my boss made an insensitive pregnancy joke, I ghosted at the end of an externship, and more

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

1. Boss made insensitive pregnancy joke

I am not really sure what to make of a situation with my manager. About a year ago, I needed to take some scheduled time off to attend various medical appointments related to infertility. After a rough and emotional few months in that process (which I know is nothing compared so what some other couples go through), my partner and I decided it’s not for us. I communicated enough of this to my manager to let her know what the appointments were for, as anyone who has been through the process knows there are often sudden and unexpected tests, monitoring, etc.

Last week, our staff had a baby shower for a coworker. Before this coworker arrived, I picked up some balloons and other supplies for the event (I am an admin). While walking past my desk, my supervisor motioned towards said balloons and said “Hey! Congratulations! Ha ha!” I am positive this was meant as some kind of awkward joke but I was left feeling pretty weird and upset.

I just laughed it off in the moment out of shock but I am feeling weirder and weirder about the whole thing. I am my boss’s only direct report, and I know if I bring it up it will likely only make things more awkward.

Ugh, how awful. I think it’s pretty likely that in the moment when she made the comment, she’d forgotten about your fertility struggles. If I’m wrong and she hadn’t, then she’s a horrible person — but assuming that you don’t have other reasons to think that of her, I’d give her the benefit of the doubt and assume it slipped her mind (and that if she remembered later, she was mortified).

Really, people shouldn’t make jokes like this at all (you never know who’s dealing with fertility issues or other things that might make that joke really land the wrong way) but people do, and it’s not uncommon for someone to momentarily forget something they should be more sensitive to. I’m sorry.

2. Should I explain why I ghosted at the end of an externship?

During my 3L year of law school, I applied for an in-house counsel externship with a very prestigious international energy company. It was the first time they had offered to host an extern, and I was thrilled to be selected. The externship went very well. My manager gave me interesting and substantive projects, and let me work with other offices around the country so I could experience a range of legal issues. When I finished the semester I received an A (it was for credit) but there was a project for an attorney in another state I had not finished. We made plans for me to finish it and submit it sometime over the summer (I was graduating).

Unfortunately, during that summer, I got incredibly and mysteriously sick. I was trying to study for the bar exam while meeting with specialists. Diagnoses like cancer were on the table. It turned out to be celiac disease, I was able to pass the bar, and I’ve been a practicing attorney for two years.

My issue is during that time, the out-of-state attorney and my managing attorney emailed me several times about the project. I never responded. I have no excuse for it, and it was completely out of character for me. I was stressed and scared and exhausted. Although my work obviously was not make or break, I no doubt added a lot of extra research to someone’s schedule.

2.5 years later, should I reach out and explain myself? Although this is the type company I could see myself working for in the future, it would be minimum 10-15 years down the road, so I’m not looking to boost a job prospect. It’s also pretty remote, based on where I live, that I would ever run into either one of these people. The externship is still going at the school, and my grade was not dependent on that project, so this really only affects their perception of my character. I guess from a personal standpoint, I have prided myself on a sterling work reputation, and I hate that I just ghosted. It’s the only time I’ve done something like that and I still feel really guilty. At this point, is it worth it? Or should I let it go?

Reach out! Reach out! There’s no downside to contacting them and explaining what happened, and lots of upside (including that I think it will give you more peace of mind). Plus, your explanation is a really good one — it’s not just “I flaked out and I’m sorry.” Let them know what happened, and I think everyone will feel better.

3. Coworkers asking me to make sure certain visitors don’t get in

I’m a receptionist at a corporate office for a large company and it’s my first time in this role. I’m not sure how to proceed as I am pretty new and am not sure of the norms. I’ve recently had a couple instances where some coworkers have come to me in confidence to tell me about exes or potential stalkers that should not be allowed to contact them if they happen to show up. The way our office is set up is that there’s a main office door that I will allow people to enter through by unlocking with a push of a button. I normally allow all guests through so I can greet them and find out the purpose of that visit, and not allowing someone through the door would be awkward and raise questions with people at the office.

Normally, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask my boss on how to proceed, especially since she has been a great mentor and showing me the ropes of corporate. However, my boss is also the the director of HR. I’ve suggested to my coworkers that they speak with her (I personally trust that she would handle things accordingly or at least disperse helpful advice), but they often think it’s an unnecessary escalation and specifically ask me not to tell her. I don’t want to break their confidence but frankly, because I am new, I’m nervous on the best way of handling a potential stalker situation. I also don’t want to do anything that I could get in trouble for.

So your coworkers are just asking that if someone by a particular name shows up and asks for them, you should say that they’re not there/not available? Or are they asking you not to let the person through the door at all? If it’s the former, I don’t think you necessarily need to involve your boss (although if you get the sense that there’s a potential safety issue, you do need to tell her). But if it’s the latter, then your coworkers are asking you to deviate from the way you’ve been asked to do your job, and that’s something you need to talk to your boss about.

I’d say this to your boss: “I have a situation that I’m not sure how to handle. I’ve had a few people tell me in confidence that they’re concerned about an ex or potential stalker showing up, and they’ve asked me to make sure I don’t let them in. Since I normally let everyone in before I find out who they’re here to see, I wanted to loop you in and find out how you want me to handle this.” If she asks for names, it’s okay to say, “I feel awkward disclosing their names since they talked to me in confidence, but it’s been more than one person.”

4. Dealing with a sexist “compliment”

I’ve come across versions of this situation several times over the past year and I’m curious how you would suggest responding. I work in a field where analysis and problem solving is based on a combination of quantitative and qualitative factors. Historically, it was a male dominated field but that has changed a lot and I have never felt stymied by an old-boys-network feel and certainly not by explicitly sexist jokes or remarks.

What I have encountered is variations of this intended “compliment”: “it’s great that over the past 20 years as more women have joined the field, quantitative analysis has become less central and qualitative analysis is now just as important.” The person thinks they are saying how great it is that women are big-picture thinkers who don’t just jump to numbers. But what they are also saying is “women aren’t quantitatively inclined” – and given historic (and current) stereotypes about women being bad at math, it feels like exactly the kind of subtle sexism that still circumscribes women in the workplace. Because it’s so subtle and is posed as a compliment, it’s really hard to respond. Any suggestions?

Ick, yeah, that’s irritating. How about: “Of course many women are quite quantitatively inclined, myself included.”

5. We have to take sick time for hours we actually worked

I was until recently a salaried employee at a nonprofit. The employee manual said that if I took any part of the day as sick time, I had to count the whole day as sick time. For example, if I worked four hours and took the rest of the day off, I would have to count that as eight hours of paid time off (for us sick and vacation all falls under PTO). It seems to me that can’t possibly be legal to force me to take sick time for hours I actually worked, but I’m having trouble finding resources online that back me up. Even though I’m not working in that position anymore (I still work for the company, but I’m now in a very-part-time position with no benefits), I am now supervising the person in the role I used to be in and this issue is coming up for her as well.

Can you help me figure out if this policy is legal and, if not, help me find resources to bring to the HR department to encourage them to change this policy?

Actually, it’s legal, as long as you don’t live in one of the very few U.S. jurisdictions that require employers to offer sick time. Assuming that you don’t, then as long as your employer is paying you (which they are since it’s paid sick leave), the law doesn’t say anything about how they must structure that time. It’s the same thing with vacation time — even if you end up doing some work from your vacation, they can still make you charge that full day to vacation leave. In most parts of the U.S., the law is silent on sick and vacation leave; it only cares that you’re paid.

That said, it’s a terrible policy. It’s unfair and demoralizing, and it incentivizes people not to do any work on days that they’re sick, when otherwise they might have. That’s not in the organization’s best interests, so it’s hard to understand what they’re thinking with this.

{ 208 comments… read them below }

  1. Cam*

    #5 – What an awful, awful policy. Does that mean that if you take a couple of hours off to see a doctor you have to also count that as a full 8 hours PTO?

      1. Zombii*

        Indeed. Unless this is one of those companies that won’t let you have a whole day off for a doc visit. Poorly thought-out policy either way.

      2. SpaceySteph*

        I bet this is also an office where someone would write a letter like we saw recently along the lines of “I saw so and so out at the mall when they were on sick leave, should I bust them?”

    1. The Unexpected Dragon*

      I used to work in a office with the same policy. I would bundle all my doctor appointments into one day, because it was the only thing that made sense. What these policies really mean is that you come in on all the ‘maybe’ days and risk passing colds around.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        I was just going to comment the same. It was tedious but it was the only way to manage PTO without burning a day for an hour long appointment.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes—I used to do this, as well. This policy is sadly more common than I would expect, and it’s kind of terrible and creates all sorts of perverse incentives.

      3. SouthernLadybug*

        This is so ridiculous. I’m using SL to cover my prenatal visits when I don’t have the comp time to do so. I’m at the point where I have an appt every two weeks (and soon will have one every week.). I usually make it to the office by 9:30 or 10 am at the latest. I can’t imagine the utility of requiring me to use a full day of leave for that.

        1. SouthernLadybug*

          I should also add it would stink b/c my work has no maternity leave, so SL is used to cover those days I’m out on FMLA so I don’t have to take leave without pay.

    2. Joseph*

      Actually, it might not. My last company had the same “PTO can only be taken in full-day increments” policy, but was generally flexible on time. So when I had a doctor’s appointment from 9 to 11, I would come in afterwards, then work later in the evening to catch up, without using any PTO.

      1. Meghan*

        My last company was similar. We had to use PTO in 4-hour increments, but if you were just going to a doctor’s appointment that was a couple hours or less, you just made the time up. They were very cool about stuff like that, and never made anyone use PTO for a standard quick doctor’s appointment.

        1. Kath*

          We have this rule on the books, but certain managers at my company are uneasy and hostile about just letting people make time up. Also, our 4-hour personal time blocks can only be at the first or last half of a workday, so a mid-day appointment might mean taking the whole day off.

          I’m at the point where I’m just not getting medical/dental stuff dealt with because I don’t want to burn up my PTO. I’m a healthy person, but I have some stuff that needs to be taken care of and the interpretation of our PTO policy shines a huge spotlight on anyone who doesn’t take PTO in “normal” ways (e.g. for week-long vacations) and makes them seem like they’re looking for special treatment.

          1. Thoughts*

            I worked in payroll at a company that required exempt employees to only deduct pto in four or eight hour increments. Some managers were awesome, saying we’re all adults, manage your own time and schedule as it fits in your schedule and please be aware of times you are needed at work. Some were not, and those people were so upset. I hated enforcing this policy too. I’m not sure what the company intended, but I think if it was just leaving an hour early for the dentist, they didn’t care to reconcile the time, but if you really were going to miss half a day, they wanted to record it. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, because they also paid people in full for jury duty AND let them keep court payments.

