asking a coworker not to eat onions in the office, coworker never has the supplies she needs, and more

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

1. How to politely ask a coworker not to eat onions in the office

We have recently added a new member to the team on the floor I work on. We mostly work in the typical open cubicle format, with only a few offices, and she happens to sit in the row of cubicles directly next to mine. She brings in strong smelling food several times a week — bacon in the morning, and often onions around lunchtime. I’m normally pretty tolerant of smells, even smelly things, as long as it doesn’t linger too long.

The problem is I’m pregnant (with number 4), and the smells absolutely make we want to vomit. I’ve had this issue with all of my pregnancies, and I know it will last awhile longer. It’s so bad I have to leave my desk and go into the hallway to breathe. I’ve been dealing with this for several weeks now, and quite a few other people in the office dislike the smells as well, but won’t say anything to her. I have yet to disclose to my manager that I’m expecting, as I want to get past week 12, but I do not think I can tolerate the onion smell much longer. My husband suggested I talk to my manager or her manager about it, but I feel it is generally best practice to talk to people directly.

Is there some sort of polite script you might recommend about the onions? I don’t work with her or her group too frequently, though everyone in the office is on a fairly cordial basis.

“I’m so sorry to ask you this and I realize it’s an inconvenience, but I have a temporary medical condition right now that’t making me really sensitive to certain smells. I’m finding that bacon and onions are particularly rough on me — those smells are making me nauseous to the point that I have to leave my desk and go stand in the hallway. Is there any way you’d be willing to hold off on bringing those into our cubicle area for the next couple of months? Like I said, it’s a temporary condition, so it won’t be forever — but it would really help me get through this period.”

If she’s someone who tends to be defensive or prickly, one trick to keep in mind: With people like that, often the more you can make it about asking them for a favor — a generous favor that you’d be so grateful for, rather than implying there’s any obligation on their part (even though there should be) — the happier they are to oblige.

2. My coworker never has the supplies she needs

My question is about my coworker who never has her own supplies. I work for an audit firm and much of our work is performed out of our office and on site at our clients’ locations. My coworker always forgets to pack her own supplies and ends up asking myself or someone else if she can use their calculator, paper (for notes), or even sometimes a pen!

The company does very well at providing the necessary supplies. It states in our policy it is each person’s responsibility to visit the supply room before we leave for an audit to get what we need.

My coworkers and I are tired of loaning her our supplies as she doesn’t tend to return them, but if she does not have what she needs, she is unproductive (for example, one day she did not have a pen and did not complete any work on the audit all day!) and the entire audit process can take longer. Any advice?

Stop loaning/giving her supplies. The next time it makes an audit take longer, go talk to her boss and say this: “We’re having to spend extra time on the X audit because Jane didn’t bring supplies and wasn’t able to work while we were on-site there yesterday. This happens a lot. Can you make sure she consistently brings supplies going forward?”

If you wanted to be extra nice to your coworker, you could try a stern conversation with her before you resort to this — as in, “Jane, you frequently don’t bring your own supplies, and you need to. Going forward, can you be really vigilant about doing that, since if we don’t have extras, it can make the whole project take longer?”

But I’m not that hopeful that this will be effective with someone who hasn’t figured this out by seeing the consequences for herself over and over.

3. My boss keeps coming out to me

I’ve been in my job just three months. When I was hired I asked my boss if he would mind if I were called by a nickname that’s usually more aligned with a different gender than my own. Think “Rocky” for a girl or “Bunny” for a guy. I didn’t explain why and he didn’t ask. I said that if he preferred I’d stick to my legal name. However, he agreed and introduced me to the team by nickname.

About once a week, for the past month, he has come into my office, checked up on my progress, and then told me he’s gay. The first time I thanked him for telling me and said I am GLBT+ supportive. After that I said “Yes, you’ve mentioned this.” The last time I said “You already came out to me three times! Is there some reason you keep telling me?” with a smile. He said no, he just wanted me to know.

I just heard a rumor that my boss’s boss doesn’t like my nickname and refuses to use it. Now I’m wondering if my boss is trying to get me to admit to being in the GLBT+ communities to justify my nickname. I am, though. I am not out to anyone but my closest friends.

How do I handle this, especially since it is just a rumor? Do I remind my boss that if people are uncomfortable I can use my legal name? Do I email or talk directly to his boss and say something similar? Do I have to “come out” to make things easier? I’m at a loss here. Please help.

Definitely don’t change the name you go by just because your boss doesn’t like it (or is rumored not to like it), and you certainly don’t need to come out when you’d prefer not to!

If he comes out to you a fourth time, then say this: “Fergus, I am baffled. I’m glad you’re out; that’s cool. But am I missing something you’re getting at here? I’m as confused as I would be if someone kept telling me they were straight.”

Hell, you could even say, “You’ve mentioned this so many times that I’m starting to wonder if you’re trying to prompt me to share similar information about myself. Are you?”

4. What to do when an employee applies for a position he’s not qualified for

Due to some organizational reshuffling, I have had a small team come under my umbrella recently. There’s been a lot of turnover and issues on this team, and I am very sensitive to morale issues.

We are currently recruiting for a new position. An employee, Fergus, has applied for this role. Fergus is great, but this role would be a pretty big jump for him. I don’t think he is a good fit, but I do hesitate in saying that because I haven’t been working with him for all that long now. I do think that Fergus could grow and move up, and I’d like to come up with a plan for him to do that.

For background, he has applied for internal promotions before, but his previous supervisor was pretty hands-off, and I don’t think he got any feedback. I know that he values this in our (new) relationship, as I’ve given him some stretch assignments recently along with some coaching and he has reacted very positively.

I’m looking for advice on how to handle his application for this role. Do I let him interview for the position, and ask him to demonstrate the specific areas in which I think he falls short? Do I let him know he won’t be considered for this position, and move straight to an career plan?

If you feel confident that he’s not the right for the job right now, I wouldn’t have him jump through the hoops of interviewing if the end result is a foregone conclusion. Instead, talk to him about what it would take for him to be a strong candidate for that type of role in the future, and help him put together a plan to achieve those things.

5. Asking someone to address me by my first name

I’ve seen some of your advice about using a correspondent’s first name — that in general, it’s acceptable to use first names anyway, but especially if the person’s email is signed as “Firstname.” My question is from the opposite side: is it appropriate to let someone know that they can use my first name, and if so when and how? I get a lot of emails that begin with “Ms. Lastname”, and even after I sign “Firstname,” they continue to address me as Ms. Lastname.

For people I won’t be keeping in contact with, I just let it go, but what about people with whom I’ll need to correspond with on a regular basis and/or potentially meet in person at some point? Is it better to assume they prefer to be more formal, or is it better to offer to have them call me “Firstname”?

It’s totally up to you. It’s fine to say, “Please call me Jane.”

Personally, if it’s email, I don’t bother with that, unless it’s going to be an extended correspondence. But I’d definitely say it immediately if it’s happening in-person.

{ 694 comments… read them below }

  1. dragonzflame*

    #5 – In my first job, I worked with a guy who has one of those commonly shortened names (think Alex/Alexander) though his email handle was the long version. After I wrote a few weirdly formal emails in my first week, he added at the end of one, ‘btw, you can call me Alexander or Alex’, which I took to mean Alex (I was correct, that’s what everyone called him). Just address it quickly and simply, no need for a fuss.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It can also help to respond to emails using the sender’s first name (instead of “Mrs. Whosit”) and to sign off with your preferred name. But if someone doesn’t take the hint the first time, I think it’s fine to say “And please—call me [preferred name]!”

      1. Susan*

        In my first internship, I was terrified of my manager and couldn’t fathom calling him by his first name. I was just a kid, still in college, and he was this important grownup! It seems so silly to me now, but I was used to calling grownups (like teachers and my friends’ parents) Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr. Lastname, so it seemed like it would be disrespectful to call my boss “Joe.” I kind of wish he had just said at some point, “Please — call me Joe.”

        1. Murphy*

          Yes! When I was in graduate school, many people were on a first name basis with their advisors. I always defaulted to Dr. with professors unless they told me otherwise, including my own advisor. Other students who worked with him called him by his first name, but in all the years I was there, he never once told me to call him by his first name, so I never did.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          This kind of thing is where I like the Southern Miss Firstname tradition — it bridges that gap really nicely. Not that it doesn’t have its own issues, of course, but that was the standard in my post-graduation-pre-career job, and it made the transition really seamless for me.

          1. Emi.*

            Does the Southern convention include Mister Firstname as well? My siblings and I used both when our father’s colleagues introduced themselves to use as Jane and Wakeen, but I think we were taught it by our mother, who’s Canadian, so I dunno where she got it.

            1. Liane*

              It’s not quite as common to use Mr./Uncle Firstname but it is what I was taught.
              It is charming.

            2. Parenthetically*

              In my experience it often does. At school I’m obviously Mrs. Parenthetically, but among my friends’ kids I’m often Auntie Brackets or Miss Brackets, and the same goes for my husband. He’s Mr. Parenthetically at school, but Uncle Braces or Mr. Braces among friends/relatives.

            3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              It’s not as universal, but yeah, at least where I was, it absolutely included it.

            4. Anonymousaurus Rex*

              My brother is a preschool teacher in the South, and the kids (and parents!) all call him Mr. Firstname. It’s adorable.

          2. Artemesia*

            Even in the south this is for children (and for pre-school teachers talking to children). I would think it quite demeaning to use in the workplace.

            1. Elizabeth H.*

              Same. Even when I worked at an after school program I found it weird and demeaning to be called Miss Firstname. One of my coworkers had his 5 year old in the office the other week and was introducing someone else to the kid that way, I was really dreading if he would do it with me too and tried to head it off with jumping in like “I’M ELIZABETH”.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Is that universally true? I only ask because I grew up in a majority Black community where most families were originally from the South, and it was considered a sign of respect to call older Black women “Ms. [First Name].” Young girls, conversely, were not called “Miss [First Name].”

          3. Admin Assistant*

            As someone who lived in the South for several years, I actually hate that tradition – I feel like I was constantly getting called “Miss Sansa,” but I never saw any of my male peers getting called “Mr. Tyrion” — if they weren’t just called “Tyrion,” they were called “Mr. Lannister,” whereas I almost never got “Miss Stark.”

            It’s often used in a very imbalanced way that seems, to me, to infantilize women and give more respect to men. It squicks me out and it’s one thing I definitely don’t miss from my time there.

            1. Spargle*

              It’s definitely a cultural thing. I’m Southern, and have been Miss Firstname in various contexts over the years. It’s never bothered me personally, but it’s what I grew up knowing.

              There’s also the thing that in the South, or at least in my part of it (because we’re not all the same!) using the Miss/Mrs./Mr./Ms. is indicative of respect in a way that just calling someone firstname isn’t. It’s a honorific, in a way.

              1. Admin Assistant*

                Eh, it seemed less honorific to me when I was “Miss Admin” and my fiance’or my coworker or whoever was “Mr. Assistant.” I think everyone meant well, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t subtly sexist, IMO. I lived in Alabama for 5 years and I personally found it patronizing as hell.

              2. Blurgle*

                Fun fact: where I grew up, the style “Miss Firstname” was generally used only in reference to the lovely ladies who lived behind the Wildcat Saloon.

            2. Liz*

              Weird. I’m in the South and I’ve always seen it both ways: Miss/Miz Jane and Mister Dave. I’ve never seen it where men are just FirstName and women are Miss FirstName.

              (I was called Mrs Husband’sFirst for a while by a friend’s child, mainly because he talked to my husband more than me and couldn’t remember my name! He meant it in a friendly respectful manner though, which made all the difference.)

        3. the gold digger*

          My first job out of college, my VP finally took me aside and said, “We are on a first-name basis here.”

          But it was so, so hard to call people my parents’ age by their first name!

    2. nhbillups*

      I am LW5 today. Thank you all for your input, and Alison for answering and posting my question!

      When I’m actually meeting with someone (in person), I don’t hesitate to extend my first name (although some people refuse to call me FirstName, and still refer to me as “Ma’am” or “Mrs. LastName” even after I’ve politely expressed that I much prefer FirstName, but that’s a whole other issue). My question is mainly for written correspondence (primarily email).

      Some background: I’m a buyer, so I get a lot of vendors who want me to hire them. So, I get a lot of unsolicited sales pitches, which, for the most part, I pretty much ignore. But for solicitations that I have out, sometimes vendors need to email me questions or requests for clarification. And often, they don’t get their thoughts all together before emailing me (i.e. instead of sending me a list of all the questions they have, they’ll wind up emailing me questions three different times), so I sometimes am corresponding pretty significantly with these vendors. And then, at the end, when I actually award a contract, I’ll be working more closely with (presumably) at least one of the vendors who bid. So I’m just not sure if it’s weird if, for example, I corresponded with a vendor back and forth for a few weeks and was referred to as Ms. LastName the entire time, but then if I award the contract to them, say “Oh, by the way, please feel free to call me Jane.”

      This is obviously a pretty low priority issue, but this is my first “career” job (previously I’ve held administration/customer service roles only, which is not my long-term career path), and I didn’t want to be off base in letting anyone know that they can call me FirstName. Thank you again for your time!

      1. Moonsaults*

        Hearing that you’re a buyer reminds me of my first job ever where our nicest account was a giant corporate grocery store chain. It made me believe that kind of extremely formal correspondence was required.

        Then I grew up and became a manufacturer operations manager and was so casual that a few people would have to stop, reel it in and figure out that I wasn’t being rude, I was just far more familiar than their other vendors.

        So I do think it’d be awesome for you to just say “and by the way you can call me by my first name!”. It’d probably warm you to many hearts and a lot of others will just continue their formal addressing, it gives them the go ahead to choose how to continue though.

        1. nhbillups*

          Thank you so much for your perspective; that makes me feel a lot more comfortable just putting it out there. I usually word it as: “Please feel free to call me FirstName”, so it still gives the option if they prefer the more formal.

  2. bkh*

    Re names – when I meet a new employee, I ask how they want to be addressed (ie Mike, Michael or if they have a preferred nickname), but we have a small office so it’s easy to do.

    1. Gaia*

      Same. I always ask what their preferred name is – even when it is my hire. Their preferred name may not be the name they interviewed with (for a lot of reasons) and early in my career I ran into an issue by assuming it would be. I was the only person that used one woman’s legal name and she never once corrected me (I worked offsite so I didn’t have the benefit of hearing others talk to her) and I never knew until we attended a conference and I couldn’t figure out who everyone was talking about. Ooooh, she has a nickname she goes by completely unrelated to her legal first name? Gotcha…

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think this is really the best practice. But, assuming OP#3 is right about his boss’s motivation for coming out to him repeatedly, I’m puzzled by the boss’s approach. Certainly one can (politely) tell their boss to let go of the nickname without having to invoke a protected-in-some-states identity?

      2. Jean*

        I had a similar thing happen when I did payroll for a company. I think the first week I was there, I got a time card from someone who wasn’t on the payroll, and I’m asking around, who is this guy? Turns out his wife didn’t like either his first or middle name, so she started calling him a completely different name and that was what he went by.

          1. Chocolate Teapot*

            Slightly off topic, but I have heard of a man being nicknamed Bunny because his surname was Warren. My personal favourite is Shirley for a Mr Temple.

            1. Hornswoggler*

              There’s also ‘Chalky’ White and ‘Nobby’ Clark. There is a whole raft of ‘traditional’ nicknames – all for men – which I think derive from the armed forces in the UK. I expect there is a similar roster in the USA, and no doubt elsewhere. Also short people got called ‘Lofty’.

              1. Clewgarnet*

                Yup – his surname means my father is ‘Taffy’ to everybody who knows him from his RN days, despite the fact he’s from Liverpool.

                The traditional nicknames are now being applied to women, too – or at least, one of my female friends gets called Dusty by her RAF colleagues. (Miller, not Springfield!)

              2. Blue Anne*

                And normal shortenings which are different across the pond and confuse the hell out of everyone. Family was shocked when I announced I was marrying Sandy – a pretty common Scottish shortening of Alexander.

                1. SarahTheEntwife*

                  Interesting; I think of Sandy as being pretty unisex, slanting slightly towards male. I wonder if it’s regional in the US as well. (Or was there some other reason why your parents would be shocked by your marrying a Sandy?)

            2. Recruit-o-rama*

              Plus 1- my grandfather was called bunny, he was named after his dad who was named after his dad so he was a “third” so his nickname was bunny. Grampa Bunny. It’s only feminine until your brain associates it with a person and then it isn’t anymore, just like any name going in any genderized direction.

              1. Anon today*

                “It’s only feminine until your brain associates it with a person and then it isn’t anymore”

                Carroll, Ashley, Leslie and Stacey are also men’s names. I’ve personally known at least 2 and read books about or have seen movies starring the others. My cousin has a little girl named Harper (which until she was born I had always associated with the Marx brothers). My kids have friends with all kinds of gender neutral names – some names associated with both boys and girls to the point where I have to ask “are we talking about boy Parker or girl Parker?” just to keep the story straight. I have red hair and am female but for years I was called Rusty or Red by teachers. I have a name that is not Asian but apparently the shortened version can sound Asian. I still remember the confusion on a new employee’s face when he was introduced to me for the first time. “I thought you were going to be Chinese.” were the first words he said to me. Names are just words that are assigned to something else. We all give that name it’s own meaning.

                1. Robin B*

                  Yep. In high school I dated a guy named Robin, he was from Germany and that was common. So anytime someone called out “Robin” we both turned around. Good times.

                2. Whats In A Name*

                  yes! My sister-in-law’s mom was named Gene and she used to talk about what a manly name it was. Spelling aside, when I hear the name Jeane/Gene I go right to female…because I work with a Jeane, my grandma is a Jeane and I went to high school with a Jeane. Growing up I knew a male Gene, but he’s the only man I’ve ever known with that name and I didn’t know him well.

                3. Ivy*

                  I have a name that is female in some countries/languages and male in others. (btw, it’s not Ivy, though it’s somewhat close). Think of something like “Andrea” which is more female in US but male in Italy.
                  Well, my husband is from a country where it’s one of the most common male names. My father-in-law and my brother-in-law are both called that way. You may say it took my in laws quite some time to get used to having a woman with that name around. But they did eventually, as I for sure was not going to change it :-)

                4. Elder Dog*

                  Beverly, Sidney, Evelyn, Shirley and Marion are all men’s names now commonly used for women.
                  Marion Mitchell Morrison’s stage name was John Wayne.

                5. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                  I’ve known more males named Kelly than females, and grew up with two students both with the first name Shannon and a very common last name for my area, though they were not related at all – one a guy, one a gal.

                6. zora*

                  Kelly, too.
                  One org I volunteered with, we had to go with “Guy Kelly” and “Girl Kelly”, because we had two Kellys!

                7. JessaB*

                  I have a friend named Lesley and she keeps having to explain to people that it’s “E-Y like -Anne Down and -Ann Warren, not I-E like Nielsen and Bricusse” Which A: gets her pegged as old as dirt and B: points out in the US that they stopped changing the spelling by gender.

                  You used to be able to tell the Lesley from the Leslie and the Frances from the Francis but now you can’t.

            3. AvonLady Barksdale*

              I feel an obligation to point out that there was a Bunny Colvin in The Wire, played by Robert Wisdom.

            4. Liane*

              Ms. Google, btw, says that Shirley was a man’s name until Charlotte Bronte wrote the novel Shirley in 1849, & then it became pretty much a woman’s name.

              1. Artemesia*

                One of the leaders of my professional field was ‘Shirley’; he was a guy who would be in his 100s now. Another was actually named Bunny (Bunne, presumably a last name first name but pronounced Bunny).

              2. Nolan*

                Like the sportswriter Shirley Povich.

                Baseball has a fine tradition of nicknames that sound feminine to modern ears, like Candy Cummings, Connie Mack, and Christy Mathewson. And then there are all the other fantastic nicknames that seem to flock to the sport.

                1. JustaTech*

                  Oh, the Chris/Kris thing! The house attached to mine was first owned by a nice gay couple, John and Nate. Then it was owned by a retired straight couple, Tim and Kris.

              1. Business Cat*

                Yep! Me, too. Slightly more off-topic, did you listen to the audiobook? The female author reading out all the boys’ dialogue (poorly) is something that will never leave my brain and probably half-ruined the book for me.

                1. Collie*

                  I didn’t; I much prefer reading over audiobooks (though no shame to those who prefer to listen!). Looks like I dodged a bullet there.

    2. Insert Nickname Here*

      Side Question–What if your legal name is something more professional-sounding (like Jennifer or Nicole) but you prefer Jenny or Nikki? Is that okay to have on business cards? At my current job I’m getting away with it because there’s someone else in my office who shares my legal, professional-sounding name, but I really feel a kindred with my nickname. I guess it partially depends on field (I’m an events professional) so I’m in a job right now where that’s more accepted, but would you judge someone for using a name like that?

      1. Lissa*

        I think it’s fine! I often find myself on the “other” side of the common complaint from Elizabeths being called Liz without permission etc., because I hate my full name and love my nickname. For some reason though, people just love my uncommon, elaborate first name and use it instead of my preferred nickname, which people think is too plain/common! Can’t win with it! (And my nickname is a pretty intuitive shortening of my full name, so it’s not even like people have a huge mental leap to make.)

      2. Insert Nickname Here*

        That’s awesome to hear, thanks everyone! I feel a lot better about it now.

  3. Gaia*

    OP 3 – I can think of two possible scenarios here

    1. Your boss is trying to let you know it is safe to come out since he is out. The comment about just wanting you to know might be his awkward attempt at creating a safe space for you.

    2. Is it possible your boss is trying to let you know he might be interested in you? Particularly if, through your nickname, he suspects you might identify with a gender he is interested in this may be a back-burner way of letting you know he would be open to interest without being awkward (which, of course, has ended up awkward).

    I could be way off on both but if it were me those would be the top two I would suspect. In any case, please do not feel you need to come out to anyone you do not want to. Announcing something so personal is your choice and yours alone. If you want to tell your boss and coworkers, awesome. If you prefer to keep it personal, awesome.

    1. Sarianna*

      I assumed it was:
      1a. Your boss wants you to know it’s okay/safe to come out _as trans*_, since your nickname indicates a gender that is not the one you are currently presenting.

      I can understand him wanting to make a safer work environment and reiterate, but he also needs to realize you’re not responding positively to it; he still needs to back off.

      1. JessaB*

        Or not trans and just non-binary. I don’t know if I got trans from the way the OP phrased things.

        1. glor*

          Dropping in late to say that non-binary is actually usually classed under the trans umbrella!

    2. CM*

      I wouldn’t use Alison’s last script of “Are you trying to get me to reveal something about myself?” because that could lead to more conversation along the same lines (“No, no, but if you wanted to tell me anything… do you want to tell me anything?”) I like Alison’s first script, but my personal inclination would be to ignore the constant coming-out and act like everything is normal. (“In case you forgot, I’m gay!” “OK. So, about that teapot design project…”) It’s not your problem if somebody doesn’t like your nickname, which you specifically asked if you could use at work when you started.

      1. AMPG*

        I had the same thought – the last thing you want to do is open the door for a question you don’t want to answer.

