomfortable about any references to my husband’s death, even when the remarks were fond memories. That stung. And I found myself disproportionately grateful to co-workers I didn’t know well who showed up for the funeral. One woman I worked with did have some discomfort with the event. Our church at the time had a large room at the back of the sanctuary that was glassed in, with piped-in sound, so that parents of young children could attend services even with a child who was being difficult. She sat in that room, which did have a couple of parents with young children present, so she wasn’t conspicuous if she had to leave. I was fine with that, and that could be an alternative for the OP.

          If the family has calling hours, and that would be manageable for the OP, go then. With the family, just identify yourself, then say you were so sorry your co-worker died. You don’t really have to say more — there are all kinds of pitfalls with religious sentiments that some people utter. If you don’t know the family’s beliefs, don’t go there.

          Even though I am comfortable at funerals, I am not a proponent of embalming or the display of the deceased, so I just don’t get too close to the open casket. I haven’t found that people particularly notice that, especially if the funeral home staff isn’t herding people past the casket. I think a set-up where walking close to the casket is optional is much the best strategy, but that’s me.

          If the OP can’t face going to the funeral, there is a way to make up for it. Send a card, but in the card write something positive about the deceased. If you have an anecdote — even if it is the only anecdote you have about that person — and it puts them in a good light, tell it. Write it out on a sheet of paper separate from the card, rewrite it if necessary, and then handwrite it in the card. I received several such cards from people who did not attend the funeral, and they were more appreciated than flowers (and I liked the flowers) and gave me a glimpse of the person he was at work. My children and I found great consolation reading those good memories of him. (The handwritten letter I got from a stranger who was a member of a religious group that’s always distributing fliers door-to-door explaining to me that my late husband was going to hell and I should convert so I didn’t, too, was less appreciated. Don’t be that person.) A card with a thoughtful message is better than flowers, memorial gifts, or even a phone call.

          If you know someone, and they die or someone in their family dies, go to the calling hours or the funeral. It does make a difference to the living. I wish people were less fearful of death. I’m not saying death isn’t difficult, but I am saying that we all know we will die someday. We have to live the best lives we can before then, and being unable to face the reality of death isn’t best for us. If a death or a funeral spurs us to be better people, good. Not all deaths and all funerals will be tragedies, and some funerals really are a celebration of a life well-lived, even the recent funeral I attended where the family honored the deceased for myriad accomplishments while acknowledging the person’s flaws, which had been painful for the family. We can’t keep death away by pretending it doesn’t exist, and we can’t make some deaths easier even when we accept that death occurs — grief happens, and it’s part of life, and a lingering part of life in many cases.

          And… find out how many dishes of lasagne the family has before you take them any more. Just saying…

          1. fposte*

            Calling hours is a particularly good point. Those should be less taxing to attend than the funeral, but it still is a way to show up for people.

          2. junipergreen*

            I’m so sorry for the loss of your husband. And I am in awe of your clarity and heartfelt reflection of the events surrounding the services. This is wonderful context and advice, thank you.

          3. Sospeso*

            So beautifully said. Thank you for sharing. This part especially resonated: “I wish people were less fearful of death. I’m not saying death isn’t difficult, but I am saying that we all know we will die someday. We have to live the best lives we can before then, and being unable to face the reality of death isn’t best for us…. We can’t keep death away by pretending it doesn’t exist, and we can’t make some deaths easier even when we accept that death occurs — grief happens, and it’s part of life, and a lingering part of life in many cases.”

            I also second what you said about anecdotes about the person. When my mom passed away not long after my college graduation, it was so reassuring to read notes from *her* college friends, many of whom she’d lost touch with over the years. It helped me consider my mom as a whole person, rather than focusing solely on the parts of her life I’d been a part of. More than a year later, I find myself rereading many of those notes.

            1. Dana*

              Agreed. My dad died two days after I turned 17. It was amazing to see who showed up to his wake/visitation and funeral. A guy that I’d never met, never even heard my dad talk about, flew in from states away. He and my dad were close when they were in college. It was so nice to have him there, sharing an few anecdotes, and just realizing that not only did someone bother to tell him what happened, but that he wanted to spend the money, leave the state, and come meet all of us under these terrible circumstances because my dad had meant something to him at one point. It also helped me get to know the person that my dad had been besides Dad, and now that I am a fully fledged adult, I appreciate that so much more.

              You absolutely go for the living, even if you didn’t know their loved one who died, and you absolutely go for the dead, even if you don’t know their living.

          4. Bea W*

            Not all deaths and all funerals will be tragedies, and some funerals really are a celebration of a life well-lived.

            My grandmother was 97 when she died. At that point I felt less sadness and more like “Bravo grandma! Life well lived!” My dad for whatever reason doesn’t deal well with funerals and never had one for her. It was disappointing because I felt like if anyone deserved a celebration of their life it was someone who lived nearly 100 years. Oh the stories people could tell and the changes she had seen! Women didn’t even have the right to vote when my grandmother was born.

            If I live that long I want people to throw a freakin’ party.

        2. OhNo*

          I think sending a card to the family, or flowers to the service, would be an acceptable substitute, though. You can still support the family without being physically present.

          1. Jessa*

            Make sure however flowers are appropriate. If the deceased was Jewish, not so much. I am not aware of whether or not one sends flowers to Sikhs, Muslims, Hindu, Shinto, Buddhist, etc. either, I’d Google the religion or call and ask the venue before going with flowers.

        3. Jeemey*

          I recently attended a funeral where besides the family, only about 5 other people showed up. It was a whole additional layer of sadness. That big room with flowers and music with a dozen or so family member in the front rows and then just the few of us behind them, the guest book with only part of one page filled in, it was just so sad and lonely.

          Truthfully, it was very difficult to get to that funeral that day and I considered not going. It was a really bad time to try to get away from work and all – but one of the main reasons that I made sure to go was because I thought there might not be very many others show up. I wanted to make sure that someone was there for the family, even if it was just me. Can you imagine how they would have felt if the small group of us that did attend hadn’t shown up and it was only them? I just couldn’t bear the thought of that on top of what they were already going through.

          1. KJR*

            That was a really nice thing to do! I’m sure the family really appreciated your being there.

            1. GH in SoCAl*

              Your comment reminded me of when my grandmother died. Her friends from her activities clubs couldn’t be there — many of them didn’t have transportation, and my Dad didn’t do a great job of letting them know in time, either. He wasn’t concerned about “who else” was there other than family. But 6 or 8 of my friends came, some of whom hadn’t even met her, and that meant so much to me –and, to his surprise, meant a lot to my father, too. So yeah, even if you’re not in the inner circle of those touched by a death, being there can turn out to be so important.

              1. peanut butter kisses*

                I once read in an advice column that it would be a kindness to the family to ask them if there are any elderly people who they know would like to attend the funeral if they need a ride in order to attend. I agree.

                And in addition to the previous comments that are upstream, it is nice to nice things and happy memories about the deceased. I had a relative who was a frequent flyer in the local jails for domestic assault and other crimes. I was happy to hear about the good things that he had done when I was at the funeral. The speeches were awkward from the pulpit because some relatives did mention he was going downward so the nicer memories really balanced them out.

                1. fposte*

                  This idea is also good in that helping other people can refocus you effectively if you find funerals tough. Giving somebody a ride, making sure they can have a comfortable seat, etc. can be good distractions as well as useful assistance.

      2. Artemesia*

        That makes the funeral all about the uncomfortable attendee when it is not about you but about the deceased and in particular this person’s close mourners. I used to use the same excuses to avoid funerals until the time I went to the funeral of the mother of our secretary; the secretary was an older single woman without other relatives and the mother had been old and in a nursing home and so had view remaining friends. It was our secretary, my colleague and I and two other employees. It meant a lot to this woman that we cared enough about HER to attend her mother’s funeral. It did not matter that we didn’t know her mother — the event was for the daughter.

    2. Rin*

      I am a wreck at funerals; I can usually stay in the lounge area, but if I have to go into the viewing room, I completely break down. I might go if it were a co-worker, but I think I’d be really embarrassed to have my other co-workers see me like that, like “Did she even know him that well?” It’s a hard decision to make.

      1. Mean Something*

        I have the same problem! I get very emotional thinking about loss and grief and the brevity of life and the struggle of those left behind–I wish I could just sit there and look serious and subdued. Usually I sit there steadily leaking tears and dabbing them away, and if someone says something sympathetic to me, I might just burst out in sobs. I feel very conspicuous and embarrassed if the person wasn’t really very close to me, and I worry that I am perceived as being overdramatic. As of now, I still go and just do my best to hold it together, but it’s exhausting.

        At a recent memorial service for a colleague, I was very embarrassed by how upset I was talking with people at the reception afterwards. It was at work (I work at a school and the reception was in the library) and there I was standing there weeping as though she and I had been best friends (I liked her very much, but we hadn’t been close). People were really sweet, though. I wondered if in a way I was expressing openly what some of them would have liked to do.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        In the ~10 funerals I’ve been to in recent years, I can’t say I ever looked at the other attendees to make sure they were grieving properly. Don’t worry about it! I think it’s one place where it’s fine to lose your composure. People get it–it’s an emotional trigger, regardless of your relationship to the deceased. Losing colleagues usually means it was before their time, and that gets to everyone.

        1. jag*


          And also, being uncomfortable at funerals is normal. If everyone who felt uncomfortable didn’t go, it would be terrible.

    3. Hermoine Granger*

      I offer condolences freely but only attend the funerals of people I knew quite well (family and friends) or who were close relatives / relations of someone I’m close to. I wouldn’t attend the funeral of someone I never met / didn’t know or go out of my way to offer my condolences to a stranger who had someone pass away. It seems empty to me and doing it to do it rather than really meaning it. It’s also weird to me and a bit of a mockery when people attend funerals just to show their face, especially if they cry and carry on and didn’t even know the person.

      It sounds like the OP and the co-worker worked together and were friendly so I would probably go under those circumstances. However, I don’t think it should be a problem if the OP doesn’t want to for whatever reason.

      1. Hermoine Granger*

        To clarify, I don’t think a person crying at the funeral of someone they don’t know is fake / shady. I meant attending the funeral of some you barely know and/or attempting to out-grieve everyone else is weird.

        I have a few family members that treat funerals as social events and do nonsense like this. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

        1. Michelle*

          When my grandmother was sick, my aunt (her daughter) was… “preparing” how she was going to grieve, including passing out in front of the coffin. I told her that if she did that, I was going to push her under the coffin holder (sorry don’t know the correct term) and close the skirting so she would not interrupt the flow if the visitation. Safe to say, she didn’t pass out.

        2. Dynamic Beige*

          “I have a few family members that treat funerals as social events and do nonsense like this. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

          It’s funny when it’s in a book like with Grandma Mazur… but real people? Nope.

    4. NacSacJack*

      Please keep in mind that customs may vary by region. Here in the upper midwest, funerals tend to be a family and friends affair, not a coworker affair. all that is expected here from a workplace is an floral arrangement.When my dad passed away, I was really surprised when my boss showed up at the viewing and honestly, felt a little uncomfortable because I was busy and could not devote the energy or time to workplace manners. I think one representative from my dad’s office and one from my mom’s showed up for the viewing, but no one showed up for the funeral. Now when a co worker died a couple years after her retirement, a number of us went to the funeral, but not as a contigency, just on our own.

      1. sunny-dee*

        I’m from the south, and funerals are a Big Deal. My grandmother had run the state employment office for years; when she died, literally thousands of people showed up, mainly coworkers and people she had helped place with jobs over the years. (Including J.C. Watts, the OU football player / Congressman, who she got jobs for in college, and this was a huge thing in the mid-1980s.) Then hundreds of people from her church and all the family.

        Showing up is just what you do to show respect.

      2. Editor*

        It’s interesting that the upper midwest is different.

