banning smelly foods at work, shaking hands when you have a cold, and more

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

1. Shaking hands when you have a cold

A question you posted the other day about shaking hands got me thinking. This isn’t a discrimination question, but possibly an etiquette one.

A coworker that sits in the same cube bay as me, Ann, was talking to another coworker, Fergus, and decided to introduce me in the hallway the other day. I shook his hand, we had a brief conversation, and then I was leaving. As I was doing so, Ann said “be sure to wash your hands as Heather’s been battling a cold” (she knew this from sitting near me). I was totally embarrassed. I honestly hadn’t thought to not shake his hand, and it wasn’t overtly obvious I was sick anymore. Fergus looked at me like I purposefully infected him!

Today, I’m in a meeting with (yet another) cold. This time I didn’t shake people’s hands and said that I had a cold (the cough is obvious). I feel like I got even weirder looks by doing this. What is the right way to handle this?

Ann was being a busybody, but there’s no reason for you to be embarrassed. It would have been fine for you to speak up and say, “I’m not contagious anymore or I of course wouldn’t have shaken your hand, Fergus.”

In the meeting, it sounds like you handled it pretty normally — you explained you had a cold and didn’t shake. I can’t explain the weird looks you got, unless they weren’t actually weird looks. Maybe they were looks of sympathy or looks of panic from people who worried they’d gotten too close. (I have been known to react waaaayy too dramatically to hearing that someone in the same room as me has a cold, and I’m not the only one.)

2. Banning smelly foods at people’s desks

My staff are busy so I do not discourage them from eating at their desks. My problem is the type of food. For example, kebabs are smelly and the smell lingers throughout the afternoon, and if dropped on desks can stain! We don’t have enough room for a designated eating area, so their desk is the only option. Do you think that banning certain food is unreasonable?

It’s not inherently unreasonable to tell people not to eat foods with especially strong smells in areas where others will be impacted. However, the danger here is that often the foods that people consider unpleasantly smelly are ones from other cultures (which “smell” to them because they’re less familiar) — which can lead to you in effect telling people of ethnicity X that they can’t eat what they want, while everyone else can. So watch out for that in the way you implement this. More here.

3. Asking for a more senior title from a job that approached me

I currently work as a program officer at a nonprofit; I have held that title in two different jobs for the past four-five years. Recently, I was scouted by a recruiter. The recruiter stated that an organization (which is quite similar to the one where I currently work) is looking to hire a program officer, and would I be interested in applying? Initially I wasn’t, because it was the same title and same general responsibility level as my current job. But then I learned the salary range, and realized that this new organization pays much better. So, yes, I’m interested.

My question is: although the salary is better, the title is the same and the job responsibilities are, quite honestly, a bit junior to my level of skill and expertise. Looking at the resumes of people who are also program officers at this organization, I think I would be older and more experienced than they are. I really don’t want my next move to be a lateral one; I’d prefer to move up the ladder and be a senior program officer.

Is it appropriate to say this to the organization that scouted me? I acknowledge that I haven’t gone through the interview process yet, and may learn that the job is more demanding that it looks on paper. Even so, I’d really like to have a more advanced title in my next job, and I wonder if this is something I should bring up at the beginning of the interview process. Since they reached out to me, I feel like I have more leverage than if it were the other way around. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’d wait until you’ve learned more about the job, since after you learn more, you might realize that the title doesn’t make sense for the role. Also, you’ll have more leverage to convince them to give you a better title once they’ve already interviewed you and decided they want to hire you — that’s the time to try to negotiate for this sort of thing. But if you get an offer, at that point it would be reasonable to try to negotiate the title.

4. Turning down part-time work

I recently applied for a full-time position at an institute that had listings for my skill set/position both full-time and part-time. They followed up to see if I want part-time work. My situation doesn’t allow for me to accept part-time at the moment, but I don’t want to burn any bridges. I respect and appreciate the work of this particular group. Do you have any guidance for my reply?

Just be direct; this isn’t a touchy, delicate thing that you need to dance around, and it’s certainly not burning bridges to explain a really normal thing like wanting full-time work. Just say, “I’m only looking for full-time work, but would love to talk with you if you think I might be a match for a full-time role.”

5. Following up with an employer who has a hiring freeze

Back in July, I applied for my dream job with my dream company (one of the biggest software companies in the world). Two interviews — both went well, I think.

The hiring manager said that there was a hiring freeze due to the fiscal year end, but as soon as he had his budget in place, he’d let me know. I’m cautiously optimistic, as why discuss budgets if I wasn’t a suitable candidate?

In the beginning of August, about two weeks after the last interview, I sent an inquiry about the position. The manager was traveling overseas, but said he’d have more information soon.

Which brings us to today. I’ve still not heard anything in either direction. I know that budgets, especially for this company, can be hard to pin down, so I’m trying to be patient. I don’t want to fall off the radar, but I don’t want to “over-communicate” either.

As I said, this is my dream job (I’m well-qualified, so I know that’s not an issue). Do I follow up again? If I do, what do I say? … or am I possibly not getting the hint?

I don’t think this is a hint; he’s told you directly that there’s a hiring freeze and that he’ll let you know when there’s something to report. If you really want to, you could check in one more time in another couple of weeks — but don’t do it before that, since while a month probably feels like a long time to you, it’s likely to have felt like no time at all to him. (See this about candidate time vs. employer time.)

But really, if he wants to hire you and the freeze is lifted, he’s not going to forget about you. Because of that, if you do check in, I’d ask specifically if he’s able to give you a sense of when they might know if they’re going to move forward or not. And then, put it out of your mind and pretend it doesn’t exist — since for your purposes, right now it really doesn’t, and it might not materialize into anything. It’s far better for your mental state if you’re not waiting and hoping.

{ 175 comments… read them below }

  1. A Non*

    #5 – For what it’s worth, I helped interview someone for a job who was awesome and totally someone who I and my coworkers wanted to work with… but they didn’t have the skills for that job. We all thought they’d be a great fit for a job that required fewer technical skills that we thought might be opening up in a few months. The job opened up, and we re-interviewed and hired that person five months after the initial interview. They’ve been even better than we thought they would be. So don’t worry, if they really like you, they’ll remember.

    1. Bigglesworth*

      I completely agree with A Non! When I interviewed for my current position, I wasn’t selected because it went to an internal candidate. She moved on after a few months and I was asked to join the team 4 months after my interview. They later told me that they didn’t even want to open the position back up on their job board until they’d received an answer from me. It can happen!

    2. Oryx*

      I totally agree. I had interviewed for a job that went to someone else and maybe six months later they emailed me when they had another opening. I decided to not interview for it because the pay was too low, but it was nice to hear they were really hoping I’d be interested.

    3. Koko*

      Yep, we’ve done this too.

      Also seconding what Alison said about employer time vs candidate time. I’ve been going through a version of this recently with some technology vendors that I’m legitimately interested in, but IT is bogged down in a huge company-wide project to integrate tools and resources across departments and as a result has put a freeze on departments acquiring new technology. And the end of the freeze keeps getting pushed back. I keep telling vendors to check in with me around June…then maybe August…then maybe November…I’m sure some of them think I’m yanking their chain but I really do want their products! The months can just so easily slip by in the business world…

    4. Pixel*

      It’s very encouraging to read the late-hire stories. I recently had an interview that I stepped out of feeling that I absolutely want to work for that company (small firm, nothing glamorous or dreamy but the team who interviewed me came across as genuinely liking each other, the work and the company). I didn’t make the cut, the rejection letter from interview A said they will keep my resume on file in case a suitable position becomes available. It wasn’t the pat rejection you sometimes get after sending in your resume, but a personal, friendly note, which I took for what it was – maybe they will reach out for me in a few months. My interviewer was also kind enough to refer me to a colleague of his in a related field, which didn’t pan out as the position requires someone more, ahem, “polished” than me, but I truly appreciated the gesture and let my interviewer know it in my thank-you note.

  2. Thomas The*

    #5 – what Allison said, plus you can’t really know if it’s your dream job until you’re in it.

    1. Product Person*

      To add to that, having worked for 3 of the biggest software companies in the world in technical and leadership positions, I would be willing to bet that no job you get in such a big company is going to be your dream job. The larger the company, the more dysfunctional it is, no matter how “shiny” the job title seems from the outside.

