overweight employee keeps breaking office chairs, my boss won’t give me a budget, and more

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

1. Overweight employee keeps breaking office chairs

We have an obese employee who has broken several office chairs. We purchased two new ones just for her with a higher weight ability. She again broke the base of one of them. As a result, she has used other chairs in the office and broken them. I am getting ready to purchase more chairs and another one that goes up to 400 pounds for her.

Is there anything that we can legally say to her? I’m not sure how to go about it, but this is getting close to $1,000 in chairs in the last year. Can we address the money being spent on her chairs, as well as others that she is breaking? I know it’s a fine line because of the ADA, but my boss is getting irritated.

Nope. It’s not certain that the ADA would be in play here, but unless you’re willing to bring in a lawyer to examine the situation and make a determination (and probably spend a lot more than $1,000 in doing that), let’s assume that it is. That means that unless you can show that purchasing your employee new chairs is an undue hardship — which is pretty unlikely — you do indeed need to deal with the chair situation. And that means not only ensuring she has an appropriate chair to sit in, but not making her feel like it’s an inconvenience that you or your boss resents.

But leaving the law aside, I’m sure she realizes she’s breaking chairs and why it’s happening and that you’re having to purchase new ones, and is mortified. I don’t see what you’d gain from saying something, and you potentially lose a lot by humiliating a presumably good employee.

2. My boss won’t give me a budget for the work I organize

I am an admin assistant and my duties are pretty typical of an admin, including ordering supplies and planning office events. My direct supervisor is the CEO, and I don’t really report to anyone else. We’ve had friction in the past and while things are pleasant on a superficial level, I can sense that our communication is way off. I’m not sure what to do about it, but that may require a different conversation. I make a point to say this just to give you some insight into our relationship, which I do feel is a little dysfunctional.

Whenever I need to order supplies, my boss wants to see what I want to order and then she approves it. I’ve never been given a budget, even though I’ve asked. Also, whenever I’m planning something, like a staff outing, I’m never given a budget. Because of this, I typically just give my boss a list of options and their respective details and cost, and she’ll just let me know how much she’s willing to spend after the fact. Sometimes, like now, I don’t hear back from her in a timely manner. Sometimes, she finds all of the prices too high and I’ll have to scramble to put something together. This makes it difficult to secure dates and other logistical details. The most recent event I planned was for a fun team-building activity where the activity and food cost less than $800. She initially thought that was too high and tried to get me to find a way to get donated food, which really made me feel icky because it’s not like the staff gets treated often at all.

I get the feeling that this may be her way of budgeting, but it comes off as very haphazard and not very thoughtful. It’s like she’s always exercising extreme prudence when it comes to staff, but when it comes to her spending for herself (on the company credit card) or the board, the sky is the limit.

I do manage the petty cash for the office, but any other budgeting is completely out of my hands. This can’t be normal or an efficient way to work, is it? Am I wrong to expect/want access to budget information for these specific line items? I don’t even so much mind having to check in or get approval, but working without a budget is just seems very inefficient and odd to me. Do I need this information? It feels weird to even be asking this question. If I’m not totally out of line here, how do I go about talking to my boss about this?

It’s not unusual for an admin not to have her own budget in general, but it’s pretty normal to have a general budget for supplies or to only have to get supply orders approved if they fall outside the typical expenses for supplies on a given order or in a typical month or whatever. And it would certainly make sense to at least give you a general dollar range when asking you to plan events, so that you can plan more accurately and not just be flying blind. But that said, some bosses prefer to hear a range of options or to first hear what doing X would cost. It’s not the most efficient way to operate, but it’s not a terrible outrage either.

I’d (a) ask her if you can be authorized to spend up to $X on routine supply orders (or $X/month on supplies) and come to her for approval for anything over those amounts, and (b) start referencing the costs of previous events when she assigns you new ones to plan (“are you thinking of something in the range of what we spent on the April event, which was $750?”). But if she won’t, she won’t, and if that’s the case, your quality of life will likely be better if you accept that this is just a weird thing about the way she works. If it’s combined with other weird things, it’s worth taking a look at whether you like the broader situation, but if it’s just this, I’d roll your eyes and move on.

3. Hiring manager is flying to me for an interview

I’ve applied for a job about 1,500 miles away from my current location. A friend who works for the company informed me that the job would be coming available and also gave me contact info. Once I submitted my interest via email, the hiring manager emailed to schedule a brief phone interview. I called them at the agreed upon time and spoke for about 15 minutes. We left it as he felt I would be a good fit for their organization and he would like to meet with me in person.

About a week later, he emailed me for availability and said he would be scheduling a trip and booking a flight to meet me for lunch. I’ve never heard of a job where the hiring manager is the one doing the travel to meet the applicant. He’s asked me to pick a place somewhat close to the airport for around lunchtime. Is this normal? I’ve not been searching for a job in quite a few years, and I’m still employed.

If he’s interviewing others in your location or is traveling there for other reasons (which could be business or personal), it makes sense that he’d schedule an interview with you while he’s there. I’d be surprised if he’s coming there solely for the interview; if he is, yes, that would be unusual.

4. Asking for severance for staying on when a company is closing

I’m an employee of a very small company that will be closing within the next 6-12 months due to my boss’s retirement. Employees will probably receive 3-4 months notice before the end date.

It is important to my boss — with whom I have a wonderful relationship, which I very much wish to maintain — that his employees stay with the company until the very end, though this is not a contractual obligation. However, planning to stay until the end will make the timing for my eventual job hunt difficult, since I do not want to start the search too early and risk leaving my current boss in the lurch, nor do I want to start the search too late and risk months of unemployment when my current job ends.

Would it be reasonable for me to request severance pay, in exchange for agreeing to hold off on any serious job hunting until the very end of my current job (i.e., the day — or, you know, within a couple weeks ahead of time — that the company closes its doors)? If so, what is a typical/reasonable amount of severance to negotiate in this situation? If I ask and he says no, should I leave the company early when I get a new job, or stay loyal?

Yes, it’s very, very normal to offer severance payments or simply a bonus to employees to stay on when a company is closing. And it’s for exactly the reason you describe: It makes the timing of people’s job searches more difficult, so the idea is that the payments provide an incentive to tolerate that difficulty, or they cushion any period where you might be unemployed because you delayed job searching. In fact, I wouldn’t agree to stay on without that kind of arrangement — as much as you like your boss, it’s not reasonable to risk going without income just to make the closing of the company more convenient for him.

I’d say this: “Because it’s hard to predict how long a job search will take, if I hold off on searching until the company closes down, I risk being in a situation where I’m unemployed for a while. Could we talk about a severance package in exchange for staying through the end? Otherwise, I’d need to start searching sooner, to ensure I don’t have a period without income.” And if your boss agrees, get it in writing now — not after you’ve already delayed your search.

If he says no, then you should feel free to search on your own schedule and leave at your own convenience. That will not ruin a good relationship with a reasonable boss.

5. Impact of minimum wage bump on people already earning close to the new minimum

I have a question regarding cities that are raising their minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour. Right now, I live in one of those cities that plan to to do this. I and everyone I work with make between $15 to $18 an hour, and we are really curious about what is going to happen with our pay when this happens. Do people in this position get pay bumps or do we all now become minimum wage workers?

It’s totally up to your company. There’s no reason they have to bump up the pay of people who are already over or at the minimum. Some companies may decide to do that anyway, but I would assume that they won’t unless they tell you otherwise.

{ 896 comments… read them below }

  1. Kat A.*

    OP #3: You’ll want to check out the company’s location and the city it’s in before accepting a job there. So it would make more sense for them to fly you out there instead.

    If I were you, I’d ask (in a friendly tone) why the manager is coming to you instead of the other way around. Then be silent and listen.

    As a precaution, check out reviews of restaurants near the airport, especially ones that aren’t too noisy. Have at least 2 options ready, and get his mobile number before he travels.

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      3. It does sound a bit odd, especially given that the Hiring Manager appears to be making a special journey.

      I once had an interview in the bar of a hotel on the other side of an airport car park because the interviewer was visiting my city and wanted to slot in a meeting with me before he caught his flight home, but that was because he was in the location anyway.

      I got the impression this was a common occurance in the hotel bar, and can recommend trying to find a discreet corner away from the loudspeakers!

      1. badger_doc*

        I don’t think it is odd. It might not happen all that often, but it could be flattering. I had a former colleague who now works for Microsoft and they actually came out to interview him because they really wanted him to work for them. They were very accommodating of his family and busy schedule. So if this is a head-hunted type of situation, I can see why the company would try to be accommodating. Or, it’s like you said, they could have had travel already scheduled and are trying to kill to birds with one stone. I don’t think it is a red flag but definitely, if you make it through this round, ask to come out and visit the actual company and meet with more people.

        1. mander*

          I don’t think I would even have questioned it. I’d assume they were coming to my city for some other reason (one that is not my business) and wanted to take advantage of that to squeeze in an in-person interview.

      2. Cath in Canada*

        I moved to Canada from the UK after interviewing with a colleague of the hiring manager, who was visiting a nearby city on vacation. I took a train to where she was (about an hour each way) and she interviewed me in a coffee shop. Mind you I already knew I wanted to move to Vancouver, but I didn’t meet my new boss in person until she picked me up at the airport on the day I immigrated! It all worked out well, and the woman who interviewed me is a collaborator on the main project I run now.

    2. Jeanne*

      It’s different for the manager to travel but he probably does have other business there. Unless OP lives in a spot people really want to visit. I am sure it’s easy to bring up in casual conversation though.

    3. Graciosa*

      Or the manager is managing his or her frequent flier status as much as the interview process –

      1. plain_jane*

        Or family/friends they want to see and this is an opportunity to expense the flight. Something similar happened for a family member (in that case they were a contractor, and their contact kept flying out to see them instead of vice versa).

    4. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      At my last job it was incredible common for the Hiring Manager to fly to the interviewee, and very, very rare for a candidate to be flown to our Headquarters.

      Our Hiring Managers were road warriors and/or remote employees, so it was cheaper for us to add a stop to their trip or an additional night’s stay at a location they were already at than to fly in the candidate.

    5. HumbleOnion*

      I wondered if the hiring manager is interviewing for a job in the OP’s city & is using this as a cover.

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      I don’t think this is odd, for all the reasons Alison said, but I do think it’d be a good idea that if she were to move forward in the process, that she gets to visit the job site as well. My BF once had an interview at a hotel across from our airport. The hiring manager was interviewing more than one candidate in the area, and also he was a Sales VP, so presumably in town to visit some clients as well.

        1. Jason*

          I’m the original asker here. He’s definitely not flying for any reason other than to meet with me. Return flight is three hours after he lands, and he asked me to choose a restaurant close to the airport, if possible.
          Location is Cleveland. Job would be based in Texas. It’s not a head hunted job, just a referral by a friend who works for the company.

          1. Chameleon*

            Maybe he likes flying. Maybe he’s got frequent flyer miles that are about to expire.

            Or maybe it’s a million degrees in Texas right now and he doesn’t want the heat to scare you off.

            1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

              It’s over 100 degrees in most major cities in Texas right now :p

            2. peanut butter kisses*

              Good point. We rarely interview for new hires at this time of year in Texas. It might be because a lot of big people on campus are on vacation at this time of the year but weather just might play into it as well. January is a big month to fly people in though.

          2. Busy*

            I had an interview like this. I thought it was weird at the time, but I think they were actually doing it for me and the other interviewees as a favor. My industry is very small, so for the initial interview, they were trying to protect us from someone spilling the beans that we were in the market for a new gig (someone totally would have blabbed if they’d seen me in the competitor’s HQ). The interviewer (c-suite, believe it or not), flew the whole way out to DC from the west coast to meet me for dinner at a place a half hour cab ride from the airport for an interview. I think he may have interviewed someone in Baltimore that same trip, for the same reason. He mentioned he’d just gotten back from Chicago. They might be doing it to help you – nothing worse than taking time off work to fly the whole way out to the west coast (that’s at least two PTO days burned) for a second interview, when he knew that there would be at least one more down the line.

            That said, I’m with Stranger than Fiction. The only reason I’d be concerned is if there wasn’t a chance for you to visit the office prior to accepting. Obviously, if you’re going to make a trek from Cleveland to Texas, you’re going to want to peek at the office and neighborhood, etc., before you commit. I think a reasonable employer would understand and anticipate this.

  2. KarenT*

    #1 I’m genuinely curious, OP. What would you like to say to her? Ask her to lose weight? Ask her to pay for her chair?

    Please just order the chair. She’s probably humiliated and I can’t envision a conversation that will get you any useful result.

    1. LisaLee*

      Yeah, it’s incredibly unlikely that the employee will somehow be able to lose 100 or more pounds immediately, if at all ever, and bringing it up just seems like a way to make her feel bad about her weight. And that’s not going to help anyone.

      The *only* thing I think may be of value is the OP asking the employee to pick out a chair rather than ordering one herself. The employee might have a better idea of what will be a good fit for her (maybe the real issue is she needs a wider chair rather than just a stronger one, or one with four legs instead of a swivel base). But the OP should only do this if she can truly address the issue kindly and discreetly.

      1. Jeanne*

        The OP should be part of the conversation. Should the chair have wheels or not? Arm rests or not? That kind of thing. That can be a straight forward conversation.

          1. Hotstreak*

            At first, and as long as the chair continues to work, then yes. If the employee is part of the decision and continues to break chairs, despite the accommodation being made, they share some of the responsibility (not financially or anything, but as if an employee was breaking other pieces of office equipment for whatever reason).

            1. Jessa*

              The only thing I would say besides buying a stronger chair is look at the warranty, if the thing is warranted for 8 hours a day use and the employee is sitting in it 12, you need to look at that feature as well. (Yes they really warrant chairs by daily hours used.)

              Also, it can be on the employee if they don’t sit carefully down. If they drop into the chair (either from disability or carelessness,) I would look for chairs that do not tilt as much, chairs with seat tilt wear worse on people who cannot sit gently (usually due to medical issues,) I know that when I buy my chairs they need to be rated to 400 and twelve hour use, in order for the times when I cannot sit properly and have to basically drop into them to keep them from breaking. I say this as someone who weighs between 240 and 265 depending on my health.

              So you want to buy the highest rated, sturdiest chair and it may not have as many of the features of other chairs. You may want a chair on wheels but you probably do not want one with too much rise and lower and tilt functions. I know that even though my chair is 3 years old right now, if I lean wrong it tends to lower itself (if I reach back over the right arm, even though I’m not touching the lever, you can hear the hydraulic go sssssss and down I go.) of course that’s where my trash can in my home office happens to be.

        1. UKAnon*

          Yes, this. It’s a quick and simple conversation. Best practice in the workplace is to do a workspace check whenever someone new starts (even periodically) to make sure that employees’ spaces are set up correctly. It helps to minimise injuries, eg by making sure everybody has a desk chair which provides appropriate, full support. Perhaps OP should think about raising the possibility of doing this in their workplace, because it also opens the door for employees to say what they need to be comfortable at work.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Yes. And as several chairs are broken and need to be replaced, this is a great time to talk to everyone, because it’s entirely possible that someone else is or has been using a chair that, while it didn’t break for them, is uncomfortable or awkward for them. Now would be a great time to determine whether something more functional and comfortable can be gotten for some employees.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              Yes, I think everyone could be included in “what’s the best chair for you” discussions, which could be framed as an ergonomic issue. The truth is that not everyone needs the same type of chair (as a fairly short person, I even find the adjustable chair that my company provides is not really what I would have chosen for myself) and that this can be turned into a way to improve office morale in general.

              Also, office furniture often gets a lot of abuse. It’s possible that the chairs were about to break anyway when your employee sat on them. (But I’d look into whether the reinforced chair was defective and try to get a refund if it was.)

              1. Jessa*

                Yes and a lot of companies (especially ones with lots of chairs like call centres) are really cheap. Instead of buying really decent chairs, they buy cheap and you can tell how many chairs are broken/worn out.

                And yes warranties are good, I got one chair from Staples, and it was rated way higher than my weight and they did exchange it when it broke on me. The 2nd one was great for years, I replaced it later at a discount office place that had a really really nice chair rated 400 lbs. So absolutely look at your warranty.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            This is an excellent idea. We do that here, actually. They come around to your desk if you’re new, and then periodically for all employees, and make sure your chair is adjusted right, ask if you need an ergonomic keyboard or anything like that, they’ll adjust the height of your desk, etc.

          3. NoCalHR*

            I agree – a great opportunity to do a full-on ergonomic check on her workstation. We had a similar broken-chair saga that turned out to be the result of the employee’s constant frustration trying to adjust the chair to work with both their height and that of the workstation. Ergo eval = lowered workstation and different style chair, and happy productive employee!

        2. Case of the Mondays*

          I’d also add, a discussion about where else she might need a chair. If she joins in meetings in a conference room or eats in the lunch room she probably doesn’t want to be carrying her chair around with her.

          One other thing you could proactively consider, and this doesn’t require a conversation with your employee but maybe your building staff, can your toilets accommodate her safely? The ones that are suspended from the wall have a much lower weight tolerance than the ones that have a base on the floor. If you find out they are not safe for her, you could have a safe one installed and let her know where that one is.

          1. Pooplord*

            The company should also consider getting her a scooter to assist in her mobility around the office. If Wal-Mart can pay for a scooter for a customer to make a $5 purchase you can afford one for one of your most valuable employees.

            1. Jodi*

              The office may not be designed to accommodate a scooter. Would they then need to redesign the office so that the scooter can fit around corners, in between desks, through doorways, etc? That just seems to open up a new set of potential issues for the employer.

        3. JB (not in Houston)*

          That’s a good idea. And you don’t have to be overweight to break chairs. Because of medical reasons, I am temporarily underweight, and I could still break a chair. I’m just hard on them. I would have appreciated being asked about my office chair because I could have given some input on finding a chair that I would be less likely to kill. As it is, mine creaks ominously. The employee probably has a better idea than the OP about how she sits in the chair and what options would work best for her.

          1. Hotstreak*

            Every time I’ve seen someone kill a chair it was because they sat down too fast or leaned back too fast. Weight can definitely contribute to the issue, but making sure the employee has proper armrests or something she can lean on to sit slowly may be all it takes!

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              That’s my problem. I’m usually thinking about other things and more or less throw myself into my chair, or try to roll it in a way it doesn’t want to go, or use the arm rests to lift myself up, and so on. I am starting to feel really bad for my chair, actually.

          2. Robin*

            Broyhill, and a few others, make “Big &Tall” office chairs that will specify a weight limit.

          3. Spiky Plant*

            I destroy chairs because I put my weight on the armrests a lot (I like to pop up to put a leg underneath myself, or to situate myself cross-legged on my chair). Once, I sheared a bolt doing this. I’m heavy, but not THAT heavy. Chair struggles are real.

      2. Ad Astra*

        This is a good idea. Many of the large people I know prefer chairs without arm rests, so I’m wondering if this is part of the problem. The employee might have a very good idea of what works and doesn’t work, considering she’s probably been this size for a least a few years.

        And really, 400 pounds isn’t an absurd capacity for a chair. It makes me think the existing chairs in the office are a bit on the flimsy side to begin with.

        1. ConstructionHR*

          Yeah, they low-bid the office supply stuff.

          Also, many manufactures of office chairs also rate them according to how many hours/day a person sits in them.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            Seriously. $1000 to replace several broken chairs, including two “specialty” chairs? These are Staples specials for home offices, not real office chairs.

            I worked with many people who were 400+. None of them broke an office chair. This isn’t on the employee. OP’s company needs to pay up for real chairs.

            1. Vicki*

              I have to second this. A really good office chair is going to come in near $1000 for one chair.

              1. Jessa*

                Yep. I had a huge ADA fight with a boss who wanted to replace all the office chairs with this matching stuff that was cheap. I had a sturdy chair that was really good, I mean it had to be years old when I got it and I was in it for 7 years (he bought it used.)

                I had to get my voc rehab counselor to go after him because I’m sorry how can it be an unreasonable accommodation to NOT sell one single chair that you have already paid for. That I’ve been using for years and that works for me both comfort and support wise. I worked nights and was more than willing to move it out to the warehouse when I finished at 9 am, so visitors would not see one unmatching chair, which could have been explained as “she’s the supervisor anyway, so different chair.”

                Good solid chairs will really last. Good solid chairs will have excellent warranties.

            2. Bunny*

              Agreed. If this staff member is getting through chairs at this rate, it’s not their weight that’s the issue, it’s the quality of the chairs you’re buying. I’ve worked with people of all different shapes and sizes, and the only time I ever saw anyone break a chair was when a slightly piddled supervisor stumbled backwards into a cheap plastic picnic chair during a team outing.

              Also, it’s worth it to take a look at the rest of the desk set-up. Your employee should:

              Be able to reach the floor with their feet from a sitting position in the chair, or have a footrest to raise the level of their feet if the chair doesn’t go low enough
              Be able to sit at a desk with a straight back and arms on the desk to type/use keyboard with their arms in a relaxed position – not lifting their elbows up to reach
              Have the things they need on the desk easily within reach.
              Be able to sit fully on the chair facing forward – not slightly sideways to compensate for hips being wider than the armrests allow for.

              If you’ve got a person sitting in a chair with their legs dangling and elbows up by their nipples, whose constantly having to crane back and forth to reach for the phone and so on, in addition to all that being really bad for them they’ll be rocking the chair a lot more than other people, which will put more strain on the chair. Add on the fact that your employer is apparently buying cheap chairs (which likely have weight limits below or very close to your employer’s weight) and the whole set-up could be a perfect storm of chair destruction. (Speaking as someone who is short and has abnormally short arms and legs *even for their height* who always has to have HR come and assess her desk at new jobs)

        2. BenAdminGeek*

          Exactly. We bought new chairs for church and many are rated up to 500 lbs for a fairly low price.

          At OldJob, they did a consultation for people who needed something special for chairs/desk/keyboard. It’s really the best solution as 1) they get a chance to give input according to their needs (as others have called out above) and 2) it helps humanize the situation. They’re not just “fat person who sits near me” but someone who has different needs. OP, I’m not saying you’re treating the person this way, but it’s easy for us all to do from time to time.

      3. Michelle*

        I think two more things would be useful.

        1. Always have a backup chair put away somewhere. If she breaks her chair and you give her the backup, immediately buy a new one. This should minimize or eliminate the breaking of “regular” chairs, if she was sitting in them because her good chair was broken. That means fewer chairs broken overall (assuming that the good chairs last longer, which I’m thinking is the whole point).

        2. Do whatever you can to minimize the employee’s embarrassment about this. Make sure she knows that you care about her comfort, and she can come to you with anything she needs. Not only is that kind, you don’t want her to be ashamed to tell you when her chair is broken, or she may resort to sitting in (and potentially breaking) inappropriate chairs – or worse, she may hurt herself by sitting in a broken or inadequate chair.

      4. Randall*

        It might be the perfect opportunity to transitions the office to standing desks. It would be healthy for everyone, and especially if you offered the option to include a treadmill walking desk, it might really help get health as well

        1. Jessa*

          This presumes that most of the people in the office can do this, and that they are going to have accommodations for people who cannot. Why are you presuming that this employee can stand for very long. Or that it would be beneficial for her to.

        2. Amy UK*

          Why on Earth would you think the solution to having an obese employee who cannot sit comfortably is to make them stand for hours, or worse- make them walk for hours?

          As a US 14- so fat, but not massive-impact-on-my-life-fat- I could not stand for more than about an hour at a time. Due to foot conditions which were not caused by my weight, but also not helped by it. If the OP’s colleague is as fat as OP makes out, I’d be very surprised if she didnt have similar issues.

          It sounds like at best a recipe for inadvertent humiliation when they are unable to do it and everyone else can, and at worst intentionally drawing attention to their health issues.

          1. Randall*

            Amy: We all are where we are in life as a result of decisions we have made. If you LIKE where you are, don’t change.

            That said, we did not evolve to sit, or to be at a desk. We are superbly specialized to move. Simply moving eliminates many common ailments. And no, you don’t transition from 20 years of sitting to 8 hour days of standing inside a month. Start slowly. Get a timer. Set it for 20 minute intervals. Every time it goes off, walk to the far side o the office and back. This may surprise you, but your productivity will go up. Simply getting up and moving, oxygenates your muscles, and by extension, your brain. Get a height adjustable desk. Substitute it for your cross office walk. 2 minutes, then back down to a sitting position. Do what is comfortable, but the cool thing is that virtually everyone starts standing for longer periods – of their own volition.

            As for a desk treadmill? We didn’t evolve to stand still either. Simple walking while working not only has great health benefits, but increases productivity. Yes, it will probably take longer to get to this point if you have made the choices that led to you being grossly obese, but the cool thing is, this, like much in our lives, is simply a choice. If you like your life as is, continue to make the same choices. If you want a different life, make different ones…

            1. davey1983*

              Um, nothing you said is backed up by science.

              There are plenty of people who have medical conditions that make it so that they can’t stand or walk for several hours a day. Their ‘choices’ had nothing to do with it (unless you think it is possible to chose to have a medical problem).

              As for the healthier thing– you may be right, but you make it sound like it is one or the other. You can be healthy and still sit at a desk 8 hours a day. My former boss was a marathon runner, and he hated standing desks– he preferred to sit to do his work. Nobody would every argue that he wasn’t healthy.

      5. mander*

        If they always break in the same place, and you always get the same model of chair, I’d wonder if it was more to do with the design than the employee’s weight.

        In any case you should absolutely consult with them on the chair they would like, and avoid fat shaming. Trust me, us fat people are well aware of our size and many of us are constantly aware of the risk of just this sort of thing.

        1. simonthegrey*

          This. My husband is a big guy and has broken the cheap office chairs before at call centers. His computer chair at home is metal frame and no wheels; his one at his current office is not a cheap chair and has lasted even though he is up and down a lot. He knows he’s overweight; shaming him would do no good.

    2. Wehaf*

      I assumed OP#1 was thinking more along the lines of “We are happy to order a chair that works for you, but we need you to stop using other chairs.” And I don’t think that’s unreasonable – if she can’t safely use some of the office furniture, she shouldn’t use it. It’s not just the cost of the broken chairs; she could be hurt, and the company could be liable. But she has been using (and breaking) other chairs, so it seems like something she may need to be told.

      To OP#1 – most office chair weight limits are for static weights; if a person is moving around or sits down abruptly they can still break the chair, even if they don’t weigh as much as the limit. So you may want to consider going for an even stronger chair. Office chairs with a 500, 800, or 1000 lb weight limit are available but pricier than less sturdy chairs (although worth it if it means buying fewer replacements). And if you need extras for around the office, stacking or folding chairs with the same weight limit are out there for less than $50.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If I’m reading the letter correctly, she used the other office chairs after hers broke since she had to sit somewhere and her chair was broken.

        1. Wehaf*

          My understanding is that the company bought her two specialty chairs for exclusive use; she has broken one of them.

          Even if there were a brief period where there weren’t any chairs strong enough for her, she shouldn’t have been using weaker chairs – it’s not safe for her or for other people in the office. Ankles get broken this way!

            1. Biff*

              Generally in the case that it’s not safe for an employee to use their equipment, they are sent home — I’ve seen compensation vary from “none” to “some” to “full pay.”

              1. Nina*

                That’s what I was thinking as well. At one office I worked at, a guy broke his chair and fell on the floor. Once they looked him over and made sure he was OK, they took him to the conference room and I think he signed some type of waiver. Then they sent him home for the day, despite him saying that he was fine and could continue working.

            2. AnnieNonymous*

              tbh, I expect a grown adult to be able to speak up about what she needs. She’s breaking the chairs and acting like she doesn’t know why, even though the company has had to buy her several replacements.

                1. AnnieNonymous*

                  She broke the “normal” chairs, then broke her specialty chair, and then went back to using the “normal” ones without bringing her own solution to the table. Her actions indicate that she hopes no one notices the cause and effect, which is proven by the fact that OP1 is in the dark about how to proceed. She’s not saying anything but keeps using the standard equipment.

                2. Saurs*

                  Her actions indicate that she hopes no one notices the cause and effect

                  This is a sad fairy tale (the worst sort). She’s fat; there’s no evidence of her being stupid.

                  which is proven by the fact that OP1 is in the dark about how to proceed

                  Buy the chair with her input. Done.

                3. Apollo Warbucks*

                  The op could well be embarrassed and not know how to start the co conversation or might be avoiding it because they can tell the boss is annoyed about the situation

                4. Saurs*

                  I’m fat, but I’m also tactless and unprofessional, so my script would go something like:
                  “Catulla, I’m in the process of replacing some of our office furniture, and I’d like your input in selecting a comfortable chair for you. Once we’ve sorted out a model and you’ve given it a test sit, we’ll make arrangements to acquire a spare for emergencies. Please take a look at the options and specifications I’ve marked as feasible in ABC catalog / XYZ website, and shoot me an e-mail with your top three considerations by BLAHday. We’ll be submitting our order on ETCday, and I’ll give you a heads up -3ETCday about our decision, in case you have any additional concerns, etc.”

                5. The Strand*

                  Saurs, I don’t think there’s anything unprofessional or tactless about what you’re saying. Am I missing something?

                  Tactless or unprofessional is to center the discussion with the employee about their obesity or weight, rather than on a proactive resolution – i.e. we figure out what weight limit to get, AND what other factors might be needed (no armrests or whatever).

                  I agree with Apollo Warbucks. The employee may not know how the conversation will go. People who are significantly larger usually weather a lot of verbal abuse over the years. She might be avoidant.

                6. Observer*

                  Yes, the OP is in the dark. But, s/he does not mention ever asking the the employee if she has any ideas. Wouldn’t that be a logical first step? There is a very real possibility here that either the person DID speak up but was ignored, or has not spoken up because she does not believe it will end well for her.