      2. Karen K*

        We can only take PTO in full-day increments as well, but totally the opposite. If we work any part of the day, we get paid for the whole day (if we’re salaried). So I could take a couple of hours off for a doctor’s appointment, and still get paid for the whole day, and not have to even make up any time. The only time we take PTO is when we’re off the whole day.

        1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

          Yep. That’s how it works at my job too for exempt workers. Non-exempt employees can take PTO in 4 hour increments.

    3. Audiophile*

      When I was nonexempt and had a doctor’s appointment, I just made sure to deduct that time from my work day and work the full day otherwise.

      Even now, in an exempt position, I just work at least 5-6 hours, if I can’t reasonably work a full 8.

    4. AndersonDarling*

      Wow. So if someone had an accident and had to go to hour long physical therapy appointments two times a week, they would have to take two days of PTO every week! !!!
      It sounds like a policy that was created to fight back one bad employee. As in, someone would make a dr’s appointment at noon than skate out the last 4 hours of the day. So HR made a blanket policy to fight back.

      1. Amy G. Golly*

        Hmm, that’s a possibility. (Though if that employee had the time to take, who cares if they took an afternoon off after a doctor’s appointment?) I was wondering what the purpose of this rule was – from the employer’s POV, that is. They’re effectively discouraging employees from using PTO, but is that really the reason they made this awful rule?

    5. Worker anonymous*

      Yes some of my employees’ terms are such that if they are going to be out more than 2 hours, HR deducts a whole day so they don’t come in. They are also not allowed to say come in later and make up the time. We did have someone who needed physical therapy and indeed they ended up taking 2 days a week off. These rules seem to have been created to protect the employee but in fact I often feel it treats them like children and lowers the morale. And, you get situations where you clock in then you go get your coffee, bathroom etc. These are all office clerical positions, primarily non-public facing.

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      My last (nightmare) job did that. Only they were slightly more generous – the minimum deduction was a half day. So it was that, or lose the hours off your paycheck. And then they shook their heads and wondered why almost all employees were out of sick/vacation time.

  2. ExceptionToTheRule*

    OP#3 – If I understand this correctly, your company policy is to let people through a secured entrance and then find out why they are there? That really defeats the purpose of a secured entrance. As someone who works at a place where 1) people frequently have stalkers & 2) have had criminals bring guns into the lobby with full access to the rest of the building because of a policy like that, your company really needs to rethink that.

    Alison’s advice is a good way to push back on a huge security risk & those individuals who fear exes or stalkers really need to loop their managers in.

    1. DammitMoonMoon*

      While LW didn’t specify, there may be a second locked door behind the desk for that reason. That’s been the case in a few places where I’ve worked: one secured door to get to the front desk and waiting area, and another to get into the actual working area.

    2. krysb*

      I work at a secure facility and he receptionist area is outside of the locked doors. I agree, it doesn’t make sense to have it otherwise.

        1. Audiophile*

          One of my old jobs was security/receptionist. The area where I was was not a secure area, but directly behind me were two secured entrances.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Yep, I’ve had this one before when I was temping as a receptionist – multiple places that had one secured outer entrance, then one or two secured inner entrances, and I was sandwiched between the two.

      1. Is it Friday Yet?*

        I did not work at a security facility, but this is how it worked at one of my previous jobs. There were locked doors, and the receptionist was positioned right outside. All employees had a key, and visitors had to be let in by the receptionist. I agree. I don’t see the point of the locked doors if everyone is being let in without being identified first.

    3. MK*

      It really depends on the level of security you want and need. There are studies that show that even apparently inefficient security, like having to ring a bell and give your name before you will be buzzed in, does deter the overwhelming majority of casual and/or impulsive would-be offenders; it doesn’t stop anyone determined to get in, but some “opportunity” offenders will just move on to the next building that has easier access. Even determined staulkers sometimes are temporarily detered in that they choose another place to approach their victim, somewhere they don’t have to go through a receptionist, though not always.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Of course, it doesn’t stop everyone, but if you have a secured entrance then they really should be doing what you suggest – have them ring the bell or pick up the phone & give their name/business before they’re allowed into the building.

        After the incident with the gun, we got serious about screening who we let in the building. In addition to the main secured door, we added keycard access doors at either end of the lobby so if someone did BS their way into the lobby, they couldn’t reach the rest of the building and set up some other security procedures that can’t be seen.

        It seems kind of stringent, but your views on it change once the gun is in the building.

        1. Audiophile*

          You don’t even need someone with a gun to show up. The job I mentioned above, this company never had a violent incident occur but they knew enough to try to keep one from occurring.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        It doesn’t sound like they have a buzzer/intercom though – OP says she has to let them in to find out who they are.

      3. paul*

        I feel really bad for the person *not* in the secured area there. “Hey, here, be a sacrificial goat”. Owch

      4. Miles*

        Maybe so but are key cards really so expensive that temporary ones can’t be issued out to people who will need access to the building every day for a few weeks?

        If replacement passes are too expensive for that, but security requirements are low enough that having employees let strangers in is acceptable, this company is paying way too much for the wrong security system.

    4. AndersonDarling*

      I think it depends on the kind of organization. If you are a company that has walk-ins all day, it is customary to let everyone in for the sake of good customer service. But if it is a company has only a few scheduled visitors, it would make sense to have stricter security.
      I think the real issue is that employees are scared about people coming in and hurting them. That is a major security issue and it’s not fair to lay that burden on the receptionist. If it’s at the point where there is a list of barred persons, then there needs to be a policy.

      1. The Rat-Catcher*

        Agree so much with this. Let’s be honest, the receptionist is probably one of the lowest-paid people in the facility, and yet she’s expected to be the one to take the bullet, if it comes to that? Get some real security.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Normally I would agree, but I’ve also worked/volunteered at nonprofits where controlling who comes in is vitally important. For example, the security I’ve had to go through at Planned Parenthood or for some legal aid organizations seems crazy until you find out that someone once came in through a public entrance and killed people. In that case, it made a lot of sense to ask for a person’s name and purpose for being there before even activating the first secured entry to the receptionist.

    5. Bolt*

      I wonder if maybe the secured enterance was simply a building feature and not something added by the business… it would explain why it is there yet people get buzzed through regardlessly.

      1. Bwmn*

        Our office building has security that is supposed to ensure that all visitors have badges and are approved to come in – but no one that works in the building has any kind of badge. Within the building, our office – which we have a receptionist, our doors to the office aren’t locked at all during business hours. Other offices in the building do have a buzzer set up where visitors that have passed security get buzzed in.

        If anyone wanted to get up our offices specifically, it’d be pretty straight forward provided you know the rhythms of the building. Now, should anyone I work with have security concerns, I don’t know – but I think the greater point is that the greater security assessment to the best of my knowledge hasn’t been a problem.

      2. myswtghst*

        This is kind of how it’s set up in the building I work out of most of the time (and I work in a location you can’t easily find online by searching our company / product names, because we’d prefer customers don’t know where our call center is located). We have double doors at both entrances (one set of doors, then a teeny little “lobby”, then the second set of doors) and you have to badge through both, but our receptionist and security can’t feasibly be seated anywhere other than inside both sets of doors, and it’s not uncommon for people to hold the door for each other. So in theory, visitors have to be buzzed in the front doors and sign in with the front desk; in practice, it’s not too difficult to walk in behind someone well-meaning who’ll hold the door for you. So, good intentions, but without a pretty serious remodel, hard to enforce.

    6. Mimmy*

      Ugh yes. This question brought to mind my (mercifully) brief stint as a receptionist at a wholesale manufacturer. My desk was directly facing the front entrance; to be let in, I had to hit a button that unlocks the door. I don’t recall if there was a second door. That was it – no other secure areas. Many visitors were those responding to the “help wanted” sign outside (this was a factory). I still shudder thinking about the one time I had a whole GANG of guys wanting to fill out a job application!! Me, all of five feet tall and very skittish, against all of them? No thanks!!

      1. caryatis*

        Yeah, you probably shouldn’t be a receptionist if you get “skittish” every time more than one man shows up. You don’t mention anything they actually did wrong.

        1. Kiwi*

          Women are allowed to be as “skittish” as they want, in listening to their instincts and ensuring their own safety.

    7. OP3*

      Unfortunately our setup has a few more factors that muddle the security situation.

      Our building has multiple floors where our main floor (where I am) is the 3rd floor. We have other floors and offices scattered throughout, so our door is revolving constantly with employees. Given our floorplan, my desk/the waiting area is not on the outside of the secure doors, so I would have to let any visitors in to see what they would need. Not only that, there are people that never bring their key cards (including HPIC!) so they expect me or other employees to let them in. Additionally, not everyone that works in our company has a key card. Our policy is that only full-time employees are given keys so contractors, part-timers, and temps will have to rely on me/other employees to let them in.

      We do have a maintenance guy that I actually looped in on since I’ve sent this email, since he would also have to be in the know. That being said, we haven’t really come up with a resolution/had the time to set up security protocols. I do have a panic button that essentially shuts the building down, but I’m more afraid that I’m accidentally going to set it off one day. Thank you everyone for the responses, I didn’t consider the fact that I could emphasize that this was above my pay grade/a risk that went above my position.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        If I were you, I’d check with your boss re letting people in without keycards/work ID, because if anything goes wrong in terms of people let in who shouldn’t be (ex employees or whatever), then you could be held responsible. I don’t mean in terms of violence, but in general terms. It’s not fair on you to have to be up to speed with everyone who works there, and who’s left etc etc.

        But definitely it sounds like this is a role for a security guard than for you – unless they’re going to train you and pay you more for the responsibilities!

        Good luck OP!

  3. Augusta Sugarbean*

    #3 Nope. Nope. Nope. You are a receptionist, not a security officer. If you have any reservations about this, you do not have to accept this level of risk. Frankly, it’s BS that the employees are not notifying the manager. This isn’t about breaking confidence. I’m sorry they are embarrassed but it’s a safety issue that could affect everyone in the office. I’d be pissed if someone’s wack job stalker could show up and I wasn’t told there could be an issue. I don’t need gory details but I do need to know that there is potential for a problem. I just want to know “person by X name and Y description is not allowed on the property. Notify the manager if this person comes around.”