      1. Joseph*

        As a concrete example of the “dream job” phenomenon, look no further than Microsoft. In the mid to late 90’s into the 2000’s, it was one of, if not THE most respected company in tech, was still growing, and everybody on the planet wanted to work there. But around the same time, the internal workings of the company continually got more and more messed up – the infamous “stack ranking” system that incentivized backstabbing co-workers, elitism among the old guard, etc. So what seemed like a dream job that anybody would jump off a cliff for was actually a mess of bureaucracy, politics, and insanity.
        Vanity Fair did a phenomenal piece on Microsoft’s internal dysfunction during this period a couple years ago (search for Microsoft’s Lost Decade). If you’re in the tech industry and you’ve never read it, you absolutely should check it out. And while you’re reading it, keep reminding yourself that if you’d been looking for a job in tech in about 1996 to 2004, you wouldn’t have known about all this dysfunction – from the outside, you’d have thought this was a dream job.

        1. MashaKasha*

          Or maybe this, unexpectedly extended, hiring freeze is a sign of internal changes in the company that would not be to the OP’s benefit. I admit this isn’t the same thing, but I once interviewed for a very small startup company for what appeared to be a dream job for me at that time. Growth opportunities, great team, I loved them and they loved me. They said they were hiring for a more senior position than what I was qualified for, but that they’d get more funding in the next three to six months and hire more people to develop their product, and that I would be the first person they’d contact then. Then, radio silence. Three, six, twelve months, nothing. When I finally heard of them a couple of years later, they no longer existed. Turned out, instead of getting additional funding, they’d lost funding and it was downhill from there. If they’d hired me for the senior position then, I’d have been out of work a few months later.

  3. CMT*

    #3 Have you thought about if you would be happy in a less senior role, even if it does pay better and have a better title? Some people would be, some wouldn’t. I’m also wondering why the prospective employer would give you a more senior title when you say the job duties are more junior to the one you have now.

    1. CMT*

      Basically what I’m saying is maybe instead of trying to negotiate a step up in title at a job that is a step down, just look for the senior jobs to begin with.

    2. MK*

      I agree. The OP is looking at ut from the perspective of them wanting their resume to reflect upwards progress, but it hardly makes sense for an organization to create a title that was not in their hierarchy before and give it to a newcomer who does the exact same work as the rest of the team. Also, I am not sure how useful a senior title is, if future interviewers know (or it comes up in the interview) that it is basically meaningless.

      1. Lance*

        And more than that, duties and accomplishments beat out a title any day. Look at what you’ll actually be doing, not so much by things you’re seeing online, but what you hear and perceive from the interviewers themselves. Find out what kind of upward growth might be available, figure out what you can do and offer, and make the decision that feels right to you.

      2. OP #3*

        Hello, OP here. I am indeed looking for increased responsibilities and challenges, not just an increase in title. And it’s true that you can get that even without a title change. I normally would not be so brash as to say, off the bat, I want a higher title (as one person suggested – I would just apply for jobs with a better title). But in this instance, they came to me (I never sent in an application – they found me via LinkedIn) and are actively recruiting me. So I am thinking – is it worth it to just be honest about what it would take to leave my current job?

        1. Blossom*

          So… Will you also be asking them about increased responsibilities, with a more senior title to reflect that? It wasn’t clear from your question; it sounded to me like you’d just be asking “can I have the officer job, but can it be called senior officer?”. To ask “I’m interested in your organisation, but I’m really looking for more responsibilities; do you think there’s room in the team for a more senior role?” feels quite different to me, and more reasonable. The answer may be no, but the question is trying to gauge whether such an arrangement would make sense to both parties, rather than just “haggling”.

          1. OP #3*

            Agreed. I do plan to ask for increased responsibilities, and the way you phrased it is really helpful. Thank you!

        2. Koko*

          Another thing to look for in the interview is that what seem like the same duties and same title could actually be more challenging at a different organization.

          I’m thinking of when I went from being a “Director” of a department of 1 at a small nonprofit to being a mid-level “Manager” in a department of 12. The Manager role paid more than my Director role had, not just because the larger org paid better in general, but also because the work the larger nonprofit was doing was much more complex and sophisticated than what we’d been doing at my small shop, so even though as a Director I managed a program budget, set department strategy, and performed other high-level tasks that I no longer did as a Manager, I was actually much more challenged in the Manager role. The sub-program that I managed had more moving parts and was more on the cutting edge of industry trends than the entire department I managed at the previous gig.

          I’d definitely look for the possibility that that could be going on here. They might pay their Officers so well not just because they’re a generous org, but because doing the same stuff is more challenging there than it is elsewhere.

        3. Lora*

          I would definitely say that you are looking for more responsibility and challenge, right off the bat. Both headhunters and internal recruiters have approached me for jobs I am massively overqualified for; most recently, an internal recruiter from exjob approached me asking if I would be interested in the same exact job with the same exact title I had in 2005. I politely sent him the job IDs for positions more appropriate for my experience that would attract my interest.

          Maybe the recruiter is inexperienced? Maybe the hiring manager demands resumes that are more qualified than the ones they previously sent, and they want to send yours as an “ok, if you want more qualified, HERE YA GO, BUDDY”? Maybe the hiring manager is unrealistic about who would be interested in the job?

          Once had a very senior manager who, every time a lower-level employee made a mistake, no matter how small, he would re-assign the task to the next level job up. Eventually senior managers were counting widgets and still making mistakes, because it was a stupid counting method. He always had ridiculously high turnover…

    3. MillersSpring*

      In the interview, make sure that your answers indicate–or state outright–that you’re looking for more senior opportunities that offer more responsibility. Don’t let this fact be a surprise you spring on them at the negotiating stage.

  4. BobcatBrah*

    #2: I feel you there. I have a receptionist who was far too liberal with the garlic on the good she brought from home for a while. I just asked her to tone it down, because a lobby that smells like garlic is not the first thing I want clients to notice.

    I agree with Allison that you shouldn’t single out ethnic food, but rather come up with an overall list of specific ingredients: Off the top of my head I’m thinking: garlic, boiled eggs (like egg salad… It’s a little sulfur-y), tuna, curry powder, excessive onions, and horseradish.

    1. CoveredInBees*

      And now you’ve just banned a large part of my diet and smells that I hardly notice unless I’m standing over and cooking them. So it’s really not as universal as you think. Also, I’ve never known horseradish to smell at all unless you’re grating it fresh or egg salad to smell like anything unless it is inches from my nose.

      1. Temperance*

        I think I have a hypersensitive nose, but I can tell you that I can smell egg salad across the room. Same for things that other people don’t find smelly, like yogurt, which smells like rank milk to me.

        1. Koko*

          When I was a kid I didn’t like oranges, and it would almost make me sick to my stomach when someone opened an orange even all the way across the room from me. So glad I outgrew that!

          But yeah, a lot of times it’s not that the food has a strong smell, it’s just that it has a smell someone doesn’t like, so that someone can smell the slightest hint of it in the air.

          1. LucyVP*

            The smell of oranges/tangerines or bananas make me sick to my stomach too. Sometimes just seeing them starts me gaging.

            They are both things that most co-workers wouldn’t think twice about eating at their desks or think of as being particularly noxious.

            that said, curry, onions, garlic, etc. dont bother me at all!

            1. roisindubh211*

              that’s awful- fruit like bananas is exactly what I would have gone to as a “well, this has hardly any smell so it shouldn’t bother anyone!” option. I wish more businesses would prioritise having a separate, closed off area to eat in, for everyone’s sanity.

      2. MashaKasha*

        I used to sit next to a guy who was extremely sensitive (and vocal about it) about food smells. So over the years, I’ve learned to pack my lunches the way that would not upset the food smell police. Everything on that list would be a no-no for him. And, of course, add microwaved seafood/broccoli/cauliflower/cabbage etc to that list. At least he never complained about fresh (not microwaved) vegetables like cukes, tomatoes etc.; I’d be up a creek without a paddle if he had.

        Basically, IME, any food except mac and cheese can be frowned upon when brought to the office. Sucks, but it is what it is. I had to learn to work around these restrictions. It’s either that or go out for lunch every day, which I cannot do for both diet and financial reasons.

        Personally, i’m okay with anything except microwaved fish, broccoli, and popcorn. Sadly not all coworkers are as laid-back as I am.

    2. food anon*

      A lot of those ingredients you banned are used in ethnic dishes. A bunch of my ethnic food uses a lot of garlic, eggs, onions, and horseradish.

      From experience, it’s pretty humiliating and makes you feel unwelcome when someone tells you they don’t want you to eat your ethnic food because they don’t like the smell.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        It’s not just so-called “ethnic” foods. As someone who is allergic to garlic, that’s an ingredient that is pervasive in many, many, many cultures (onions, too). I have a very hard time finding recipes or pre-made food in the US without those two ingredients.