        I grew up in the Northeast, and when my grandmother died — about 45 years ago — my uncle’s supervisor from IBM and the supervisor’s manager both showed up for the funeral weekend and helped out however they could, running errands, setting up chairs in the fellowship hall, and so on. And there were half a dozen floral arrangements from the company, too. Back in the day IBM was pretty involved in employee lives.

    5. Sally Forth*

      My aunt and uncle (my dad’s siblings) did not go to his funeral. They said it would be too hard. They weren’t all that old at the time, either. Just the sort of people who don’t like hospitals or funerals or being uncomfortable in any way and have the impression that somehow the rest of us do and it’s a breeze. People who knew our family were appalled!

      That said, I know some people have deep-seated psychological issues. If that is true with the OP, it’s time to find a solution. There are some things you need to do socially. This is one of them.

    6. ECH*

      Tangent, but wanted to write about the “funerals are not about you” comment. My parents determined they didn’t want funerals for themselves, because they don’t want people who didn’t visit them when they were alive to come see them when they were dead. While I understand this thought process, it bothers me as a survivor (my dad died a few months ago). Why should they “hold us hostage” from not getting the support and encouragement we will receive from seeing friends at a funeral?! Thankfully, my co-workers and friends were wonderful about sending cards, flowers and encouraging notes, which helped make up for not having a funeral.

      1. Funeral Officiant*

        Funerals are about the living. And none of us will get the opportunity to remain untouched by death of a loved one.

        As One Who Officiates at Funerals, my experience has been that the overwhelming majority of them are opportunities for healing and wholeness.

        I think the bigger picture here is why someone had such a negative, painful, or horrifying experience. As one who is in a helping profession, I personally would be glad to help someone who has had such a negative experience approach the events and customs at the time of death in a non-stressful way.

        Many funeral homes are also progressive in this regard and will answer questions, and I have known of several instances where they have given the parent/child(ren) a tour. Of course this is not when there is work going on in the rooms. It is matter of fact and respectful.

        The key to putting people at ease, especially I have found when members of the family have strongly held feelings about what they need for closure, is to provide options. For example, open casket may be for family only, and be a half hour prior to visitation or service time. The family agrees that some of them want to remember the deceased “as they were” and so if they choose not to be a part of the open casket viewing, that is respected. It is also possible to state that graveside services will be private, or done at a later time.

        In days gone by there were often instances of relatives forcing children to participate – or not allow them to participate – without talking to the child ahead of time about what had happened, and what the child’s comfort level is.

        The occasion of a work related death may be the opportunity for one to make an appointment with a member of the clergy, or a Hospice grief counselor, and explore these strong, adverse feelings. That way, when arrangements need to be made for someone closer to your heart, you will know what options are available that will be comfortable for you and your loved ones.

    7. OP #2*

      Thank you all for your thoughtful responses and I apologize for my delayed reply. As it turned out, last week became manically busy for my department and unfortunately no one from my department was able to make the funeral (as it turned out the actual funeral was held hours away from our offices in the middle of the day). However, a wake was also held and a huge contingent from our company and department was present and by all accounts it was a lovely service and the location was completely packed out.

      I really appreciate all the comments about making sure to send a personal card and note to the family, that’s something I should have thought of on my own, but was so caught up in the funeral component I hadn’t made it that far. I will be sure to do so this week!

      To clarify my anxiety, it is, as some commenters mentioned, due to viewing the body. Unfortunately, my father passing away when I was younger was my first real experience with death and viewing his body is one of the most traumatizing events of my life. In my experience, the body rarely looks like how the person did in life, and something about it just brings me back to that moment of my life every time. I’ve personally found it is much better to remember the person as they were, and full of life. It would absolutely be different if the person were cremated, or a closed casket. I’m not sure if it’s due to my location (the South), but all funerals I’ve been to have been open casket.

      I will try to read back through to see if there are any questions I didn’t answer in this update. Thank you again for your thoughtfulness!

  2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    In #1, it sounds like OP doesn’t have contact information for the former staffer. What would you do in that case?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If there’s truly no way to reach her, I’d still halt the good-reference plan because I think it’s wrong on several levels … but I think the OP should make a good faith effort to try to find contact info for her to let her know that she’s now changing what she earlier felt she could do. (No personal email address from back when she originally applied for the job with the OP? Nothing like that?)

      1. Shell*

        If the OP can’t reach her ex-employee after some searching, I’d just decline the reference when the prospective employer phones in. 1) a reference can stop being a reference at any time anyway, 2) the polite thing to do is for the prospective employee to check in with their reference when they need the endorsement, and the employee hasn’t checked in for a while, and 3) presumably once the would-be employer reject the ex-employee, the ex-employee would contact the OP asking what was up, at which point the OP could lay out why she doesn’t want to be a reference anymore.

        This isn’t the kindest thing to do as a first option, but it is effective.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          I’m curious – how would you decline the reference? What would you say to the person calling you?

          1. Partly Cloudy*

            The professional equivalent of “no comment,” I guess. One could say something like “I’m unable to provide the information you’re looking for” or “I’m unable to provide a reference for Mary at this time.” I’d hope that the prospective employer wouldn’t push the issue.

          2. The Cosmic Avenger*

            I’ve been wondering about that since I read that the ex-employee isn’t reachable. I think I’d say something like “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that.” That is about as neutral a denial as you can get. But then, I let almost every call go to voicemail if I don’t recognize the number, so I’d probably just wind up ignoring messages asking for a reference. Or do you all (Senior Blogger Green in particular) think that it’s important to respond to those and affirmatively deny a reference? I’d prefer to not respond, which doesn’t sound as bad for the ex-employee but also would solve my problem of not wanting to endorse that person.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think that if you’re not willing to give a good reference, refusing to return the call is one way to communicate that. It tends to speak volumes, as long as it’s clear you’re in the office and not on some long vacation.

              I also think lawsuited’s suggestion below — directly saying you’re not willing to give a reference — conveys what you want to convey.

          3. lawsuited*

            Prospective Employer: “Hi, I’m calling because X has applied for a job with us and gave us your name as a reference. Could I ask you a few questions about X?
            You: “Sorry, I’m not willing to give a reference for X.”

          4. Green*

            You could just switch it to a “I can confirm that this person worked here during these dates.” type of reference…

  3. Rachel*

    I disagree. I would rather there be less people that totally care about me present at a funeral rather than a bunch of people that feel forced to be there whether it is my funeral or of a loved one. If you don’t want to go to a funeral, don’t go.

    1. Coco*

      Yeah, it doesn’t seem right that people should come with insincere intentions.

      Alison, could you elaborate why you think it’s so necessary that people attend funerals?

          1. LadyLep*

            I think this just changed my viewpoint on going to funerals. It’s “do unto others” and that just makes sense to me.

          2. Merry and Bright*

            Thank you. It makes me think of times when someone old has died and they have had a long and busy life. But advertisements are put out for long-lost family or friends to attend the funeral otherwise there will only be a few staff or officials there. It always seems so sad so I always try and go if I can. It will be us one day.

          3. Oryx*

            Interestingly, it sounds more that she’s advocating attending calling hours. She mentions funerals and uses that term, but it seems unusual her father would wait outside in the car while she’s attending an actual funeral, but I can see him waiting if she’s merely going through the condolence line.

            I have had multiple friends lose parents in the past several years and while I haven’t attended the funerals (I always feel those are more for the people closest to the deceased, like direct family and close friends), I’ve always gone to the calling hours.

            1. bkanon*

              See, that would make far more sense to me. In my area, the general accepted practice is basically a funeral in stages. Stage one, the visiting/visitation: open hours where anyone is welcome to come by the funeral home, say a goodbye to the deceased and condolences to the family, sign the guestbook, etc. This is where most coworkers and distant relatives attend (and the flowers are displayed). Five to ten minutes attendance is perfectly acceptable. Stage two, the funeral. Close friends/coworkers, extended family. Stage three, the graveside service. VERY close friends and family only. I went to the visiting for a high school friend, the funeral for a great-great uncle, and the graveside for my uncle.

              1. Oryx*

                Yes, that’s always been my experience as well. I’ve gone to calling/visiting hours for friends when they lose a parent, attended funeral services for family members and memorial services for close co-workers, but the only graveside was my grandmother.

                I did attend the funeral service for the mother of a friend in college, but we’d been friends since childhood so I’d known her mother for a long, long time. There are maybe one or two other friends where I’d attend their parent’s funeral service as well, otherwise just visiting hours.

              2. Mints*

                Oh, thanks for this. I was just about to Google “calling hours,” but this is so concise.

          4. KAZ2Y5*

            I love that article and have actually passed it out quite a few times in a grief support group I used to to lead. And for the people here who don’t understand why a random person from work showing up would help, I would like to give a personal example.
            My husband passed away one month after I had started a new job. So really, no one knew me that much and I really didn’t know them. My work sent flowers, but the HR person and the receptionist came to my husbands funeral (my boss was going to come also, but couldn’t). They had to drive over an hour to get there, and ended up being stuck in the third overflow room watching the service on a TV screen (for many reasons it was a huge funeral). I never saw them and never knew they were there until I went back to work and they told me. I cannot tell you how much it means to me still, to know they went through all that just to pay their respect for someone they had never met.

    2. FiveByFive*

      Agreed. Sadly I’ve attended my share of funerals, but I’ve passed on a number of them as well. I felt I was actually being more respectful staying away, if I didn’t have an emotional connection with those grieving for the departed.

      It’s hard for me to imagine someone who is overwhelmed trying to deal with grief, suddenly thinking “Hey, where’s Bob from Accounting?????” But if I’m mistaken, I’d appreciate hearing that.

      1. FiveByFive*

        Saw your link Alison, thanks. It’s a different perspective for sure, but I’m not sure it represents everyone. It’s not just a matter of attending being an inconvenience. Everyone grieves in a different way. Some people might feel relief by seeing crowds of attendees, but others might not be comfortable making small talk with people they don’t know very well, on their worst of days.


        1. Nina*

          IA. I kind of bristled at the “inconvenience” wording because that doesn’t sound like the OP’s situation at all. They can send a condolence card to the family, or call, whatever. The OP doesn’t necessarily have to attend to let the family know that they care.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            To be clear, I’m not talking about it as an inconvenience for the OP specifically. I’m answering the question of why I think that in general, you should go to funerals. It’s not everyone’s opinion or a general rule; it’s just my opinion (which I thought I made clear in the post, but clearly did not).

        2. we'll be able to save 15% or so of the children*

          But it is not a matter of grieving, here. When a member of a tightly-knit group – be they a business, a motorcycle gang, a group of friends – passes, everyone goes to the funeral to show that they are unified in their respect and honor for the deceased. It is a sign, a symbol, a public notice to the world that claims the deceased as “one of us”. And they always will be.

          If someone suffered a full blown meltdown panic attack the last time they attended a funeral, then maybe they shouldn’t go. But let’s be honest – a lot of people want to blow off funerals simply because they are an uncomfortable inconvenience. But fight that: be a good person, take the high road, spare a couple of hours to honor a man’s life.

          1. FiveByFive*

            The times I’ve passed on attending funerals, it was not where I was part of a tightly-knit group. I’m talking about situations where I would have to re-introduce myself – or sometimes even introduce myself – to someone who is mourning the loss of someone close to them. I’m not trying to “blow them off” to spare myself some awkwardness. I’m trying to spare them feigning interest in seeing me, someone they couldn’t care less about.

            The OP is a bit vague, saying they were a tightly-knit group, but then saying she only knew the person to see them in the hallways in passing.

            This colleague’s family will be in mourning, and might not enjoy the pleasure at meeting and making small talk with Jenny from Department B who barely knew the person they are deeply mourning.

