everyone wants to know why I’m not eating at office food events, telling people they can’t bring a plus-one to the holiday party, and more

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

1. Everyone wants to know why I’m not eating at office food events

Now that it’s holiday time, I’m in a food conundrum. Due to multiple food allergies, I have to scrutinize every bit of food that I eat. I’ve found myself in a company that has many social events for employees that revolve around food. There are annual chili cookoffs, bake offs, potlucks, carnivals, brunches, monthly birthday celebrations, bbqs, etc.

When I’ve attended such events, I often find that I cannot eat any of the food provided so I usually stand around with a drink and chat. Others always notice I’m not eating and sometimes ask me why. I understand their concerns but I’m so tired of having to explain my diet. It’s really getting old and it makes for a great deal of awkwardness.

I skipped my own birthday celebration this year because of this. I’d just as soon skip all foodie work events but then I’d miss out on getting to know my colleagues and networking opportunities. Most of all, I don’t want to develop a reputation in the office as the person with all the food allergies.

I’d love some better coping strategies but please don’t suggest that I bring my own food to the events. I’ve tried that and unless it’s a potluck situation, it invites a whole other host of awkward questions launched my way.

Try saying this in a cheerful tone: “Oh, it’s boring — but tell me how X is going!” X can be any change of subject — a work project, an outside-of-work-interest they have, anything. Alternately, your change of subject could be “but I wanted to tell you about X,” which could then be something in your own life, or even “but I love your shoes!” In other words, change the subject immediately.

Most people will understand that “it’s boring” means “I don’t want to talk about it yet again.” But if you get someone who pushes — and you probably will, because man we are weird about food — then you can say, “Oh, just a bunch of allergies that put me to sleep to talk about” or “eh, boring health stuff” or “on my planet we don’t eat” or “I’m taking all my food in liquor form” or anything else that lets you refuse to engage.

2. How should I answer this interview question?

I’ve been going on a lot of interviews lately (thanks to your book!) and I often get asked what I would do if a certain problematic situation occurred or if I made a certain mistake. If the situation they’re asking about seems unusual or very important (i.e, a good client is extremely upset, or the mistake is a big one and complicated to resolve), I mention that I’d loop my boss in, or I’d go to my boss for advice. Nearly every time I say this, the interview panel seems dissatisfied with my answer. Should I be pretending that I’d handle big issues without talking to or notifying my boss? Is there some unspoken rule on how to answer these questions? I am certain that on the job most of these managers would be unhappy if their employees didn’t notify them of important issues or ask them for advice in sticky situations.

I’m not a high level employee – just a support worker.

No, you’re right that for a big issue, you should loop in your boss. But your interviewers probably seem dissatisfied because that answer is denying them the ability to find out how you’d handle the situation if your boss weren’t guiding you. So it’s fine to continue saying that you’d talk to your boss, but you should also add, “But if my boss were unavailable, I’d do X.” That way you’re demonstrating the good judgment of knowing that your boss should be in the loop, but you’ll also be giving them the information they’re really after, which is how you’d handle the situation if it was left to your judgment.

3. Telling employees they can’t bring a plus-one to our holiday party

My office is having a holiday party and I am responsible for posting the flyer and keeping track of RSVPs. I am supposed to write somehow in a nice way that employees can not bring a +1, but I can’t figure out how to do that. It is a party in the middle of the day — 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. — and it isn’t a traditional party (we are taking a curling class and eating). What should I say on the flyer to get the point across without sounding mean?

Are you sure you need to? People usually assume that parties during the workday are employees only. But if you have reason to worry, you could say something like “because this is during the day, this event is just for employees” or something tongue-in-cheek like “a highly exclusive, employee-only fête.” And really, in most offices it would be fine to just be totally straightforward and say, “This is employees only.”

4. My job description is inaccurate

My employer wants me to sign a job description that is both inaccurate and obsolete in many areas. I am reluctant to sign off on something that is not accurate or up-to-date. What should I do?

Have you pointed that out to your manager? Say something like this: “There area  few pieces of this that aren’t accurate and up-to-date, like X and Y. Could I update this and run a proposed revision by you?” Or if the changes you want to make aren’t extensive, you could just mark up the copy you have, show it to your boss, and say, “Would it be possible to revise these pieces so it accurately reflects the work I do?”

5. Should I interview at another company just to get an offer to use as leverage with my current job?

I’m currently at a job that I really like. The people are great, the mission is something I believe in, and I love the work that I do. However, the pay is definitely below market. Other than that, I love where I’m at!

Recently, a former colleague approached me about a job opening at another company in the same industry and he shared with me that the pay is definitely more in line with what the market says. Plus, the job is pretty much identical to what I’m doing right now, so I’m sure I’m qualified.

Is it messed up to apply to this new company with no intention of leaving my current job? The only reason I would do this is to receive an offer from the new company and use that as leverage in salary negotiations in my current company. I feel a little icky thinking about it, but this is the advice I’ve received about the situation.

Yeah, don’t do that. There’s a reasonably good chance that your company will just tell you to take the new job, at which point you’ll be out of a job that you never intended to quit. (There are some companies where people get raises by presenting offers from other companies, but that practice is highly dysfunctional and those places are in the minority, not the majority.)

If you want a raise, ask for a raise. Put together a case for why you’ve earned a higher salary and what market rates for your work are and argue it on your own merits.

{ 138 comments… read them below }

  1. Student*

    #2 If this is consistently an issue, then maybe you are too quick to get your boss involved in problems. It’s hard to tell without a specific issue and specific boss, but for example, if an important client got upset I wouldn’t necessarily want to hear about it or provide input. I’d want to know if there was some systematic issue they complained about that needed to be addressed, or if fixing the issue required my authority, or if they filed a lawsuit, for example.

    However, I would not want to know if it was something you could resolve on your own with reasonable resources, or the complaint was a baseless issue (product is not available in client’s favorite shade of neon orange, product does not do a thing that it was never designed for, etc.). I don’t have time to provide advice for every problem, even every major problem – that’s why my employees have the resources and authority to fix many problems they’ll encounter.

    #3 “Employees Only” in modest text at the bottom. Anything else is making this weird when it does not need to be weird. You don’t have to soften everything.