            3. A Fat Guy*

              Yeah, really. If the story that goes around the office is just “A Fat Guy broke a chair”, I’ll be embarrassed, but I know most people will at least pretend that it was an accident that could have happened to anyone.

              If the story becomes “A Fat Guy broke a chair and *had to be sent home* because none of the “regular” chairs will hold his fat ass”, that’s more embarrassing by several orders of magnitude.

              1. sunny-dee*

                But at this point, the story isn’t “the fat guy broke a chair.” It’s, “the fat guy has broken five chairs and keeps breaking chairs.” That’s really, really bizarre behavior.

                Actually, it’s so bizarre that I wonder if the employee isn’t doing something that is breaking the chairs — in which case, the OP should definitely make that part of the conversation (along with having the employee pick out a suitable style). Like, “please stop leaning back in the chairs” or whatever.

                1. Green*

                  It’s not “behavior” here. If the chairs won’t hold the weight, they will probably break at some point. It’s not mysterious.

                2. Kyrielle*

                  If the person is trying to keep working and has no where else to sit, and needs their pay check and not to use their PTO time…what else are they supposed to do?

                  OP, I would strongly suggest you not only get an appropriate chair (stronger than 400 pounds maximum – it needs to withstand sitting down suddenly if that happens), but a couple backups. The backups could probably be less fancy static chairs, but *something* for this person to sit in that will hold their weight and be reasonably comfortable, if the chosen chair breaks, until the proper replacement can be ordered.

                3. Sam P*

                  We keep saying she’s breaking chairs, but it’s the chair’s job to support the weight of the sitter. It’s not like she’s picking them up and smashing them like a WWE wrestler. It may be better to frame this as an equipment problem rather than an employee problem. “Our standard issue chairs and lower-end specialty chairs do not meet the needs of all employees” That doesn’t mean buy new chairs for everyone, but think of the bigger picture and stop making it about one person. “Sitting” is not bizarre behavior. Neither is leaning back.

                4. JB (not in Houston)*

                  It’s bizarre behavior? How is it bizarre? “The chair she was sitting in broke, and then (whispering) she sat in another chair to keep working.”

                  I’m not trying to be snarky here, I just don’t get where you’re coming from that you think that finding another place to sit is bizarre.

                5. Katniss*

                  She has to be able to sit, right? What was she meant to do when a chair broke? Sit on the floor?

                6. JenGray*

                  I am worried that there is even a story going around. I am not saying that is what is occurring in this situation but it seems to me from the comments and even the OP saying that the boss is irritated that someone is discussing with others every time a chair is broken. Anyone can break a chair if it isn’t of good quality. I think it is one thing if she sat on a chair & it broke in a staff meeting than most employees would see it and quite another thing if she comes privately to the OP and says that her chair broke. I agree with the others that the woman breaking the chairs needs to be involved in picking a new chair and also the boss (and others) need to try to stop everyone discussing so and so breaking chairs. It could get into harassment territory if the company isn’t careful.

                7. V2*

                  What do you think she’s doing? A chair shouldn’t only be able to hold someone who sits perfectly still, it has to support some movement. It’s a simple fix: buy a sturdier chair.

                8. Wanna-Alp*

                  A data point for the OP:

                  My boss keeps breaking chairs. Chair after chair gets broken and haunts the office for a while until it gets cleared away. He bought a more sturdy chair, which has lasted a while longer than usual, but has developed suspicious patches of duct tape. The rest of us don’t have a problem with the chairs; we think it’s something to do with his leaning style.

                  My boss is thin. This really isn’t about weight.

                9. Jaydee*

                  I think some commenters are assuming this is a situation of obese employee sits in chair and chair collapses, rendering it entirely unusable. It’s possible that happened. But in my experience as a larger individual who has larger co-workers and who has sat in chairs normally used by myself and others larger than me, I suspect that what has really happened is that a swivel chair starts to tilt on its post, an armrest breaks off, a seat back will no longer adjust, the plastic seat under the cushion cracks and the front few inches of the seat angle down (so. annoying. I don’t know how the regular occupant of that chair could stand it!).

                  The best way to handle this is with a straightforward but empathetic conversation with the employee. “Lucinda, we are ordering some new chairs for the office and I know you have had trouble in the past with chairs breaking. It must be frustrating not to have a chair that meets your needs, and quite frankly the company doesn’t want to be replacing chairs every year or two. So let’s talk about what features you need in a chair and then order a couple that will meet your needs.”

                  Other commenters have given good suggestions about legs vs. swivel, armrests or no armrests, etc. I will just add that the Medicare standard for wheelchairs is to go a size up if the person weighs more than 90% of the weight capacity of the chair. So for a chair with a 400 lb weight capacity, the user should be under 360 lbs. A larger user should go for a chair with a 450 or 500 lb weight capacity. This is because 1) people don’t just sit still in a chair, they shift position and create forces in more directions than straight down and 2) you’re using that chair continuously for many hours a day, so the forces add up to more wear and tear faster. Certainly don’t just ask her how much she ways, but consider saying something like “I know the weight capacities on the chairs don’t really take into account that the chair will be used 40+ hours a week and that people dont just sit stone still facing forward in the chair. With that in mind, I figure we should add a bit of ‘wiggle room’ [pause here for laughter at the brilliant pun] and rule out any chairs if you weigh more than x% of the weight capacity. So keep that in mind and veto any chairs that won’t be appropriate.”

                10. sunny-dee*

                  Green and others, you’re assuming the problem is weight. I’m saying there is a behavioral problem that may be exacerbated by weight. The OP said that the chairs are breaking at the base — my guess would be that the employee is leaning in the chair beyond what it is supposed to do or is sitting down very heavily, putting extra force on the base. If she is reclining — not just tilting back a little, but reclining — or rocking in the chair or tilting it forward or to the side to, say, get something out of a lower drawer, she could be putting inappropriate pressure on the base and breaking it. Once is an embarrassing accident — considering she went through (minimum) one normal chair, two specially-ordered chairs, and at least two normal chairs, it’s not an accident. It’s a pattern.

                11. Reflections*

                  You can’t really have a rule that someone over Xlb cannot lean back. Whatever the culture or laws, the employer should just provide furniture that is safe to use. People come in all shapes and sizes. Also, maybe the chairs are also too small as well as too flimsy and the employee needs to try and get comfortable.

                12. The Strand*

                  I think Johnny Fever really nailed it earlier. $1000 to replace chairs is actually *not* a lot of money. A really solid office chair for a person of any size (not necessarily a larger person) would run much closer to $1000 than $100.

              2. CodeBoy*

                If you broke a chair at my place of employ, you would never hear the end of it. Worse if you were sent home.

        2. Michelle*

          This is why it would be good to always have a backup. As soon as the backup goes into use, you buy a new one.

      2. LisaLee*

        I don’t know. It sounds to me like the only time her using others’ equipment was an issue was when her own chairs were broken. If she doesn’t have a chair at the moment, the company can’t ask her to sit on the floor.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          I’m not sure about the US but in the UK there would be problems under occupational health and safety laws, the employer would be liable for any injury that occurred to employee. So a safety issue could well be appropriate to raise.

          But to me the letter seems more like they are irritated by the expense of replacing the chairs and that’s not something that can be reasonable riased with the employee.

        2. Charlotte Collins*

          You know the funny thing is that if sitting on the floor (or on a cushion on the floor) were an option for me, I’d take it in a heartbeat. But I’m already pretty low to the floor. :)

        3. AnotherFed*

          It sounds like the employee still had one of her own chairs left and started using other employees’ chairs (and breaking them) rather than her second chair. Yes, the company just plain needs to get chairs that will survive this person, but it sounds like they also need to make it clear that she needs to use those special chairs exclusively. We don’t have any information from the letter about why she used normal chairs instead of the second special one (hopefully just a mistake and not because of bullying/shame or malicious damage), but it’s causing two big problems – first, that she is using a chair type that’s clearly unsafe for her and the company would be liable if she hurt herself when it breaks, and second, that unless this office has a ton of spare chairs, she’s also breaking other employee’s work equipment.

          The company probably can’t spring for awesome chairs for everyone, but if there are other employees whose chairs got borrowed and broken (I’m picturing musical chairs while people are out sick or on vacation, and they come back to a broken chair and the knowledge that somebody messed with their workstation while they were gone), the company should also find a way to do something nice for them or resentment is going to build towards the chair breaker.

      3. RVA Cat*

        Also note that if your office has clients coming in or other visitors, it’s worthwhile to have additional chairs sufficient for a larger person.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          The OP didn’t mention it, so perhaps it is not an issue in their office, but my building has something like 20 conference rooms across 5 floors, plus two other buildings. Does this person never have to sit somewhere that is not her desk? What is the expectation for handling that?

          Judging by the durability of our chairs, I think our office buys fairly heavy-duty chairs to begin with, although I don’t know the weight limit. Save the Office Max furniture for home. Get something better for everyone (over time, of course). The employee shouldn’t have to be rolling her chair all around the office because it’s the only one she’s allowed to sit in.

          1. HKS*

            Really late to the party, but agreeing here. I am a person who has to scope out whatever conference room a meeting is scheduled in to see if there’s a chair I can use. The people in the regular weekly meeting have gotten used to seeing me only sit in a particular chair but it gets awkward in other places. I wish more offices (including doctor offices) had a mix of chairs with and without arms.

        2. Pooplord*

          I think we can reasonably assume this lady spends a lot of time sitting around at home. Why not ask what type of chair she uses at home?

          1. mander*

            That is not a reasonable assumption to make in this case and the implication that she is lazy is uncalled for.

      4. themmases*

        The OP should definitely get a stronger chair nor just let the employee pick. 400 pounds is not really that high capacity for an office chair that is going to get moved around, used hard for years, and you can’t foresee who will sit in it for all that time.

        If the OP finds it remarkable that they are just now having to buy a 400 lb capacity chair, wat were the other chairs offered to this person with a history of breaking them? A 300 lb person could probably put that much force on a chair without difficulty by sitting down abruptly on a day their back or knees hurt, trying to bounce back over a cable they rolled over, leaning back to think for a second– in other words normal activities. It sounds like the OP’s office is just buying slightly higher capacity chairs each time and then getting annoyed when they break.

        Assume the chair is like a bridge and needs to safely withstand forces you can’t foresee, and order from a higher capacity range than you think you need unless you like spending money to replace them and embarrass and endanger your employees. My only hesitation in letting the employee pick the chair would be that a person who’s been embarrassed this way might be likely to choose one that just accommodates her static weight. I probably would not want to pick the 1000 lb chair in this situation myself.

        1. Just another techie*

          I don’t know about chairs, but I do circus acrobatics on aerial silks as a hobby. To support my 200 pound frame, I need a rope and rigging solution that can withstand 8,000 pounds of force. Obviously sitting down isn’t the same as doing a twenty foot drop with hard stop at the bottom, but the point is, you’d be surprised at how much force can multiply from moving quickly. OP, if your employee weighs 400 pounds, you need to be looking at chairs rating for a thousand pounds. Or resign yourself to buying a new chair every few months.

          1. Anjum*

            @Just aonther techie – this is a really good point! the capacity isn’t just the person’s mass. also, i think it is awesome that you do circus acrobatics on aerial silks as a hobby!!

          2. Pineapple Incident*

            That is just the coolest of hobbies.

            +Many to the force of a motion; it’s definitely not limited to a person’s weight but the force of any motion they put on a chair. Some people due to a medical or otherwise limitation sit forcefully on chairs, or just choose to– that’s worth considering if you’re buying crap chairs from big box stores without looking for better options.

        2. Koko*

          Yes! Force = mass * acceleration

          Same way my 8-lb briefcase in the passenger seat sets off the car’s “your passenger isn’t wearing a seatbelt” alarm when I brake or take a turn at speed. That 8 lbs is accelerated to create at least 35 lbs of force, which is the minimum weight needed to make the car think someone is sitting in the seat.

          The chair needs a weight limit 2 or 3 times the person’s weight to handle their weight in motion.

          1. Turanga Leela*

            I am irrationally happy to learn that this happens to other people (the passenger seat alarm, not the chair). My purse has set off my car’s passenger alarm so many times that I’ve started leaving the seatbelt fastened even when there’s no one in the car.

            1. Koko*

              Haha, yes, I “buckle my bags/groceries/etc in,” too!

              Elizabeth, yours might have a slightly higher weight minimum to engage, or you might not drive quite as adventurously as I do! With just a briefcase it’s really curvy roads that will set it off because I love taking curves at speed. Around town it’s usually only heavier bags of groceries that will do it since the car isn’t whipping around so much.

            2. Adam*

              Last time I moved I piled my dirty laundry on my passenger seat (that last trip filled with loose items galore). When it set off the alarm I was genuinely surprised as I’m not much of a clothes horse. I really didn’t think I could have that many.

            3. Cari*

              My car does this too! I put my bassoon in the front seat – not on the seat itself, but on the floor – and the top leans against the seat and sets off the alarm. I don’t like having it vertical, but I’m too paranoid of a crash to have it in the back or trunk.

              1. MsChanandlerBong*

                You are a totally cool person, just by virtue of the fact that you play bassoon (tied with oboe for my second favorite instrument)!

          2. BenAdminGeek*

            Koko, you need to stop letting your briefcase live dangerously like this. Seat belts save (briefcase) lives!

      5. LiteralGirl*

        Quite honestly, they can’t be paying much for the chairs if there have been a few of them and it’s only “getting close to $1,000”. My chair (for small people) is the standard type for what our company buys for everyone and it was about $700. It’s probably time to do some research, spend the money and get a really good chair. That would save hassles and embarassment in the future.

    3. Green*

      Yeah, there’s pretty much nothing positive that will come from this conversation. I would just assume it’s an ADA issue (it may or may not be) and move on. You wouldn’t announce to another employee relatively small amounts of money spent on accommodations for people with other disabilities (the blind or wheelchair-bound, for example). Perhaps the only thing you could do is give her a budget and ask her to select a chair that meets her needs (without reference to prior broken chairs), but even that is likely unnecessary if you just purchase a chair with the ability to support largely weights.

      1. OhNo*

        Seriously. As someone who uses a wheelchair, I can easily imagine the (rude, sarcastic, and bordeline caustic) response that I would give to anyone who tried to shame me with the costs required to accommodate my disability.

        There is no reason why this person should be treated any differently than any other disabled person. I can only assume that the OP (and the boss, and probably others in the office) aren’t thinking of it as a disability, in which case they need to shift their thinking ASAP if they don’t want to be on the wrong end of a lawsuit.

    4. Jen S. 2.0*

      Exactly! What do you want to have come out of this conversation? What do you want her to say?

      Speaking as a person who has lost 75 lbs…overweight people are WELL aware that they are overweight. You do not have to announce it to her. Believe me, she knows. Talking to her about it will just make her feel terrible, at work, about an issue she does not necessarily need to resolve in order to do her job well.

      Do some research to find the highest capacity chair you can, buy it, and let that be the end of it.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Judging by the look, the chair I’m sitting in right now is sturdier than this 1000-lb capacity chair. It wasn’t purchased with me or any specific person in mind; this is the standard chair that comes with my desk in this office. I’m even more convinced that this company is buying weak, crummy chairs and then blaming their employee when they fall apart.

          1. Andrea*

            Yes, me too–that’s actually the first thing I thought of, that they are buying cheap flimsy chairs. I’m betting that the chairs used by smaller employees are in various stages of disrepair, as well—missing or loose pieces, etc. I have personally broken numerous flimsy swivel office chairs. At 5’9″ and 170 lbs, I’m not a tiny woman, but I’m broad and muscular and apparently I lean weird and sit down hard or something. The chairs are breaking because they aren’t good quality, and all of the employees should have quality, comfortable, sturdy chairs (which will help prevent injury, as well).

          2. TootsNYC*

            You can’t go by the looks–there’s engineering inside the chair that will make the difference.

    5. Sigrid*

      I assume the OP wants to say to the employee, “Stop breaking chairs”, to which the employee would rightly reply, “….How, exactly?” This is not something under the employee’s control. (Unless she is doing something like using them as a trampoline, which seems unlikely.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        Well, if she’s dropping into the chair instead of lowering herself down, that’s a huge force. Note that this 1,000-lb. chair is rated for a STATIC 1,000 pounds, not 1,000 pounds of FORCE.

        So yes, she can change how she sits down in the chair.
        She can be given a chair WITH arms (if it’s wide enough) and asked to lower herself into the chair instead of dropping. Her extra weight may make it harder to control her movement, but it doesn’t make it impossible (and plenty of people at every weight can drop themself into a chair instead of sitting down.

        I don’t know if the ADA, or even politeness, will let you ask that of her. But I think you can have a convo about “let’s troubleshoot this–you should have a chair that won’t break on you, and we should have a chair that we don’t have to replace. So what’s happening with these chairs, how are you sitting, what weight do we need to aim for?”

        1. Anx*

          I think it’s the way she’s sitting, too. A friend of ours broke a seat by collapsing into. She’s generally just very hard on things and very intense in general (she’s like a hurricane). We’ve never figured out how to tactfully ask her to be more gentle on or with our stuff.

          But I wouldn’t assume someone can control how they lower themselves into a seat. This person may not have full control over their movement.

          1. AW*

            Yes, thank you!

            OP could have joint or muscle issues that make lowering herself slowly difficult. Checking with her about the height of the chair could help with that too.

            1. MsChanandlerBong*

              This is a good point. I have lupus, so I have bad joints, and I find it difficult to sit down gently when I am having a flare. It hurts my knees when I try to do so.

          2. CanadianDot*

            Oh man, so this. I normally lower myself into chairs gently, but when my back is out, I physically can’t. The act of going from standing to seated is too painful to do slowly.

    6. QuickAnon*

      Just a tidbit, I think they should start a private conversation in order to learn more about her chair preferences and ask to disclose a ballpark weight to rule chairs in/out. Plus, even if she does disclose the weight, round up because no one likes to be truthful in these matters because of the cultural/social implications. But the OP needs to start it.

      I lived with someone once in a group living situation that broke toilet seats regularly to the point where the place wasn’t really replacing them. We always talked around it like damn, that sucks it happened again and I wonder who came in to use our bathroom (house was purposefully open for a reason) to help her save face in the whole situation. It’s super embarrassing and no one wants to be that person.

      1. LawBee*

        There is no need to ask her weight. Get the 1000-lb chair and be done with it. Why they’re trying to get a chair as close to her current weight is beyond me. There is a simple solution to this, and it is to OVERestimate how much will be needed.

        1. TootsNYC*

          True. And also, there’s the FORCE to be dealt with, because I would image the ratings for most chairs are like this 1,000-lb. chair, and they’re rated for STATIC weight.

    7. Hlyssande*

      I have broken a chair myself due to my weight and it is absolutely, completely humiliating.

      1. Lionness*

        Same here. Literally the only thing that could have made it worse was being “talked to” about it. I had a great boss who was in the room when it happened. He first asked if I was ok, I was, and then proceeded to say the chairs clearly weren’t great around here and to remind him to replace them all. And then the conversation stopped and was never brought up again (and he did replace all chairs with better quality ones that didn’t break when anyone over 200lbs sat n them)

      2. plain_jane*

        In my elementary school there was a larger-sized child who broke a chair (and partially went through the floor of the portable). He was home-schooled for the next two years because of the humiliation & bullying afterwards.

        Looking back, he was large, but not so large that the chair should have broken (or the floor!), but I guess he just sat down too quickly on the wrong angle in the wrong spot.

        1. NutellaNutterson*

          You could even eliminate the “too” from quickly and be totally accurate. Floors are meant to hold weight. The pressure of all the weight in one spot (like if the chair was tilted back on 2 legs) was too much for the floor. But still not the kid’s fault.

          I will readily blame people who do break things through carelessness, but using the space/equipment appropriately means there’s a mechanical failure, not a personal failing.

          1. Algae*

            I remember learning that dance halls with marble floors cracked from women leaning back on stiletto heels because it was so much force concentrated at a tiny point.

            1. Charlotte Collins*

              My city had to replace marble floors in the new civic center when it was discovered that the floors were being destroyed by women’s high heels.

              1. Observer*

                Then the floors were under-speced. And, you can be sure that the floors would have been a mess in short order even without the high heels.

                1. Randall*

                  Absolutely not true. There is no other footwear that has a multiplication of force like the heel of a stiletto shoe.

        2. Abby*

          Poor kid! I can’t imagine a child, however overweight, being so large that they bust through a chair AND a floor. I mean, those floors are designed to hold adults, too, right? Adults that might weigh over 200lbs and sit on chairs.

      3. Anon for this*

        My husband and I broke our bed. And not even doing something “acrobatic.” We just happened to both sit down next to each other on one corner and the wooden frame cracked and down we went.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I’ve broken a bed–I flopped on the bed (not even that hard!) and BOOM–down it went. And I was probably 150 at the time. There was a plank supporting the bed and it had a crack in it, unbeknownst to me. It was attached to the frame and sort of splintered it. :P

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            This happened to my last bed. My partner kneeled on the wrong spot climbing into bed and splintered one of the support planks that had apparently had a weak spot. We could see it once it was broken, but it had looked totally normal beforehand.

          2. Michelle*

            My kids have broken so many chairs, a few beds, and even a couch. Not jumping on them either – just from flopping down (or rocking back on the chairs). And they are all on the low ends of the weight charts, where the doctor questions me about whether they eat enough (they do, my whole family is like that).

            Like other comments have said, it’s not just about weight, but force, and also not buying cheap furniture.

          3. Today's Satan*

            My boyfriend breaks couches. He cannot, for the life of him (or for any amount of pleading on my part), lower himself down onto the seat cushions. And he doesn’t just flop back into the couch, letting gravity take him. It’s more like he actively throws his backside into the thing.

    8. BananaPants*

      Yeah, if the employee is breaking chairs she’s likely morbidly obese (clinically speaking) and is well aware of it.

      I’m around 70 pounds overweight, and 50 pounds more than I weighed when I got pregnant with our first child. Every single day when I wake up and look in the mirror I know that I’m fat and frankly, I’m disgusted by myself. What got me to get serious about losing weight when I realized I couldn’t be on a particular work platform with any of my coworkers because my weight puts us over the stated load limit. No one needed to say anything to me and I’ve been able to address it by volunteering to run up and check on something myself or seeing if a coworker can do it (so that I’m never on the platform with anyone else at the same time), but it’s still embarrassing and awkward. If I had to be in a safety harness right now I’d need to ask our EH&S manager to order me a bigger one.

      Still, I can’t just magically melt off 50 pounds overnight – realistically this is a 6+ month effort. If OP1’s employee is 300-400+ pounds, it’s not realistic for her to lose 100+ pounds immediately, if ever. Even with weight loss surgery (which is not right for everyone and isn’t covered by insurance in many cases) it would take upwards of 12-18 months to get to a more normal weight. The need for a higher-capacity chair is not going to go away. Order the employee a new chair, ask her for input on what features would be best (lack of arms, wheels or no wheels, etc.) and be done with it.

      OP1 might also consider having higher-capacity chairs in conference rooms, because expecting the employee to carry/push her own “fat chair” around will be totally humiliating. There’s always the possibility of a visitor being overweight and needing a higher-capacity chair, too.

    9. Anon for this*

      I’m a regular commenter who works for an office furniture manufacturer.

      If you bought her a chair rated for a certain body weight, and she’s below that body weight, and it broke anyway, follow up with the company you bought it from. That’s not *her* fault, that’s a defective chair. It’s a safety and liability issue for you, and a liability issue for them, and they need to fix it. There’s a strong possibility that you could get the heavy-duty chair replaced under warranty, too.

      I’d strongly recommend working with an office furniture dealer on your next purchase, if you haven’t been. When you have a special requirement like this, it’s better to work with a dealer than buy from a big box store or online. They can guide you to what you need, and if it doesn’t work out, like your last purchase, they can do a lot of the legwork for you to get a replacement from the manufacturer.

      Also – on load testing for chairs…industry standard is *not* to rate at static weight only. That would be a terribly irresponsible thing to do. Reputable manufacturers test chairs at a higher weight than advertised to build in a margin of error, and they use testing methods that mimic how a normal human user would use the chair (leaning back, leaning on the arm, sitting on the forward edge, scooting around, dropping into the chair suddenly). Look for a manufacturer that tests to ANSI/BIFMA standards – BIFMA is a furniture manufacturer’s trade organization. They have a barrage of testing protocols specifically for chairs designed for heavy occupants – they’re collectively known as standard ANSI/BIFMA X5.11.

      Also, your situation is common enough that there is a market for chairs to fit exactly this need, and there are industry standards to rate chairs for it – I think it might help you to understand that. I’m not sure what your employee’s situation with her weight is, but if she’s a good employee, I don’t see why it should matter. Try to stop thinking of this as an employee problem, and think of it as a *very common* business problem that you can solve. Get her the equipment she needs to do her job safely. Spend a little extra money to get a good chair, so this doesn’t have to come up again, because it’s incredibly humiliating for her, and a waste of time and resources for you.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Excellent! I was just wondering about the warranty part myself and then poof! Here you are with all this expert advice

      2. Zillah*

        Good post, except for the “if she’s a good employee.” Even if she’s not a good employee, she deserves a decent chair.

        1. Anon for this*

          Good point. I originally had a sentence in there pointing out the cost of a really good heavy duty chair vs. replacing multiple standard chairs, plus the liability/safety risk, plus the cost of humiliating/losing a good employee; then I realized how long my post was going to be and edited it down poorly. I didn’t mean to imply that only good employees are worthy of decent equipment!

        2. The Strand*

          Well, you know, with a decent chair, you never know… you might have a “questionable” employee improve by leaps and bounds…

      3. LCL*

        Yes! I bet the OP works for a small business, because the boss is involved in the chair buying, so they go to some office supply store. I work for a large bureaucracy and if I tried to talk to my boss about chairs he would sigh and change the subject. At the hive we go through an office furniture dealer. We use a lot of the Eurotech brand and they hold up well. Except for the armrest fabric which splits, but the chair mechanism works great.

      4. Manders*

        This is a great post! I was wondering whether there might be something wrong with the chairs OP’s company is buying.

        My partner has broken wooden chairs and couches by sitting down too fast, but never an office chair, and I don’t think he always buys chairs rated for his weight. I’ve never seen someone break an office chair by sitting down too hard on it, unless the chair was put together wrong or it was really old.

    10. SallyForth*

      In a former life, I sold office supplies and furnishings. We had a union office that typically bought low end chairs. They had two very large managers who would buy the lowest priced “executive” chairs and then break them. They were mortified and came to me because they were going to buy cheap replacement chairs out of their own pocket.

      I went to my manager, who was a very large man himself, and he handled it beautifully. Took them to lunch, told them as fellow “big guys” they deserved to be comfortable, took them to a manufacturer’s showroom where bariatric chairs had been brought in, and showed them how a properly adjusted chair would enhance their productivity and comfort. This was 30 years ago, and they spent about $1200 a chair.

      This isn’t a case of what the employee’s “rights” might be or how much it costs. Don’t just order a new big chair from a catalogue. If she falls over and is injured, this will be a mess. Work with the employee to make sure she gets a chair that works for her. This might mean going to a showroom where they understand how to fit chairs, but it will be worth the extra money.

    11. Jenna Maroney*

      I was wondering if this is an issue you could take up with the vendor selling the chairs. It seems like you order with the reasonable expectation that your employee will be able to sit in it and then they break. Maybe it is poor craftsmanship or not being put together correctly. Could you pose it as an issue “several of the chairs we’re buying from you keep breaking” I’m sure they’ve dealt with this before and may have a recommendation. If not then it may be time to look at a new vendor for chairs.

  3. A Dispatcher*

    #1 – I’m curious what you/boss are hoping talking to the employee would accomplish? That she offer to pay for the chairs out of pocket/paycheck, that she bring in her own chair, that this all of the sudden becomes a catalyst for weight loss?

    I am not trying to be snarky here, just really, what on earth good would it do?

    1. AnnieNonymous*

      I don’t think the question paints the OP in a negative light. It’s worth asking what can be done when one employee is regularly breaking expensive items. It’s money spent on this employee that isn’t being spent on the others, and it’s dicey because this employee hasn’t asked for accommodations, so OP has to act as if the employee doesn’t have a legal disability even though obesity is the rare one that’s immediately obvious. They’re basically already accommodating her even though she hasn’t disclosed. In other situations, employers are frowned upon for preemptively accommodating stuff that seems obvious but hasn’t been disclosed.

      1. Biff*

        Stupid question — is obesity actually a disability in and of itself? I was under the impression that it had to have significant mobile impairment to count as a disability.

        1. AnnieNonymous*

          I’m actually not sure. Obesity is covered in terms of discrimination protection, but I’m not sure how far that goes in terms of reasonable accommodation.

          While it would be kind (and arguably right) for the company to just pay for a top-of-the-line chair and be done with it, I don’t see it being out of line to ask her to bring in her own chair…unless she discloses a disability and learns if she’s entitled to any accommodations.

          1. Juli G.*

            Unfortunately, weight is RARELY a protected class under discrimination laws – Michigan is currently the only state and there are 6 major cities that list weight as a protected class.

            Discriminate away. :/

          2. Zillah*

            Really? I find it wildly out of line. They should have a chair that accommodates her, and it doesn’t need to be top of the line to do so. I’d be ashamed to ask an employee to bring in their own chair, especially for something as common as weight, and if I were asked to do (or even saw a coworker asked to do so), I would likely start job searching. I don’t want to live in a place where it’s considered okay to treat people like that.

        2. Dan*

          No, and you’re right. By any medical definition, I’m obese. But I’m also quite mobile and reasonably active.

          I would be insulted if I were considered disabled because I have a few extra pounds on me.