      2. BobcatBrah*

        For what it’s worth, I came up with my list by going to my pantry and picking the smelliest things in there.

    3. Hotstreak*

      Your list of ingredients doesn’t address some of the most obviously pungent foods: pizza, coffee, anything recently cooked in fryer oil. Obviously pizza, fries, taquitos, and donuts should be banned. I think it’s okay to eat an orange, but it’s not okay to peel it in the office due to odor that causes. Coffee is okay if it’s in a closed lid cup but there’s no way you should be allowed to brew the stuff. Come to think of it, perhaps you should just ban hot food? I think Alison responded to a letter about that a few months back.

        1. Misc*

          Freshly fried donuts smell very strong, I have to walk past a donut stand regularly and I can smell it at least five metres either side.

        2. Koko*

          They do if they come from a donut shop where they were fried that morning as opposed to from a box where they’ve been sitting for the past 2-3 weeks since they were manufactured. Haven’t you ever walked past a Krispy Kreme when the HOT light is on? You can smell it a block away!

      1. DeskBird*

        Speaking as someone who doesn’t like coffee – I don’t think you are gonna have luck banning coffee in any office – ever. Also a hot food ban is pretty unreasonable. That reduces it to what – salads and sandwiches? Every day? No thank you.

    4. Temperance*

      Was she eating/heating up food near the reception desk? FWIW, I totally agree that a food-smelly reception area is not exactly ideal.

      1. BobcatBrah*

        She was eating at her desk. I wouldn’t have a problem with smelly food in the break room, but definitely not in a client-facing area. That being said, I did suggest she takes her lunch in the break room, but she told be she’s more comfortable at her desk. No big deal, just had to cut back on the garlic and hide lunch under the counter when she sees somebody coming in on the camera.

    5. INTP*

      Even a list of specific ingredients is either going to be culturally discriminatory or extremely restrictive. For example, the smell of fast food grease is incredibly pervasive, but I’ve never heard anyone suggest that fast food shouldn’t be allowed in an office or on an airplane or other close quarters the way they speak about garlic, curry, fish, etc. The smell of warmed chicken is positively revolting but in the US people don’t seem to recognize that as an offensive food smell.

      IDK. These things are so cultural and individual that I’m sort of a fan of an all foods or no foods approach.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        Microwaved fried chicken with bones in is one of the worst smells there is. Back when microwave ovens were new and there weren’t a lot of options there was a frozen version that was really popular, and even the people who liked the chicken made sure to close the breakroom door to keep the smell in.

      2. the gold digger*

        I’ve never heard anyone suggest that fast food shouldn’t be allowed in an office or on an airplane

        I suggest it. I hate it when someone walks on the plane with hot french fries or a hamburger or fried chicken. That hot, rancid grease smell in closed quarters is disgusting. If I won’t eat hard-boiled eggs on a plane because I am worried about the smell bothering the other passengers, I want other people to keep their stinky food off, too.

      3. Panda Bandit*

        I’m all for banning fast food. I used to work in it and I can’t stand the grease smell for very long.

    6. Misc*

      The problem with a list of ingredients that’s starting to get that long is – aside from personal judgement about what ‘smells’ enough to be on the list – you’re starting to seriously restrict people’s food options, which may start being a health issue.

    7. Koko*

      And here I am thinking nothing in the world smells better than garlic and onions sauteeing in oil. Shoot, I would buy it as an air freshener if they made it!!

    8. Sydney*

      I can’t tolerate the smell of bananas. Therefore everyone should have to quit eating bananas. Yeah maybe not (although I do really hate the smell of bananas).

      1. Mreasy*

        Me too, but I eat them every day! I throw the peels out outside though – even in a covered internal garbage can, I fear the smell.

    9. Jesmlet*

      In a location where clients or guest are walking in this might make sense, but if the office is only frequented by those working there, some people might take offense. Right off the bat it looks like you’re banning all Italian and Indian food (I’m generalizing but you get it) when things like fried chicken or coffee smell just as strongly but don’t bother you.

  5. misspiggy*

    #2: If it’s just you, the manager, who is bothered by food smells, I think it’s better to suck it up. Your company works people so hard they can’t take a lunch break, and doesn’t provide anywhere to eat. If my manager told me I had to restrict what I ate in that situation (without evidence that colleagues had legitimate concerns), my job commitment would go right down.

    #3: Bear in mind that a nonprofit which pays more for the same type of job may be considered more prestigious. Future employers may see the move as a promotion. This might be because the work is larger scale and therefore more demanding, and/or that they use a higher standard of evidence for success. Or the nonprofit could take that view, but other agencies may feel they’re not all that. Consider more research on the reputation of the organisation before you ask for a different title.

    1. BWooster*

      miss Piggy, I think this is an excellent point. In an environment where eating anywhere but the desk is essentially not an option, the office becomes a defacto food area which means learning to tolerate a larger variety and intensity of smells. Doesn’t mean that all foods have to be tolerated but a manager should give colleagues more leeway in this instance than in an office that has a designated dining area or an office where the workload allows one to leave the premises for lunch.

      1. lazuli*

        “Your company works people so hard they can’t take a lunch break, and doesn’t provide anywhere to eat.”

        Exactly! You don’t get to be picky in that case.

      2. Wrench Turner*

        My manager (and only other employee at the branch) strongly discourages clocking out for lunch and we both eat at the counter in between phone calls and walk ins and rushed out orders. Sometimes I feel guilty for bringing in whatever crazy leftovers from the night before (I’m a great cook and make all kinds of stuff) because he makes the same unassuming, unoffensive sandwich religiously every day. I can smell him toasting it from across the warehouse, so I’m sure he can smell my occasional rice and sardines (don’t knock it, it’s healthy and fits my budget) from the other end of the counter a few feet away.

        1. BWooster*

          It is entirely possible that he doesn’t mind. It is equally possible that he dislikes the smell but chooses not to make it an issue since it is basically his requirement that you eat on premises. Which is a pretty reasonable approach to take, in my view.

          1. TootsNYC*

            yeah, just because someone dislikes something doesn’t mean they think that you should stop doing it.

            Many, many grownup peoples can live with things they don’t personally like. That was the message I kept trying to get through to my picky-eater kids.

            1. Koko*

              I have a friend who is near 30 and still an insanely picky eater. She’s actually recently started to branch out a little, which I’m thrilled about because as it stands I hate going out to eat with her. She will let the unexpected appearance of a pickle spear on the side of her plate ruin her whole meal. Half the time she ends up eating off the kids menu. Let her be a cautionary tale to your children…nobody will want to go out to eat with them if they don’t learn to open up their palette a little!

              1. Rana*

                Yeah, it’s one thing to be picky (meaning you don’t like a lot of foods, especially distinctively flavored ones); it’s another to be obnoxious about it. I’d rather eat with someone who was very picky but just quietly dealt with the offending foods, than with someone who was reasonably adventurous but loud and rude about the things they didn’t like.

              2. Kathlynn*

                I’m a picky eater. Not my choice. But how I deal with it is. If I could, I would suddenly like eggs and salads 100% of the time rather then 1% of the time. I would be less picky in pasta sauces and amounts. I would like all red meat, without a sauce on it. And so on. But I don’t, so I just deal. There are many places where there might be 2 items on the menu I can eat.
                And, if I did try to eat something I don’t like, my appetite disappears, and I start gagging on every bite. But it would take more then a slice of pickles to make me not eat my whole plate/meal. And I’d just be like, sorry I can’t eat this. I didn’t realize I wouldn’t like it.

      3. INTP*

        Yes, the fact that there is no alternative area is key here. Restricting foods in this case would mean you are restricting what your employees can consume for lunch which is massively inconvenient for those eating leftovers (since many people cook ethnic cuisines, use a lot of garlic and onions, etc at home). Either deal with the smells, or provide an area where people can eat whatever they want and restrict what is eaten at the desks. (And with the latter, the restrictions need to not be biased. If you aren’t letting employees eat egg salad or curry at their desks, you can’t let them eat McDonald’s there either. The only coworker whose food smells have ever bothered me, strangely enough, ate El Pollo Loco and stunk up the entire floor of the open concept office. Basically, anything that can be smelled from 5 feet away should be banned, or nothing should be banned.)