    3. OhNo*

      If the boss is trying to let OP3 know that it’s safe to come out, there are waaaay better way to do it than awkwardly coming out to them three times in a row. E.g.: one of my coworkers talks about her wife regularly, and another casually mentions weekend plans to participate in queer activities. Way more casual, and no perceived pressure to out yourself.

      That said, if the OP is uncomfortable or unwilling to have a direct “why are you doing this?” conversation, they can just keep saying “I know, you’ve mentioned it before” every time it comes up. Sometimes the best way to get people to stop an irritating behavior is to make it boring.

      1. Gene*

        I might just go to yelling “Hey Everybody! Wakeen is gay!!!” the next time he came out to me. Once is nice, twice could be because he’s forgetful, four times, he’s up to something.

        As far as the boss’s boss not liking your nickname goes, ask him. If for some strange reason he is, tell him to feel free to not use it. But don’t make a wholesale change in the office to keep one person happy.

        1. D.A.R.N.*

          I wouldn’t do this. It’s very dependent on the office environment and could be seen as inappropriate/offensive to a marginalized group (of which I am a part and wouldn’t take well coming from someone else).

          1. winter*

            +1 It might sound funny, but being gay can still have some scary ramifications so no, not the place.

    4. OP3*

      1) I thought of that which is why I started asking if there was some reason he kept coming out to me.

      2) Very unlikely, for a variety of reasons including that it would mean he thinks he knows both my sexuality and gender identity, as he’s made it clear that he’s a gay man who dates other gay men.

      My biggest worry is the boss’s boss, who I had heard is not comfortable with my nickname. Today there was a “lunchbag lecture” – the thing where you bring lunch and listen to someone give a talk. My boss’s boss was there. I hadn’t seen them since my interview. Afterwards, I went to go say hello. They saw me coming, made a face, and walked across the room to talk to someone else.

      Somehow, I do not think I will make it past my six months probationary period. I think I’m going to be deemed “a poor fit.”

      1. AGS*

        I’m very sorry to hear you are concerned for your employment. I would encourage you to review office policy on this, and – in addition to addressing this issue with your manager – document your concerns with HR. I would also encourage you to ensure you have a standard performance review by 3 months, if within company policy – I know a few companies are doing away with performance reviews – to document that you are adequately performing your job.

        There is really no reason for your employment to be in jeopardy, because you prefer to be called a certain name. Again, unless there is a documented policy otherwise.

      2. zora*

        Um, your boss’s boss is an ass.

        I’m sorry you are dealing with this. It’s completely not okay for a manager to have a ‘problem’ with the nickname someone chooses to go by. As shown above, there are all kinds of names and nicknames that have been gender fluid over the years. Unless you had a nickname that was a curse word or blatantly NSFW (and I can’t even think what that might be), it is none of his business.

        I don’t have any great advice, but just wanted to reinforce to you that this is their problem, not yours.

        1. JessaB*

          Well if you were an American named Frances in England I’d be careful of being called Fanny, because well it’s a kind of rude word there for the genitalia of cis-female people.

            1. Laura*

              And we’re also perfectly fine with the word ‘vulva’, btw. No need to skirt around it.

  4. Miss Brittany*

    I don’t know about you guys, but I’d be pretty miffed if a coworker asked me not to eat bacon in the office for the next 5 months. Does not seem reasonable.

    1. Gaia*

      Really? I’m not pregnant and the smell of warmed up bacon in the office literally make me want to vomit. Well, the smell is bad anywhere but we’re talking about workspaces. It is such a weirdly strong smell to me. If I had a coworker that regularly warmed up bacon I would ask them to at least eat it cold so the smell wasn’t as strong.

      1. blackcat*

        +1, warm bacon makes me want to puke.

        Warm, strongly smelling foods generally do not belong in cubes. The break room? Kitchen? Fine. Cubes? No.

          1. Is it Friday Yet?*

            But what’s “smelly” varies from person to person. What I might hardly be able to smell, the OP might find herself gagging over at her desk.

              1. Is it Friday Yet?*

                Smelly to that person. In my office, we don’t have a break room or anywhere to eat lunch besides our desks. Big boss is also not a fan of people leaving for lunch, so that would be problematic.

                1. Newby*

                  I think that is an important consideration. Asking someone to eat what they want in a break room instead of at their desk is a relatively small ask. Telling them to never eat their favorite food at work is a big ask.

                2. Natalie*

                  Then you and your co-worker have a civil conversation like adults and figure it out…? This doesn’t need to be a battle, on either side.

                3. Koko*

                  Exactly. Working in a cube farm requires a lot more compromise than working in a private office. It just comes with the territory. Just like if you have a retail job or a construction job, you probably don’t have as much freedom and privilege around lunch as if you work an office job. In a cube farm, you don’t have quite as much freedom and privilege around lunch as you do in a private office–you have to negotiate with the people you share space with.

                  Unfortunately the right to eat your favorite food at work is far from inalienable, and if someone tells you your food is making them sick in this environment, well, unfortunately the only decent thing to do is not make them sick.

                4. Koko*

                  This is somewhat akin to how when you live on the third floor of an apartment building you can’t put your subwoofer on the floor and walk around in high-heel boots on a bare wood floor. You put down some rugs, you elevate your subwoofer off the ground, you don’t blast music late at night, and you try your best to minimize stomping around. Would it be nicer if you could listen to music as loud as you want whenever you want and leave your floors bare because you like hardwood? Sure. But you’re sharing space with people, and that requires some compromise.

                5. fposte*

                  @Natalie–yeah, I really think you don’t want this to turn into sides, because it doesn’t help. Problem-solving teamwork is the approach.

                6. Electric Hedgehog*

                  I think asking someone not to eat things perceived as smelly may end up unintentionally making them feel uncomfortable living their culture in the office – e.g. curries, mexican food, middle eastern food, etc., which can all be rather pungent. So, I guess, it’s ok to ask for a temporary medical thing if you’re sensitive to the comfort and happiness of others, but it’s not ok to issue a blanket ban or to be a jerk about it.

                7. Kimberlee, Esq*

                  Yes, in addition to what others have noted, any given person might have a variety of medical conditions or dietary restrictions that might significantly reduce the universe of what they eat. I agree that asking politely is the way to start, but I would also understand if someone was miffed that they’ve taken the trouble to create a sustainable menu for themselves for work meals, only to find out that its causing problems for someone else. But, totally, an open convo (where you acknowledge that you’re asking a favor) is the place to start.

                8. fposte*

                  @Kimberlee–yes, I was laughing because I’m literally “but I can’t eat sandwiches!” here. I have two months of pre-prepared lunch food that’s specific to disability #1 and that I can’t just whip up again in a hurry thanks to disability #2. The OP has a cafeteria and I could go down there, at least for the short term, but in a place with no eating spot this would be a significant hardship for me, and I might ask to stagger eating with the other person’s breaks on some days.

                9. Zweisatz*

                  I’m in the specific diet camp where I can eat really few things. Though onions? Very unlikely for someone who has stomach issues. Other issues like strong eating preferences due to autism? Yes, possible.
                  However, before we run through all the possible reasons why co-worker might NEED to eat that food right there in that cubicle, it’s reasonable to just ask them if it’s possible to find a compromise. I deem the likelihood of that very high.

                10. Taylor Swift*

                  This is where “you’re not wrong, you’re just an asshole” comes in to play.

                11. JessaB*

                  And sometimes it means moving people around said cube farm and maybe putting a fan at OP’s desk facing out to flow the air away from them. They have those things that are supposed to take smells out of air? Ionizers? De-ionisers? I dunno but maybe that would work.

            1. Anonacat*

              I find the smell of eggs disgusting and vomit inducing. However; I am not about to ask people to stop eating them as they are pretty normal things to eat.

        1. A*

          You assume they have a break room or a kitchen. Where I work we have cubes, a utility closet so small that the sink props the door open, and two cockroach-infested bathrooms. I’m eating my damn bacon in my damn cubicle.

          1. AGS*

            We do have a large cafeteria, with a variety of seating options. But this of course is not entirely relevant, in a culture where many people in my division routinely eat at their desks. The issue here is ‘onion lady’ is being asked not to eat raw onions at her desk, which obviously is a huge favorite of hers, as they accompany her lunch several times a week.

          2. Koko*

            Even if it’s making your coworker nauseated? Bacon is that important to you?

            I’m not saying you should stop eating anything that has a smell your coworkers don’t like. But we’re talking about someone becoming physically ill. You have 16 meals per week outside of your office. Can you really not refrain from eating something that makes a coworker sick for the remaining 5 meals a week?

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Exactly. It’s like asking a coworker not to wear a lot of a strong smelling perfume when the scent triggers migraines in a coworker. Maybe you love that smell, but it’s not unreasonable to ask you not to wear it to work in your open office space. I have a lot of so-called “ethnic” food that I love and eat regularly, but I’d stick to eating it at home if the smell of it made a coworker actually ill. Some foods have a strong smell but the smell doesn’t travel. Other foods have strong smells that spread and linger.

              1. JessaB*

                And in this case there are options and as OP says it’s temporary. It’s not a permanent restriction either way.

      2. Leatherwings*

        Yeah, I don’t eat pork and the smell is *so* strong. It doesn’t bother me if someone eats a pork chop for lunch or something, but bacon is uniquely strong in smell I think.

            1. Gadfly*

              Although I think what may be meant is that the strong smell is part of the taste–we do get a LOT of our taste information from smells, more than from taste buds.

    2. Artemesia*

      I on the other hand think it is unreasonable to eat smelly foods in a cube space. If I were the OP I would consider seeing if it could become an office policy not to eat or at least not eat smelly foods at desks in shared space. Onions, bacon, sardine sandwiches, egg sandwiches — lots of different ethnic foods with strong smells etc etc really make a crowded workspace unpleasant.

      Need to eat bacon that is making someone else nauseated? really. Of course she could go ahead and barf in that shared space if you insist it is very important.

      1. Susan*

        Yeah, what’s the alternative? Anyone remember that episode of The Office where Pam makes a similar request and Dwight refuses to comply, so Pam just vomits in a trash can and sets off a chain of sympathy vomiting? I think it’s worth giving up eating bacon at work for a few months to avoid that.

        1. dippythediplodocus*

          My colleague keeps pate in the fridge and everyone in the office agrees it is safer and easier for everyone if I (at 20 weeks pregnant) have no fridge contact. Someone gets my lunch in and out for me which is embarrassing but less embarrassing than throwing up in the office.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          I haven’t see this episode, but when I read this letter, my immediate response was “if she refuses to stop, you can just start vomiting in a trash can, and that will probably take care of it.”

          1. Patty the boxy potato*

            Oh, those poor non-bacon-eating, non-vomiting innocent bystander co-workers. :/

            1. Sarah*

              It sounds like they hate the smells too, so if the byproduct of vomiting is that the offending coworker cuts it out, maybe worth it?!

        3. Jade*

          Ha, I personally would go eat my bacon elsewhere- not out of moral obligation, but specifically to avoid the vomiting coworker. No bacon is worth my lunch being ruined with vomit.

          1. Gadfly*

            I had a co-worker that responded really well to lemon scented handwipes. She kept a case at her desk and sniffed them every time a smell did not agree with her.

      2. anoning forever*

        But smelly foods are subjective. I always see things like onions and garlic and fish come up as “smelly”, but they’re normal for my ethnicity’s cuisine and what I commonly eat on a daily and weekly basis. I think fast food, fried foods, and pickles have a smell that lingers and makes me want to barf, but plenty of people think those are okay to eat in a cube space.

        This argument comes up every single time someone mentions food in a letter. There’s no one list of food that everyone thinks is smelly. If you cut out any food that had an odor people wouldn’t be eating anything at all in their offices.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’m wary of food complaints because of the risk for indirect racism (I, too, come from an ethnic community whose food is often reviled for being “smelly”), but this letter doesn’t set off my spider senses.

          I think it’s universally understood that onions have a pungent smell. Whether you like or dislike that smell, I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t think that onions have a distinct odor. And from what I can tell, OP isn’t saying “please don’t ever eat onions.” She’s saying “please don’t eat onions in the cubicle farm.” Assuming there’s other places to eat one’s lunch than at one’s cubicle, and given that she’s not asking for a permanent ban on onions, her request seems reasonable. This is relatively analogous to not bringing PB into an office where someone has a peanut allergy. Of course peanut allergies usually have more severe health consequences than in this case, but making someone so nauseated that it impedes their work is a pretty significant health consequence, while accommodating OP is relatively less onerous.

          As an aside, it’s not entirely true that “if you cut out any food that had an odor people wouldn’t be eating anything at all in their offices.” There are lots of foods that are less pungent or have almost no smell.

          1. Sam*

            I actually don’t think all onions are particularly smelly. Red onions have a clear odor. Sweet onions, not so much, imo. And that’s why this is so tricky – it’s really very subjective. I just always eat in the break room, so it’s not an issue, but not everyone has that option.

            1. Artemesia*

              I have a sensitivity to onions and the smell nauseates me (probably because my body knows that eating them will make me sick). It is a very powerful smell. (and if you have magic onions that don’t smell, no one will make an issue of it)

              1. LCL*

                Stink? Onions are beyond stink. They have a stench that permeates everything. Raw onions are the worst. The scent is barely tolerable in food that is cooked with onions. Twice in my long tenure here, someone ate a raw onion as a big part of their lunch. I did say something nasty to the guy at the remote site, because it stunk up the entire building.

                I think the smell of bacon cooking is nectar of the gods, but that scent is unusual in how it affects people. I have seen a crew at a remote site seriously hate on someone because he had microwave bacon on his break, and the crew all ate meat.

                For the OP-if someone who is pregnant asked me to not eat or cook things near her, I would cheerfully comply, even if it was something I loved. Even my beloved morning coffee.

                1. fposte*

                  I think most people here would do that. The challenge to negotiate is getting people to give up stuff when they don’t know you’re pregnant. (I hadn’t even thought about coffee, because I don’t drink it, but I think that would be a tough one to request without, if you’ll pardon the pun, solid grounds.)

                2. Partly Cloudy*

                  @ fposte: I think if the OP says she has a temporary medical condition that makes her sensitive to smells, 9 out of 10 people are going to assume she’s pregnant anyway. If she really doesn’t want to tell people yet, I think she needs a better script.

                  No, I don’t have one. Just saying she needs one. :)

                3. Gadfly*

                  I don’t know, I might assume cancer or something similar being as likely as pregnancy…

          2. Nervous Accountant*

            Same–I have a coworker of the same background as myself who won’t eat food from our culture for fear of offending people with the smell but I would do it (and have!).

            I once had a coworker who sat next to me and always ate at his desk, and 99% of the time I disliked the smell of his food. However, he was also a nice person and we got along well otherwise, so I never said anything to him, and instead would walk away when it got to be too much. I too was concerned about the racism aspect of it.

            I’m not a fan of hte smell of bacon, but I wouldn’t ask anyone not to eat it, especially since my religion forbids pork (and tbh, I’m pretty vocal about that) and it’d be super obnoxious coming from me.

          3. JessaB*

            Um nausea during pregnancy can be very dangerous. You can end up in hospital for dehydration very quickly. Probably cause you’re having to provide hydration for more than one person.

        2. Tuesday*

          That’s true, but I think you could argue that those are strong smelling foods even if not bad smelling. I like the smell of garlic and I don’t mind the smell of onions…if it’s in a restaurant or while I’m cooking them. But there’s something unpleasant about those same smells when they’re wafting across the cube farm.

        3. Elizabeth H.*

          My least favorite food smell is the smell of the Subway bread. It is so overwhelming. Meanwhile I don’t mind the smell of microwaved fish, at all. Different strokes. And similarly, if someone politely asked me not to bring a certain food for these reasons I’d probably be embarrassed to have caused distress.

          1. MuseumChick*

            OMG, I thought I was the only one! I HATE the smell of subway. I can’t stand to even walk inside one.

            1. Artemesia*

              It turns my stomach as well. I deeply dislike subway sandwiches and similar sandwiches — but that is one I feel like an outlier on and so just suck it up.

            2. JustaTech*

              That’s so interesting1 I really kind of like the smell, not that I ever eat at Subway, but my old therapist’s office shared a building with a Subway and that warm bread smell permeated the waiting room. I found it very relaxing. I never thought people might hate it!

            3. Elizabeth H.*

              Yes the smell permeates EVERYTHING. They had a Subway in our campus center (Which was a large building and the food court was in only one ‘wing’ of it and pretty set off from the rest of the building) and you got smacked in the face with this smell when you walked in. I have eaten from Subway on a road trip/been around people with Subway food a couple times and while I don’t like their food at all I don’t mind the smell quite as much when it in sandwich form rather than environmental.

            4. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

              Luckily we didn’t hate the smell, but Subway bread baking permeated another office between the restaurant and our laboratory AND entirely obliterated any hints of formaldehyde or xylene from our lab.
              Visits (who didn’t have olfactory exhaustion) would always exclaim that they could only smell bread and couldn’t believe we were a lab.

              Related, I can’t stomach the smell of Quiznos because I worked next to one in a mall for a few years.

          2. I am a tailors apprentice*

            When I was pregnant I had such an aversion to the smell of bread that getting through the bakery section of my local grocery store- which was located at the front of the store- required me to sniff from a tin of mint scented lotion until I was through the area.

            1. Patty the boxy potato*

              Isn’t it weird the things that make us nauseous in pregnancy?? To this day, (20 years later!) I can’t bear the smell of any of Victoria’s Secret’s Pear products.

              1. bandit1970*

                My mother still cannot tolerate Elizabeth Taylor’s “White Shoulders” almost fifty years later. Me, Giorgio Armani “Red” almost twelve years after the fact. I still get queasy when I smell it and I used to absolutely love it.

                1. The Optimizer*

                  OMG, White Shoulders! I had a babysitter that wore it and that’s how I discovered I was sensitive to certain scents. Every now and then I’ll catch a whiff of it at a mall or something and it instantly gags me an makes me breathe through my mouth…40+ years later!

                2. JessaB*

                  Um Liz Taylor is White Diamonds, White Shoulders is a product from, well it now belongs to Elizabeth Arden, it used to be Evyan. They don’t smell anything alike btw. I do not like White Diamonds, but when I was younger and didn’t have lung problems like now and didn’t realise what a jerk I was being, I used to literally bathe in White Shoulders (had the shower gel, the bath powder and the eau de parfum)

            2. Vin Packer*

              This was me, too! The smell of toast in particular was awful.

              My officemate at the time didn’t eat toast in the office, thank god. But, he is a really nice guy and I have no doubt that he would have been understanding if I had asked him not to.

            3. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

              My mom had a similar reaction when she was pregnant with my twin sisters– only problem was, she also had a 3-year-old and a 4-year old at home who would only eat peanut butter sandwiches. She’d take out the bread, go throw up, smear on jam, go throw up, smear on peanut butter, go throw up, slap the pieces of bread together and cut them in half, hand them to us, and go throw up.

              My poor mom.

              1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                For me, it’s just the smell of chicken, period. I don’t care how it is prepared. I’m 25 weeks and it makes me feel sick, but we eat a lot of chicken in my household so I breathe through my mouth to cook it. Somehow eating it doesn’t cause problems.

          3. K.*

            An ex of mine lived next door to a McDonald’s for years and as a result the smell of McDonald’s makes him sick. He works at home ( … I assume he still does, haven’t spoken to him in years) but if he worked in an office and his coworker(s) brought in Mickey D’s, he’d have to have this conversation.

            1. Ren*

              I worked at McDonald’s for way too long and know too many things and yet, the smell of those French fries still gets me every time. It’s Pavlovian. I don’t even enjoy eating them, but they smell soooo good.

          4. Parenthetically*

            I’ve found my people! My brother used to work there and would come home REEKING of that bread. I think it’s permanently embedded in my sense memories. Awful.

            1. the gold digger*

              My brother worked at Long John Silver’s when we were in high school. Man, that was so nasty! Fried fish!

              However – he always got to bring home leftover hushpuppies. So there were benefits.

              (You don’t want to know that if teenage boys drop the raw fish on the floor, they just pick it up, dust it off, and throw it in the hot grease anyhow.)

              1. Karen K*

                TBH, I pretty much assume that this happens in all restaurants, not just fast-food. I try to block it out.

          5. Temperance*

            OMG. I have this same issue with Subway bread. I won’t eat there because of the sickeningly sweet smell of their bread baking. It smells like a less rotten Sav-a-lot.

          6. Corky's wife Bonnie*

            Oh gosh, this bank I used to go to was right next to a Subway, and it was so strong I had to switch to a different branch.

            1. Elizabeth H.*

              Here is a pointless and trivial Subway/subway/bank anecdote: when I reload my public transportation card it shows up on my debit card statement as “SUBWAY [zip code phone number etc]” even though it’s the MBTA and not officially named “subway” in any capacity. My online banking log in page makes a pie chart out of the rough categories of types of expenses I have on each statement, at least the ones it can guess at, and it groups these charges into the “food/restaurant” category, thinking it is Subway rather than a subway. I get a very mild kick out of this.

              1. Junior Dev*

                I had a lot of medical treatment at a research hospital last year and Mint was convinced all my medical bills were tuition/books for med school.

        4. Lablizard*

          Agreed. To me, fast food, fried foods, etc stink and the stale grease smell lingers. My preferred food is my traditional food, which can include fresh fish, olives, onions, and other “smelly” items. Personally, if I can survive your Big Mac, KFC, Subway, or Taco Bell, you can survive my çoban salatası, hamsi, or Adana kebap

          1. HB*

            Yes, all this. I think the best way is food stays in kitchen and the sensitive sniffer can avoid the lunchroom when others are in it.

            1. Lablizard*

              Yep. I ate somewhere other than my desk when I shared space, even if it meant scarfing my food in 10 seconds. If I knew escaping my desk wasn’t going to be in the cards that day, I would bring in fruit and make do until I could get away. No one wants to smell anyone’s meal

              1. Observer*

                I have a lot of sympathy for the OP, and I think she can make the request. But what you are suggesting is not reasonable for most people. Gobbling your food in 10 seconds or making do with nothing but some fruit all day, on a regular basis is simply not something you can ask of people. And, guess what, even fruit is not something that is universally ok for everyone.

                1. Lablizard*

                  I know my solution would not work for everyone, or even most people. Food at work is such a tricky topic. For example, I hate the smell of fried foods and common fast foods (the smell makes me queasy), but it would have been unreasonable for me to ask that no one in my old open plan office eat fried or fast food I was there since they are such common parts of the American workplace diet.

                2. NLMC*

                  Exactly, the smell of bananas makes me want to vomit. I just deal with it since it’s unreasonable for me to ask people to not eat them near me (I can smell them 2 aisles over) but it’s awful.

                3. Liz in a Library*

                  NLMC, I’m the same way with orange peels. The juice doesn’t bother me, but the oil released when a peel is broken will make me cough like crazy and sometimes throw up. :/

                4. Junior Dev*

                  NLMC, I hate the smell of bananas too! Especially in enclosed spaces. Guess what my dad’s favorite road trip snack is?

          2. bearing*

            Every time this kind of thread comes up I wish I could be invited to an AAM office potluck.

              1. Observer*

                No, because some people are gluten intolerant. And I know someone who claims that water exacerbates her reflux, which is severe. ;) (I know that reflux is not joke, for anyone who thinks that that’s what I’ll laughing about.)