          Yes, there are people so obese they can’t get out of bed. *That* is a disability, because being self-mobile is a major life activity.

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            The effects of obesity are so wildly different from one person to another, it’s difficult to have a standard, I guess. I’m also obese (morbidly so, according to the BMI chart), but I can go to New York City and spend 12 hours walking around, hike near our local waterfalls (I accidentally hiked the most difficult trail the first time I went there; the signage isn’t great), take Zumba classes, and do a million other things. The only problem I have is the plantar fasciitis in my right foot. Yet I know people who are slimmer than I am who have trouble walking from the car to the grocery store, or walking up one flight of stairs.

            1. mander*

              For real. I’m nearly 300lbs and morbidly obese (BMI of 41), but I’m an archaeologist and I spend all day in a very active job — digging holes, climbing in and out of trenches, shoveling spoil around, moving heavy wheelbarrows. So, yeah, I’m pretty fat and probably technically should have a higher-rated chair in an office environment, but I’m not lazy and I don’t have any mobility issues.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          My understanding is that the EEOC says (in a fairly recent development) that if it sufficiently impacts essential life activities like bending, walking, digestion, etc., it can qualify as a disability. We don’t know if it qualifies here, without knowing more details, but in general it’s possible for it to.

          1. Dan*

            Which is a bit of a non-answer (what the EEOC says) because they are basically restating the definition of a disability under the ADA.

            “Limits major life functions” is the catch phrase of the ADA. Lawyers get to hash out what major life functions are, and whether someone is sufficiently limited as to be covered.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I should have been clearer. Courts used to require that the obesity be linked to a physiological condition in order to qualify under the ADA, but the EEOC said recently that that’s no longer necessary — now the obesity itself qualifies if it meets the other conditions.

              1. Dan*

                I realize what they’ve done is made some of the legalities a little easier to deal with. But in all practicality, one probably does have an underlying physiological issue if their obesity rises to the level of impacting major life functions.

                1. Obese_and_Psycologically_Sound*

                  Uh. No. You are wrong.

                  Sometimes sh** happens and you gain a bunch of weight. In my case I was in a debiliating car accident that severely limited my mobility. I went from being a marathon runner to bed-ridden/severely mobilly limited for over a year.

                  My runner’s appetite didn’t magically subside because of my new limited mobility. I still ate like a runner and I gained 100lbs in that year. The next year I started to get my mobility back, and had made progress in reducing my calorie intake, but I was still in a gaining situation and gained 30lbs that year.

                  This last year is the first year I have had almost full mobility, and I have finally gotten back down to a diet normal for someone with my new activity levels. I’ve lost 24lbs but it’s taken me all yaer.

                  There is nothing pscyologically wrong with me. But at this point, my obesity does impact some major life functions. Even 50lbs of extra fat can limit your mobility, flexibility, joint load, etc. Once you are over 250 lbs, (which I am still trying to get down to FYI) it starts to impact the equipment you can use.

                  Check you assumptions Dan. I doubt I am the only one out there with a decent to obesity story like mine.

                2. Hotstreak*

                  And if even if there wasn’t a physiological cause of the obesity, many people develop issues with joints, mobility, etc., as Obese_and_Psycologically_Sound had happen to them, which would then be the underlying physiological issue that impacts major life functions.

                3. TootsNYC*

                  also, low-level weight gain is inexorable. if you don’t -reverse- it, it will continue, and bingo, there you are.

                4. Dan*

                  Obese and sound:

                  I’ll happily check my “assumptions” if you check your reading comprehension and attitude.

                  1. Psycologically (sic) and physiologically are two different words.
                  2. “Probably” doesn’t mean every person every time.
                  3. Sounds like to me your “debilitating car accident that severely limited my mobility” was your precursor to significant weight gain, which was exactly my point in the first place.
                  4. “Can limit” and limits to the point where you have a qualifying disability under the ADA are very different points on the spectrum.

                5. Jaydee*

                  Obesity by itself can be limiting. Excess weight can make it harder to bend, squat, kneel, or make othe postural changes. It can make it harder to use certain machinery or office tools. When someone mistypes something, they might blame it on “fat fingers” but someone with actually fat fingers might have legitimate difficulty using a keyboard or other small tools or implements. No other physiological impairment needed, just obesity.

      2. Green*

        They don’t have to act as though there’s no disability just because no accommodation has been requested. And you don’t have to spend equally on employees or treat them exactly the same. But you can treat it as an ADA accommodation or just decency. The person is overweight; buy chairs that hold the employee’s weight.

      3. Observer*

        No, the employee is not regularly breaking expensive equipment – these are cheap chairs they have been buying. A good ergonomic chair for a person who is not morbidly obese generally costs more than they have been paying, even for the higher capacity ones.

        There is absolutely not legal bar to the employer using some sense and getting her a good chair. What there may be a bar to is talking to her to get her to stop breaking chairs, express irritation at her and the problem or to get her to lose weight.

    2. Biff*

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an employee that needs an expensive accommodation to pay for it themselves, especially if the company has paid for the equipment and had it broken once already. One broken chair can happen, but two in a short period of time seems egregious.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Again, that may not be the case. She could be doing something — sitting heavily (bouncing) or leaning back in the chair — that is breaking them. It may not break if a thinner person sat in the same way, but more weight plus the action is breaking the chairs.

          If it is behavioral, the employee can and should change that behavior.

          1. Katniss*

            I think it’s probably better to assume she’s smart enough to understand basic cause-and-effect. If leaning back had broken several chairs, she’d probably stop leaning back, yes?

          2. Koko*

            To the extent she’s “bouncing” due to movement or leaning back, those are normal chair behaviors. She shouldn’t have to sit perched extra-gingerly and extra-careful to just because she’s obese. She needs a chair that can accommodate normal chair behaviors, rather than expecting her to refrain from normal behavior to accommodate a crappy chair.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But egregious in what sense? Like she’s being reckless or careless? I would imagine that she simply wants to sit while she’s at work, and had the mortifying experience of a chair breaking under her. I can’t imagine anyone would knowingly bring that experience on themselves.

        1. AnnieNonymous*

          Hmmm, I was under the impression that employees cannot be charged for accidental damages that occur in the course of doing the job. For example, if I spilled coffee on my company keyboard, I couldn’t be charged for it; the argument is that if the company allowed me to drink coffee at my desk, spilling it is an acceptable risk. However, to follow that example, I’m not sure that protection stands if the same employee continually causes the same kind of damage. I can also see the argument that an employee might be too expensive to keep – $1,000 over the course of a few months is nothing to sneeze at, especially if the money wouldn’t have gone toward a pay raise for that employee; you’re spending money on the employee that you haven’t determined is warranted by her work.

          1. frequentflyer*

            “if I spilled coffee on my company keyboard, I couldn’t be charged for it”

            Just curious – do the majority of companies practise this?? For companies that don’t allow coffee at your desk (like, only at the pantry)… I suppose this means they don’t accept the risk and it would be acceptable for them to deduct the cost of a spoilt keyboard from your pay?

            And what are “accidental damages” exactly? I know some people who have lost their laptops (left it in a taxi because they were too tired from working overtime) and where the cost was waived out of goodwill… but I would also think some employers may deduct costs from the employees’ pay.

            1. former teacher*

              At the school where I worked, the art teacher was charged the cost of replacing her computer when *a student* spilled something on it. The rationale was that she shouldn’t have allowed the student to work near the computer. She had to have it out to submit attendance online DURING class time. She had to beg to get them to take it out of her paychecks in installments, because the cost of the computer was something like 90% of her usual paycheck. She also tried, unsuccessfully, to only be charged for the depreciated value of the 3 year old computer, but was charged the full cost of replacement.
              Lots of my other coworkers would have up and left the school over something like that (being docked a full month of pay is quite a hardship), but full time art teaching jobs are really hard to find.

              So lots of employers WILL absolutely charge employees for breaking stuff.

              1. The Strand*

                Wish you could name and shame on this one. How awful. The school could almost certainly replace the computer with a 3-years old used model. Forcing her to pay for a student’s mistake is ridiculous. If it was a private school then kids were paying beaucoup tuition.

            2. Ad Astra*

              IANAL, but I think employers aren’t allowed to take the cost of accidental loss/damages out of an employee’s pay. If someone wants to confirm or disprove that, please feel free.

              Regardless of legality, it would be unwise to hold employees financially responsible for accidents. If you’re constantly worried that you’ll endure financial hardship because of an honest mistake, it becomes quite hard to focus on doing your job well.

              I once had a work laptop stolen out of my car. I could have sworn I locked the door (I always lock the door and was notorious for locking my keys in my car) and the only reason I left the laptop in my car overnight was because I’d been bringing in groceries and forgot to make another trip for the laptop. My manager was pretty rude about it, but they did replace my laptop at no cost to me.

              1. Natalie*

                You can in some circumstances. It obviously varies by state, but I believe you commonly have to show gross negligence or a deliberate, dishonest act, not just use or even carelessness. And you wouldn’t be able to deduct from a minimum wage worker’s check (because it would take them under minimum wage) or a salaried worker’s check (because that’s how salary works).

            3. Stranger than fiction*

              Nope it’s considered the cost of doing business, and in the case of something as expensive as a laptop presumably the company has insured it

          2. NJ anon*

            On, employees can be charged! I accidentally broke my company cell phone and they wanted me to pay to replace it. I refused because previous employees were not made to and so I didn’t. (They changed the policy after that.)

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Under the ADA, you do indeed have to spend that extra money to accommodate the person, assuming it’s not an undue hardship (and it’s highly unlikely that a court would find $1000 to be an undue hardship).

            1. Anx*

              What do you think an undue hardship would be?

              $1,000 seems like such a lot of money to me me. Do you think it has something to do with profit margins? Non profit status? The employee’s salary?

              1. Spiky Plant*

                It’s hard to imagine an organization big enough to be covered by the ADA that could not take a $1,000 swing. If they can’t, their problems are bigger than a broken chair!

                1. Anx*

                  That’s a pretty good point.

                  I don’t really know what kinds of employers are covered by the ADA. Is it similar to FMLA? I don’t typically work in those types of companies. Right now, I work for a large employer, but I don’t know if I’d be covered as a regular employee (I work in a department with many student workers and no full-time workers) for things like FMLA or ADA or anything like that.

                  But I also make <$5K a year, so I'd feel like $1K was a big deal to keep me on.

        2. James M*

          I have witnessed firsthand someone who knowingly sought out experiences similar to OP1’s coworker’s. When I was working in retail, one particular customer (and I use that term loosely) repeatedly sat on the decorative furniture on display in order to crush it, no roughhousing necessary; this person was hefty. The list of casualties included several chairs, two love seats, and a 3-seat bench. Although this furniture was decorative, it could easily handle up to 350 lbs (tested several times in person by myself and coworkers). The customer was never apologetic, let alone mortified. My boss thought this person was trying to injure themself in order to sue the store, most likely because this customer ignored multiple weight-limit signs and verbal warnings from my coworkers, the assistant manager, and my boss herself.

          When someone is a serial chair crusher, my opinion is colored by my experience. OP1’s boss should broach the situation directly with this employee. Once accommodations are mutually agreed upon and are provided, further destruction of office furniture by this employee should be treated as vandalism… with appropriate repercussions.

          Also, OP1 could suggest that her boss fork out for some nice office chairs for everyone. Her coworkers will have noticed the slew of brutally maimed chairs, and a fleet of comfy replacements will be a psychological balm for them.

          I made it through with no “fat” puns. Huzzah!

          1. Kelly L.*

            But this is an employee, who needs to sit somewhere. A customer doesn’t need to sit down in a retail store, as a general rule. They need to get a chair she can sit in.

            1. Kelly L.*

              *sit down on display furniture, as opposed to sitting down on chairs provided for customers just to sit in.

            2. AnonAnalyst*

              Yeah, I agree that these are different situations. Unless someone has witnessed this employee doing something that would indicate that she might be purposely trying to break the chairs (like repeatedly sitting down on them as hard as she can or bending them backwards and forwards as far as possible over and over again), as others have said, it seems like talking to her about it will only serve to embarrass her.

          2. Trainer*

            We had a large employee at our call center who bragged about how many chairs he had broken in his time there. He would intentionally stress them to make them break because he thought it was funny. So there are people out there who aren’t mortified by it, but I think they’re the exception, not the rule.

            1. Blue_eyes*

              Ugh. What? People who intentionally break things for fun drive me nuts. I can’t even fathom having the urge to do that, much less actually doing it.

            2. Ad Astra*

              This sounds like a defense mechanism to me. Make fun of your own flaw before other people have a chance to.

          3. Erin*

            Lol serial chair crusher.

            Yeah, I wasn’t sure of a politically correct way to phrase it, but I am tempted to ask, what if she’s actually not mortified?

            Legally I’m sure that doesn’t change a thing, but morally, to me, it does. If I was managing this person and they had complete disregard for company property they damaged – even if for argument’s sake it was 100% not their fault, because they’re obese due to a medical reason or what have you – I would be a lot less inclined to try to be accommodating.

            I have CF and sometimes cough constantly at work. Even though it’s *not my fault* I still feel embarrassed and try not to annoy my coworkers with it, go into the restroom if I’m having as serious coughing fit, etc.

            Not the absolute best comparison, but…I do think her reaction to what’s going on here plays a significant role. Is she mortified and wants to help find a mutually beneficial solution for everyone? Or is she completely oblivious to the expenses and efforts made on her behalf, with a it’s -a-medical-issue-and-you-all-have-to-deal-with-it, kind of attitude?

            1. Ad Astra*

              It’s weird that you think someone should be mortified about this. Many, many obese people are embarrassed about their size, and embarrassed in situations that call attention to their size, because we have a long history of treating fat people very poorly. But she’s not doing anything wrong and she has nothing to be ashamed of.

              1. OhNo*

                Agreed. By this logic, people like me should be embarrassed every time we have to use an elevator instead of the stairs. Sorry, but I’m not buying it.

                So let’s rephrase: if the employee is willing to work with the employer to find a mutually agreeable solution, great. It would be a different situation if the employee said “Screw you guys and your budget, I’m not helping, you can just keep buying me chairs until we find one that doesn’t break.” That would be, in my opinion, grounds for a serious discussion.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  But it seems like a bit of a straw man, since that reaction would be so highly unusual that it’s almost not worth even contemplating without some indication from the OP that it’s the case. I mean, when we talk about how to deal with managers, we don’t feel we have to add a caveat every time that says “unless your manager spits on you.”

                2. OhNo*

                  Alison, that’s kind of my point. Normal people would be mortified, or a little sheepish, or at the very least willing to have the discussion. Asking, “what if she’s doing it on purpose? what if she just doesn’t care?” as others in this thread have been is, to me, almost not worth even contemplating without some indication from the OP that it’s the case.

                  Sorry if that didn’t come across clearly in my post the first time around!

                3. Erin*

                  Hmm, yeah, I don’t disagree with you guys. I thought it was enough of a possibility that it was worth it to throw out there – that she’s being cavalier about the situation, which would shed a different light on things – but you’re right, the OP does not specifically indicate that’s the situation.

            2. Koko*

              You can never really know what someone is feeling inside. Some people hide their embarrassment because they are too proud to be seen looking weak or vulnerable, especially at work. People don’t owe the world a prominent outward display of shame when they’ve done something embarrassing. Maybe she has worked a very long time to stop feeling self-loathing because of her obesity. Maybe the exact advice she has been given by a mental health professional is that these are the facts of her life and that hating herself isn’t going to change her weight and that she should try to deal with situations like this in a matter-of-fact, cool, and emotionally detached manner and not let it send her into a negative thought spiral. People have a right to their pride and dignity.

              1. Erin*

                You’re right, and she certainly does deserve the benefit of the doubt. Since the OP didn’t indicate either way what the employee’s attitude is towards the situation, that lead me to wonder. But you bring up a really good point that even the OP can’t really know what she’s really feeling/thinking.

          4. Ad Astra*

            I don’t think you should let this really bizarre and unusual experience color your opinion about anything.

          5. Katniss*

            Yup. “Hefty” people hate chairs.

            Sorry, I didn’t mean to just be sarcastic so let me add this: I really hope you rethink letting this experience add to some kind of unconscious (or conscious) bias against larger people. Maybe rethink how you’re looking at other human beings. And if you can’t do that, I hope you don’t let it color your behavior towards others.

          6. RG*

            And since you made it through with no fat puns and tried not to be a sh*tty human being, you win… NOTHING!!! YAY!!!!!

            Seriously, what the hell dude?

          7. Elizabeth West*

            No way. The employee is not deliberately breaking the chairs. I’m guessing the company is buying shitty chairs.

            In your situation, with the suspicion that the customer was deliberately breaking merchandise, banning the customer from the store entirely would have been the best solution. Not because he/she was fat, but because he/she was being maliciously destructive.

            I don’t believe that is the case for this employee, and treating her like a vandal would be wrong. And mean. I’d quit with no notice if my work treated me like that. >:(

          8. Zillah*

            Wow. Just wow.

            That experience is so, so far out of what’s ordinary that I’m really confused about why you let this color your perception at all. Tbh, you need to stop it from coloring your opinion, because it’s absurd that you do. And suggesting that the employee in question should be treated as a criminal for trying to, you know, sit in a chair at their place of employment?

            I just can’t.

          9. ToxicNudibranch*

            “I made it through with no “fat” puns. Huzzah!”

            Uh, congrats on *kinda* meeting bare-minimum requirements for respectful discourse? At least in the pun department? “Heh, I could have said something really gross and offensive, but I didn’t! Gold star for me!”

            It might be worth some personal reflection as to how much of this experience coloring your views of “hefty” people and your subsequent presumption that people of size are inclined to be purposefully destructive is actually related to a “lulz, look at the gross fatty” mentality and how much is related to an actual assessment of risk.

            I mean, do you frequently make judgements about a vast range of people based on a single individual? If you saw some thin white dude once scratch profanity into a cubicle desk; would you call it reasonable to be concerned about all future thin white dudes using company property?

          10. James M.*

            To the trolls who responded: I don’t mind if you get your kicks by feeling superior to random people on the internet, I only pity you. But for your own well being, try to lighten up.

            1. ToxicNudibranch*

              I am deeply curious as to why you would think that the large number of people, many of us regular commenters, who took offense to your remarks that were, you know, offensive, are trolls?

            2. Zillah*

              I think that maybe you ought to look up “trolls,” because I don’t think it means what you think it does.

            3. Lady H*

              I can’t think of a comment that indicates someone is a troll more than saying “lighten up” after you’ve totally failed to contribute to a conversation and became upset when people point out the flaws in your logic.

          11. The Strand*

            It’s good you’re stating that your view is colored by your experience. Vandalism? “Brutally maimed” chairs? The OP didn’t state that she thought this was deliberate action.

            The OP said that replacement of at least two chairs was close to $1000 – but as the person who works in office furniture, and other posters have mentioned, it sounds like these are probably pretty inexpensive chairs purchased at office supply stores for home offices and occasional use. Solid chairs cost a lot more. Less expensive, less frilly chairs for long-term office use (5 days or more a week) run a minimum of $600 or $700 and can go up much more. I can spend $100 and get a great chair at Staples or Office Depot but I’m also not sitting in those chairs in my home office for more than 40 hours a week.

      2. UKAnon*

        “I don’t think it’s unreasonable for an employee that needs an expensive accommodation to pay for it themselves”

        Yes, because why should employers have accessible buildings or display information in a way that everybody can access or suffer any cost at all in accommodating their employees disabilities?

        1. AnnieNonymous*

          Well this employee hasn’t disclosed a disability and therefore is not entitled to accommodations. In the States, employers cannot take action that assume an employee has a disability even if it seems obvious. Until the employee comes forward and says something, the employer has to act as if the employee is not disabled. Normally there’s no problem sticking to this, but there are issues of practicality at play in this instance.

          1. Saurs*

            She’s entitled to a chair. I wish people would stop playing bad faith gotcha games with this topic, where there’s some absurdly complicated reason why the employee is at fault and being fat on purpose.

            1. AnnieNonymous*

              Sure, she’s entitled to a chair, but we don’t know the financial state of the company. They’re not just replacing her chair. They’re replacing several others that she broke as well. The talk of legal accommodations and “gotchas” comes into play when a company has to build a $200-monthly expense into their budget due to the needs of one employee.

              1. Saurs*

                You seem intent on creating a bureaucratic nightmare out of something quite simple: office equipment, and the obvious and immediate need for it to accommodate and suit all current employees, so that they can be productive little bunnies and make their company money. This employee’s weight comes as a surprise to no one in this office. Somebody did a poor job of buying the first pair of chairs; they’ll now need to be a bit brighter, and that will probably require a conversation with the employee that the OP and their boss clearly are uncomfortable having (because they, too, appear to be more concerned about thorny legal issues and sussing out checks to the last penny than about ensuring that the office is running smoothly). They’re going to need to be brave, set aside their “irritation” (caused at least partially by their own ill-conceived decisions thus far), and ask for the woman’s input in selecting her next chair. It will be fine.

                1. AnnieNonymous*

                  I’m not intent on anything. My personal feeling is that if an employee starts to rack up expenses that are not matched by other employees, it’s not wrong for the company to wonder if they’re on the hook for continuing to cover those costs.

                  For what it’s worth, if we’re making an argument in favor of manners, I don’t think it’s appropriate to call the OP and/or her coworkers stupid for choosing to buy whichever chairs. No one is to blame here, but on the other hand, not every human difference gets to be taken care of by other people. Sometimes you just have to bring in your own chair.

                2. Saurs*

                  I’ve not mentioned manners, just willful and convenient ignorance.

                  No one is to blame here, but on the other hand, not every human difference gets to be taken care of by other people.

                  Employers provide the furniture in this office. The employee we’re discussing hasn’t made any unreasonable requests for her “human difference,” nor has she asked for “other people” to foot the bill. In fact, I haven’t seen much evidence that the employee has said anything at all, possibly because the OP and boss have made rash decisions in order to avoid talking to her. Now that the OP has been assured that speaking to her is “legal,” she can have that productive conversation and they can all move on. Crisis averted.

                3. Jen RO*

                  Rash decisions? All I see is people trying to accommodate her and being unlucky with their purchases…

                4. Saurs*

                  I find it rash to made large and ineffective purchases they later complain about or find irritation with, without first having a simple conversation with the employee (who may readily have a workable solution at hand, but balks at proffering it because management are clearly uncomfortable on multiple levels). It suggests poor priorities, to me.

                5. NCKat*

                  I am in a wheelchair and so am covered by the ADA; however I had to declare my rights to accommodation to HR to qualify for the accommodations. The simplest way to approach this, IMHO, is to present the employee with a range of options and ask her to choose.

                  Also, I am wondering if she knows if she qualifies for ADA accommodations. Perhaps HR should take the opportunity to offer the employees a chance to state their qualifying for ADA accommodations, as mine does every couple of years.

                6. Jodi*

                  A lot of people have put out the option of having her choose her own chair…but what if she goes on to break the chair that she selects? At what point are they allowed to say ‘enough is enough.’

                7. Bend & Snap*

                  Ugh, this. Get the woman a flipping chair and quit the fat shaming. This line of conversation is really disconcerting.

                  How about some empathy? Compassion? Investment in an employee’s comfort that will hopefully boost productivity?

                  I’m disgusted to see the “well do you legally have to” and “she should pay for it” comments. It’s a chair and a little dignity. Let her have it.


              2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                Lookit, as Alison points out, chairs are WAY cheaper than lawyers. This is a happy case where doing the decent thing (making sure the employee has equipment that is safe for her and that she’s treated with respect) is also the least expensive solution.

                Thinking about and providing for accommodations is one of the costs of doing business in the US. It’s not that big a deal to just solve this problem up and move from it.

                Office chairs can be very expensive. The part where all of the broken ones have totaled to less than $1000 means that the ones purchased previously haven’t been that expensive. So now it is time to call a good office chair supply, have a conversation with a specialist about the weight needs and buy something that probably has a shocking sticker price but will still end up being less than 3 hours of lawyer time at $450 an hour.

                Of all of the problems and unexpected expenses that cross the desk of a business owner, this doesn’t rank in a top 100.

                1. Knitting Cat Lady*

                  Yup. I had an office chair from IKEA at home. It had a leaning back function. It was put together correctly. The base was too small, though, so when leaning back one saturday the chair fell over and I split the skin on the back of my head on the corner of a shelf.
                  As I live alone and had no-one to drive me I had to call an ambulance to take me to A&E, where I spent a lovely afternoon waiting to get my head glued back together.
                  The next monday I went out to a different furniture store and bought a new office chair. For almost 400€. It has a nice large base. And I can lean back with the leaning function all I want without falling over.
                  So, her killing several office chairs over the course of a few months and only causing 100$ damage?
                  Well, the employer should stop buying cheap crap chairs!

                2. A Fat Guy*

                  “buy something that probably has a shocking sticker price”

                  The high-capacity chair I use at home cost about $1000. I balked initially, but guess what? I’ve been using it every day for nearly a decade, so the cost per use is WAY less than the ~$100 chairs I’d been burning through every year or so.

                3. Judy*

                  Good office chairs cost a lot. I have a $150 one at home, and have had the $700 one at a previous job. There is a difference. (And this was just a normal person sized chair, although when the office gave everyone the option to buy them, they were sized S, M, L, but that was sizing, not weight capacity.)

                4. GOG11*

                  @A Fat Guy My early-morning brain read “…100 chairs I’d been burning…” and imagined someone dancing around a pile of cheap-ass chairs in a giant, burning heap.

                  I don’t have an intense loathing of my desk chair. Nope. Not at all.

                5. MashaKasha*

                  Yup. I wanted a chair for my home like the one we have in the office, so I googled it. I can’t afford a chair like that. Multiple office chairs adding up to less than $1000 means they were not terribly good chairs.

                6. Us, Too*


                  I also just want to throw out there that I don’t consider even as much as $1000 for a “premium” chair to be THAT much money to an employer in the grand scheme of things. We’re talking about an item that is in continuous use by the employee and the per time unit utilization cost is probably quite low.

                  I also wanted to second the poster above who suggested that the office confirm that their toilets are sufficient to accommodate a larger person. The only thing more humiliating than breaking a chair would be breaking a toilet. UGH.

                7. Kelly L.*

                  @GOG11 “And then I threw all the crappy office chairs in a ditch on the side of the road and set them on fire.”

                8. Koko*

                  Yes, the company seems like they are buying $50 IKEA task chairs.

                  In an admin role a decade ago I was in charge of furnishing our new office when we moved from a furnished sublease to an unfurnished office lease. We spent somewhere in the $100-150 per chair range to put chairs in the conference rooms. We spent $250-300 per chair on high-quality comfortable executive chairs for staff who would have to sit in them for at least 40 hours a week for years to come!

                  Upthread someone posted a 1,000-capacity chair priced at $350. That is basically a normal price for a reasonable office chair that you expect to get a lot of heavy-duty usage for years to come.

                  Stop making your employees sit in “visitor” quality chairs. Buy them some decent chairs.

                9. GOG11*

                  @Kelly L. Week made! I tried searching for the original story so others can have a good laugh, too, but I can’t find it.

                  If I remember correctly, someone had some files or something that they just couldn’t do something with because their boss or client or both were being impossible about whatever they wanted him/her to do, so he/she drove out to the middle of nowhere and set them all on fire on the side of the road. I don’t think anybody ever found out about it, either.

                10. Elizabeth West*

                  Off-the-rack chairs are shitty, made of shitty materials, and die quickly even for non-obese people. I know because I can’t afford the nice chairs (at home). I’ve gone through waaaaay too many of them–I lean and have a tendency to land in them rather than sit.

                  Get the good chair!

                11. Judy*

                  @Elizabeth West

                  “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

                  Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

                  But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

                  This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”
                  ― Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

              3. Katniss*

                So if a company isn’t doing well and I break the copier accidentally twice, I should start paying for the repairs?

                1. Windchime*

                  Only if you’re fat, I think. Because then it would have been your fault. (Obviously being sarcastic here)

              4. Observer*

                Yes, she broke those chairs too, because instead of getting a proper replacement, they waited around (and it sound like they had a discussion about this employee) so the employee had to sit on something.

                If they got her a decent chair, they wouldn’t need to replace the chairs every couple of months.

          2. UKAnon*

            We don’t know what she’s disclosed. The employee may not know herself if she’s covered, but if she’s had any kind of conversation in any way about how office chairs aren’t supporting her then the employer has to act. This isn’t difficult; it’s buying a chair. And there’s a reason that the law says employers have to pay for reasonable accommodations.

            1. AnnieNonymous*

              In the US, you cannot ask for or expect reasonable accommodations until you have disclosed a disability. It’s a tangent at this point, but people are getting really hung up on it. We know she hasn’t disclosed because the boss isn’t sure about whether he has to pay for the chair; if she disclosed, the chair would have to be covered by the employer. She is absolutely not covered by accommodation laws at this point. Anti-discrimination laws, yes, but not accommodations.

              1. UKAnon*

                What I’m “getting hung up on” is that it isn’t ok to say that the employee has to pay for a desk chair that allows her to do her job. You wouldn’t expect to have to ask your boss for a desk chair, or expect to pay to have the wiring fixed around your computer so that you can work safely.

                Ultimately, the entire discussion about accommodations is something of a red herring. Bottom line is, employee needs chair to do work, employer is under an obligation to provide a chair in a way that doesn’t open the employee up to harm.

                Employee is not obliged to pay for this.

                The employee may be legally guaranteed this as a reasonable accommodation – and my point was that if so, just because it relates to a disability it doesn’t make it all right to say that the employee has to pay for this. But even if it doesn’t fall under discrimination laws, the employee still needs an environment where she can do her work safely. End of.