    Life tip: the people who are easily offended by broadly normal non-offensive things, like only allowing employees during a work-day, work-hours, work-sponsored holiday event, will find something to get offended by no matter what you do to avoid it. They like the power and attention they get when they are offended.

    1. MillersSpring*

      OP #2: In many situations, looping in your boss might be the fourth or fifth step. Maybe you’d first verify the facts, then gather input from a few colleagues, then research possibilities online, then prepare a preliminary plan or communication.

      As a manager, I’m so impressed with a subordinate who can address issues then loop me in rather than needing immediate direction before doing anything. This may be the kind of situation the interviewers are asking you to consider.

      1. Cat steals keyboard*

        Exactly. I’m not sure I agree with AAM’s suggested wording as it kind of implies that you would only need to think for yourself if your boss wasn’t there.

        To that end, I think looping in your boss is the last thing to mention if at all. You need to remember that they ask these questions to find out how you solve problems. So explain what solution you would use or propose and if you think you need to run it past your boss then you can mention that last.

          1. Cat steals keyboard*

            In which case I’m surprised they seem dissatisfied – can you tell us a bit more about what they are saying or doing at these times? Might you be reading them wrong? (I know I can sometimes do that.)

          2. fposte*

            Agreeing with Cat–the problem may not be the looping in of the boss if you’re giving more in the answer before you get there.

          3. MillersSpring*

            If you’re answering these questions thoroughly, with only part of your answer being “loop in my boss,” I think these panels’ dissatisfaction may be signaling that the boss may often be away, unavailable, more of your caretaker than your leader, or that the role may soon have more responsibility.

            I have faced exactly this kind of interview panel, and it turned out that the position was going to report to the CEO during an acquisition, and he had little ability or interest in being looped into about 98% of issues. I was expected to be extremely self-sufficient.

      2. MK*

        I wouldn’t say that it should be a fourth step as much as a parallel one. My boss would definitely want to know if someone we serve got upset, but that doesn’t mean having the whole situation handed to them to deal with. Usually it’s a case of looping them in on what I already did or what I plan to do rather than asking them for instructions or refering the situation to them.

        That being said, it’s important for a support person to know when it’s good to take initiative and when it’s better to do nothing till you run it by your boss.

        1. sstabeler*

          there’s 4 levels of problem, I’d say:
          1) a problem the support worker can handle on their own authority without their boss needing to know about it (say, in a retail store, a customer wants to return an item within the return period and has their receipt.) In this case, I would say the manager would be justifiably irritated if you looped them in at all- since it’s both wasting their time, and implies a bit too much of a CYA/jobsworth attitude (by jobsworth, I mean someone who, when asked to be flexible, always says “it’s more than my job’s worth to do that” even when thye could, actually, do it without getting into trouble)
          2) a problem the manager needs to know about, but only after it’s solved. In this case, fix the problem, then send a quick FYI to the manager. (say, as a sysadmin, if the server goes down, bring it back up, then shoot off an email to your boss letting them know the server went down for the Nth time this week so do they want you to investigate why this keeps happening?)
          3) a problem where the manager needs to approve the solution- in this case- which happens a fair bit- you contact your manager once you’ve figured out a possible solution, and say it as “X has gone wrong, I want to do Y to fix it, is that OK?”
          4) a problem truly above your pay grade- where the manager would need to decide what to do about it- when you probably want to involve your manager right away.

      3. Artemesia*

        This. YOu want to lay out a set of procedures you would follow when a problem arises and then say something like ‘of course, with something this (important, disruptive, whatever) I’d also loop the boss in so they know what’s going on and can offer in put.’

    2. Mookie*

      I don’t think LW 3 is concerned about “offending” anyone; she’s eliciting examples of phrasing that won’t read as jarring in the context of a relaxing, low-pressure employee event* or weirdly stern and formal.

      *Most times, I hate the notion of a sport-themed bonding exercise, but framing it as a course with instruction rather than a individual or team-based competition sounds lot less anxiety- and dread-inducing. Also, curling** sounds fun and like it could be adaptable to different people’s strengths and abilities.

      **That the event involves instruction in curling explains, to me, why LW 3 might feel it necessary to caution against bringing guests, as I could see it generating interest from employee’s friends and family who might want a free lesson

  2. Loz*

    #1 – you don’t have to really explain anything. “I’ve got so many allergies it’s not even worth working out what I can and can’t eat at these things. I’ll grab something later. Now about …”.

    Easy. Nobody wants to hear in enough detail to make it awkward.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I have to agree with this. Own the allergies. Allergies are so pervasive that it isn’t a big deal. The fact that you are managing your own health issue without impacting others is actually a bonus in many people’s minds.
      Believe me – “the person with the allergies” is a fairly innocuous label in a healthy organization. It only becomes a problem when you make it other people’s problem (whining about what you can’t eat, forcing diet restrictions on everyone else).

    2. AcademiaNut*

      It sounds like this might be what the OP has been doing, and is tired of going through it over and over again every time someone new notices. I can definitely see people asking what the allergies are, or trying to help figure out if there is something that the OP can eat, based on common allergies.

      I’m wondering if a simple “I’m good” would be better. Or would it be possible to carry a partly-empty plate around, making it look like you’re eating? Sort of a food equivalent of carrying a glass of ginger-ale in a high-ball glass to stop people from pushing alcohol at you.

      1. many bells down*

        Or even an “oh, I already ate.” My husband has celiac and he does this – because he frequently DOES eat before we go to an event. It’s easier for him than puzzling out what’s safe for him to eat.

      2. OP #1*

        OP#1 here. I’ve actually tried the empty plate strategy before but not at work events. (Think church-type dinners.) People kept stopping me to ask whether I’d eaten yet or why I disliked the food. Fun times.
        Unfortunately, my workplace is so small, people tend to notice if/what you’ve eaten.

        1. Fem*

          OP#1, I sooo feel you. I’m still trying to figure out how to cope with this myself, so no tips from my side, but just to say: I sooo feel you… Best of luck!

        2. lawsuited*

          If your workplace is small, you should only need to explain a few times to a few people that you have a variety of allergies that you wouldn’t want anyone to try to accommodate before word gets around and you don’t have to field these questions anymore. In that sense, being the “allergy person” will help you in the long run more than making up unique excuses at each event.

        3. Joe X*

          If your office is that small, I’m surprised that everyone isn’t aware of your allergy issues already. And I find it pretty rude that they wouldn’t take that into account for your birthday party.