        5. Koko*

          Yes, that’s why the common sense thing to do is to “complaint-driven enforcement.” It’s impossible to come up with some objective list of smelly foods. Instead, everyone should just understand they work in a shared space and be understanding and compassionate when a coworker says, “This food makes me feel sick,” and avoid those specific foods.

        6. stinky*

          Glad someone else besides me likes onions, garlic and fish :) I’d take those smells any day over the perfume/Scentsy/air freshener smells that pollute my office.

        7. LawBee*

          The OP isn’t asking for all “smelly” foods to be banned forever. She’s asking for a temporary hold on onions and bacon because she’s pregnant and for the next few months, she’s going to be vomiting. Presumably there are pregnant women in your culture that have strong reactions to foods that normally wouldn’t bother them. My bff couldn’t smell eggs, despite being a pretty dedicated egg eater pre-pregnancy. Eggs are part of her ethnicity’s cuisine, she’s used to them, but for six months, they caused her to vomit almost immediately.

          This isn’t a culture thing. This isn’t ethnicity. This is one coworker not wanting to spend the next few weeks throwing up at work for something that is easily accommodated for a brief amount of time, and then the coworker can go back to all the bacon and onions she wants.

          Or the coworker can decide that her bacon and onion meals are not optional, and the OP can find a way to deal with the nausea and vomiting herself. But there is nothing wrong with the OP asking for a temporary halt on things that make her physically ill.

        8. Anxa*

          Oh good god, yes!

          I would much rather smell bacon or fish or onions and garlic than fried food. At least 80% of the food my coworkers brought in was fast food/fried food. I found that smell so nauseating, but those are the normal foods of the dominant culture there. I really don’t care if my hardboiled eggs were slightly unpleasant.

          Plus, fast food is so much more expensive for the nutrition than what I was bringing. Skipping hard boiled eggs would mean having to really think and plan hard to replace a high protein, filling, snack I can eat in <1 min. Same for bananas (although I ate those outside).

      3. pescadero*

        Problem is – “smelly foods ” differ greatly among people. That office policy almost inevitably leads to uneven enforcement and/or banning of eating food in any common areas.

        1. Vin Packer*

          In general this is true, but this OP is pregnant and her aversion is extreme, has a medical explanation, and it’s temporary. I don’t think it’s a big deal to accommodate it.

          1. Bwmn*

            I think the real issue here is the employee outing that she’s pregnant and that’s why the smells are bothering her vs. trying to ask for it more generally and having the request being considered “unreasonable”.

            I used to work for an organization that had a large vegetarian/vegan crowd – including the Executive Director. She would occasionally float the idea that no meat should be allowed in the microwave because of how all meat smells offended vegetarians. She would get push back and the request would die down until the next time someone microwaved something particularly meaty.

            Microwaved and/or warm food is more scented than cold food – and I do think that whenever a request is made around “your food makes me sick”, people are liable to put it to the test of “is it reasonable”. At that office, the boss’s office was closest to the microwave and had she said “I’m pregnant and for the next 9/6 months or so, I request no meat in the microwave because it’s make me sick” – that request might have been headed very differently from “no meat in the microwave because it offends this vegetarian”.

            1. Somniloquist*

              I don’t know anything about the coworker but if a woman told me that she had a temporary medical condition that caused her extreme nausea smelling certain foods, I would automatically assume she was pregnant and just keep that in mind for the next 7 months or so.

            2. Chinook*

              “that request might have been headed very differently from “no meat in the microwave because it offends this vegetarian”.”

              The irony, of course, is that meat is safer to eat when heated above a certain temperature. So, basically, a permanent ban on meat in a microwave is the equivalent of saying only heavily processed, cold meat is allowed in the office.

      4. No kitchen, just microwaves*

        We don’t have any shared spaces to eat where I work, *and* it’s the corporate culture to have a working lunch at your desk. (I know. But trying to change that is a different suggestion.)

        So would the solution be to not eat that at all? I’m thinking what I would be able to eat if all “strong smelling” foods were banned. And what about cultures where the food is “strong smelling” to Americans? If I told someone they weren’t allowed to eat curry in the office, for example, that’d be a little discriminatory.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think it depends on how you do it. Eating bacon in the break room/kitchen? Not ideal, but ok. Eating bacon in the cubicle farm after a coworker has mentioned they’re temporarily scent-sensitive and it makes them vomit? Not cool.

      I think as long as it’s done with an emphasis on it triggering a medical/health reaction + being temporary + the “thank you for this huge favor” tone Alison recommends, it’s certainly ok to raise with a coworker. And if you hit those key points, it would seem odd for a coworker to be resistant. Plus, onions are kind of a value-neutral smell problem to have (as opposed to complaining about other kinds of pungent-smelling foods).

      1. Formica Dinette*

        This is pretty much how I see it. It’s a temporary request for health reasons that’s limited to a few specific foods. If it was truly a hardship for the coworker to accommodate, it seems like they could work something out. (See fposte’s comment above about having two months’ lunch food already prepared due to disability).

    4. Sami*

      There’s a difference too in eating something cold and heating it up in the microwave. If someone is bringing in a cold sandwich, generally the smell is very mild and doesn’t linger.

      1. Blueismyfavorite*

        I don’t know about that. I came home one day and as soon as I opened the door I knew my daughter, who was three rooms away from me, had eaten a sub sandwich with onions. Raw onions are LOUD and the smell can linger.

      2. Judy*

        Especially if they’re cooking the bacon at work. At a former employer, my cubicle was about 6 away from a microwave. One guy would cook bacon at 9am twice a week or so. That smell really lingers.

        1. A Person*

          It really does. At a previous job there was a no fish/bacon in the microwave and mild curries only rule because as well as the smell being super noticeable, the air conditioning would push it though the whole office.

          In regards to the OP though, asking them to eat the onions elsewhere, preferably well ventilated is a reasonable request.

      3. Lemon Zinger*

        Not necessarily– depends on the food being heated up. I’m not about to bring homemade chicken tikka masala to the office because it’ll stink when I heat it up.

    5. ginger ale for all*

      I wouldn’t be miffed. If someone feels strongly enough to make the request, I would comply. Office sharing is a world of give and takes. We all have our buttons and it’s nice to know what bothers other people.

      1. Corky's wife Bonnie*

        Same here. If it was explained to me as Alison suggested, I wouldn’t have a problem at all. There are lots of other foods in this world to eat.

      2. zora*

        Yeah, me too. Especially for a situation like this that is a limited term request. A few months is not that long, I would keep my bacon and onions out of the cubicle area. It doesn’t seem that much of a request to me.

    6. Daisy May*

      Miss Brittany, just wanted to say I’m with you. I’d never ask a coworker to stop eating something they brought in. It’s my problem if the smell bothers me, not theirs.

      1. misspiggy*

        I think this is what people are getting at – when you’re having a severe physical reaction to the point of not being able to work because of food someone is eating near you, it does become a legitimate issue to address.

        Although it’s interesting to reflect that, for people affected by misophonia, noisy foods can cause so much distress that work becomes impossible. Usually the answer is headphones, but if those aren’t an option I’m not sure that one can ask people not to crunch…

        It would be nice if we could revert to a civilised approach like having decent space and time to eat away from one’s desk.

        1. Midge*

          +1 to the misophonia. I am super sensitive to those sorts of sounds: chewing/crunching, spoons clanging against bowls, wrappers crinkling. It’s pretty awful. And since it’s not appropriate to ask someone not to open their granola bar in my presence, there’s nothing I can do about it. (I mean, if someone was crunching carrot sticks, I guess I could say something. But I have painful, negative reactions to perfectly normal and reasonable eating sounds.) I agree that having a culture where you’re able to step away from your desk for meals would help.

          1. Marillenbaum*

            Spoons big time, not least because I saw “Get Out” last weekend and my immediate thought is, “Now you’re in the sunken place”.

          2. Triangle Pose*

            Can you really ask someone to stop eating carrot sticks if they were in a meeting with you?

        2. Marcela*

          +1 on the misophonia. I’m trying very hard not to ask my coworker, who eats veggies and fruits every couple of hours, please not to do that. Today I’m taking active noise cancelling headphones with me to see if they help, precisely because I feel that it’s my problem and I should not ask him to carry the burden. However, if he starts eating peppers, it’s going to be a whole different story, for I can’t stand that smell. I’ve been unable to eat in restaurants when they haven’t said anything about a dish being peppers + something.

          1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

            +1 on peppers

            I can’t stand peppers of any style or stripe (no bells, no black, no white, no peppercorns…) and for the me the smell is far-reaching and long-lasting. It also feels like I can taste the smell (if that makes sense).

            Thankfully, I don’t have vomit-type reactions, but I definitely do what I can to avoid peppers. Just too strong for me, cooked or raw.

        3. A*

          But I don’t see any attempt on the LW’s part to mitigate the reaction, and that’s what’s bugging me. She has a problem, so it’s everyone else’s job to make sure she doesn’t have that problem. And while that might be the ultimate solution, what causes me to dig my heels in is that if it were me, my FIRST thought would be Vicks or tea tree oil or some other smelly thing I could stand placed under my own nose to block the offending odor. Because it’s MY problem to solve. It’s a temporary thing, it’s not an allergy, and I think it’s incredibly entitled to ask coworkers to adjust their eating habits for my personal comfort without exhausting things I can do first.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            To me this is always an odd thing to dig in your heels over, but from my own food allergies, I know people have strong reactions to any suggestion about limiting their own food in any situation, even to the detriment of someone’s health. This office is not your own home. In an shared work space, you have to make compromises, and you aren’t entitled to eat any particular kind of food. To say that you shouldn’t have to -temporarily- stop eating this one food–just at lunch–unless she’s proven herself worthy of an accommodation is a little harsh.

            1. pescadero*

              “This office is not your own home. ”


              It’s also not the person bothered by the smells home.

              “In an shared work space, you have to make compromises”

              Compromise means I get a little of what I want in exchange for giving up a little of what you want…. how is OP compromising?

              1. fposte*

                Well, it doesn’t mean that every time you get a little of what you want; it means over time. Right now the compromise seems to be that the OP is leaving her desk while the co-worker stays there, so that’s a pretty big compromise.

                More significantly in the “the office is not your own home” stakes, if you can’t work this out amicably, the odds of lunch at desks being banned, period are pretty good. So long-term that’s getting a little of what you want, too.

          2. Kate*

            Exactly! I find it troubling that some people are suggesting that any food that any coworker finds smelly be banned. Especially because a lot smelly dishes are also ethnic dishes.

            And as we can seem just from the comments in this thread, with a dozen or so people, everything from peppers to Subway sandwiches, anything with onions, garlic, bacon, oranges, etc, etc would be banned. What are people supposed to do, eat dry toast for the rest of their career?

            A lot of people are suggesting you eat in the break room, but if you aren’t fortunate enough to have a break room, or benches outside or whatever, what can you do?

            The smell of oranges makes me super nauseous, I have actually come close to throwing up when someone is eating an orange near me, but that is my problem. I take deep breaths (through my mouth ; ) and I deal with it.

      2. Sylvia*

        I agree if we’re talking about a difference of taste, where a coworker just sort of dislikes whatever I’m eating, but I wouldn’t want to make someone nauseated. That’s definitely worth bringing up.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Me either! I mean, I might be a little annoyed if someone asked me not to bring my amazing Thai or Indian food to work, but if the alternative is that person vomiting…?

          My best friend cannot abide the smell of coffee for the first 12 weeks of her pregnancies — it smells like hot garbage to her. Her husband makes coffee at work or buys it out during those 12 weeks and does so gladly because the alternative is a sad, sick wife. Granted, that’s a closer relationship, but golly, is it so awful to take on a temporary inconvenience as a kind gesture of humanity?

      3. Observer*

        That’s actually not a reasonable blanket approach. Yes, there are most definitely limits to what you can ask. And, yes, you should always try the things that you can control first. But, trying to accommodate a severe problem that someone has is the decent thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do – what goes round comes round, and it’s the very, very rare person who is never going to need some help or accommodation in their life.

        1. Newby*

          I think is a scenario where people should try to accommodate their coworkers as much as possible, especially if it is temporary, but requesting people change their dietary habits should only be done for extreme cases. In the case of the LW, it makes sense to ask because the reaction is extreme and temporary. If you just don’t like the smell of curry, you probably shouldn’t say anything.

    7. Myrin*

      I can never understand the “miffage” in these situations, to be quite honest. OP’s coworker is probably not dependent on bacon and onions for her daily needed level of sustenance – she can eat any of the gazillion other foods that don’t smell as strongly. Also, she can literally eat these foods anywhere else at any time where she’s not in her cubicle – OP doesn’t want to ask her to drastically alter her entire food-intake even when she’s at home or in the office kitchen or when OP isn’t there (although to that last point, if others have complained about the smell as well, it might just be easier to make yourself spokesperson of the whole group and not mention anything that is probably going to trigger “pregnancy!!” thoughts in most people). It’s not some horrible burden placed on this coworker to abstain from eating bacon in her cubicle for a few months.

      1. Lissa*

        I’d only be miffed if the list of foods was really long or encompassed most of my obvious lunch choices — I do think after a point it becomes unreasonable. But one or two food items on a temporary basis is so minor to me!

    8. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I don’t think there’s any reason not to ask, politely, if it can be done, and it’s no reason to be miffed. Maybe due to the particular circumstances, it’s not a reasonable request — maybe it is. But there isn’t harm in asking, between equals, if something can be changed, and in engaging in a discussion to find a solution is.

      I really hope that you wouldn’t be miffed if someone raised the issue of something you were doing that caused them physical distress, and asked for a solution.

    9. Lady Blerd*

      I don’t get this. You wouldn’t be asked not to eat at your desk at all, only to be considerate of your colleagues for a few months in your food choices. And if you have a break room where you can eat your food away from your desk, problem solved. LW3’s request isn’t unreasonable.

    10. PK*

      I am more likely to eat in my car or the breakroom than my desk. That being said, as long as I wasn’t eating in the middle of the office, I wouldn’t be making any changes because someone else doesn’t like the smells. I wouldn’t be miffed about it but coworkers don’t get a say in my meals either.

      1. Anonynon*

        What about in the case actually at hand, though – where a pregnant person has a temporary food aversion and gets nauseous to the point of vomiting? I agree that one’s food choices can’t really be up for a vote in general. But when there is a specific – and temporary and medically based – reason for the aversion (and not simply “I don’t like that smell”), it seems frankly hostile to refuse to cooperate in that scenario. Especially when all it means is moving to eat elsewhere or not bringing in the one or two foods that trigger the sickness for just a couple of months.

        1. PK*

          That’s not really my concern though. I grew up around someone who has a very over active gag reflex though to basically anything that she doesn’t personally like to eat. I have a big shrug for her if she doesn’t like it and she’s family. It’s a public lunch room. If she has an issue with the smells coming from them, she can lunch somewhere else as well.

    11. Rat in the Sugar*

      Is bacon seriously that important to your life? I’m having medical issues right now where my diet is severely limited and I’m struggling to get enough calories into my body every day just to stop losing weight when I’m already down to double digits, and if my coworker told me that one of meals was making them nauseous, I would find another place or time to eat it so they could be comfortable.
      This is someone’s health we’re talking about, here! It’s not okay to be making someone vomit just so you can have the food you prefer. Everyone should have the right to work in comfort without throwing up. Also, vomiting is just flat out not good for your body (especially if you have health problems like me and can’t afford to lose precious calories). She wouldn’t be asking you just for personal preference and the issue would be temporary. Is it really that big a deal?

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I think it would be a lot easier if the OP could say she was pregnant. People get that morning sickness and nausea are associated with foods and smells. “Temporary health condition” could read as the OP is the pain-in-the-rear-coworker who wants to dictate everyone’s food choices rather than a genuine health problem, depending on the bacon eater’s interpretation of her request.

        That said, I completely sympathize with the OP. My first pregnancy was 20 years ago, and I still cannot stand the smell of freesia, which I became intolerant of during that pregnancy.

        1. Parenthetically*

          My mom had one of those forced potted freesias one late winter when I got a horrible bout of stomach flu. Never again.

        2. Rat in the Sugar*

          I don’t think OP should have to say. My own health problems have several causes, but the latest complicating factor is a new prescription for Adderall, and quite frankly I don’t want to tell all of my coworkers that I’ve started taking it. What if it weren’t pregnancy, but Crohn’s, or intestinal cancer? What if the nausea were being caused by chemo? That would count as a temporary medical condition causing nausea and lack of appetite, which can also increase sensitivity to smells. If someone told me they had a temporary medical condition, I would assume they had a temporary medical condition.

          1. Rat in the Sugar*

            Sorry, I’m making it sound like you would be assuming the coworker was a liar when you are saying that bacon-eater might assume that. I still don’t think it’s the OP’s obligation to satisfy bacon-eater with what they would consider a “valid” medical condition. Saying “It makes me sick” should be enough.

        3. Artemesia*

          Amazing how something associated with illness or morning sickness gets to be indelible. I had a strong aversion to wine when pregnant with my first (before no drinking at all was the rule) and while I can enjoy wine today, it did take decades and it still sometimes doesn’t taste good to me. And while I have rarely had a GI flu illness, the foods I ate before getting sick are permanently off limits. This is our bodies way of avoiding being poisoned so it is built into our genes, but it does mean that perfectly good foods associated subconsciously with illness become aversive to us. One of my favorite crockpot recipes has been off limits for 20 years; the thought of it makes me nauseated.

        4. irritable vowel*

          Yeah, and 95% of people who hear “temporary health condition that causes me to become nauseous when I smell certain foods” are going to think “pregnant” anyways. I think the OP should probably start with just asking “could you eat the strong-smelling food somewhere other than at your desk,” which is just a basic courtesy IMO, and if the coworker pushes back, then consider the tradeoffs in telling her that she’s pregnant before she’s ready to share with the whole office vs. having to smell the nauseating food.

          It’s funny how smells stick with you, isn’t it? I was in the hospital once and my mother sent hyacinths – to this day I can’t smell that scent without feeling sick.

          1. Gadfly*

            I don’t know why. I’m likely to think “new meds? cancer?” as quickly as pregnant.

        5. Bwmn*

          As someone who worked in an office where the vegetarian Executive Director would go on regular “let’s make the microwave meat free” campaigns – when people are told what they can/can’t eat, being vague about why, in my experience, doesn’t work.

          Now, we were all told the reason why she wanted it meat free was because she was a vegetarian – but she also made a big deal about how the smell of heated meat made her ill. But I can say that the push back was really aggressive in the office.

          I am not saying that the OP should feel pushed to disclose – but unless this is someone who is particularly accommodating, I think the risk of pushback remains high.

          1. Somniloquist*

            As a vegetarian that doesn’t like the smell of meat much either, I would probably stand up for the meat eaters in this instance. Taking away a whole food group is pretty extreme, and frankly heating chicken or beef quickly in the microwave doesn’t smell that bad. Asking people to cover their food when microwaving also makes sense and cuts down on smell.

            And if she was a vegetarian for religious reasons, I would think she’d have enough clout to get her own microwave.

      2. Allison*

        “This is someone’s health we’re talking about, here! It’s not okay to be making someone vomit just so you can have the food you prefer”


      3. Cat*

        I don’t know, I’m someone who has a hard time coming up with foods that I can reasonably eat at work. If someone nixed one of my go-to meals, I’d find it difficult. We have a break room, so I’d certainly be happy to eat it there, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone to have a hard time with certain go-to foods being taken off the menu.

        1. Rat in the Sugar*

          I can only eat about five or six things right now: literally, French fries, breakfast cereal, tuna, fruit juice, and Chick fil a are just about it. I am 5’3 and weigh less than 100 pounds right now. I refuse to exercise so I don’t lose any more weight, and even being in the grocery store make me nauseous from all the food.

          And if someone told me my tuna salad was making then feel sick, I would find another time or place to eat it. (Probably our file room, since all the food smells in our break room at lunchtime make me barfy). My health simply doesn’t trump anyone else’s.

          I can understand it might be hard if there’s no other place or time to eat, but in that case I would talk to my manager and tell her that due to medical conflicts, either I or my coworker would need accommodations for our lunch breaks so we could BOTH eat and be healthy. This isn’t OP’s personal preference, she’s having a genuine health issue!

          1. Cat*

            And I think it would be a big deal to ask you to give up your tuna salad. Sure, by all means, eat in the break room and by all means talk to your manager to figure stuff out. But it’s not a trivial request and shouldn’t be assumed to be one.

        2. Allison*

          But that’s just it, you could eat it in the break room, problem solved. That’s all any reasonable person would ask. No one (here) is saying people could or should be asked to not eat the food they want anywhere in the office, we’re talking about not eating food at one’s cubicle if it bothers people.

      4. Alton*

        I think the right thing to do is to be considerate, but I wouldn’t discount the possibility that nixing someone’s food choices could cause inconvenience or difficulty for them. No, I doubt the coworker needs bacon in particular, but you don’t know if money is tight and bringing leftovers for lunch is essential, or if she eats bacon because her family loves it and it’s not affordable to spend money on extra food that won’t be shared. I’m sure she can compromise for a couple months, even if it just means not eating near the OP, but that doesn’t mean she’d be wrong to feel inconvenienced.

        1. Kj*

          No one is saying the co-worker can’t eat the food- he or she just needs to do so in another space. Eating bacon/onions is not something that takes all day. Unless there is no break room at all, this is really not a major inconvenience.

          I eat at my desk all the time. So do my co-workers. If someone had an aversion to a smell, we’d eat that food elsewhere that day. Problem solved.

          1. Newby*

            Part of the debate is coming from the fact that not everyone has the option to eat somewhere else. If that is a valid option, it makes it an easy request to comply with. If that isn’t an option it could be an unfair burden.

            1. Kj*

              I agree but I think that is a company issues to solve, not OP or coworker’s job- that is to say, OP and co-worker could go to the company and say “Co-worker needs a place to eat certain foods for a while because OP can’t deal with it right now.” The company should be able to solve this.

              Honestly, every place should have break room. It is the only humane thing in some ways.

            2. MegaMoose, Esq*

              As someone who doesn’t always have an option to eat somewhere else, I think that’s made my team even MORE considerate to smells. We all might be in the “please don’t eat that near me” boat one day, so we all try to make one-another’s work experience as pleasant as possible. It’s honestly never caused a problem that I’m aware of.

          2. Alton*

            There’s a sentiment that’s been expressed a few times (like in the comment I responded to) that eating a particular food is unimportant and that someone is entitled if they care about bringing bacon to work at all/would find it inconvenient not to bring it for lunch. I think it’s possible to suggest compromises (like asking someone to eat in a break room if possible) and show concern for the OP’s complaint (which is definitely valid) without being dismissive of people’s diets.

    12. NoMoreMrFixit*

      Try having food allergies. The smell of certain foods (eg popcorn) makes me physically ill. It’s a legitimate medical condition unfortunately and I can’t help how I react to the trigger foods. I found politely explaining the problem resulted in my coworkers being understanding and cooperative. So they only made popcorn when they knew I would be out of the office for a few hours or only had it at the far end of the office where I seldom went.

      At least my problem foods are merely unpleasant. Shellfish and peanuts can kill people sensitive to them.