                1. AnnieNonymous*

                  Your username indicates that you’re not from the States. What we’re getting into is the fine lines between what’s polite and what’s legal. As per your last paragraph: no, she is not legally entitled to the chair as an accommodation, and she won’t have this entitlement until she takes it upon herself to initiate a conversation with her boss and document a legally protected disability, if she actually has one. “Reasonable accommodation” has a specific legal definition in the States, and right now, this situation doesn’t qualify.

                  Unfortunately, if OP1 lives in an at-will state, this employee may be let go if she continues to cost more money than the boss is happy with..and this would be allowed, since the employee has not documented a disability. The regional laws matter here; it’s not a matter of logic, and I get the sense that this is what the OP might have been hinting at asking.

                2. UKAnon*

                  According to the EEOC website “The ADA also protects you if you have a history of such a disability, or if an employer believes that you have such a disability, even if you don’t.”

                  Also, “Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation only for the physical or mental limitations of a qualified individual with a disability of which they are aware. Generally, it is the responsibility of the employee to inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.”

                  (Link to follow)

                  So, whilst admitting I am not au fait with American law, it looks like:
                  a) Firing the employee over this issue which they suspect is caused by a disability would be grounds for claiming disability discrimination
                  b) The employer is aware of this disability. They are therefore legally required to accommodate it. Whilst usually the employee must say something, in this case they are aware already and so must make an accommodation.

                  It also states very clearly that the employer has to pay for the accommodation.

                  But in any event, this is health and safety 101. Not providing a chair that’s safe to use for the employee opens them up to all sorts of liability if the employee gets injured. Ergo, it is legally enforceable that they must provide the chair.

                3. wholeyholy*

                  Yes, I think this *is* the point. Imagine a different place of employment where the office was outfitted with child sized chairs that could hold 100 lbs. Now imagine that all of your coworkers weighed 80 lbs. (they’re all gymnasts and jockeys?). Now imagine that you work there and you weigh 120 lbs. You are not protected by anti-discrimination laws, ADA, etc., but you cannot use the equipment provided to you safely. What do you do?

                  Buying a new chair that’s safe for the employee to use is the right thing to do, the easiest solution, the cheapest solution–I really don’t see what the problem is.

                  In all honesty, I’m a little surprised at the insensitivity some have displayed on this thread toward this employee. It is HARD to live, day in and day out, with a difference. It wears you down, makes you feel undeserving, does a number on your self-esteem, ect. A little compassion towards people living with difficult circumstances goes a long way. As my mother always said, “There, but for the grace of god, go I”.

                  I also wanted to +1 the suggestion that the employer engage the employee in the chair buying process. During this conversation, the employer could try to open up a conversation about disclosure/ other reasonable accommodations the employee may need.

                4. Katie the Fed*

                  wholeyholy – thank you. I went through a temporary disability/severe mobility impairment earlier this year and it was the hardest thing I’ve experienced. I quickly discovered that several of our “handicap-accessible” facilities were anything but, that little things like a door threshold on the ground could keep me from rolling over, etc. It’s just fucking HARD to live with a disability, mobility issue, or chronic health condition. Even though I can walk now, there’s a very real chance that I will never fully recover from my injuries, and that devastates me nearly every day.

                5. Anyonymous*

                  Two jobs ago, someone did have to buy her own chair. The company bought cheap ones and if someone wanted/needed something better, she had to buy it for herself. She needed one with a higher back to help with some back issues and the company told her she would have to pay for it herself.

              2. misspiggy*

                Yes, but in the UK at least, problems settled by legal means also require reasonable action. I’d imagine it’s similar in the US. The reasonable actiob here is to do proper research into a very obvious need, consult the employee, and buy a chair that is not going to break through normal use. This hasn’t been done so far, therefore the employer is at fault and has to suck up the extra cost.

                1. AnnieNonymous*

                  In the US, the employer is treading on thin ice if they bring this up to the employee. The employee is the one who has to come forward with this. To my understanding, the US laws work opposite to what you describe as “reasonable action.” The employer cannot assume that someone is disabled and then do research on how to solve the problem. The employer is legally bound to act as if the employee is not disabled until the latter discloses a disability.

                  It’s the “consult the employee” part that’s tricky, since the employer cannot appear to act as if she’s making disability accommodations, and she certainly can’t hint at needing to know the employee’s weight.

                2. Saurs*

                  What “thin ice”? Noting broken chairs and then collaborating with the employee to find an alternate, safer set? Are you suggesting that the employee is going to sue because her boss consulted with her before buying a chair? No one has to mention disability or weight; show her the specs of multiple suitable models after consulting with a specialist firm, and then get the employee’s approval on two or three. This is ridiculous.

                3. fposte*

                  AnnieNonymous–I think you’re misunderstanding how this works. It doesn’t mean that an employer is required to pretend she doesn’t know her employee got a leg amputated. Of course I can give an amputee a ground-floor office without her explicitly seeking accommodation under the ADA. Of course I can consult with an employee who’s having difficulty with chairs to choose the chair that’s best suited to her–and that doesn’t even need to fall under ADA, because it’s pretty common practice to do just that.

                  It seems like you’re arguing from the “They can’t make me!” point of view, and I don’t get why that matters. Why would you need to be made?

                4. fposte*

                  Following up to myself: I’ve been one of the more vocal people here about not bringing up the possibility of disabilities, now that I think about it, but that’s because every time I’ve done so people are talking about *psychological* disabilities and urging managers to suggest a possible diagnosis. I’m not diagnosing somebody who broke a chair by working with her to buy a new chair.

              3. Elysian*

                I think you’re attributing more formality to the ADA process than generally exists (so unusual as far as laws go, but still). If I’m in a wheelchair and I ask for a ramp, we don’t have to use the magic words “disclose” and “reasonable accommodation.” I’m in a wheelchair and I asked for a ramp – done. I wouldn’t say she is “absolutely not covered by accommodation laws at this point” because those magic things haven’t happened.

                Even if I don’t have a disability, I can ask for accommodations (though they may not need to be granted, I am ask). If this employee wants to ask for a higher weight limit chair, she can ask without “disclosing” her weight as a disability. That conversation can happen. The employer can also ask the employee “We’re ordering new chairs, do you have any preferences?” I don’t think weight is covered under most anti-discrimination laws, so I would actually disagree that she is covered under those in most states.

                But either way, this isn’t necessarily about following the law. The legally conservative approach, yes, is to just pay for the chair. The good human being/good boss approach, without bring the law into it, is also just to pay for the chair. If you’re looking for an excuse to not pay for the chair you might be able to find one, but it isn’t the right approach if you’re legally risk-averse or otherwise.

                1. Elysian*

                  Here is what the EEOC says: “However, if the employer knows that an applicant has a disability, and it is reasonable to question whether the disability might pose difficulties for the individual in performing a specific job task, then the employer may ask whether she would need reasonable accommodation to perform that task. An employer might know that an applicant has a disability because it is obvious or she has voluntarily revealed the existence of one. If the applicant indicates that accommodation will be necessary, then the employer may ask what accommodation is needed.

                  Example: Carl has a severe limp and uses a cane because of his prosthetic leg. He applies for an assembly line job which does not require employees to move around but does require that they stand for long periods of time. The employer asks Carl about his ability to stand and whether he will need reasonable accommodation to perform the job. Carl replies that he will need accommodation. The employer asks Carl for examples of accommodations, and Carl suggests two possibilities: a tall stool so that he can sit down but still reach the conveyor belt, or alternatively, a “sit-stand” chair which will provide support and enable him to do the job.”

                  No one has to stick their head in the sand if there’s an obvious disability, that’s just not the law.

                  link to follow.

                2. GOG11*

                  “I think you’re attributing more formality to the ADA process than generally exists (so unusual as far as laws go, but still).”

                  This. IANAL, but I have researched the ADA as part of the process of asking for accommodations. The law is written in such a way that it the person with a disability doesn’t have to know of the law to get the accommodation process ball rolling. They don’t have to file specific paperwork or use certain words or even have documentation (though the employer can request that, and the employer would pay for whatever medical stuff would be required to verify that the employee actually has the disability). The person doesn’t need to say “I have X condition, which qualifies as a disability because it impairs Y major life function” or “here’s a doctor’s note specifying what my condition is” in order to receive accommodations.

                  It’s a much more collaborative process and it is defined by the employee and the employer quite a lot.

          3. Renn*

            This approach is bureaucratic in the extreme. Even government agencies are trying to incorporate a little bit of common sense into their implementation of rules.

          4. Ask a Manager* Post author

            “In the States, employers cannot take action that assume an employee has a disability even if it seems obvious. Until the employee comes forward and says something, the employer has to act as if the employee is not disabled. ”

            Wait, no, this is not true. There’s no reason they can’t simply decide to accommodate her. You’re also permitted to ask if an accommodation is needed; you’re not required to ignore that possibliity until the employee raises it.

          5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Also, good employers shouldn’t be out to get away with whatever they legally can. Fine, she hasn’t disclosed a disability or asked for accommodations. Her employer should still want to get her the equipment she needs to do her job.

          6. Beebs the Elder*

            Okay, I am wading way past my area of expertise, here, but I thought that if the disability is “obvious” the employer can be on the hook even if the employee doesn’t broach it. If that’s the case, her weight is obvious to everyone and the employer needs to act as though she has asked for accommodation.

        2. Saurs*

          Also, things big and small, expensive or no, used by some or all or few, break, get run down, become shabby, and will eventually need to be replaced. It’s okay. That’s called overhead. Employees aren’t responsible for overhead. Assets will depreciate. There is no way to stop this process, unless you coat everything in plastic and shove it into a dark, hermetically-sealed cell, and never think about them again (thinking about them chips the paint, or so I’ve heard).

      3. Observer*

        Yes – it’s egregious on the part of the employer. When you see that someone has a problem with something as basic as the chair they need to sit on, GET THEM A CHAIR THAT WORKS! Don’t keep on buying junk, and expect good results.

  4. The IT Manager*

    For #3, I’m with Alison. It is very unusual, but really sounds like he’s in town for something else or simply passing through with a long layover and taking the opportunity to interview you.

    1. Alison Read*

      Another possibility is the hiring manager does not mind the burden of a same day turn around (or they might even be a mileage runner) but would never expect a prospective employee to endure a same day return, particularly since they want them to feel good about the company. So many completely plausible explanations. These type of questions are the worst because my mind can make up so many possibilities and we so rarely find out the reality of the situation.

      1. Koko*

        Dear AAM, I should have been suspicious when they offered to interview me in my own city. Later, I got the job offer and when I visited the office for the first time on my first day of work, the whole place was full of dogs, which nobody had mentioned to me! Also, all the employees walk around the office quacking at each other all day – it’s very distracting!

  5. The IT Manager*

    For #5, I wouldn’t count on an across the board pay raise. Sounds like your employer will be legally required to pay a bunch of other employees more money, and I would not expect the pay of everyone (or all hourly staff at least) to rise just to keep the current disparity in pay levels equal. If you’re being paid $18 an hour now, the value of your work doesn’t increase even if other employees experience a pay raise because of the law. I would expect pay scales to gradually equalize at “normal” disparity levels based on value, responsibility, experience, time on the job.

    But I have worked for the government my whole career, so I could be way off base. I look forward to reading what the AAM hive mind thinks about this question.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      When NYS raised their minimum wage from 5.15 to 7.25 and I was working in a grocery store, I was supremely nonplussed to find out I was going to stay at 7.50 (took my 2 years to get to that from 5.25) while my brand new coworkers were making 7.25 off the bat. I get why employers don’t raise wages across the board, but as an employee it’s extremely frustrating.

      1. Ms Information*

        My father had 2 weeks vacation for years and just as he finally made it to 3 weeks, there was an across the board increase to 3 weeks to start for everyone, and to 4 weeks not long after. (Canadian public sector). It made him feel a bit burned but was also clearly good for everyone. It’s not that he lost vacation after all but it’s human nature to want others to pay the same dues, even if they were bad dues. We used to tease him about it!

        1. INFJ*

          Interesting parallel. An extra week for your dad is still an extra week regardless of what anyone else has. But it’s human nature to somehow feel cheated in that situation. I’m sure there’s a cognitive fallicy out there to explain this!

        2. Bekx*

          This is the excuse I hear anytime anyone mentions more vacation time at my company. “But we had to wait 7 years for a 3rd week of vacation, so therefore you should too!”

      2. BritCred*

        We’ve seen this in the UK both in statistics and in personal anecdote. Those not far above the Minimum Wage (now called “Living Wage” even though its really not) found their lower paid colleagues slowly raised up to their rate and a lot found themselves absorbed into the Minimum Wage themselves when it caught up with their rate of pay. It went from 1.6m who were affected when first introduced to 6m affected now.

        It will depend on your employer how they react as Alison says.

          1. BritCred*

            They have tried to rebrand it in the UK with the latest announcement of rises due from now to 2020. Which has a lot of people saying exactly what you just have – its clearly not the same.

            1. TheLazyB (UK)*

              The living wage as i understand it was a union campaign long before the gvt jumped on the bandwagon.

              Our apprentice in my last job was on the living wage, not the minimum, and earms a lot more than apprentices in other jobs that just pay minimum wage.

      3. Cucumberzucchini*

        I worked as a bank teller in college and the bank I was working for was purchased by another bank right near when I quit. I’d been there around two years and was well reviewed because I was really fast and accurate plus friendly to the customers. I had gotten two .10 raises (which is crazy small, but that’s all this bank gave out) bringing me up the impressive wage of $7.20/hr. (Small sidetrack: I was also promoted to desk side within 4 months when normally you had to be a teller for at least a year first. However some time after the promotion the bank changed the hours and desk side didn’t work with me schedule so I went back to teller side.)

        Right when I was getting ready to leave because I was moving I was training a new teller that had been hired under the new ownership. This brand new teller /that I was training/ was making $2 more an hour than I was. It was so irritating. I would have made a stink about it if I hadn’t already put in my notice.

    2. Alison Read*

      Not to mention the fact the cost of everything else (food, rent, etc.) is going to increase (has already) mostly negating the pay raise for the minimum wage workers and most certainly significantly impacting those that previously were making slightly above. These are all very expected repercussions of an effort to make entry level positions living wages. (I’m in Seattle.) Hopefully the staggered implementation will allow for these issues to adjust, but don’t count on it coming out equal in the end. Already some companies in an effort to be true to the cause have jumped straight to the $15/hr minimum wage, no word on how their employees previously making $35,000/year are going to be accommodated when the new minimum wage will be $31,200/year. It is already the law in SeaTac (by the airport) although it does not apply to all employers, they are not seeing an increase in sales tax revenues … Anecdotally I’ve seen an increase in prices so I’d say sales are down and employers that are affected by this are reporting they’re cutting back on benefits so I would guess it’s likely those previously making a little above the new min aren’t seeing a comparable increase in their wages.

      1. Kathlynn*

        in the last three years or so the min wage in BC went up 2 dollars, there was no noticeable increase in CoL.

        1. Jane the Teapot*

          But BC, that’s Canada. In the US where corporations are people, our economically powerful class is not exactly known for wanting life to be easy or affordable for the middle class on down.
          It’s awesome for NOW that those cities have doubled minimum wage, but COL *will* adjust.

          1. Jake*

            I don’t think Canada is all that different. Companies are allowed to set prices, rent control is inconsistent across jurisdictions, and we also have an economically powerful class that doesn’t give a shit about anything but their bottom line. We have more progressive government policies, and more regulation, but by and large COL is not governed by those things.

        2. AnotherFed*

          $2 is very different from $9 or $10. Fast food places near the airport already have or are announcing 20% raises in prices! I only travel through there, so can’t speak to the rest of COL changes.

          1. LBK*

            20% increase in prices is still less than a 100% increase in wages, though. CoL will definitely adjust but I really don’t think it’s going to completely wipe out the wage increase as people are claiming.

          2. Ad Astra*

            A 20% increase in fast food prices means a McDouble would cost $1.20. As a consumer, I think I can handle that.

            1. Kelly L.*

              +1. Prices always go up anyway. Might as well pass some of it along to the people putting in the labor.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I don’t mind paying a little bit more so the people serving me can eat! If I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t be eating out (disclaimer: not at McD’s, though).

        3. BTW*

          Ontario here! Our most recent minimum wage increase was in 2014 (new one coming Oct 2015) and our COL, particularly food, has gone up substantially.

          1. plain_jane*

            But our dollar has _also_ dropped precipitously over the same timeframe. I don’t think it’s fair to put all the food cost increases on minimum wage. And there have been market changes (Walmart, Target, etc) which has lead to lower competition and thus the grocers being less aggressive around discounting.

          2. Althea*

            Another data-less claim. Data shows inflation rate for Ontario was modest in 2014. Less than 3% annual rate.

          3. esra*

            That’s… not entirely true. Some things have gone up in price, but not all of those increases are tied to the minimum wage increase.

            Honestly, I think businesses are being a bit childish about it. People having money to living and spend is a good thing.

      2. Mike C.*

        Some services may increase their price, but staples generally don’t. Labor is a very small percentage of the overall price of groceries.

        1. MT*

          Agreed that labor is a small percentage of the price of groceries. Most grocery stores profit less than 1% of the cost of the item, they make it up on volume and in-store produced items. Wages though are the largest expense of a grocery store’s budget. If profit per item doesnt go up, but expense do, the only way to fix it is to cut expenses.

          1. Mike C.*

            Or increase sales – which is what happens when people who make the least have more money in their pockets.

            1. MT*

              The prob is that people dont tend to spend more at that level of income. The majority of income gains are offset by the loss of government benefits.

              1. Mike C.*

                First off, that assumes that the increase just covers the assistance and no more. I don’t believe this is the case.

                Even so, great! So we’re all paying less money to subsidize low wages and instead that money can be put to more pressing needs.

              2. Dana*

                I’d venture that for every single mother on welfare that that applies to, there are plenty of high schoolers still living at home with no bills that absolutely just spend their income gains.

      3. Alano*

        This is a money quote: “The cost of everything else (food, rent, etc.) is going to increase (has already) mostly negating the pay raise minimum wage works and most certainly impacting those that previously were making slightly above.”

        Exactly. The politicians could pass a law that we all earn $1,000 an hour, and we could all rejoice and dance in the streets about how rich we are now, but in reality prices would quickly increase by a corresponding amount and we’d all be in the same exact position that we were prior to the increase. Inflation does not make you any richer – it just makes you think you’re getting richer, which is valuable to no one except certain types of politicians. There’s also, of course, the well known economic fact that when labor costs more, employers purchase less of it – so these laws typically result in higher unemployment for low skilled workers. There’s a great deal of evidence that these laws actually hurt the people the politicians claim they’re trying to help.

        The only people who really benefit from these laws are the politicians who pass them and get to walk around acting like they’ve magically created wealth for poor people.

        1. Mike C.*

          First off, no one outside of people who are against increasing minimum wages ever talk about raising it to $1,000 an hour.

          Prices won’t increase t0 match the new wages just because. There is still competition within markets, and again, labor isn’t 100% of costs and increased demand often more than makes up for any initial issues. You’re also neglecting the costs to society at large – if someone is working full time, yet still needs help from the social safety net, doesn’t that mean the rest of us are subsidizing a private company who refuses to pay better wages? With higher wages, people can afford their needs, and better save for emergencies or improvements in quality of life.

          There’s also, of course, the well known economic fact that when labor costs more, employers purchase less of it

          No, that implies when labor is cheap, employers buy more than they need. I don’t know about your employer, but mine certainly isn’t a charity. Employers hire based on demand for their goods and services. More money in the hands of customers (to the extent being discussed in the modern minimum wage movements) leads to higher demand, and that’s more business for employers.

          1. Just another techie*

            You’re also neglecting the costs to society at large – if someone is working full time, yet still needs help from the social safety net, doesn’t that mean the rest of us are subsidizing a private company who refuses to pay better wages?

            Ding ding ding. It really burns me when I read about corporations that have actual written policies saying employees should sign up for welfare, or who hand out bulletins with local food pantries to their employees. How humiliating for the people who are working 40 hours a week, and how frustrating for those of us who pay higher taxes and/or donate to those food pantries, that some jerkoff CEO with nine vacation houses is relying my taxes and/or goodwill to feed *his* employees. Ugh.

            1. Zillah*

              Yep. I don’t begrudge people who need help, but I absolutely begrudge employers who use taxpayers’ money as a subsidy so they can pocket the difference. It’s so gross.

          2. AnotherFed*

            The biggest issue with raising the minimum wage so much is that it disincentivizes skilled blue collar labor. There’s such a push today that every student should go to college (regardless of whether that’s the right choice for them based ability, interest, and long-term financial viability) that very few people are going into trades and trade schools are dying off. There’s still a huge need for skilled workers in trades like plumbing, electricians, auto mechanics, technicians, carpenters, welders, machinists, etc., but why bother trying to find a trade school or apprenticeship program that’ll take a few years when minimum wage is artificially elevated such that skills aren’t much more valuable until the master level?

            I don’t disagree that expecting people to live on $7.50/hr is ridiculous in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, but I think the problem is that so many are relying on minimum wage as a primary income source instead of having the opportunities to break into skilled labor and professional jobs.

          3. Megan*

            I’m 100% fine with my employers purchasing less labor in exchange for paying me more for it. It means I can stop working 3 jobs and just work the one.

        2. Natalie*

          What do you suggest instead? Not raising the minimum wage certainly isn’t preventing inflation from happening.

          1. Mike C.*

            Inflation only happens when the supply of money is increased. Last time i checked, that doesn’t happen at the city or state level.

          2. MashaKasha*

            Yeah I always found it weird how some people I know are all against increasing the minimal wage, but would be up in arms their salary stopped being adjusted for inflation every twelve months.

        3. MashaKasha*

          There’s also, of course, the well known economic fact that when labor costs more, employers purchase less of it – so these laws typically result in higher unemployment for low skilled workers.

          While I admit that my sample size is low, ie I only know one person closely who is an employer and hires people, I also know that this person pays his employees more than the minimum wage, because he believes that min wage is ridiculously low and he doesn’t want his employees’ productivity impacted by them worrying about where their family’s next meal will come from.

          And for those employers who are willing to die on that hill, there’s always an option of paying people $4/hour in cash under the table. I’m serious. These businesses do exist. These people do exist. How they live with themselves is another story.

      4. Althea*

        Not to mess up your anecdotal claim that prices have already increased around Seattle, but… inflation in Seattle has been low/reasonable, thus far.


        The few empirical studies done of minimum wage laws’ effect show very mixed results, some showing minimal job losses, some showing none. Others showing some inflation, others showing none. This change is more dramatic than past changes, so there may be a more noticeable effect, but from what we know raising the minimum wage does not have the dramatic one that economist models predict.

      5. Ad Astra*

        This has been the argument against every minimum wage increase ever, because nobody wants to raise the wages of their most expendable employees if they don’t have to. If we listened to these arguments every time someone proposed an increase to the minimum wage, fast food workers would be making 25 cents/hr.

        1. Renee*

          And I always wonder why a possible solution for a company isn’t decreasing wage increases at the top. There’s a much bigger disparity between the top and the bottom than there used to be. Reducing the annual wage increase or bonus for one CEO could go a long way to offset a wage increase for minimum wage workers.

            1. ImprovForCats*

              Now, what would be the incentive for CEOs if they could only have two Mercedes, and had to pay the same proportion of taxes as their staff? The innovation economy would skid to a halt!

              1. AnotherFed*

                I bet just about all of them would jump at the chance to pay the same proportion of taxes as the rest of their staff! Federal income tax at the highest brackets is almost 40% for the top bracket, but only about 15% for the national average family income.

                1. Helka*

                  That’s what it is on paper. When you start talking about what they are actually paying, you discover that it’s a whole lot less.

                  Warren Buffett rather famously pointed out that he pays a lower percentage of his income in taxes than his secretary.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yup. This is where the “extra” money is going. CEO salaries have ballooned since the 70s, and I don’t think CEOs have gotten exponentially more brilliant since then as a general rule.

      6. Stranger than fiction*

        Hopefully the staggering is going to help but I think the first thing that will happen is employees making minimum will get their hours reduced. It’s a sad state of affairs we got in this mess in the first place and now are expecting to equal it out in just a couple of years

      7. Megan*

        In countries where minimum wage is increased significantly, there is some increase in prices of things, but not nearly at a 1:1 ratio – I think I read something about Australia and a ratio of 18 cents COL increase per dollar of wage increase.

    3. BRR*

      This is why I think people are upset about it, because it’s not an across the board raise. That some people are getting a large raise percentage wise.

    4. MT*

      Don’t expect much of a raise. My company just decided to redo our wage surveys in our area. We decided to give the starting pay a $1 bump per hour to $15/hour, the more senior employees got 30 cents to 50 cents an hour bump to keep them atleast ahead of the new starting salary. We couldn’t afford to give out more to the long term. Just remember that $1 bump per hour is an increase of over $2,000 dollars a year for each employee before any overtime costs.

      1. MT*

        That 2,000 is just labor costs. There are all sorts of local, state, and federal taxes that the employer must pay based on the percentage of the wages. So that 2000 is closer to 2500 per employee.

        1. BTW*

          It’s crazy when you do the numbers. Last year when my province was raising the min wage and people were saying it *should* be X amount instead of what they were proposing, I did the numbers. To raise everyone’s minimum wage plus give the people above a little bump would have cost our business a couple hundred thousand dollars. And we were only a store of (at our max employee capacity) 150 people. (Retail, so a lot of wages would change due to an increase as opposed to businesses or corporations that are paying salaries where an increase wouldn’t make much of a difference because they are already paying well above minimum)

          1. MT*

            agreed, with 109 hourly employees at my site, it will be costing us over 300k per year alone for increased pay, and taxes.

          2. Mike C.*

            And how much would you have gained in lower turnover and increased sales? There’s a reason Costco pays so much for their employees, and it makes them more profitable per square foot.

            1. INFJ*

              True. Costco is able to pay their employees well and remain competitive, in part, because of low employee turnover. Hiring and training costs money. And when companies like Wal Mart have 50% turnover rate, that really adds up. (Costco also remains competitive by not paying for advertising, which is completely unrelated…)

              1. MT*

                There market is also designed for high end items with a large mark up. If costco was such a great business model they would be employing more people. Costco employes 67,000 employees where Sams club (not all walmarts) employee 110,000 employes.

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  Are those numbers for FT employees? Because if you’re comparing the normal part-time that Walmart usually employs against full time Costco employees, it’s not a fair comparison.

                2. Mike C.*

                  I wouldn’t consider 2% milk, Jiffy peanut butter or canned beans to be “high end goods” and the maximum markup on any good is 14%.

                  There’s also less shrinkage from employee theft as well.

                3. Zillah*

                  Straight numbers are virtually worthless in this situation. Costco’s employees, from what I can find out, are far more likely to be paid a reasonable wage and provided with health insurance than Sam’s Club’s employees, who from my admittedly limited research in many cases make half of what Costco employees make and are often on the hook for their own health insurance.

                  A company who uses taxpayers’ money to subsidize low wages and limited benefits vs. a company who takes care of its employees largely on its own? That’s not a better business model just because they have more people on their payroll.

              2. Renee*

                Costco also has a significantly lower CEO to employee pay ratio than Wal-Mart. The last numbers I saw had the Wal-Mart CEO making approximately ten times more than the Costco CEO.

            2. Stranger than fiction*

              Right. This is interesting and I wonder why more US businesses don’t adopt similar pay plans? I’ve heard In n Out burger also pays employees well above minimum.

              1. Mike C.*

                Dick’s Drive-in here in Seattle does something similar. They also offer funding for school or childcare as well.

                1. Seattle Writer Gal*

                  I’m amazed at how many Seattle-ites are on here. We should do a local AAM readers meet-up some day…

                2. Mike C.*

                  I could have sworn that AaM was from or spent a significant amount of time here in Seattle, but I could be misremembering.

    5. ConstructionHR*

      Yeah that CEO on the left coast who raised the starting pay to $70k got some unintended consequences when the formerly higher paid folks (Accountants, engineers, etc.) were upset that now the newbies were making almost as much as they were.

      1. Jennifer M.*

        It’s was an unintended consequence that some of the people quit, but it’s not necessarily a negative consequence. People who were not in step with the culture that he was trying to create self-selected themselves out of the organization. Depending on circumstances that could be a good thing – no muttering in the halls, no PIPs to get people to stop being negative influences, etc.

      2. Mike C.*

        Those “unintended consequences” were that most of the grumpy customers came back, their sales went from 200 customers/month to 350 and two employees who got their noses bent out of shape left.

        To call it a failure is absolutely nuts.

    6. KarenT*

      My brother was working a minimum wage job in Ontario (I think making $9.00) when they raised minimum wage to $11.00. His employer raised him to the new minimum but also told him there would be no raises for a couple of years since this was the raise budget.

      1. esra*

        He would never have been bumped up that much in a couple years though. He’d have been lucky to see 9.50/hr after two years.

        Honestly, I do not get the fighting a living wage. If your business cannot pay people enough to pay rent and eat, then your business cannot afford employees.

      2. Kathlynn*

        And when min. wage went up in BC I was making the same wage I had when I started two years before that. The only reason I ever saw a raise was because of the min. wage increase. I’ve got a raise since then, of 25 cents after 3 years.
        Min wage gave at least 100 employees in my company alone a raise they wouldn’t have seen.

    7. JC*

      Yep to what everyone else said. Your pay will likely stay the same. I am all for raising the minimum wage to a living wage like your city is doing, but this is one of the unintended psychological consequences—that people with wages a touch above the new minimum, who may have spent a long time getting to that point, now feel worse about their wages because people they perceived to be below them are now equal to or not so far below them. But another but is that if people in your wage category are now angry about your wages, you may be more likely to band together, make some noise, and get your company to raise your wages eventually. This is how raising the minimum wage can theoretically trickle up to raising wages for many people near the bottom—but perhaps with a little grumbling along the way.