          1. Lora*

            It is pretty rude but some people honestly can’t be bothered. I have a wheat sensitivity (I went for the celiac disease tests and didn’t come up strong enough to be classed celiac) but to make things easier, I now eat gluten free at company events. However, coworkers still push birthday cake in my face and chide me for not eating any when it’s someone’s retirement party. I’ve worked at the place for over a decade, and they still can’t remember. Somehow they always remember who’s vegetarian…

    3. Amber*

      yeah agreed, just say you have a lot of food allergies and will eat later. And if they press just say “I’d rather not talk about it.”

      1. Ultraviolet*

        If someone presses it I also suggest “thanks, but it’s fine” or “don’t worry about it.” Followed by a subject change as Alison recommends.

        1. Sam*

          +1. OP says the office is pretty small, so she shouldn’t need to repeat herself too many times – people should remember. And at every office I’ve worked, the organizers of these kinds of events would want to know about allergies so that next time they can make sure there’s something everyone can eat.

    4. RobM*

      Not even that if you really don’t want to talk about allergies, just go with:
      “I’m not hungry right now actually… now about that [subject change]”

    5. David St Hubbins*

      I ‘t not even worth a full sentence. Just say “allergies.” The end. It’s not like people will say “Oh, she has ALLERGIES!” as if it’s leprosy or something.

    6. TL -*

      I have a lot of allergies and usually my response is “Can’t, allergic,” with a smile. Sometimes people will say, “Oh, to gluten/nuts?” if the allergen is obvious, but usually they just nod and the conversation moves on.

      Is that kind of approach not working for you, OP? Usually people are willing to leave it at that.

    7. fposte*

      When I’ve had food-limiting difficulties, I just go with “I have annoying food stuff” with a shrug. That covers both the disorder and any diet I may have to eat as a result of it. The vagueness of it seems to put people off asking further.

      1. Acx016*

        OP1, so sorry you are dealing with this! I, too, have serious food allergies that can cause anaphylaxis. I’ve been dealing with it for 20+ years now and I used to have a lot of anxiety around public events that involved food. I used to try to cover and not let on I couldn’t eat what everyone else could, but over time I have learned to own it and brush past it. For example, if i don’t get a plate (or bring my own food bc sometimes homegirl is hungry) I just say “allergies, I’m good” or “I’ve got what I need”. And if anyone asks additional questions I just brush it off and say, “no worries, I’m cool. I’ve been doing this for 20 years.” And just move on with life. I learned that I was the one causing my own anxiety and I had to find a way to deal with it better. I promise it’s a bigger deal to you than it is for your co workers. Happy allergen-free Thanksgiving!!! :))

  3. Office Plant*

    #4 – I would send them a marked up PDF of the job description document with your proposed changes, and add an extra page with short explanations and evidence for each proposed change. “As instructed by John, I currently share teapot painting responsibilities with Fergus. See attached screenshot on page two.” But that’s just me.

    It’s a serious type of document. It can affect your salary, opportunities for promotions and transfers within the company, the kind of references your manager gives you later on, and how prepared they are to cover for you when you’re out or replace you after you leave. So it’s in everyone’s best interest to get it right.

    1. Britta*

      Yes – I have been made to sign an inaccurate job description in the past and it was then almost immediately used as an excuse to terminate my employment, since I was not meeting the completely false (which the company knew to be false) job description responsibilities. It was a highly toxic terrible workplace, they were forcing me out and this was the method they chose. But since I had ample evidence in writing that they knew it was false, I took them to court about it and they settled.

      I learned never to sign anything I wasn’t 100% comfortable with. This is a huge red flag. My advice would be, if Alison’s advice doesn’t work, is to over the head of the person pressuring you (to their manager, or HR, or if necessary a lawyer). And good luck.

    2. Trix*

      Is it common to have to sign a job description? I don’t think I’ve ever done that.

      I’ve been dealing with changing job descriptions for the past few months, as we finally were able to officially combine to the two quasi-departments into one cohesive thing, and good lord was it a pain. I work for a large company (70K+ employees, if you shop for clothes, you’ve heard of us) and I was astounded at the number of teams that had to sign off on it.

      Still only have new job descriptions for my team, I still officially have a description (and title) that is maybe 15% accurate.

  4. Ultraviolet*

    #2 – You could also say that you would tell your boss what was happening and recommend to her what you’d like to do to handle it. (And then tell the interviewers what your recommendation would be.)

    1. OP #2*

      I’ve tried that answer. I’m a pretty independent worker, and I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I’m pretty good at not bothering my boss unless the issue is something I know they’d want to be involved in or notified about. My problem with interviews is that I’ll talk about how I’d solve the problem, or how I’d solved similar problems in the past, and as I get to the part about looping in my boss (such as sending them a head’s up e-mail or letting them know what happened) I get an interview panel sour puss. I find it strange, because on the job my experience is that my manager always wants to know if Something Huge has happened, and if Something Huge and Confusing is happening, my manager would want me to consult them. Acting as my manager’s eyes and ears in the department has always been a really important part of my job. That’s why I sent this question in – I don’t understand the interview panels’ reactions. I always make it clear that I only go to my boss in highly unusual or emergency situations.

      1. OP #2*

        I also want to mention that for some of the situations posed to me in interviews, I literally would be fired in most workplaces for handling the issue on my own without consulting my boss or a higher-up.

        1. Mookie*

          Just to be clear, these panels are hiring for support positions similar to the one you currently hold and are in the same field? It’s such an odd reaction on their part, if that’s the case. Have you mentioned, diplomatically, that not looping in management, in these hypothetical situations, might cost you your job for XYZ security and protocol reasons? If so, how does the panel respond?

        2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          Would you mind sharing what types of jobs you are applying for? It sounds like you’re giving the right answers, maybe there is something more specific we are missing

        3. The Expendable Redshirt*

          Maybe start out your interview answer by saying….

          “Assuming that I had approval from my supervisor I would Solve The Problem by Taking Action.”
          So, get the approval aspect stated in the beginning, then focus on how you solve the dilemma. The reaction from the interviewers is very odd indeed. Looking forward to more information from the OP.