      1. heatherskib*

        This…. I have an aunt who has a severe allergy to onions, garlic and peppers. As in, had to leave her son’s wedding for an epi injection because of the smell of garlic in the food at the reception. Her office has been kind enough to be understanding that strong smelling foods, of any type, are not allowed in the office.

      2. FN2187*

        Yep. I have a severe shellfish allergy. If I’m even sitting around cooked shellfish, my face, lips and throat start to swell. Eventually, I will stop breathing because my throat has closed up (that hasn’t happened yet, hooray!). If my coworkers bring in shrimp or shellfish for lunch, and I usually just get up in leave, and say, “Hey, no problem and don’t change what you’re eating, but I have a severe shellfish allergy so please let me know when you’re bringing it in. I can’t be around it. Trust me, I know it’s super annoying.” Most of my coworkers are amazing and understanding. It also helps that my workplace has multiple areas to eat.

    13. Allison*

      At your cubicle, not in the office. Would there be a break room you could eat it in? Is there a place outside where you can eat when the weather gets nicer? How often do you eat bacon at your desk that this would be a huge life change?

    14. Czhorat*

      I think it’s perfectly acceptable to not eat smelly food at your desk or even in a shared break/lunch room. As others here have said, it isn’t as if you can’t eat such things in the privacy of your own home. Part of respectfully working together is keeping the environment comfortable for everyone. “no overpowering food smells” is a reasonable expectation.

      1. Newby*

        But keeping the environment comfortable for everyone sometimes is not possible. Many people find Indian cuisine to have a strong and lingering smell. If you have Indian coworkers, it would be unfair to expect them to never eat the food that they grew up with and eat every day.

        1. Partly Cloudy*

          I used to work with an Indian man who took his lunch break later than everyone else because he knew the curry smell would take over the break room. No one ever asked him to do this, he just did it out of respect and self-awareness.

          1. Chinook*

            “No one ever asked him to do this, he just did it out of respect and self-awareness.”

            I agree that this is a kindness on his part. But, the difference is that he (presumably) offered to do this instead of being told to do it. There is a world of difference between the two.

          2. Cat*

            That actually kind of troubles me — the idea that someone would feel the need to self-segregate because they’re eating the food they grew up with.

            1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              Eh, my work space is weird because we’re a small group within a larger college, and my desk is in the communal space (which also houses our microwave and coffee pot). I share the space permanently with one other tutor in little cubes, but there’s nothing to block smells here. I heat up my lunch a little later because I know not everyone wants my artichoke and eggplant pizza smell, or would appreciate my crock pot pork and beans smell, and honestly I’d rather just do that than have the next seven people to walk in the room wonder “what smells like that?”

      2. Sunflower*

        Most people eat 2 out of their 3 meals a day at work(more so if you don’t use dinner as your main/big meal) so you’re asking them to alter 66%(or more) of their food intake for the day, 5 days a week. Not saying one or the other side is right but saying ‘they can eat what they want at home’ doesn’t really hold too much weight- esp when people are already struggling to find food they can bring to work due to limitations of not having a full kitchen, storage, etc.

    15. krysb*

      On one hand, I don’t think foods that produce lingering odors belong in the office. On the other hand, I didn’t get anyone pregnant, so their pregnancies shouldn’t impact me.

      1. Vin Packer*

        A lot of people feel this way, but I don’t get it. It seems so needlessly hostile to me. We all have to live in this world together; isn’t it nicer if we cooperate a little? Doesn’t it feel better to be generous toward others rather than stingy?

        1. neverjaunty*

          There are a lot of people who are very self-centered and get angry when they have to endure a minor inconvenience to offset a serious detriment to others.

      2. Rat in the Sugar*

        That seems unreasonable to me. So if someone had a deadly peanut allergy, are you going to keep eating peanut butter around then because you didn’t give them that allergy and therefore it shouldn’t affect you? By that logic none of us have to have any regard for each other’s health. We aren’t supposed to watch out for each other because we are responsible for the problem, but because it’s a decent thing to do.

      3. Kj*

        Really? That seems pretty awful to say. It is like saying about a paralyzed co-worker, “I didn’t cause their accident, so I shouldn’t have to schedule meetings in an accessible location.” Pregnancy is a temporary disability and deserves accommodation by a workplace. It is also an issue that affects women and not men and not accommodating/blaming others for their pregnancy sounds an awful lot like sexism. If a workplace took the attitude of “not my fault someone is is pregnant/paralyzed/whatever so I don’t have to do anything about it” I’d be very angry and possibly litigious.

        I hope the OP can resolve this co-worker to co-worker, but if it isn’t working, she has every right to go to HR with a doctor’s note and ask for reasonable accommodation. Which I suspect would be HR asking co-worker to eat two types of food elsewhere for 3 months. It is not a hard thing for anyone to do and cost the company and the co-worker nothing. It is almost the definition of reasonable accommodation. I doubt the co-worker has a medical reason he/she must eat bacon at 1oam in a shared workspace.

      4. Temperance*

        Okay, but you also didn’t cause someone’s food allergy, or asthma, or what have you, so do you think you can be as inconsiderate as you wish to all people, or just pregnant women?

        1. Kj*

          I find this attitude is very common about pregnancy and not other things- because it is seen as optional and voluntary, it is somehow not something other people have to accommodate. We are also a nation (in the US) that places an emphasis on bootstraps and “you shouldn’t have kids unless you are 100% self-sufficient and need no help ever.” This attitude is toxic and harms families and kids. Everyone needs help sometimes and you can’t always predict the course of a pregnancy, birth or even a child’s life.

          Sorry to rant a little, I’m just always appalled by this sort of thing!

          1. Parenthetically*

            I am too, Kj. Reproductive rights aren’t just about healthcare access, but about the actual right to reproduce. Of course, no normal person wants forced sterilization, but the attitude that reproduction is an almost recreational choice that no other human should ever be inconvenienced or even affected by is, you’re right, harmful to families and children.

      5. Observer*

        I guess you don’t expect social security to still be around by the time you retire. But, don’t kid yourself. There WILL come a time when you are going to need the children that those stupid women “who go them selves pregnant” had.

      6. No, please*

        I was on birth control, got pregnant (happens more than you think) and puked for nine months. The “I didn’t choose to have a baby” statements are pretty frustrating.

      7. Artemesia*

        What an incredibly hostile way to think about accommodating other people’s needs. Seriously ‘I didn’t get her pregnant, so to hell with her needs’. How about ‘I didn’t get her pregnant so if she needs a seat on the bus, well screw her?’ ‘ It isn’t my fault that old guy uses a cane, let him stand.’ This is pretty much an operational definition of inconsiderate and nasty person.

    16. Jen*

      I kind of get where you’re coming from because once I remember being in a soul-crushing job and I hated it and then one day I was eating an orange at my desk. It was a delicious orange. Someone came over and was like “Can you not eat oranges at your desk? I’m allergic to the smell” and it was like “Fine, take away my one joy. Take everything that is healthy and good about my day and destory it.” which is dramatic but sometimes jobs suck your will to live and you just want to eat some bacon.

      So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask but I also get why someone would be annoyed at being asked.

      1. Bwmn*

        Another person with a soul crushing job where there were very few if any opportunities to leave the office during the day. I eventually went for leaving the office daily for the quick walk to a local market to buy a Diet Coke because it meant 5 minutes of my day outside and away from that space. Had that market closed, it would have been devastating for me. Had all of a sudden our office decided it was going to give us free Diet Cokes, I might have announced I was switching to something else to preserve that moment.

        For better or worse, food can be tied to the “best” moments of many of our days. Even when we’re at a job we like, and asking someone to really modify that can irk the best of us. Especially if that request is perceived as “unreasonable”.

    17. Here we go again*

      I agree… If I spent money to eat a certain kind of food for whatever reason, I would expect to be able to eat it when I want. I would be livid if someone tried to tell me not to eat something. Full disclosure: I get hangry very easily and when I have a craving, I need it filled (I know, first world problems).

      I know it has been said already, but I want to stress, smell is subjective. The smells one person loves, others hate, so it is impossible to set rules that apply across the board, which is an even bigger reason why I think this request is not reasonable.

      There could be all kinds of reasons why the smelly food eater is eating what she is eating…. It was on sale and she’s on a budget, it’s the only type of food she likes, she needs protein for whatever reason and bacon is the easiest way for her to get it, bacon is the only food that will keep her full from breakfast until lunch, whatever… I don’t think the OP’s pregnancy trumps the coworker’s right to eat whatever she wants and pays for.

      I think the best thing for the OP to do is request that her desk be moved away from the colleague.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        This strikes me as reasonable. OP needs to be able to work without being severely impacted by nausea. Coworker needs to be able to eat the food that works with their life/needs/budget/etc. Insofar as possible, we should try to meet both of those needs without causing undue hardship to one side or the other, and potentially rejiggering the seating arrangements might be a good option.

      2. Lemon Zinger*

        I like this approach a lot. I have a pregnant coworker and I suspect she was bothered by office smells because when people were moved around, she got her own office on the periphery of the space.

        I’d be really upset if I weren’t allowed to eat peanut butter, pork, etc. at work– those things are cheap and important for me to maintain energy levels throughout the day. I like your line “I don’t think the OP’s pregnancy trumps the coworker’s right to eat whatever she wants and pays for.”

      3. Trout 'Waver*

        It’s perfectly reasonable to ask first, though. The overwhelming majority of people will accommodate the request, even if they don’t have to. If there’s a good reason why they wouldn’t want to comply with the request, then sure proceed to the next step.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yes. If I ask, the answer might be yes or it might be no. If I don’t ask, the answer is definitely no. So why should a person hesitate to ask? If they say, “No, I absolutely will not give up reheating my bacon and onion casserole for the next 6 weeks, nor will I stop coming to talk to you while I eat it,” then the requester has to decide what to do next. But I feel like most people would say, “Oh gosh, how awful for you! Of course I don’t want you to be ill! I’m happy to bring salads instead/eat in the break room/make sure I have a mint if I get onion breath/whatever.”

          (Also I am BLOWN AWAY at the idea that someone would be “livid” if a coworker just said, “Hey, temporarily, I am really struggling to the point of illness with Thing X, would you be willing to limit your consumption of Thing X to times when you are not near me?” Is it an inconvenience? Sure. Is it something worth fury at another human being who is dealing with a temporary period of illness? Ye gods alive. What goes around comes around. Folks need to be kind.)

          1. Gadfly*

            And I would much rather they talk to me than have my first conversation about it be with HR when they ask for accommodations.

      4. Kate*

        Agree, I love this suggestion, as well as the one above about using Vick’s or tea tree oil to keep the pregnant person from smelling the food.

        I hope this isn’t TMI but as a low-income person with a health condition (diagnosed by a legitimate doctor) that requires me to eat protein heavy foods for every meal, I would be furious if I was forced to give up my hard boiled eggs or peanut butter or tuna fish sandwiches.

        If you have a problem with something a coworker is eating you should try to work it out yourself first, then go to a solution that doesn’t force the coworker to stop eating the food, like moving desks.

        If those types of solutions don’t work, then you can ask the coworker not to eat it. In my case I would flat out explain that I have to get can’t afford to eat chicken or hamburger meat at every meal, that beans don’t provide enough protein, and that if they need me to stop eating my cheap protein dishes, they will have to pay for substitutes.

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          I feel like it would be a big leap to go straight to furious. I don’t think that the pregnant coworker would have an issue if you simply responded that you couldn’t stop eating, and I don’t think anything is harmed by her asking (and it is a lot less aggressive than her going to HR with a note requesting accommodation).

          As I mentioned in a comment upthread, my desk is essentially in my department’s break room. It’s a common space with tables for students to study, but it is where our microwave and fridge are and so it is where students eat. I’m 25 weeks pregnant and luckily have had almost no issues with nausea, but I also realize that all of our students here are in this program because they are low income or on financial/housing/grocery assistance. If a student heats up something that does make my stomach feel a little off, I remind myself that they probably DON’T have a lot of options, so I put on my peppermint lotion and deal with it. I don’t have a lunch break (I don’t work 8 hours) and I don’t have a separate space I can go to, so that’s how it is. I wouldn’t have a problem asking someone to not eat their food sitting at my desk, but beyond that, I understand I can’t ask them not to eat.

        2. Observer*

          You mean someone should inconvenience the WHOLE office rather than ask you to stop eating a few foods for a few months? Really?

          I get that sometimes it’s not a request that can be reasonably accommodated. And no one is suggesting that you should be forced to make the change. But the idea that it’s not legitimate to ask because someone MIGHT have a reason that they can’t is extreme.

          Beyond inconveniencing a lot of people with a desk move, in the real world, the first thing most managers would do if someone came to them with such a request would be to ask “Did you speak to Kate?”

    18. Bonky*

      It’s very unlikely to be five months – for all but the most unlucky, morning sickness tends to stop around week 14. And when I’ve had it, the bacon sandwich you’d made at home to bring in for your lunch would have been fine; the bacon you cooked in the office? Not so much.

    19. AGS*

      I’m the pregnant smell sensitive lady, and I find this a perfectly valid comment. There is no office policy on foods, but there is a very large cafeteria, with plenty of seating, including nice spots by windows. Most of us eat at our desks, however, in my particular group. I think the point on this, is that there is a certain give and take in any office culture, and it is ultimately up to the individual to honor – or ignore – a request.

      For those who have commented on ethnic food, I recognize that we are moving into an increasingly diverse society, and part of being welcoming to others, is tolerating things that don’t always match with our own preferences. The reason I don’t think the onion issue is completely out of line, is about 5 non-pregnant colleagues have commented on the onion smell, as well.

      1. fposte*

        Hi, AGS; congratulations on the pregnancy, and sympathies on the nausea. The fact that you have a cafeteria helps a lot for me, since that leaves the co-worker with an easier option than changing what they have to eat.

        I think some people when asked this request and being told it’s short term will guess the likely cause–are you okay with that?

        1. AGS*

          Thank you! Frankly, if people want to spread rumors about my soon-to-be-announced pregnancy, that’s really up to them, and this sort of stuff happens a lot anyway (this is number 4, so I’m cool with people “suspecting” – that’s normal – and if someone asks, I just deflect it). But upon reading some of the other comments, I decided I might just make it more general, and say it bothers me, and I’ve been a little ill lately, or something to that effect.

          1. HannahS*

            Honestly, I think that would go over fine, especially since there’s a cafeteria. Because then you’re just asking her to not eat lunch at her desk, which is way less inconvenient than requesting that she change what she’s eating.

      2. MashaKasha*

        I haven’t been pregnant in 20+ years, and I agree that raw onion is the worst, smell-wise. Doesn’t it make the person’s breath smell bad, too? It just never occurred to me to pack raw onions in my office lunch. But then, I sat next to a guy who’d appointed himself the cube farm smell police for years, so I got well into the habit of planning and preparing office-friendly foods.

    20. Triangle Pose*

      Yeah, I’s be really miffed too, Miss Brittany. But in my entire working life I’ve always had my own office with the autonomy to close my door if I’m eating lunch so I recognize that it might be just me. I’ve never been in a cubicle or been expected to accomodate other people’s food/smell sensitivies or have to make accomodations myself.

    21. DNDL*

      I just love onions so much….

      I wonder if they have a lunch room? If so, I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask them to eat in the lunch room. If not, I think it’s a little harsh to ban certain foods.

  5. Bethany West*

    I think that most of the people I know IRL would jump in and say, “Oh! Are you pregnant?!” if they were told about a condition that causes sensitivity to smell. Definitely have a response handy just in case that comes up. You never can tell who’s nosy like that.

    1. MommaCat*

      Go with a white lie and claim it’s a medication causing the sensitivity? Or OP could say breezily, “I have 3 kids! Believe me, I’d know if I was pregnant,” which has the benefit of being completely true.

      1. Hoorah*

        Yeah, I agree most people would automatically know it’s pregnancy.

        I don’t think it’s great to lie about it though. With pregnancy everyone will know within a few weeks. Hopefully the coworkers are tactful enough not to ask “ARE YOU PREGNANT”. I know too frequently that won’t be the case.

        1. I am a tailors apprentice*

          It always baffles me when people are brazen enough to ask if someone is pregnant like that. I had a co-worker who one day remarked that she had taken to sleeping in her car at lunch because she was so exhausted lately. I suspected she might be pregnant based on that comment. I’d had a similar symptom while I was pregnant. I didn’t ask her about why she was tired, only if she wanted me to make sure she was woken by a specific time each day since she’d overslept twice. That’s how I would have liked people to have reacted when I started gagging at my desk because of certain scents. Asking me “are you pregnant?” when I wasn’t ready to share wasn’t helpful. What would have been great is for my cube mate to have said “Hey, you’re right…this bologna sandwich may have a weird smell! I know you can’t leave your desk because you’re working so I’ll go eat this in the break room!” Instead he said “This sandwich is fine…are you pregnant or something??” and then everybody heard and the cat was out of the bag!

          1. Sal*


            Sorry. I’m having an extremely analogous problem to #1 right now but I’m in fits because I really, really, really, need not to announce yet, but announcing would probable solve the “cooking fish in the open-to-the-only-working-and-eating-and-meeting-space kitchen.” Legit. Cooking the fish.

            I’ve thrown up 3x today and it’s not even noon.

            1. AGS*

              I’m so sorry to hear you are throwing up. That is awful. Coffee also was a horrible smell for awhile, but I just dealt with it as best I could with all my pregnancies, because telling your colleagues to forgo their morning cup of joe, just seems too much. Good luck!

            2. Parenthetically*

              COOKING the fish?!? Ok, that’s just so far outside the “boy, people have weird smell sensitivities” norm. Bless your heart! Sending you all the awesome second trimester anti-nausea vibes!

          2. Somniloquist*

            I agree with this. I had a manager who once exited a meeting because someone brought in a cake and she was sick just looking at it. I assumed from that interaction that she was pregnant but never asked about it, figuring she would announce it in a month or so. Which, of course, she did.

    2. lulu*

      If you mention that it’s temporary and will only last a few months, the coworker will basically know that you are pregnant. I would just tell them that the smells makes you uncomfortable without specifying a timeframe. If later on your nausea subsides, you can let them know at that time that they have the green light to eat onions again.

      1. Chocolate lover*

        I think you’re right about the temporary part making them suspect, but hopefully they won’t ask. I think it’s not an unreasonable request to avoid those foods in the cube farm.

        I have an ongoing sensitivity to smell, I’m talking years, which can make me horribly sick to my stomach, so it’s unlikely people would suspect that with me. I’ve had to leave people’s offices (rarely, thankfully) and used to have one co-worker that I couldn’t sit near because of some product she wore (I could never figure out what was doing it.)

        1. heatherskib*

          Please don’t ask or gossip about someone being pregnant unless you have been told. You just don’t know. My husband and I can’t have children. Some of the infertility prescriptions made me very sick every day. Rumors about being pregnant are especially hard to handle when someone isn’t. Any time I was in the bathroom I’d have to come back to sly insinuations about babies, and it was heart breaking.

          1. Parenthetically*

            Stuff like this is so important — so many people just do not think about how questions like this could be so hurtful to people in tough situations.

            1. Kj*

              Yes, this. My pregnancy status has been the subject of office gossip before and it sucks. It also is a way that, intentionally or not, woman get labelled as “not serious about their job” as they are “going to quit when they have a baby.”

            2. Jessie the First (or second)*

              My boss at my ExJob actually came in to ask me “So, was this pregnancy an accident?” after I told them about my pregnancy. Some people really feel no shame.

              1. Parenthetically*


                I will cop to having asked one of the major no-no joke questions of a pregnant woman once (“Do you know what causes that?”), but in my defense, I was about 19. I expect fully-grown adults with life experience to know that it’s incredibly rude to say crap like that.

          2. Sarah*

            Oh my god – yes to this a thousand times! It really is heartbreaking when people make comments because you have been out of the office a few times for doc appointments or aren’t feeling good because of fertility treatments and people start making comments. It makes a hard time harder.

          3. Bonky*

            I’m sorry. Infertility treatment is the absolute worst. The physical aspect is horrific (I got to a point where the injections used to make me cry sometimes), but the mental thing – the stress that it might not work, the length of time it can take, the rumours about pregnancy and time off for some of the more invasive treatment etc. – is just awful.

            I really hope it works for you; it did for me. It’s very weird now to look back at what was unquestionably the most stressful thing my husband and I ever did, and to think how strangely minimal it seems now. It certainly wasn’t at the time. Sending all love from a total stranger in the UK.

            1. heatherskib*

              It didn’t. eventually the underlying causes were problematic where I made a quality of life decision to have a hysterectomy. But thanks for asking. On the other hand- I have found that cheerily answering questions about our reproduction with “I’m happily spayed” shuts people down pretty quick.

          4. chocolate lover*

            I’m not sure if that was actually a response to me, because I didn’t suggest anyone ask, I said “hopefully they won’t.” I don’t ask anyone that.

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        I think that if you mention that you’re suddenly sensitive to certain smells, everyone is going to assume you’re pregnant, regardless of if you mention it’s temporary.

        Also, it seems a bit of a Catch-22. If your coworkers are discreet, they wouldn’t gossip about it either way. And if your coworkers are asses, they’re going to gossip about it whether you tell them or not.

        1. Kj*

          Yeah, especially since the OP already has a couple of kids… is going to be obvious and while we can hope coworkers act like adults about it, there is no guarantee. OP needs to decide if she comfortable being outed.

    3. BananaPants*

      Yeah, I’ve had two kids and I had severe nausea and vomiting with both of them, so I’d immediately suspect pregnancy. I wouldn’t ask because that’s rude, but I’d know.

      1. AGS*

        Mentioning the time-frame is a bit difficult in this situation. But simply asking, with a generous dose of being apologetic, seems just fine when the situation arises next time. No need to specify time-frame.

    4. Mel*

      There are other medical conditions that lead to sensitivity to smells temporarily. I have fibromyalgia and when I’m in a flare up (or starting to flare up) I get super sensitive to smells. Increased sensitivity to stimuli is actually a signal to me that I’m starting to flare up and need to take precautions.

    5. Kj*

      Yeah, that is my only problem with the script suggested. If I was asked that, I’d know the asker was pregnant. I wouldn’t share the news with others, but there is no guarantee that the co-worker will not. I think the OP might out herself with this script and I don’t know how comfortable she is with that…..

    6. Temperance*

      That’s so strange to me. Maybe because I’m one of those lucky few who can smell yogurt across a room, but this would never, ever occur to me to think or say.

      When my allergies in general get bad, I become way more sensitive to stank food smells. She has a handy excuse.

  6. Feathers McGraw*

    #2 I kind of disagree with Alison here. I get that this is annoying you, but be careful – you don’t want to become the person in the amazing linked email with the 12-paragraph rant – so I’d stop focusing on exactly what’s in the policy, for example. I realise you’re near BEC stage here. But you say she is even asking to borrow a pen! and, well, it is just a pen, not a kidney, and when you’re looking at the company policy on bringing your own pen, it’s time to check if this is definitely the hill you want to die on.

    I do wonder how new she is to the job, whether her work is any good, how junior or senior she is, and when you are all going to the supply room – can you encourage her to come with you at that point or just agree that you’ll get stuff for her (which I would perhaps consider if she’s otherwise good at her job and this is the only thing holding her back)? Why is nobody sending her back to the office to get supplies when she shows up without them?