            But of course everyone is different.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t think the family will have to make small talk with strangers. That’s not what a funeral is. There were 400+ people at my dad’s memorial service and I talked to maybe 30 of them. But the number of people who were there was a real comfort to me.

              1. FiveByFive*

                Thank you for sharing. I’m glad you were comforted when you needed it.

                The funerals I’ve attended, it’s been expected to give personal condolences to the grieving parties. Or maybe I just assumed that? I’ve never noticed people coming and going without doing so.

                1. De (Germany)*

                  “The funerals I’ve attended, it’s been expected to give personal condolences to the grieving parties. ”

                  From my experience: “I am sorry for your loss” should usually do it, I think. I also see no need to introduce yourself – and there’s no expectation that all family members know everyone who comes to the funeral.

                2. Rana*

                  That’s been my experience too. And all the funerals I’ve attended have been small, not because the people weren’t well loved, but because they were intended for family and close friends, and we’re widely spread out. (So often one person will represent their branch of the family, since not everyone can afford the time/money to attend.)

                  The thought of a 400+ person funeral is overwhelming to me. (We don’t do big weddings in my family either, for that matter.)

              2. Marzipan*

                I am glad your father’s funeral was a comforting experience for you.

                Unfortunately this isn’t universal – after my mother’s funeral service, people who were perfect strangers to me were literally queueing up to tell me how much I look like her. (Not helpful, unknown people!)

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I want to ask that we avoid getting into personal preferences on funerals and whether we do or don’t understand or appreciate them — I think it’s starting to take us way off track from the original post. (And I realize that I may have contributed to that with my comment just above; apologies for that.) So consider this a call to refocus on us the letter-writer’s actual question…

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Reading this over this morning, I think I probably made an overly restrictive call here. The conversation was going in a direction that I was finding oddly upsetting (re: my dad), but I think that’s about me, not the discussion itself. Carry on :)

            2. OP #2*

              Sorry to be vague – my company culture in general (a fairly large company with appx. 600 people at the main office), is very friendly. The culture is less managerial and more about being friends with everyone. My co-worker was in a different department, and although I interacted with her, and we were “friendly” by my work culture standards, we were not close, didn’t share any personal details, etc.

      2. jag*

        A big turnout is good. Even if the family doesn’t know everyone, it’s good.

        Unless you have some serious problem with anxiety, go the funeral/memorial service/sitting/whatever. Go.

    3. Marzipan*

      I hatehatehate funerals. I don’t understand the purpose of them at all*, and only go to them when I absolutely have to, at which point I can get through them by an extreme effort of mental abstraction (to the extent that I’m basically only there physically). Me going to a funeral does no-one any good – not me, not the other friends and family present, certainly not the person who has passed away.

      If you don’t think you can cope with going, it’s OK not to go. Send a card to the family sharing your memories of their loved one, so there’s no suggestion you don’t care; and then be elsewhere. A social ritual is not worth more than your own wellbeing; it is not worth making yourself ill for. No-one would want that.

      (*I get the purpose other people think they serve, more or less, so no need to explain it to me. I just don’t see them in that way *at all*. To the extent that I’ve decided when I die, I’m not having a funeral – professionals can take care of the practicalities, and meanwhile my friends and family can take the day of my ‘funeral’ to go and do something nice, together or singly, as they choose.)

      1. AnonAcademic*

        It’s interesting to me that when you are dead you don’t want a funeral because you personally don’t like funerals. I was taught that “funerals are for the living.” So while some of my wishes are firm (I’d prefer a “celebrate my life” vibe than a “dourly mourn and sing dirges” one) I figure the people who survived me are the only ones who will care about the actual funeral at that point, so they can do whatever helps them grieve.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Well, I think this gets a little bit into what you wish for those others left behind (i.e. what kind of event you think they would find most comforting), but also a little bit into beliefs about the afterlife. For example, I’ve joked that I will haunt people if they give me X type of service rather than Y type of service once I’m dead. It’s a joke, but there’s a kernel of truth in it; in case there is a spirit that survives, I don’t want to be sent off with rites I actively disagree with. Even if there would be some among the mourners who would like it better. (Some, not all; we’re kind of a religious hodgepodge in my circles.)

          1. Anna*

            I firmly believe in Mary Roach’s approach to it. You’re dead; you don’t get to decide. I think most people will be respectful of the deceased’s wishes (don’t have a Christian burial for a confirmed atheist), but that pretty much covers it. As has been mentioned, the funeral isn’t really about the person who’s died; it’s about the people left behind and what they need to make them feel all right about it. Usually that’s going to be to follow the wishes of the dead, but sometimes that’s not practical and the living shouldn’t be made to feel like they did it “wrong” if they did it the way they needed to.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, my father, in his last years, got pretty adamant on “I don’t want you do to anything when I die,” and even then I was thinking “Not really your call, Dad.” We didn’t do a funeral or anything radically different from his expectations, but we had a memorial gathering at his retirement community. I could have talked him into that anyway :-).

              1. Pennalynn Lott*

                My next-door neighbor, a Marine in WWII, also said he didn’t want anything special done after he died. His family (who have become my adopted family after hanging out with them for 17 years) still needed to come together and hold a memorial, if for nothing but the sake of closure and finding comfort in each other’s company. When he passed at age 91 we had a party one evening, with about 60 people in attendance, and — with fellow members of the VFW in attendance — burned the US flag that had been hanging in front of his house. (It was getting pretty tattered, so the ceremony was both an appropriate way to dispose of the flag and a way for his family to feel as though the sparks and ashes that swirled up into the sky were carrying his spirit). Later, we had another small ceremony where we each scattered a handful of his ashes in the front garden, alongside his wife’s. A couple of Marines attended and played Taps. It was all very beautiful and poignant.

    4. Lee*

      It’s strange to me how people who do not genuinely like a person in life often make a big deal of suddenly being there in death, like it’s another thing all about them and for them to gossip about. Seriously.

    5. Van Wilder*

      I’m surprised how many different opinions there are on this topic. I just assumed that funerals are for the living, and if you can be a comfort to the family (by showing up and being someone they actually know and/or by sending a handwritten card), great. But just to be one in a crowd? Or just to appease coworkers who aren’t the family? I would do just what the OP is hinting at and explain that you will be grieving privately and ignore any drama.

      Personally, I tend to go to wakes when I know the family and send flowers or a card when I don’t. Personal tip for writing a card: write a memory or an anecdote that the family probably didn’t know (assuming it’s a nice story).

    6. sittingduck*

      I completely agree with Rachel.

      A funeral is not something you should go to because you feel obligated to. You should go because you feel that your connection with the family/loved one is such that your presence would make them feel better.

      A random co-worker who didn’t know my loved one very well, who was there because they felt they had to be – would not make me feel better. It would make me feel weird not knowing how this person was related to my loved one and why they felt the need to come.

      Maybe I’m unique in that the more people that show up doesn’t make me feel better.

      But that is also a good point – everyone is unique in what they find comfort in. So if OP doesn’t feel comfortable going for her own reasons, she shouldn’t have to suck it up and go – because the family might be like me and rather she not come, than come an make both of us feel weird.

      1. OP #2*

        “A random co-worker who didn’t know my loved one very well, who was there because they felt they had to be – would not make me feel better. It would make me feel weird not knowing how this person was related to my loved one and why they felt the need to come.”

        Although my anxieties (update in first posting) are deeper, your comment above was also a big concern to me.

    7. Natalie Anne Lanoville*

      I absolutely agree. I would have hated to think that any of the attendees of my loved ones’ funerals were there despite not wanting to, just for me.

      It’s true, funerals are for the living. Well, people who don’t like funerals are also the living.

  4. Snoskred*

    #3 – this confidentiality issue is definitely something I think needs to be dealt with as soon as you can, because if this nurse would share your private information with others they would probably do the same to other people as well. This nurse had to know you would be well aware that she was the one who talked, too!

    You say you are not one for confrontation but I believe this definitely needs to be drawn to the attention of your manager at a minimum. This nurse showed such a lack of respect for confidentiality, I would not hesitate to suggest that she might even be sharing confidential patient info with people in her private life. That could come back to bite the doctors office in a huge and massive way.

    Some people just do not understand the concept of confidentiality, and sometimes it is impossible to get that concept through to them. I had a manager once who could not keep her mouth shut about anything. We all knew this to be the case because she told us all kinds of stuff about other people and management meetings which was totally inappropriate to share, and it didn’t matter how much we said “should you be telling us this?” she would keep going. So after a while none of us would tell her anything at all.

    I’m sorry – and angry for you – that a time which should be full of happiness has been interfered with in this manner. You have every right to be furious with her, and you have every right to speak to your manager in regards to this. While you are correct that nothing can un-ring your particular bell, speaking up might prevent this from happening to someone else in the future.

    Please make sure to give us an update if and when you have one! ;)

    1. INTP*

      I agree with speaking to the manager at minimum – both for these reasons and also her own reputation with her manager. Usually someone would speak privately with their manager about the pregnancy before disclosing to everyone ime, so it could look a little unprofessional if it appears OP is telling random people and letting it work through the grapevine without bothering to tell her manager in person. The nurse put her in this position so it’s not confrontational to bring it to higher ups IMO. Better for the patients and for herself to do so.

      1. peanut butter kisses*

        Agreed – let the management know because it would be better for the patients that you are serving. If this had happened at my doctor’s office and I found out about it, I would switch doctor’s quickly. As much as I like my doctor, I think once you break a patient/customer’s trust, it is never coming back.

    2. Windchime*

      I would also say something. It sounds like this coworker was seeing you in a practitioner/patient way, so HIPAA would almost surely apply here. Honestly, my company takes HIPAA violations very seriously and people get fired over stuff like this all the time (for good reason).

      1. Jessa*

        Yeh the fines are pretty heavy if someone complains. OP doesn’t have to make this about “OMG I didn’t want my pregnancy out there this soon,” but about “This is a clear violation of the law, we need to make sure she’s not doing this to outsiders AND she knows that she can’t do this to coworkers either.” Because while many people have issues with when and how they announce pregnancy, if the OP had been worried about her BP because of something with a high social stigma attached (social disease, some forms of cancer, a condition related to a personal issue like drinking (ie liver disease,) etc.) this could have serious ramifications.

        This may be an issue of a coworker who otherwise is good about privacy simply not THINKING that “coworker is patient and is due all the things patients are due.” This could possibly be fixed with one very short conversation. On the other hand if the practitioner in question is yappy, you have a problem that needs to be addressed before Jo Smith sues the practise because the fact that sie has x disease has come out and they lost their job over it.

        1. Leah*

          If it were me, I wouldn’t accept that as an excuse. No matter the HIPPA issue, she still announced something extremely personal to the entire office, against the OP’s wishes. That’s a jerk move and huge violation of trust. It doesn’t matter at all that it’s (usually and hopefully) a positive thing, and something that will become obvious in a few months, what matters is that the coworker took it upon herself to tell people. Unacceptable.

        2. themmases*

          It probably is why this nurse shared OP’s information, but it’s no excuse– ethically or legally, if HIPAA does apply.

          When I worked in a hospital, our HIPAA training went out of its way to make clear that you only access information that you specifically need to do your job, and you only share information that someone else needs to do theirs (assuming they otherwise are allowed to see it). Just because you have access to information, doesn’t mean you are allowed to view it or share it. For example, I had access to people’s psychiatry notes but would never have opened them (I wouldn’t even want to) unless I needed information about, say, someone’s competence that I was having trouble getting any other way. We were specifically given examples where people tend to get confused or slip up such as, you shouldn’t be using your employee access to look at your child’s medical record or to look up billing information for a friend.

          This would be taught to us on hire, regardless of whether we’d worked in health care before, and reiterated in mandatory training every single year.

    3. AMG*

      Agreed. I got angry for you reading this. Your manager should handle the breach of trust and unprofessionalism.