      2. lawsuited*

        I think you need to post some of the actual questions asked and then actual responses you gave resulting in a poor reaction from the interview panels, because it is possible (likely even) that they are reacting to something other than you mildly adding that you would loop in your manager as suggested here.

  5. Cat steals keyboard*

    #1 I think your employer should be providing some food that you can eat. Have you asked?

    1. Fiona the Lurker*

      While I agree with you in theory, sometimes that’s easier said than done. I recently organised an event where we had a lot of people with special diets; I co-ordinated all the information and passed it on to the caterers who swore up hill and down dale that they could and would cope. Come the day, half the food was missing and some of the people with special diets felt very let down. (By which time it was too late to do anything but apologise.) Now, okay, this was on the caterers and not on us – we won’t be using them again – but even with the best intentions it’s not always possible to cater to every individual’s needs. If people are happy either bringing their own or just not eating, that should definitely be an option!

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I know people with very complicated food issues who simply don’t eat anything they haven’t prepared themselves, because it is so difficult to explain what they needed, and so easy for something to go wrong.

        1. Kyrielle*

          This. I have been sand-bagged by butter, and unexpected garlic or onion powder is way too common.

          It’s hard, and in some cases expensive, to make something at all interesting to eat that I can have. (Our company catering does a very simple meal for lunch meetings I’m in. My coworkers wince, but I like it fine. But in a potluck dish? Oh man I would not ask my coworkers to try this.)

      2. cataloger*

        Yeah, I’ve seen this happen as well. I traveled to a conference with a vegan colleague, and he’d even marked “vegan” on the registration form where they asked about dietary restrictions. When we got there, they’d ordered a bunch of sandwiches from a local shop and asked him, “Oh, are you the vegan? Yeah, sorry.” This was in Ann Arbor, so they should have had no trouble providing something.

    2. OP #1*

      It’s funny but my employer knows my situation yet nothing’s changed it that regard. But my belief is that since this is not a religious -type food restriction, my employer isn’t obligated to provide food I can eat. It would be nice though.

      1. Anonhippopotamus*

        The lack of a legal obligation doesn’t preclude your employer from acting in good faith – keep bringing it up!

      2. Cat steals keyboard*

        I think they should do really if it’s such a big part of the culture and is affecting you disproportionately.

        1. Joe X*

          I agree. I read the question that these are pot luck parties. If the employer is catering them or otherwise providing the food, then they should be making more of an effort to provide something the OP can eat. It’s not a legal requirement, but it’s just basic courtesy.

      3. sjw*

        I agree it would be awesome for them to attempt to accomodate your needs. But I’m confused … if you don’t like talking about it, are you sure they know? Have you asked for accomodation? Because (as the person who coordinates food orders a lot) I can’t know what no one tells me. In detail. I just don’t know enough about different dietary needs to fill in all the blanks. (for example, if someone tells me they can’t eat anything with gluten in it, I don’t necessarily know what that means … but I’d love to help)

      4. Gaia*

        They may not be “obligated” but they really should, if they can.

        I work in an office with a lot of food events. I mean A LOT. Like more than one a week, on average. We have an electronic list of everyone’s (self-disclosed) allergies and food preferences. As we bring on new people, it is part of our onboarding process to let them know of our penchant for food and let them know if they’d like us to, we will accommodate their needs.

        Then, when we have events, we make sure everyone can have something. For instance last week we had birthday cupcakes and two of our workers are gluten free and one is vegan so we went to a special bakery and got them individual cupcakes. For our potlucks everyone labels their food for allergies and the company ensures there is food brought in that will cover anyone with preferences or allergies (and not just a side dish, but a real meal) in case that is missed by the coworkers.

    3. Joseph*

      Depends on the situation. Based on OP’s description, it seems like a lot of the events are just everybody brings something (“chili cookoffs, bakeoffs, potlucks”). Her description of her co-workers as ‘foodies’ also points to this.
      For these sorts of events, it’s not reasonable to ask your co-workers to accommodate everybody’s allergies – and trying will either just result in fewer people bothering to cook at all OR people making dishes which are supposed to be allergy-free but aren’t*.
      That said, it is reasonable to expect at least a few events where OP could eat. Most notably, on your birthday celebration, it’s kind of ridiculous they didn’t figure something out. If your company regularly caters from the same place, it might be worth it to look up their menu, find something you can eat, then just tell whoever does the ordering that you’d appreciate it if they ordered an Item X any time they order from them. This is a bit of work on your part, but allows you to guarantee that you get something edible, rather than relying on the word of someone who doesn’t fully understand your allergy.
      *Her co-workers are presumably not professional chefs, so this can happen entirely innocently by either not realizing what’s actually in it or by not fully understanding the allergy (e.g., people with shellfish allergies are typically allergic to squid and octopus as well, despite the fact they don’t have shells).

      1. Mookie*

        LW1, in her reply above, indicates that the employer generally caters these events and in the last sentence of her letter implies that potlucks aren’t common and , in any case, wouldn’t solve the problem in a manner she’d prefer.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        That accidental allergen thing, as I’m sure the OP knows, is just so easy to do. And it makes people nervous who aren’t used to it. My pastor’s new wife has celiac’s, and I headed up a committee for the first church dinner she was invited to, when they were dating. Half the people either didn’t think it was a big deal and that we shouldn’t have to accommodate her at all- or only provide one thing she could eat- and the other half was in a nervous panic about what to give her, when I said we were just going to have to read labels, even for things we wouldn’t expect to contain gluten (like parmesan cheese.) So I agree, that few people would participate if they were asked to make sure everything was allergen-safe.

        I do believe that if it’s the office providing the food, they should be providing something the OP can eat, though- and not just a salad with no dressing!

        1. Hellanon*

          And with serious food allergies, too, cross-contamination can be deadly – I can do a vegan meal out of my carnivore’s kitchen, but I would not recommend that anyone with celiac or anaphylaxis-inducing allergies eat anything I’d made. My kitchen is clean, but there’s probably flour in nooks and crannies of cabinets, not to mention bits of ground nuts… there’s clean and there’s clean, and I just wouldn’t trust anyone else where my life was concerned. Especially not just to be polite.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Yeah, I think that’s true of most people’s kitchens—those who do keep them clean, that is.

            I think maybe they feel bad that OP isn’t eating anything at all. I’d probably just tell people I have multiple allergies and then bring my own plate of special food. If they didn’t like it, too bad.