    The employee might think s/he is the focus of the ex’s anger but what happens when the stalker comes in and you say “X is not here”? The stalker has seen X’s car in the lot and now knows you are lying. There is a nonzero chance that the stalker will react badly.

    And seriously, secrecy and silence around abuse and stalking only helps those bastards continue their behavior.

    1. eplawyer*

      Since #3 boss is also head of HR, it really makes sense to loop her in on this one. HR needs to know about the security risks so they can protect everyone. Also, to make sure the concerned employees have the resources they need. Is it “a concern” about stalking or is there a protective order in place? If there is a protective order, the company should have a copy on file, so if the person shows up, they can call police and have the person arrested for violating it. Depending on how serious the threat is, they can ensure the employee is safe walking to and from their car (if the stalker can’t get in the front door, he/she can just wait until the person leaves work and ambush them then). There is so much more that needs to be done than just alerting the receptionist to “not let this person in” in such situations.

      #3, I am sure you are a fine capable person. But this is really above your pay grade as to deciding how to handle this. It is your boss’ call, not the employees and you should not be in the position of deciding the best way to handle it.

      1. Bwmn*

        I completely agree with this.

        As I mentioned upthread, my office security isn’t super tight but for our purposes, I can also attest that no one individually or the organization at large has been robbed, vandalized, etc. There’s enough in place that for anything opportunistic, it’s highly unlikely to happen – but if someone wants to get in, it’s not going to be a problem.

        If there’s a genuine security concern, OP – you should not be the person at the frontline for this. It’s not what you’re trained to do and it was totally reasonable to assume that what you had been doing was the appropriate response if that was what you were taught to do.

        In my old job, they offered drop-in legal services with a door that opened to the street in arguably a “concerning” part of town. The organization’s mission valued the open-door policy and we’d usually be warned about leaving wallets/purses/valuables around as a result. For the in-take staff by the door, they had a full procedure in place for an immediate issue as well as longer term concerns. Where I work now, the receptionist doesn’t have anything like that because the assumption is security is already in place. But for a genuine personal concern vs crime of opportunity, that is just not something that should be placed on the receptionists shoulders.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I so, so agree here. OP, this is not your burden to carry. Start by telling people that you cannot keep such confidences. Tell them that it is part of your job as gatekeeper to let your boss know of any potential problems. They are asking you to “not do your job” and that is not fair to you. Going one step further, if they think there is a potential problem and they do not report it then that is wildly unfair to everyone who works there. Everyone deserves to work in a violence-free workplace.

      2. MillersSpring*

        Agreed. These employees were unreasonable to assume confidentiality and security from the OP without allowing her to tell her boss. This situation is not the same as “making a report to HR.”

      3. OP3*

        Since I wrote in, I actually had an ex-bf come in, twice! He was always cheerful and unassuming as he sat and waited (saying something like “I’m here to take her out to lunch!”) so I emailed my coworker both times and from what I could see she had either texted him or called him and he would leave. To say that I was anxiously waiting to see what happened was an understatement. Even weirder, the coworker was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing, as if his visit was nothing more than an insignificant disturbance, so at this point I’m more confused than worried.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I would loop the boss in at this point. Since the guy has showed up twice and she is refusing to see him, the situation has moved beyond keeping a promise not to tell anyone about a potential stalker. That promise is null and void.

          I had a subordinate with an on and off BF. I never knew from one day to the next what the relationship status was and it went this way for several years. One day I looked up and he had found his way to our department. (Our place was an open building but it was a labyrinth to outsiders.) My boss and I glared at him from across the room, he left quickly. After that I let the employee know the next time he walks in like that we will call the police to explain to him that he has to use proper channels. (I explained proper channels, even though she knew what proper channels were.) We never saw him again.

          I could tell more stories. However, the point is that the rights of an individual’s privacy does not exceed the rights of the group to be safe. You can’t agree to keeping a confidence if anyone’s safety is at risk. And it is fine to say that out loud.

    2. The Rat-Catcher*

      Agreed! If this person is prepared to stalk their ex, there’s a good chance they’re prepared to mow down the receptionist as well. To just casually ask her to accept that risk on their behalf to save face is crappy.

    3. Candi*

      There’s a storY on Not Always Right/Working of an abusive ex who came into a salon with a hammer, scared everyone, smashed stuff, and was arrested.

      The kicker? No one there had heard of his ex. (My guess is she lied about where she worked for some strange reason.)

  4. Marzipan*

    #1, I’m sorry that happened. In my experience people who aren’t experiencing it themselves often struggle to understand the emotional impact of infertility (not everyone, but a significant subset of people), and it sounds like this was an example of that – someone saying something they had no idea would have a big impact on you. Which doesn’t make it any less impactful in the moment, but at least suggests it wasn’t deliberately inflicted. I don’t say that to handwave it away, but since you’ve already said you don’t think talking to your boss about it would help, then maybe processing it as a thoughtless comment from someone lacking insight might be the way to go.

    I really respect you and your partner’s strength in deciding to step off what can be a conveyor belt of doubling down, and I’m sorry that comments and moments like this are lurking out in the world to hit you when you aren’t expecting them. I hope that will reduce or become easier over time. (You have probably already come across it, and I appreciate you didn’t ask so feel free to ignore me, but the book The Next Happy by Tracey Cleantis is a good examination of how to approach and deal with ‘giving up on your dreams’ in a positive way in a cultural context that often tells you this is something you should never do, and specifically references the author’s experiences with infertility although it’s relevant to lots of other aspects of life too, which is partly why I mention it – it may also be useful to people in other situations.)

    1. Turanga Leela*

      Just wanted to step in and agree—I really respect your choice not to keep going with the treatments. It can be so hard to realize that it’s not the right choice for you, and I’m impressed that you were able to act on that. (Not that there’s anything wrong with doing fertility treatments; it’s just not the right choice for everyone.)

      I’m so sorry about your boss. Infertility is hard enough without people making awkward jokes.

    2. Felicity*

      I’m not even convinced this was at all insensitive.

      It’s entirely possible–even likely–that the manager was being seriously congratulatory. Here is what we know manager knows, per the letter:
      – LW had fertility issues and took time to go to treatments
      – LW hasn’t been to treatments in a while
      – Time passed
      – LW is sitting under a bunch of baby shower balloons.

      Because it isn’t Manager’s job to keep tabs on the LW’s fertility, it is most likely that it wasn’t even a joke and Manager figured the LW finally was pregnant as she had wanted to be. It doesn’t make the infertility struggle easier, but it’s helpful to remember that just because someone said something that landed wrong on you doesn’t mean they meant offense or were trying at all to be cruel. I think the LW should have refrained from looking for offense and simply responded, “Nope, not mine! These are for X’s shower.” Problem solved.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It may not be in keeping with your personality or your way, OP, so take this with a grain of salt. but I think that you can mention it to the boss. Start with, “Hey, Boss, the other day you said X.” Then either ask what that meant or simply say, “You may not realize that was for X not me.”

        Sometimes when I feel strongly about something or even just hear a comment that keeps echoing in my head, I try to find a way to reopen that conversation. It’s awkward for a moment, but for the long run it allows my tired brain to let the issue go to rest.

        I tried to be a good boss myself. My crew told me that they felt I tried to be fair at all times. I am sure I said the wrong thing to someone once in a while. I would hope someone would come to me and ask me. A mistake like this would be very upsetting to me and I would want to apologize to you.

        But honestly, OP, my crew would tell me VERY personal stuff all the time. I heard domestic violence issues, child abuse issues, animal cruelty issues and so on. I was not one to discuss these things with anyone else.** You know gossiping does reinforce the story so you are more likely to remember. And I was not one to think about a personal conversation, once the conversation stopped. What this means is I was very likely to forget the convo. It’s not that I did not care, OP. It’s that I cared enough to keep it under wraps and to focus on keeping the person employed, i.e. being a good boss to them so that at least one little section of their lives went okay for them.

        ** Apparently, keeping one’s mouth shut brings MORE confidential conversations. A number of these conversations started with, “NSNR, you have a rep for keeping your mouth shut and I need someone to talk to…” hmmm, okay.

      2. m*

        “It’s entirely possible–even likely–that the manager was being seriously congratulatory.”

        This was my immediate take. It’s especially possible the encounter was a misunderstanding if it happened in the afternoon, after coworkers very possibly could have given the balloons earlier in the day. I wouldn’t be quick to attribute this to malice or even a joke; he could have so easily seen the balloons and mistakenly thought she was the recipient, particularly if he had no idea there was another coworker for whom a baby shower had been planned.

    3. jj*

      My own infertility issues have made me hyper-hyper-hyper-sensitive to anything pregnancy/baby related. It’s really hard to take that lens off, especially with a health issue that we just don’t talk about. But I think your boss just had a brain fart. I couldn’t agree more with Alison that people just need to *not* make pregnancy/baby jokes or ask questions about when you’re going to have a baby already. It makes a tough issue that much tougher.

  5. Schmooples and the Binkie-Boo*

    #1 I wonder if this manager was so horrified by the perceived awkwardness of the situation – you having had to get this stuff in the first place – that they totally blimped mentally and used appalling non-humour in a panic. It’s not an excuse. Just a theory. I’m so so sorry this happened – it was not okay whatever the reason but here’s hoping your manager is otherwise a decent human and is as mortified as you.

    #3 This is above your pay grade in my view. Does your employer have a risk management policy and if so what grade of manager is responsible for it?

  6. Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: Is it possible your manager completely forgot about your fertility treatments and is the sort of person who’d make that joke to anyone who walked in with those balloons? If you quietly stopped leaving for doctors appointments and never felt the need to update her regarding your decision, it’s not going to be the first thing she associates with you anymore. In any case, she probably doesn’t know that you’ve stopped the treatments altogether. If you think little issues like this will pop up frequently, I’d consider telling her as much as you’re comfortable revealing.

    OP3: And what if one of these dangerous people shows up? Are you supposed to restrain them? Call the cops? Tell your coworkers that you’re not authorized to deny anyone entry to the office and that special instructions have to come through your manager.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “If you quietly stopped leaving for doctors appointments and never felt the need to update her regarding your decision, it’s not going to be the first thing she associates with you anymore. ”

      That’s exactly what would have happened to me, especially if the person stopped mention X situation. OTH, I had folks with on-going situations and I would have to tell them to remind me where the story was at the last time we talked. It’s not that I did not care, it’s that I knew it was none of my business. It’s a privilege when people share information, not an obligation for them to share it. OP, you could have said that you had a temporary on-going health issue and never explained it was fertility related. If someone told me something like that I would feel that meant a high degree of trust. I would feel complimented in a round about way. The first thing I would do is put it to the back of my mind because that is personal and has very little to do with them as an employee, which as a boss that is where my focus should be.