        1. PlainJane*

          This. There’s no universal list of foods people find objectionable. It’s very individual, and if you start policing what people eat, you’re going to have all kinds of morale issues. If you don’t want people eating in customer areas or shared work areas, then provide a break room.

    2. Alli525*

      THANK YOU. I clicked into the comments specifically to make sure that someone had pointed out that a company that won’t hire enough workers to make it possible for everyone to get lunch outside the office (if they want to/have the budget for it) should be MUCH more tolerant of food smells. I know this because I worked for a company for 5 years where this was the norm – the only reason anyone (including the CEO) ate outside the office was because they had a client meeting – and it was only in the case of certain kinds of fish, and burned popcorn, that anyone said anything about food smells.

  6. whippers*

    What is with the furore about people having a cold? I can’t say it’s ever bothered me in the slightest when I hear someone has a cold.

    1. Blossom*

      Because I don’t want to catch it? The prospect of spending the next fortnight coughing and blowing my nose is one I’d really like to avoid. I do feel quite irritated at people who seem to be making no effort to contain their germs.

      1. JessaB*

        This, especially if you’re immunocompromised. Seriously, someone comes in to work with something and it’s contagious and I end up out for days. On the other hand it’s been about a decade since people were taught to elbow cough and sneeze. Your hands should be clean. If they’re not you should be cleaning them.

        1. Collarbone High*

          And with the rise of biologic drugs, there are a lot more immunocompromised people than I think most people realize. I’m one myself, and a lot of people think it’s just chemo and transplant patients who are immunocompromised (and that those people wouldn’t be at work anyway, so little risk of infecting them).

          But biologics, which severely suppress the immune system, are now routinely prescribed for a wide range of autoimmune issues — rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, etc. — that you wouldn’t necessarily know your co-workers had. (Those commercials where the announcer mutters something about TB and lymphoma, and “regions where fungal infections are common” — those are ads for biologics.) So a lot of people who 5 or 10 years ago were taking corticosteroids or OTC anti-inflammatories are now walking around with compromised immune systems and are much more susceptible to infections.

      2. MashaKasha*

        This has been my biggest fear at work for years. I can handle a cold pretty well myself, but over the years I have/had small children and/or elderly parents and/or a parent with cancer in my house, either living or visiting every day. My absolute worst fear has always been bringing a cold home from work and giving it to them. Luckily, my current and old jobs have been pretty good at people with colds working from home when they’re most contagious.

    2. De*

      I used to be on immunosuppressive medication. It’s no fun getting every cold that’s getting around because people come into work anyway .

      1. CoveredInBees*

        Amen! I’m in an office that is very social and people are also overworked. At the moment, I am immunosuppressed because of chemo and a colleague came into the office with a cold that was horrible for her healthy self. As a result, I shut myself in my office for a week. People who didn’t know about the chemo just thought I was working extra hard.

    3. HateToCough*

      Because you might have limited or no sick days and if you get sick, you come into work because you can’t afford the loss in pay if you stay home…and then you risk getting more people sick.

      Some are prone to triggering their asthma when sick.
      Some are have commitments outside of work that a cold will seriously impact (e.g. choirs! Visiting elderly parents could be delayed, etc.)
      And when I get a cold, I get the Cough that Won’t Die. I’m miserable for weeks.

      1. Marty Gentillon*

        Yep, that month or two long aggravated asthmatic cough I get after every cold is really annoying.

    4. Xarcady*

      It does seem as if people are starting to feel that they should never get sick, and blaming any illness on the last person they saw who had any illness.

      Let’s look at some facts. You are *most* contagious with a viral illness *before* you start to show symptoms. So, yes, your current cold may have been caused by the co-worker who is right now sneezing her nose off, but it is very likely that you caught that cold before your co-worker was aware she was sick. As the illness progresses, the amount of the virus sneezed or breathed out decreases greatly. It’s the way the virus successfully reproduces–if all we had to do to avoid getting colds was avoid everyone who visibly has a cold, the cold viruses would have died out long ago.

      There is also growing evidence that you (average, healthy you, not someone with medical issues) need to use your immune system to keep it healthy. Or, in other words, you need to get mildly sick every so often.

      Add in the fact that most people in the US get maybe 5 sick days a year, not enough to cover the course of a single cold. Most retail and fast food workers don’t get any sick days, and they don’t get paid if they don’t work. Or people get no sick days, just a bank of paid time off, and they want to take a vacation this year. So the choice is go to work sick, or lose money or vacation time.

      I live alone. If I’m sick, the only person who can go out and buy medication or ginger ale is me. So, yes, I’m in the drug store sniffling and sneezing. And I get dirty looks from people. But around here, there are no alternatives–no delivery services, for example.

      If I know someone has medical issues and needs to avoid people with colds, etc., I’m more than happy to accommodate them any way I can. A family member has compromised breathing, and a mild cold can send her into intensive care. I understand the dangers.

      But I also need to work, and I get paid by the hour. I can’t afford days away from work, and if I take too many sick days, my employer’s “attendance points” system kicks in and I could get fired.

      If we, as a society, are now deciding that sick people must stay home, we, as a society, need to make that a possibility.

      1. Anxa*

        “If we, as a society, are now deciding that sick people must stay home, we, as a society, need to make that a possibility.”


        Also, I think a lot of the tension comes in companies with different classes of workers. Full-time workers with paid sick days and health insurance work alongside part-timers with no benefits and may not understand the financial constraints their coworkers are under.

        1. Koko*

          I spend half my paycheck on Amazon every month so I love them and all, but the items available for same-day are very limited, usually require a $35 minimum basket (even for Prime members – same with free one-day shipping), and you have to place the order early in the day to actually get it same-day. For me it’s something that’s a cool added bonus when it works out that I get it, but I can’t actually intentionally shop for things available same-day.

        2. all aboard the anon train*

          Amazon same day delivery is only available if you live in certain areas. I could get same-day delivery, but my brother in a different city doesn’t have that option.

          Not to mention, the delivery rates are expensive. Sure, they’re waived if you have Amazon Prime and spend a certain amount, but Amazon Prime is also expensive.

        3. BananaPants*

          I love Amazon, but Prime Now is not available everywhere. In my particular metro area it isn’t, even though there’s an Amazon warehouse a half hour away; the best I can do is next-day delivery for a surcharge. Likewise, Peapod and other grocery delivery services don’t offer same-day delivery in our area. For Peapod, if you want next day delivery or pickup you need to finalize the order before 4 PM.

      2. whippers*

        Yes! A cold is the most prosaic thing in the world (hence the term the common cold).
        I can understand people who have compromised immune systems fearing getting a cold. But for normal, healthy people it really shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

        The last place i worked, the manager used to complain and worry endlessly when someone had a cold and then blame them when someone else got a cold;which I found ridiculously self-pitying. Minor illnesses are part of life; get over it.

        1. Jesmlet*

          Paper cuts are too but if you could avoid getting one, I’m sure you would. It’s unpleasant at best so why wouldn’t you go out of your way to avoid catching it?

        2. Guest*

          Seriously? A cold may not kill you, but it also won’t kill you to muster up an ounce of sympathy for people who don’t want to get sick.

          Being sick is awful, regardless of how benign it may be. It’s shocking that this needs to be explained

      3. Aurion*

        Yeah, this. I don’t understand the demonizing of people out with a cold.

        If I was really sick with a cold–coughing, fever, what have you–chances are I don’t want to be out. I’d rather be in bed with tea and blankets and feeling sorry for myself. If I am out and about–at the pharmacy for cough syrup, at work, etc. chances are I can’t help it–I don’t have people picking up cough syrup for me, or I ran out of sick days, or whatever. Amazon Prime ain’t a thing for me either.

        If I’m just having the sniffles or something and I’m out and about, chances are it’s either an allergy attack that looks like–but isn’t–a cold, or I’m so far on the tail end of said cold that I feel fine despite the sniffles and I’m not contagious.

        I feel like people who are out and about despite being visibly, obviously sick generally can’t help it. Lobby for more sick days or work from home or a better fallback system, but people who are sick really don’t want to be sick, and they would likely be resting up at home if they could.

    5. MillersSpring*

      I don’t want to catch it, and I expect the person to stay home for a few days. I also want them to abstain from personal contact until their coughing and sniffling are gone. It’s ridiculous when people are sitting around hacking and slurping and expect others not to mind having to touch things afterward, e.g. files, keyboards, chairs, teapot handles, etc.

      Managers don’t want others to get sick (and absenteeism to increase) because one person felt compelled to work through a cold.

        1. Katie F*

          Ding ding ding ding!