      1. Rana*

        I got angry for you too. I didn’t even tell my close family until the second trimester – I would have been furious if this happened to me.

        I hope that the rest of your pregnancy is uneventful, and that the birth goes well.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      We all knew this to be the case because she told us all kinds of stuff about other people and management meetings which was totally inappropriate to share, and it didn’t matter how much we said “should you be telling us this?” she would keep going.

      Yikes. I tend to turn into Jordy Verrill when people do that–I go, “Nooo no. No no no NO NO NO NO NO!” and walk away if necessary. But that raises the question: how do you shut someone up when it’s your boss? :\

      1. Snoskred*

        We never could find a way to stop her. And I think there were some people who did not want to, because they used the information they got for their own purposes. She’s now in an even higher position and from what I hear this is becoming more and more of an issue for the people underneath her.

        I don’t work there anymore but for the sake of the other people I know and love who do still work there, I am seriously tempted to call her to catch up for a coffee and then impress upon her how important confidentiality is.

        I know she doesn’t have any bad intentions – she just has no filters and everything she knows just falls out of her mouth, I think this comes as a surprise to herself as well.

        Whereas me, you tell me something in confidence, it is in locked in my mental “vault” and there is no getting it out. I have worked in family businesses where other staff members would tell me things hoping it would somehow get back to the boss without their having to say anything, and they were always very disappointed because those things went directly into the vault. :)

    5. Zelocity*

      Speaking as a part-time EMT, this was almost certainly a HIPAA violation. Every medical professional has HIPAA drilled into their heads during training and orientation, and this nurse should have realized that by acting as a medical professional towards the OP she had a legal obligation to keep personal information quiet. This situation would make me seriously question the professionalism of this nurse, and even how she conducts herself while working with outside patients. At the very least your manager needs to hear about this, as this could easily be part of a larger pattern. HIPAA violations can lead to lawsuits, and your management needs to be aware.

  5. A Non*

    #3 – The organization I work for takes HIPAA violations very seriously and would absolutely want to know if a staff member let information slip like that. It’s a pretty big deal. HIPAA breaches that result from carelessness on the organization’s part or breaches that are poorly managed can result in penalties (up to very large fines!) for the organization. If they have a staff member who isn’t following policy or is unclear on it, they need to know so they can fix it.

    I also trust the HR department at my workplace and can be confident that any disciplinary action against the coworker would be reasonable and proportionate. I hope your workplace is the same!

    1. Jessa*

      Reasonable and proportionate YAY. But honestly in this case even if they’re not, it needs to be reported. It’s a big legal deal and the fines are usually over 10k per offence and if it’s shown that the management knew and did nothing, it can get worse. Regrettably since it can cause such large problems for people (people with AIDS/HIV who do not live in places with protections can get fired, for instance,) there are companies that are one strike and you’re out.

      But honestly unless there’s real evidence this coworker talks too much, I have a feeling this was of the “oh coworker isn’t “PATIENT,” so no big deal, kind of misunderstanding and a quick – “Yo, anyone you put hands on in a medical manner, including coworkers, family, etc. are “PATIENT.” Would completely clear this up.

  6. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

    #3 – I feel for the OP. When I was pregnant with my first, I told my boss and only my boss. The next week, the CEO (not my boss and not someone I interacted with ever) announced my pregnancy at a company-wide staff meeting. I was completely caught off guard and so uncomfortable.

    In your case, because it was a HIPPA violation, I would definitely bring this up with the nurse and her manager. Good luck and congratulations!

    1. Basiorana*

      Personally I would have called it out in your case too. There’s two big reasons we don’t share pregnancies until later in term. One (tons of pregnancies end in miscarriage) could have put you in the position of grieving very publicly, and the other (pregnant women face discrimination) they should seriously consider to protect themselves.

    2. Graciosa*

      I am so sorry that happened to you – that’s really bad behavior from your manager regardless of whether or not she was a medical professional.

      I have had to cover for pregnant employees with my manager on occasion, but that’s part of the job. “Yes, she really did need to X. There was a very good reason I can’t discuss with you yet, so you’ll have to trust me.”

      It’s not really that long in the life of a business (usually not much over a quarter!) until it starts become obvious anyway. It’s certainly going to be obvious well before maternity leave.

      If the mother-to-be is not ready to announce it, the right thing to do is respect that. This is just basic human decency – not too much to expect from a manager.

    3. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

      I should have mentioned that my manager was very apologetic and was horrified the CEO did that. Looking back I should have stressed to her that it wasn’t her news to share. Oh well. Life goes on, and there was no permanent damage done.

      1. Chinook*

        “I should have mentioned that my manager was very apologetic and was horrified the CEO did that. Looking back I should have stressed to her that it wasn’t her news to share.”

        I agree that it wasn’t her news to share in general but the manager may have felt there was a business need to notify the CEO (i.e. they were planning coverage for the following year’s conference and manager let it be known that the experienced OP would probably be out on maternity leave, so they have to ensure that they someone with similair experience available. With Canadian mat leaves being upwards of a year, I could see it happenning innocently).

        The CEO, though, had no business need to let the staff know and took away the privilege of you sharing the news (plus putting in the awkward ppossibility of public grieving if things go sideways).

    4. Rana*

      That’s horrible. I really wish people were more thoughtful around other people’s pregnancies – to me, they are private matters, and I think too many people forget that being pregnant involves a lot more than just a cute bump and stereotypical food cravings. It’s a potentially dangerous medical condition – normal, natural, but nothing to be taken lightly.

  7. Tara*

    #2– If your anxiety is going to be visibly noticeable, I wouldn’t go. If you think there’s a risk of spiralling into a panic/anxiety attack, especially. In my opinion it’s more disrespctful to draw attention towards yourself on such an occasion than to come up with a convenient excuse and just not go.

  8. Marzipan*

    #3, avoiding awkwardness be damned; the only person who should feel awkward is the nurse. I would totally wait until 12 weeks and then announce your pregnancy, even if everyone already knows about it, just to reassert some small measure of control. And I’d discuss the issue with your/her boss; what she did was not OK.

    1. Chinook*

      “I would totally wait until 12 weeks and then announce your pregnancy, even if everyone already knows about it, just to reassert some small measure of control.”

      I agree. If I heard about someone’s pregnancy from someone other than that person, I would totally pretend I didn’t hear it and not mention it to the mother-to-be because she hasn’t publicly indicated that this is information for public consumption yet.

  9. Snoskred*

    #2 – There have been a few emails sent, and I feel it’s the expectation that everyone attend.

    I’ve been through this several times at different workplaces and the emails re funerals that I have received have always been about keeping everyone in the loop and letting people who did want to attend know the details so they could go. Is it possible that you might be misinterpreting this information into an “expectation” that is not really there at all? :)

    1. Sadsack*

      True. OP, you don’t need to announce whether or not you are going. If asked, say you are going to try, even say yes. Then don’t go. If you are asked about it, just say, “I was sorry I ended up not being able to go. How was the service?…” I doubt anyone is going to ask you why you didn’t go or press you further in any way.

    2. Schnauz*

      This too. A very good friend of mine, who I met at at work over a decade ago, recently died. She was in the hospital for a long illness and I ended up the person who kept people at work in the loop. So when she died, that just continued. I sent emails to a big list of people who knew her (and some additional people emailed me privately to be added to the list) – but I hope I never communicated any expectation for people to do anything. It was basically, “I know you all knew and liked Friend, so here is info if you want it”.

      So Op, I hope that is the case here.

    3. OP #2*

      I think this was a little at play also! (Full update in first post). Although my department was unable to go due to work obligations, my boss, who knows my personal history, came by before the work events arose and offered to have me be the office coverage. She was very understanding of me grieving in a different way, which I very much appreciated. So I think the original emails may have been more about keeping everyone in the loop, than about expectations of those who didn’t know her very well attending.

  10. Apollo Warbucks*

    #3 What the nurse did was completely outragous and a gross dereliction of their professional obligations

    There is nothing they can say or do to mitigate their error medical confidentiality is absolute and should not have been breached.

    I would report the matter to the state regulator or professional nursing body that they are a member of.

    1. Jessa*

      I think in this case I might go to management first. Only because I can see where the mixup of thought might occur. If this is an isolated case, it might not rise to that much censure. If I were the manager I’d rather have a “just because you treated coworker kind of off the books, does not mean coworker is not a PATIENT,” and see what the reaction is. If it’s in the range of “OMG I didn’t even take that in, I was just doing a favour and didn’t even realise it rose to the level of, I won’t ever do that again,” then I think it’s okay to let one slide if the OP doesn’t want it dealt with more harshly. It’s an easy error in thought that if you don’t consider the person you’re helping “PATIENT” then a whole lot of stuff doesn’t trigger in your mind about what you’re doing.

  11. Ultraviolet*

    #2 – I think it’s best that you attend the funeral unless there’s a really good chance your anxiety would result in a full-on panic attack or other disruption. In a workplace culture like you describe, missing a funeral would probably be viewed as pretty harsh. If you do decide not to attend, then I definitely recommend coming up with a scheduling conflict rather than trying to explain your anxiety. I have a feeling it will be difficult to convey that you’re experiencing more than the usual dislike of funerals, unless perhaps you’re willing to delve into that personal history you mention.

    #3 – I agree with Alison that you should make your pregnancy announcement whenever you want. Try not to worry at all about awkwardness. If someone responds by saying they already knew you were expecting, you can just say, “I heard that a rumor had gotten around, but I still wanted to make my own announcement!”

    1. Basiorana*

      Even better, if anyone mentions it before then, play dumb. “Oh, well, I know I wasn’t pregnant as of 3 months ago, so I certainly wouldn’t have announced it yet! I can’t imagine where you could have heard that.”

      1. Ultraviolet*

        Ha! I was also imagining she could say, “Funny, I didn’t tell anyone who isn’t bound by HIPAA confidentiality requirements…”

  12. Cheesecake*

    OP1 – i am not sure why you are trying to help employ her further. Would you re-hire her? I doubt it. Why would anyone else then? I think it is irresponsible to recommend her, because it can hurt another business and your career. You can of course talk to her and support her, but i don’t think you should give references at this point.

    1. Jen S 2.0*

      Hmmmm. There are plenty of people that I wouldn’t want to rehire that I would still give a decent reference. I’m not trying to render them broke and unemployed forever. I just don’t want them working HERE. I don’t need to lie if directly asked certain questions, but I see no reason to purposely stand in the way of their getting another job if they are able to do so. They might well be a perfectly fine employee elsewhere.

      I’ve had jobs where I wasn’t a great fit where the people were kind enough to help me find my next step, and I appreciated it…as did they, most likely, because I was out of their hair.

      Anything I say should only be part of the picture in an interview. The new employer should have done more due diligence than just one reference.

      1. Jen S 2.0*

        I should have added, in this particular case, I do think OP can simply say she can’t speak to her work anymore. That is accurate. But in every case where you’ve let someone go, you don’t have to be negative in a reference.

        1. Jessa*

          Yes but in this case the employee was let go for some serious reasons, this is not “they were a bad fit, but they’re really good at x procedure which I understand is like 90% of the work you want them to do,” and “fired for irresponsible public behaviour.” Now I’d be careful about that, particularly if the employee is a POC and the area where they were stopped is heavy on “driving whilst [insert race here] enforcement and not generally fair enforcement. But if you have first hand evidence of poor behaviour, then no, unless that behaviour is totally irrelevant to the new job, I’d not give reference.

          1. Cheesecake*


            I was not talking about “bad fit” or “he was way too cheerful in the morning”. I do give good references, or rather, i focus on good sides and future employer might figure the rest if they wish.

            But this is an entirely different story. It is a gross misconduct that led to firing. If OP gives positive reference and she comes drunk to work, there can be legal implications for OP.