  7. LadyCop*

    #3. I realize the structure and size of the office probably can’t accommodate security personnel, but this is one of a myriad of reasons security is important and always left me flabbergasted that such jobs have to be justified with busy work at nearly every level. What an awkward position to put the OP in.

  8. Tabby Baltimore*

    OP#4: In addition to Alison’s excellent advice, you could also consider adding “And the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ is a clear indicator of that.”

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      Or “Isn’t it a good thing, then, that I’m skilled at both qualitative and quantitative analysis, since both are integral parts of the job?”

    2. fposte*

      The movie looks pretty cool, but I think in this case you’d want to avoid citing something as anecdotal as a movie to support the point that you’re quantitatively inclined–it would seem too much like proving his point.

      1. JessaB*

        It’s not anecdotal though, it’s the true story of women who were basically erased from the “Guess who sent men to the moon” story, because they were women. It’s hugely relevant to the discussion with anyone who says any part of “women aren’t x thing scientifically.”

        1. fposte*

          Anecdotal doesn’t mean untrue–anecdotal means it’s a narrative of a few, which is what the movie is. It’s absolutely non-quantitative, even if its subject is women thinking quantitatively. Bringing in emotional storytelling as a refutation would buy into the myth.

          Flip it around–a woman tells a man that men only think in numbers, never emotionally, and the man responds that 79% of men think emotionally. Even if he’s technically correct, he’s couching it in terms that prove the initial point, which resonates louder than the information he’s trying to convey.

  9. Sunshine Brite*

    At a previous job, there was a no entry list with pictures when possible and descriptions so that anyone at the front desk could have a chance to ask that person to wait, get other staff or call the police, and ask them to leave. It’s a delicate rights balance in a residential setting where there might be other friends or people they’d know but knowledge of the abuse by workers took away any ambiguity on how to proceed.

    You can’t take a contingency plan like that on yourself. It’s too dangerous. What if you’re sick or on break, the person covering won’t know what’s what unless there’s a specific no entry list and possible no trespass requests. These are things your boss can go over with legal resources

    1. beetrootqueen*

      when i worked in a school we had the same thing one in the recepiton one in the staff room you were shown the pictures when you started work there so you could recognise them

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Exactly. And what happens if the stalker is at the door and an employee comes in and the stalker waltzes in with the employee? If there is a real security threat, then everyone needs to be in the loop, not just the receptionist.
      And I’d hate to think what would happen if a stalker really showed up and caused a scene and the CEO asks what happened. Then it is uncovered that a whole “security” routine was put in place without their knowledge. Eeek.

  10. AnotherAttorney*

    For LW2, even if you hadn’t gotten sick, I think it was inappropriate for them to have asked you to continue working for them after the externship was over, especially if they weren’t offering you a job afterwards and they knew you were studying for the bar. Once the externship was over, your agreement and any benefit to you was over, could you even list this extra on your resume? I worked a number of externships in law school and the understanding was always that I left anything unfinished with a clear letter of where I was and how to finish. My supervisors and I would have status meetings and towards the end pick projects that were more of a priority for me. Occasionally I had a phone or email coversation with the next intern on the project, some of which were handled by a number of interns over time.

    Flaking wasn’t great, but I think their expectations were also out of line. Sick or not, your priority was the bar exam, not their project.

    1. AnotherAttorney*

      Something I want to add for non-lawyers is that, if the OP’s school had the same rules mine did, then externships for credit were completely unpaid. That’s part of why I find it so annoying that they expected her to keep working for no benefit and during the time she should be spending 100% on the bar exam.

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      Yeah, I couldn’t believe they were even asking her to work while she was supposed to be studying for the bar. There are some people who can work and do bar prep at the same time, but it’s too much to ask of most people who are studying for the hardest and most important exam of their life, the one that decides if they get to do the job they just spent 3 years and tons of money for.

      1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        Yeah. A close friend of mine just passed the bar. She was doing a post-law school externship at the time that gave her a month off before taking the bar to study.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Totally agreed that the host organization was being really weird. It’s not rational or reasonable to ask an #L to complete work after their semester concludes, but especially if it’s post-graduation during the bar study period. I don’t understand why the host didn’t come up with a transition plan, instead. It sounds like OP may have agreed to finish the assignment post-externship, at which point the host should have let OP off the hook (especially given the power dynamic/differential).

      I agree with Alison that it’s fine to contact the folks you ghosted to let them know what happened, although if they’re in any way decent, they’ll be embarrassed that they even asked you to do this during bar prep.

    4. Sas*

      True. Even if it was flaking though, it seems that person could still talk to the group of people she worked for and say, “X” happened. It is not too late, even years and years later. Sh– happens. I think we all have been there, in sh– at one point.

    5. LW2*

      To clear something up, I volunteered to finish the project. Without saying too much, it was a potential lawsuit issue for the company that would be testing a federal law that hadn’t been used since around 1910. I was finishing an area of research and I was personally really interested in finishing it.
      Timeline wise I had maybe 20 hours more work to do on the project, so it was maybe 5 hours a week over a month I would be committing. If I wasn’t deathly ill during that time, I would have needed that project- I would have gone insane only doing bar exam prep. The emails from the attorneys were more “is everything ok?” or “is this just too much with studying?” not “why haven’t you finished this?” Even looking back, this externship was really the gold standard IMO.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It sounds like there is a possibility that they do not think less of you and they understood very well.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        In light of this, I actually think it would be helpful to email them. At worst, it changes nothing, and at best, it helps them reframe why you dropped off the face of the earth.

    6. Green*

      Honestly, I wouldn’t reach out at this point.

      Even with the good reason (illness) and studying for the bar, there’s not really a great explanation for just completely ghosting and *THEN* not saying anything for 2.5 years, especially in a field like law, where responsiveness, professionalism and judgment are highly valued.
      As an in-house attorney, we’ve had a number of interns/externs ASK to extend their externships or ask for additional time to complete their projects. Many corporate externships are less formal than summer associate positions, but even in summer associate positions you *never* leave something you agreed to do undone. You work nights, weekends, whatever to complete the assignments you agreed to.

      That said, I wouldn’t bother to contact them. It wouldn’t really change my perception of the extern (they’d still be on my “no way” hire list), and the apology/explanation would be more for their benefit than for mine. I probably just wouldn’t respond to an email so long after the ghosting–I don’t think I’d be able to provide them what they’d need (assurance that they would be eligible for hire, absolution for unprofessional behavior?, telling them it’s OK when it probably was a big inconvenience at the time?).

      This seems like one of those professional situations you should just learn from and try never to do again. Like everyone, I’ve got a lot of those, but there’s not always a good way to “make it right” except not to do it again.

      1. Karo*

        It may not do any good, but based on what you said it sounds like no harm could come of contacting them either. Worst case scenario, OP stays on the no-hire list. But OP could also be moved to the “maybe one day, assuming they’ve shown a lot of growth and responsibility” list.

      2. LW2*

        Thanks for the different perspective. I was one of the externs that asked to complete the project, so that’s on me. As a mentioned, I wouldn’t be writing to benefit me in a future job. This company only hires in-house attorneys with at least 15 years experience, and I have since moved and practice in a state they are not located in. I appreciate your view, but in light of all the other comments I will end up sending the email. Its very possible the individual will share your views and not reply, and maybe my reason for sending it (my benefit) is a little selfish, but I do feel the need to at least explain myself.

  11. Mazzy*

    Number 4 is weird. In my field which is pretty darn quantitiative the best folks are He types who did great on the integral reasoning section of the Gmat, which is such a mish mash of math and logic and verbal skills that I i can’t even delineate where the quantitative ends and the qualitative begins with some of my people, if that makes sense.

    1. Lemon*

      I agree that the divide between quant and qual is kind of bogus. I mean, there are definitely some strict delineations between the two, but both require exceptional reasoning and analytic skills to be done well.

  12. I Herd the Cats*

    OP#3 — this is something you need to discuss with your boss, stat. It sounds like your setup is much like ours — our front door is locked with a buzzer, and is more designed to keep casual entry/theft down because we don’t have a full-time receptionist sitting there greeting people. I can see who’s buzzing for entry and 95% of the time it’s someone I recognize — a delivery person or a co-worker who forgot his/her key. Official visitors are supposed to direct-dial (and be escorted in by) the employee they’re here to see. So, for the very few I don’t recognize, I have to walk to the other side of the office and crack the door politely to ask what’s up, and I’m not screening for known stalkers, either. You need a protocol agreed on by you *and your boss* on how to handle the door issue. What are you supposed to do if it’s The Stalker? How do you handle VIPs? These are perfectly reasonable things to work through in advance.

    1. OP3*

      Yup, this is more or less us, though I can’t even block an unrecognized face that much since chances are an employee or the like is going to walk through the door anyway. My company moves at a snail’s pace so unfortunately there are way too many projects that are taking precedent than forming a protocol for unwanted visitors. I imagine it would take an actual emergency in order for them to take it seriously, which is not comforting.

  13. Bend & Snap*

    #1–I’m so sorry. I’m now a mom after 7 years of infertility and you never really get over it.

    People say dumb, hurtful things all the time:
    My boss: maybe you aren’t meant to have children
    My best friend: your body is telling you it doesn’t want to be pregnant
    My grandmother: you haven’t given up yet?

    Also sometimes people forget because pregnancy sensitivity isn’t part of their day-to-day life.

    RESOLVE is a great resource for coping and finding hope.

    I wish you the best, and all I can say about the hurtful comments is to asssume they’re said with good intentions and try to brush them off. Otherwise you’ll just want to stab someone.

    1. Arbynka*

      I don’t understand it. How infertility is considered this magical spiritual sign that you not suppose to have children (maybe adopt them, have you thought about that, how many children need home – yep, someone told that to my friend) instead of biological condition that it is. When I get strep and can’t talk, nobody frowns at me for taking antibiotics and tells me it’s a sign from nature/God/my body/my soul/council of wizards/board of witches telling me I should shut up. I am sorry to everyone who has to deal with this crap. I get it, some people mean well, they are trying to be supportive, but please, when you stop to think about it, it’s not that hard to see how insensitive it is.

      1. g*

        It’s easy to be insensitive on either side of that issue, so I just try to always think the best, and remember that everyone has their own world. That doesn’t mean they are trying to destroy what others have.