          If we want people to stay healthy and not come to work sick, then we need to band together to give enough paid sick leave to make that even remotely possible for the average worker, and not penalize or judge them for taking it.

      1. MK*

        Expecting others to abstain from personal contact and be extra conscious of hygiene when they have a cold is reasonable. Expecting them to stay at home for days is ridiculous, unless you are prepared not only to cover for their work, but also pay them for missed income (or have an unlimited sick-time-off policy, if an employer).

        Also, one person having a cold isn’t likely to result in everyobody else catching it; people like to blame the last ill person they met as having “given” them their cold, but in reality one never knows how they got infected.

        1. PlainJane*

          Thank you. Illness etiquette seems to me to boil down to:
          1. For the sick person: do the best you can to avoid spreading your germs. Don’t be a martyr, and don’t be dismissive of people for whom a “common cold” can cause serious problems.
          2. For everyone else: Understand that people who are sick don’t always have good options. Understand that not everyone who shows symptoms of an illness is actually contagious (I write this in week 6 of a cough due to pneumonia, the active phase of which was over 4 weeks ago. Yes, I’m at work.). Be patient when people call in sick, and you have to cover for them, or they miss a critical meeting that had to be scheduled 3 weeks in advance. If you make a big deal about it, people are going to drag their germy selves into the office. If you’re a manager, give people the option to work from home when they’re sick if possible. Colds are ragingly contagious but not always so debilitating that you can’t work; telecommuting is a perfect option.

      2. Liane*

        There are a LOT of employers who don’t care how sick you are or who you might infect and hand out harsh consequences for staying home sick.

    6. Jen RO*

      I don’t get it either, but I asked in the comments on a previous post and people explained that they usually mean a bad cold, not just the sniffles. If I started to stay home every time I had a runny nose, I’d never get any work done.

      1. Daisy Steiner*

        Yeah, I empathise with different viewpoints and health statuses, but my own personal philosophy is that if there’s a cold going around the office, I’m probably going to get it. As it’s inevitable, I don’t really stress about it too much or cast around for people to blame. This philosophy is influenced by my privileged situation of generous (compared to US norms) sick leave and good overall health.

      2. Anxa*

        My nose constantly runs at work due to how cold the office is. I’m a pretty germ-conscious person (health inspector training, biology background) and a pretty constant hand washer, but even I end up being a bit of a germ bomb. My nose is always drippy because my side of the building is freezing (at least to me). I do try to handwash, but of course that means I’m touching the outside door knob of the bathroom, and in the winter I struggle with hand washing as I have eczema and we don’t have warm water (it’s cold or hot) and irritation means a possible skin infection.

        I also have gustatory rhinitis, so I try to eat all at once and then blow my nose and wash my hands.

        I tend to double fold our thick tissues and dab, and hope they keep ordering tissues because there are so many other supplies they spend money on that I just don’t think matter as much.

    7. Wrench Turner*

      I can’t afford to be sick; can’t afford the doctor’s visit (really high deductible), can’t afford to miss work to visit the doctor, can’t afford to slow down with all the other crap outside of work I’m juggling. Capitalism demands I maintain a tight schedule and a fully operational meat robot to fulfill it at all times.

      So please stay home when you’re sick. I’ll miss you but live vicariously through you on twitter.

      1. eplawyer*

        So other people who might not be able to miss work for whatever reason must miss work because of your needs? Not everyone can afford to stay home sick from work. They can’t miss the paycheck, need to save sick days for when their kids are sick and the kid can’t go to daycare, have other stuff they are juggling, etc.

        People are going to come to work sick. They should practice basic hygience. But others should just accept that getting sick is part of human nature and not demonize someone who happens to be sick at that moment.

        1. Temperance*

          I’m guessing that Wrench Turner actually does stay home when ill, which is the reason for the annoyance.

          Sorry, but no, if someone comes to work ill and I get sick, I’m going to “demonize” them.

          1. Kate*

            Wow, as someone who literally can’t afford to stay home when I am sick (I like to be able to eat) I am going to say I think you are being really nasty and mean.

            Unless you know someone’s exact financial situation, not a guess, not “they are a manager, they must make good money”, but actually have their bills and bank account statements in front of you, please don’t.

            Please give people a little space between what they are doing and what you think they should be doing. You don’t know what might be going on in other people’s lives.

        2. Wrench Turner*

          Yup. My boss will come in sick enough to leave early for days at a time, until I get sick and just stay home 1 day and be done with it, and I hated him for it.

      2. Hibiscus*

        The problem is that capitalism stops for no cold. Everyone else has the same problem. So instead of acting like colds are the union anarchists of 1903 Pittsburgh, joint with them and fight capitalism instead.

    8. Lissa*

      Yeah, I don’t get it either, tbh. Yes, I’m aware some people have compromised immune systems, etc. but depending on what the definition of “cold” is, some people get them twice a month or more, and expecting them to stay home is pretty unrealistic. I just assume in any type of “public” situation that at least one person has *something*.

      Also, it’s pretty uncompassionate for one’s first response to be to shriek and move away from somebody who says “I’m not feeling well” as opposed to “I hope you feel better..” or something. And I get the “don’t socialize if you have something obviously communicable” but for some of my friends with chronic illnesses, if they followed it as “don’t socialize if you ever feel like you might be getting sick” that some people suggest, they’d never get to do anything..

      Honestly until I discovered the Internet forums, I never even realized it was considered rude to go out when sick. Nobody in my actual life seems to follow these rules or even know about them.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I have severe allergies, and a malformed sinus that means that I get a lot of congestion issues that linger. I also have a child in grade school and one in day care.

        So when my sinuses stop up and I feel crummy, but not super-crummy, do I have a mild cold or an allergy attack? I can’t know. (Now, when I feel super-crummy with all the extra symptoms? I obviously have a cold or something and I stay home until that eases and I’m functional again…but three days later do I still have a cold, or has that passed and my sinuses are just still a problem because stuff doesn’t drain right?)

        If I tried to stay home for every time I might have a cold (but wasn’t sure), however mild, I’d be unemployed. My employer is generous, yes, but I don’t think anywhere can afford to be *that* generous.

        1. Marty Gentillon*

          As for how you know: it’s the sore that. A minor sore throat is the clue that differentiates the common cold from your allergies acting up.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Except my sinus malformation gives me nasty post-nasal drip and can often irritate the throat also. *wry*

          2. Kyrielle*

            That said, I usually *do* stay in if there’s a sore throat component. But I have ‘cold’ symptoms many days, and mostly they’re not colds, but they might be the bare beginning of one and I won’t know it until a day or two later. By which time, I’ve exposed people….

            Conversely, someone who has been fighting a cold a while (as the OP) may in fact no longer be contagious and just be fighting the lingering after-symptoms (my husband deals with a dry cough that lingers for weeks after a cold ends, and his doctor has investigated and told him he’s just fine and just has to wait it out, but people worry when they hear him coughing nonetheless).

          3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Huh? Different people have different symptoms.

            I get a ton of colds (although not lately! I’ve been on a healthy streak. Yay!) and I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a sore throat. My “tell” is slightly swollen lymph nodes under my jaw line.

        2. Mags*

          You’ll probably have a slight fever if it is a cold. And any body aches or sore/swollen lymph nodes point to a cold as well. Unfortunately not everyone has those symptoms every time they have a cold.

        3. Vicki*

          If “three days later” it has passed, you did not have a cold. A cold takes 7-10 days from start to finish. 10 is normal.

      2. JB*

        You should not be getting a cold twice a month or more. The term “cold,” at least in my part of the world and on every medical website I’ve seen on treating cold, refers only to the viral infection that gives you “the common cold.” You might have allergies or non-allergic rhinitis (neither of which are contagious). But if you’re actually getting a *cold* that often, you really need to see a doctor.

        I do think it’s inconsiderate to infect others in public with your communicable illnesses when you have a choice not to do so, when you have no idea how much of an affect that’s going to have on other people who are immunocompromised or who can’t afford to be sick. I’m glad you and your circle have found each other, and I hope you aren’t anywhere near me. I truly don’t mean that snarkily, I really don’t. But as someone who has serious health issues and can’t afford to catch everything that goes around, I really hope that I don’t work with you or shop at the same stores.

        I totally understand people who have to to get out when they are sick. That’s just life sometimes. I’ve had to trek to the pharmacy to get medicine when I had the flu, and I felt bad about it but I did it. But when a person does it because they don’t think it’s a big deal to infect other people, regardless of their circumstances (which you have no way of knowing about), it can create a big problem for others.