  6. That Indian Girl*

    Does anyone have any idea when the next open-thread will be? I came across something and I wanted to throw it out there to see what others (and maybe Allison) have to say about it. But I’m not sure if throwing it out here would be off-topic or not.
    (On a side note – I stumbled across AAM a few months back and since then I’ve been voraciously trawling my way through all the archives. I love this website! Even though it mostly deals with American employment law and practices, it’s given me a lot of insight into how to deal with a lot of work situations that seem to be a common thing wherever you go, cultural differences notwithstanding.
    And the fact that I was one of many people completely screwed over by a startup founded by, among others, an American, made me curious to see if things would have been done differently if they’d set the company in the U.S. versus in India. *sighs* They would.)

    1. That Indian Girl*

      My question doesn’t have to do with what happened to me, however. It’s a bit too late for reparation in that quarter.

    2. Rey*

      They happen on a regular schedule. The work-related thread is posted on Friday and the non-work-related thread is posted on Saturday.

  7. HannahS*

    #1 I like to deliberately misunderstand the question and then force a subject change, if I don’t feel like offering even the barest explanation.
    “Why aren’t you eating?”
    “Oh, no, I’m good thanks. What are you guys working on lately?”

      1. the gold digger*

        Yeah. Just pretend you are a politician. You do not have to answer the question that is asked! (This is something I had to keep coaching my engineer husband on for interviews about his campaign for the State House. Just because a reporter asks you a question does not mean you have to answer that question. You pivot to what you want to talk about. PS This also applies in real life to the obnoxious brother (in law) who wants to drain his own son’s trust – just because someone leaves you a voicemail does not mean you have to call him back.)(I have opinions on this.)(You are allowed to say whatever you want to say and you are allowed not to say whatever you don’t want to say. Someone else’s desire does not trump your wishes.)

  8. RFA*

    #1, I am vegan so I run into a similar issue a lot at work (where they eat bacon and chicken all day every day). No one is even vegetarian or gluten free – let alone VEGAN – and I find myself in conversations as Allison described above. It’s fine but you’d hope after working closely with people for 1.5 years they would start to understand but it’s still awkward. I have brought food to share and it’s been well received but then they tell me they feel guilty because I don’t eat anything they want to share with me. My office is very friendly but it’s still awkward most of the time I end up either excusing myself or sitting with a sad salad as they eat 3 BBQ and giant cakes. I skipped my birthday celebration as well and asked my manager to keep it between us as I didn’t want to engage in any more awkward conversations.

    The office manager has become sensitive to this however, and recently when i had a big training to facilitate, she brought us a big fruit platter. That was so appreciated and I expressed how much I appreciated it. Not a perfect solution but it helps to have allies so try to identify who they are.

    1. OP #1*

      RFA, “Sitting with Sad Salad” is going to be my new nickname someday! And without the dressing, too! Whenever management treats my team with a pizza lunch, no one ever remembers I can’t eat conventional pizza. *sigh
      But yeah, so much this!

      1. Colette*

        I don’t think it’s up to them to remember. Can you ask when something like that happens – I.e. Would it be possible to get a Pizza I Can Eat as well?

        Personally, I wouldn’t be comfortable ordering special food for someone else’s medical needs unless I talked to them about what specifically they could eat at the place I was ordering from. Things change, including restrictions, and I wouldn’t want to order something special that they can’t eat either.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, otherwise you run the risk of “Look, gluten-free pizza for you!!!” and it’s covered in green peppers, which you’re allergic to.

          1. Doodle*

            Yes, this. I’d rather attend a thousand parties surreptitiously eating a snack in the car or the bathroom than one where the host is standing there having made something special for me with everyone watching, and I have to confess “No, I can’t eat that either.” Shudder.

        2. Trillian*

          The difference between vegan and allergies/celiac, though, is the issue of contamination, which makes any kind of communal eating situation fraught. Unless they’ve lived with someone severely allergic, or had the kind of training that makes you track what comes in contact with what (e.g., bio lab), people just aren’t aware enough. (Says the relative of someone with a severe seafood allergy).

          1. Colette*

            Sure, and maybe there’s nothing she can eat – but if there is, it’s in her best interests to speak up, and to make it as easy to accommodate her as possible.

      2. Jules the First*

        If it makes you feel better, I think it’s worse when they get non-traditional pizza specifically for you…and you still can’t eat it. I’d rather they just didn’t try.

        I’ve successfully used the line “Oh it all looks delicious but I don’t eat.” Said in a matter of fact “….and the sky is blus” tone with a smile, it works a treat because people are completely at a loss for how to respond.

    2. NW Cat Lady*

      I’m an omnivore, but I work with people who are vegetarian, vegan, celiac, allergic to various things…..I try to accommodate as much as possible when we have pot lucks. I will remove bacon from recipes and use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, making things at least vegetarian if not vegan.

      I also live in the Pacific Northwest and volunteer in animal rescue, so I have lots of options and resources to go to for advice.

      However, I REFUSE to make shortbread with margarine. It’s called butter shortbread for a reason. :)

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I think finding allies is key, and might help you feel more comfortable in the long run. I love to cook and bake, and I’ve often brought in treats to various offices. I don’t get offended if someone doesn’t eat my stuff, but I do feel much better if I make something people can eat, even if it’s only once in a while. I had a lovely co-worker who was working through a diagnosis and had to avoid gluten, and I was happy I could make gluten-free cookies for her. My boyfriend is vegetarian, so I tend to be hyper aware if there are no or limited veggie options. If I had a vegan co-worker, I would probably make a vegan dish for a potluck at some point– it’s not difficult to do.

      It also helps to get someone on your side, even if it’s just to run unobtrusive interference. “Hey, don’t eat those little potato-y things– they have ham in them.” “I think this soup might have chicken broth.” “They said it’s gluten free, but she told me she used soy sauce.” Allies can help deflect intrusive questions, too.

      1. the gold digger*

        If I had a vegan co-worker, I would probably make a vegan dish for a potluck at some point– it’s not difficult to do.

        No, it’s not hard at all. And it’s considerate. One of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me was at Thanksgiving years ago. My boyfriend at the time was a vegetarian, but he wouldn’t let me tell people because he didn’t want them to go through any trouble. But the family that had us over for Thanksgiving remembered that John was vegetarian somehow and MaryAnn made an entire meatless lasagna just for him and sent the leftovers home with him. She also made sure the sides were baconless, which is not easy to do in the south.