        1. Jean*

          Nicely put. It helps to be able to incorporate enough self-care (sleep, nutrition, etc.) into one’s life to sustain the composure to accept insensitive remarks with equanimity. At least, that’s the only way I’m able to walk around without getting angry at others and either expressing it to them with hostility (not helpful to harmonious interpersonal relations) instead of clarity, or letting it eat at me from within.

          Of course, some people _are_ trying to destroy what others have: bad bosses, evil dictators, take-no-prisoners zealots, passive-aggressive coworkers interested in doing anything except contributing constructively to the workplace… Sigh.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah, it’s amazing how self-care plays a big role in helping us cope with the remarks and events that randomly fly at us. Life comes at us while we are trying to … have a life.

            In an extreme example, a fire fighter-friend said, “The people who work the sharpest in crisis are the ones who invest heavily in daily self care and avoid, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and sugar.”

            From my own experience a half baked attempt will give a person some level of benefit. I started trying to do better with my self-care and I found that I had a better handle on my emotions and I could feel my responses in the moment getting sharper/keener.

      2. (different) Rebecca*

        The same goes in reverse, with many people believing that if you are able to have children, that means you should do so, immediately, without stopping, until you no longer can. It’s very ingrained in our society, and is an entirely different type of insensitive.

        1. Arbynka*

          Oh gosh totally. I think while back I told the story of meeting this sweet looking and sweet talking old lady – – when completely sleep deprived and struggling with depression after having my third baby. When I told her I am not planning to have any more children, she told me selfish women like me should not have kids.

          1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

            Ugh. My husband and I are still in the process of deciding if we want to have kids at all and my paternal grandmother is VERY Catholic (had 7 of her own children) and is convinced that you’re not “normal” if you have less than 4. She told my mother the same thing and I only have one sister. I can so picture her making that sort of comment to someone she doesn’t know very well. And I’m cringing and apologizing on her behalf :-/

            I finally got her to stop asking about our plans when she said something about it and I asked her point-blank if she was asking about my sex life. “Oh, no, that’s none of my business.” “You’re right, it’s not.”

            1. Deeply Anon*

              When DH and I announced our intention to marry it was astonishing that people asked if we were going to have children. I was raised to believe that such subjects were private, hence off-limits to anyone beyond the two of us. Fortunately I never indulged the urge to reply sweetly “In what position should the children be conceived?”

              1. Arbynka*

                You know, when me and DH got married we pulled off sweet little wedding with two weeks preparations. (I was here on tourist visa, we were asking about engagement visa but that was bit complicated so the immigration officer basically said “why don’t you just marry her now and apply here”) Anyways, DH told me that quite a few people asked him during the day “so when we are going to see the baby”

              2. motherofdragons*

                I started countering those questions with “Sometime soon, in the meantime we are having a LOT of fun practicing!” with a cheeky grin. Just to see their faces when it dawned on them what I was talking about!

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  It has long baffled me that people do not understand when you ask about babies you are basically inquiring about a couple’s sex life.

                  My husband was fond of telling a story about a friend who had too many inquires. The friend’s response was, “You know. Me and the wife think we have figured out what causes babies.” The friend would allow an awkward silence, while the recipient of this message figured out what to say next.

          2. TheLazyB*

            Jesus. Between my own mental health issues and my husband’s general issues we’ve stopped at one child but some days it hurts so badly that my child will never have a sibling. I can’t imagine how I’d react if someone said that to me with no warning.

            Once about six months after a second trimester miscarriage when I was absolutely destroyed by the fact I wasn’t pregnant yet someone congratulated me on my pregnancy. She was definitely aware of the miscarriage, I think one of my counterparts in another business was pregnant and she’d got us mixed up. That was a genuine mistake and well meant but bloody hell it stang. My sympathies OP1.

            1. Deeply Anon*

              If it’s any comfort, I remember the days when all of the other parents of one-child-age-four-or-younger seemed to become parents or parents-to-be of second children. Eventually the pain subsided into an occasional but manageable twinge. There are worse fates than having or being a much-loved (not spoiled!) only child. Cousins or friends aren’t the same as siblings, but sometimes the bonds can be very close. Also, sometimes sibling relationships don’t work out in adulthood, or ever.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Decades ago, Reader’s Digest had an article on the advantages of cousin relationships. The punchline I found was that cousins understand the family dynamic so they are able to commiserate but there is little to no sibling rivalry so the cousin relationship is not loaded with challenges that come between siblings.

                My aunt wanted a slew of kids. She was only able to have one child. She mourned that limitation. Fast forward, decades later most of her nieces and nephews sought her out to have a close relationship, because she was a quality person. They brought their kids to see her. She ended up with the sense of family and the sense of connection that she always wanted. Not the same as having your own kids, clearly, but life is odd with its twists and turns. Time can level the playing field in ways we do not expect. The first step is to properly grieve what we have lost or cannot have.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Obnoxious and often sexist, yes, but not really comparable. In the case of infertility, people are suffering a loss, and suggesting they deserve or should humbly appreciate that loss is cruel in a way “you should have even more babies!” isn’t.

          1. Arbynka*

            You are completely right. I didn’t try to imply that dealing with hurtful comments about infertility is in the same league as me being told to have more kids, it was more of a comment on in the real of family planning, no matter what you do… You know what, never mind. the coffee has obviously not kicked in yet and I really do not want to sound insensitive. Especially when I just complained about people being insensitive.

      3. Jessesgirl72*

        The “just adopt” thing is such a pervasive lie, and I try to stamp it out in every place the subject comes up. And that’s aside from the biological condition.

        For those who don’t know the facts: Very few children in the foster care system are available to adopt- even the older children. Courts these days are very, very reluctant to sever parental rights, even in cases of clear abuse and neglect. And even when they do sever parental rights, the fun new trend is to mandate the biological parents get visitation rights. I know someone who was about to finally have the adoption made final, who was told at the last minute by the judge that she had to agree to liberal visitation rights whenever the child’s biological mother wasn’t in jail, with no requirement on the other woman’s end that she be clean and sober or get counseling. Then, it costs $30K+ in most instances. And on top of that, something like 99% of adoptive parents end up losing at least one child they thought they were about to adopt- sometimes after the child has been living with them! And then there is the problem of a lot of States not having laws that require social services to disclose all the medical and mental or behavioral problems the child might have, so in some cases, they are outright lying to the adoptive parents about a problem that might have been more easily mitigated had the parents known about it.

        I am no longer “nice” to the ones who suggest I just adopt. I’m not mean about it, but I don’t hold back on the problem with their suggestion and how hurtful and ridiculous it is. I hope it stops them from saying it to someone else!

        Now, if anyone would like information about foreign surrogacy in a European country, where everyone’s rights are protected, at 1/4 the cost of the outrageous cost of surrogacy in the US (or Canada, Australia, and the UK), I can give you the name of an excellent agency there. But I only offer this to those who ask for it, and because no one I know had ever heard of the possibility of the program in this country.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          I should add that those who do adopt are doing a wonderful and important thing for themselves and the children involved, and I respect and admire that.

          But there’s not “just” about it, and it certainly isn’t the right answer for everyone who wants children.

          1. fposte*

            And adoption and surrogacy are imbued with political and cultural questions that people around the blurters are probably only too familiar with. There’s no “just” about either of them.

            1. Jessesgirl72*

              Yeah, believe me, no “just” about surrogacy! It’s not the right answer for everyone either!

              I only offer it as a possibility because one of the main stumbling blocks of surrogacy (at least for non Catholics) is the $150-$200K price tag. Then comes the problem of the surrogates being exploited- which is why India and a couple other places have shut it down to anyone outside of their country. Even my fertility doctor- who was otherwise really informed and helpful about giving me contacts and resources- had never heard of this country’s program and the laws to protect from abuses. So I offer it as a “did you know?” rather than “you should just go here and do this!”

          2. SophieChotek*

            I just read about someone who thought she was adopting through the foster care system and was assured the judge would never ever give the child back to the mom…but 18 months later…the judge did.

            Thanks for putting it that way. I know I do have a “just adopt” mentality in my mind sometimes (perhaps because I am adopted); in my extended family of 2nd and 3rd cousins I think there 10- 12 more children who have all been adopted…so I think I do have a quirky skewed perspective…so I really am glad you brought this up — hopefully I can be more sensitive in the future!

            1. fposte*

              Oh, that’s interesting–I’m an adoptee and while it worked out great for me, it’s made me a lot more aware of the complexities that make it different from biological parenthood, and that some people who would be fine with biological parenthood aren’t up for. But then I’m a general overthinker anyway :-).

              1. SophieChotek*

                I definitely get some people are up for biological parenthood might not be prepared for some of the complexities and different challenges of adoption. I also think working/adopting within foster-care system has different (perhaps more?) challenges that adoptions (i.e. overseas, birth family less likely to see adoptee again, although that has changed over time too.)

                I know sometimes even if parents want to adopt they face (surprising) pressure from family. I have friend who adopted her son thru foster-care system, and her father refuses to accept the child is not “hers”.

                My family/extended family accepts me and I’ve never had any desire to know anything about my birth parents/birth family. But a friend of mine adopted a girl from Korea, and she’s (apparently) wanted to know about that and gone back to Korea.

                I am sure it can be different for different people.
                (I am glad you have had a good experience, fposte)

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          You make some good points, but you are making some pretty broad statements about the foster care system. First of all, everything you’re saying varies state to state. Second, that reluctance to sever parental rights (which is not as pervasive as you are portraying, at least not in my state) comes from looking at things from the best interest of the children, not the adoptive parents. It’s really, really, really common for adopted children to want to know and have contact with their biological parents. And we don’t really want to take kids away from parents permanently without giving them a chance to shape up.

          You are absolutely right, though, that adoption is a difficult, often heartbreaking process, and nobody should tell someone else to “just adopt.”

          1. The Rat-Catcher*

            I think ASFA has helped a lot with that reluctance to TPR. It’s by no means perfect, and of course there are still cases that drag on for years, but I think 15 months is fair to at least start seeing some progress (if not full-blown readiness for reunification).

            That said, adoption is NOT as an easy process, and also, that answer implies that there’s something wrong with being disappointed by your inability to conceive, which there absolutely is not.

        3. NoLongerMsCleo*

          I’m sorry you have had to go through this and deal with people’s comments. One of my best friend’s is dealing with it right now and I try so hard to be supportive and just listen, not “offer advice.” I know nothing I say will make it better.
          But thank you for pointing out the truth about foster care system. I cringe when I hear people say something about look at all the kids who need a home. That’s just not the case. The systems main goal is reconciliation not termination.