  13. Sarahnova*

    LW#1, I agree with Alison: agreeing to be her reference in the first place was probably a mistake. And now, I hate to say it, but I think you have probably crossed into enabling what sounds like a drinking problem. You’ve protected her from the consequences of her alcohol-related dismissal, which has likely done her no good.

    That you sympathise with and want to help her speaks well of your heart, but that’s the thing about addiction: it’s often more complex than “Penelope is a bad person who abuses X”. Her issues may well have begun as personal misfortunes, but bloomed into a substance problem. She may well have meant it sincerely when she assured you she’d turn things around, or she may have been willing to say whatever she thought would let her keep drinking.

    As for what to do: get in touch with her if you can, and tell her you feel you can no longer act as her reference. If you can’t, I would simply politely tell anyone who reaches out to you that you don’t feel you can provide a reference for her. Fixing her isn’t your job, and wouldn’t be even if you were her best friend; I don’t think there is any way you can actually “help” her now.

    1. Graciosa*

      Very nicely expressed.

      Sometimes people with very good intentions have a hard time distinguishing between what appears to be helpful in the short term and what is actually more helpful in the long term. Preventing someone from suffering the natural consequences of their behavior helps them avoid changing it.

      1. Anony-moose*

        +1. This type of behavior hits close to home and reminds me of someone who is struggling greatly with addiction. You aren’t helping her at all, even if it feels like you are. You can have empathy for her, sympathize with her past hardships, and still not enable her continued behavior.

  14. Satsuma*

    I would have the same issues with attending a colleague’s funeral as OP #2. I attended a few truly awful funerals one year, (friends in their early 20s who died in awful, unexpected – and completely unconnected – circumstances). The wails of their parents at these funerals is something I will never forget. And now, I break down at funerals. I find them emotionally overwhelming. This is appropriate if I am at the funeral of someone I am close to, a grandparent say. But it would be so incredibly inappropriate at the funeral of a colleague that I was not close to. I would have to find a way to decline.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      It’s not inappropriate at all if you get emotional at the funeral of someone you weren’t that close to. They affect people in different ways. I’ve been stone cold together at funerals of people I was close with and gotten really choked up at others (especially the reactions of families – a spouse or parent – gahhh).

      1. JB*

        I didn’t the Satsuma got merely “choked up” at funerals, which is a normal thing to happen to people. I got the feeling it was way more than that, a public display of grief on a level that would seem disproportionate to their relationship with the deceased. But that’s just my reading of the comment so of course I could be wrong.

        1. Satsuma*

          Yeah, it’s more than getting choked up. It’s loud, snotty, sobbing. The sort that shakes your whole body, making it hard to stand or even breathe. It’s completely involuntary and really inappropriate when the family is holding it together.

          I actually did get therapy that year. Which helped me to stop breaking down in general. It’s just funerals that I can’tell handle now.

          OP #2’s mention of personal circumstances made me think he/she might be in a similar position.

    2. A. Nonny Mouse*

      I agree. I have had two siblings and a nephew die in seperate, sudden, traumatic ways. Funerals are often too much for me. Not only will I often lose my composure completely, but it negatively impacts my mood for several days.
      I have a mood disorder, and have to put my mental health before social convention. I am happy, however, to write a thoughtful card to the family, and usually follow up in a month or two (after that intial wave of support starts to wane) with an inquiry of how I can help.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        More people with mental health issues should feel as empowered as you do to put their wellbeing first. Good for you. The impact of destabilizing a mood disorder can be huge, and if others were aware, I doubt they would want you to go through that. It sounds like you are in a really healthy place with your attitude about taking care of yourself.

      2. Dot Warner*

        +1000 to you for following up with the family more than a month after the funeral. So many people expect the bereaved to be “over it” by then, but the adjustment is just beginning.

  15. Cnon*

    Apollo said “I would report the matter to the state regulator or professional nursing body that they are a member of.”

    I totally agree; that nurse should be ashamed of themselves!

  16. Carrie in Scotland*

    OP 2 – is it just a funeral service or is there a gathering afterwards? For my mum, we had a lovely funeral (it was Humanist – we’re non religious) followed by a gathering at a lovely pub with food and drink. If there is something afterwards, could you go to that?

    1. BRR*

      Ehh this always rubs me the wrong way. The best comparison I can give is it’s like going to a wedding reception but not the ceremony.

      Count me as a vote of if you don’t want to go you don’t have to. Just remember to give a good reason. Depending on the people they might wonder what could be more important than a funeral. I’m not saying everybody is like this but some people do, know your audience.

      1. JB*

        I’ve always been fine with it when one of my relatives has died. For me, either way the person is showing up to either show that the deceased meant a lot to them, or at least enough to get them to show up, or to support me or my family. It’s ok for me that they didn’t go to the official funeral because it’s going to be kind of an uncomfortable occasion for them either way. It’s not like skipping a boring wedding and then going to the party afterward. But that’s just me.

      2. Carrie in Scotland*

        But for weddings people might often be just invited to the gathering/wedding breakfast/dinner etc for various reasons.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I dislike this–if you’re going to invite people to the reception, they should also be invited to the wedding. I feel that B-list invitations are rude. But in this case, if people can’t make it to the funeral itself or are uncomfortable, I wouldn’t want them to feel like they couldn’t come to the pub or gathering because they weren’t able to make it to the funeral. Unless they were just there for free food, in which case a pox on them!

          Conversely, I had a lovely coworker at a long-ago job who lost her daughter to cardiomyopathy (it wasn’t totally unexpected but still really sad because she was a fairly young woman) and she invited us to the viewing. It was far more low-key than I assumed the funeral would be.

          1. Revanche*

            Another perspective: it is the cultural custom in my family and their villages going back generations that only close or immediate family and a few friends are invited to the ceremony and everyone (in the world, ever) is invited to the reception. The reason is because the ceremonies are all held at the bride and groom’s parents’ homes, both of them, AND lunch is served at the bride’s parents’ home. It’s long, involved, requires driving from point to point, lugging of things, and all this other stuff. There’s just no way to host more than 40-50 people comfortably even in a larger home because you’re really limited to the space available in one specific room – the one with the family altar and everyone that is there is expected to participate. Although meaningful, the ceremony is so incredibly long even with the limited guest list that I cannot even imagine going the other direction and inviting more people to the ceremony.

            Needless to say, with my fatigue and pain issues, I went off the reservation and completely modified the ceremony we had to suit my health needs and confused everyone.

      3. Sarahnova*

        I haven’t had to bury someone very close to me (yet), but I would be fine with someone coming to the post-ceremony gathering. Funerals are by their nature short-notice events, after all, and I would consider it a sharing and a demonstration of support whether someone came to the ceremony, gathering, or both. Weddings are a bit different, IMO.

    2. BananaPants*

      At least in my part of the US, there are two general types of post-funeral gathering. One is a luncheon held at the church following a memorial service, where attendees will be invited to stay for the lunch. Usually the food is donated by parishioners or friends of the family and consists of sandwiches, salads, etc. Then there’s the funeral repast, which is very popular and is held at a nearby restaurant (restaurants near large cemeteries publish funeral repast menus; they typically run $20-30 per person). That there will be such a gathering and the location is generally only announced at the end of the memorial service/funeral or burial service at the cemetery, and is typically attended by the deceased’s family and close friends. In that case it would be considered quite rude to skip the funeral and go to the gathering – and I don’t know how someone would know about it unless they were close to the deceased/their family.

      A wake or visitation is usually when people who were not particularly close to the deceased pay their respects – coworkers, casual acquaintances, etc. I’ve gone to many visitations but not the funerals because I was not close to (or didn’t even know) the deceased, but instead went to support a friend or relative.

  17. Katie the Fed*

    #1 is sad. I kind of wonder if there were EAP or other options available to the employee because this sounds like she was in well over her head in terms of coping mechanisms to deal with this. And sometimes mental illness like bipolar disorder can manifest in these types of ways.

    I agree that you shouldn’t give her a reference if you’re not comfortable with it, but I think you should make it about her behavior on the job, not contingent on what she did after. If you’re not comfortable giving her an honest and fair reference about her time with you, then just leave it at that.

    #2 – if you don’t go, definitely have another appointment that you can’t move that day. But I would also try to do something for the family – a donation in lieu of flowers, some food (midwesterner here – we bring a casserole), etc. Don’t just disappear altogether.

    #3 – Definitely report her. She was privy to the news because she’s a medical professional and she demonstrated an astounding lack of professionalism. But, congratulations! I hope everything goes smoothly!

    #5 – Check with HR and see if you can get a copy directly. But be aware that you don’t really have to sign it in most cases, and you almost certainly don’t need to agree with what’s in there. The supervisor can generally write whatever he wants in this.

    1. Graciosa*

      Regarding alternatives to funeral attendance, I’m actually not a big fan of cards, primarily because most people just sign a purchased card – possibly after adding a short phrase (“Sorry about Joe” or “Thinking of you”) which is pretty minimal.

      A death in the family is a Big Deal. I am very much in the Always Go to the Funeral camp, but in either case it is worth getting out pen and paper and actually writing (wait for it – here it comes – gasp!) a letter of condolence.

      Yes, I know people don’t bother much any more, but I’m going to advocate for them anyway. They are not that hard to write, and taking a few minutes to send an actual letter can make a huge difference. A stack of purchased cards produces a reaction of “Oh, who was that one from?” A genuine letter can make the family feel that that the deceased actually mattered – there are others who share at least a part of their grief.

      To prove it’s not that hard (even if you don’t know the person), here is a sample:

      “Dear Surviving Key Family Member,

      I was shocked and saddened to hear the tragic news about Deceased, as was everyone here on the Teapot Design team where she worked for so many years. Deceased was very special to us, not just for her brilliant work in Spout Shaping, but also for her kindness and the cheerful spirit she brought to all her work.

      Although I never had the chance to work with her as closely as I wished, Deceased was always a pleasure to work with. She had a smile and a pleasant word to share every time we met – even if we were only passing in the hall – and every day was brighter because of the spirit she brought to our work. She was an integral part of our team, and I will miss her very much.

      With deepest condolences for your loss –

      If the OP had known the Deceased well, it could have been much longer, but the more personal the better. The idea is to share memories – in writing – that the family can revisit at will.

      “I’ll miss seeing the Deceased in the hall” is fine.

      “I’ll miss the sight of Deceased in her favorite blue dress with the yellow dots, struggling with the lock on that old black catalog case she inherited from her father and could never bear to replace” is better.

      I would urge the OP to find a pen and paper, write an actual letter – and share a memory.

      1. Anony-moose*

        This is a lovely sentiment! We were at funeral just this weekend for a family member. There were TONS of cards at her home and most of them were quite generic. But there were a few that were nice letters and all the family members took turns reading them and discussing them. It was a lovely way to remember their mom/grandma/aunt as well as to remember the letter writer.

      2. Sarahnova*

        +1. I took my mum’s advice back in the day and wrote to the wife of my former university tutor, whom I had never met, on hearing of my tutor’s death. I shared some of my memories of how great a teacher he was and how sad I was to hear about his passing, and I heard through the grapevine that she really appreciated it.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        That’s lovely. :)

        At the very least, many newspapers provide a guestbook online with the obituary where you can leave a message. Exjob Coworker’s family did that and we were given the link. We were all able to leave our memories of him for the family.

    2. Jessa*

      My main concern here is whether or not there is a signature ON the paperwork. I would be very clear to HR that if they think I’m not entitled to see it, that’s on them, but I want a copy of the last page (even if the information is redacted,) because if there is a signature on it, it’s fraud and I am absolutely going to run that up the highest flagpole in the company I can find. Yes I’m paranoid, but it smacks of something seriously illicit if the company policy is for me to sign something and I don’t get to see the signature page.