        1. Joe X*

          As a host, it drives me nuts when people are like your boyfriend. I want to know if my guests have special diet needs because I want to make food they can eat so I always ask. I would be mortified if I found out afterwards that one of my guests couldn’t eat anything I made.

          1. the gold digger*

            Me, too! I don’t want my guests to be hungry! They are in my home and I want to feed them and feed them well!

            I am prepping lunch right now for tomorrow – a friend I see once a year on his drive home from Thanksgiving with his wife’s family (he always has to leave early) is vegetarian. I am making Indian-spiced mac and cheese and salad. My brother has hemochromatosis – when he was here, we had fish. My mom and my sister are lactose-intolerant (for real lactose intolerant, not demanded Lactaid but then eating all of our expensive Carr Valley cheese every day at 4 p.m. for a snack and then not being hungry for supper fake lactose intolerant). I make pie for dessert, not tiramisu, and stock up on the soy milk.

            1. Joe X*

              My daughter has celiac, so I have no qualms about asking about the menu ahead of time. I ask from the standpoint of “I’d like to know so I can bring something for her if we need to” and not “Can you make most things gluten-free so she can eat them?” Although I have to admit I do get a bit annoyed when people won’t try to make at least a little accommodation for her, because a lot of things aren’t very hard to make gf. I certainly don’t expect people to get a gf birthday cake or anything like that – we always have her bring a cupcake or something so she’ll have something.

              1. many bells down*

                My Thanksgiving last year had two vegetarians, one vegan, one celiac, and one person who is literally allergic to anything that comes from a cow. I made a spreadsheet to ensure everyone had at least three things they could eat. (The celiac was actually the easiest, because it’s my husband and I’m used to cooking for him.)

              2. Turkey day conundrum*

                My mother in law is sensitive to gluten (it isn’t celiac but she eats gluten free to not have to deal with the painful aftermath) and so for thanksgiving I will have gluten free stuffing for her in her Cornish hen (doing Cornish hens instead of turkey) and bread she can eat, and not using regular flour to thicken the gravy. It takes paying attention but it isn’t hard and i love her so it is totally worth it.

              3. TootsNYC*

                yeah, dinner itself is easy to do gluten-free. Just don’t use flour, don’t use soy sauce, read the chicken-broth label, and don’t use nonstick pans.

                1. thebluecastle*

                  I’m trying to comment on I Order the Pens but yes, not the non stick pans. Fun Celiac fact, we can get sick from cookware that has come in contact with gluten (flour for instance) and then gets stuck in the little crevasses and dents in the bottom of non stick pans. Its a huge pain in the butt. Depending on the person’s level of sensitivity, usually if something can go through a dishwasher it will be thoroughly cleaned and safe to use (often not an option for non stick pans) versus using a sponge that might also have gluten in it (if its been used to clean something that had gluten containing ingredients on it like flour, pasta etc). Cross contamination is a bitch lol

            2. Trig*

              Hey, as a person who only recently became lactose-intolerant, I just wanna speak up for the ‘ate-all-the-cheese’ person.

              I love dairy. Like, glass of milk with every meal, ice cream every night love. But in recent years, I became lactose intolerant. I can’t drink milk or eat yogurt or ice cream without getting uncomfortably gassy, so I buy lactose-free versions and take a lactase pill when I encounter a creamy thing out and about. Cheese doesn’t bother me quite as much, so I don’t bother with the lactase if I’m just having a bit. I love it, so I’m not about to stop eating it. Hard cheeses have less lactose than milk, and for people who were just fine with dairy until not so long ago, sometimes it’s worth a bit of discomfort for cheeeeeeese.

              (Not to disparage the more severe version your mom and sister have! And not to forgive someone for demanding a pricey supplement and then filling up on snacks before dinner. Just saying, just because some people love cheese enough to put up with stomach pain doesn’t mean they aren’t actually lactose intolerant.)

              1. Cath in Canada*

                I’m lactose sensitive, rather than intolerant, and I can eat hard cheese or small amounts of soft cheese with no problems at all. Even a small glass of milk would make me feel just horrible, but the microorganisms used to make cheese convert most of the lactose to lactic acid.

                1. the gold digger*

                  :) Yes, my sister informed me that there are degrees of lactose intolerance. And I wouldn’t mind at all if my sister and mom ate the Good Cheese. But my husband’s parents had just told him not to marry me and threatened to boycott our wedding, so I was a little cranky.

                  Any AAM friend, lactose intolerant or not, would be more than welcome to the Good Cheese at my house!

          2. Alton*

            Yeah, I don’t want people to make a fuss over me, but I find that it’s more awkward to have to tell someone that you’re vegetarian in the middle of dinner when they say, “Oh, you’re not eating any turkey?” than it is to be more upfront about it.

          3. TootsNYC*

            especially because in many instances, it’s not that difficult to prepare something “clean”–as long as you know in advance!

            1. Candi*

              Gluten free rice flour biscuits/cakes. Could probably be vegan with an egg substitute of some kind. I bake larger batches at 350 F in a conventional oven.

              The only thing I haven’t gotten quite right is the amount of water. Conversion is a pain, even with Google. But 1/2 tsp vanilla or orange peel adds quite a yummy flavor.


  9. Violet Fox*

    I have a more general question with #5, how did the idea of looking for a counter-offer to up the salary where you are become a thing in the first place?

    1. Beautiful Loser*

      I would like to know the answer to this too. I am paid way under market for my position and my workplace refuses to entertain a pay increase. I was told in a round about way that the only way to really get this done was to have another offer in hand, then they would come with a counter offer.

    2. Artemesia*

      In private universities I am familiar with this is pretty much the only way to get a substantial raise. It is common for counter offers to be made to top stars and pretty much the only way to get a substantial raise is by having an offer. I suspect there are plenty of businesses that are willing to hire new people in at high salaries but leave ‘old people’ at current low salaries whcih become more and more out of whack over time. Not a good practice but not an unusual situation.

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      It’s common practice in the IS/IT world…. you must work diligently, perform at a certain level, but somehow let it be known that (justifiably!) you should be getting more, or elevated to a certain position.