    In fact, from your letter, it sounds like you all work in the same place but are all separately bringing your own supplies and Jane is either forgetting or is actually unable to get to the supply room. Has anyone asked her? Does she have a problem with transport? A school run that means she can’t make the detour? Has anyone asked her why she turns up without supplies? Is it actually necessary for all of you to separately visit the supply room before heading to the same location? Why doesn’t one person bring supplies for everyone or at least spares?

    If her work isn’t good otherwise, that’s one thing. But you don’t mention whether it is.

    1. Feathers McGraw*

      PS In case anyone infers from this that I’m the kind of person who takes people’s supplies or forgets their own, I’m not. I just think it’s helpful to keep perspective.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I’m the kind of person who leaves pens (and coffee mugs) everywhere, so I’ll chime in. I go with the saturation strategy. I have multiple pens in my vehicle, every drawer of my house, and a whole box of them in my office. I jokingly tell people that I believe in the pen equilibrium theory, which states that if I lose enough pens, eventually there will be one in every place I would need one.

        Joking aside, I agree that this is an odd hill to die on. If her work is otherwise good, why not chalk it up as a quirk and just grab two of everything from the supply closet before going on assignment? I know it’s not your responsibility and can be annoying. But the fix is trivial and the company is paying for it.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          I agree with you, re: having multiples. I keep a phone charger in my backpack because I know I won’t remember to unplug the one on my bedside table and bring it to work. I have secret stashes of supplies, just in case, because I live in fear of running out of things–pens, tampons, bobby pins, you name it. Needless to say, I’m what Gretchen Rubin would call an “overbuyer”.

        2. Blue Anne*

          Yep. Pens in my desk at work. Pens on my desk at home. Pens in all my purses. Pens in the “everything” drawer in the kitchen. Pens stuffed into the wire on spiral bound notebooks. Pens in the glove compartment. Pens in my hoodie pockets. Pens behind the couch…

      2. KarenD*

        I thought I was the only one who was going to say this! LOL.

        I have a friend who was consistently caught without a pen/notebook. I started just grabbing two or three when I knew I would be on-site with that friend.

        The thing is, it’s not about teaching friend a lesson because that is not my job to do.. It’s about the fact that we are there to do a job that it IS our job to do, and it’s in my company’s best interests that we’re both ready to do it, and grabbing extra supplies (which weigh a few ounces each) is absolutely zero extra trouble.

        Here’s the funny thing, though: When friend realized what I was doing – I wasn’t making a big fuss about it – he started doing better about getting his own supplies. I am not exactly sure why; maybe just the calm assumption that he was going to screw up in this small way goaded him like nothing else did, and he had nothing to push back against because I wasn’t making a fuss. He said something to me about it once and I just said “Shocker. You’re not perfect.” Also, he is a friend, and had many other sterling qualities (super fast worker, often thought of things other people didn’t, etc).

    2. Feathers McGraw*

      Sorry to carry on a convo with myself but I wonder if you should just ask your boss what to do if someone forgets their supplies.

      Yeah, there’s an argument that says you shouldn’t cushion her from the consequences of her actions but there’s not enough information her to make it clear that’s the way to go.

      I’m very mindful of a job I once had where nobody told me where anything was – I was a temp and the other office staff didn’t talk to me, but I guess other people assumed they would have and would tell me things.

      Anyway, I think you should at least try talking to her once. “Jane, I’ve noticed you often don’t have needed supplies even though you can collect them from the office. Is there a reason why you’re not bringing them?”

      1. Daisy May*

        If someone doesn’t know where needed supplies are, they should ask. OP has absolutely no responsibility to carry extra supplies for a coworker. It is part of your job to ensure you have the necessary supplies to do your job and if you don’t, to ask your manager for them.

        1. Feathers McGraw*

          It’s also arguably inefficient for everyone to separately visit a supply room before going to work for the same client.

          I think you can approach this situation with absolute correctness (no responsibility to help, etc) or take a more nuanced approach.

          1. Ismis*

            I am with OP#2 – past the age of maybe 5, it was up to me to make sure that I had everything with me for school. Everyone has forgetful moments, and I am happy to lend my pen/charger/paper to my coworker from time to time , but when it’s a habit and I’m not getting everything back? I am out of school 20 years and I remember how annoying it was to share a calculator in a one hour class, never mind a full day.

            Not to put words in the writer’s mouth, but I think they meant the pen as an example of the coworker forgetting even the basics. That said, how hard can it be to not have a pen with you at all times?

            1. KarenD*

              I can see it with a calculator or phone charger, definitely (I assume we’re talking about the accounting calculators with the rolls of paper and all.) But I am definitely with Feathers on this one; it’s possible to be absolutely correct and still wrong.

              I can imagine a boss’s reaction to the OP explaining that Jane didn’t get her work done one day because she didn’t have a pen. If I were in that situation, I would say “Then bring extra pens!” And if it was calculators or other business equipment like that, I probably would put one person in charge of bringing everything if there were a problem.

              I think a lot of people are flashing back to school on this one. Work is not school. Employees are supposed to be pulling together on the same team, and getting the job done. You can complain about it later, but in the moment, do what you have to do to ensure that employer’s time and money are used wisely.
              All the pens – all the supplies – they all belong to the company, and the company is paying its workers to get a job done.

              1. Immy*

                As an auditor it probably wouldn’t be one of the ones with a role of paper – they’re not very portable – but a scientific calculator which cost c. £10 and at least at my firm (Big 4, London) they don’t provide them you buy them yourself.

                Personally I don’t really see the big deal we always lend each other things and I’ve lent a partner my notebook for notes for a meeting before. I’m usually pretty organised about bringing supplies with me but I wouldn’t choose this hill to die on because sometimes I will forget something and I’d rather be able to borrow something without it being a big deal.

                I may be more annoyed if it was a team member who never pulled their weight and I was always having to finish their work but then the issue isn’t really giving them a pen but about their work – not that it is always easy not to conflate those issues in the moment!

                1. Blue Anne*

                  Our firm always had a couple calculators in the supply closet, but they were pretty crappy ones.

                2. KarenD*

                  OP does say that the company is good about providing all needed supplies, but also that it’s an explicit policy that everyone’s responsible for making sure they have their own supplies, so in general her bosses might be sympathetic to her complaints that Jane doesn’t bring her own stuff…. .that said, I would still just bring extra, at least of the inexpensive consumables (paper, pens etc.) and then take it up with boss later.

                  I certainly would never make a client wait on a team that’s under-performing because of this kind of issue – if that client decides not to re-hire OP’s firm, everybody suffers. Once you’re on site, you have to perform as a team and that can mean picking up someone else’s slack.

          2. NJ Anon*

            Auditors often travel to a client’s home directly without stopping at the office. And, I mean, she couldn’t do any work for an entire day? There were none to borrow from the client or no stores in the area? Sounds fishy to me.

            1. OhNo*

              Yeah, that strikes me as really weird. She forgot a pen and couldn’t work at all for an entire day? Something doesn’t smell right.

              I think this is definitely bringing up to the manager just for that. That is such a weird reaction to not having supplies that it brings her work into question, at least for me.

              1. AMPG*

                Right, and who doesn’t keep pens around just for everyday use, anyway? I always have pens on me (purse, car, etc.). It seems like such an easy thing to have or acquire that it’s unreasonable to claim you can’t work all day because you forgot yours.

            2. Immy*

              I think the issue is less about the supplies in this case than about the work ethic of the coworker. Trust me I’ve been there having to carry all the sig risk work because the two other people of your level won’t pull their weight but its a mistake to conflate the two – one is a legitimate issue and the other probably wouldn’t be so annoying with someone who actually does their work

              As an aside what kind of audit requires you to go to a clients home?

            3. Blue Anne*

              When I worked in big 4 audit, if I hadn’t done any work at a client site for a whole day because I didn’t have supplies, both me and my job manager would have been eviscerated.

          3. Antilles*

            The problem is that it’s happening over and over again. Look, if it was just once, I’d totally be on your side here – sometimes your car won’t start and you don’t have time to swing by the office, sometimes you get an email right before you leave and have to sprint to the car, sometimes you realize your pen is dead 20 seconds after arriving at the client’s office. But this is a clear and repeated pattern.
            More importantly, it doesn’t seem like she’s showing any effort to fix it. You forgot a pen once? Then the next time you’re in the office or near a Staples/Walmart/etc, you grab a full box of pens – put a couple in your purse, a couple in your jacket pocket, and then leave the rest in your car. Voila, the problem is fixed!

            1. Newby*

              The OP shouldn’t have to keep carrying supplies for the coworker, but suddenly refusing to share if it won’t impede their ability to work seems unnecessarily hostile. I would try a milder approach first. The next time she asks to borrow something say “I have one you can use, but you really need to start bringing your own.” After that “This is getting ridiculous you should stop by the supply room before coming to the audit site. I can’t keep bringing supplies for you.” If they usually just hand over the supplies she needs, she may not realize that this really isn’t ok. If she gets a lecture every time, she will likely stop.

              1. JustaTech*

                I had a classmate in high school who was *very* checked out. One day he showed up to history class without any paper, and with only a giant sharpie as a writing tool. (the kind you can get high off). The teacher told me to give him a piece of paper (fine) and then to give him one of my pens.
                I had tons of pens, and I knew I would get it back, but I still felt like I was being punished for being prepared.

        2. Taylor Swift*

          Yeah, sure you can be morally right here, but it’s not going to get you to the outcome you want. Feathers has some very good points.

    3. BananaPants*

      Nope, OP2’s coworker is an adult and is capable of remembering supplies, given that bringing them is required. This is part of her job, and if OP2 keeps enabling her (or bringing a bunch of spares for everyone) it’s never going to teach her a lesson.

      I’d tell her that I didn’t have an extra pen, or calculator, or whatever and I wouldn’t be sharing. Given that this isn’t an occasional oops but a constant issue, I’d be inclined to say that her failure to plan does not constitute an emergency on my part.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        I see your point, but something else for the OP to consider…she is working in public accounting on a team of auditors. It is reasonably likely that she will need to work with this person again in the future. In fact, this person may, at some point, end up being her senior or manager in which case OP has now potentially pissed off someone who isn’t a temporary fixture in her career. Even if they remain at the same level, you are creating potential animosity over a pen. I completely understand the annoyance, and as someone who is always prepared, I too would be annoyed, but I just don’t think this is the fight to fight.

        Also, the co-workers delay impacts the entire team by prohibiting them from potentially completing the audit timely, which reflects on the entire team, not just the ill-prepared one. We didn’t finish in the time allotted because Jane didn’t bring office supplies is not going to be well received by management. Hell, put a pen on a necklace and tell her to wear it. (Kidding, but you know what I mean)

        1. FiveWheels*

          I don’t read it as annoyance at a pen, I read it as annoyance at feeling like a babysitter.

          If it was my boss, pragmatism would probably lead me to bring along the pen (and paper, and who knows what else). But bringing office supplies for one colleague who won’t bring them, effectively making that part of my job duties, on the offchance that one day I might need to curry favour? Nooooooo!

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yeah, that doesn’t make sense. Do we always have to babysit our coworkers for everything on the off chance they might one day manage us?

            1. Former Retail Manager*

              We don’t, but it really depends upon your industry and the likelihood that that will one day come to fruition. When I started my current position, I was warned by several old timers to be cautious because our organization moves people around quite frequently and people that they never believed would be become managers did just that. My input would be different if the OP were in a different industry. I’ve known multiple individuals who worked in public accounting that were at some point managed by someone who used to be their peer, sometimes only briefly and sometimes for a long period of time. Just something to consider if it’s a possibility in your industry.

        2. A Person*

          I used to keep pens in my neckerchief when I worked retail. It had two benefits; I never lost a pen and no-one could take it when I wasn’t watching.

        3. Rumpus Time is Over*

          If she can’t manage to bring a pen to work, then I have doubts that she will become her manager. This is the absolute bare minimum that is expected. It’s no different than your employer expecting you to wear PPE, or adhere to the dress code. I think it is ridiculous that an adult can’t hold on to their supplies from one job to the next. Buy a bag, its not that difficult.

        4. Myrin*

          I’m really not a fan of this kind of reasoning – in all professions I’m familiar with someone who does the same job as you could potentially one day become your supervisor. Following your logic, then, no one could ever say anything that could be perceived as unpleasant to their coworkers because what if one day they’ll be your supervisor?!

        5. Immy*

          And in the firm more generally word travels, I work in a Big 4 firm in London – there are a lot of us – but reputations feed through the grapevine and people who are known to be difficult don’t get the best clients or teams

          1. Blue Anne*

            Yes. I was in Edinburgh. All the grad scheme folks in all the Scotland offices knew which of were jerks, and which seniors were hardasses, across the country. That stuff follows you, and it’s not a huge industry. I’m sure you and I could play “six degrees of separation” with colleagues.

            1. Immy*

              Oh completely. When we go to clients we know what people were like from when they worked at our firm or with friends at other firms. The most random was when I was in Cambodia and a guy introduced himself as being from another of the Big 4, another guy who worked there found out he’d been fired and why from his colleagues within about an hour. I mean we were all on holiday so it didn’t really matter but it could have just as easily happened in a professional situation which would result in him not getting a job or similar

    4. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

      Sometimes when I read AAM, I feel “different”. If someone’s request for supplies was bugging me, I’d tell her straight out. “Hey, Fegusina, I’m not made of pens. Here’s a pen. Remember your own next time.” Next time: “Again with the pens? What gives? Here. ” etc.

      Believe me, when you’ve heard that from me the first few times, you’ll remember the pen the next time or write with your own blood. :D

      It’s not that hard. And I’m nice about it while being direct. (Curiously, I’d never withhold what the person was asking for, not even the 11 thousandth time, but the price increases to the point Fegusina will remember her pens.)

      1. misspiggy*

        I’m loving ‘I’m not made of pens.’ And kind of wishing I worked in a field where one could say that without mangling working relationships…

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          And thank god I don’t work a place that would be an issue ’cause, yeah. I don’t stifle well. :-)

      2. Feathers McGraw*

        Yeah, I did wonder if anyone had actually asked her or just skipped straight to BEC stage.

      3. Mike C.*

        Seriously, it really isn’t that hard to say something direct and to the point. This is a constant point of frustration for me.

      4. Lora*

        I am dying laughing at “I’m not made of pens”. Pens don’t grow on trees, you know!

        One of my techs used to say, “cost you $1”. If you forgot again, “cost you $5.”

        I would probably charge the biggest size economy value pack of pens, Sharpies and highlighters Staples has on the company credit card and gift wrap them for her.

    5. Former Retail Manager*

      My take is similar to yours…..

      OP#2, you are a degreed auditor. I work in the same field and I personally think that going to your co-worker’s boss about her failure to bring supplies to the audit site is not going to portray you in the most positive light. Your senior or manager does not want to hear about supplies issues. Speak to your co-worker directly and assertively. If you know it bothers the others on your team, then I’d discuss it with them beforehand and maybe all of you can let her know that you’re bothered by it. While she may feel a bit ganged up on, that might be what’s necessary to let her know that the issue bothers you all that much. If it were me personally, I’d put together a large Ziploc bag of all the necessary supplies and give it to her when you speak to her and tell her that you guys put it together for her and she needs to bring it with her every day as you all won’t be loaning her any more supplies. Unless the issue persists after that, I wouldn’t even consider speaking to management about it. If you are new to your field (and I’m assuming you are) part of what you are being evaluated on is your ability to work as part of a team/problem solve to get the audit done. Going to your manager because your co-worker didn’t bring a pen and calculator isn’t helping that portion of your evaluation.

      Also, I am a field auditor and at any given time, I have multiple pens and pencils, more than 1 calculator (a regular one and the one on my cell) and a multitude of other office supplies (and I work alone). I find it odd that a team of you can’t locate so much as a pen between all of you to loan to her. I realize you’re annoyed, but lengthening the time it takes you to complete your audit/piece of the audit is making all of you look bad, regardless of whether or not it’s the co-workers fault, and I assure you that an explanation of “well, it took longer because Jane didn’t bring office supplies” won’t bode well for any of you.

    6. Murphy*

      See, I hear “she is even asking to borrow a pen” and I think “This woman is so unprepared for her job that she can’t even remember to grab a PEN.” If she can’t remember to bring the most basic tools to get her job done, the problem is definitely with her.

      1. CM*

        That’s also how I took “even a pen.” Seriously? I always have a pen. And the fact that the coworker took her penlessness as an opportunity to not do any work for the whole day suggests that it’s a bigger problem than just being disorganized. I’d give Jane a warning that you are not going to provide supplies for her anymore, and get your other coworkers on board to do the same.

        1. Myrin*

          I agree. I think the coworker’s forgetfulness/disorganisation/scatterbrained-ness is enough of an annoyance as is but this particular anecdote hints at a much bigger problem with her work/attitude.

        2. Kyrielle*

          Agreed. If it was going to be about what is the most inconvenient, it would be the paper, because that (legitimately) gets used up fastest, and will probably be requested again (even by someone organized) soonest. But the pen is more…doesn’t everyone carry them around?

          I lecture *myself* if I open my purse and discover I didn’t put the pen back in at some point. It’s inconvenient, annoying, and theoretically not that hard to do.

        3. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yep, me too. Seems like that would be such a basic thing that the coworker would know she needed to have that I’d be baffled she didn’t bring one.

      2. A Person*

        So much this.

        I’ve been doing some cover teaching as a favour to my Boss at a non-regular location. My support teacher has not brought ANYTHING. She had to ask me for a pen to help write sample sentences for the kids and didn’t even bother asking to borrow my fun coloured stamps (thankfully all returned). Then she used a totally unsuitable board pen to mark the kids worksheets. A couple of coloured biros, a pencil and an eraser are very basic parts of her job. She, and the co-worker in the letter should not be asking for these things, they are basic tools of the job.

        (I’ve heard complaints that companies should cover all costs of stationary associated with the job but I tend to respond, stationary is super cheap and a basic part of life. These are also the kind of people who are constantly wasting company stationary when they do have it.)

      3. Somniloquist*

        I’m also disturbed by her inability to get work done for a full day. Like, if I was out of office and I didn’t have a pen, and no one else had a pen to loan me, I would excuse myself at the next available time to go out to the closest store a buy a pen. I wouldn’t sit around uselessly all day.

      4. OhBehave*

        I don’t know if this coworker is clueless, new, or just doesn’t care. I can’t imagine my employee coming to me, complaining because Jane never brings her own supplies.

      5. Taylor Swift*

        But then the problem isn’t really the pen, it’s the other ways she’s unprepared. If it’s just a pen? Well, then it’s just a pen.

    7. Grey*

      …well, it is just a pen, not a kidney, and when you’re looking at the company policy on bringing your own pen, it’s time to check if this is definitely the hill you want to die on.

      You’re implying that there’s a battle to fight here. There isn’t. Just say “Sorry, I don’t have an extra pen” and go about your day.

    8. DeskBird*

      I want to know what is happening to all those supplies. If you loan her one thing every day, a calculator, a pen, some paper and she doesn’t give them back but somehow still doesn’t have something the next day and needs to borrow something else – what is happening to all those pens and paper and calculators?
      I used to have a coworker that would borrow safety glasses from the receptionist every single day. I have no idea what he did with them all – I feel like there must have been a giant build up of them somewhere – maybe his backseat was entirely full of them. I had to slowly coach the receptionist to say no to him because she was running out of safety glasses to give visitors. He was fully capable of going to get his own – but it became a burden on her because she was the one that had to keep requesting an unreasonable amount.
      For example – a calculator. A normal person would only need to take one calculator from the supply closet and that should keep them for a year at least. Now say the coworker borrows a calculator once a week and doesn’t return it but still needs to borrow a calculator the next week. Now the OP is taking a calculator a week from the supply room and that makes the OP look disorganized at least. Plus whoever is stocking the supply room is wondering WTF happened to all the calculators and how are people going through them so fast.
      It is unreasonable to take supplies from your work and loose them. Someone, somewhere is paying for those supplies assuming that people are being reasonably responsible for them. It seems like little things but this stuff can build up fast if it disappears and is never seen again.

      1. Michelle*

        I was wondering the same thing! What on earth is she doing with all those pens and calculators??

      2. Mike C.*

        Is it possible that they are returned at the end of the session? Or did I miss something?

        1. DeskBird*

          OP said she doesn’t return the supplies once ‘borrowed’. And if she still need to borrow things the next time they must be disappearing… somewhere. So not only can the coworker not be bothered to get her own supplies from the office – somehow she can’t manage to keep borrowed supplies with her work stuff.

      3. Antilles*

        I can tell you where those supplies are. They are in a massive pile in one single location where she consistently takes them out and leaves them.
        You put the pen in your pocket or hold it in your hand on the way out the door, but then when you sit down in your driver’s seat of your car, you toss it down. And then the next morning when you get out of your car at the office, you don’t think to pick it up, so that pen stays there…and then you add another pen to your pile next time.
        Her house is also a possibility – if you put the calculator in your purse, then you’re probably going to be at home when you empty your purse, take it out (because you need the space), then totally forget to put it back in before work the next morning.

    9. Artemesia*

      It really doesn’t matter why she perpetually goes on site visits unprepared to work. This is the kind of ‘problem’ solved by her having an off site bag with the key items in it that she always grabs when on her way out the door. Her manager should be sitting down with her and making it clear she needs to be better organized and if necessary suggesting that she assemble this ‘away kit’ and take it each time. A person who can’t show up prepared to work needs to be fired. There is no excuse for not having basic supplies repeatedly.

    10. LoiraSafada*

      Not getting your work done, by definition, means your work isn’t good. I’ve never had a job where it wasn’t a good idea to have something to write with and on at all times, for whatever reason. It’s insane that we’re looking to manufacture reasons for why an adult consistently fails to show up for work without the right tools to do the job.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        Bingo. Admittedly, I’m coming from academia at present, but I can’t really imagine a field where it wouldn’t be a reasonable thing to have a pen (prizefighter, maybe?).

        1. Ellen Ripley*

          Tech. I’ve worked with a lot of programmers who don’t do anything at all on paper; it’s all on their devices. I could have made a lot of money carrying a few cheap Bics with me and charging 20 bucks for each one when they needed it.

          There’s a bit of a resurgence of paper-based approaches happening right now, though, with the rise of bullet journaling and popularity of various planner brands. Part of it, I think, is the “I’m sick of staring at my screen 23 hours a day” reaction.

    11. Kate*

      I think the issue is that coworker doesn’t return any of the supplies. If the company-provided supplies are tracked, that could make LW look really bad, as well as just being frustrating.

    12. OhBehave*

      While she is upset that this person doesn’t plan ahead when she knows it’s expected, she’s also upset that this coworker doesn’t work if she didn’t bring her supplies! This also delays the work progress because she’s just sitting around.
      How hard is it to pre-pack a supply box that you always have with you? It’s not like these are items that are used up during an audit.

    13. Sarah*

      Yeah, I’m envisioning a conversation with the manager that goes like this:

      Employee: Jane didn’t do any work on the audit today so we lost a lot of time.
      Manager: Oh no, what happened!
      Employee: Well, she didn’t have a pen and I refused to lend her one, at the cost of several hours of work.
      Manager: ?!?!!!!