        1. Lissa*

          I see what you’re saying — but as Kyrielle mentions above, it’s not always easy to tell if you’re getting a cold, or allergies, or “the sniffles” or what have you…I will sometimes get a scratchy throat and feel tired, then be fine the next day. Other times it turns into a cold, or it’s allergies.

          I wouldn’t say my circle and I have ‘found’ each other, I just have literally never heard the idea that somebody should not go out in public with a cold, till this site and a few others. Your hope is probably realized that you will never have to interact with me (though I actually get sick almost never, just allergies, so it’s not me you have to worry about..). But, since it’s not like I deliberately looked for people who shared my viewpoint (which I didn’t even know was weird, it was the default for me) I don’t think I’m *that* much of an outlier that avoiding me will help you any.

          I mean, *I* can’t afford to be sick! I’m a contract worker, and it’s very very difficult if I have to miss work. But I’ve never once considered blaming a cold that I did get on somebody else. It just didn’t occur to me to think that way.

        2. PlainJane*

          Keep in mind that most people with colds are contagious from a day before onset of symptoms to a day after. So you can infect someone before you have any idea you’re sick, and you can be spewing snot everyone and not be contagious (that’s also me for about 4 months out of the year, also known as allergy season). You may also get a cold, because someone had their germy hands on a door handle or shopping cart or who knows what else. It isn’t always Sneezy McSneezerson at the office who infected you. So yeah, people should try to keep their germs to themselves, but there’s really no way to get through life without being exposed to something, and it isn’t always someone’s fault.

      3. MashaKasha*

        I’ve never heard of a workplace where any significant number of people (except maybe one or two with legitimate serious health issues that are causing this) catch viral colds twice a month or more. It’s usually less than 3-5 times a year for me. Could it be that, in your circle, people come down with colds so often because everyone comes in to work with a cold, and as a result, any one person’s cold turns into everyone in the office being down with it?

    9. JKP*

      It drives me nuts when people treat me like I’m contagious every time I blow my nose, even after I assure them I’m not the least bit sick. I have a weird thing where I breathe through my mouth, so anytime I’m forced to breathe through my nose (while eating lunch every day for example), it makes my nose run and makes me sneeze for a couple hours afterwards. I’m used to it and forget it even happens, but my boyfriend drives me nuts because he asks me every. single. day. if I’m getting sick.

    10. Temperance*

      I have a pretty weak immune system. If Joe brings a cold to the office, the chances are pretty decent that I’m going to end up with a sinus infection or bronchitis.

      1. Overeducated*

        Yeah, but if Joe only accrues one sick day every month or two and the cold lasts three days (or gets worse after day 1 at home), what’s he to do? Obviously that’s why it’s good to have a buffer of sick time, but colds happen often, and it’s not realistic for everyone to take a week off and keep their jobs. Which sucks even more for people with other health issues, but I think it’s more a structural issue with limited sick leave, not individual insensitivity.

    11. Koko*

      Honestly, with the exception of people with compromised immunity, the fear over catching a cold is so out of proportion.

      Wash your hands before you eat and after you poop, and try not to rub your eyes. That will prevent you from catching 99% of the colds you come in contact with.

      You don’t get a cold just from touching bacteria, it has to get into your bloodstream. Don’t put anything potentially contaminated in your mouth and especially don’t put it in your eyes, and you’re most likely not going to get sick. (I read somewhere that the eyes are actually the most common entry point for bacteria that results in illness because your eyes lack the defenses/inhospitable acidic environment that your digestive tract has, and people don’t as vigilantly wash their hands before rubbing their eyes the way they do before cooking and eating)

      1. whippers*

        Yup, to be honest i find people complaining about other people having colds more annoying than people with colds.

      2. JB*

        I don’t rub my eyes. I wash my hands a lot and certainly in the bathroom. I still catch a lot of colds. It’s really not as easy to avoid as you seem to think it is, at least not for some of us.

    12. Karin*

      I have immune system issues, so I avoid shaking hands with anyone all year long if I can possibly help it. Instead of getting into a long-winded explanation as to why I choose not to shake hands, though, I usually fib a bit (although during winter it’s usually not a fib): “I’m sorry, I’m not shaking hands today, as I am getting over a cold.” When I phrase it this way, people are usually very pleased to not shake hands with me!

    13. designbot*

      really stressed out people can’t afford to get sick (and are of course some of the most prone). In my field while employment did recover from the recession, client expectations never did, and we’re all working much harder than is reasonable to continue indefinitely. One of the results is, nobody takes sick days because we don’t know how the work would get done if we did, and someone coming in and spreading a cold is seen as a threat to the whole office (even though we ALL do it, so nobody should be throwing stones here). If I could call in and take a day off and it wouldn’t result in all my projects going off the rails, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

    14. Lora*

      39.6% of the population will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives (per the National Cancer Institute). Even assuming that a good number of those are retired people, it’s a lot more than you think at work who either have had cancer or are being treated.

      2% of your co-workers are likely to have chronic hepatitis. Depending on your state/city, the number of your colleagues who are HIV+ may be relatively high – Miami, New Orleans and Baton Rouge have particularly high rates. Pregnant women also have to avoid infection – they can’t take all the medicine to feel better, they just suffer, and they are also immunocompromised to some extent. Hypothyroidism, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, Crohns disease and a ton of other health issues cause or require medication with the side effects of immunodeficiency.

      I agree that all workplaces should have plenty of paid sick days and work from home policies for employees who are sick. I have worked for a few places where we had unlimited sick days and miraculously the business ran just fine and far FAR fewer people than you would think abused the policy.

      Where I work now has a rule that you can work from home if you have used up your sick days if you are even able to work – if not they quietly ignore your lack of productivity. We manage just fine. God knows we have loads of perfectly healthy people who come to work and gossip and surf the internet all day, but that’s a different story…

    15. MashaKasha*

      Wow, a lot of “you’re going to get my cold and you’re going to like it” comments on this thread. Not even “I’m sorry, we can’t work from home, we don’t get sick days” which I would understand; but straight up “get over it”? I can honestly say I have never seen this many before! or any, actually. I’ve just never been part of a group where this is socially acceptable to say out loud.

      I had a weird incident in a past relationship where my then SO came down with a terrible cold on the weekend that I was supposed to spend with him at his place. Not only did he tell me to come down anyway; but the next day when he woke up with fever and chills, he asked me to “please sit on the couch, I want to rest my head in your lap for an hour or two” I was too shocked to say no… I was like, “doesn’t he realize that he’s giving me what he has?” Three days later, I had to use up my sick days because I had the mother of all colds and couldn’t get out of bed. I was out of it the rest of the week and all weekend. I thought he was the only one with this weird “eh, I’m having this cold and you should too, it’s no big deal” attitude, but no!!! you guys are everywhere. Thank god I have a decent immune system! none of you can still rest your heads in my lap though, sorry, you just can’t.

      1. Guest*

        Exactly. People in this thread are actually acting as if it’s unreasonable to not want to get sick.

        I’m sorry if it hurts your feelings, but I don’t want to be around you if you’re sick (with easily transferable illnesses, I’m not going to shun someone just because they have an illness, as others have suggested). I’m not gonna somersault across the room if I hear someone sniffle, but if you’re hacking and snotting over everything then I’m staying as far away from you as possible. If that makes me a bad person, then so be it.

        Also, if you have the flu or a really bad cold, you should stay home for at least a day or so. Yeah, I know some people don’t get enough sick days and that’s awful. But that doesn’t mean you just shrug your shoulders and go, “It’s just a cold, you’ll be fine.”

        If you can only stay home, one or two days that’s preferably to walking around infecting everyone.

        1. PlainJane*

          I’m not really seeing people say that. I’m seeing people say that it isn’t realistic to think you’ll never be exposed to anything, not everyone has the choice to stay home whenever they’re sick, and not everyone knows they’re sick till after they’re contagious. I’m pretty adamant about not wanting whatever nasty bug other people have, and I’m pretty considerate about keeping my germs away from others, but I don’t see the point in looking for someone to blame for every illness.

    16. Vicki*

      We don;t want your cold. We also do not understand why you are at work and in a meeting when you have one. Go home, get some rest, drink plenty of fluids, wash your hands a lot, and keep your germs away from other people.