        4. Episkey*

          I’m not saying adoption is easy, but it does not cost $30K+ if you are adopting through DCFS. That is just not accurate. Adopting through the foster care system costs very little. Now if you are talking about private adoption domestically or international adoption, yes, it will cost that much absolutely.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            That also depends on the State, and yes, sometimes adopting through foster care does actually cost that much. It’s something I’ve had reason to research personally

        5. BouncingBall*

          As someone in the midst of an international adoption, I have a whole new understanding of why “just adopt” is a really bad phrase. As Gwen Stefani says, “this sh$@ is BANANAS.” That doesn’t mean that I think adoption is a bad thing; in fact, I know it’s the right thing for me. But I can absolutely understand now why it’s not for everyone.

        6. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          I have a friend who, after almost 2 years of battling the courts, was finally able to adopt his now-daughter. It was an emotional rollercoaster for them, and they fortunately had a happy ending, but at the end of the day the happy ending was probably dumb luck. (Happier still – right after they got the good news that they could legally adopt, his wife found out she was pregnant with the (bio) child they didn’t think they could have … both children healthy, happy, thriving, and are the light of my friend’s life.)

          I’ve gotten my husband to back off of this opinion using a lot of the facts you state above (we are childfree by choice, but my mother used to be CPS so I know A LOT about The System). He is very pro-animal rescue, but adopting a shelter dog =/= adopting a foster child. NOT THE SAME AT ALL.

          Not to mention the simple fact that infertility treatments (including, in many cases, surrogacy) are often covered by good insurance plans, and adoption is *not.*

          Fortunately he has not (to my knowledge) said this to anyone who we know is struggling, just to me.

        7. Anonymousaurus Rex*

          My nine-year-old sister is an adoptee. She’s been in our family since she was 3 months old, and her adoption STILL isn’t final. It can be a very arduous process.

    2. AK*

      When I was going through fertility treatment after several unsuccessful years of trying, my manager at the time knew all about it due to the amount of time off I needed.
      Not long after try #3 was unsuccessful, we were discussing a work event that involved a really early am start time. I said something like I’m not a morning person so it would be hard for me, I was hoping I could make it on time (and I’m one of those people who’s five minutes late to everything, I admit) and she said “Well, come on, (AK), I mean, you don’t even have kids.”
      Once I could respond, I said something like, “Well, not for lack of trying.”

      1. JessaB*

        OMG my response would not have been printable and likely been the cause of a write up. It’d take all my effort not to just walk out on that.

    3. J.B.*

      Then there are the questions about when you are going to have your second child, or “just relax”. I’m sorry, it is tough.

    4. Former Retail Manager*

      Without knowing how often you discussed your fertility struggles with the parties you mention, it’s hard to say if they were tired of hearing about it or just insensitive. The flip side to what you’ve mentioned has to account for the fact that the repeated mention/discussion of these issues wears on the people you’re speaking to. A casual mention now and then is one thing….but bringing it up more frequently can become too much. 7 years is a long time. I’d have told you that I don’t want to hear about it anymore at 2. Discussion of infertility, while a difficult thing for those experiencing it, wears on the listener just like people who constantly talk about their weight/weight loss challenges, hair loss, or anything else beyond their control. The listener cannot make it better for you, no matter how much they may want to, and it can get exhausting to constantly feel forced to offer positive responses to something that you cannot control and may not even believe will have a positive outcome.

      I realize this sounds harsh/mean….I don’t mean it that way. I’m happy that you were finally able to conceive and I hope that others in your boat can do the same. I try to be sensitive to those that have those struggles. I just mean to point out that everyone, no matter how much they feel for you, has limits and after a substantial amount of time of hearing about your issue may well respond with some of the responses that you got. The sensitivity has to go both ways, but I realize that when a problem overtakes your life, as fertility treatments seem to do for so many, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I saw this with my mother’s illness. The illness went on for years and every day brought more drama and challenges. A surprising number of people just couldn’t keep up with the stories. Now is a bit different because we do direct people to counseling for these long-haul, intense problems. So at least our society has improved in that regard.

        There are events in our lives that are so huge they forever shape us and how we think. If we are “lucky” we recognize it early on that “hey, this is really shaping how my life plays out”. We may not get others to understand this concept, but it is super important that we ourselves understand the life changing impact.

        One of the many things I have learned about grief is not to be exclusively focused on other people’s reaction to an event. That external focus can be a crutch for ignoring our own internal grief process. So I know this and I still can catch myself falling into this pit. It’s a real easy pit to fall into. I had a situation a while ago where I received a lot of external support for my loss. I still had to grieve my loss. There is really no escaping the internal grief process, there is no work-around. We have to sit down and cry.

  14. Whats In A Name*

    I agree 100% that the OP#3 shouldn’t be required to take this on herself and needs to involve manager/HR.
    It shouldn’t be up to OP to carry the burden of those decisions or ask the questions that need qualified.

    At what level does OP deny entrance? Call the cops? Simply send them away? Is there a restraining order in place? Doe these person have a propensity for violence that she needs to be aware of in case of denying entrance?

    Or did co-worker ghost on someone they’ve been dating a few months and there is a chance the person might show up for an explanation of what happened but co-worker hates conflict? (I may have done this in the past – the ghosting part and the subsequent refusal to see guy who showed up with roses to win me back over)

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was also thinking about your last point. Are some of these requests from people who just don’t want to deal with their problems? The ex is trying to get papers signed and the spouse is refusing to answer their phone. Or a roommate is owed money?
      To put it in perspective, we had an previous employee show up to pick up some paperwork and the whole office was put in lock down- panic buttons were pushed, cops showed up… The previous employee was super nice and just needed to pick up a signed document from HR, but because someone had told the receptionist, “never let them in, EVER” it became a nasty situation. We had to have meetings and interviews for months to figure out how it escalated to that point.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This brings up a good point—is it reasonable for individual employees to be able to dictate who is granted entry. I’m absolutely sympathetic re: abuse/stalkers, but I’ve also seen people abuse this system in situations where escalation, etc., is inappropriate. It seems like the “do not allow entry” list should be cleared through someone higher level and given to OP#3. We had all sorts of lists of that type in many of the organizations I’ve worked for, and every time, it was the director of security (or a senior level supervisor with the authority to make security decisions) who provided the list of folks who aren’t allowed entry, folks who require a 911 call, etc.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          That was really my overarching point – this needs to be centralized and to someone with experience and credentials to make these types of decisions and make a uniform policy regarding it.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m glad you raised it, because I honestly had forgotten about the process issues (I know, how is that possible given OP’s letter?). Others noted that this was above OP’s paygrade (I agree), but your note prompted a totally different thought process for me, so thank you!

    2. Brogrammer*

      Ghosting is uncool, but showing up at the workplace of someone who ghosted you to try and force a confrontation is definitely the greater evil in the situation you describe.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        If the dude had been cool about it who knows? Married? Kids? He was nice enough, I was just in the wrong place. This did not put me in the right place.

      2. Teclatrans*

        True, but it is portrayed as the ultimate in romance in all our media, so I think non-stalkers end up engaging in this stalkery behavior but don’t carry with them the larger threat of boundary-crossing exes or fill-in stalkers.

        1. Observer*

          Eh. I don’t think that’s true. Either people have enough sense to realize that this stuff doesn’t work in real life or the pick up all of the boundary crossing attitudes that go along with this.

  15. Lance*

    Re: #5: the only answer I can think of to a company thinking this policy is a good idea is for ease of record-keeping (employee has X days’ worth of sick leave, so any instance takes a full day). As I see it, that’s likely their reasoning, but you’re right, it’s not very practical or fair for the employee themselves. Would it be possible to talk to someone about changing the policy from ‘days’ to ‘hours’, or something to that effect? I’m not sure if it would go very far, but that’s the best thought I can come up with.

  16. DCompliance*

    OP1- My husband and I are also suffering from infertility. At our holiday lunch I showed a picture of my three nephews crawling all over me. My boss’s boss made a comment that I don’t know what it is really like to be a parent because I get to give the kids back. He is correct, but given my situation, the comment was incredibly painful. I understand how difficult the comments can be. Alison’s advice is spot on. I am sure your boss forgot. However, if it happens again there are tactful, but direct ways of addressing it.

    And to add to Bend & Snap, one of my personal favorites “It will happen when you least expect it”. No. It is a medical condition. Diabetes and heart disease and cancer don’t just go away “when you least expect it”.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      I had someone tell me that I couldn’t believe the doctor’s diagnosis, when I objected to that statement. Because she “just knows” Umm, no, I saw the results myself and know what my uterus is supposed to look like, and what it actually looks like- and not just one scan, but multiple scans via ultrasound, x-ray, and MRI!

      I asked that person to not say such a ridiculous thing to me or anyone else ever again.

      1. Observer*

        Those are often the same people who tell you not to believe the doctor’s diagnosis when you have some other major issue.

      2. Lissa*

        I seriously *do not* get this. The idea that somebody’s intuition or “just knowing” is somehow always correct despite actual scientific/medical evidence . . . if people could “just know” things correctly we wouldn’t need doctors at all. And where is she getting this “knowing” from . . . just looking at you? Oy…

      1. DCompliance*

        Thank you. He is an overall good guy, but like many people, he is naïve to infertility struggles and it is just a very painful situation for me.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I made that mistake. A friend and I saw a movie and we both agreed that it was terrible, even though it was highly rated. I suggested that we may not have been interested in it because we didn’t have kids and the movie was all about the strain parent’s have with their kids.
      I had no idea that the comment would wound so deeply. It was years ago and I still think about the scar I left by an off-had comment about a dumb movie.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Something similar happened to me. A coworker at NonProfitJob brought her new baby in and we were passing her around and talking about kids, etc. Somehow we got onto their first days of school. I said something about my ex’s little girl and how I had worried the whole first day she was in kindergarten that she wouldn’t like it–I wanted her to really like school so she didn’t end up without a future because she was a smart kid.

      They turned on me and said I couldn’t really feel that way because she wasn’t my child. I was so glad I wasn’t holding the baby at that point. I could not even speak, I was so upset. I just got up and walked away. They never apologized and when they started talking about kids after that, I just avoided getting involved in the conversation.

      And all the people who, if you coo over a baby at work, say “So when are you going to have one?” Well I would love to, jerk, if anyone would look twice at me. I have had times where it’s difficult to finish out the day after stuff like that. I’ve said (jokingly), “I suffer from a severe lack of partner,” and gotten the same It will happen bullsh!t (or worse, Maybe you’re not trying hard enough–urgh) and it HURTS.