      1. Mike C.*

        Those people who feel worse should be directing their anger towards their employers for being cheapskates, not their fellow coworkers.

        It also helps to raise wages slightly above minimum wages because an employee who is being treated poorly has more leverage to leave for other work.

  6. CL*

    Actually, morbid obesity is protected under the ADA. The EEOC has spoken. It depends how heavy the employee is and how tall she is, but I’m guessing that she could sue them for not accommodating her disability. It’s better to simply purchase a chair that goes up to 400 lbs. and not embarrass anybody.

    1. AnnieNonymous*

      Doesn’t she have to disclose the disability first though? Like go through an official process? Technically, the OP doesn’t have to accommodate her until that happens. They didn’t discriminate against her (based on her appearance) at the hiring phase, but that isn’t the same thing as making special accommodations for someone who isn’t asking for them.

      1. Jeanne*

        Normally, to get an accomodation you have to ask for one. In this case though they can’t pretend she doesn’t need this specific accomodation. It would be pointless to keep buying and breaking regular chairs until she asks.

        1. Nashira*

          And begging for a worker’s comp claim in the mean time, at least in some jurisdictions. My office has absolutely had to cover medical treatment for employees who had chairs break and were injured. Luckily, I think it’s only been minor injuries mostly.

      2. Splishy*

        This is assuming that the employee A) knows that obesity qualifies as a disability — assuming she meets the parameters and B) knows that she can ask for accommodation. And if she knows both A and B, she may not realize that a special chair could be considered accommodation.

        As this letter and the comments indicate, not every employee or manager is an expert or even has working knowledge of ADA, EEOC, or employment law.

        The OP may well want to look into exactly what needs to be done under ADA/EEOC and then educate the *employee* about it as well to get the process moving.

        1. Zillah*

          The OP may well want to look into exactly what needs to be done under ADA/EEOC and then educate the *employee* about it as well to get the process moving.

          … or just buy a better chair?

          Like, I seriously don’t get why 1) some commenters are emphasizing what needs to be done rather than just being a decent human being and 2) insisting that doing something decent for the employee has to go through formal channels to “get the process moving.” This is not a transfer to another department or a promotion or a raise. It’s a new chair, which they seem to be perfectly capable of ordering without a lot of hoopla. The money they’d spend on turning this into a huge ADA/EEOC “process” would probably get them close to the cost of a better chair in the first place. Doesn’t everyone have something better to do?

          1. Splishy*

            My solution would be to get a better chair. It’s the easiest course of action by far. I was trying to point out a couple of pitfalls with requesting accommodation. I should have been clearer in my response.

            Quite a few of the comments here seem to assume that everyone who needs accommodation will ask for it. However, many people think of ADA as being only for people in wheelchairs or on crutches and that accommodation consists of things like wide enough doorways and wheelchair ramps. Employees with less obvious disabilities may not know that they qualify under ADA and that accommodation can be as simple as a footstool or better chair or more frequent breaks.

            1. Zillah*

              Ahh, okay – that makes much more sense! Thanks for clarifying. :) And yes, I do agree that it’s probably in an employee’s best interests in the long run to make sure that they understand what their rights are in terms of accommodations.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No! See the discussion of this above.

        The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of a known disability. If your employer knows you have a disability, you are covered — even if they only know because they see it with their own eyes, rather than because you told them.

        More to the point though, why are we focusing on that? The employer knows the employee needs a different chair. The right and logical thing to do is to get her a chair that will support her weight. This should not be a huge deal, or an attempt to look for a way out of doing that.

        1. Windchime*

          Because a lot of people in our culture think that there is a difference between a disability that a person can’t help and a disability that “is a person’s fault”. I see it all the time in society and am somewhat seeing it here in the comments. Nobody would think that because Sam is in a wheelchair, he should have to justify having a ramp built (even if he did something stupid or intentional that was the cause of his disability). But when the disability is obesity, people often feel differently. This woman knows she is obese and as you said earlier, she is most likely mortified that her chairs keep breaking. But I’m getting a sense that some people think that she deserves this embarrassment or something, and that there should be extra (legal?) justification in order to force the employer to buy her a new chair.

          Just buy her a chair that will work for her. (I am so glad I work for my employer. This wouldn’t even be an issue. Our purchasing person would be working with the chair vendor(s) to select the correct chair and it would already be on its way to the office).

    2. fluffy*

      A minute or 2 of googling will turn up a 1000# chair for $360–about as much as a good standard chair

  7. AnnieNonymous*

    #1: I agree with other commenters that you should maybe say something like, “Jane, would you like to pick out your new desk chair? Maybe the same brand as your desk chair at home?”

    I wouldn’t say much more than that (and I’m not sure you legally can), but she’s likely mortified by this situation, and I doubt she’d balk if asked for input as to how to resolve this issue. She might even already have solutions in mind but has been unsure about how to bring them up.

    1. HR Recruiter*

      +1 I have a family member who is always breaking chairs. He is overweight but his weight has nothing to do with it, other people much large have sat in the same chairs without them breaking. Its because he rocks in non-rocking chairs and doesn’t sit in the chair properly placing all of his weight on the supports. So I’m thinking perhaps its how the chair is built versus the weight limit? Letting her have some input on the type of chair she prefers may help. I’d of course do this as discretely as possible to avoid further embarrassment. Unless she is like my family member who laughs at my financial expense.

  8. Hefty Gal*

    OP#1, your employee probably feels like absolute crap. As a fat lady, I’ve broken a chair or three in my day, and it’s embarrassing and awful. Drawing too much attention to the situation will probably make her feel worse.

    My recommendation: Look at 1000 pound chairs. Your employee probably doesn’t weigh 1000 pounds, but weight limits are never accurate, so you want something that’s SUPER sturdy. I’ve sat in 400 pound chairs while weighing half that and many felt flimsy.

    I highly recommend you consider looking at these:


    They’re not good desk chairs, but if you want to create an environment where your employee of size can sit in more than one place (like a conference room, lunch table, whatever) check out these. I will say that their 800 lb limit is not accurate, because after very frequent use I’ve seen them broken by individuals less than that – But that’s really really frequent use.

    1. misspiggy*

      That looks very similar to the kind offices use in Nigeria, where middle class office workers tend to be large. Some people are fat, but at least half the people I work with are just very tall and strong. Moving those chairs even a foot is impossible for a dodgy-joints person like me, so I need extra accommodation because of my relative weakness. It underlines the obvious point that it’s normal for people to come in very different shapes and sizes, and just because someone is outside a local norm doesn’t mean they should be considered weird or inconvenient.

      1. wholeyholy*

        Yes, yes, yes!!! I love that you brought up “local norm”. I’m in the U.S., but I’d be willing to wager that average body size in Minneapolis is different than average body size in L.A. There is a LOT of variability in “normal” bodies.

        1. Roly Poly Little Bat Faced Girl*

          It’s true that Minneapolis is consistently rated at the top of the healthiest cities.

          1. Kelly L.*

            But also really tall and big-boned, I’d guess, based on the large Scandinavian population in the upper Midwest.

          2. wholeyholy*

            I don’t think we should conflate health and weight, though. While there is a known correlation between weight and *some* health concerns, it’s not at all clear that weight *causes* health problems.

            We also son’t know the criteria for “healthy” in this study. It could be measured by how many people smoke, how walkable/ bikeable the city is, how many people have/ use health insurance/ services, or a host of other determinants.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Pollution is a huge one for me. It’s funny how much “healthier” I got when I moved from a really polluted city to a relatively clean one.

            2. Roly Poly Little Bat Faced Girl*

              Apologies if I misread, but your comment implied to me that you were picking the two cities as extremes for “body size,” as you put it. I’ve lived in both cities, and like most major metropolitan areas, there are a range of body sizes, but I wouldn’t put Minneapolis in the category of land of big body sizes or weight. For Minneapolis, there are numerous studies and surveys that rate it the top healthy city in the US, or among the top, so the criteria varies, but all indicates an overall healthy population.

              1. fposte*

                According to the CDC chart I’ll link below, Minneapolis is pretty much on a par with LA, in fact. San Francisco is considerably lower-weight than both of them. Needless to say, thinner places tend to be richer than poorer places.

                1. wholeyholy*

                  Huh, the more you know… Thanks for finding the numbers:)

                  More generally, my point was that “fat” is a social construct and, as such, is dependent on context. What is considered overweight in one place is not in another.

    2. AE*

      I had this problem in a previous job. One part time employee broke several chairs, and I had two others that were over the weight limit for standard chairs. I tried to find suitable chairs to order and finally bought wooden stools from Target. They held up! We used these for a service counter, and we had one chair that was sturdy enough for them to use when not at the counter. (Fortunately they didn’t work at the same time)

      I wish I’d known about the chairs you linked! They would have been perfect.

      1. Happy Lurker*

        We also had a similar situation. We had to purchase 3 new chairs in a year for a “larger” person. That is a lot of chairs for a 4 person office. I agree with the posters above who say the weight ratings are off. Unfortunately, I believe everything is made with cheaper materials than previously. My chair is personally 11 years old and it is much better than the 3 year old chairs that were hundreds more.

    3. A Fat Guy*

      IME, the weight limit listed on high-capacity chairs assumes they’ll only be used for a few hours at a time. The chair you linked would be fine the lobby, meeting rooms, the lunch table, etc* … but probably wouldn’t stand up (har) to 8-10 hours of all day, every day use.

      *And since they’re only $30, it’s worth buying a few just in case– no telling when the company may have a fat client, vendor, applicant, or other visitor, even if you don’t have any fat people working there right now.

  9. Seal*

    #1 – The OP mentions they bought chairs that were supposed to support more weight, but they still broke. My experience is that most people are terrible at determining someone’s actual weight in pounds just by looking at them. If the employee is breaking even sturdier chairs regularly my guess is the OP is underestimating their employee’s actual weight and not buying the right type of chair, or just buying cheap chairs that don’t actually support as much weight as they claim to.

    1. Kathlynn*

      I second this. People thought I weigh about 130, when I actually weighed 160. Which might not be a large difference, but to me at least the weight is noticeable.

      1. BritCred*

        I too weigh a lot more than people think I do. I’m not sure if that is the issue considering the tone of the letter but perhaps this is why the option of allowing the employee to chose a few knowing their own weight and needs would be good as it wouldn’t require a disclosure from them of their weight.

      2. Blue_eyes*

        That’s a good point. I think most people would be shocked to find out my weight because it sounds like a pretty high number but people don’t look at me and thing “jeez, she’s fat”.

        1. AVP*

          I have the same thing. I wear a “normal” size and look pretty average but weigh upwards of 200 lbs. I really do have heavy bones and a lot of dense muscle, apparently! The one time this came up in a work conversation people were shocked and kept telling me the scale I was standing on must be broken. (It was mortifying but eventually made a funny story.)

          1. AVP*

            either way I’m glad my boss isn’t trying to guess my weight for chair purposes because it would be terrible inaccurate. OP should ask their employee for recommendations on what chair she wants.

          2. Blue_eyes*

            That happened to me once in college. I told some of my floormates my weight and one guy (who was kind of a jerk, so I know he was being honest) said “you carry it really well” as in “I thought you weighed a lot less than that.” I think it also depends where you carry your weight. I have fairly slim legs (at least from mid-thigh down) and don’t carry much weight in my arms, neck, or face so it’s less obvious to other people.

          3. Ezri*

            Muscle makes a big difference. My little sister is in the National Guard, and she came back solid muscle. I’m bigger than her and she outweighs me easily.

        2. simonthegrey*

          This. My husband actually weighs more than 360lbs, but he has incredibly broad shoulders and even if he lost 100-150lbs he would still completely fill a doorway. When you look at him, you wouldn’t think he weighed as much as he does because his over all build (tall and broad shoulders) stretches it. I’m over 215lbs and since I’m short, I look heavier than that in certain clothes (no knee length dresses for me and no baby-doll style tops.

      3. Elsajeni*

        My weightlifting coach, who obviously is pretty familiar with the shape and size of my body and, being an experienced lifter himself, the shapes and sizes of people in various weight classes, tried to guess what weight class I’d be in when I registered for my first meet. He was under my actual weight by 40-50 pounds. People are just plain terrible at guessing weight, especially of larger people and, it seems to me, especially especially of larger women.

    2. KT*

      This. I’m well 240 pounds, but most people guess me at 160 or 170 (my doctor was shocked)–I don’t carry my weight in any one place (like tummy or thighs) it’s all evenly distributed and I have some good muscle tone, which gives the illusion of me being smaller than I am.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yup. I’m similar, both in terms of my actual size and how I’m guessed. I carry it pretty evenly and am big boned (it’s not just a euphemism, lol) and joke that I look “strapping.”

      2. Ad Astra*

        I’m around that weight too and most people think I’m under 200. My mother-in-law is constantly offering to loan me clothes and saying, “Don’t worry, it’s a large!” She’s several inches shorter than me and was about 98 pounds before she had kids, so she really just doesn’t understand how big I am.

        1. Kelly L.*


          My BF’s mom is actually the exception–she’s so much shorter than I am (I think about 8″) that she can’t assess my proportions, I guess, and thinks I’m much larger than I am. She lost weight a few years ago and kept trying to give me her “fat clothes,” when I actually wear much closer to her “after” size, but can’t wear any of her clothes anyway because they’re petites and I’m not.

          1. simonthegrey*

            Lol. My mother in law, who I really do love, retired and tried to pass on to me a number of very nice work shirts. Unfortunately, while she is a busty woman, I am a E cup and there is no way any of her shirts would fasten around my chest, even though she thought they would. It was a darling and kind gesture but it was also kind of embarassing.

    3. Hlyssande*

      That, and based on the amount of money they claim to be in the hole on multiple chairs, the ones they’re buying are cheap and most likely super flimsy to begin with.

      You can’t buy a 400lb person a chair for 400lb or, as stated upthread, just sitting down a little more heavily than usual may break it.

      1. Ezri*

        It’s generally more cost effective to buy one thing that won’t break rather than replace something cheap every couple of months. Getting a good, sturdy chair now will save OP’s company money in the long run, even if it’s pricy.

    4. Sunflower*

      I think the best bet here is to fork out a little extra money and buy a chair that holds up the most weight possible- I know someone mentioned up-thread a chair that holds 1,000 lbs which seems like it would work?

    5. BananaPants*

      While I’m overweight, I carry the weight pretty well. People who I can trust to be completely honest with me will usually gauge my weight as 30-40 pounds less than I am – even my own mother! I literally have a large frame and heavy skeleton according to every doctor I’ve ever seen, and a “normal weight” according to the BMI tables does not apply to me. Thanks, genetics! I’m guessing that if someone at work was guesstimating my weight for something like office equipment or a safety harness or the load rating of a scaffold or platform they’d underestimate it.

      Especially once someone gets up into the 300+ pound range it can be very difficult to accurately estimate weight based on appearance alone. This is particularly true of women, who can have really different distributions of where they carry weight on their bodies.

    6. Anon for this*

      People in general are terrible at guessing, and I’ve found that people who have never been overweight tend to always guess really low. (Not sure if that applies to the OP, just throwing it out there). So don’t guess, and just get a good quality chair that is rated for a larger weight than you’d ever guess you’d need.

    7. Bunny*

      Aye – I saw something called the BMI project, or the illustrated BMI project or something like that, on flickr a few years ago. People would post a photo of themselves, their height, weight and BMI and what BMI category that put them in.

      Erm…. AH! Here it is: https://www.flickr.com/photos/77367764@N00/sets/72157602199008819/

      What it brought home for me is you really, truly cannot tell how much someone weighs by looking at them. And in a world where OVER 200LB?!!! is supposed to be a scary, shocking number to hear, people tend to get even less accurate about weight when looking at noticeably fat people.

  10. kt (lowercase)*

    Anyone else kinda grossed out by the boss in #2 trying to get donated food for a “fun team-building activity”? That’s really not what food banks are for, unless I’m seriously misled. Unless it’s just an awkward way of saying potluck?

    This doesn’t really change the answer, I guess, but it does make me think this boss is probably a crappy boss in other ways, by virtue of just being a crappy person.

    1. Hatsune Miku*

      I didn’t read that as food bank food, I was reading it as “maybe we can get a client to spring for it” or “maybe someone owes us a favor.” But I’ve read enough AAM to know that’s not totally out of the question..

    2. MK*

      Eh, I assumed the manager wanted to get the employees to bring food themselves, like in a potluck, or perhaps find some kind of sponsor, not apply to food banks for people in need. While the OP felt that the company should foot the bill.

      1. Cautionary tail*

        Op #2, consider yourself lucky. At old toxicjob, stationary and all other supplies that employees used were completely cut. If you needed a pen you brought one from home; nened paper then bring that too. Want to print on the printer? I hope you brought your own printer paper in.

        As to budgets, in no place I’ve ever worked in 25 years did anyone other than a manager or higher have a budget. Asking for guidance is one thing, but asking for a budget just ain’t gonna happen.

        As for getting donated food (which I read as sponsored food), and the reason I replied to this particular post, at old toxic job I tried to organize an employee appreciation day withe employees bringining in their own themed potluck food and evem that was turned down because the company would have to pay for people being at the office but not working, so your situation doesn’t sound that bad by comparison.

        I could go on however my bottom line is that your situation seems pretty typical for a normal office. Now if you want to know more about toxic offices, I could share some real whacked out stuff.

        1. Judy*

          I’ve also never seen anyone but a manager “own” a budget, but it certainly seems like the admins at many jobs had been give budgetary guidelines. “Office supplies are budgeted for $X/month.”

          Even though my managers “own” the budget, I certainly have known the department had $Y budgeted for prototypes on my project, $Z budgeted for travel for my project, etc. I was the one putting the estimates together for the projects to give to my manager, and would receive feedback on the outcome once the budget was approved.

          1. OP #2*

            Guidelines would be very much appreciated. But I now understand that my situation isn’t completely unusual. I guess I just have to deal.

        2. Parfait*

          Whether or not the OP “owns” the supplies budget, there certainly IS a line in the budget for office supplies and it’s not unreasonable for the person who orders supplies to be made aware of what it is.

          I used to do all the supplies ordering for a small department of a university and we were always WAY under budget at the end of the year. We had to spend it all or we wouldn’t get fully funded the next year, so I got to order fun things like fancy labelmakers and a projector and so on.

      2. Applesauced*

        You could suggest potluck PART of the food. My company has two big employee parties – summer and holiday. The holiday party is an evening with dates, open bar at a nice restaurant. Summer is a BBQ in one of the partner’s back yard – the company supplies grilled stuff (burgers, hot dogs, steak tips) and booze, and the staff potlucks side and dessert. Personally, I like cooking and sharing food, so doing it once a year doesn’t bother me.

      1. SherryD*

        In my industry, sometimes a vendor will treat a distributor and their staff to a catered lunch as a thank-you for being a good customer. But that usually initiates with the vendor — it would be odd for the distributor to ASK. But I can see the OP’s manager thinking, “Hey, they’ve given us free food before.”

    3. MJH*

      Yeah, no. I think the boss probably wanted them to go to a local restaurant or food shop and ask if the shop would provide a donation. If the company is a non-profit, this makes more sense to me, since “in-kind” donations are a thing.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        ^ This is how I read it as well.

        Though, I have had a few friends who work at for-profit companies that have had to call up and ask restaurants, using the technique that “donated food is marketing for the restaurant…”

    4. Anyonymous*

      Yes, I assumed this meant calling up a local restaurant and asking if they’d like to donate a catering spread.

    5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      If it’s a nonprofit, it would be pretty normal to try to get food donated from a local pizza place or something like that.

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      I saw that and the Op also says she’s cheap when it comes to spending on employees but not herself, so yeah, yuck. I also think she has no living clue what things cost, thus her refusal to set budgets

    7. KTB*

      I’m not the OP, but she could definitely be describing the ED from my OldJob, which was at a small nonprofit. The ED was oddly hands-on/micromanaging of small purchases and staff spending, but would spend lavishly on herself and the board. It was really incongruous (and irritating), but it was just how she functioned. It definitely was a small symptom of a much, much larger set of issues.

  11. Jack*

    For OP#1, I suggest a couple of cheap metal folding chairs from Walmart to keep on hand. They will hold up to the weight. Before I lost weight, I had the problem of breaking chairs at the base. It was embarrassing and I took it upon myself to get a sturdy chair that I knew wouldn’t break. It made me feel much more comfortable. Even now I have a nice metal folding chair as my desk chair at my home office. Good sturdy metal folding chairs work(and are cheap), if for nothing else than having them as a backup.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      “What’s this chair made out of?!”


      Sorry just trying to lighten the mood.

  12. uk person*

    1. I don’t mean to be rude and don’t really expect an answer but I cant help being curious about how heavy this person is to have broken multiple chairs, including one bought specifically cause it was stronger…

    I wonder partly as one of my colleagues os extremely overweight; the most overweight person I have ever seen (not counting on the internet) and we have never had chair breaking issues in my office… Are these chairs super weak or is this person truly so heavy? (or sitting down really hard / with lots of force)

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Seriously. This is why this question seems like complete BS to me. They’re talking about getting one that goes up to 400 pounds – we dEFINITELY have people that heavy that use our normal chairs with no issues.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        I don’t want to be rude to the OP but my first thought on reading the question was how cheap the total was for the many chairs that have been broken so far.

        Office chairs are so expensive! I admit to being miserly about replacing, for a staff of close to 100, when things start to wear because they are so expensive. We buy them in batches of 5 to 10 and the price tag for anything decent is so high. Less than $1000 to break that many chairs made me think wow, they are getting chairs on the cheap.

        * miserly about squeaky wheels or fabric wear or such, not miserly about safety issues of course. Anytime anyone leaves there is an office raid to see if that person’s chair is preferred.

        * there are pieces of my own chair falling off atm and I’m thinking oh I’m sure that screw wasn’t really necessary #truestory

        1. KT*

          THIS! Good office chairs of the normal variety are usually several hundred, let alone a higher weight capacity version. Junk dorm furniture from Walmart isn’t going to cut it. Make an investment in employee safety, for pete’s sake.

        2. Hlyssande*

          SERIOUSLY. Whatever they’re buying has got to be the cheapest of the cheap if they’ve bought multiple and are talking about $1000. Of course it’s not going to hold up.

        3. Ad Astra*

          Exactly. $1,000 in a year is not a lot to spend on office chairs. I’m picturing a room full of flimsy, $60 “home office” style chairs broken into pieces.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Many of the parts on those cheap chairs are made of PLASTIC. They don’t hold up long under normal use by a non-obese person. If that’s what we’re talking about here, then no wonder.

        4. Kyrielle*

          My old boss used to acquire our office furniture in lots from a discount seller. I may be one of the only people who got a chair she liked out of that, and another coworker had the same chair and hated it, and it broke from repeated use (fortunately not dramatically, no injuries – it just started to always sink to the lowest position and tilt forward). Those chairs were around $100-$150 a person…they got what they paid for. The conference room chairs from that set looked nice, but they weren’t exactly a pleasure to sit in.

        5. BananaPants*

          Our office chairs are $900-1000 each. But you pay for quality – I just looked out of curiosity in reading this thread and my Steelcase desk chair was manufactured in 2002. It’s had a longer tenure here than I have, yet it looks like new and operates flawlessly. I have some very large coworkers who use the same model of chair without anyone having them break.

          At our computer desk at home, we have a $30 desk chair from IKEA. We basically buy a new one on an annual basis because they just don’t hold up to use.

          1. Num Lock*

            Yes, love my Steelcase chair at work! Who knows how old it is (it was in storage in the boiler room before I received it) but it was such a blessing compared the crap chair* that was at my desk. I just wish I didn’t have to ask for it, since it took me nearly a year of hideous knee and back pain to work up the courage. Some day when I’m rich I’ll get a Steelcase for my home.

            *Crap chair was a totally unadjustable gray fabric nightmare with millions of embedded long, blonde hairs and a disgusting brown tinge on the top.

        6. AnotherFed*

          I admit, I have no idea how much chairs cost (and work in the land of $600 toilet seats), so I assumed the OP wasn’t involved in the chair-buying and didn’t know how much they cost, just that it seemed like a lot of money. I think we’re all reading a lot into 2 small paragraphs because there just isn’t much info there, and that leaves lots of space for people to bring their own assumptions in.

    2. LadyTL*

      As a 320lb person, I feel like it was more the chairs were either really old or really cheap. I’ve sat in regular desk chairs plenty of times without breaking them, even sitting down hard but they were really sturdy when they were bought. I’ve even spent hours sitting in them and the worst that happened with normal desk chairs was the piston would sink.

      1. Oryx*

        This. I used to weigh 311 and have sat in plenty of desk chairs without a problem. Heck, my 500+ lb former boss never broke a chair (and trust me, that office was gossipy as hell. Had it happened, we would have known).

        I’m going with cheap chairs that don’t actually hold the weight they claim to.

      2. MsM*

        Me too. I’m not skinny, but I’m nowhere near needing a 400-lb weight limit, and I’ve still managed to break a chair. Office manager told me it was on its last legs and not to worry about it.

      3. Sunshine Brite*

        Yep. I’m not that heavy, but I order lift chairs sometimes for people with disabilities – different than office chairs of course, but they won’t start the custom order until they know the person’s height and weight. It doesn’t sound like the OP’s asked that here along with any other chair preferences so if they ordered a chair for a 400lb person and this person’s 415 then it’s more likely to break. Especially if it’s just $1000 in even a couple chairs (OP just said in the last year) then it’s likely a really cheap chair. The ones recommended by our ergonomics dept were like $400-$600 without accommodations or special considerations.

      4. Tobias Funke, Analrapist*

        Yeah, I’m about 340 and I only feel uncomfortable in cheap ass chairs. I mean, I will never sit anywhere questionable looking…but the chairs at all my office jobs have been okay. Pony up for some legit chairs, op.

      5. Kelly L.*

        Yep. I went through three chairs at my old job…because the usual solution to “new employee needs chairs” was generally “well, dig out whatever’s in storage.” The first one was 70s puke orange, and if you leaned back in it, you’d go all the way to the floor. The second one, the back didn’t adjust up and down anymore. I got an actual new chair in an office remodel eventually, specifically because our interior designer saw me in broken chair #2 and felt sorry for me and went to bat for me. I wasn’t breaking them, they came pre-broken and we all just put up with it.

    3. FurnitureLady*

      Finally a topic I have some expertise on! As someone correctly pointed out up thread, static weight is much different than active weight. If the employee in question is “plopping” down in the chair, the force exerted is far more than her actual weight. And we don’t know what part of the chair is breaking – the mechanism that controls the functions? Arms? Base?

      Bottom line – look for a chair that’s ANSI/BIFMA rated, meaning it’s been tested with an active load capacity. Don’t cheap out on OfficeMax $200 chairs here – if you buy the proper chair it will hold up.

      Also, just curious…what if the breaker of chair was a 6’6″ man with a linebacker build? Would OP still be upset, or is it because it’s an obese lady? Offices have many different body types and sometimes as an employer, you need to do the right thing to make employees safe and productive.

      1. blackcat*

        Plopping down a a chair can really be bad. This is how I once broke an office chair–I’m extremely petite and so I’ve never thought twice about thunking down on chairs. And then one time, I plopped down on one and… snap. The 100 lb woman broke a chair. It was a joke for a while…

        While I know that not plopping is better for the chair, it’s possible this woman *has* to drop herself into a chair because of joint pain or something else. I know I’ve dropped harder onto chairs when my bad knee flares up–lowering myself slowly can hurt!

      2. Natalie*

        Yes, this exactly. I wonder if there is an action the employee is doing that’s causing these to break, rather than just their weight.

        A friend of mine has broken 2 antique chairs, both super embarrassing to him because he’s a little bit heavy. But they broke because he couldn’t sit still, not because of his weight.

        1. Ezri*

          My husband’s going to take out our dining chairs one of these days because he pretzels himself into them and fidgets around. We already can’t have pads on them (the kind that tie to the backs) because he rips them right off.

          They aren’t the best chairs, anyway. Part of me hopes he destroys one so that we have an excuse to upgrade. :)

      3. The IT Manager*

        I was going to avoid commenting on this letter, but I am dismayed at how expensive “cheap office” chairs are. They are as much as I want to pay for a chair of much grater quality. Which is why I still use a 10+ year old ~$120 one when I want and something Moe ergonomic but those cost closer to $500 – $1000 dollars.

        When I do replace it, I will go for quality now that I work from home, but I am easing myself into that expense.

        1. KT*

          OT, but you can get gorgeous office chairs off of Craigslist. Offices clothes, home businesses end, people move and sell their gently used chairs. I got a stunning leather chair that costs about $700 in stores for $50.

        2. Episkey*

          I don’t know…I’m not overweight, but my boss bought me a new office chair. I think it was around $80-$100 online and it is totally fine. It feels sturdy and is comfy. So I don’t know where people are getting $1,000 for one chair!!

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            How long have you had it? I’m willing to bet it will be uncomfortable after a while.

      4. PhoenixBurn*

        “what if the breaker of chair was a 6’6″ man with a linebacker build”

        This. What is the real source of irritation? What conversation would you have here? Take the obesity out of it, and focus on what you can do to make the employee comfortable and feel valued and respected.

        1. nona*

          Agreed. I *hope* the source of irritation here is just the amount/cost of things that have been damaged. Focus on finding what works for the employee.

      5. Oranges*

        As a formerly super morbidly obese lady, I have to say if the person was a 6’6″ hefty body builder this wouldn’t have come up. That it wouldn’t even be a thing.

        This lady is not being fat AT your boss. She’s having fun (sarcasm) with millions of years of evolution versus processed food and other environmental changes.