  7. NYC Weez*

    #3: Titles are really hard to gauge from the outside, so I would try to learn more about the role itself. At our company, there’s a LOT of title deflation. My role as an assistant manager was far more demanding than what even a manager did at my old job. When I was first applying for promotion to a manager position, I lost out to an external candidate who had been a director (2 steps “lower” on paper) at her previous job. On top of this, internal employees must show they are working at the next level up for around 6 months before they are eligible to be promoted, so even at the manager level, many people are working at a senior manager level. Were I to leave, I would speak to my actual responsibilities rather than the job titles.

  8. TootsNYC*

    re: food dropped on desks

    I solved this by getting a big tray, and I use it as a placemat when I’m eating. Then I don’t need to worry that food might fall on the desk, or that the underside of my food container might be wet or soiled.

    So you could figure out something like that (cut down a vinyl tablecloth to center-of-the-desk-size ones, or something) and issue them to people, to ask them to use it.

    The smell thing…well, you might say to people, “You’ll have to put up with the fact that other people’s lunch smells. That’s the price you pay for being able to eat what you like at your desk.”

    If you’re worried about customers, I’m not sure what to do; maybe there’s some odor-removing thing you can try. (I did a quick google and found a scientific test of air purifying machines, some of which did nothing and a few of which removed odors from a sealed chamber in an hour.)
    There might be other things you can do, like boiling vinegar or something. It seems fiddly for an office, but if you knew you wanted to do it regularly, you could probably figure something out (like, get a hot pot or something).

    1. PlainJane*

      “You’ll have to put up with the fact that other people’s lunch smells. That’s the price you pay for being able to eat what you like at your desk.” Exactly.

  9. Xarcady*

    #2. Is anyone else curious as to how a kebab can stain a desk? The office furniture I’m familiar with is pretty impervious to anything, so I’m wondering what was in the kebabs and just how delicate the desk surface is.

    There are a lot of very common foods that have smells that linger. Tuna, for one. Bananas don’t smell much, but their peels can reek. Almost any frozen dinner smells when heated up.

    If the rules about what food I could eat at work became too limiting, I would continue to bring what I liked to eat–I’d just stop working through lunch every day and eat out in my car or something on those days.

    The employees mentioned in this letter have so much work they can’t take a lunch break. They don’t have a break room. They pretty much don’t have a choice but to eat at their desks. Whatever rules you make about bringing in food, I’d make them as lax as possible, so as to not make things any worse for them.

    And frankly, I’d rather small kebabs all afternoon than the fake scents that my workplace infuses into the restrooms and which wafts out into the cube farm.

    1. Colette*

      I assumed it was some form of kebab I’ve never encountered.

      The thing is, people are sensitive to different scents. I have an intolerance to peppers, and that’s the one smell I can’t stand – but I live with it, because that’s part of sharing space with other people. Unless they want to ban all hot food, provide lunch every day, or build some sort of cafeteria space where people can eat a way from their desk, they’re going to have to live with the smells.

      1. aebhel*

        Yeah, that’s the thing. I have next to no sense of smell, so I’m not bothered by pretty much any food smell, if I even notice it at all. My spouse, on the other hand, can’t even be in the same room as a raw onion without his eyes burning. I have a friend who finds the smell of cinnamon gag-inducing.

        I think people tend to assume that it’s ‘obvious’ what smells are offensive and what ones aren’t, but that’s actually a highly subjective thing.

      2. Kyrielle*

        I’ve gotten used to it, but I used to have problems with the smell of a fresh orange being peeled. I _like_ eating oranges, but that strong citrus scent suddenly infusing the air was a different matter.

        The smell of coffee still troubles me, and I’m not going to suggest for a heartbeat that we ban coffee in the office.

        It’s very personal what smells trouble someone, and by the end, you could have almost nothing allowed.

    2. Gaara*

      I also wonder why a kebab would stain a desk. And given the circumstances here, I’d be annoyed if they imposed any restrictions (other than not spilling and fucking up the furniture, I guess) since the employees have few options.

      Cold vegetarian sandwiches can smell (red onions). Tuna salad sandwiches are stinky. Pasta with lots of garlic can smell strongly. Regardless of whether it smells more, people will *think* a curry smells more. I guess everyone could eat a bag of carrots and a cold can of SpaghettiOs? Maybe a highly processed bologna sandwich?

          1. Koko*

            I learned this when I worked with a girl who used to get cucumbers on her hot Subway sandwiches and leave the sandwich in the small, enclosed space where we had our employee cubbies and come back to it for a few bites at a time. Took me forever to figure out that was the origin of the smell.

          2. all aboard the anon train*

            It depends how you cook them. A former partner used to make stir fry and those cooked cucumbers tasted and smelt a lot like summer squash squash.

            I grew up eating Polish cucumber soup, and it was a unique sour taste similar to pickles (but the cucumbers were brined before being cooked, hence the sour taste). Breaded or deep-fried cucumbers also taste like pickles.

    3. Indigo*

      That is the thing – I hate the smell of bananas, pea soup, and certain teas. Some of my coworkers dislike the smell of bologna, peanut butter, or tomato sauce.

      Our office does not have any eating area apart from our desks. Drivers can eat in their car but others have no choice but to sit at their desk. They can’t afford to go out to a restaurant for their lunch and must eat what they brought from home.

      One coworker can only afford to pack leftovers for her lunch, I could not imagine her being told that she’d have to cook blander foods for supper at home because someone was offended by the smell at work.

      I find a lot of workplace rules like this can completely ignore the fact that not everyone is privileged enough to always be able to afford the changes. So a ban on tuna sandwiches could easily mean that an employee can no longer afford to eat at lunch because of their finances.

    4. Wrench Turner*

      Cooking oils can bring out natural pigments in spices and bright food ingredients and transfer those oils to an absorbent porous surface like wood real easy. Turmeric and saffron or yellow curry powders are real (tasty) culprits.

      1. Koko*

        This is true, before I upgraded to silicone spatulas and spoons every cooking utensil I owned was permanently yellow from adding turmeric to basically everything I ate.

    5. Temperance*

      The desks in my office are made of a weird, pretty porous material. My desk is covered in ink and coffee stains.

    6. MillersSpring*

      If the kebab’s sauce or marinade had turmeric and it splattered, that definitely could stain a light-colored desk.

      1. Callie*

        If stains are that big of a concern, then a lunch break and an area away from the desk to eat should be provided.

    7. Sadsack*

      Maybe the kebab fell onto a blotter. If it’s a calendar, at least the stain is only there until the next month!

  10. Indigo*

    For #2 I would say you shouldn’t consider banning smelly foods from desks if there is no designated eating area. A segregated area would limit the interference of smelly foods and give a proper area to dispose of the foods. To get away from the ethnic side – what if someone is on a special diet or their budget restricts their options to prepare foods that are less smelly? Do they potentially need to eat in their car or sitting on a curb in the winter?

    I feel that if the only place for people to eat within the office is at their desk, it feels very elementary school to tell them they can’t bring X, Y, or Z unless it is for severe allergies.

  11. Violet Fox*

    #2 Is there anywhere that food garbage could be thrown away that is not near the desks? If you make it a rule that all food trash needs to be thrown away not near the desks, it would make things generally more pleasant (speaking from experience, old banana peels can also get pretty gross), and do it in a way that does not sound at all discriminatory since it would be for *all* food trash, not just one type.

    1. Chastened*

      The letter seems to focus on the eating rather than the garbage. We’ve all been there when someone heats up something in the microwave and the smell travels across every desk.

      The heating/eating can be smelly when you are not the one eating it or you do not enjoy that food. Even an employee bringing lunch in a plastic container would be a problem – even though the container is sealed or even washed after eating, the smell still spreads and lingers while eating at their desk.

      I certainly hope the workplace would be organized enough to have a specific food waste bin that is away from the general seating area… I could not imagine the smell at the end of the day if everyone tossed their scraps in the bins at their desk!

  12. Temperance*

    I know that I’ve shared this before, but at my last job, there was a woman who, for some reason, used to microwave fish for breakfast. Every single day. The smell would waft out to the reception desk, and guests would comment on it. We had to talk to her boss about it. (Shared office space environment; her boss was our renter.)

    There admittedly were cultural differences at play, but it was embarrassing when guests would comment and it was unpleasant for smell it daily.

    1. DeskBird*

      I used to work with a woman who would microwave fish for lunch every day – and it was NOT an ethnic thing. But it was awful. The microwave was in the coat room so unless we got our coats and brought them to our desks our coats would smell like fish – and no one wanted to use that microwave for an hour after she had. Eventually someone talked to the owner and he set up a second microwave in an unused office just for her – which made things a lot better. But oh my did it smell awful.