      Jane sounds aggravating, but since it sounds like all these supplies are company property from a collective supply room and not your own personal stuff, who cares if she never gives it back? Why not just be the person who brings spares when you stop by the supply room and solve this problem for everyone? Choosing to let this go seems like the WAY easier option here.

  7. Feathers McGraw*

    #4 I think you sound like a great boss. Do lay out a plan with Fergus, but be careful not to make it sound like the promotion is a dead cert – be clear that it’s so he would be eligible for those types of roles and not so he will definitely get one.

    I think reviewing an employee’s learning and development goals is a good thing to do full stop with all your team, in any case…

    1. MinneapolisDave*

      Yes, please have an honest talk with Fergus and lay out clear areas where he is missing skills, experience, expertise, etc. I’ve been in the same situation and it is extremely frustrating when you are ignored or passed over for a role and no one ever tells you why. If you give feedback to the employee then they know how and what to improve, you can’t expect employers to always intuitively understand what such roles require unless you clearly communicate. Don’t promise anything, but find 2- 3 concrete skills that this role needs and share with Fegus. It is very helpful to the employee for them to work on those if that’s the direction they want their career to go.

      1. Feathers McGraw*

        Or as it was put on another thread, “no because” doesn’t equal “yes if”.

  8. Susan*

    #1 – This is a great script, but with one possible problem… You mentioned that you are not ready to announce your pregnancy yet, and to be honest, if I heard someone use that script, I would automatically think, “Temporarily nauseated by certain smells for the next couple of months? Oh, I bet she’s pregnant.” Now, I would keep that thought to myself, but there are certain people who consider pregnancy the hottest of gossip (as though there is a prize for being the first to know) and would either ask you directly if you’re pregnant or just start spreading rumors of your pregnancy. If it’s important to you to keep your pregnancy private for the time being, you might be better off saying something like, “I’ve been having some stomach issues,” or even, “I’m getting over a stomach bug…” Of course, someone still might jump to a conclusion of pregnancy, but most people don’t want to know any details about stomach ailments, so I think they’d be more likely to drop it if you phrased it this way.

    1. Dan*

      Yeah. See below, I vote for a fictitious line about some allergies that are being treated. I work with a bunch of engineers who 1) Don’t give two shits about who is pregnant, and 2) Would buy a line like that in a heart beat. When pressed, then you can just play stupid and say you’re letting the doc do his thing. But “no onions for the next two months please thank you very much”? That would go over like a lead balloon.

        1. Emi.*

          Please don’t lie about food allergies! People who lie about food allergies are giving aid and comfort to people who dismiss food allergies as probably not even real, because everyone lies about food allergies when they just think something is gross, amirite?

    2. Sylvia*

      Yeah, I agree with you on that.

      I might just say that the certain problem smells really get to me. “I’m sensitive to smells, so sorry, but could you eat these things cold/eat in the break room/whatever?” The coworker doesn’t need to know it’s temporary until OP’s over it.

      And if my hyposmic, never-been-pregnant understanding is right, some women can be sensitive to smells throughout their entire pregnancy and even for some time after. You wouldn’t want your coworker to cut out onions and then, two months from now, bring them back in an all-things-onion-shallot-and-garlic celebration, right?

    3. neverjaunty*

      But then eventually co-workers find out and now you’re the person who invented an allergy rather than say something.

      There is no magic way to get out of discomfort here.

    4. Emmie*

      If someone says “hey, are you pregnant,” respond with “wow, that’s pretty speculative. There are plenty of things that can make a person sensitive to smells or nauseous like medicine – even fertility drugs or cancer drugs or other prescription medicine. Even religious fasting can make those bacon, fish, and onion scents hard to tolerate.”

      1. Grapey*

        I wouldn’t be the one to speculate in the first place, but if I overheard that exchange, my mind would jump further to pregnancy. That’s quite a defensive answer!

      2. Lissa*

        And then when it’s obvious she’s pregnant a few months later, the person who got the defensive answer will be like “ha, I knew it all along!” (not that it matters, just saying that it’s going to be obvious sooner or later so implying she isn’t is just going to seem silly)

    1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      I’ve been slowly compiling a “maybe don’t eat that in the open office” list over the years I’ve been coming here. I didn’t have reheated bacon on the list, but it’s not something I’d be likely to eat at work anyhow.

    2. Purest Green*

      I hear you! I’m always crossing my fingers someone doesn’t take umbrage with my homemade oatmeal, which smells of cinnamon and apple, that I eat at my desk for breakfast. But so far so good.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        Oh wow, the main thread above kind of ‘sploded. Can this be the “let’s just try to be nice and reasonable about it” mini-thread? The only thing I’ve ever been asked not to eat at my desk was summer sausage. I don’t pack summer-sausage in my lunch anymore.

        Also, that oatmeal smell sounds *ah-mazing*.

        1. Purest Green*

          It is ah-mazing to me for sure! I’m banned from heating popcorn after I burned two bags of it. :(

          1. Marillenbaum*

            Oh, no! Burned popcorn is TERRIBLE. I used to work at the local movie theater as a teenager, and one of my coworkers once burned a batch of popcorn. I thought smelling like popcorn all the time was bad, but it pales in comparison to smelling like burnt popcorn. Gahhhh!

        2. zora*

          Yes, please! I am a little baffled by the above, bc my coworkers and I have totally dealt with this with no drama and no “miffedness.” We have a very tiny shared office for 3 of us, and my coworkers tend to eat at their desks. When we all first started working here, we each sort of gently asked the group “Hey, I’m eating this at my desk, but let me know if the smell bothers you.” And we all said, oh, that’s fine! Because GASP, it IS fine with all of us, none of us lied and pretended it didn’t when it did!

          And then whenever someone brings something particularly smelly, we just casually apologize, “sorry, I have really stinky Indian today, hope that’s okay” and it creates an opening for someone to say “Actually, I don’t feel great right now, can you eat out in the kitchen?” No one has done it yet, but none of us would mind if someone did ask, especially if it was only for a short period of a few months. Because we spend a lot of time at work and together, and isn’t life more pleasant when we make a little bit of an effort to get along with our coworkers with a little give and take?

    3. Bonky*

      When we started my business and were still very small, we shared a kitchen with another business in the next-door suite. Someone in there used to microwave fish on a regular basis. I swear it’s one of the reasons we scaled so quickly: we needed an excuse to move to a bigger office with our own kitchen where we could enforce rules about the microwaving of fish rather than having to leave little passive-aggressive notes on the microwave!

    4. Chickaletta*

      Ditto. I’ve learned about a lot of things here!

      I used to occasionally bring in hard boiled eggs to eat at my desk. I thought I was the only one who could smell them (and I thought they smelled pretty good, with the melted butter and salt and pepper, mmmm) and that the scent only lasted the few minutes while I was eating. I’m pretty sure by now that I was wrong, my poor coworkers. Oh well, live and learn.

    5. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Haha, my deskmate constantly asks me if the smell of her food bothers me. Most of the time I can’t smell it at all, she eats mostly salad and cold chicken, nothing smelly.

      Once I asked a coworker to not bring in eggs because they smelled bad to me, she refused! But I got over it, at least it wasn’t a lingering smell.

      We still talk about the coworker who heated up fish in the office microwave, then walked across the office back to her desk to eat it, trailing fish smell with her.

      General office food etiquette: nothing smelly (I personally love the smell of onions and garlic but I know not everyone does) and throw your food trash away in the kitchen trash can.

  9. Dan*


    AAM writes, “a generous favor that you’d be so grateful for, rather than implying there’s any obligation on their part (even though there should be)”

    I’m going to take a little bit of an issue with the suggestion that there should be an obligation on the “offender’s” part to accommodate the OP. IMHO, this is 100% “Big Favor” territory. Bacon and onions are very common foods in most parts of the US, and asking someone to not eat them as part of their work lunch without clear justification really is asking for a favor. If someone were to say to me, “Hey, I’m pregnant and onions are aggravating my morning sickness, could you hold off for a couple of months? I’d appreciate it big time.” Sure, I’d accommodate them without question, and perhaps even feel obligated to. But if the OP doesn’t want to get into details? I wouldn’t feel obligated to comply with someone’s “unspecified” medical issues “for the next couple of months”. (This is where white lies come into play… “Hey, onions have recently seemed to be particularly aggravating for me, and I’m working with a doctor on some allergy testing. Could you please hold off for a month or two while we get to the bottom of things?” This line would work really well and deflect any kind of pregnancy talk.)

    1. Delyssia*

      Your mileage may vary on this one. Personally, I would respect unspecified “medical condition” while “allergy testing” related to the mere smell of onions sounds so utterly ridiculous that it would take days for my eyebrows to settle back down to their normal position.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah, I agree, particularly because it’s not how most food allergies (or food allergy testing) work. I liked MommaCat’ suggested redirect, upthread.

        It has to be ok for people to make food-smell-related requests as long as those requests are polite and self-effacing (i.e., not judgmental or presumptuous/entitled). It’s part of the social bargain that comes with shared workspaces.

        1. Dan*

          Note that my issue is first and foremost AAM’s suggestion that people should be “obligated” to comply with food smell requests. I’m much more in line with your belief that requests are ok as long as they are polite and asking for a favor.

            1. Cat*

              That’s controllable by leaving the area. I’m all for working something out here, but it’s exactly that – working something out as a favor to a co-worker who’s going through a difficult time.

              1. Taylor Swift*

                So you think the one with the violent nausea should be the one to move and not the person with the bacon, who could probably just eat something else or eat the bacon somewhere else?

        2. Imaginary Number*

          It’s certainly more likely to get the desired response if OP is direct about her pregnancy, although that is 100% up to her. It’s a lot more specific than “temporary medical condition”.

          I could easily see this sort of internal reaction from myself (gut reaction, not necessarily fair): “Great. So I have no idea how long I can’t eat bacon and onions for and, for all I know, this is some ‘food sensitivity’ diagnosed by a woo doctor. She’ll probably tell me she can’t be around coffee next.”

          vs. my reaction if someone asked me to stop eating smelly foods because of pregnancy: “Omigosh that’s so exciting! Wow, I definitely don’t want to be the cause of morning sickness. Is there anything else I should stop eating? Maybe I should ask her how she feels about curry.”

          1. Liane*

            “Great. So I have no idea how long I can’t eat bacon and onions for and, for all I know, this is some ‘food sensitivity’ diagnosed by a woo doctor. She’ll probably tell me she can’t be around coffee next.”

            I adore your name :), but, as has been pointed out to other posters, *No one is being asked to never-ever eat Whatsit in the entire building forever.” Only to please eat Whatsit somewhere else.

            Yes, having been one of those unfortunates with morning-noon-&-night sickness months 2-6, I would probably guess OP was pregnant. BUT, being a devotee of both Alison & Miss Manners I wouldn’t be asking or telling. What I would be doing is thinking, “Ugh, I feel bad for OP, I recall that misery. I will do my eating elsewhere in case something else turns out to be a problem.”

          2. Hlyssande*

            Fun fact: On a day when I have a headache/when Mercury is in retrograde/the stars align/the sun doth shine and the moon doth glow, I cannot walk past our coffee nook without feeling nauseous! Luckily I have another route to my cube, but my cube is right by the coffee nook so sometimes even that doesn’t help.

            I agree with you, though. Once the OP is able to be more open about her pregnancy (totally understand wanting to get past the 12 week mark, OP!) she’ll have a much easier time of explaining about why she needs someone to not eat something nearby.

          3. Chickaletta*

            Totally agree.

            It really is up to OP when to announce her pregnancy, she could deny it at 8 1/2 months if she wanted to, but if it’s starting to affect her at work it might be worth considering that it’s time to say something. People start speculating pregnancy at the earliest signs, even when you think they’re not. I had an annoying coworker tell me she knew I was pregnant just because I had placed my hand on my abdomen (unconscious habit, I guess, I didn’t even know I was doing that); she was correct, but it was annoying to think she was so attuned to such a small mannerism.

            1. Hrovitnir*

              But as you know, the chances of spontaneous abortion are not insignificant before 12 weeks, and I think having to tell your coworkers you lost a wanted baby would be worse than feeling nauseous until after 12 weeks. :/

    2. Hoorah*

      I agree this is a “big favour” territory. If someone else asked me politely to hold off on certain foods that caused them discomfort – medical or not – I’d be happy to accommodate them. But there’s certainly no obligation to refrain from bringing commonly eaten foods. If anybody demanded I stop putting onions in my sandwiches because they felt entitled to a totally food-smell-free office, I would quietly ignore them.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        For me it would somewhat depend on how common the ingredient it is. Refraining from eating durian in the office – that’s pretty easy to do. Onions, though, are such a ubiquitous ingredient in so many different cuisines that it could mean totally altering how you cook for five months.

        But yes, asking me to stop eating a common ingredient for an extended period of time is definitely big favour territory, and the vaguer the reason the less cooperative I’d feel. If there’s a breakroom or other convenient location for me to eat, though, I’d happily eat my lunch there, though, and I’d be fairly relaxed about something specific like not microwaving onion heavy foods, rather than a total ban on all onions.

    3. I woke up like this*

      But the OP isn’t asking that coworker no longer eat bacon or onions for lunch. It sounds like she is asking coworker to not eat them in the open cubicle farm. Assuming there’s a lunch room, coworker could accommodate OP and still have her regular lunch. Is that Big Favor Territory?

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          I work in a open office where eating at ones workspace is very common, but people are also very considerate about smells and will eat in the break room if asked. I guess I’m a little baffled why it’s a big ask to be considerate of what bothers the people sitting in close proximity to you. Sure, it could hypothetically get out of control, but that doesn’t mean it will. I’ve asked the woman sitting next to me not to eat spicy foods next to me and I’m reasonably sure she hasn’t resented me ever since.

          1. Lablizard*

            I think it depends on whether or not people have time for lunch and if there is a place other than your desk to eat. I worked at a place where the break room was on a different floor and another where it was in a different building, so asking would be a much bigger deal than if it was close. It is a favor, but the size of it depends on the circumstances.

            1. MegaMoose, Esq*

              We can take a lunch break but many people prefer not to. I think the people I work with would just rather be slightly inconvenienced (i.e. take an unpaid break for lunch or change what you bring to eat) than make a coworker uncomfortable. Of course, maybe some of it’s a Midwestern thing and people are actually mad all the time but not showing it. That is a distinct possibility. I’m just having an extremely hard time getting upset about someone asking me not to eat something that made them feel sick!

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        It depends. Some people have work that they can eat while doing, so eating at the desk might mean getting a half hour of overtime, getting more done, or getting to leave earlier.

      2. Jill of All Trades*

        It really depends on the office. At my work, everyone almost always eats at their desks and works through lunch, so it would mean possibly staying 30 minutes to an hour late every day to make up for eating lunch elsewhere…which would qualify as Big Favor Territory.

      1. Purest Green*

        But you’re obligated to your employer to work while you’re at your desk, not eat. That’s why I’d make the concession in this circumstance, which isn’t to never eat those things, but to temporarily not bring those things into a shared space where I have an obligation to work.

        1. Michelle*

          Yes, but they could be in a office where eating at your desk the the culture/norm.

          I, personally, would hate working in an office like that because taking a half hour to hour to get away from my desk/computer/phone really helps me push through on rough days. OP’s coworker may feel pressure to work through lunchtime.

        2. Jill of All Trades*

          Some places have a culture of eating at your desk while you continue to work. At my office, it’s uncommon for people to go out to lunch; almost everyone brings their food back to eat at their desk.

    4. Vin Packer*

      So, if someone came up to you and said “the smell of your lunch is literally making me vomit, but won’t in a few months; will you please hold off for awhile?” you would tell them to cram it up their cramhole unless they provided you with a detailed reason for the vomiting you deem good enough?

      It actually sounds like you’re saying you *wouldn’t* do that, but you just want to reserve the right to for some reason. Why?

      Maybe for a permanent officewide ban on something really common, like bread. But for a temporary, please-no-bacon-directly-inside-this-specific-cube?

      1. Michelle*

        “You would tell them to cram it up their cramhole unless they provided you with a detailed reason for the vomiting you deem good enough”- That’s a little aggressive/harsh. I think most people would want a reason if asked to not eat a food not commonly thought of as smelly. I’m sure if OP just politely asks, the coworker would most likely do so without a fuss.

        1. neverjaunty*

          A lot of people here are posting about what a pain in the rear the co-worker is and what uncharitable thoughts they would be having, so no, I don’t think this is at all harsh or unfair.

          1. Michelle*

            “Cram it up their cramhole” sounds aggressive to me. I don’t understand why the coworker is considered a pain the rear if the OP has not yet told her that her food is making her queasy. If OP spoke to the coworker and the coworker refuses or is rude about it, the I would say the coworker is a pain in the rear. But you can’t be purposely difficult if you don’t know that something you are doing is negatively affecting someone else.

      2. Imaginary Number*

        Wow. No, because I’m generally a nice and accommodating person (or at least I’d like to think so) who would do someone a favor like changing my lunch habits. However, I would do so out of kindness, not obligation.

        1. Vin Packer*

          “It actually sounds like you’re saying you *wouldn’t* do that, but you just want to reserve the right to for some reason. Why?”

          The point of my comment was that I don’t get why this distinction between “kindness” and “obligation” matters.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Because if I’m doing it out of kindness, I’m a great person and the other person owes me one.

            1. Emi.*

              If you’re doing it so that the other person owes you one, you’re not doing it out of kindness–you’re doing it as a crypto-transaction. You only get to claim great-person status for doing it with no expectation of return.

              1. neverjaunty*

                I don’t disagree with you at all. I’m just speculating on why the fixation with kindness vs obligation.

                1. MegaMoose, Esq*

                  If we’re not allowed to fight about politics, at least we can fight about etiquette!

                2. fposte*

                  Oh, that’s an interesting question, because that’s a difference that matters to me. For one thing, I think if it’s an obligation than the request is fake–it’s really an order. For another, I’m not sure how it could be determined to be an obligation in the absence of law or policy–it starts sounding like “Because I said so, that’s why.” And ultimately, I think that most human relationships go poorly when compromises and accommodations are couched as mandatory rather than in the name of harmonious interdependency. “Take out the trash because I’m your mom and if you don’t I’ll smack you” and “Take out the trash, please, because we all contribute in this family” may have some similarities, but they’re very different to receive.

          2. Imaginary Number*

            Because it’s not about me. It’s about other people who are in this position and not getting mad at someone for saying no because they’re ‘obligated’. Whether that’s Jane with her bacon or Hal from Pakistan who eats rather pungent food for lunch at his desk and has done so without issue for years. You’re asking someone else to change their eating habits. In this case, you’re asking for a very good reason, but that’s still a favor.

      3. Dan*

        I wouldn’t tell them to cram anything anywhere, I’d just raise an eyebrow and go about my business. If you want me to stop doing something I’ve been doing for years (and this is about onions as well, which are more common than bacon) “temporarily” for “unspecified medical reasons” in *my* cube, you’re asking me for a favor.

        TBH, onions are more common than bread. I can’t remember the last time I made a dish that didn’t include onions. Bread? I rarely buy it.

    5. Emi.*

      Please don’t lie about allergies! Lying about allergies is the antibiotics-for-colds of getting people to respect allergies.

      1. Erin*

        Ah, yes. This is true.

        I would honestly wait (if you can) until you’re going public with your pregnancy.

        I also agree with the comments up thread that yes, this is indeed Big Favor Territory. Asking someone to not microwave fish from last night’s dinner in the office kitchen is a normal thing to ask. Asking someone to avoid eating onions at lunch is a very bizarre overreach, unless you really frame it nicely and like you’re asking for a huge favor (because you are).

        This reminds me of that The Office episode when Pam is pregnant and tries to dictate to everyone what to eat and asks Phyllis not to wear a certain perfume or use a particular soap or something. Not that this is that bad!! Because it’s not, but if you don’t approach this carefully your coworkers may see it that way.

    6. Nerdy Canuck*

      If someone tells you that the smells of your food is having an effect on them, the reason for that effect isn’t actually relevant.

  10. GeoffreyB*

    #3: I had a relative who repeatedly came out to our entire family. From the way he explained it, coming out was part of building self-acceptance after a long time in the closet; it didn’t matter to him that people already knew, it was still helpful for him.

    I don’t think that was the only reason he did it, it was a complicated situation with other things going on, but maybe that aspect of it is relevant to your boss’s behaviour?

    1. A Signer*

      But that kind of self acceptance ritual is for friends and family, not an employee you supervise. If someone is seeking that kind of emotional validation from brand-new workplace relationships, there’s something off there. I say this as a lesbian: this kind of behavior would wig me out and set off my “this person had something off about boundaries and I should be worried” meter. Hell, the question about assigning a gender-different nickname would make me question what this dude’s deal is.

      1. A Signer*

        I’d also like to add that there’s different kinds of coming out. There’s the big announcement that many people have, but there’s also the everyday coming out that happens if you mention a significant other or your weekend plans or whatever. The latter is not weird to me unless done in an unnatural/exaggerated way. That’s what happens when you live life openly, you have to “out” yourself again and again. But if the boss is having the big announcement type talk multiple times, that’s really bizarre and setting off my nope alarm.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yeah, I agree with this. I didn’t ‘come out’ to anyone at work so much as I happened to mention being a lesbian at a point when it was natural in the conversation, and when it’s relevant to the conversation other times, I might also mention it.

          (For example: everyone’s cracking on Justin Bieber, I made the joke that ‘yeah, you look at my old college ID, I looked like a butcher version of him.’)

      2. Alton*

        I think sometimes it’s not about explicitly building self-acceptance so much as (sometimes subconsciously) feeling insecure about whether you’re really “out” or not (did these people understand what I meant when I said I was taking a trip with my girlfriend?) or testing the waters in an environment that feels more accepting (oh, wow, I can actually say this stuff here!). But yeah, it becomes weird if it feels like someone is making a really big deal about outing themselves in ways that don’t come up naturally.

      3. GeoffreyB*

        Oh, I quite agree. I should’ve been clearer there: I was suggesting it as a possible explanation, not intending to argue that it’s adequate *justification*.

  11. Tuesday*

    #1: Anyone else picturing coworker just chowing down on whole onions like they’re apples while reading this? Just me? Okay, then.

    The LW doesn’t mention if there is a break room available, but it really doesn’t seem like too much of a burden to ask someone to eat her morning bacon somewhere other than the open floorplan workspace, assuming there’s any other place available.

    It occurs to me that many years ago I habitually ate salad with onions at my cubefarm desk, and now I wonder if I was bothering my neighbors and didn’t know it. I don’t think my prepackaged salad would have had the same olfactory power as fresh-cut onions or newly reheated ones, but who knows. Point being, its possible that this person doesn’t realize that her food has a strong odor that is bothering her coworkers (and not just the pregnant ones, based on the letter.) So maybe going for a more permanent solution than the “temporary medical condition” request is warranted here. I don’t know what that would be, but it seems like the LW’s coworkers would appreciate it, too.