      Not to say I wouldn’t complain like crazy that they didn’t let me see it. Because a company policy of “you must sign this,” kind of infers a “you get to read this thing.” But it just gives me the “it’s fishy willies,” that the boss was so much “no no no,” on seeing it. There must be in that document something they don’t want me to see, and I’d want to put a rebuttal of the “I did not get to see or sign this, if there is a signature it is not mine, and if there is something I am supposed to improve on, I have not been told what it is,” type, because the whole thing makes me nervous.

  18. Basiorana*

    I wonder about the nurse– she’s so clearly out of line, and would have been if she wasn’t bound by HIPAA too, but maybe she thought she wasn’t because OP was a coworker. If she understood it was a HCP/patient situation she should be fired, but if there was doubt she needs reeducation on HIPAA, and a sobering reality check on why women wait to announce pregnancies!

    OP, I hope your pregnancy is otherwise uneventful. Announce it when you’re ready and act confused until you announce it, like “Oh, huh, well thanks, but I haven’t announced any pregnancy” when someone congratulates you.

    1. blackcat*

      “a sobering reality check on why women wait to announce pregnancies”

      Particularly given that the OP *needed to go to the hospital.* If there’s ever a time NOT to comment on someone’s else’s pregnancy, it’s when they need to go to the hospital for an issue that may be pregnancy related.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Such a good point. It sounds like this nurse got mixed up about whether this was a coworker/peer interaction or a medical interaction. That’s not okay, but it is an opportunity for her to see first hand what the impact is of sharing info and take a hard look at how she mentally categorizes things she heard. I feel like reporting her might be an extreme punishment, though, and I’d start with the boss.

        (My parents had a prominent position in the community when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Found out Friday and wanted to process before they shared, but one of the nurses had spread the word to mutual acquaintances, and she went to work Monday to find that everyone already knew. It was devastating and she was completely unprepared to respond to near strangers. News was shared before she even had a change to learn the prognosis – which was good, and she’s fine 25 years later, but that incident still hurts. Pre-HIPPA, but I’m sure there we’re still laws, and certainly moral issues, at the time).

        1. fposte*

          Even post-HIPAA–a friend of mine who was very ill (she’s now much better, fortunately) and was in for a long time and requesting no visitors. One of the nurses knew that a relative was acquainted with my friend, told that relative about my friend’s condition, and insisted the friend come in to visit her.

          1. Artemesia*

            One of my nightmares. I would never share this type diagnosis widely and would be horrified to be gossiped about by one and all. My mother was one of those people that always nattered away about people’s intimate personal situations and my husband was on notice to never tell her anything personal about me. I didn’t want to be like her friend ‘Gladys, you know the one with the colostomy’ whom I’d never met but got to hear all the details of her difficult situation.

            1. fposte*

              And in case I didn’t make this clear, this wasn’t the patient’s relative, this was the nurse’s relative. Coming and sitting in for lengthy visits in the room of a woman who had told her dearest friends she wasn’t ready yet–and of course my friend didn’t want to toss her out because she didn’t want the nurse still taking care of her to be upset.

      2. catsAreCool*

        “If there’s ever a time NOT to comment on someone’s else’s pregnancy, it’s when they need to go to the hospital for an issue that may be pregnancy related.” This!

        Plus, as someone else said on here, it’s basic human decency – LW asked the nurse to not tell anyone, therefore the nurse or any reasonable person shouldn’t have blabbed about it.

    2. some1*

      I’d argue that when the nurse took her blood pressure it was in a caregiving capacity, though.

      I’m an admin in finance. Many of my coworkers are also also clients and I’m not allowed to discuss what I learn about them through the course of my job.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Oh, I think you’re right – but it sounds like the nurse didn’t clearly see it that way – and that’s something she should definitely know and be careful about.

    3. Meg Murry*

      I agree that if the nurse blabbed, she was out of line. However, given that OP works in a medical office, its possible she was showing other symptoms that the co-workers picked up on, and the other co-workers figured it out on their own. Or possibly one of the other co-workers said something about OP being pregnant and the nurse responded and confirmed it, not knowing that OP hadn’t actually told the other co-worker yet – a “gotcha” kind of situation.

      I’ve always had at least one co-worker figure out I was pregnant long before I publicly shared it, and I’ve more than once suspected a co-worker’s pregnancy before the official announcement. I’ve never gossiped or speculated about it with co-workers, because I wanted my privacy and I want others to have that same privacy until they are willing to share. But I have friends that are nurses that say it is impossible to hide a pregnancy there – someone always guesses really early on from signs like morning sickness, nausea, exhaustion, food aversions or passing up caffeine or alcohol – working in the medical field plus having been through it themselves makes it really obvious to the other nurses, even when the newly pregnant person is trying to keep it quiet.

      I still think the OP should talk to the person she first told, and tell her it’s not okay that she let the cat out of the bag – but be prepared to hear that it is possible that everyone else already knew and/or the nurse didn’t actually tell or do anything more than accidentally confirm a rumor. Or if OP told her “keep it quiet” or “don’t tell anyone yet” – she might have thought OP had already told, or had a different definition of “quiet” vs “Don’t tell a single person about this, I will tell everyone when I’m ready”.

      1. Cat*

        Yeah, I agree with this. The combination of working in a medical office* and the potential chaos created by an immediate medical crisis creates a lot of opportunities for confusion about who knew what when, I think, and in the absence of specific information to the contrary, there’s a lot to be said for giving the nurse the benefit of the doubt.

        * Tangential because I don’t think the legal issues are central here but I’m curious: I don’t know anything about HIPAA but does it apply inside the office anyway? Wouldn’t any professional in an office have access to patient files?

        1. Windchime*

          Yes, any professional would have access to files but, at least where I work, we are not allowed to access any records of a patient unless we need to do it to perform the duties of our jobs. People have been fired for looking at the records of their neighbors, coworkers, and even their own minor children because the records were accessed outside of the course of doing one’s job. If the charts were paper charts, as they were in the past, this would be hard to track but in many (most?) offices, the charts are electronic files nowadays and every click is tracked.

          Someone above mentioned , “Well, maybe someone just guessed about the pregnancy.” It doesn’t matter. At least at my place of business, talking about someone’s suspected medical condition due to guessing is out of line. Medical information is treated as private (as it should be!), and we just don’t talk about it. Period. Susie looks suspiciously like she has a baby bump? I don’t say a word unless I hear an announcement from Susie herself or get an invitation to her baby shower.

          1. Leah*

            People were fired for looking at the records of their minor children? How? Was it because of the record looking, or that they were screwing around on company time?

            1. LiteralGirl*

              We have the same policy in our office. There are specific reasons to access someone’s medical record (and curiosity is not one of them); if you are doing it outside of those boundaries, you can be immediately terminated. In my state, parents have access to their child’s full medical records until age 13. After that, there are certain things that cannot be seen without express permission (via a release of information form) from the minor. I have access to my eleven year old’s medical record online, but not my 14 year old’s. If you need to access your child’s medical information, you need to do so as the parent of a patient, not as an employee.

            2. Linguist curmudgeon*

              Leah – would you ask this question if the organization in question was the NSA, not a hospital?

              That’s why it’s not okay.

        2. Sigrid*

          It’s absolutely against HIPAA regulations to access medical files of anyone you are not in direct care of. You cannot access medical files of your coworkers, your friends, your relatives, or your children unless you are directly involved in their care, and even if you are, you are only allowed to access those parts of their record that are directly relevant for your job. Strictly speaking, you can’t even access your own medical records if you have access to them unless you go do so through the same mechanism as someone without access. (In reality, this last gets violated all the time.)

        3. themmases*

          Yes, HIPAA definitely applies within offices. My experience is similar to Windchime’s, and it needs to be to comply with the law.

          To strictly comply with HIPAA, you don’t access any information– not just any record, but any piece of information within that record– that you don’t specifically need to do your own personal job. At my last job I viewed lots of stuff in medical records that my boss wouldn’t have been allowed to open, because I saw patients and he didn’t– yet we both had access we could use if our job duties did call for it. I taught research assistants what information they could get just from the patient summary in search results without ever even opening the medical record, or what they could always find in the patient snapshot on the very first page of the medical record so they never felt the need to open anything else. And I would never open someone’s medical record to see information I could just as easily get from, say, a QA or teaching database with just a summary. But again we had access to everything, if we’d happened to need it.

    4. Lisa*

      If I was her manager, I would fire her – this is a big deal. The woman who told others protected medical information – not private vs. public – protected by law. She needs a real-life lesson, not a talk, not a warning, no ‘don’t do it again’. She needs consequences. HIPAA applies as OP was a patient at the time even if she wasn’t billed as one – she had vitals checked by a medical professional. This isn’t a disappointing learning moment not to trust people on OPs part. This should a learning moment for that woman that you can get fired or in serious trouble for violating patient privacy.

  19. African SUN*

    Long-time lurker, first time commenter.

    #2 – Funerals are one of these things where it depends on the culture of your country/society. I have not lived in the West for a while, but what I do remember of the UK for example was that supporting team members was so important at the workplace, at least the places I worked.

    In my country, not going to a funeral would have the person probably be hazed or seen as an outcast by their colleagues, peers and managers at work.

    I think it totally depends on the culture of your country. If not going to a colleague’s funeral is frowned upon, I go with going to the funeral. You could always go for a bit and then leave depending on if it is a wake, if it is religious. It also depends if it is not a religious funeral. Muslim funerals start and end quickly for example.

    Good luck.

  20. Macedon*

    #2 – a colleague “dear to [you] all” and someone you saw regularly would generally warrant the inconvenience of one or two hours. That said, I understand that funerals can be terrifying triggers for some – one of my aunts can’t attend them, because she undergoes panic attacks to the point of having repeatedly tried to throw herself in the burial hole with the body. It’s dramatic and irrational, and she’s horrified with herself after, but the human mind works as it will.

    If you decide you can’t attend, I second Alison about blaming it on a conflict schedule. Do send a card, maybe call (if that’s part of the grieving culture there). Maybe get involved in making some of the office arrangements – so, if you’re all intent on sending a wreath as a workplace, offer to be in charge of raising the money and placing the order.

  21. Elkay*

    #3 – I’d speak to whatever body governs nurses, take it totally outside of your work situation. Call/Email them and tell them what happened, and ask if this is a violation of HIPAA. Then you can go to your boss and say “This is what happened, this is what the Board of Nursing says, I want to file a complaint”. Make it non-personal, the reason I advise going to an official body is because then you’re not going to be caught if the nurse is super nice an apologetic and not want to take it further.

    1. Elizabeth*

      I would suggest the Office for Civil Rights in the US Department of Health & Human Services. They have 3 ways to file a complaint: toll free number, web form and PDF that can be printed & mailed. Once they get the complaint, they investigate it to determine if it really is a Privacy Rule violation, and if so, how to remedy the situation.

      HIPAA is one of the things I Do at work. While we always prefer a patient notify us first if they have a complaint about misuse of their information, we know that some people aren’t comfortable with talking us. We encourage reporting, because we can’t fix the problem if we don’t know about it.

  22. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-You made a mistake by agreeing to be a reference for someone you actively fired. Now, sure there were some circumstances involved and that makes it sad but you fired her for really good reasons and gave her more than a fair shot at keeping her job. Knowing what you know now, whether it’s true or not, doesn’t mean you have to continue to serve as a reference. If you truly can’t reach the person, then just use the fall back of “I can only confirm employment dates” if you aren’t willing to be honest about her shortcomings.