      1. Callie*

        Fish would be the one thing I would discourage at work. I don’t even cook fish in my house, the smell will never go away. It’s my favorite thing to eat in a restaurant/takeout.

  13. food anon*

    #2: I get defensive about banning certain foods because a lot of my ethnic food is almost always on the list. And it really, really sucks when I’m told not to eat it because someone doesn’t like the smell, which means I have to go out of my way to find food that’s appropriate or whatever. Because the thing is, it might be a “common smelly ingredient” for some people, but for me and other people of my ethnicity, it’s normal.

    When it comes down to it, everyone is going to have a food they think smells, so I don’t really think you can label certain foods as “common disgusting smells” because not everyone is going to hate the smell and generally those “common smells” do belong to some ethnic foods. If you start letting everyone say which foods they think smell awful you’re going to end up with no one being able to eat anything.

    1. food anon*

      I hit post too quickly before I could add this – but I’m okay with banning smelly food in a reception area or guest area, but I think all food should just be banned from that area in general.

    2. INTP*

      Yeah, because of this I think the only fair way to handle this is to ban all food that can be smelled at all from a certain distance (basically every hot food), or ban no foods. I am not ethnic but the food I cook at home is mostly vegan, so I use a lot of spices and onions and garlic for flavor. Meat smells too (the smells of chicken and ham are just revolting if you aren’t used to them) but American palates in general tend to be more accustomed to that smell than spices and alliums, so my food can be considered “stinky” when it’s not more odorous than anyone else’s. It’s not really about how much odor a food is throwing off or how objectively foul-smelling it is, it’s more about what the average person is used to. People whose diets tend towards the bland or normative tend not to realize how restricting it can be for other people to cater to their smell preferences.

      1. Misc*

        … it’s more about what the average person is used to

        *nods* I used to eat bacon and then I stopped and the smell went from ‘mildly pleasant’ to ‘I will gag if I have to stay in the same room’. Same person, same bacon, just… not food I ate anymore.

        1. Alice*

          Right? I hate when people use the term ethnic to be synonymous with being of a culture or race that is in the minority. Everyone has an ethnicity and a culture!

  14. Biff*

    I really can’t come up with a way to ban foods without coming across as an ass, to be honest. There is a laundry list of thinks I shouldn’t eat due to one condition, and another laundry list of things I CAN’T eat because I get sick. If my work started banning foods, I’d soon find myself in a lot of trouble. I say this as someone who has a less restrictive diet than most, and a better sense of smell than most.

  15. Elizabeth West*

    #2–I don’t think you can ban specific foods for reasons other commenters and Alison have mentioned. But you certainly can ask people to do the following:

    1) Do not throw food trash in the bins at their desks (can also be for pest control reasons). Put food waste (leftovers they’re throwing away, wrappers, etc.) in a container elsewhere so the smells don’t linger. (Make sure you provide one!)

    2) Please be mindful of foods that might stain and use a place mat or some kind of barrier between the desk and the food.

    3) No eating or disposal of food trash in lobbies or reception areas (if applicable).

  16. GovWorker*

    Re: food smells
    A good HEPA air filter can be a godsend. Especially at a reception area. The worst office smell I ever encountered was not directly food related but was a melon or something the coworker in front of me ingested for stomach trouble. It truly smelled like death and was turning my stomach. We had worked together for years so I asked him to please not take that stuff anymore while at his desk, as did the manager. The guy was Indian ( from India) and explained that it was a folk cure of his culture. In any event, he understood that cultural tolerance aside, the stuff smelled repulsive and he would step away or outside to take it. Sometimes you just can’t grin and bear it, although that is what I always did until this situation came up.

    I only had one coworker who drenched in perfume, but I have no allergies or anything so I put up with that too. I actually enjoy mild pleasant fragrances. Didn’t like the smell of toner cartridges.

  17. GovWorker*

    To avoid catching whatever, I never use the pads of my fingers for pushing anything, elevator buttons, copy machine buttons, light switches, atm buttons, etc. Knuckles only. I keep alchohol gel by the door and apply it as soon as I get home. I then wash my hands thoroughly as I can. I have health conditions that make the common cold risky. Just had a flu shot too.

    1. Artemesia*

      Just always washing my hands when I get in after riding public transport and before eating and cleaning keyboards of shared public computers (like at the photo lab I sometimes use) with alcohol gel, has dramatically cut colds. I am a month into international travel at the moment and so far no colds — relentless about hand washing and alcohol gels.

  18. JIW*

    One solution to the food smell issue is to have the office purchase a good air cleaner. It will clean the air quickly. (Also, try green plants. An average philodendron cleans an area of about 4-5 ft in diameter around it every couple of hours.)

  19. Artemesia*

    #5. Assume this is not going to happen. Stop agitating and contacting and fussing — it is almost certainly not going to happen and if it does, they will remember you and contact you. Maybe touch base again in a month with the clear awareness that it is not going to happen. Nothing will take you out of the running faster than nagging the interviewer who has already told you there is a hiring freeze.

    And meantime aggressively pursue other options while assuming this one is dead. If you get some offers, touch base again before you accept something else — but this is the kind of situation where 9 times out of 10 this job is gone — no point driving them nuts and ruining future chances.

    1. A Girl Has No Name*

      Exactly. We recently had a hiring freeze in our department due to events completely outside of our control. It was indefinite in terms of the timing, and frankly, it was incredibly frustrating to us to have an open headcount that we couldn’t fill (everyone had to step up and take on extra work until an unspecified date). It would have been that much more frustrating to have to keep telling candidates that we were still in a freeze, still no new info, blah blah blah…

      Eventually (~6 months later), the freeze was lifted and we could pick the hiring process back up. Fortunately for us, our top candidate was still available and interested (no, we hadn’t forgotten about him), and the fact that he didn’t keep inquiring made what was an already annoying situation less frustrating. But if he hadn’t been available because his job search continued and something better/more concrete had come up, we would have understood.

  20. Adam's Off Ox*

    #2 – If I had my druthers, I would totally ban eating at your desk. Most people at my office do that even though there’s a lunchroom.

    I don’t eat between meals, but some of my co-workers seem to just graze all day, and every day I have to hear crunching, munching, lip-smacking, chip bags crackling, and inhale all kinds of unwanted smells, some of them unpleasant but some so pleasant it makes me hungry when it isn’t time for lunch.

  21. Dust Bunny*

    I had a former boss who eliminated the break room because he needed it for storange space, and then banned food smells because he felt it made the place seem less clean, which mean we had to eat in our cars or at the decrepit picnic table on the other side of the parking lot. In Houston, where it rains a lot and is 90+ degrees and humid for easily half the year.

    If you don’t want food smells, you’d better provide a closed, reasonably comfortable place for people to eat and time for them to do it. If you don’t have the space, time, or staff to do that, then stop complaining. And there will always be somebody who finds some smells offensive, so it’s all or nothing.

  22. Phoenix Feather*

    I’ve been there with #2 – smelly foods. Ever since my pregnancy 7 years ago, I have been ultra sensitive to smells. Not usually that much of an issue, but my new role has me working with a retired service member who thinks kimchi is heaven sent. At least once a week he goes to a nearby Korean store and comes back with 3-5 varieties, then proceeds to open each container and walk around the office offering it to others. I am the only staff member in the open area while the others are all in contained offices with doors. When I spoke with him about it, letting him know the smell was overwhelming me and I’d appreciate it if he could keep it in his office with the door closed, he asked why everyone hated on kimchi – that even when he was stationed in Korea, his superior officers told him to stop bringing it in. He’s been very understanding about my smell aversion, which I appreciate. I think there is definitely a risk of alienating people by telling them their food stinks, and what one person loves others will not. I would never tell someone they cannot bring in a food; but I would expect them to minimize the impact by closing a door and respecting the others. Respect goes both ways!

  23. Mambo #5 OP -- Yeah, you know me.*

    OP for #5 here.

    First, to all who say this might not be my dream job — I’m already doing this job for my current company (and my last company), plus I’ve worked in the sector for nearly two decades. A big part of the appeal is getting to work with 5 previous coworkers again, directly and indirectly. They’ve shared the good times and horror stories. No illusions that it’s all shiny! :-)

    I wrote to Allison because, in addition to receiving fantastic advice from her before, we’re conditioned to follow-up after interviews; thank you notes are NOT overrated. But I’ve been spoiled in that I’ve never had radio-silence before now. I guess I really needed everyone to tell me to sit still and be patient.

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