    1. Elizabeth H.*

      Yes! I was picturing that too. Although unfortunately, it seems unlikely in reality. I wonder what form they are actually being consumed in.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      When I was a kid, my grandma would make SPAM sandwiches for lunch, with fried onions. She would give me raw onions to snack on when she was cooking. So, yeah, I’m picturing the coworker chomping away on raw onions. Cooked onions don’t really smell that strong.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        This is your own personal experience and I’m not denying it, but please don’t deny mine either. To me, cooked onions have a VERY STRONG unpleasant smell.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I agree they do when you’re cooking them, and probably would if you had a pile of onions in the microwave.
          : )

          A few cooked onions on your McDonald’s takeout cheeseburger would not be something I would be alert to causing issues for my coworkers. If you told me, I’d believe you, but it’s just not what I picture when someone says smelly onions.

          Your comment seemed like a pretty big reaction to what I said. I guess I should have said “to me”.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            It is possibly a hot button for me because my office is near a microwave, and someone heats a frozen dinner or reheats a meal with lots of onions on a regular basis. I’m sure they don’t think it smells at all.

            1. LCL*

              I don’t see Rusty’s comment as a big reaction, maybe hot button for him but nuclear trigger for me! To a lot of us, onions stink and make us vomit. Trying to get a straight answer when dining out about the onion content of food is really tough, because the sh&* is ubiquitous. I have been told that things don’t have onions, when the sauce is made with big chunks of it (like fettucini) or the dish is finished with a garnish of chopped raw green onions on top, or the side garnish is a giant slice of raw onion. And when you ask the server about it, they are apologetic but didn’t realize. Onions are so prevalent they are like the atmosphere, people don’t realize it’s there.

              And those McDonald’s cheeseburgers? I tried ordering one once, and asked for no onions. I received a burger that had been opened up, the nasty dehydrated onion things scraped off, then wrapped and served. I threw it away, once onions touch hot food the stink sinks in and the dish is ruined.

        2. Artemesia*

          No kidding. The people in the apartment below cook some eastern European ethnic cuisine that seems to involve lots of onions, garlic and unknown awful spices and it often permeates my apartment. I am extremely sensitive to onions and the smell is really powerful and revolting. I know that onions are ubiquitous in cuisines around the world — it is a big problem when I travel to get fed, which is why I usually get apartments so we can cook in a lot. I know I don’t get to dictate what people cook in their own kitchens, so I open windows and live with it, but I am so happy when these people’s mother in law ends her visits and I can breath again in my own home without feeling sick.

          Onions have a very powerful lingering smell especially when cooked or cooking. My stomach physically spasms when I smell them.

    3. Spoonie*

      At Old Job, the break room didn’t have doors, so even “eating in the break room” did nothing to keep the smells from wafting out to my far-too-close desk. As someone who can be sensitive to smell while dealing with a migraine, foods that typically smell acceptable (even tasty) suddenly…don’t. I took to keeping a vial of lavender and eucalyptus essential oils in my drawer and uncapping one on particularly odoriferous days.

      1. On Fire*

        Ironically for your treatment, I detest the smell of lavender, and my mother is allergic to eucalyptus. Which I suppose is kind of the point everyone is discussing – there is no particular scent that everyone can agree is pleasant, and relatively few that are universally horrifying (decay and diapers being among those… I think).

        I don’t see how it can hurt *me* to accommodate someone’s illness. I will not die if I don’t get to eat (my favorite smelly food) at work, while it could actually have health repercussions for them. It’s part of working together and being part of a community – of society.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      My family did this when I lived in Spain with them. “Oh, look, here are some onions that one of my students gave me, we should have them with dinner!” turned out to be raw onions cut in wedges like apples, eaten raw. That was…. not what I was expecting.

    5. Gene*

      Definitely a seasonal thing here when the Walla Walla spring onions ore available. Think scallions with near full size onion bulbs. a shaker of salt and a couple of those is a great lunch. Or white bread, lots of butter, and thick slices of fresh onion.

      Now I can hardly wait for spring!

    6. zora*

      I know from watching period movies/reading historical fiction that Europeans used to very commonly eat whole, raw onions like apples. Since apples were not bred to be eaten raw until about 1900. Your fun fact for the day ;o)

  12. MacAilbert*

    #5: I have the opposite problem. People just assume they can call me by my first name at work, which I personally find to be too familiar. To me, first names are for family and really close friends tobuse, and that’s it. I’d rather people used my middle name (using my last name would imply I possess some sort of authority, which is the last thing I want customers to think). Unfortunately, I work customer service and have a name tag, so customers just read it and call me that. And it rankles me so much. I’d love to just have a name tag with my middle name on it, but no. Apparently too many employees have used that tactic to get out of customer complaints.

    1. Hoorah*

      I don’t understand this. I once took classes with a guy who *always* went by his middle name “Bob”. The only time I ever realised he had a different first name was when we were attending the same graduation ceremony, and his certificate showed “John Bob Smith.” If you wanted to go by your middle name and wanted to change your name tag, customers will just read off that name tag and mention your middle name if they ever had feedback about you. Your employer’s reasoning for refusing to call you by your preferred name is illogical.

      1. MacAilbert*

        Apparently, complaints go straight to Corporate, and Corporate has thrown out a few thinking no employee existed by that name because the employee wasn’t going by their first name. So, store management makes me go by my first name. Why Corporate wouldn’t know what my middle name is, I don’t know, but I have noticed it isn’t on our schedules (it is on my paystubs, though).

      1. MacAilbert*

        First names imply a level of closeness and familiarity that I don’t even share with most of my friends. It’s rankling to have people I don’t even know skip straight to that level. Pretty much the only people who use mine outside work are my grandmother, uncle, dad, sister, and a couple friends from high school.

        1. Feathers McGraw*

          But middle names aren’t something most people use at all. I’m scratching my head here, sorry.

          1. Myrin*

            I don’t think MacAilbert has to justify her preference since that’s really all it is – a preference. It’s not something that’s done in my culture (although I hear that people from the north of the country go almost exclusively by their middle names, but I’m not sure if that’s true) but I read on this site all the time that there are many people who just like their middle names better or for whatever other reason prefer to go by that; it’s really no different from someone only ever using a nickname.

          2. Liane*

            As Myrin says, some people just like their middle names better. Or there might be a more practical reason, like avoiding confusion. I’ve mentioned before that my late father-in-law’s (legal) first name was “Sam” and my husband’s first name is “Samuel.” So my husband has always gone by his middle name Robb.

        2. Feathers McGraw*

          Wait, your friends don’t use your first name?

          Sorry if I’m missing a cultural difference but most people won’t share these norms.

          1. Nic*

            I can’t speak for MacAilbert, but can add my own experience.

            I changed from using my first name to my middle when I changed schools at the end of middle school. It came with trying to re-define myself. Only my parents call me by my original name, and some close childhood friends. I’ve been using my middle name so long that I don’t even hear if someone uses my first.

            That has become frustrating in job situations where corporate refused to allow me to go by anything but my legal first name, even if it was on my birth certificate.

          2. MacAilbert*

            Yup. I’m not exactly the warm, friendly type. More like rigid, formal, and cynical. Which, as a native coastal Californian, is exactly what I’m not supposed to be. It’s fun.

            1. MK*

              Have you considered moving to Victorian England? Because not only is your attitude at odds with the culture in your area, but against the global trend of civilisation in general; at least as far as I can tell, the world is becoming less formal every day. And the concept that first names are only for family and close friends is a pretty extreme stance for 2017.

              1. Bird*

                I think that’s a pretty rude suggestion, MK. MacAilbert is allowed to have a preference for what name they use with various people. Telling them that they are out of touch (and somehow old-fashioned in a particularly moralistic/negative way) for preferring that people use their middle name is completely uncalled for. They are not trying to impose their views on anyone else, so why be offended?

              2. Tuckerman*

                My co-worker goes by a nickname instead of using his first name. He explained it as, in his home country, it would be disrespectful just to use the name alone (you address people differently according to age difference) and so it was jarring for him to hear just his name. I might not agree with the value in this approach to communication, but it’s no skin off my back to call him by his preferred name.

              3. Myrin*

                Hey, let’s not be snarky to commenters who have an (albeit unusual) stance which they know is unusual and don’t want to force others to adhere to.

                (Also, I’m really not sure one can make a sweeping assumption wrt “the world” becoming less and less formal every day; I know that my mind constantly boggles whenever I read here that someone addresses an email to an unfamiliar person simply as “Hi Jane” – that would be completely unthinkable and inappropriate where I’m from.)

              4. ket*

                Totally rude.

                My spouse goes by middle name, because first name is “ethnic” and hard to pronounce and for some of those identity reasons. His grandma and some cousins call him by first name, for family reasons. *I* call him by middle name, despite being fluent in ethnic language. Other people who insist on using his first name come across as entitled, presumptuous, and a little creepy, bent on imposing their own weird norms about intimacy despite his preference. Big side-eye to them.

          3. Purest Green*

            I have a name that can be shortened, like Jennifer to Jen. Only my parents and grandparents ever call me “Jennifer,” and all my friends and acquaintances call me “Jen.” It sounds strange and overly personal when someone uses “Jennifer” because they aren’t part of the six or eight people who have the right (in my mind) to do this.

            1. Gaia*

              I have this. There are exactly 2 people in my life that call me by my shortened name (I went by this name as a child but changed to the longer version in junior high): my Grampa and my Grandma. No one else and if anyone else does, they are swiftly corrected. It is far too personal. Even my own mother calls me by my preferred name (Grampa and Grandma are given a pass as they are my elders and to correct them would be A.Thing.)

            2. Kj*

              Oh, I have a name like that. And like Jennifer, it has tons of variety. I have a family/early life name that my folks and a few old family friends use. But I chose a different variation on the name when I want to college and a professional contacts/friends I met later use that. It is weird when the two world collide. My college/professional name is a more unusual variation on my name, which was an intentional choice as my childhood name variation is far too common- there were always at least 1-2 others with that variation in my small college classes and last initials only go so far.

            3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              I have the opposite. I’m Victoria, and my family calls me Tori. It freaks me out when other people call me Tori without warning (which often happens with, say, friends of my sister’s who have heard her refer to me as Tori for years without ever meeting me).

            4. Rebecca in Dallas*

              My family and some of my close friends call me Becca, everyone else calls me Rebecca. I wouldn’t be offended if someone I didn’t know well called me Becca, but it would sound odd to me.

              Haha, once my sister called me Rebecca and she immediately stopped herself and said, “That was bizarre, I don’t think I’ve ever called you that.”

          4. On Fire*

            A close relative has only used her middle name – ever. Let’s say it’s Mary, just for illustration. Most people, including other close relatives (cousins, etc.) literally have no idea that her first name is not her given name. She haaaaaates her first name.

            But on medical/legal paperwork, they call you by your first name. Which led to my relative sitting in a doctor’s office wishing that “Mary” would go see the nurse so they would stop calling her – and finally realizing after about 5 minutes that SHE was Mary. She just never identified with that name or thought of herself as Mary.

            1. Ren*

              Yep, my grandmother’s first name was Mildred and she hated it, so she went by her middle name, Anna, whenever she could. (Close friends and family called her a completely different nickname, like Sparky, her entire life). Only in medical/government situations did she ever use Mildred.

              1. Sparkly Librarian*

                My grandmother hated her name (Edna) and always went by a version of her married last name (Smitty for Smith). Absolutely everyone I know called her Smitty, and strangers used Mrs. Smith. It only got confusing when she also called my grandfather (Mr. Smith) Smitty or Smitt. No one else called him that; just her. I just realized I have no idea how she handled hating her name for the first 30 years of her life before she was married to him. I didn’t come along until she was 70.

        3. Elizabeth H.*

          I think this seems perplexing because to the majority of people, it just won’t seem reasonable to find it “rankling” to be called by a first name when there is every logical reason that someone would call you by that name, moreover because you are actually wearing a name tag with your first name on it (!) I completely understand preferring your middle name and also having a name or nickname that only people who you are very close to call you – lots of people have this and it’s totally normal. But what I don’t understand is framing it as a “first names are too personal and people should know better and not assume they can call me by what is printed on my name tag” thing. It’s really common to have go by a middle name and that your family members will call you by some family-only name. But if you want to use a different name with everyone besides your family, then your issue is getting an official name change or lobbying your employer to use your preferred name. (I agree it really sucks they won’t let you use a preferred name at work, especially when it’s actually part of your name rather than Bunny or something). Rather than that people should automatically extrapolate that first names are too personal.

          1. MacAilbert*

            That’s why I don’t bring it up to customers. I’m aware they have no way of knowing. I’m annoyed at the situation as a whole, not specific people.

            1. Rumpus Time is Over*

              My Dad goes by a shortened version of his middle name. It’s not difficult to say, “Actually I prefer to go by Loo instead of Bob Maloogaloogaooga”. Is it possible to get a new name tag with Loo on it?

        4. Enya*

          Most of your friends don’t use your first name because you think it’s too familiar? I must be misunderstanding something here.

        5. Sylvia*

          Just asking out of curiosity: Are middle names considered less close and familiar, more formal and respectful, in your culture?

          1. Kelly L.*

            I’m thinking that must be it. Where I come from, most people will never even know your middle name. Your mom yells all three names when you’re in trouble, they say your middle name during graduation, and that’s about it. Maybe with your friends you have a convo one day like “Out of curiosity, what’s your middle name?” I couldn’t tell you most of my friends’ middle names. The exception is if you just hate your first name and start going by the middle entirely.

            But I had a roommate who was from further south, and she went by her middle name and so did her brother, and it was always planned that way–their parents gave them a first name and a middle name and called them only by the middle name from the very beginning.

            1. MacAilbert*

              That could be it. I’m from California, just like my parents, but I take after my paternal grandparents the most, and my grandmother’s Southern.

              1. Agnodike*

                I’m still curious where the formality element comes in! My parents named my sister with the intention to use her (more mainstream-culture-sounding) middle name as her everyday name, and we all did until she decided in her teens that she wanted to start using her (more easily read as “ethnic”) first name instead. But the middle name was what she was called at home as well as at school, with friends, by strangers, etc. – it was just her name. Is it a common thing in Southern U.S. culture for family members to use the first name and everyone else to use the middle name? (Like using “Miss” with a first name, for example, which is uncommon here but I know is common there?)

              2. Sylvia*

                Hmm. I’m Southern and we don’t use someone’s middle name unless it’s their preferred name – it’s not the formal default. Or if you’re a kid in BIG trouble, of course.

                I’m not trying to criticize your name preference, I am just kind of a nerd about both names and regional differences.

          2. Agnodike*

            I’m very curious about this, too! I’m pretty formal by many standards (I give my last name, not my first name, when a stranger asks for my name, for example) but it would never occur to me that a middle name confers a greater level of formality than a first name.

    2. Mirax*

      I come from a culture where surnames are the default… but people always go out of their way to make an exception and call my by my first name because I’m visibly mixed-race. It’s actually really alienating and I wish people would just use my surname like I’m a normal person!

    3. heatherskib*

      Wow, they have an issue with using your middle name instead of the first name? That’s pretty rare by my understanding. My husband’s first name is a pretty common female name, so he uses his middle name exclusively for work. I’ve used my middle name too, since Heather is so common to avoid confusion.

    4. CM*

      Would corporate let you go by your middle name in their systems too? That would avoid the customer complaint problem. (It sounds like they don’t really care, but I thought it was worth asking.)

    5. Not Karen*

      Why didn’t you ask your employer to put your middle name on your name tag? I’ve met lots of people who go by their middle name instead.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Yeah, that’s a pretty common thing. I’ve worked with lots of people who go by their middle names and it’s not usually a problem.

        I’m missing some cultural context on why a first name is overly familiar though.

        1. emmylou*

          Yes, I am having the same response to this. I totally get having a personal preference for your middle name (both my dad and grandfather used their middle names as their names), but it’s unusual to have a stance that “a first name in general” is intimate and for family. Generally speaking, in most western cultures, your first name is your NAME. I am not fully understanding from MacAilbert that they understand that this is unusual in western culture. It’s like thinking that everyone “knows” your first name is akin to a pet name or a nickname reserved for “insiders” and getting irked that this isn’t how other people see it — but it’s actually an extremely unusual perspective.

          Sorry if I’m sounding nit-picky — just not getting why MacAilbert doesn’t see this as “an odd quirk I have” rather than something that others should just “get.”

    6. nhbillups*

      Do you think you could use a first initial, then the name you want to be called (J. Margaret)? Or could they put your first name and then include your preferred name in quotes after or below it (Jane “Margaret”)?

      1. Sylvia*

        I’ve known people who tried the first option. It had become Jaymargaret by the time I met them. Not sure if that was better or worse than the first name they were trying to avoid.

  13. HannahS*

    OP 3, I think your boss is trying to (loudly) signal that he can tell what’s up and wants you to come out to him. There are a bajillion possibilities why. Maybe he’s projecting all sorts of reasons why you’re not out at work and wants you to feel that you have nothing to hide. Maybe you remind him of his younger closeted self and it makes him frustrated. Maybe he dislikes not knowing if you’re straight or not. Or, yes, maybe he feel he can go to bat for you better with his boss if there’s a (heavy air quotes) “REASON” why you have a non-gender-conforming nickname. But you don’t need to share anything with him. Some possibilities if he keeps doing it (and you don’t want to directly ask him why):
    “Yeah, I remember. I’m really glad you feel comfortable sharing that with me.” “Oh yeah? Nice.” “That’s cool. Are you and [partner] doing anything fun this weekend?”

    If your boss-boss questions your nickname, you can say, “I go by Rocky/Bunny. I won’t know who you mean if you call me [legal name]” or “It’s not usually a male/female name? Huh. Well, it doesn’t bug me. After all, I’m the only Rocky/Bunny, so we’ll all know who you mean!” or “Yeah, it’s funny how names are flexible! You know, Leslie and Shirley used to be only male names, and now they’ve pretty much switched to female. So the quarterly reports…”

  14. Hoorah*

    If other people have noticed the onion smell too, it seems reasonable to raise this issue without linking it to pregnancy. Plenty of offices have rules against eating strong smelling food in the office.

    1. fposte*

      I think that’s a totally legitimate approach and it’s the best way of avoiding the pregnancy discussion. My concern is that might take a while before that policy got disseminated, so OP might still need to find a deflection in the mean time.

  15. KR*

    Is there a lunch room in your office that your new coworker could eat her meals in? Or, is there a conference room you could take your work into while she’s eating? Could you get a small desk fan to blow the aroma away from you?

    I’m also a fan of just asking her about the smelly food – but it would help if there was some alternate space she could eat rather than trying to find different foods to bring to work.

  16. ..Kat..*

    I worked for four years at a company with a man I called David. When I left, he asked me why I called him David when most people called him Dave. I told him that when I first met him, he said, “hi, my name is David.” He said “Oh, I just expect people to call me Dave.” Seriously, if you want to be called Dave, introduce yourself as Dave.

    1. hbc*

      I once asked a guy who had introduced himself as Daniel, “I’ve heard some people calling you Danny. Is that what you prefer?” He told me no, he prefers Daniel. I never did figure out if he switched to calling himself Danny in emails because he just caved to his boss continually calling him that, he changed his mind, or he just wanted *me* to be more formal with him.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Sometimes those of us with “nicknameable” names just give up, which I would bet is what happened to Daniel. I was known by a shortened version of my name almost exclusively in college, and that’s what most of my friends call me, but professionally I like the long version. I have always introduced myself with the long version. I had one job for over 8 years where everyone shortened my name and I eventually just gave up. At my last job, they even asked what I preferred but forgot (or didn’t care)– so I gave up. At my current job, I’m back to my full name and it feels so nice.

        Names can be so tricky and everyone has individual preferences. My last boss “let” everyone mispronounce his surname because he just didn’t care, but I get really irritated when people I know (co-workers, acquaintances, etc.) mispronounce my surname because they never bothered to learn it.

        1. TL -*

          I have a name that is not commonly shortened but it can be – either to the first syllable, which I hate with the fiery passion of 1000 suns – or to the first consonant/vowel combo, which is a man’s name. To be specific, it’s the name my dad goes by.
          I have never had someone try to shorten my name more than once.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          I’ll admit to being a bit of a curmudgeon on that score–I have a nicknameable name, but no one called me that growing up and I frankly hate the sound of the nickname version, so I’m a total stickler for “It’s Fergusina, actually, not Fergs.”

        3. Elsajeni*

          Yes, I am “Liz” for basically this reason. I don’t actually mind it or anything, it’s just that it’s not a nickname I ever chose for myself — I started introducing myself as “Elizabeth” in college (after going by a different nickname as a child), literally everyone I met automatically shortened it to “Liz,” and because it didn’t really bother me, I didn’t make much effort to fight it.

      2. Jessie the First (or second)*

        Lots of people really, really, really feel free to shorten names. Even if the person has not invited them to shorten it, or even if the person actually prefers a different nickname. I am Jessie. But I am called Jess by everyone the world over, no matter how I introduce myself, and they do not ask first, and they constantly “forget” when I mention “actually I go by Jessie.” Danny may just be a victim of this.

        1. nhbillups*

          I hate when people do that. I get a shortened version of my name (on a sticky note) sometimes and it drives me nuts but I feel like it’s too much for me to go back and correct someone. In person, as soon as they’re doing it? I’ll correct them in a heartbeat because I hate the shortened version of my name!

        2. Observer*

          Don’t put “forget” in quotes – people do genuinely forget. I don’t know why, and I can see why it’s as annoying as all get out. But, it’s not necessarily intentional disrespect.

          Of course, there are the people who just ARE disrespectful – and that’s inexcusable.

        3. BookishMiss*

          I have the opposite problem – people add things to my perfectly reasonable, one-syllable name.

          Beyond irritating, either way. I told you my name. My name is not that word you just used. Stop using that word to represent me, when I have provided you a perfectly acceptable word for that purpose.

      3. Ren*

        My brother in law is a Daniel who grew up as a Dan, but now prefers the whole thing. But so many people just start calling him Dan right off the bat. Whenever I’m around him and someone refers to him as Dan, both my sister and I will respond out loud, “Who’s Dan?”

    2. Gene*

      I had the opposite problem a couple of jobs ago, one of the Admins was convinced my name is Eugene and would get upset that I wouldn’t respond to it. She also handled conference and training registrations and registered me as Eugene for every one of them.

      Npo matter how many times I corrected her, I was still Eugene.

      1. BookishMiss*

        I have the same problem! I keep getting transformed into an Andrea or a Nancy. Nope, I am neither of those, thank you very much.

        Why are single-syllable names so difficult?

  17. Akcipitrokulo*

    Re #4 – I was in a similar position to Fergus. My manager was leaving, and I said I was interested in the position.

    Manager’s boss spoke to me – he said that although I was excellent in X & Y, they were hoping for more experience in Z (in which I’d started, but was still fairly new). He said that I should apply anyway (it was a difficult position to fill).

    I think if I’d been the only candidate I’d probably have got it and they would have given on the job training; but a suitable external candidate applied. It’s worked out really well and new manager is awesome.

    But what really made the difference?

    During conversation Big Boss talked seriously to me about Z and how it fitted with my career path – he said if I had had that experience then I would have a much better chance.

    Then most of the conversation was about how to get me up to that level. We talked about how I’d been doing some of it, was enjoying it and interested in that field.

    So in this year’s budget, he included extra training – I got sent on a 5-day course to get a starting qualification. He also let my new manager know I was interested in developing those skills and I’ve been shadowing new manager and filling in on occasion to get more experience.