        Please for the love of gods educate yourself on what weight means and what it does to the body. I had surgery for mine because my chances of keeping weight off without it are around .001%. With it it jumps to… 50%.

        And to put the cherry on top I had to pay for the $20,000 surgery because it was “optional”. I had a BMI of 51. Aka: holy crap obese. So this is a very hot button for me.

      6. wholeyholy*

        Excellent point! I think if the employee looked like Tom Brady, the reaction *may* be different.

      7. BananaPants*

        I can guaran-damn-tee that if the chair-breaking employee was a muscular former college football player who weighed 300 lbs, the OP would have never been upset about it. But because it’s an obese woman – a demographic that is already discriminated against subtly (and not-so-subtly) in the workforce – it’s apparently a problem. Employees come in all shapes and sizes and it’s incumbent on an employer to make a reasonably comfortable and safe work environment for everyone.

      8. Zillah*

        Also, just curious…what if the breaker of chair was a 6’6″ man with a linebacker build? Would OP still be upset, or is it because it’s an obese lady? Offices have many different body types and sometimes as an employer, you need to do the right thing to make employees safe and productive.


        Also: I tend to just… be hard on things. I throw myself into furniture – it’s not a conscious thing, it’s just kind of how I sit/lay down. I fidget nonstop. I go up and down stairs very loudly. It’s just… how I am. I’m pretty sure I’ve broken a cheap chair once or twice, and I definitely wear clothing, furniture, and shoes out quicker than most people do. I’m 115 lbs. It’s not just about flat weight, and it’s absolutely absurd to ask people to not engage in a normal range of behavior at their own desks.

        Come on, OP. Invest in better chairs.

        1. ImprovForCats*


          I can also be hard on furniture–I have a chronic pain condition and I shift around in my chair a lot, sit with my feet tucked under me, brace myself on the armrests to stretch, lean back to stretch*. . .most of this I can do without having to completely stop working.

          *I do have my own office, so I’m not bugging anyone–once due to a flood I had a temporary office mate, and I had to get up and walk around a lot more during the day to stretch and to keep from stiffening up, since I felt too self-conscious to keep doing that with someone right behind me. I don’t think our chairs are extraordinary, but I’ve never heard of anyone breaking one in all the years I’ve been here.

    4. Splishy*

      Let’s not forget that sometimes chairs are defective and sometimes you run into the bad luck of getting multiple defective chairs in a row. I had one chair at home break off a caster wheel (looked at the broken part and there was a large air bubble in the plastic that weakened it) and the hydrolic cylinder failed on the next one.

      I’m also curious as to where/how the chairs are breaking. Is it the same area every time or something different? Does the design of the chair have a weak point that the employee happens to hit by the way she sits or moves?

      If it’s the same part every time, I’d look into a different design of chair or at least at a different manufacturer.

    5. Cajun2core*

      I have a male co-worker who weighs about 450 lbs. He has broken a number of chairs. We have had to buy a special chair just for him. I don’t recall how much it costs but it was expensive. The chair is rated at 500lbs. He has had this one for a while and it has not broken.

    6. Ad Astra*

      My husband weighs about 400 pounds, the result of a lot of powerlifting combined with a less-than-perfect diet. He’s quite a bit harder on the furniture I am, so eventually I start to notice a difference on his side of the couch or bed. Things don’t always last as long for him, but he doesn’t break multiple chairs in a year. It’s never been a problem at work. There is no way this company is purchasing sturdy chairs if this poor woman has broken several of them already.

    7. Liz in a Library*

      My assumption is that the replacement chairs were probably not terribly sturdy.

      I will say that I personally have broken chairs with a weight around 220 lbs. My husband is almost twice that and has definitely broken a chair before, but not at work. It’s only ever been an issue with lower-quality chairs.

  13. Saurs*

    OP1, if your aim is to mitigate further unnecessary expenses, it really is best to have a conversation with the employee in which you address sourcing appropriate furniture for her. Having her input — and documenting that input — will, if nothing else, probably satisfy your boss that (a) the employee is now fully aware that the office is spending money to accommodate her (believe me, she didn’t miss it the first time ’round, though) and (b) that she’s been apprised of the specs of the new chair and has signed on, indicating that they will work for her given what she knows about her size and weight (and she’ll be an expert in that). If the boss is irritated, it’s because no one did this to begin with. Now you know. The cost of learning this falls where it should, on the shoulders of the employer and management.

    1. AE*

      I totally disagree. The employee would have to be an idiot not to know that chairs cost money. And forcing her to sign off on something like that could be illegal in some jurisdictions. And she probably has no better idea of where to source suitable office chairs than the average person, since she probably doesn’t buy office chairs for her home.

      If the boss is irritated, the boss needs to get over it. Bosses are paid to handle problems.

      1. RG*

        She’s not saying that the employee is unaware that chairs cost money. Just that this would probably go to the employee as “OK, they’re spending money specifically to accommodate me, as opposed to treating this like routine office supply maintenance.”

          1. BananaPants*

            I believe that would be the point. Because, you know, an obese woman in North America today has NO CLUE that she’s fat. We need to make sure that it’s “documented” that knows that she keeps breaking office chairs because of her weight! /sarcasm

    2. Sammie*

      Completely disagree. The employee is the expert in her own physicality. She needs to communicate her needs.

      1. ImprovForCats*

        She’s an expert on her body, but she’s not necessarily an expert on chair design or ergonomics. She might know that a certain aspect, like no armrests, would be more comfortable, but why would she know the exact specs of an office chair? I’m heavy and my mom is heavy and that’s never been something we were expected to “know” in any furniture purchase we’ve ever made.

        Unless the OP has some reason to expect something way outside the norm off regular use (which means not always sitting perfectly still and centered)–and if she does I expect she would have mentioned it–this is something the employer should be taking care of.

  14. Katie the Fed*

    Assuming #1 isn’t complete BS (and I have my doubts – how many times do you have to let this situation play out before you get this person a proper chair?) what is it that you expect to accomplish with a conversation? Obesity is a DISEASE. The odds of her permanently overcoming it herself without serious medical intervention are about as likely as me removing my own gallbladder. If you wouldn’t tell someone in a wheelchair to get over it and walk already, you don’t get to tell this woman that her weight is causing her to break too many chairs.

    1. Jen RO*

      Alison, please feel free to delete this if I’m out of line, but I think calling obesity a disease is a stretch. Yes, some people are obese because of a disease, but some of them aren’t, and I think it’s ridiculous to compare losing weight to removing a gallbladder or overcoming paraplegia.

      1. Sarahnova*

        I think, at the very least, this discussion is complicated, generally shot through with prejudice and concern-trolling, and a derail for this blog, so is probably best not had here at this time.

      2. Violetta*

        I don’t see why it would matter in this discussion but many well respected health interest groups like the American Heart Association do consider it a disease. I see your point about comparing it to paraplegia, but it’s not like a morbidly obese person “just” eats too much, either. To me it’s more like how we consider alcoholism a disease – besides the orgininal issue, it has myriad health consequences on one’s body, and we wouldn’t suggest that the treatment is as simple as just drinking less.

        1. Dan*

          IMHO, part of the “labeling” issue comes from the fact that some of this stuff is really a continuum, and we react to these labels being universally applied to the weaker end of the spectrum.

          I wouldn’t necessarily say that someone 50 lbs overweight has a “disease”, but at 200 lbs overweight, you’re talking about something much more serious than an extra doughnut.

          Like wise, my uncle is 61 and in hospice care. He is about to die as a result of complications of alcoholism and smoking. The guy hasn’t worked in years. There’s a difference between that level of alcoholism and “likes to drink too much.”

          My ex mother in law basically spends her entire non working hours inebriated. It’s way past the point of “feels good” and would likely impact her ability to find another job if it came to that. Again, this is severe enough to be a true disease.

          It’s hard to believe some of this stuff until you see it with your own eyes.

        2. Nashira*

          Just a side note, but many wheelchair users are not paraplegic. Just like I used to use a cane due to an untreated balance problem, not because of bad knees. It is best not to assume that assistive devices only serve for one disability.

      3. AE*

        Many genes have been identified that contribute to obesity. If you don’t like the disease model, then what do you call it? A moral failing?

        1. Jen RO*

          I’m not going to get into this because I’m sure Alison would not like it and it’s not really relevant to the OP’s situation.

            1. CollegeAdmin*

              I think that’s uncalled for, AE. That is not what Jen RO said, and she’s being perfectly respectful (as she always is!) – I believe you should do the same.

            2. Loose Seal*

              I think that’s uncalled for. JenRO was reminded gently about the possibility of derailing over a potentially hot topic. She gracefully bowed out of the conversation at the next opportunity, proving she is a commenter who tries to be respectful in Alison’s living room. You, unfortunately, had to throw a little fuel on the fire.

            1. CollegeAdmin*

              KT, I think that’s uncalled for as well. Alison’s asked us to be respectful in the comments section; Jen RO is doing so, but I think your comment is toeing if not crossing that line.

              1. KT*

                I stand by it. JenRo was seriously out of line questioning what health associations have stated: obesity is a disease.

                1. Loose Seal*

                  Classified as a disease in the U.S. Unless you are asserting that the U.S.’s opinions run the world, I don’t know why you think that people who are not from this country should think the way you do.

                2. fposte*

                  It’s how some *American* health associations have categorized it; that doesn’t mean it’s global, and I’m not seeing that WHO categorizes it thusly, for instance, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable for somebody in a different country not to leap on board with the AMA.

                  The other thing is that I think the meaning of classifying it as a disease isn’t necessarily what either people agreeing with that categorization here or those opposed to it here mean. It’s got nothing to do with moral hazard–there are also categorizations of smoking as a disease, after all, and I’ve seen researchers who treat crime as epidemiological suggest it for crime as well. It’s a public health problem that impairs a lot of people’s lives. Shifting thoughts about it more epidemiologically may be helpful, but it doesn’t mean that it happens to an individual out of nowhere and no reasonable prevention would be possible.

                3. CollegeAdmin*

                  I don’t see how you got “fat people are bad” from Jen RO’s comment of “I think calling obesity a disease is a stretch.”

                  However, after this comment, I’m declining to say anything further and stepping back gracefully and respectfully. We may just have to agree to disagree.

                4. fposte*

                  @KT–is that the link you meant to post? It doesn’t say that. It mentions that WHO set out a basis for the theory earlier than that but doesn’t state anything about official classification. (I also don’t know that the WHO definition would be as important in individual countries as their individual medical associations–there’s a reason Americans here are going to AMA first, after all.)

                  And, as I probably could have said more clearly, I don’t think it matters. The “disease” classification doesn’t mean that much. I’m more a behaviorist rather than a believer in free will, so I’m not talking about bootstrapping here, but “disease” doesn’t mean “nobody’s fault,” which seems to be what people are trying to use it to indicate.

                5. LBK*

                  Diseases are usually things you try to treat, cure and/or eradicate, too, so I’m not really clear on that definition’s place in this conversation. It helps garner empathy and maybe better medical coverage, but it also seems to contradict to the message I see from a lot of fat acceptance groups that obesity is not directly linked to overall health.

                6. Jen RO*

                  I rewrote this comment about 5 times already and I can’t get it to sound non-inflammatory, so I’ll just refrain. As Loose Seal pointed out, I’m not in the US, and there are major differences between my country and yours.

                  As an aside, the comments on this topic prompted me to do a bit of googling and the numbers offered by the WHO were very interesting. This tool allows you to display all sorts of statistics: https://apps.who.int/infobase/.

                7. Katie the Fed*

                  @LBK – it has relevance because it’s a question of fault. The OP implied strongly implied fault on the part of the obese coworker – otherwise why even suggest mentioning it?

                8. LBK*

                  I obviously don’t think someone should be blamed for having a disease, but when do you start to blame someone for not seeking treatment? We obviously don’t know the details of this person’s life and what she is or isn’t doing. And as others have pointed out, treatment for obesity isn’t instant; even surgeries usually require multiple phases and there have to be dietary adjustments and other changes to maintain the effects long-term. So I’m not expecting a concrete answer in this specific case, nor do I think it’s really relevant to what the OP should do since they obviously can’t just make her stand all day. But I do wonder in an open-ended sense if there’s a point where the blame pendulum starts to swing back the other way.

                9. fposte*

                  @LBK–you’ve hit on my problem with the argument over the term “disease”–the term has nothing to do with fault or culpability, so getting it doesn’t say either it is or it isn’t your fault. I think we’re still really stuck in an inappropriate binary of “fault/blameless” when it comes to ill health or disability; you can see that in the discussions of having a cold at work, for instance. But most illnesses really aren’t either completely inevitable or completely all your fault.

                  As far as your question about when you blame someone for not getting treatment (or, I’d add, being compliant with treatment)? My answer is “Never, if you’re the employer.” Either somebody’s absent beyond what you’re required to make time for or they’re not. The rest of it is Not My Business. If you’re the significant other, however, I think it’s completely a personal call that you’re free to make whenever you choose; I would, however, put it less as “blame” and more as “This isn’t a situation I can live with supporting.” That’s a fair thing to include whether there are willful problems or just plain problems.

                10. LBK*

                  Yeah, I think blame isn’t the right term and you put it nicely – that as with anything that causes a problem, eventually you’re allowed to decide that you don’t want to live in the blast radius of that problem anymore.

                  I think with obesity it’s more complicated and murky to feel like you’re doing the right thing because it seems there are conflicting messages. As I said above, we’ve got people here vehemently defending it as a disease but there’s other comments below with people saying there’s nothing inherently unhealthy about it. I’m not really able to reconcile the idea of a disease that’s not bad for your health. I think the social/physical appearance side of it also makes it a lot more complicated because it ties into so many other facets of a person’s perceived societal worth – that beyond the medical side, there’s a whole other aspect of self esteem, concepts of beauty, etc. that make it more personal for people facing discrimination than just slapping down the ADA or slapping down a scientific study.

                  I also think with a lot of similar issues that have been gaining awareness and having their public perceptions redefined (eg mental health, addiction) there’s so much less backlash to the idea of treatment. A big part of wanting these things to be defined as diseases is specifically *because* there’s a desire for increased availability and decreased stigma around receiving treatment, and that if we can change the idea that people with those diseases are bad people, that makes it easier for them to try to cope with those diseases. That doesn’t seem to be part of this movement at all, and I think it’s hard for people who still think of it as an obvious medical issue to reconcile because there isn’t really another medical issue out there where people insist on being accepted for not getting it treated.

                11. fposte*

                  @LBK–I think a lot of arguments–about health, about sexuality, etc.,–are tending to an essentialism that the situation really doesn’t bear, so I’m with you in being wary.

                  But I think the notion that if it’s a disease, people with it have the responsibility to mitigate it is a problem. It’s one thing if there’s a simple and proven mitigation–you take Synthroid if your thyroid’s dead, end of story. But medicine currently sucks at dealing with obesity–there is no simple and proven mitigation for obesity once people are obese. (I was interested to hear that the move toward prevention is working, by the way, and childhood obesity rates are dropping.) There are things that people, medical and otherwise, think obese people *should* do, but in epidemiological terms many of those things don’t reliably succeed over the long term and aren’t particularly successful interventions, and others are drastic with their own risks. So failing to adopt a mitigation that has very little chance of working isn’t so much like the thyroid thing as when I bailed on the low FODMAP diet because I was still sick on it, so why live with a huge, complicated, and deleterious restriction if it’s not likely to work? (Spoiler: I was right.)

                12. LBK*

                  That makes a lot of sense. So perhaps if there were a more straightforward form of treatment, there might be a more justified cultural imperative towards accepting that treatment – or at the very least, a more justified question of why you wouldn’t want the treatment. But as it stands now people get pushed towards a lot of things that just don’t work for them, which is understandably frustrating and leads to the “stop telling me I need to change” response. I can see it being particularly frustrating when you factor in the beauty standards aspect of the issue as well and a desire to reject the pressure to change just to be consider a valued human member of society, never mind a healthy one.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        The American Medical Association classifies it as a disease. As for my comparison – I specified “without serious medical intervention.” An infinitismally small number of people can combat obesity on their own and even fewer actually keep the weight off.

        I also didn’t compare it to paraplegia at all. You treat it like the medical condition it is – you don’t expect people with medical conditions and disabilities to just up and get over them.

        1. Sammie*

          But wouldn’t you expect them to communicate about the condition? “Hey, I seem to be having some issues with some of the office equipment—what can we do to remedy this?”

          1. Blue_eyes*

            That would be ideal, but the employee is likely incredibly embarrassed and may not know what to say or how to handle the situation. As a very fat person she has likely been judged and made to feel ashamed of her body her entire life, so voluntarily bringing that up to her employer may be completely out of her comfort zone.

            1. wholeyholy*

              I think this is a great point. I’ve found that there is a rhetoric around disability that suggests that the “right” kind of disabled person is one who is able to “overcome” their disability, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and doing anything a non-disabled person can do. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. For many people, their disability is, well…disabling. This is one of the reasons that disclosure/ accommodation conversations in the workplace are so fraught. There are a lot of feelings around “succumbing” to your disability. (Drat, foiled again!)

              Another reason is that many employers are not as accommodating as one might think or their workplace diversity literature would suggest. The last time I disclosed my disability in the workplace, I was fired within the week (this was at a top-tier educational institution–lots of lawyers). There can be real economic consequences to “forcing your employer’s hand” in terms of giving you an accommodation.

          2. Contrarian*

            And just what has not yet been communicated?
            Is there something about a broken chair that does not explain the need for an appropriate replacement?

          3. Observer*

            It really depends on the situation. From what the OP says (and does not say), I think there is a real possibility that the employee either said something and was ignored, or has reason to not say anything.

        2. Ad Astra*

          And the thing is, even if she does manage to change her lifestyle and have bariatric surgery and drop to a healthier* weight, it’s not going to happen over night. She needs a chair to sit in now, regardless of whether she stays this size.

          *We don’t know that this woman is unhealthy, and it’s not accurate to assume all obese people are in poor health, but for the sake of argument I’ll admit a lower weight might be healthier in this case.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, that’s an interesting read; thanks. I think, though, that between 2001 and 2015 some things have happened with the language and culture that they wouldn’t have anticipated, so I don’t know if the debate would go the same way now.

      5. Greg*

        Thank you, Jen. I’m tired of obesity being labelled a disease. Sure, some people have diseases that make them gain weight- that’s not their fault. But let’s not kid ourselves in a desperate attempt to remain pc- the vast majority of obese people are that way because they eat too much. Way too much. I don’t think special accommodations should be made for people who simply can’t or won’t control themselves.

        1. Loose Seal*

          Assuming that the rest of humanity sees it your way, Greg, what would you suggest this employee do? Stand? Sit on the floor? Quit? I’m a bit baffled by your comment because regardless of how or why this employee reached this weight, she needs better chairs.

          Also, compassion is not the same thing as politically correct. Try seeing the situation with the former.

          1. BananaPants*

            +1 Greg, this employee may have gotten to her weight via gluttony, but even with WLS (assuming she even wants it, can afford it, and is medically able to undergo the procedure) the weight isn’t going to magically fall off overnight. She’s going to need a suitable chair in the workplace for some time to come.

          2. Steve G*

            Calling something a disease is not being compassionate, and may actually be unproductive in this case, because you would end up looking for “cures” instead of lifestyle adjustments.

            Also, Greg’s comment isn’t about the OP at all, it is about the comment upthread that obesity is a disease.

            1. Zillah*

              I don’t think special accommodations should be made for people who simply can’t or won’t control themselves.

              This is from Greg’s comment, and it sounds to me exactly like he’s talking about the OP’s specific situation. I’m curious about how you construe that as being about whether obesity is a disease instead.

            2. Observer*

              because you would end up looking for “cures” instead of lifestyle adjustments

              Not true. For many medical conditions, lifestyle adjustment is a (or the) key modality for treatment / management.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I would just like to point out that eating too much can be as much an eating disorder as anorexia. Watch some of those fat people shows with an open mind, and then go read about the other. Because a LOT of the things they say are exactly the same. That would indeed be something a person would most likely need treatment for or at the very least, help to overcome. It’s ultimately up to them to do the work, but many people need help to get there. There are treatment centers for obese people and there are also treatment centers for anorexics (not in the same place!). And if you know anything at all about severe anxiety-related disorders, you will know that control isn’t always a thing.

          In any case, the OP’s problem isn’t to figure out why the employee is obese. It’s to solve the problem of the chair. Several commenters have made very good suggestions about that. :)

        3. Steve G*

          I concur. If I may share my perspective between living here and in Europe, I’ve noticed what have become cliché difference between Europe (specifically Czech Rep for me, and frequent travel in Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary) and the USA: 1) people here drink way too much coffee, 2) breakfast here is like 100X fattier, 3) all food proportions here are way too huge, 4) people in the US tend to eat way past the point of being full because they are guilty about leaving huge portions on a plate when they eat out 5) different cultural perspective about what is thin or fat, what Czech people consider pudgy is a lot less than here, 6) rural Czech Rep was way more walkable than in the US – wide roads, etc., I’ve seen many places in the US where all of the roads have 50mph speed limits and barely any shoulders…..,and 7) I think the American media spits out way too much information on health that is hard to put together and may lead people to overeat, because they think they need 6 meals per day, they think their metabolism will die if they skip a meal, or think they are going to die if they don’t get 100 grams of protein and 24 grams of fiber per day, which isn’t true!

        4. One of the Sarahs*

          It’s complicated by the fact that healthy food is much more expensive than cheap food, especially when you’re buying for families, and/or living in food deserts with few choices, or you don’t have a car (The fact I don’t drive means I can’t bulk-buy the cheap discounted stuff, so the same tin of tomatoes is much more expensive for me than if I could buy the special-offer tray of them. In the same way, people who live in small places don’t have space to store etc.

          And that’s just one contributing factor. There are tons of political issues that contribute to weight that are really easy to overlook IMO.

        5. The Strand*

          Hey, we’re forgetting that other things probably play a part in the rise of obesity, not just sugar or people eating large portions. It’s really not about being politically correct.

          How many American cities are car-focused, and lack sidewalks, public transportation, and shopping that is conveniently reached by foot? New Yorkers, many of whom don’t drive, tend to be slimmer than the average American – and also walk more, and also use public transportation more.
          How many American cities have food deserts in their low-income neighborhoods, where fresh vegetables and fruits are rarely available and often expensive?
          How many American schools quit offering recess, while also rolling out vending machines for Coke and Pepsi? Are average American kids spending more time on computers than being outside and active?
          How many Americans work on less than a full amount of sleep, working too many hours and not taking enough time off? (working too much and not getting enough sleep has been correlated to rising obesity; people who have sleep deficits crave and overeat carbs)
          How many Americans buy takeout most nights because they don’t know how to cook, and often don’t have time to do so because of expectations to work more hours?
          How many American businesses run A/C at extremely low temperatures during the summer months? (indeed – A/C has been studied as a cause of obesity)

          If there’s anything politically correct about these causes contributing to obesity, it’s that they lack the easy moral dimension of saying that people are gluttonous and just eating too much.

    2. Three Thousand*

      I’m curious about what you think is actually happening if you believe the question is BS. As in, could someone have just gotten a new obese employee or coworker and be unhappy about that, so they’re writing about a hypothetical scenario that honestly worries them that they don’t know what they would do about? Are they implicitly asking permission to tell an obese person to lose weight and feel they need mitigating circumstances to do that? I honestly have my suspicions about this question as well.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I don’t honestly know. I feel like it’s seeking an audience/permission for obesity-bashing.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Or, they have someone with an obvious issue and they feel bad about pointing it out or mentioning it, while, simultaneously, that same person is not accommodating their own issue and is breaking things to the point that it is frustrating.

          I would feel incredibly uncomfortable if a fat person were breaking things in my office and it was my job to manage that office. I wouldn’t want to say anything because I wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings — but I would also really really really want them to stop bouncing in the chair or leaning back or getting the obviously flimsy chair from reception and breaking it and moving on. I would want them to “get” it without my having to tell them.

          1. fposte*

            Now you’re making me think about chair use. By “leaning back” you mean “just on the back legs,” right, not just leaning backwards in a way that office chairs are supposed to accommodate?

            I wouldn’t want to single out an employee for chair misuse just because of a heightened breakage chance, though; there’s always a breakage chance when you’re leaning back that way or bouncing into a chair. Unless this person was the only one doing it, I’d make it clear across the board that these things break and we want you to use them in ways that allow them to live long and prosper; to that end, we’re happy to arrange footrests or other accommodations to allow you to sit comfortably while using the chairs properly.

            1. sunny-dee*

              Yes, I mean something outside what it is meant to do. Tilting back is normal; leaning really far back or tilting to the sides is outside the normal scope of an office chair.

    3. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Uhm. If you really want to learn more:

      Read the FAQ at thisisthinprivilege.org

      I’m not going to say more on this.

        1. Srs Bsns*

          +1 to nona. Read with a critical eye. Whoever runs this site also thinks that individuals suffering from eating disorders like Anorexia nervosa are nonetheless benefiting from ‘thin privilege’. Just… No.

          1. Knitting Cat Lady*

            that goes to Srs Bsns and nona:

            If you’re thin, you have thin privilege.
            If you’re able bodied, you have that privilege.

            It is entirely possible to have privilege on one axis and disadvantage on another.

            Also, getting someone to believe you about sexual harassment and assault is hard enough. If you’re fat, it’s a hell of a lot worse. Think ‘Yeah, right! Who’d want to touch you, fat ass!’.

            1. nona*

              My weight is the result, and most visible effect, of my chronic illness. Please do not tell me how to feel about my body. You don’t live in it.

              Again, the website has claimed that sexual harassment and assault themselves are privileges. Not that being believed is a privilege. The idea that those experiences are “better” for thin or average-weight is horrifying, so I’m out of this conversation now.

            2. Zillah*

              There absolutely is such a thing as thin privilege. However, I feel like conversations about thin privilege can often veer into demonization and bashing on both ends without recognizing that the mindset behind bashing fat women in particular is in many ways part and parcel with the idea that women exist to serve men – and while that’s absolutely worse for fat women in a lot of ways, the idea is toxic at its core to all women. When we react by internalizing the societal messages regarding size and women and attractiveness, we’re inadvertently helping to perpetuate that cycle.

              Thin privilege is absolutely a thing. But while it’s important to note disparate outcomes for different groups, no one wins the persecution Olympics. Literally no woman ever is going to feel lucky because while she was sexually assaulted, people only called her a tease and said it was her fault for drinking too much rather than mocked her because “Who’d want to touch you, fat ass!”

              This twitter post I saw recently comes to mind:

              You know how 1st world feminists get told that they don’t need feminism? They’re told that they should be glad they’re not “really oppressed” like the women in 3rd world countries. That things could always be worse.

              You know what my mother tells me? She says I don’t need feminism because I should be glad I’m born in an urban city of Pakistan. She says, at least I wasn’t born in a rural area where girls are married off to men twice their age. That things could always be worse.

              And our house maid, Shabana, who was married to her uncle at 15 and, at 18, has 2 children, she doesn’t even know what feminism is. She was told by her father that she should be glad her husband doesn’t beat her and hasn’t thrown tehzaab (avid) at her. That things could always be worse.

              Am I the only one seeing a very disturbing pattern here?

        2. Steve G*

          Urgh I just took a look at this blog. What a strange thing to create a blog about. I hate this trend in the media that anytime you aren’t being mistreated you have “privilege.” I there going to be “thin shame” soon?

          1. Zillah*

            I don’t love that particular blog’s way of addressing it, but you seem to be deeply misinformed about what the idea of “privilege” is. Privilege literally means that some groups have advantages when compared to other groups. The core of the idea isn’t focused on “shaming” people, and tbh, the fact that people often take it that way illustrates the point perfectly: it takes the focus right back to people who have those advantages.

            Some examples of privilege in the United States:

            – Having behaviors for which other groups are often censured or punished be tolerated or even rewarded.
            – Seeing your face reflected in most historical figures deemed worthy of note and current government officials.
            – Having a plethora of people who you identify with in movies, books, and tv shows.
            – Having failures or mistakes attributed to you personally extrapolated to reflect on an entire group you belong to.
            – Being able to use public restrooms and locker rooms without fear of bullying or violence.
            – Easy access to public spaces and public transportation.
            – Having confidence that doctors you speak to will take you seriously and be reasonably well-informed about your concerns.

            These are all things that some groups in the United States – and for certain examples, many groups – do not have. If you can look at that list and see things that do not apply to you, you, like virtually everyone, are privileged in some respects. If you can look at that list and think, “But that’s not about [X]” or “It depends on the person,” or “But not all people in that group have that problem,” you, like virtually everyone, are privileged in some respects – because there are broad groups for whom this is not the case.

      1. Case of the Mondays*

        Interesting blog. I realized my thin privilege when I took a seat in the doctor’s office waiting room and later realized the “love seat” I sat in was actually a larger seat for those that can’t comfortably fit in the regular seat. I would never purposely take a handicap parking space or something like that but I had no idea I was using a seat that wasn’t meant for me until I saw someone come in that needed it. Luckily, it registered before the person said anything and I was able to quietly move pretending I wanted a better magazine.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I just noticed some of those chairs at a hospital a few months ago. I thought it was pretty cool! It was un-crowded enough, and there were enough of them, that a thinner person sitting in one wouldn’t have made a difference in this case.

        2. Loose Seal*

          I think they are also perfect for parents whose children want to crowd in the same chair with them. I don’t think they are necessarily reserved for any particular person. My doctor’s office just opened a new building and every chair in the place was wider than I’m used to seeing (about what I’d call a chair-and-a-half).

          1. BananaPants*

            Yes! I had to take one of my kiddos to see a specialist at the children’s hospital recently and she was frightened. It helped a lot that the waiting area had loveseats/chair-and-a-half seating so that she could cuddle up next to me while we waited for her appointment.