    #2-Last year we had a coworker (director level) who suddenly passed away. He was a younger guy and had been with my org for a while and was universally liked. The expectation was everyone in management of our department was expected to attend and anyone who wanted to attend was allowed since it was during the work day. We packed the church to standing room only. It was a little insane. Here’s the rub though. I didn’t know this guy well or, to be honest, like him very much. He was my counterpart in my dept. We did the same job in different locations. I basically couldn’t stand him. But I went to his funeral for his staff who I care for and the other friends who I know were devastated. Even not knowing him well, when a former boss presented his mother with a post-humous degree I kind of lost it. The point being that sometimes funerals are mandatory events. If you truly can’t attend one because it puts you in a panic attack then that’s an issue but if you are just “uncomfortable” then you should go. Show support for your coworkers.

    #3-Well, for the HIPAA violation I would absolutely talk to her manager. Then, because I can be snarky, I would announce it at 12 weeks like nobody knew. Seriously, big announcement. I’d put the nurse on the hot seat in a major way.

    1. Colette*

      A “big announcement” of a pregnancy isn’t really appropriate at work, and it would look even stranger if everyone already knows.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. It never occurred to me to ‘announce’ my pregnancy at work. I told people close to me when it became obvious at 4 mos or so — but a big ‘ta da’ seems really out of place in the workplace.

        1. TotesMaGoats*

          Again, that’s what worked for you. I didn’t do a huge reveal but everyone in my office knew I’d been struggling with miscarriages for several years and so it was a big deal when I made it past 12 weeks and we all celebrated. The same with my former boss who had similar struggles. It was a public thing. I didn’t announce to the whole university but to my 50 person dept, sure. We are close like that.

      2. TotesMaGoats*

        I’m going to disagree and say it totally depends on the office environment and a blatant statement of inappropriateness isn’t true. I’m not talking about a company wide email. I’m thinking team meeting, which is what I did. If you work in an office where sharing personal information like this is the norm and you wanted to share in the first place then there is absolutely nothing wrong with (for example) saying at the Friday pot luck “Hey, everyone I’m excited to announce that I’m pregnant.” And I because I have a vindictive streak I could totally play it off like nobody knew to make a point that the nurse broke confidentiality rules to share that info.

        Obviously, YMMV at another workplace with different norms.

        1. Colette*

          That’s just an announcement, in my mind – not a big production – and I agree it’s fine. But it would still be weird to do that after everyone knows – and that would make the OP look odd, not the nurse.

  23. CAinUK*

    OP2 – Ideally you would have come up with an excuse on-the-spot (doctors appointment), but now that there have been emails and discussions, it might be odd to “suddenly” remember a conflicting appointment.

    That leaves a couple options:
    1. Become sick or cite a family emergency the day-of.
    2. Be upfront with the office organizer: “Bob, I feel horrible as I would love to attend and pay my respects, but I have an actual phobia of funerals. I couldn’t even attend my cousin/uncle/sister’s funeral because it is so bad. Could you please pass on my condolences on the day, and I’ll be sure to send a card?”

    Both of these options sound and feel a bit disingenuous (I’m not questioning your anxiety OP, I’m just relaying the risks and perceptions) so it’s important to strike the right tone.

    But ultimately I hope Snoskred’s advice (above) is correct: are you sure you’re reading the signals correctly and there really is an expectation to attend (as opposed to just an invitation)?

    1. Graciosa*

      I’m not a fan of the second option, and would definitely go with the first. People are much more likely to forgive illness or an emergency (also arguably true) than a clear statement that the OP’s distress at attending a funeral is more important than supporting the family of the deceased.

      Please don’t everyone jump on me about being intolerant of phobias (although I’d be more supportive if the OP was actually seeking diagnosis and treatment if that’s what this is). I am pointing out that the bereaved are not likely to be in the best emotional state, and the office organizer is probably among the bereaved. I would expect any excuse to be shared widely among co-workers under the circumstances.

      “Poor OP couldn’t make it today” will come across more kindly than “Can you believe OP refused to show up? Says she doesn’t do funerals – claims it’s some sort of phobia! Like there’s anyone who actually enjoys funerals – but all the rest of us are here anyway, to support the family. It’s the only decent thing to do – unless you’re the OP apparently.”

      Again, keep in mind I am writing about possible (probable?) reactions from co-workers if the OP is too candid about why she is skipping the funeral. I don’t believe in lying, but that doesn’t require volunteering information that will cause distress.

      1. fposte*

        Usually I’m a fan of candor, but I think you may have a point there; also, #2 sounds like it’s more about the OP, which you probably want to avoid.

      2. Arjay*

        My mom just died two weeks ago. We don’t have a large family, and many of her friends and neighbors pre-deceased her, so I wasn’t expecting a large turnout. I was touched that two of my bosses came to the visitation. Additionally, the department sent a flower arrangement. Other coworkers reached out to me, and have been entirely supportive, without having come to the funeral events. I appreciate all the support, regardless of the way in which it is expressed.
        I will say though that when I asked a family member whether a family friend would be able to come, and I was told “Oh, he doesn’t do funerals,” I was taken aback. I’m sure there’s some reason for it, but that blanket statement struck me as being very harsh and insensitive. I know that this is not what was intended, but my first response was that it must be nice to have the luxury of choosing to avoid grief on general principles, because I certainly can’t escape my grief that easily. Long story short: I’d avoid the “doesn’t do funerals” statement.

        1. Snoskred*

          I’ve got to agree on the “doesn’t do funerals” statement. To say something like that about funerals to someone who is arranging one.. I’m sorry that happened to you.. plus, I’m sorry for your loss. :(

        2. Dulcibella*

          I am very sorry for your loss. And agree that “can’t do funerals” is insensitive. “I’m sorry I wasn’t (or won’t be) able to be there” is kinder.

  24. NurseB*

    #3 – this is awful and I’m sorry your personal information was shared in such a way. That should have never happened with your co-worker.

    That being said, this probably doesn’t reach the level of a HIPAA violation. I’m not trying to make excuses by any means but it’s possible this nurse saw it as just helping out a co-worker, not that this co-worker reached the level of a patient. If a co-worker asked me to take their blood pressure or listen to their lungs, it would be just me helping out a friend. Out of respect for my friend I sincerely doubt I would share any of that information because I’m nice. If I did share it, it wouldn’t be a HIPAA violation, it would indiscreet and rude.

    If a co-worker came in to my clinic and signed in and was being seen, then they obviously reach the level of a patient and anything said about that should be a firable offense.

    The person that did this was in the wrong and is obviously a big gossip who couldn’t keep their mouth shut. I’m sorry that she did that to you because it really was unnecessary and insensitive.

    1. fposte*

      It sounds more like you’re saying you wouldn’t *think* of it as being subject to HIPAA, though; that’s not the same thing as it’s not being subject to HIPAA, so I don’t think that’s enough to be sure.

    2. Chriama*

      If you’re a healthcare professional, it absolutely would be a violation. I suspect the coworker had the same thought process as you, but when you’re bound by certain regulations you really should make sure you understand it in all its implications, not just the ones that seem normal to you (and I can’t believe that that’s not mentioned when educating healthcare professionals of their legal obligations!).

      As another example, a lot of people don’t realize that you need to report all earned income to the IRS, even if you didn’t get a tax form for it. Now in a lot of cases people aren’t earning income (selling stuff you already owned is usually a capital loss) or wouldn’t end up owing taxes (kids who do random random part-time chores usually fall below the standard exemption), but if you do owe taxes, the IRS absolutely has the opportunity to go after you for amount owed, interest, and penalties. Just because you only earned $500 building a website for your neighbour doesn’t mean you don’t owe taxes on it, even though it doesn’t feel like “enough” money to incur taxes on.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      When I worked at a hospital there were formal policies for how to handle employees seeking medical care. One of these policies was to treat employees as patients always. That meant no hallway doctoring and it also meant that employee/patients needed to have the same level of confidentiality as other patients.

    4. Oryx*

      Except she was working in a medical capacity by taking the OP’s blood pressure. You and the OP’s co-worker might only *think* of it as helping out a friend, but that might not be the actual reality of what was happening when it comes to HIPAA.

    5. HumbleOnion*

      If you’re a medical professional, you default to keeping your mouth shut. If you’re not sure if you’re treating your coworker in a medical capacity, keep your mouth shut.

    6. MsM*

      But it’s help that involves your professional expertise. I couldn’t take a coworker’s blood pressure and tell them anything useful. Legality aside, I don’t think you can treat it as just a standard favor.

    7. Sigrid*

      It is absolutely a HIPAA violation. She was acting in a medical capacity and obtaining medical information about someone. The fact that her patient was also her coworker is irrelevant.

      This is the kind of scenario that should be covered in every HIPAA introductory/refresher course, and if someone is unclear on the concept, they need to take a HIPAA refresher course right away, because they might be unclear on other scenarios, too. It’s not a grey area.

  25. some1*

    #1 Keep in mind that many job applications make you list your previous supervisors as a required field, so you might get these calls whether or not you are willing to volunteer to be her reference.

  26. _ism*

    Oh boy. I’ve been #1, just without the specific drinking problem (had plenty of others) and I think I’ve put many previous managers in this spot :/

  27. AnotherAlison*

    #2 – I’m not an expert in dealing with genuine anxiety, but I wonder if this would be a good opportunity for the OP2 to work on figuring out how she can attend a funeral (go to the visitation, only stay in the lounge area) when it is *not* someone close to her.

    Like others on here, I’m one of those lucky people who has been to a number of tragic funerals and just a lot of funerals in general in the past few years. I get what people are saying about how they can’t bear to go because of past experiences. I probably will never forget the image of my aunt at my uncle’s funeral. It was one of the most horrible things ever. But, 4 years later, she is now remarried and happy. The closest family members get through the grief over time, and if you can remember that, the funeral does not have to be a reminder of a never-ending nightmare.

    1. Colette*

      I think it might be good for the OP to look into getting help coping with funerals, in general. She’s having a lot of anxiety about a colleague’s funeral – it would be good to work on that before she has to deal with the funeral of someone closer to her.

  28. rPM*

    OP#2, it sounds like you’re having physical anxiety symptoms just thinking about attending, so I’m firmly in the camp of not going. I was in a similar situation last year but in my case the panic is related to driving / being driven and the location of the funeral was (for me) very far from the office. Just thinking about traveling there began to give me physical anxiety symptoms. I have a diagnosis of PTSD already on record with my company for ADA accommodation so I was able to privately explain why I wasn’t attending to my manager and she already had some background. If you have a good relationship with your manager and are comfortable doing so I think you could take a similar approach, especially if the funeral is during work hours and it’s not easy to have the type of unavoidable conflict others have suggested. I think if you sound really sincere about this and express your regret that you can’t be there with the rest of your team, it should be fine and it would be good to have one other person in the office who knows a little bit more of the full story and can back you up if needed. If anyone else asks why you’re not going, just stick to “Unfortunately I can’t go.”

  29. Carrie in Scotland*

    For OP 1’s situation, I can only say that sometimes people either don’t want or can’t help themselves. You can’t make them, for instance go to their Dr or AA meetings. They have to want to in themselves. Some people have to go all the way to the bottom before coming back up – and we all have different “levels” of the bottom.

  30. Oryx*

    For #2, are you uncomfortable at actual funerals or calling hours or both? If you can, I’d try and at least go to the calling hours and go with your other work colleagues if possible so you won’t be there alone. If your anxiety is at a level where that’s just not possible I’d suggest spearheading a collection from other co-workers to order some flowers to send from the office.

  31. Anony-moose*

    #3 – I am so sorry that happened to you. It is really hard when someone does not respect your privacy! I would definitely say something.

    When my sister was pregnant, my mom took her to get an ultrasound. The nurse asked if my sister wanted to know the gender of the baby, and she made it very clear that neither she nor her partner wanted to know. They really wanted it to be a surprise. When my sister went to the bathroom, the nurse told my mom the gender of the baby, and my mom told my sister “now I know the gender and you don’t!”