      You get to know who you can trust and who you need to avoid.

      1. Observer*

        I can’t believe they said that to you. Instead of looking at who “can’t” love a kid, why not celebrate the people who DO love a kid?

        People REALLY need to learn to keep their mouths shut.

      2. Jean*

        So according to them, you can’t care about a child unless it’s your own? That’s ridiculous. I’ve never had kids (nor really ever wanted them), but I care very deeply about my nieces/nephews and my friend’s children. But at least people have finally stopped asking me about when I was going to have children when I stopped coloring my white hair.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        OMG, I am angry on your behalf.

        I had a relative tell me that I did not know what love is because I do not have children.
        It was all I could do not to slam the phone down in her ear. This was a person I was supposed to be close with. I landed on, “You’re right, only people who give birth know what love is. Now how do we explain the people who make newspaper headlines because of what they have done to their children? They have children so they should automatically know what love is.”

        What I really wanted to say was, “If you knew what love is, then you would have been UNABLE to make the comment to me, because your love for me would have taken precedence.”

        All I can say EW is that people who make that kind of comment are only able to do so because they themselves DO NOT know what real love looks like. What will they tell their childless adult children???

      4. Dora*

        I’m sorry to hear what you’ve gone through, Elizabeth. I’ve known since I was a teenager that having kids would be too dangerous for me (health issues, having undergone chemotherapy), and I don’t have a partner either.

        I have just left a workplace where it was clear having a baby – and bringing baby into the office at a ridiculously early age just so the baby could be passed around, as you noted – was not only expected but encouraged! Every time someone’s brought their baby in, I had to stand there with the group, feigning excitement while inside I was fighting back tears and upset. Every time there’s been a baby shower, it’s been over the top. You can’t not go, or else risk not looking like a team player. The only “solution”, if you want to call it that, has been refocusing on something entirely different, so I wouldn’t think about he fact that I’ll never be able to have children.

        If only people could walk in someone else’s shoes, even for a day.

    4. Anonymousaurus Rex*

      I love it when people (who don’t realize that I’m a lesbian) tell me it will happen when I least expect it. I certainly hope not!

      1. Lissa*

        I seriously laughed out loud at that!

        Then again I’m also the asshole who told my coworker who said “you never know! you can’t choose not to get pregnant!” with “no but I can choose not to give birth” so…

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        OMG, I always thought being a lesbian would protect me from this kind of thing, but one of my team leaders was also a lesbian, and she had two kids, and was on a serious mission to persuade my partner and me to have kids too. It was *bizarre* – she’d suggest I went to her lesbian parents group etc, so I could meet nice people and so on. Just NO!

  17. Imaginary Number*

    OP #1: Unless your boss has a habit of making nasty/insensitive jokes, I would brush this off as “boss trying to make a friendly joke but ultimately saying something awkward and inappropriate by mistake.” I know I’ve been guilty of that before. If I were your boss, I wouldn’t mind the heads up how you felt about the joke. Sometimes that’s all it takes for someone to realize that pregnancy jokes aren’t a good idea.

    One time, in college, I was waiting for a train with several female friends and one complained “It’s so cold even my breasts hurt!” Trying to joke about the situation I said something along the lines of “Haha, maybe you’re pregnant.” She didn’t appreciate my joke at all and let me know. A few weeks later she told me that she had been late on her period and actually was scared she might be pregnant (she wasn’t.)

  18. dr_silverware*

    LW#4, I agree that it’s cool to respond directly to the undertone of the “compliment,” as written out in the official answer. Here’s some very granular and hopefully not condescending tips on working that blunt response into the actual conversation:

    -Starting off with “Hmmm! Well, I’d say…” in a conversational tone is a great soft opening that doesn’t actually soften your point. Or do whatever opening you’ve got that’s plain and friendly–this is mine, that I’ve only started using recently.

    -Listen to their response. It gives the other person room to either convince you they misworded a non-sexist sentiment, or to dig themselves a deeper hole. As you listen, you’ll be setting the tone of the conversation. If you can keep your face relaxed and marginally friendly, and your tone of voice conversational, that will help a lot!

    -End the conversation, by leaving or changing the topic. If they say, “oh, I didn’t mean it like that”: “I’m glad. Anyway, gotta get this bagel toasted!” If they double down: “ah, well, sad to hear you say that. Anyway, I have to keep banging my head against this problem.” Don’t let it drag out! They compliment, you push back, they respond, and you vamoose.

    -And be ready for follow-up: “were you upset the other day,” “sorry I said that,” “I hear you went full feminist on Wakeen,” and so on–if you can, continue to be conversational and pragmatic. If it’s ok, say it’s ok. If it was an awkward conversation but you feel like you’re cool with Wakeen, say so. If they said crummy stuff and you’re upset, do what you’d do in other situations where a coworker upsets you.

    1. motherofdragons*

      I like the “Hmm” because it’s a noncommittal, “I am acknowledging what you just said without agreeing with you” sort of statement. And while Alison’s response is great, it doesn’t really match with what is actually said, which is something like “It’s great that over the past 20 years as more women have joined the field, quantitative analysis has become less central and qualitative analysis is now just as important.” To that kind of statement, I would say, “Hmmm. What makes you think that women have anything to do with that?” And then follow dr_silverware’s great advice of listening + ending the convo. And remember that if it gets awkward, let it be awkward! That person brought it on themselves by making a lame, sexist comment in the first place. You’re just returning awkward to sender, as Captain Awkward likes to say. (That’s a great source of how-to’s for handling situations like this, as well.)

  19. Sue Wilson*

    #2: Most people should understand being sick and too tired to communicate. Explaining that should clear up your reputation, but I would also say why you didn’t explain after your diagnosis too. I agree with people above, that they really shouldn’t have asked you to work after the externship, but people in law are sometimes grudgy so it would be fine to clear this up (also don’t be surprised if those people don’t work there anymore).

    #4: “I’ve definitely found that the women I know in this practice are brilliant at both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the job and how they come together.” You build up the mathy parts but not at the expense of the non-mathy parts.

    #5: This is a really shitty policy, imo, and I would look for articles about how demoralizing this is, since the law is not on your side.

  20. neverjaunty*

    Re #4, that’s not a compliment at all. It’s what I used to hear called a backhanded compliment – meaning it’s really an insult.

    With those, a good response that works just as well with the clueless as with the malicious is to Not Get It. “I don’t understand, what’s the connection between more women entering the field and quantitative analysis being less important?” “Oh? Why do you think that is true?” Deliver in a curious, neutral tone like you really want them to explain it, and sooner or later they’ll be in the position of explaining to you that ladies just aren’t as good as certain kinds of thinking. (At which point you can keep up with the Just Asking until they feel stupid, or let them realize their sexism just got obvious.)

    The benefit of this approach is sometimes people ARE well meaning and just saying dumb stuff, and when they realize they uncritically accepted terrible underlying assumptions they back down.

    1. OP4*

      OP4 here – I really like the suggestion to reply with a question and force the person to explain their own thinking. I will definitely be using this approach in the future.

    2. CM*

      I generally respond by casually disagreeing, like, “I agree that it’s important to use both quantitative and qualitative methods, but I don’t think that change happened because women prefer qualitative methods. I think it happened because everyone understood that using both methods produces better results.” (In a tone similar to discussing the weather, rather than starting an argument.) But I like neverjaunty’s approach and will try to remember to use it too. I also 100% agree with dr_silverware’s advice above about not making a big thing out of it and quickly moving on to another topic.

  21. MoinMoin*

    For #2 how would you reach out? It seems like more of a phone conversation, but it might be a bit odd (and potentially an inconvenient time to the recipient) getting the call out of nowhere. I guess email would be fine, it just seems colder and maybe harder to write a message without being able to gauge the recipient’s reaction as in a phone conversation. Maybe I’m overthinking it; OP knows the people and probably knows how best to reach out.
    OP, earlier this year there was a letter in which the writer was feeling guilty for ghosting on a volunteer role and the comments made it very clear she wasn’t the first to do something similar. You have a very good reason, and even if this were an unprecedented action I think they’d understand given the circumstances, but I also think companies working with interns/externs/new graduates understand that professional habits are not yet ingrained and expect the possibility of green actions like this. Definitely reach out- you’ll feel so much better and it’s very likely they don’t see the incident nearly as negatively as you do.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      For #2’s situation, and in light of communication norms in law, I think an email is more appropriate than a phone call.

    2. JeninSD*

      LW #2: Would you be open to posting the more non-specific language you end up using in your email? I have a similar situation (except I wasn’t sick, my partner was) where I stopped responding after graduation and have felt terrible (!) about it in the months since.

      Many thanks!

    3. LW2*

      My relationship with him was through email mostly, so I was planning on writing an email. Like someone else mentioned, in the legal field I deal with people mostly through email so it wouldn’t be unusual. I also wouldn’t really want to call because I wouldn’t want to put anything on the other person.With email if he doesn’t want to respond he doesn’t have to hang up on me or anything, he can just choose to not write back.

      Also, although I’m sure interns ghost and are still learning things, I was around 26 at the time and had held a professional job before law school. I think it’s a less acceptable occurrence than an undergrad ghosting. That being said, I agree with pretty much everyone that I am taking this a lot more seriously/negatively than they probably did so I will write the email and explain, if only for my own peace of mind.

  22. BRR*

    #3 you should tell your manager. I don’t think this reason has been listed but I’m skeptical that they don’t want you to tell her for any number of reasons we could come up with here. You shouldn’t worry about their confidence. This is part of your job and youre looping in your boss on a more complex situation. This is completely normal.

  23. Master Bean Counter*

    #5. I’ve come to believe that sometimes not much thought goes behind PTO policies. My former employer tried to not pay me for a day because I only worked 3.85 hours and their policy was not to pay unless you worked 4 hours. I pointed out that it was not only petty, but also illegal. I got paid for the day.
    In my current job I had a week where I was taking my work home with me at night to finish up. So by the time Friday rolled around I had already put in about 50 hours of work for the week. My well went out and I had to leave 2 hours early to get supplies for an emergency water set-up. I was asked on Monday to put in for 2 hours of PTO time.

    1. Allison*

      Sure, we all make mistakes, but I’d say most bosses don’t sink to that level of insensitivity. I can’t think of a single boss I’ve had who would make that kind of joke. OP will feel better when she’s moved on, but I think it’s okay to feel a little perturbed for a while.