        3. Anon Accountant*

          I did this too without thinking. I saw the loveseat and thought “awesome! I can sit my purse next to me instead of on the floor and have to lean over (a month after 2 abdominal surgeries)”. There was plenty of chairs and only 1 other person in the waiting area but would’ve happily taken another chair if another person needed the loveseat instead.

        4. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          Similar situation/realization. Luckily about the waiting room was empty and by the time it dawned on me I was being called back to the exam room.

  15. TheLazyB*

    Aren’t these chairs under guarantee??? Potentially not the regular ones, but surely the specialist chair? Why aren’t they going back to the retailer/manufacturer and saying ‘your chair broke, we want a replacement’. If the regular chairs were out of warranty fair enough but sounds like the new ones weren’t.

    1. FurnitureLady*

      Generally there is a weight limit on chairs that is part of the warranty statement. In the U.S. it’s generally 250lb with 8-hour per day use, so if the user is heavier breakage wouldn’t be covered.

      1. TheLazyB (UK)*

        But the specialist one, no? Presuming the employee really is under the limit for the chair.

        And I would think many places would replace it for goodwill even if the employee was a bit over. Although presumably only the first time :-/

        1. sunny-dee*

          Also, if the employee is doing something that is breaking the chairs, then it is not the manufacturer’s fault.

        2. Kelly L.*

          I think the comment upthread that the chairs may be old, might be on to something. $1000 might be what they cost initially, or what it would cost to replace them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re no longer under warranty and are run-down before she ever gets them.

  16. Mango*

    Sorry but my lawyer card is kicking in: while it is not clear that obesity is a disability under the ADA, this employer should also consider that the employee could file worker’s compensation for injuries she sustained on the job. There is no where listed that she caused the injuries herself–it just appears that she was sitting in a defective chair and it broke…and she may have injured herself. WATCH OUT!

    1. Mango*

      and even if obesity is considered a disability, you would have a great defense–as Allison mentioned–that it is a financial burden for you to reasonably accommodate this employee. While I understand the comments above about the employee’s embarrassment, it’s not OP’s job to handhold! This is apparently thousands of dollars and people are talking about taking a passive approach by continuing to spend money because of the employee’s feelings?–give me a break!

      1. Dan*

        I think you’re stretching it with the financial burden here. Actually buying a single really sturdy chair that comes with a warranty is not an undue financial burden.

          1. fposte*

            I think that’s unlikely, though. Office chairs cost, period, and that’s something organizations absorb. What’s expensive is replacing them.

            1. LawBee*

              They’re probably thinking of small establishments that operate on tight margins – the Mom and Pop type business.

              1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

                Maybe, but the ADA doesn’t kick in for tiny businesses. I mean, we’re a relatively small charity with a tight budget, and I would not see $1000 – $2000 as a major imposition to accommodate someone.

      2. UKAnon*

        Well, no. People are talking about making sure that the employee has a safe place in which to work without sustaining injury.

        “Oh, the electricity hanging out the walls? Yeah, we don’t want to spend money fixing it just to pander to people’s feelings.”

        “You mean the bathroom’s flooding? Well, don’t worry, the company doesn’t need to spend money, I’m sure you’ll get over having the water round your ankles.”

        And as Dan said, buying a chair which employees can sit in is the cost of doing business. There is nothing unreasonable about it.

        1. Mango*

          Whaaat? No that is not the issue at all. The issue is the employee’s weight causes the chairs to break….not that the chairs are defective. But your stretch of an argument is exactly why I put the worker’s comp issue above as a flag because some ridiculous employee sure enough would invoke it in this instance!

      3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        Of course it is the employer’s job to provide safe equipment and yes it is the employer’s job to not shame or embarrass and employee because the equipment the employer provided broke, for pete’s sake.

        This entire question is a softball, easy question with a softball, easy answer (buy a safe chair) and there are mountains to molehills side points being made everywhere in this thread.

        If business owners can’t take care of easy issues expeditiously, I don’t know how they’ll handle the tough ones when they come along.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          You’re completely correct. . .but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the molehills that trip us up. Project going off the rails? We get the A-team assembled and get back on track. Meanwhile, the guy next to me has been trying to get his PHONE working all week.

        2. wholeyholy*

          Your last statement made me wonder what this employee has been sitting on in the time it took to construct the question and (presumably) wait for a response.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        I don’t think you understand what “reasonable accommodation” entails. I have seen employers have to hire a sign language interpreter as a reasonable accommodation. A few thousand dollars is unlikely to be seen as unreasonable.

      5. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Wait, please don’t attribute that to me, Mango! What I said is that $1000 is NOT going to be considered an undue burden and so the employer should accommodate this employee. Also, law aside, it’s the right thing to do.

        1. Mango*

          A general office chair costs about $800 PER CHAIR–so we are not talking about $1000, we may be talking upwards of 3k if she broke “a few chairs”. That can be a financial burden definitely!

          1. Zillah*

            Well, first, the OP’s specific words are this:

            I’m not sure how to go about it, but this is getting close to $1,000 in chairs in the last year.

            We are clearly not talking “upwards of 3k” – the OP literally says that they’ve spent almost $1000 total for “several” chairs.

            Second – out of curiosity, are you closely involved in your employer’s budgeting? I ask because most people who have commented here saying that they are have also said that this would not represent undue financial burden, including people who work for fairly small employers.

      6. AE*

        Mango, the U.S. law uses the word “reasonable” accommodation, and buying a special chair isn’t unreasonable. Employers are expected to do much more than that for employees with other kinds of issues. If you are a manager and take this approach IRL, you can count on a lawsuit one day.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          US law also says that “reasonable” varies by employer – that employer’s size, capacity, etc.. I am sure that as a small charity, it would be safe to say that we cannot hire a full-time sign language interpreter for someone because that could easily cost 10% of our total budget and make us unable to provide some of our services to the community. If we were Walmart or Microsoft, it would be different. However, even for a small business, questions about reasonableness really don’t kick in at the level of chairs.

          1. AE*

            ADA law applies to companies with over a certain number of employees, so your particular organization may not have to comply with any of it.

            When an organization does come under ADA law, yes, reasonable expenses would be figured on the basis of total costs. If your organization has more than 40 employees, it can most likely afford a sturdy chair.

            1. Mango*

              AE…but even if the accommodation was reasonable to the employee, the employer can still argue that it amounts to an undue burden. Essentially, the undue burden and that could mean financially or even time and resources. I think it’s totally unreasonable to expect an organization to continually buy chairs for one employee. What if it reaches $6k?! For ONE employee? Please–stop with the madness on morality and feelings because money is money and this is a business we are talking about that has ALREADY accommodated the employee by buying more than one chair!

              1. Megan*

                I’m not sure where you’re getting the “thousands of dollars” from – OP said the number was just now, after several chairs, approaching 1k.

                It is unreasonable to expect the employer to devote time over and over to resolve this issue. What IS reasonable is to expect them to devote appropriate time and thought to it ONCE and buy an appropriate chair.

                The accommodation of buying another chair isn’t really an accommodation if it doesn’t solve the problem. What, exactly, do you propose could be done to fix the situation, morality and feelings aside?

              2. Zillah*

                As I noted to you above, the OP reports spending less than $1000 total on the several chairs. That indicates to me (and most other commenters) that they aren’t buying quality chairs in the first place. If they would do so in the first place, I can’t imagine they would reach $6000 – and even if they did, you can’t say an accommodation is unreasonable because “WHAT IF SLIPPERY SLOPE.” That’s like saying that you shouldn’t cut someone slack for getting in at 9:15 rather than 9:00 because they might just start coming in at 11 or noon. It just doesn’t make sense. If it reaches the point of an undue burden, you address it then, but you don’t address it earlier just because it might.

                Beyond that: I don’t really understand your response to AE in general. We’re talking about a chair here – while consumption of time or resources certainly could constitute an undue burden, it’s irrelevant here, because we’re talking about neither time nor resources. Additionally, unless I’m wildly misunderstanding their post, they were talking specifically about “undue burden” here:

                When an organization does come under ADA law, yes, reasonable expenses would be figured on the basis of total costs. If your organization has more than 40 employees, it can most likely afford a sturdy chair.

  17. NJ anon*

    #2 I don’t find it unusual that you don’t have a budget for office supplies, but not having a budget for an event seems off. As suggested, next time I would ask what the total expenditure range is. At Oldjob money was tight. Boss gave our “fun” committee permission to plan an employee picnic with no budget. As finance director I almost had a heart attack when I overheard them discussing ordering t-shirts and hiring a DJ! I went and asked about a budget. Boss said, “oh, yeah I guess we need to have a budget.” Needless to say, t-shirts were not purchased but the DJ was hired. I mean you can’t tell people not to spend money and then turn around and spend money!

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I’m an admin and used to plan large events with no budget. I’d give my boss estimates and he’d approve them. Honestly, I’ve been a career EA for a long time and can’t think of any times when my admin colleagues or I were given a budget for anything (except travel, but we follow federal guidelines so that’s not really a budget, it’s more like a price limit).

      1. OP #2*

        It’s easy to not be given a budget as long as you’re able to spend whatever you want. But to not be given a budget and be constantly nickel and dimed down to pennies is frustrating. In my situation, it makes planning anything a huge hassle because I have to wait on my boss to approve things, which often leads to having to reschedule the event date (among other things).

    2. Splishy*

      While an admin may or may not have a dedicated budget or discretion over it, I think she needs to at least know a price range up front that she can use for planning. Making plans for a $500 event and then being told she can only spend $200 seems stupid and inefficient. Why not just say “we can only spend about $200 on this” at the beginning?

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        This is what I was thinking- that the Op probably doesn’t mean a formal budget, just some guidelines or a range. The thing is her boss seems to not want to be bothered. One suggestion might be for her to keep a spreadsheet of what these things have cost in the past so right off the bat she has an idea and can show boss ” last year we did something similar for $x”

    3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      This is something I might do if I didn’t feel that my employee had good judgement about how much things should cost. I had an admin one time order 3 bottles of hand soap (like the little ones you put in your bathroom at home) for $42 and a bottle of dish washing liquid for $18. I am not kidding. I don’t even know how she managed to find something that should cost $3 for $42. We are a charity, for heaven sake. She was certainly within the budget for supplies that week – except that she didn’t order copy paper or toilet paper to keep from going over budget. It’s amazing how many people don’t have a clue how much things should cost. In these cases, I have to look at what the person is going to order before they orders it, and hope that, over time, they will develop a sense of how to shop prices and know when something is outrageous.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        Ever job I have ever had, the department head reviews the expense order. When I did it for my team, I never really questioned anything (but I never had $42 hand soap!!).

        In a few cases, a second set of eyes has saved my organization significant money. I was putting together training binders (11 5-inch binders) and placed an order, my boss in reviewing the order remembered that we had a box of extra binders in the storage closet. On Staples those binders are almost $30/pp!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          One of my duties at Exjob was to order supplies and inventory the supply closet. This company recycled the hell out of everything. There were office trays and rolodexes in the closet that had been there since the early 1980s. And we used them! And being in charge of shipping the small packages, I used to recycle packing materials all the time–whenever people got deliveries, I’d ask them to save the paper/air pillows, etc. (Just not packing peanuts–those sucked.) I trained everyone to bring me that stuff, and boxes.

          But maybe I was too good at stretching the tiny budget. Sometimes bosses don’t think about how much stuff actually costs. I remember getting $10 to buy Christmas decorations for the office tree from Bosswife. Even at Dollar General, that wasn’t enough!

          Now that I think about it, I should have gone to the flea market!

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            That’s awesome (well, maybe not the 1980’s Rolodex), but especially the reusing of the packing materials.

            I’m never sure what to do with that stuff, because I never ship anything!

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I figured, hey, we were getting it sent to us anyway; why buy more of it? We had way more than I could ever use!

              People are always looking for boxes–storage, moving, etc. Ask around and they’ll come get them from you for nothing. :)

        2. NJ Anon*

          I have always had to approve supply orders. We were a nonprofit so no brand name stuff when generic would do and so on.

      2. OP #2*

        Ok, $42 for hand soap is absolutely ridiculous. I would be surprised if that admin never had to pay a bill or go grocery shopping or something because you have to be really out of touch to think $18 for dish soap is reasonable. I mean, unless it was for like 5 gallons or something.

        In my case, I definitely don’t have that problem. And considering the amount of bargains and miracles I’ve pulled off with pennies, I think I’ve proven myself as a conscientious shopper.lol

    4. Shortie*

      On #2, I think it depends. If an event or supply order has happened in the past and will remain about the same the next year, it should have a budget. However, I’ve had times when as a manager, I’ve hesitated to answer the budget question because I want to see some options for changing things or want to try something completely new and have no idea what it should cost until I’ve seen those options. In other words, I don’t want my employee getting stuck on a budget number if I’m considering doing something new or different.

      1. OP #2*

        I think you’re assuming that people have kept track of things like this prior to me being there. Information is a hot commodity around my office but unfortunately it is in short supply (which tends to be typical of hot commodities…).

  18. Xarcady*

    #5. My retail job raised the lowest pay level from $8/hr to $9/hr this year. Everyone making less than $9/hr was bumped up to $9. This included people making $8.50 and $8.75–everyone moved to $9. This means that people who had been working there two years are now making the same amount per hour as a brand new hire.

    No one else got any kind of pay increase.

    In fact, after the annual reviews in the spring, even though I have only been working there a year, I now make more than one co-worker who has been there three years, which just feels odd. I mean, it’s not a lot more, maybe $0.20/hr, but it’s because we were both bumped up to $9 at the same time. (Raises in my department varied from $0.13/hr to $0.57/hr.)

    My guess is that the same will happen at the OP’s workplace.

    1. Ad Astra*

      It’s going to depend on how difficult it is to attract and retain talent to the job. If this company is competing with other companies to fill this position, $15/hour won’t cut it when the minimum wage is raised. If this company has no problem keeping these positions filled, there’s less impetus to give those employees a raise.

      It’s also possible, maybe even likely, that the company will hire new people in the same position at a higher wage without giving the experienced employees a raise.

      1. Chinook*

        “If this company is competing with other companies to fill this position, $15/hour won’t cut it when the minimum wage is raised. . .It’s also possible, maybe even likely, that the company will hire new people in the same position at a higher wage without giving the experienced employees a raise.”

        I have seen this happen in Alberta. A McDonald’s and Timmy’s near where I live at one point in the last 5 years was advertising F/T jobs at $15 an hour (I think Alberta’s min. wage is currently around $8) and couldn’t fill their positions. Now, those same places are offering $11.75 an hour for the same jobs. It is possible that next year, when all the temporary foreign workers have completed their visa terms, it could go back up to over $13/hour or jobs could continue to dry up and it could go down (or up) to whatever next year’s minimum wage is. If you are currently employed, you could threaten to walk and apply for the job next door at the higher wage, but you also risk not getting the job. Supply and demand will affect wage prices but we don’t see it often work in the new hire’s favour because supply often outstrips demand.

  19. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    Last post on #1 for me, at least for the time being, as I need to flip back to work, but here’s a RL example that’s relevant.

    Department had for the last X years been staffed by 3 men, all over 6′. Semi but not quite warehouse job. Access to everything had been planned by and for the tall men. Staffing changed over but it always worked out to be tall men. Staffing changed over again and this time, 2 of the staffers were women and one of them quite short. I never thought about any challenges but it was finally brought to my attention that they were doing semi unsafe things to try to reach different items they needed.

    Gah! Don’t do that!!

    Their boss requested approval for a very cheap, basically rubber step stool to purchase.

    Now, do I want to spend $250 unexpected dollars on a well mechanised, weight rated, rolling piece of steppy stool machinery with locking mechanisms? Of course I don’t. I’d rather spend $40 on a cheap piece of crap. But what I did was tell the boss to come back to me with a couple of other choices that cost a lot more and included safety features.

    You don’t have to go to business school though to know that the *right* answer for a business is always to spend up for safety! Worker’s comp? Lawsuit? Insurance increase? Spending up for safety is always the cheapest solution.

    1. blackcat*

      I was so happy when my department purchased library-style step stools for the labs when I complained that no one under 5’7″ could reach a bunch of stuff. They were more than the cheapest step stool option, but much easier to move (wheels!) and very sturdy (so less replacement over time).

    2. PhoenixBurn*

      Not to mention, think of the message you’re sending.

      “We care about you and want you to be safe, no matter the cost to us.” vs. “We’re going to take the cheapest way possible and hope that it’s marginally better than before.”

      Good for you for recognizing that the safety of your workers is priority.

      (I work for a very safety-conscious company. This summer, we installed ice machines and started buying bottled water by the skid for our crew – moving & storage company – for them to take with them to job sites, etc. Over $10,000 when all was said and done, but the result has been that we haven’t had a single case of heat exhaustion/stroke this year when others in our industry have had fatalities. Safety really is key.)

  20. Lynnkat*

    I would like to call out that I truly don’t believe the first OP. A close friend of mine as well as my mother have both weighed at one point over 300 lbs and never had any issues with standard office chairs other than width. I can tell you for a fact that neither has broken any office chairs where they work. My mother works in a call center where everyone shares workstations and chairs withoit issue. So unless the office is buying theirs at the dollar store or goodwill, I find it hard to believe that this person broke not one but several chairs. I read this blog daily and this is my first time commenting so sorry if this breaks any rules but this just seemed like someone looking for an opportunity to encourage fat shaming.

    1. AE*

      It’s possible that the OP is talking about someone who weighs 500 lbs or more, so you shouldn’t assume that the OP is telling lies. You may find it hard to believe based on your limited experience, but I have had exactly this same situation, so you must be calling lots of people liars.

      1. Lynnkat*

        Well the OP does say that they are looking at chairs with a 4oolb limit so I’m assuming they are under 400lbs.
        One chair breaking is an accident. Several office chairs breaking is a Jack Black (terrible) comedy.
        If the employee is doing something deliberately to break these chairs then it has nothing to with size it is a management issue that obviously needs to be dealt with. If any employee were deliberately breaking their laptop or other office equipment would it matter if they were 100lbs or 500lbs??

        1. Kelly L.*

          I’m guessing the OP might have an inaccurate estimate of the employee’s weight. People just don’t know what different weights look like, mostly because it’s not something we really talk about honestly. The employee might weigh 415 and the OP thinks she’s 315, for example.

          1. tall and fluffy*

            This. I am not someone I think most people would consider ‘obese’, but according to the BMI I am a few pounds shy of that category at the moment (and pregnant, so probably going to reach it in the next month or two, sigh). I’m 5’11” and have a good amount of muscle under the fluff that I have. So looks can be deceiving.

    2. sunny-dee*

      My dad is well under 200 pounds, but he has broken (that I’m aware of) three chairs because he leans back in them and kind of rocks, and it broke the legs.

      This employee is fat, but that could be adding awkwardness to the conversation — it could very well be that this person is leaning back in a chair or putting other stress on the base that is breaking it.

      1. A Fat Guy*

        Exactly. If at all possible, the company should treat this as an accident that could have happened to anyone and respond the same way they would if a smaller employee broke a chair.

      2. Beancounter in Texas*

        I was wondering about how the employee is treating the chair too. Is she plopping down into the chair or lowering her weight onto it?

        1. A Fat Guy*

          Depending on the person’s weight distribution and the height and style of the chair, lowering into it daintily isn’t always possible. I’m assuming OP’s co-worker isn’t taking a flying leap into the chair like a pro wrestler, but some plopping is inevitable!

          1. GOG11*

            Bahahahahahah! I do plop a bit. Unless I want to lower the seat when I get up and so that when I return I can touch the ground when I go to scoot back. Otherwise I have to hold onto the chair and hoist myself back, or I plop into it so I am properly seated. I agree, some plopping is inevitable, unless you happen to fit perfectly in your chair without any adjustments or you’re willing and able to reconfigure your seat every time you stand up and sit down (which isn’t even possible with all chairs).

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I definitely plop onto my futon (that I use as a sofa) because it’s so damn low. It’s not an expensive piece of furniture, and the plopping isn’t doing it one bit of good. But that’s okay because I hate it and plan to replace it soon anyway.

          1. Shortie*

            I do! Plopping into chairs and sofas is a pet peeve of mine because it’s destructive, so I always gently lower myself. Yeah, I may be a weirdo. :) Having said that, I also understand that not everyone can lower gently. Totally depends on the height of the person versus the height of the chair as well as physical ability.

    3. Retail Lifer*

      I work in a building that was built in 1997 and has never replaced an office chair, and the ones we started out with were only halfway decent quality. I weigh around 140 and I’ve broken one here just because it was older. Of course, I FELT like I weighed 300 pounds that day…but it was the chair. It wasn’t ME.

      1. K.*

        I broke a chair in my first job when I leaned over to pick up something that I’d dropped. I was sitting there working, dropped a pen or something, leaned over to get it, and my leaning to the side caused the seat to fall off the base of the chair. I’m a woman who’s 5’8” and about 150 pounds (in small/medium/large sizes I wear a medium). The powers that be at work were mortified, not me, because a) they knew the chair was cheap because most things at that organization were cheap, and b) given the way the chair broke, I could have really gotten hurt if I’d hit my head on the floor (hard floor, no carpet in our shared office) when I landed.

          1. K.*

            I know; my point, like Retail Lifer’s and sunny dee’s, is that while the person in #1’s weight is likely the issue, it’s also possible to break a chair for reasons that are unrelated to weight.

    4. Rae*

      As a person who has overweight friends (in the 300lbs rage)….chair breaking happens. While it’s lawn chairs and not office chairs I went out and purchased chairs that could supposedly hold 450lbs. Well, they’ve broken. Of course, my friends are mortified. It’s hard for me to understand, I’m 110lbs and can sit in my friend’s chairs meant for their children without breaking them. What I do now is take my solid wood kitchen chairs out of the house and use them on the lawn…it’s the only thing that works.
      While my friends offered to replace the chairs as a good hostess I’ve brushed it off as no big deal. Yes, internally I cringe and afterward lament the loss of yet another chair to my husband, but I don’t embarrass my friend.
      Still, it is a real issue. The money I’ve spent on the chairs means there’s less money to host other parties, to improve other parts of my house and to in general do other things. Money is finite, it isn’t in endless supply. Fortunately, my friend(s) who are overweight have been respectful and used the chairs that can hold their weight. One brought a friend once who did not, declaring she was really fine…and yep, broke a chair (only a $40 camp-style one). I think the OP is taping into this perceived sort of disrespect. Asking the question “how far do I go to accommodate” is a legitimate question at times, one which I, myself, ask.
      Now there’s a huge difference between hosting a bbq and running an office, but I don’t think feelings of both the breaker and the replace-er have that much difference overall.

      1. KT*

        But it is a huge difference. These are friends and guests in YOUR home–you aren’t expected to provide for their health. An employer has a duty to ensure their employees are safe.

        1. Rae*

          Well…I beg to differ…I AM expected to provide a reasonable level of safety, as per my homeowner’s insurance.

            1. Rae*

              Well, yes, I have a choice, but we’re talking about fat shaming and fat discrimination and this would imply that I should not invite fat people over to my house because of the liability. Overweight people have the right to have friends and do things, while I’m not legally obligated by the ADA, it’s shameful that it would be suggested that I don’t have fat friends (or any friends) over.

              My point really is that this can and does happen and you have to work to find a solution in the best way possible. A solid wood kitchen chair is not the most comfortable to work in or to sit at a bbq in, however, it is the only reasonable solution. The employer isn’t wrong with feeling frustrated with the situation, it is a frustrating situation. I work at a call center and many people frequently break the extreeeemely cheap headphones that they supply. Many of my co-workers do, too, so many have purchased expensive headphones that are compatible with our systems for $100-$200 unreimbursed. Most of these are larger men who don’t have the delicate dexterity or have a larger head size have them fall apart. While this isn’t ideal, sometimes the person has to be part of the solution disability or not.

        2. Dana*

          Now there’s a huge difference between hosting a bbq and running an office

          Right, that’s what Rae said. The point being stressed in that anecdote is that the feelings are the same–OP’s employee probably feels bad about breaking chairs and OP’s boss feels frustrated with having to keep replacing chairs.

          Because it’s an employer with a duty to ensure their employee is safe, OP’s boss needs to just spend the money on a chair with probably double the weight limit that they think the employee weighs. If they are incrementally moving up (“is she 250 lbs? try that chair” -break- “maybe she’s 350 lbs? try that chair” -break-) to try and spend the smallest amount of money, that is their own fault. Talk to her or don’t about what she needs, but at the end of the day you have to buy her a chair with or without her input and it’s going to cost you money. But if you buy a quality chair you probably won’t have to keep replacing it.

    5. Cajun2core*

      Again, as I said in a previous posting, I have a co-worker who weighs 450 lbs. has broken 3 or 4 chairs. None of them were “cheap/Walmart” chairs. We had to order him one from Staples which is rated at 500 lbs. So far he has not broken that one.

  21. PhoenixBurn*

    #5: Companies have budgets developed during the previous year for salary increases. That means that they’re allotted so much for increases across the company, and while sometimes they can plan for a minimum wage increase, it’s much more likely that they have to scale back on the planned increases to accommodate. (Or raise prices, or cut staff, or increase benefit costs…the money for the raises has to come from somewhere, and the company profits may not be able to handle it.) While, as an employee, this frequently seems incredibly unfair, it’s just one of the difficulties that has to be overcome when the government mandates a minimum wage increase.

    That being said, I see both sides. It’s frustrating for the employees to see new hires making the same as what they spent 5 years working up to, and it’s frustrating to the employer that they now can’t reward long-time employees the way that they would like by boosting everyone, but they just don’t have the budget to maintain the salary differences.

    I’ve seen companies raise everyone to minimum wage and not give anyone above minimum wage pay increases, companies raise to minimum wage and maintain the merit increases, and companies raise to minimum wage and build a process in over the next few years to help maintain salary equality. It really depends on the company – but sometimes it’s truly just driven by budget and what the company can afford.

    1. Mike C.*

      What’s incredibly unfair to the employee is 40 years of stagnate wages. Also, many companies never bother to c0onsider the fact that since folks who need it the most are making more money, they’ll spend it. Increased demand is what businesses need to survive, both large and small.

      1. Ad Astra*

        When I told my mom the salary for my second job out of college, she said, “That’s about what I was making the year you were born!”

        The year I was born was also the year that my mother, a middle-school drop-out who’d been working in a law firm, decided to go back to school because that salary wasn’t enough to get by on.

  22. Swarley*


    Salary compression is a big issue that we’re considering at my current place of employment. So it’s very possible that something like that could impact your salary. Although, as Alison wrote, it’s up to your company as to how they want to approach it.

  23. Retail Lifer*

    #5 Don’t count on getting a raise. My boyfriend’s company voluntarily raised the new starting pay to $15 (up from $10) because it’s a nonprofit that connects people with help with utiltiies, insurance, and food and they didn’t want to be part of the problem. However, no one that was making more than that got an equivalent bump in pay. Now, jobs that require a college degree and experience within his company only pay about $2-$3 more than those than don’t require either. And no one got a bonus this year (except for the handful of people that already earn 6 figures, because obviously THEY need it). This is how it works in retail, too. When minimum wage went up at a few previous jobs, those of us in middle management were handed a pay freeze and new people hired into management were paid less than the previous people (pre-wage hike). I’m as liberal as they come in every other apect, but I can’t get behind such a huge hike in minimum wage (EXCEPT for cities with a high cost of living – mine isn’t one of them) because I’ve seen how it directly screws the middle salary earners. Obviously the higher ups are still earning their millions and haven’t had to sacrifice a dime, but the rest of us have.

    1. Mike C.*

      The thing is, you’re getting screwed. I’m going to presume that you work in a traditional retail environment (not some crazy boutique selling diamond studded dog collars or something), and such businesses greatly benefit from rises in the minimum wage! They save a ton of money from decreased turnover and the increased wages overall spurs demand for the goods that are being sold in these shops – look at Costco for a textbook example of this.

      I’m not going to argue that changes shouldn’t be made slowly, but I live in a state with the highest minimum wage (WA) and it’s the highest because it’s indexed to inflation. The city of Sea-Tac has a $15 minimum wage, and so will Seattle. There have been some complaints but overall it works really well.

      1. MT*

        I really dont like when people use costco as their example of wages. First Costco business model and target audience is very different than say walmart. Costco focuses their items to a select few that have very high profit margins. Costco’s business model of paid memberships and large quantity purchasing requirements for most items limit what people will shop there.

        1. Natalie*

          You could easily compare Costco to Sam’s Club, though, which is the exact same business model but does not treat their employees as well.

        2. Slippy*

          I think when people are comparing Costco to Walmart they really mean Sam’s Club; which is a part of Walmart. Sam’s Club and Costco compete in the same space with very similar business strategies, but very different implementations of that strategy. By most objective measures Costco’s strategy is beating the pants off of Sam’s Club/Walmart’s strategy.

          1. Ad Astra*

            My town has had Sam’s Club for years, but people were so damn excited when Costco recently moved into the area. Costco’s products are better, their stores are less depressing, and their employees are friendlier. Same idea, better execution.

            1. MT*

              agreed, i have both in my town but shop at costco. But i also don’t buy everything at costco becuase some items i can get cheaper/quantity at target. Most people dont do their everyday shopping at costco just for that reason. Not to mention the limited selection of items.

            1. Mike C.*

              That’s a maximum. You’re still not going to sell common goods if you’re charging an arm and a leg for them.

              If you want an other example, how about WinCo?