    Barring the dysfunctional family dynamic of it all (it is very possible my mom badgered the nurse) it was a huge issue. My sister was an adult and never consented for the nurse to be sharing this information. It also made for a very long pregnancy with my mom dropping hints until the day my niece was born!

    1. Sigrid*

      She should have reported the nurse. That was also a HIPAA violation. *#)! this kind of thing pisses me off. Do people not pay attention in their HIPAA classes?

      1. Sospeso*

        Mmm, I agree that if the daughter made it explicitly clear that she didn’t want *anyone* to know, this would be a HIPAA violation. However, I know when I’ve discussed personal things at doctor’s offices and I have someone with me, the nurse usually verified that I am fine discussing those things in front of that extra person. I can understand why the nurse might be confused if she had done a similar check initially when the mother accompanied the daughter in the exam room. Also, it’s possible the daughter signed an ROI for her partner and/or family at the clinic when she became a patient.

  32. Snarkus Aurelius*

    The first OP really ticks me off. I’ve never engaged in any illegal behavior or put anyone’s life at risk, yet my references barely remember me or never respond to inquiries. But drinking on the job and getting DUIs will get someone else a decent reference because of sympathy. Scheduling conflicts?!!! Sigh.

    1. Cat*

      This is one of those situations where I think it’s different when you’re in the middle of it. Seeing someone you care about and think highly of get caught in the grip of an addiction is painful and difficult, and there’s also often a very palpable Jekyll and Hyde thing going on – you want to hope they will get it under control and go back to being *them*. That doesn’t always happen and obviously, in this case, it didn’t (or hasn’t yet). But it’s not easy to write someone off as irredeemable.

      That doesn’t mean you should give a reference in these circumstances, of course, but I understand the impulse.

  33. Camellia*

    A word about flower arrangements – or rather, the florists who create them.

    I attended the funeral of a close colleague’s mother and it was in a location with which I was not familiar. So I found a local florist on the interwebs and ordered an arrangement. I nervously looked for it at the funeral home, concerned because I had no idea what the quality might be. It was gorgeous! Later I phoned the florist and reminded her of the order. She gave a very guarded “Yes…”
    When I told her how beautiful the arrangement she gasped and said, “No one ever says that!” After I thought about it I guess I was not surprised that the only people who would call were those who had a complaint.

    So surprise your florist with a thank-you-it-was-beautiful/perfect call next time you have the opportunity.

    1. OP #4*

      That’s what I was wondering, or at least this is what is happening for me: This was a position for a legal assistant large-ish law firm in my area. I’m not 100% confident because I haven’t listened to the voicemail in 3 weeks, but the e-mail contact (who I sent my resume to) is different than the contact that called me on the phone to set up the interview. I was wondering how I should address this if this were the case.

  34. AM*

    #2: I have a great uncle who was a WWII POW and now does not go to funerals. When his wife died, he did not have a funeral. I’m totally understanding of the idea that some people can not handle attending a funeral for myriad reasons.

    I think other people are right on in suggesting that if OP#2 is worried about having a panic attack or something, they should send a card and offer condolences in some other format. I don’t know if it’s been suggested, but maybe they could write a memory about something kind or happy the deceased coworker did in a card to send to their family.

  35. AMG*

    #5: I am guessing there is quite a backstory here, even if you don’t know all of it yet. You should absolutely contact HR to find out what’s going on. The whole point of a review is to find out what you are doing right and what you need to improve. Your manager sounds weird. Please give us an update!

    1. Sospeso*

      Yes, I’d also like to hear an update on this one! There has to be more going on with this manager.

  36. AnonyMiss*

    #5 – Depending on your state, you may have laws allowing access to view your own personnel file, including all performance evaluations, etc. California certainly does (Lab. Code § 1198.5), and it applies to current and former employees, and their representatives (ie. attorney or union rep). Google “personnel file inspection [state]” – there may be something in your state as well.

  37. Relly*

    2# As someone who works in the funeral industry, I really don’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to attend a funeral. They’re tough to get through, no matter who you are! If you didn’t have major anxiety I would have suggested going anyway, because it’s a nice gesture, but a good substitute would be to go to the visitation/viewing before the funeral if there is one.

    If you don’t go, I think sending a card or flowers is ok (or whatever instructions the family has about showing support).

  38. M*

    #2 I wholeheartedly disagree with this recent phenomenon that attendance at funerals are mandatory. I have a large extended family and have attended more than my fair share. There is NO reason for someone that is not a direct relative and suffers with anxiety should be guilted into attendance. It says more about today’s media obsessed society that “needs” external support from anyone no matter what vs intimate and genuine support.

    I’ve been caretaker for a number of family members and can count on my hands the number that came through to help while they were sick. Their attendance mattered. The attendance of hundreds of others that couldn’t be bothered when deceased was alive but showed up to be seen at funeral was not to me. The family members that thoroughly enjoyed what turned into a show and being center of attention were the ones not present for the hard part.

    No one is “owed” a big funeral. How you lived life should genuinely determine the number of mourners (or lack thereof). Send a card OP.

    1. fposte*

      I’m not sure it has anything to do with media culture, though; big funerals have been around for a long, long time.

  39. WorkerMom*

    Ugh, Letter 1 struck a chord with me, although it’s a fairly different situation. Our nanny did a great job for almost three years and then got a brain infection which caused her to drive off one morning when she was supposed to be looking after three children (we were sharing with two other families). Several days later her family got her to the hospital, where she was treated with antibiotics, and she recovered fully after about a month.

    I was totally willing to give her a great reference — she was a great nanny, and it was hardly her fault she got sick — except that she has been totally unwilling to acknowledge that she was sick; she keeps saying that it was a “miscommunication with her family” (which was definitely not the case). I have no idea why — if she thinks people are less likely to hire her because she was sick, or what — but because of this I feel like I can’t honestly give her a good reference, because I don’t know what’s going on with that, whether she’s lying or whether there’s something still wrong with her brain? But maybe I should anyway, because in all other ways she was a great nanny? If she were in an office position I probably would anyway, but dealing with people’s kids is a tricky business.

    Anyway, the situation in letter 1 is much more cut and dried, but I very much sympathize with the situation.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Maybe she doesn’t remember any of it.

      I don’t know if you should or not; I’m not quite sure how I’d address the “why did she leave” question in this case.

  40. EmilyG*

    I used to have to do a lot of HIPAA trainings at my previous organization (even though it wasn’t relevant to my role; everyone had to do it), and one thing that I recall is that you’re required to report violations if you happen to find out about them, and if there are penalties for a violation, they are larger the longer you sit on the information without reporting it.

    I’m not sure this strictly applies in this situation and I’m not trying to scare OP #3, I’m just making the connection that, in the world of HIPAA thinking, she would be not just allowed but obliged to report it, and the faster the better.

  41. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    One of my goals in life is to handle the hardest things (death, illness, tragedies of other sorts) with grace. My mother does and I so admire it about her. She’s the person who visits the newly widowed three days a week for the first year after her husband died, who invites the unpleasant uncle to Easter dinner because otherwise he will be alone, and so on. She’s lovely.

    My husband’s aunt died recently, much too young. She lived halfway across the country from us, and my husband had a trip planned that weekend. His father told us that we didn’t need to come for the funeral and so we didn’t. We didn’t even send a card (although we speak to his father frequently, so we offered our condolences in that way). I’ve felt awful about it ever since, and it’s a lesson learned – Never Skip the Funeral. (My mother raised my right in that respect, but I let the inconvenience of this particular funeral get in the way of my better nature. Ugh.)

    In any case, if it’s not obvious, I hope OP2 can find a way to make it to the funeral. I also have an anxiety disorder (although I’m not triggered by anything specific, as the OP seems to be – mine is general), so I absolutely understand how painful and exhausting that can be. Still, if she can, I think she will feel better having gone.

  42. Schnauz*

    #2 – Don’t go to the funeral if you don’t want to or can’t – you don’t owe anyone an explanation or social lie about an “unmoveable appointment”. It’s up to you how much detail you are comfortable giving, but a plain “I won’t be able to make it” is all you need to say. Frankly, it’s none of their business if funerals cause you to have a panic attack or not. I would, however, write a nice condolence card and include a remembrance if you can for your coworkers family – asking the emailer for contact info (or confirming where to find it) is a subtle way to convey you aren’t ignoring the loss without having to think of some way to let everyone know.

    No one should feel pressured to go to a funeral. It isn’t the “right” thing to do to go and it isn’t the “wrong” thing to do if you don’t go. I know I’d be bitterly disappointed in any friends, family or coworkers who held it against someone for not attending a funeral/viewing/reception.

    1. Cassie*

      I agree – I know it sounds childish but if someone doesn’t want to go to a funeral, they shouldn’t go. Especially if it’s just for appearances so that coworkers or bosses don’t gossip.

      My grandmother passed away about 15 years ago. Despite a large family, there were not that many of us at the funeral (and five of us traveled back from the US to attend). It did make my mom upset a bit – her parents always attended funerals (funerals yes, birthdays no), but when they passed away, very few people attended their respective funerals. For me, I would be cynical about the fact that people who you don’t like or spend time with when you are alive, all come out of the woodwork when you’re dead.

  43. HM in Atlanta*

    #2 – My father passed away quickly and unexpectedly six years ago. I have no idea who came to the actual funeral, other than my immediate family. I remember more of who came to the visitation (the evening before). One of the things that stands out vividly in my mind involves the staff of a tiny restaurant my dad ate breakfast at every morning for years. The owner and two employees came to the visitation, but I didn’t meet the owner. Once he was there, he couldn’t get out of the car. The two employees came in, spent 5 minutes with me and let me know that “Bob” came by just couldn’t come in. It mattered to me that he made an effort, and I still remember it now. I don’t care that he couldn’t come in – it’s not a place anyone wants to be after all. In all, this was probably less than 10 minutes that all this occurred in, the 2 employees left, and life went on. It was comforting to me and these were all strangers to me.

    What meant the most to me were the people who made an effort to acknowledge or comfort, not what that effort was.

  44. Jess*

    OP #3: I agree with Allison, but I wanted to share my personal (and fairly embarrassing story) to point out that it could have just been a horrible mistake.

    Many years ago, I found out that a coworker was pregnant. This came up in a work-related conversation (dealing with changes in her duties due to the pregnancy). So it wasn’t like I heard about it through the course of a social conversation. Because I wasn’t thinking about it, I made a really REALLY stupid mistake: I congratulated her in front of other people. She was in the same situation as you, where she wasn’t ready to share it with other people.

    She told her boss, who approached me about it. All I could do was apologize to my coworker. But I did learn an important lesson about guarding personal information that I’m privy to.

  45. Gene*

    Having just gone through the workplace death problem, I’ll chime in here (once again, not having time to read the entire thread).

    OP2, if you are truly having anxiety problems that rise to the level of you creating a spectacle of yourself if you attend, you probably shouldn’t. Short of that, go. Stand in the back and exit to the lobby if you need to. Coworker’s service had people attending from work, people who flew in from Alaska from when he was fishing up there (some of his relatives have been seen on Deadliest Catch), and even some of his contacts at the industries we regulate. Everyone in the our immediate work group was there, many people from other work groups in our location were; and we all know who wasn’t. A few are relatively new and didn’t know him at all, they get a pass; the people who have worked with him on and off for decade or two don’t.

    Same thing when my first wife died in ’96, I know who came to the service and who didn’t. I didn’t confront anyone about it, but some relationships never reached the level they were at before they didn’t show up.

    And OP3; you may be required to report the HIPAA violation as a mandated reporter. I get that you don’t like confrontation, but failure to report may cost you.

  46. Not Fiona*

    #1: Wow. I’m just shaking my head. There are TONS of qualified people looking for jobs, especially recent college grads/younger people and they are possibly being passed over for a job because #1 is providing a fake reference for their former employee. I don’t mean to pile on here but I’m kinda amazed.

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