      And it can and MAY happen if you are willing to leave your current situation to get it, and are willing to accept the challenge/dare of testing your market value.

  10. Zip Silver*

    #5: from the way you put it, the other job would be doing the same thing at a different place for more pay. Seems to me like it might be worth it to jump ship regardless.

    1. ccsf btech*

      #5 I think it might be worth applying for the other job, you really can’t lose.

      If you don’t get an offer, nothing changes.

      If you do get an offer, you can let your current company know that you are considering it.
      Either they give you a raise to keep you and you get a market-rate salary (win), or they don’t and so you just take the offer and also get a market-rate salary (win).

  11. Liane*

    Ques. 1
    Change the subject or carry a partly-filled plate is all I can think of, but I have my doubts this will work, especially as OP has commented earlier that she’s tried the plate trick. AAM has had a lot of questions/comments about coworkers and bosses who won’t leave food issues alone. They press for details, push quack or prayer “cures,” insist food allergies aren’t real, even threaten to expose the allergic person to the allergen.

    1. Colette*

      I’m sure that kind of thing happens, but here at least (Canada), I’ve never experienced someone pressuring me into eating something I can’t eat.

      But if she’s concerned about people who do t believe allergies are real, she could pass it off as a medical issue that restricts what she can eat.

      1. HannahS*

        Canada’s a big place! I’ve definitely seen that kind of thing here. Pressuring lactose-intolerant people, allergic people, vegetarians, people who keep kosher, you name it, people will be jerks about it.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I think the point is–it’s not about Canada. It’s about jerks.

            Because I live in the U.S., and I’ve seldom seen someone pressure people about eating–certainly never at work. The only place I’ve encountered it is w/the aunts in my ILs’ family. But it’s not like you have to DO anything, or CARE about what they say–you just do what all “nie-phews” do when confronted by annoying aunts. You roll your eyes and go somewhere else. Or if you can’t get up, you say, “Leave me alone.”

    2. Jules the First*

      Lately I’ve taken to using ‘I’m on a special diet for medical reasons’ which has the advantage of a) being true and b) discouraging nosy people from butting in with unhelpful suggestions because it implies that I’ve sought medical advice and am simply complying with my doctor’s demands.

  12. Newish Reader*

    #1: I have several chronic medical conditions where the symptoms are exacerbated by food. And in some cases, a food will be tolerated just fine one day, but cause a symptom flare the next time I eat it. So I’m very hesitant to eat at events, particularly when I don’t know what ingredients or seasonings may have been used in the food.

    While it doesn’t always work, I generally tend to do what Alison suggested – making light of not eating and then changing the subject. Or, as suggested above, I mention that I’ve already eaten or that I’m not hungry. With lunch events at work, I can get away with “oh, I generally don’t eat lunch. So how is X?”

    1. cncx*

      This is exactly my issue too- I have foods that are “never ok”, “always ok” and “sometimes ok.” It gets confusing at work events if i eat it once then don’t eat it again…so i have stepped back on eating at catered work events as well. It just isn’t worth it.

    2. Trig*

      I’ve got a dumb allergy thing to carrots, celery, and apples. Thing is, although raw ones give me… unpleasant gastrointestinal problems, I am fine if they are cooked.

      Because it’s not immediately and externally obvious and they are such seemingly unrelated items already, throwing in that I CAN have them if they’re cooked is too much for people to remember (and it makes it sound even more made up). So I just don’t eat them at all. Which is a shame, because I love carrots and apples!

      1. Candi*

        My dad’s the same way with apples. Raw apples (or apple juice) = trouble, apple pie or pastry is fine.

        Is it just carrots or also all the other, sometimes surprising, carrot relatives?

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I KNOW!!! I was coming here to say almost the same thing. I tried so hard to get my last job to do a curling class for the holidays, but my boss ended up changing his mind and we went drinking. Which is fine, but… curling!!! I had reached out to the local curling club and everything.

      Have fun, OP #3! Know that there are at least a few people out here who are totally jealous of you.

      1. LizB*

        Didn’t your boss know that curling involves lots of drinking anyway? You could have had the best of both worlds!

        My boyfriend’s company did a curling lesson for their holiday party last year (and I was able to come as a +1), and it was super fun. The people on TV make it look so easy, but holy moly is it challenging! Also, now when I see curling on the TV, I understand the rules, and it’s actually kind of fascinating to watch.

    2. Trig*

      My company did it one year, and it was lots of fun! This year we’re back to the standard pool tournament. I hate and suck at pool. Curling was fun, and although there were a few people who were pretty good, it was nowhere near the skill disparity level of pool! (Our other outing has been bowling, which I am also bad at, but also like better than pool.)

    3. Cath in Canada*

      We did this once in my last job and it was so much fun, even though the instructor clearly hated her job and was super grumpy with everyone. We had extra fun just to spite her :)

  13. Editor in Academia*

    #3: Two ideas: A) Can you alter the flyer’s wording? “Party” implies that I could invite my boyfriend along; but your event actually seems to be an offsite, no-work afternoon for staffers to play together, on the clock. B) If you use a Google Form link for RSVPs (which would save time/labor for you!), the Form can repeat the message, with “employees only; we’ll hold your spot if you mark the field below.”

  14. the HR maven*

    OP #1, this may not be the answer you seek but let me share a story from our workplace. We had an employee who had terrible food allergies. He shared it with the office and we completely changed how we did events including where we ate, what we hosted, and what we did together. Given the impact it had on our small place, we also started including it in larger events – asking people if there were preferences about food choices, what options we made available, etc.

    By sharing his allergies, he had a significant, positive impact in our workplace. This may not be the response from all work environments but it was wonderful for us, and much appreciated by employees.

  15. RJ Murphy*

    In response to the Office Food Events, I have a severe mold allergy and recently just started eating gluten free. On any day that there is an event, I will eat before going or bring my own lunch to the conference room and beg off of unsanctioned foods. Also I have noticed when you tell people you eat gluten free they get confused like you are telling them you are a pastafarian and typically leave it alone. And as for networking, I’m allergic to anything fermented, hence no drinking, so ginger ale and grenadine makes for a sweet and colorful potion that tends to fool people enough. Telling people I’m allergic to alcohol usually satifies any inquiries so don’t worry about it. All the best.