      2. Retail Lifer*

        The main product we sell won’t be impacted much by the minimum wage going up, although it might help a bit. The main issue in my case is that stores in malls are just barely sqeaking by now, and many will go under if their payroll costs almost double. People might buy more, but the immediate outcome is doubled labor costs when profts are already alarmingly low. My job, and my entire section, will be eliminated if minimum wage goes up too much, and that’s not speculation. I know the budget and I know what they’re willing to pay our group as a whole. They’ve already tried tio eliminate us but they can’t do it just yet, I live in a cheap city so $15 isn’t likely going to happen here for a long time. As it is now, I can’t leave this h*llhole because I can’t find another job that will pay me anywhere near what I’m making now (only a couple bucks over $15) because the market here just doesn’t support that high of a wage here. For a low or mid-level position in many fields.

        1. wholeyholy*

          I guess that raises the question of whether or not they’d like to cut into big payouts at the C level, or go out of business entirely.

          1. Retail Lifer*

            A lot of brick and mortar stores will just go out of business and take everything online. That makes complete sense from a margin perspective, but it will kill jobs. There are hundreds of people working in my mall and the majority of us are only here because we can’t find any other jobs. If expenses are raised, that’s it for us.

            1. wholeyholy*

              Why aren’t they just doing that now then? Whatever mid-levels are making now is > $0. The costs of mid-level management may disincentivize brick and mortars (*may*, I just don’t know whether or not that’s true), but corporations also have economic incentives to keeping brick and mortars open (impulse buying, customers more comfortable with purchases they can test/ try on, branding/ presence, ect.) or they wouldn’t do it.

        2. Dana*

          I don’t really know enough about the situation, but it seems like if your company is barely squeaking by now, there’s something already wrong because a wage hike shouldn’t cripple a business.

          My boyfriend owns a store that employs people at minimum wage. Recently in our state they passed a minimum wage hike. It’s incremental, and round one was implemented last year (roughly a 10% wage increase). It’s literally not impacted the bottom line in any meaningful way. However, the cost of the product being sold was raised slightly before the wage hike came about because of the cost of materials going up. In my opinion, it’s the job of a business to constantly be evaluating the price they sell their product at and make sure their bottom line is not in danger. You should be able to function if you had to pay workers’ comp, wage increases, etc.

          Now, would doubling the minimum wage cripple his business? Absolutely. He told me when people around us were picketing for the minimum wage to be doubled that if that happened, he would shut his doors the same day. But a 10% increase last year and other future increases? That’s like if you got really busy and had to hire extra people. That shouldn’t damage your business model.

          1. Retail Lifer*

            If minimum wage goes up a dollar or so, it won’t affect us. We’re already paying about a dollar more than minimum, and most stores here are paying around the same for starting pay. The problem is if we go from voluntarily paying $9 and change (minimum here is right around $8) and then being forced to pay $15 or so. I’ve gotten two decent raises since I’ve been here and now I’m on the chopping block because they’re paying me “too much.” By “too much” I mean salary costs affect the manager’s bonus, so he tries to get the lower management team fired every couple of years so he can go back to paying base pay and taking home a bigger bonus.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            A lot of retail chains have brick and mortar locations with barely a profit because they’re competing with their own online shoppers

        3. Mike C.*

          But the people running your workplace are completely ignoring the increase in demand that comes with such a wage increase.

          1. Retail Lifer*

            The product we sell won’t be affected much by any wage increase, and my specific department already operates at a loss.

      3. AnotherAlison*

        Mike C – you seem to be educated on this topic. I have trouble seeing how it works. Based on entry level mechanical engineering wages, with adjustment for inflation, my new hires are making what I made 15 years ago. Adjusting with respect to minimum wage, they make approximately 4.4x min wage and we made 4.4x back in my day, too. If minimum wage goes to $15, they would make about 2x min wage. I’m not in a high COL city. Have other wages increased respectively in Seattle?

        I do think minimum wage is a tough thing. My family has never had to get by on it, and I have appreciation for those who do, but a blanket increase to $15 really does limit the range of differentiation between career types and education/skill levels. While earning 2x minimum wage with growth potential is worth it, it’s difficult to figure out how to pay say, our entry level administrative people who are in the $15-$20 range now. If we raise them up, the complaints just go up the chain. That’s what they’re seeing at Gravity Payments, which is a much bigger increase than $15/hr, but my thoughts on this have been that that is what would happen.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          (Another point worth mentioning in my business is that wage increases go directly into the price our customers see–all labor–so there’s little chance we would get an across the board increase greater than 6-8%, no matter what would happen with minimum wage.)

          1. Mike C.*

            To that I would say that decreases in turnover and less stress about financial issues would lead to better performance, better efficiencies and over time more customers due to that and the greater velocity of money.

        2. Natalie*

          One thing that jumps out immediately is your analysis might not go far back enough. Low level wages have stagnated since roughly the mid-70s, so comparing 2000 & 2015 is comparing 2 stagnant wages. You’d have to look at entry level wages from probably 1970 or earlier.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I can only go back to 1986. . .
            But, I think our wages are just about as flat as minimum wage. I wish I had 1970 data for eng.

            Year Min Wage Eng Entry CPI Adj Min CPI Adj Eng
            1986 3.35 13.46 – –
            2000 5.15 22.59 5.26 21.15
            2015 7.25 31.25 7.29 29.31

            Engineering entry-level wages are slightly ahead of inflation now, but slightly behind in 2000. Minimum wage was $1.6 in 1970 and .75 in 1955. If we go by the “rule of thumb” to keep pace with inflation of doubling every 15 years, minimum wage is historically close to that. Engineering wages are the same. Maybe I picked a bad industry to work in, and that’s probably true. I imagine an ME was a lot more valuable to society in the fifties than today, with the space race and build out of infrastructure.

        3. Mike C.*

          I don’t have data organized in such a manner, but I will say that we have a ton of high end jobs coming into the area. First Boeing, then Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and tons of assorted suppliers and start-ups. Unemployment is lower than the national average in our population centers. And remember, all of these increases are done in steps and then pegged to inflation, so it’s really not that much of a shock.

          If we raise them up, the complaints just go up the chain. That’s what they’re seeing at Gravity Payments, which is a much bigger increase than $15/hr, but my thoughts on this have been that that is what would happen.

          If people are going to be bitter and upset that someone they see as beneath them is “making too much money”, that sounds like an opinion they should keep to themselves.

        4. Anx*

          “but a blanket increase to $15 really does limit the range of differentiation between career types and education/skill levels.”

          -As someone who only makes a decent wage because my employer pays a premium for a bachelor’s degree, I’m very protective about that edge I have, especially because I earn far less than a minimum wage worker with full-time hours. So I completely understand that perspective.

          But the thing is, should an employer be paying for my skills and education, or what I can do for them? They aren’t obligated to compensate me for my experience or education unless it benefits them directly.

          Also, I would move into a full-time, so-call ‘low-skill’ minimum wage job in a heartbeat because I’d still be making more than I do now. I have a difficult time finding a job that matches my skill-set and offers enough hours. And I’m far from the only one. Many educated, skill workers are working in jobs that don’t reflect their skills or passions and don’t pay more or much more than minimum wage. So those wage increases may end up going to people with similar skills and education than those higher wage workers. Of course, within a single organization this pattern is probably less common.

          1. Megan*

            “But the thing is, should an employer be paying for my skills and education, or what I can do for them? They aren’t obligated to compensate me for my experience or education unless it benefits them directly.”

            They certainly aren’t, but if your skills are in any way competitive, it behooves them to pay fair market value for your skills and education, lest you find greener pastures.

      4. Ad Astra*

        Middle-wage workers are getting screwed because their companies are greedy. At least with a higher minimum wage the lowest-earning workers have a shot at keeping a roof over their heads and putting food on the table — things that are literally impossible to do on the current minimum wage without help from government programs and charities.

      5. Retail Lifer*

        Costco succeeds becaise the CEO takes a $500,000 salary, not millions, and he spreads the wealth around. My current company, and every other one I’ve ever worked for, takes the opposite approach. When costs go up, we peons get our wages frozen and lose out on bonuses but they continue to get both. Doubling entry-level wages* will come out of my pocket, not theirs.

        *Again, the cost of living in my city is nowhere near that of Seattle. You can also buy a house in the ‘burbs or a condo in the city here if you make $40,000. So $15 makes sense there, but not here.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I don’t see $15 wages happening in lower COL places. That’s been coming out of places like NYC. Here, minimum is $7-something, but I can’t see it going much over $9 or $10, tops.

    2. The Cosmic Avenger*

      A CEO, a tea party member, and a union worker are sitting at a table holding a plate with 20 cookies. The CEO immediately grabs 19 of the cookies, then turns to the tea party member. “You better watch him,” with a nod toward the union worker. “He wants a piece of your cookie.”

      1. Mike C.*

        Without getting into the specific politics of the issue, there is a good amount of fighting over the crumbs going on at large when these discussions happen.

      1. Retail Lifer*

        I’ve seen this posted a lot, but the fact is that there is no fight to win. If expenses get any higher, we shut down and all the business moves online. No one NEEDS the mall anymore, and the businesses that are still here are hanging by a thread.

        1. Loose Seal*

          So, are you saying one shouldn’t ask for more money because it might shut down the business?

        2. Windchime*

          Huh, I would think that if all those mall workers started earning a living wage, they might be able to….shop at the mall? I can imagine the things I would do if my wage went from $7.50/hour to $15.00:

          –Buy an occasional lunch at the mall during my lunch break, instead of packing one
          –Be able to shop a sale or two (couldn’t afford that before!)
          –Get a cookie from Mrs. Fields on my afternoon break
          –stop off at the grocery store on the way home for a gallon of milk and some chicken (instead of relying on the food bank).

          Paying people a living wage is a good thing.

        3. Kelly L.*

          Slightly off topic. If you have any pull with the higher-ups: The reason I shop online, when I do, is not to save money. It’s because I’m sick of being hard-sold for twenty minutes anytime I want to buy something. This has gotten drastically worse over the last 10-15 years. I know the employees don’t want to be doing this. I don’t want the card. No, really, I really don’t want the card. I pinky swear I don’t want the card. I do not want to fill out the gotcha-survey where everything but a 5 is a fail. I know I can just say no, and I do, but I feel terrible because I know the employee can get fired if not enough people do these things. And the alternative is going online, which also leads to lost retail jobs. Something is broken in the business model right now.

        4. Megan*

          How would that work for businesses like fast food, then? There are some models that just won’t work as an online business.

  24. Swarley*

    I can imagine that’s incredibly frustrating, but not all companies operate this way. Reasonable companies will look at adjusting their salaries maintain internal equity, and also make sure that pay aligns with the market. Obviously the dollar value of a middle manager will be higher than an entry level employee, etc. But either way, I don’t think it’s an argument against raising the minimum wage. $7.25 an hour (I know some states pay more) is not a living wage.

      1. Retail Lifer*

        $7.25 an hour in ANY state is certainly not a living wage. No argument there. But there are entry-level employees here (in a low cost midwestern state) that are demanding $15 an hour. I’ve been in the worforce for 20+ years and have a college degree and *I* have trouble finding a job that makes that much. Unfortunately in my industry (which I’ve been trying in vain for half my career to escape from), damn near ALL companies work that way.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I assume that many of these groups in lower-COL areas are demanding $15/hr in the hopes of actually getting something more like $10/hr.

            1. Mike C.*

              Even if it isn’t, there are things like the amount of time it takes to kick in (say dollar/year) that make the number take on a different light.

        2. Swarley*

          I agree with you there. It’s definitely a situation where you place a dollar value on the work, and $15/hr doesn’t always make sense for every position.

  25. Macedon*

    #1. Consult with the employee over suitable accommodations and perhaps ask for furniture suggestions. She has to have chairs at home. Surely that same brand produces one half-formal looking chair for her to utilise on the office daily.

    In your conversation with her, present this situation as your office’s failure to have truly accommodated her so far and apologise for this oversight — the end goal here is to solve an equipment issue and to preserve as much of her dignity and self-esteem as possible. The chairs, not the person, are the problem.

    After suitable accommodations are made, you can consider having a chat with her if she’s still breaking chairs she helped pick. Don’t try to “investigate” what she might be “doing wrong” to the chairs until you’ve given her the benefit of the doubt by bringing in a chair that meets her self-declared needs. I’ll be honest, the tone of your letter indicates that your boss isn’t the only one who’s growing irritated — it’s on you if you want to take on that degree of misplaced negativity, but don’t let it show in your dialogue with her.

    1. nona*


      The employee has to already have a solution to this at home. You might be able to buy the exact same thing for her desk.

  26. KT*

    #1 just makes me so, so sad that there are people out there who would view this poor woman with resentment.

    How do you expect this conversation to go? I’m genuinely curious. Because all I can think of that you’re getting at is “Sansa, you’ve broken 2 chairs. We cannot provide you with any more chairs, so either get gastric bypass (which we don’t pay for and your insurance doesn’t cover) so you lose weight or sit on a concrete block”.

    I’m sure she’s mortified. I’m sure she’s scared what people are saying, I’m sure she’s scared she’ll break a chair and get hurt.

    Where the heck did empathy go?

    1. nona*

      You’re reading a lot into that.

      “Sansa, we’re looking into buying new chairs that are safer. What kind works for you at home?”

      1. KT*

        That’s absolutely what SHOULD happen, but it’s not how it came across as the conversation the OP’s boss wants her to have.

        1. Erin*

          Yeah, I was about to agree with nona because there are ways to have a decent, empathetic conversation with her about it, but you’re right. OP specifically says, after mentioning her boss is pissed, “Can we address the money being spent on the chairs.”

          I would completely leave money out of it, 100%. In fact I’d even act like money is no object. Because as I said in my main comment, it’ll be worth it in the long run anyway to buy an expensive, long-lasting chair than to continue to buy replacements over time.

          1. nona*

            Yeah, I think you’re right about this.

            Maybe I didn’t read into it enough, lol, if I missed that.

            1. Erin*

              I have to keep scrolling up through all the comments to go back to the actual post, like now *what* did they actually say? =P

    2. Rae*

      I think people get compassion fatigue, especially when there’s a solution in place. I’m underweight and have a hard time keeping weight on. I work in an open office (oh yay…not) and so I eat all day. I am very fortunate to sit next to an understanding co worker who is extremely kind, and they’ve now put me deep in a corner where I’m less visible. Before, I was in an open room with people who have a hard time managing weight the other way (who are normal or slightly overweight) who declare my constant eating is detrimental to them because they see it (not hear it, mind you, see it) from several “pods” away. I’m perfectly fine with being relegated to a corner so as not to be told that I’m doing something wrong, or to be scoffed at for ordering a burger or eating pizza. I can’t tell you how many times the company’s wellness center has done health fairs and told me that I don’t have a real problem (and get out of the way for people who do).

      There’s a range of weight that’s considered acceptable (normal to mildly overweight) and a set of issues (minor anxiety, kid teething, puppy piddling on the rug, etc) that are permissible, but if you step out of those bounds then the empathy seems to end.

      1. Erin*

        That is really interesting. I can’t believe they’re hiding you away because you’re eating at your desk frequently. Although before following this blog I had no idea people got so riled up about people eating at their desks in general.

        If it were me, I’d see it as a blessing in disguise to not be front and center in an open office. =P

        1. Rae*

          Ohhhh yes, I can’t tell you how much I am grateful for my seat. There’s a vent that spews dust onto my desk on a daily basis triggering asthma symptoms but I take meds rather than sit out in the open again.

      2. Ad Astra*

        That’s really weird. I have a very hard time keeping my weight down, but someone eating near me has zero affect on my ability to lose weight. I’m a little jealous of people who can snack all day (though it sounds like it’s not exactly a blessing in your case), but it’s not like they’re making my life any harder.

        Some people are just plain rude.

        1. Rae*

          Way, way too many millennials with “hurt feelings” is the problem. Which is why I’m now seated next to someone in their late 40’s.

          1. Diluted_TortoiseShell*

            Actually the Boomers I sit next to are the most gossipy, easy to offend people I have ever met in my life. It has nothing to do with them being boomers though. I’m sure if I were sitting next to Millenials it magically would be because they are Millenials though ….

            1. Rae*

              I find those over 40 infinitely easier to work with than those 30 and below. I’m 31 and I tend to loathe those folks. They tend to need exorbitant praise, ridiculous hand holding, they love really stupid “team building” and tend to demand post-work social interactions.

              1. Helka*

                Funny, that’s my late-Boomer and early-GenX coworkers here. Most of the Millenials want to come in, do their jobs, and get out at the end of the day. The older folks are the ones constantly having social hour and getting absurdly drama-queeny over any kind of correction.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        That’s just stupid. Why would you eating affect them at all? Talk about drama queens. Jeez. I want to stand next to them now, slowly eating a corn dog and squirting a farty ketchup bottle on it every bite while maintaining creepy eye contact.

        1. mno*

          Considering the frequency of commenters sharing how the *sound* of eating is a huge problem, then yes it can affect them. Not sure there is a solution other than learn to live with it.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I have a hard time believing they ALL suffer from misophonia, especially since they’re saying that they can see her food (and presumably want it), not hear it.

      4. Observer*

        Before, I was in an open room with people who have a hard time managing weight the other way (who are normal or slightly overweight) who declare my constant eating is detrimental to them because they see it (not hear it, mind you, see it) from several “pods” away.

        Oh, gag! I’ve got a weight problem. But I cannot imagine telling someone that they need to not eat because of that. What on earth!?

  27. Erin*

    #1 – Since your boss is not happy about this, if you feel comfortable, I would show her this post with Alison’s answer. She’ll at least know you are actively looking into how to handle this situation.

    If you do end up speaking to the employee about it, I was emphasize the safety part of this. And as another commenter mentioned, get her input. She’ll probably know what will best work, and I do think it would be worth it to spend more money on one, decent chair you know you can count on than to continuing buying endless replacements.

    How about, “Kylie, obviously a lot of chairs have been broken recently. I’m not so much worried about the cost of the chairs as I am your safety. Clearly, we don’t want you getting hurt on the job, both because we care about you, but also from a legal standpoint. I’m getting ready to order you a new chair, and I really want to make sure it’s the right chair. Do you have any suggestions or input on what type of chair would be best? Or maybe we could look at the options together?”

    #3 – That is certainly unusual, but I wouldn’t read too much into it. He could have family in the area, he could be trying to get away from his own family for a day because they’re driving him crazy and this opportunity came at the right time, he could have a business meeting somewhere else a couple days after and had to travel anyway, who knows.

    1. CollegeAdmin*

      I like this response for the most part, but I’d leave the part about the cost and the legality. Just focus on making sure she is safe and comfortable.

      Also, I’d email this to her. If she is, as Alison suggested, mortified by this, this is not a conversation I’d think she’d want to have in person.

      1. Macedon*

        I’d say it would be better to drop her a line or inform her there will be a conversation about this, so she has a few moments/hours/??? to compose herself — butr I wouldn’t suggest having the chat with her over e-mail, because people tend to be far more self-aware about what they put in (digital) ink, and she’s likely to be even more mortified. If this conversation can happen with a chill OP who doesn’t make a big deal out of her accommodation needs – doesn’t extend too much sympathy or looks down sternly – that’d be ideal.

        1. CollegeAdmin*

          Mm, point. I guess what I was aiming for is that this should not be a surprise conversation – I was thinking email because you have time to think through and prepare your response, but even a heads up before the meeting might suffice.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          If you do, be careful how you word the email! There’s no reason to freak her out. I wouldn’t put, “Hey we need to chat about the chair issue,” because she might think, “OMG I broke chairs and now they’re going to fire me!”

          I’d say, “Hey we’re looking to order new chairs and I wanted to get your input on what works best for you. I’ll be by at 2 to meet with you.”

      2. Erin*

        Fair point. One of my jobs is for a financial group, and we constantly talk about legalities constantly (with FINRA) but I suppose that probably isn’t the norm in other office cultures.

  28. Minimum Raise Impact*

    Check out this article on minimum wage raise impact. (http://www.businessinsider.com/dan-price-gravity-payments-employees-leave-2015-7)

    The guy who raised the minimum salary at his company to $70k had several key employees quit. Frankly, if I was originally making $75k and someone making $40k got a $30k raise and I got zilch (or close to zilch) I would quit in a heartbeat. The exception would be if everyone got a similar raise (like a curved test but in a real world application).

    Otherwise, it’d be like poo-pooing on all the hard work and effort I put in (and years of experience, potentially) to get to that $75k. It’s not just an arbitrary number – I started at $40k myself 7 years ago (maybe, this is all theoretical). But, now, I’m basically an entry level employee all over again? That’s a bunch of BS in my opinion.

      1. Rae*

        Not really, it will just mean more automation. My husband reads tech blogs and there are already several companies poised to offer near-complete retrofitting for automated fast food. Some companies have showcased this in other countries where food safety standards are not followed well b/c of cultural norms and have had well-run fast food places with only 1-3 staff during dinner rush when 8-15 were needed previously.

        1. Natalie*

          This isn’t new. Large households used to have a paid staff to do chores that machines do for us now (cooking, laundry, etc). The economy will adjust and new low wage jobs will open up, maybe at fast-food-robot-factories.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Fast food robot factories will be automated. Manufacturing isn’t my field, but power plants are. The ones we build now take half (or less in some cases – some have no full-time onsite operators) the number of people to run (per MW) as the ones we built in the 50s-80s, and they’re higher skilled jobs. You won’t likely have a bunch of guys packaging stuff for $15/hr, you’ll have a higher paid guy monitoring the control panel to make sure the packaging machine is working.

              1. Natalie*

                There’s multiple reasons the auto industry collapsed in Michigan, but automation is not a significant one. Cars are still largely built by people, many even in the US – it just happens in union-unfriendly states in the South now.

            1. Natalie*

              Then they’ll do some other low-skill job. Clean the robot factory floor or something.

              My point is that automation of some form or another has been happening since humans invented the pointy stick. It hasn’t led to mass starvation of the poor yet, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to magically start happening now.

              1. AnotherAlison*

                There is plenty written about the tipping point for technology, automation, and employment. People wrote that 100 years ago, too, so it’s nothing new, but I don’t agree with the argument of “it’s never happened yet, so no worries.” There are things happening now that we’ve never seen before, as far as population and urbanization of the planet. Our history of the employee/employer relationship is fairly brief. 70% of the global population were peasants in 1950 (LA Times). I think we’ll all be just fine in the near term, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly that the future is rapidly changing.

          2. Rae*

            Well, yes, but there’s a whole different economy now, and those who used to work as domestic help are still doing “grunt” work, except now they are doing it not knowing where their next meal will come from or if they an keep a roof over their head. While I’m not suggesting we go back to a time of domestic servitude, their were many who had it much better in that state than people today because an employer had a vested interest in keeping a servant well, while McDonald’s doesn’t care if you get hit by a bus. (much like the factory and construction workers of the same era)

            1. Natalie*

              I think your over-romanticizing the condition of the working poor in the past. Plenty of people worked their servants like pack mules, and could get away with it because household servants were utterly dependent on a good reference from their employer.

              Regardless, my point is that automation is not a brand new thing caused by this minimum wage increase. We’ve always lived with it, and the way to deal with the disruptions is not to leave the wage floor at a 20 year old level.

        2. Loose Seal*

          There might be more automation if, and only if, customers enjoy using it. We were out of town a couple of weekends ago and were commenting that every fast food place we stopped in had automated drink stations and how customers have adjusted to that and most might even prefer it as they know their drink will be made to their specifications. So that’s a cost-saving mechanism that works. But if a fast food place tried to replace a cashier with a self-serve kiosk, I’d think it would be mayhem. I’m imagining my mother getting all flustered and pushing all sorts of buttons and not knowing how to backtrack. She’d get upset and never go into that place again.

          Automation is coming, no doubt. But it will be driven by technology innovations rather than economic savings and it will have to be introduced slowly so that the public can get used to it.

          1. Rae*

            Everything is driven by economic savings, especially technology. I don’t think it will be introduced all that slowly, either, if wages get boosted too high there will be a scramble to reduce costs, and that will be on the backs of the lowest wage workers.

        3. Mike C.*

          The automat has already come and gone, and there are plenty of restaurants in Seattle that are already paying the full $15/hour early and are making it work just fine.

          1. Rae*

            Well, that’s just Seattle…and there are other issues going in in Seattle…like people needing to drive an hour to waitress for that golden $15. Plus, it’s not a big enough market to quite see the impact and it is an area that is supported by both tourism and a strong tech economy already. That’s like saying we should do something because it works in Norway.

            1. Mike C.*

              In -N-Out Burger is all over the Southwest and they start people at 10.50/hour.

              Also, many states have comparable populations to Norway, so it isn’t that terrible of a comparison based on size alone.

        4. Splishy*

          The factory of the future will consist of two employees: a man and a dog. The man’s job will be to feed the dog. The dog’s job will be to keep the man away from the machines.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I’d like to agree with you. I mean, from a completely non-analytical POV, we think the CEOs are overpaid and corporate profits are too high, so there’s room to trim some fat there and spread it to all.

        Maybe this would work, but I have concerns in my industry. I noted up above that my business is 100% labor (engineering services). Our business is competitive enough already, and you would need all the businesses in the industry to raise their prices. So, my competitor down the road who has engineering staff in India, Thailand, and China can push more of the US-located design work to those guys, and still provide a lower price to clients. We might do the same, whereas we’re 99% US-based now. Obviously offshoring and outsourcing is an old strategy and the arguments for and against have been made, but overall, the problem I see is that you can’t send most minimum wage jobs abroad. You can replace them with technology, but right now the breakeven on technology vs. wages is probably still favoring labor. You want the “rising tide to lift all boats” but as you move up the ladder, different types of jobs can be more easily moved. It’s not necessarily linear. That’s my concern.

        1. Rae*

          Oh yes, China is no longer the cheapest place for some labor so you see more things coming out of India and other countries. Those economies are devastated, and we’re none the wiser. There’s already billions of dollars in the global logistic markets and people who find ways to shave pennies off of every transaction that add to millions. Anyone who’s seen an actual rising tide knows it doesn’t lift all boats…it lifts the boats that have been tethered in a way that they are free to make the move. Those boats that don’t have enough rope….well they sink.

      3. Bend & Snap*

        Like I said, it may take a bit to correct, but traditionally low-paying work is not going to cost the same as higher-paying skilled work in the long run. It changes the market value of those skills. You’re not going to have an accountant making the same as a janitor because of the wage hike.

      4. fposte*

        I do wonder if there are researchers who track the cost-benefit ratio on such improvements, just as they track them on safety features, etc. It’s true that every single time there’s a rule or law put into place that gives workers more, people claim that it will mean losing jobs, and it’s countered by the theory that it’ll self-correct or the overall benefit is still greater. But presumably it doesn’t work exactly the same way every time, so which changes have conferred more benefits?

        I’m thinking, for instance, that my university lost a ton of graduate jobs after graduate students unionized and bargained for higher standards for pay and benefits; I get their point, but I’m not sure that was an overall gain.

    1. LBK*

      While I understand the frustration, the basic arguments break down as such:

      1) No matter how non-skilled someone is or how little experience they have, working a full-time schedule and not making enough to survive is just not right. Period. Having bootstrapped your way to success shouldn’t make you look at others and say “You should go through the same shit I had to go through,” it should make you say “Wow, no one should ever have to go through the shit I went through because it sucked and humans shouldn’t be subjected to pinching pennies and working multiple jobs just to put a roof over their heads and food in their mouths.”

      2) There’s a skewed perception of value for anyone making over minimum wage because average wages have stagnated so much; realistically, you should probably have been making a lot more too, but relative to the low wages your salary seemed fine before. If anything, you should be upset with your employer because you’ve been getting invisibly low-balled on your salary as well – not at your coworkers who just want to be able to pay their rent every month.

      1. Rae*

        Then again, is it wages that are the problem or rents? I live near a major city where over 10,000 units of housing are being built and ready for the next 3 years. Not one of them will be available to middle income, never-mind low income people. They are all luxury and semi-luxury units with average estimated rents ranging from $2,400 for a one bedroom semi-loft to over $5k for more.

        The raising of the national minimum wage is only going to make this problem worse. Salaries can go up higher and higher but so long as housing keeps going crazy it will never, ever be enough.

        1. LBK*

          I live somewhere like that too (maybe we live in the same city!). I agree rent prices are absurd and a huge problem as well, but I don’t think it’s an either/or problem or solution because that aside, minimum wage still isn’t livable for many people even if you manage to secure cheap housing – particularly people in their 20s that are trying to simultaneously pay off student loans. That doesn’t even touch the issue of lower classes that can’t get those loans in the first place to get education they need to break into higher paying jobs.

          1. Rae*

            Well, I disagree, lets say you could rent a 2 bedroom apartment with decent public transit for $600 (and not $1200 or $2400) We’ll say utilities are $200. Splitting costs with a roommate and working at minimum wage with 30 hours a week minus taxes we can estimate about $780 on the normal 4 week month. With $400 of that to living it’s still very, very hard but that’s do-able for someone with no educational loans. For someone who’s earning around $11 take home they get around $1600 a month so they can afford to pay their $400 school bill, $400 in rent and the extra money needed for spiffier outfits.

            Housing prices are insane. They are a bigger problem than wages or healthcare or any of the other issues.

            1. Ad Astra*

              I don’t think there’s any place where you could find a two-bedroom home for $600 that also has good public transportation.

              1. Rae*

                And therein lies the problem. Rent for a 2-bedroom apt with good transport is more like $2400 or even $3600. That means to *really* keep up minimum wage would have to be more like $25 an hour, not $15. $15 doesn’t really solve anything.

                1. AnotherAlison*

                  So in reality, what are people doing? You can get into a BR apartment where I live for $800, with utilities covered by the rent, so this can work. It seems what I really see is more people living together, someone in the group is earning above minimum wage, or they have kids and get government aid. The other group of minimum wage workers are younger people living with their