      1. fposte*

        Do you think it’s still an insensitive comment if the boss didn’t remember about the OP’s infertility struggles? I’m willing to accept if you believe nobody should ever make pregnancy jokes, period, but I think that this was a boss who didn’t remember and therefore wasn’t individually insensitive.

    2. Lissa*

      Also I think everyone has had something seriously dumb come out of their mouth at least once. I know that I have had that happen once or twice where I realize at the time or later how bad it was.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        Or say accidentally hugged the CEO on the way into work. Or accidentally high-fived a boss during a meeting.

        I am still laughing at those from yesterday. Out loud.

        For the record I do think that OPs struggles are your struggles whether they lasted months or years and no one should ever make light of them, regardless time thats passed. But as others have said if your boss is otherwise a good person this may have just been an in the moment statement that she would take back if she could, or didn’t realize she was saying it.

        All of which doesn’t mean you can’t/shouldn’t be hurt, I just think you should consider her end, too.

  24. thebluecastle*

    OP2: I was in a very, very similar situation. What is it about grad school and celiac disease? I think sometimes we feel like “being sick” especially with some weird disease isn’t a good enough excuse for not being able to perform up to our previous levels. I know I have seriously struggled with this, but its just not true! Celiac disease (especially when its undiagnosed) is so hard and so physically and emotionally draining. This is an autoimmune disease that effects your entire body and often your mental state as well. (Its not as simple as “just don’t eat gluten” that stuff is everywhere and even a little bit can mess up your immune system and cause symptoms for weeks and months afterwards, and it can take years for our intestines and bodies to heal. I’m sure you know this, but I wanted to add it because I think this is a little understood aspect of celiac disease that most people and perhaps our fellow commentors aren’t aware of.)

    I think getting in touch with the lawyers from your externship is a great idea. Please, please don’t be discouraged if you don’t receive a response or if they don’t “get it.” Celiac disease is very misunderstood especially the long term physical and mental effects. I’m so glad you got diagnosed so you can start healing. Please remember to have some grace with yourself. Going through the hoops of medical appointments plus whatever terrible symptoms you were dealing with plus studying for the bar exam? As one celiac to another that’s incredible! I could barely make it to my classes let alone finish a project on time or study for an exam as huge as the bar. Maybe you weren’t able to juggle all the things you were before, but your body was attacking itself and that is exhausting. Please don’t feel guilty. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I did the best I could given the state of my health and my knowledge at the time. It sounds like that’s exactly what you did.

    Also! If you by any chance are interested in celiac disease blogs I highly recommend Gluten Dude. :)

    1. Friday*

      Probably best to say that you were diagnosed with a chronic illness after a lengthy diagnostic period and you had to take the time to restructure your life around it (and pass the bar, and insert any other accomplishments in your 2.5 years here). They don’t need the specifics of your illness, especially since it’s one that some people have the nerve to think isn’t serious.

    2. Jenna*

      Grad school is stressful, or so I hear, and when I was diagnosed with Celiac I was told that the onset of Celiacs can be triggered by stress.
      It also tends to take a while to diagnose because the symptoms can be interpreted by doctors as something else entirely. Mine was misdiagnosed as gall bladder problems and acid reflux before we found the real problem. Getting it diagnosed properly was worth it, though, because my life is much more under control without those symptoms popping up at what seemed like random times(if you don’t know it’s gluten, it sure seems random!) and all the various health problems that happen when you aren’t absorbing nutrients properly.

  25. Roscoe*

    #1 Unless you have reason to believe this person is cruel, I’d chalk it up to an innocent mistake. Not to sound mean, but we often assume people are paying much more attention to us than they are. My guess is your fertility issues just aren’t something at the top of her mind, so she made an throwaway remark. Now I understand how it can be hurtful for you, but I would just go with the saying “Assume ignorance before malice”.

  26. MissDisplaced*

    #1 Unless she says or does things like this on a regular basis, I think you need to just let it pass as one of those horribly awkward foot-in-mouth moments. I know it’s weird, but there was likely no malice intended. It’s kind of like being asked when you’re “due” when you’re not even pregnant.

    1. Jenbug*

      The world would be a better place if everyone stopped making comments about other people’s bodies/fertility. It is none of your business. A lot of people are thoughtless and it’s very frustrating to be on the receiving end of those comments, but I think unless you call it out in the moment, you probably need to move past it.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Amen. Between the number of times I’ve seen non-pregnant friends asked when they’re due (or told congratulations for being pregnant) and the number of times I’ve seen people say inane things to friends who want to have children but struggle with infertility or have experienced a recent miscarriage, I’m convinced people should leave out all jokes/comments about reproduction, being a parent/non-parent, and parenting.

        1. JLaw*

          I agree. As well as jokes/comments. I think they should also leave out questions about reproductive choices/plans too.

          A former manager at my workplace would go around to the female employees (who had no kids) and ask them (rather persistently) if they wanted to have children? She didn’t seem to understand why questioning female employees in this way was unwise. Some people are so clueless.

          1. Jenbug*

            Ugggggggggh. I was going to say that it’s just as offensive to those of us who do not have kids because we don’t want them. Kids are a highly personal decision and they aren’t right for everyone and biology is tricky and there are just so many factors to consider that it’s safest not to talk about that kind of thing unless you know someone REALLY REALLY WELL.

          2. Observer*

            Sorry, this manager is in another league altogether. Foot in mouth can happen to anyone, even people who are reasonably sensitive. And there is a huge difference between an off the cuff comment. But PUSHING? And doing this consistently? That’s not being “clueless”.

            1. JLaw*

              I do agree that the manager I mentioned is way out of line. However, I meant “clueless” in terms of not understanding why asking those types of questions was inappropriate, impolite and invasive. I actually had to pull the manager aside one day after one of the female employees told me what the manager had asked her.

              The manager was completely unaware that she was causing offence, making people feel uncomfortable, invading people’s privacy (and in some cases upsetting the employees). I had to spell it out to her (including what could happen if that employee applied for an internal promotion and didn’t get it after being questioned like that!). That’s what I meant by being clueless.

              You do kind of expect people to have a bit more nous, but some people truly don’t. You only have to look at some of the behaviour described in some of the letters that AAM receives to see that!

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                OMG, it boggles my mind that she thought this was ok. Not to mention it’s totally sexist if she’s only asking female employees (and then it triggers all sorts of weird gender/pregnancy bias issues).

              2. Observer*

                I don’t believe that she didn’t realize that she was causing offense – although I’m sure she thought it was ok for her to do that. Remember – she PUSHED which means that someone showed that they didn’t want to answer. Beyond that, it’s very telling that you needed to spell out the legal ramifications before you could get her to see that this is a real problem.

                Had she just not realized that this was offensive, her response to you saying “Sally was rather upset when you asked her a,b,c” would have been an apology and PERHAPS a request to explain why it upset Sally. But, instead she argued the point, and only backed off when you pointed out that she could get the lawyers involved here…

    2. JLaw*

      Agreed. I think some people’s mouths work faster than their brains so they tend to make really dumb comments. She may have been privately mortified afterwards. I would let it go on this occasion, but if it continues, then please do raise it with her.

  27. ilikeaskamanager*

    #5 are you sure you don’t work for my old boss? That was the expectation where I previously worked, and it was indeed demoralizing. I pushed back one time and told him I was sick and not working when he called me about something one day and received a long lecture about my lack of a professional commitment to my job. I think he and I were in a very unhealthy dynamic and he wasn’t going to be happy with anything I did no matter what. I hear he’s lightened up some in the years since I left. I hope so. There are good people working there and they deserve better than that.

    I am so so glad I left that weird situation behind. I work now in a place that really values me and loves my work. I am told that I am incredibly productive, valued, do great work, and make a difference. That kind of feedback is a huge motivator and I would do just about anything to help this company be successful because they treat me so well.

  28. Author of #5*

    I wrote Question #5 and wanted to clarify a bit:

    I suspect that the policy is easier for the HR folks to manage. The biggest challenge is that it’s clinical work, so we can’t just shift our hours around or make up the hours later (I should have included that in my original question, I now realize) – you’re either on your clinic shift or not. In this case, the employee is the only one of this type, so there’s no ‘swapping’ shifts or asking somebody to cover for her, either.

    One good thing about the scheduling is that clinic shifts are not 9-5 shifts, so it’s fairly easy to schedule your doctor’s appointments around the clinic shifts. Shifts are 4-hours and scattered throughout the week at different times of day (8a-8p). She’s got 7 or 8 4-hour shifts plus some non-scheduled responsibilities.

    I share your concerns that the policy encourages employees to stay at work sick and spread their germs around, which is especially problematic, since it’s clinical work!

    Since submitting this question, I did talk to the HR department and they said they are willing to change the policy for my department (there’s another department with similarly categorized employees, so it will be a bit unfair for them if we change our policy and they don’t, but change happens slowly…). I need to write up a proposal and bring it to the head of my department. That’s progress!

    Thanks for your comments, everybody!

  29. Looc64*

    #1, is it possible that your supervisor did not realize/forgot about the coworker and thought the balloons were for you? Anyway, that sounds like a really painful situation, and I’m sorry you went through that.

  30. Susannah*

    #4: This is an example of benevolent sexism — gender-based stereotypes or statements that are superficially positive, but still are harmful, because they divide all attributes into either “male” or “female” and expect people to conform to these rigidly-defined boxes. Benevolent sexism can be tricky to handle because the person saying/doing these things usually believes they’re being positive. When you push back, they’re surprised and offended that you don’t agree. So your best bet is to push back in a way that acknowledges their good-but-misguided intentions, and aims to educate, not punish.

  31. Girl Alex PR*

    I know this is late, but had to share #1:

    My little boy passed away in 2012. He was my second child and had a defect that meant he only survived for a few hours after birth. I took six weeks off after he passed, and everyone was aware of the situation when I came back and generally very sensitive and supportive.

    About a month after I returned, my boss and I were talking about our families. He told me his wife was the “best mom ever,” and I jokingly replied, “I don’t know, man… I like to think I’m a rockstar myself.” His response was “Come at me when you’ve got two kids. Totally different beast.”

    As soon as he said it he knew he’d mispoken. I was very saddened by the reminder of my son’s death, but I also knew my boss did NOT intend it in the way it did. How did I know this? Because he’s always been a kind and wonderful person in the past.

    Is your boss generally nice, OP? Because if she’s normally conscientious and kind in her interactions with you, I’d do my best to move past the comment. People can be insensitive without being intentionally unkind.

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