  16. Office Manager*

    OP#1 — Food issues… so tricky. Let’s face it, people with dietary restrictions and allergies are surrounded by folks (well meaning or not) in all kinds of situations involving food. And clearly from varying comments above, office culture plays a part. You say in comments that you work in a small-ish office; I’m kind of amazed they haven’t tried to work harder to accommodate you. I agree with other comments that I think it would be useful to “own” your allergies — people need to know there’s an issue, although any further discussion or queries can be shut down. I have a close friend with multiple, serious food allergies, and she generally doesn’t eat things at these types of events because whatever people say, she can’t be sure the food’s safe. Are there *any* things that can be procured regularly that you could safely eat? General categories like fruit salad or hummus, or an entree from a particular restaurant nearby? If I were your office manager, I’d be working really hard to find something you could eat. In our office, if you were the person who regularly ate just the fruit salad and hummus, or the food you brought for the potluck, nobody would mention it. I’m sorry, and your coworkers are rude.

  17. TL17*

    I very deeply dislike Company Holiday Party, but a curling class and food sounds like a lot of fun! I have no advice here; I’d just like to try curling.

  18. Cool Papa*

    OP #1 have you directly explained what your allergies are to the person who plans these? I’ve read your responses and you are dancing around that question. It seems weird to me that they would get you food that you can’t eat for your birthday.

    1. OP #1*

      Thanks to all for your comments.
      There is no one person who plans every event in my office, unfortunately. I also failed to disclose that the office celebrates birthdays on a monthly basis so there were about 6 others to celebrate besides mine.

      1. Cool Papa*

        I was probably too harsh in my first post, but do people really know you are allergic? You’ve said you mentioned, but to who and when? People don’t really look down on “the girl with allergies,” so I wouldn’t worry about that. Absence other evidence, I would assume that people aren’t getting things that accommodate your allergies, because they don’t know you are allergic, or don’t know what you can eat.

  19. LemonLymon*

    If OP 1 is female, one of the issues to consider is that there are always gossipers and, as unfair as it is, there will be people who see her not eating and leap to conclusions about eating disorders or extreme dieting. Again, it’s not fair and – let’s be real – it would be less likely to happen if you’re male. But it would help you dispel any rumors if your coworkers see you eating in other contexts (i.e., a lunch break, snack, etc.)

    I agree with other commenters who say to matter-of-factory state, “I have a lot of food allergies” and move on. But use that word “allergies” since no one can pass judgement in allergies and because people like creating their own conclusions on something broad like “food issues.” I’m sorry that people are so nosey about food. And people get very insulted when you pass on eating. I have been on a restricted diet for a long time and have to very closely watch my sodium intake. Meals with my in-laws can be tough because as many times as I’ve tried explaining my health issues to my BIL he still gets annoyed when I pass on certain foods or bring my own to family dinners (that I know wasn’t heavily salted and has low-sodium sauce).

  20. Recovering ED*

    For #1, I like the casual flippancy suggestion, but I think you should definitely throw the word “allergies” in while you’re doing it. There’s a lot more awareness of eating disorders than there used to be, and when I had one, I used strategies like the one in the answer, so it might worry people if you don’t suggest allergies as well.

  21. Kate*

    Re #5 – one big exception to this advice is academia. Typically you get two moderate raises over the course of an academic career (assistant to associate, associate to full), and, if you are “lucky”, COL increases of maybe 2% per year in between. That’s it, no matter your performance. You want more, you need an outside offer, or else you need to actually jump ship. (yes, it sucks)

    1. Joe X*

      A lot of companies in all fields operate in this fashion – they don’t give big raises unless there’s a promotion to go with it. And even with an outside offer they won’t give a big raise. You get anchored to the pay scale for the level you started at and they won’t budge.

      Nursing is a great example. Say you start off as a new grad on the new grad scale. Three years later, you’re still on the new grad scale even though they if they hired an outside nurse with three years experience, she would be on a higher pay scale because she’s experienced. But they will never adjust the pay for the current nurses.

  22. TootsNYC*

    #5: I did once interview for a job at another company and parlay that into a bonus. I didn’t intend to–I interviewed because they called me and asked me to apply, and I thought I should, and after the interview, I decided I didn’t want to pursue it.

    So I told my current boss about it. I told her about the interview and that I’d decided not to pursue it because I was happy where I was. I said, “I don’t know why I’m telling you about this, but I sort of think I should.”
    She’d just done a bunch of work getting our deadlines under control, and I said, “I thought you should know that your success w/ the deadlines has made me want to stay, and I’m telling you because I want you to know, so you’ll keep it up, and so you’ll feel like all that work was worth it.”
    And I said, “I don’t quite know why I’m telling you–it’s not the normal thing one shares, but I wanted you to know that other people think you have something really good in me.”

    Her reply was, “I’m glad you’re staying, thanks for the positive feedback, and I hear all the things you aren’t saying, too.” And about 2 weeks later she called me in an gave me a $2,000 bonus.

  23. NYC Weez*

    OP #1: I feel your pain as I’ve got enough sensitivities and allergies and random dislikes to make me really high maintenance when it comes to food. Our office also does the group birthday thing and random lunches. I alternated between having well-meaning colleagues trying to “solve” the problem for me (“Can’t you have X?”) and me feeling resentful that everyone else was getting to enjoy treats.

    Lately I’ve been bringing my own food to the events. I sometimes have coworkers who are jealous of my choices, but it’s completely shut down the pressure to eat. I’m still a little grouchy that I have to do this for myself, but otoh, feeling like I’m part of the fun instead of on the sidelines is a big plus, so overall I find it worth the extra trouble.

  24. ilikeaskamanager*

    #1 We have the opposite problem–a coworker who does nothing except obsessively talk about all food issues they have. It’s frustrating–apparently there is not one single restaurant in a 40 mile radius she can eat at and all she does is throw a damper on any event we have that involves food. While I respect that she has whatever food issues she has, there is no reason to make everyone else miserable.

  25. Lisa79*

    Re the Support Worker Interview Question: I’m a SW and usually these questions are trying to find out about your responsibility, integrity and accountability. Is the task something you’d never normally be asked to do? If so, talk about your responsibility to be accountable for the choices you make by taking on this task. Whilst you may need to speak to a manager first, you can demonstrate why you vhose to do what you did under the limited responsibility of your role.

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