    Big Boss and New Manager let me know that they’re happy with the progress.

    And I’m very happy :)

    If they had said “no, you don’t have the experience,” I’d have been disappointed. Saying “maybe not yet, but let’s get you up to level where it’s more likely to be a yes next time” – and really following through – was a positive experience all round!

    1. Hornswoggler*

      I was talking with a friend yesterday who has been recruiting for two posts and had a number of unsuccessful internal candidates. She is doing a similar thing – thanking them for applying, and saying it gave her a good chance to get to know more about them and what they wanted to do in their career. She is pointing them towards some other roles coming up in the future in the organisation (it’s quite a big company), and talking to them about what they need to do in order to ready themselves for similar roles in the future.

      I think that such an approach shows that you value the person in their current role and for their potential, even though the time and the current job on offer isn’t right for them. Just rejecting them and failing to give any feedback (especially as in my friend’s case, one of the posts was left unfilled), could cause a lot of discontent.

      I’ve just remembered that such as thing happened to me – I applied for a senior role in a small organisation and didn’t get it, and *nobody* gave me any feedback *at all*. Thanks, guys.

    2. Elemeno P.*

      This! My company is enormous and somewhat notorious for not alerting applicants when a position has been filled, so it meant a lot to me when I didn’t get a position and the hiring manager sat down with me and let me know that they were looking for X experience, which I could gain by doing Y. I really appreciated her letting me know that. I ended up doing Y and then getting an even better position than the one I’d been turned down for!

    3. Greener Pastures*

      Ugh, I’m flashing back to that time I applied for a newly created position in the organization. I gave my boss my resume and he smiled and said “oh, great.” Two weeks later he announced to the office that new hire Fergus would start tomorrow. I was so angry that boss didn’t even have a conversation with me about my application. As it turned out, Fergus left in a “take this job and shove it” sort of way within 3 months, I left for greener pastures a few weeks after that. Many many problems with that boss, but biggest flaw was a total lack of communication.

  18. Marmalade*

    Am I the only one who really dislikes it when people eat at their desk? Not just for onions and so on, but in general. A snack or sandwich, maaaaaybe, but food that you have to heat up in the microwave? That’s what the break room is for.
    And this is a personal thing, but I just find it a bit gross to bring food into your working area. i don’t even like to eat at my computer at home.

    Perhaps it’s partly because I’ve worked in several jobs where eating at my desk was either not an option or Just Not Done. IDK, even if it’s just a quick bite to eat, I think it’s good to step away from your computer for a few minutes.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      Can’t agree with you here. Love to eat at my desk. My current office has between 75-100 people in the office on any given day. We have one break room with 4 chairs and one tiny round table….seriously. I also don’t want to be roped into a conversation with someone I only vaguely know while trying to eat my lunch. I also personally like to shop online during my lunch break (on a full size screen, not a cell phone screen) and take of personal phone calls on occasion (quietly mind you) and I just can’t do those things in a break room. Just another perspective. No criticism. We have a few “regulars” who are always in the break room and seem to share your view, regardless of what they’re eating. And I’m cool with that too.

      I do wish we had a larger break room so that groups of us could get together and chat during lunch without having to go out somewhere, but it’s just not possible with the current set-up.

    2. Imaginary Number*

      I also have to disagree, although it depends heavily on the office culture. I rarely have the time to take 30 minutes to eat my lunch and I prefer not to wolf it down.

    3. Rebecca*

      In my case, we don’t have a break room, and we have a 30 minute lunch break. So, it’s either eat at your desk or go outside to a picnic table (there is one, and way too many people to fit anyway), or maybe eat lunch in your car in the parking lot. Sometimes people don’t have very many choices.

      1. Amadeo*

        Yup, I don’t have a breakroom at my new office. It’s at my desk or out to the parking lot on the tailgate of my truck, which is uncomfortable and awkward even on pretty days. We don’t have any picnic tables just outside the building, either.

        I’d have to walk at least two blocks to eat somewhere that’s not at my desk if I brought food for the day. I’m fortunate that my office room-mate is pretty cool with it I suppose, though I’ve apologized for my food before. But if he were to suddenly ask me not to eat at my desk I wouldn’t have anywhere at all to go!

    4. pescadero*

      My last two cubicle jobs didn’t have a break room. They had a small closet sized room with microwave/refrigerator/vending machines.

      You either ate at your desk, walked to another building and ate in the cafeteria, or left the campus.

      1. Natalie*

        My last job had a break room, but as it was an open office it was 10 feet of open air away from my desk. No change in smell would have occurred.

    5. Allison*

      Desk eater here! I like eating lunch at my desk so I can read news sites, or binge read comment threads here and/or on Reddit while I eat. If someone asked me not to eat something at my desk because they were sensitive to the smell, I’d accommodate that, but it’s never come up as an issue. Eating in the break room just doesn’t appeal to me! Either I leave the building for my lunch hour or I eat at my desk. Again, I’m willing to change if someone asked me to, but it doesn’t seem like a common enough pet peeve.

    6. Parenthetically*

      I’m an introvert who teaches in a classroom full of students ALL. DAY. LONG. Most days I can handle about 5 minutes in the break area (an ad-hoc setup of folding tables and chairs outside the kitchen) among all the folks who want adult conversation between classes before I’m peopled out and escape to my desk. I like and enjoy my coworkers, but I need some down time. I’m sure lots of other introverts would be similar.

      1. nhbillups*

        I love your phrase, being “peopled out”. I hope you don’t mind if I “borrow” it :)

    7. Dust Bunny*

      We don’t have a break room, either. There is a room where technically I would not be eating at my desk, but it’s attached to the same common room as my office so anything you could smell me eating at my desk, you could smell just as easily from this other room. There isn’t anywhere else to eat–I could go outside but I’d have to sit on the front steps of the building or eat in my car. And I don’t find it gross at all provided you’re not eating something super messy and, you know, clean your desk sometimes. No more gross than doing homework at the kitchen table, certainly.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        And at least I know that my desk has been cleaned. I’m not responsible for cleaning the kitchenette or this other room, so goodness knows what state they’re actually in.

    8. MuseumChick*

      The break room at my job is incredibly depressing. It has no windows, is cramped, and I’m pretty sure everything in it (chairs, tables, etc) are from the 1970s. My best on the other hand in next to a window. So I prefer to each at my desk for the simple reason the break room bums me out, lol.

    9. On Fire*

      It’s not permitted in my workplace. Period. You can have a drink at your desk, but that’s it. Even snacks are to be eaten in the breakroom. In my line of work, it’s considered Highly Unprofessional (TM).

      1. Parenthetically*

        Whoa. I would lose my marbles. My quiet alone lunchtime is a big part of my self care.

    10. nhbillups*

      I work in a building with approximately 1,000 employees, parts of which are also open to the public. My work area does not have a break room. We have a microwave and a fridge in a room with our office supplies and printer; there is no seating there. We do have a cafeteria, but there is seating for maybe 400-500 people, and our cafeteria is (of course) open to the public, so it’s usually very noisy and crowded in there.

      With that said, most of the people in my area (7 out of 8) have offices, and we will usually shut our doors while we eat, and throw offensively smelly trash away far away from the shared spaces.

      I really don’t like eating in public anyway, but I would literally skip lunch every single day if I had to take it in the cafeteria.

  19. DuckDuckMøøse*

    The annoying thing about people who warm bacon in the office microwave, is that they never bring enough to share with me :(

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      Agreed! Hate it when people bring in heavenly smelling breakfast thereby making me envious of their breakfast while I eat my yogurt.

      1. Allison*

        Ugh, I know, must be nice that some people can eat whatever they want. Must be nice.

    2. Murphy*

      Ha! This is the only thing that bothers me about a bacon smell. It makes me want bacon.

      1. Emi.*

        One of my guyfriends from highschool used to insist that women should wear bacon perfume if we wanted to attract men, on the theory that men would come to wherever we were, looking for bacon, and then be be conditioned to associate us with the joy of bacon. I countered that they would be conditioned to associate us with the disappointment of finding out there wasn’t actually any bacon after all, and he gave up his dreams.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          BOTH of the folks at workstations next to me eat popcorn pretty regularly. It smells so good! We also have a couple of people who bring in fancy breakfasts from the deli downstairs about once a week. I’m not big on hot breakfast, but again, such good smells!

    3. nhbillups*

      Someone I used to work with caused a different issue with reheating bacon: food was never covered, and splattered grease all over the inside of the microwave. Every. Single. Day. And never cleaned it out, or even offered to do so.

      Does anyone else wonder about the state of the homes of people who do this stuff in the office?

      1. Amadeo*

        They may have someone at home that sighs, goes behind them and cleans it up. There’s a similar arrangement in my parents house. My mother started kvetching at me about not covering my food in the microwave one evening (I do, actually, because I don’t like microwave mess either) and while she was venting her spleen my dad came in, stuck a plate of spaghetti in the microwave uncovered and turned it on.

        She apologized to me and turned on him, for all the good it did. I suppose he might clean it out if there was no one else there to keep house, but I could totally envision him doing the same thing and leaving it if he worked in an environment with other people (he owns and runs his own business).

  20. Recruit-o-rama*


    At my company I developed, promoted and pushed and pushed for a formal internal applicant process and was finally able to pilot it. Eventually, we rolled it out to the entire network. It goes like this…

    Internal applicant submits and application- they are qualified, they are interviewed with the candidate pool. If they are chosen, great!

    Internal applicant applies, they are qualified and interview, but they DON’T get the job. They are entered into the career development program (more on that below)

    Internal applicant applied and they are NOT qualified, they are entered into the career development program.

    The employee development program involves several steps.

    1. Meeting with Hiring manager and/or direct supervisor (whichever makes the most sense) where the employee’s desired career is discussed. Discussions about their strengths and areas for improvement and specific skills, training or experience are laid out.

    2. Meeting with HR to discuss ways the company can assist in helping the employee obtain these skills, experience or training. We have tuition reimbursement and informal apprenticeships and mentor ship opportunities and we help them navigate these company benefits. Helping them determine ways they can help themselves obtain these things.

    3. Regular one on ones where progress is tracked and discussed along with review of potential opportunities for promotion or participation in special projects to move the employee forward.

    Our field is a niche technical trade kind of environment so this helps us not only reduce turnover and increase morale, but helps us build a bench for certain senior positions that are very difficult to fill from outside our very small industry.

    OP, I’m not sure if you can or should have an entire program at your company, but you can certainly help Fergus understand what he’s missing, what he’s good at already, specific ways he can increase his eligibility next time and ways in which you or your company can help him get there.

    Good luck!

  21. Imaginary Number*

    OP #1: I don’t agree with AAM that it should be an obligation on the part of the bacon-eater to stop eating their preferred food if you ask them. I agree that it would be the nice thing for someone to do, but it doesn’t make them a jerk if they don’t want to give up their bacon. Onions and bacon are totally normal food that many people eat every day, so it is, in fact, asking the person a huge favor to stopping eating those things at her desk . I would say it’s a much bigger favor than, say, asking someone to stop wearing a particularly pungent perfume. This is especially true if this is the sort of office where many people eat at their desks. If lots of people in the office eat food at their desk, it’s a bit more of an ask, vs. if she’s one of the only ones who doesn’t use the break room.

    I definitely agree with you that going to the bacon-eater directly is much better than the manager, especially since all bacon-eater is doing right now is eating her breakfast.

    1. Jessie the First (or second)*

      I think it is jerky to decide that someone else should suffer actual nausea and vomiting because I want to eat a particular food at my desk, *especially* since it is absolutely a temporary issue.

    2. No, please*

      Food and perfume smells made me sick while pregnant, so there isn’t really much difference for some women. But then I threw up daily for nine months. I took zofran and heartburn meds but it only helped a little. It was a severe, even if temporary, medical issue for me. I’m pretty surprised by the attitudes here about a reasonable accommodation for a coworker.

  22. Emi.*

    I always thought Rocky was a girls’ nickname, to be honest.

    Anyway, you could try Miss Manners’s stock response for unsolicited personal revelations, which is “How nice for you.”

  23. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Seriously, four times? I might come out, once, at work. And maybe mention it again if people are talking about LGBT rights or something and it’s on topic.

    Usually, I just do it by mentioning my wife. :) And I would never try to make others tell me anything. It’s their choice to be out or not, although speaking generally, it’s confusing when someone is good-looking and you don’t know if they are LGBT or not. But that latter part isn’t really work appropriate anyway.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        I should have specified- I didn’t mean conventionally, I meant attractive to me or others that are LGBT. Not that flirting is OK at work! I meant the last bit more in a social context.

      2. Rat in the Sugar*

        Well, presumably you wouldn’t care as much about someone else’s sexuality if you weren’t personally attracted to them? It’s never made any difference to me, but as a woman who is attracted to men, I’ve had other people react strangely when I say a gay man is attractive to me. “But you know he’s gay, right??” ….and that changes the way his face looks how?

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yeah, I’ve noticed that with famous people.

          “FamousActor X is so hot.”
          “But you know he’s gay, right?”
          “Oh no! That means I can’t have him after all! My plan to win his heart is denied!” {shakes angry fist at The Gays.}

          1. fposte*

            Yes, that one always amuses me. The fact that you never met him and never will is probably a larger obstacle.

          2. Lissa*

            Haha, I have never understood why people get all mad when they find out some celebrity is gay, or got married. I mean, a joking “now he will never be mine” is fine, but to really feel that way is so odd!

        2. Gaia*

          I about spit my water out at that. I’ve had the same thing said to me when I comment that a man is good looking and someone points out he is gay. Just because he wouldn’t be interested in me, doesn’t mean I won’t be attracted to him. That isn’t how attraction works.

        3. Elizabeth H.*

          I kind of get it. When you meet people you sort of tend to subconsciously group them in your head into “crush option” “not crush option” depending on their level of availability, even when this is all completely in the realm of fantasy (and there are a lot of people who feel like some very mild flirtatious behavior is an acceptable way to relate even when both people are happily attached . . . I’m one of these people, I think it is a normal part of human life) It’s like a base level reptile brain reflex. If I know someone is married or otherwise unavailable my reptile brain has to jump through a lot more hoops to get to “do I spend any mental energy contemplating how this person is attractive,” if the person is available then it is easier for your reptile brain to get a little gleeful moment of “yay, attractive person”

          I am definitely now picturing an actual reptile caged up inside my head, who is the party responsible for clicking on some guy’s facebook profile over and over again

  24. eplawyer*

    #2 – your co-worker has learned that she doesn’t have to remember to bring her own supplies because you will always help out in order to make your own work easier. The only way to nip this in the bud is to stop loaning her the supplies. She will get the message soon enough.

    #4 – It is possible that Fergus doesn’t even know he is not qualified for the job as his former boss never provided him any information on what he needs to do to move up in the company. You are working on that. So frame it as Alison said. If he is as receptive to what you have done so far, he will understand.

  25. Rebecca*

    #2 – this really stuck out to me: “(for example, one day she did not have a pen and did not complete any work on the audit all day!)” So basically, you have an employee who cannot remember to take a pen with him/her to a job that requires a pen, and did not do the work they were paid to do. This is the real problem.

    Township auditor here. I never go to our audit meetings without my laptop, pens, tablet, and a pencil. I put everything in my laptop bag so I have what I need. Our secretary is great about leaving supplies for us, but I don’t count on them being there in case she might forget.

    If I were managing someone who couldn’t remember to take basic work supplies with them on a regular basis, I’d also question their ability to actually do the job at hand. Having writing implements and perhaps a calculator is such a basic part of the job.

    1. nhbillups*

      I was thinking along the same lines as you. I’m not an auditor, but seriously, if part of the job requires the use of a pen, and coworker routinely forget not just that, but *all* of the supplies needed to actually do the job? That’s craziness. It’s not like this is a “Oh, darn it, I’m so sorry, I [forgot this or that supply, or didn’t realize I’d need ___ today]. Could I borrow one from you?” This is an essential part of this person’s job every day that is routinely being completely disregarded.

    2. Rumpus Time is Over*

      Exactly, this person is an auditor and can’t remember a pen? I’d really be questioning how qualified she is to do her job?

  26. Rusty Shackelford*

    #2 – What if you reminded her before you left for the audit? I know you shouldn’t have to, but it seems like it might be the least annoying solution to say “Jane, please grab your supplies before we head out. You always forget and I’m not packing spares.” This is assuming you leave from your office – if not, maybe drop her an email beforehand.

    And honestly, her not doing any work on the audit because she didn’t have a PEN??? Is completely ridiculous. What did she do, sit and watch? Why didn’t someone say “Jane, you need to go out and find a pen?” And I wouldn’t go to your boss and say “Jane didn’t have a pen so the audit took longer,” but I *would* say “The audit took longer than expected because Jane didn’t work on it. Why not? I don’t know. I mean, she said she didn’t have a pen, but she’s a grown woman who knows how to get a pen, so I’m not sure what was going on there.”

    1. Janice in Accounting*

      We have outside auditors in our office right now, and if I caught one of them not working because she “didn’t have a pen” I would be on the phone with her supervisor in a New York minute. We get charged for those hours and I am not about to waste company money on someone who’s not working for WHATEVER reason, but especially not a stupid one.

  27. Call Me Cordelia*

    #5 – I get this a lot and after the second or third “Dear Ms.” message, typically just begin my next email response to the person with a friendly sentence containing something along the lines of “please, do call me Cordelia!” which I get a bit of a chuckle out of – it’s appropriate, and it’s fun to see when someone catches and appreciates the Anne of Green Gables reference. It is my real name.

    1. Parenthetically*

      But if they reply with “Dear Lady Cordelia,” you know you’ve found a bosom friend.

    2. nhbillups*

      Thank you for responding to my question! (Ashamed) I’ve not read Anne of Green Gables. But Cordelia is (in my albeit unsolicited opinion) a lovely name :)

  28. Dust Bunny*

    #2: No, the consequences thus far have been that everybody else provides her with supplies, so she’s learned that lesson perfectly. Now, what she needs is to be taught a new lesson, so, yes, stop giving her your stuff. Let her get nothing done and then let her take the fall for it with her manager.

  29. RVA Cat*

    #1 – Would it help the OP at all to get an air purifier at her desk? Right now the smell sensitivity is the co-worker’s food, but it could change to being another co-worker’s cologne, etc. Seems a reasonable accommodation so long as the filter isn’t loud.

    (My office is moving to an open plan in a few months and I’m thinking HEPA filters scattered around may be a plan for odor control and to provide some white noise.)

  30. deesse877*

    OP3: I’ve been treated similarly, albeit n a personal context. In my case, although it was never fully hashed out, I think the person believed that they were going to personally liberate me from the closet. It was awkward at first, but eventually very humiliating; I’m not straight, but I also don’t identify the way this person thought I should. I recommend that you address the problem directly, as per the AAM answer; I definitely regret allowing someone to talk down to me like that, and the tension ended up damaging adjacent relationships that are very important to me.

  31. Jessesgirl72*

    OP3: I have a strong suspicion the boss is trying to encourage the OP to come out. There are some people who aren’t as respectful of others comfort and timelines in coming out as they should be, and take it as an affront if a suspected LGBTQ won’t come out to them.

    If pointing out that he’s told you this multiple times hasn’t put an end to the weirdness, I don’t know what will.

    1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      I’m just picturing Avenue Q: “If you were gay…” “I AM NOT GAY!!!”

      1. Rat in the Sugar*

        Yeah, at least OP’s boss isn’t doing a literal song and dance about accepting him. :/

        (If he pulls out actual puppets I think that’s the point where you can take it to HR.)

    2. TL -*

      I also can’t think of too many times where just blurting out your orientation is okay in an office situation. There are 1000 different ways we signal orientation (talking about SOs, complaining about dating, ect…) and there’s a few times where it would be appropriate to say, “well, no, I’m LGBQ so this issue does impact me directly,” and that would all be fine but a random declaration of orientation feels off at work. (Trans* could be different, especially if someone is transitioning. Then I’d want to know name & preferred pronouns so declaring I am trans* makes sense.)

      In a social group it would feel totally appropriate for someone to say, “Hey, I’m gay,” as a stand alone but it would be odd for me to encounter at work.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        I have said it as a standalone, but only if people assume I am straight, or married to a man, or someone is discussing LGBT related current issues. Not just blurting!

        1. TL -*

          I was referring to the boss, not you :) But those are all instances where it would make sense to say, oh, hey, nope, I’m actually queer.

          But the way the question is presented is making me think of Daryl’s “I’m bisexual!” number in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Just awkward sauce all around.

        2. Chinook*

          Honestly, if you blurted it out to me, my first question would be along the lines “and you needed me to know this why?”

  32. Liane*

    Sad that so. many. commenters today think what OP 1 is asking is some combination of mean, severely boundary-challenged, rude, and entitled.

    1. fposte*

      Nobody’s called her mean or rude, though; people are just talking about negotiating rights in a shared space. I personally think the OP will fare better if she tells the co-worker the truth and swears her to secrecy, thus putting both of them on the same team; I certainly wouldn’t lie, as it’s pretty unfair to ask a sacrifice from a co-worker while defending yourself from any vulnerability.

      1. MuseumChick*

        But people shouldn’t be forced to reveal personal medical information. Simple “I’m going through a medical issue” should be enough for most reasonable people.

        1. fposte*

          She’s not being forced; she’s asking for a favor based on it. Frankly, there aren’t many versions of the request that wouldn’t make me think she was pregnant anyway; might as well get the advantage of making the person feel flattered.

          1. MuseumChick*

            If he will only augment his behavior if she reveals her medical condition, that is being forced. Sadly, the risk of miscarriage in the first trimester is enough that most people avoid telling anyone until after the 12 week mark. Why should she be made to give personal information when her co-worker should just take “medical condition” at face value?

            1. fposte*

              Because there’s nothing sacrosanct about pregnancy info, because co-workers have medical conditions involving food too, and because she wants something from them that she’s not automatically entitled to either.

              1. MuseumChick*

                I really disagree. No one should be forced to reveal medical information (in this case pregnancy statue). Again, with pregnancy, there is a high enough chance of miscarriage in the first trimester that is (god forbid) that happens, she is now forced to reveal another medical condition to her co-worker.

                1. fposte*

                  And if she wasn’t asking for people to make changes based on her pregnancy, I’d agree. But now she’s in different waters. “I want you to do something different, that may or may not be a hardship for you, and that may require you to share your own medical condition in discussing it. But I’m not going to tell you about mine, or even tell you for how long this will happen.”

                  I don’t think it’s a horrible thing to ask, but I don’t think people are horrible for not being thrilled with the request, either. Presumably it won’t be too long before the OP tells her manager–I’d for sure ASAP tell the people I asked to change their food plans right after that with the explanation.

                2. pescadero*

                  “No one should be forced to reveal medical information”

                  So if someone wants FMLA or ADA accommodations, they shouldn’t be required to reveal the medical basis for that?

                  Seems pretty ripe for abuse.

              2. Cat*

                This thread is making me think of my diabetic co-worker who eats gefilte fish and pickled herring in the break room. Many of us hate the smell to the point where it makes the break room unusable, but hey, he’s figured out how to manage a medical condition of his own.

              3. automaticdoor*

                Well, pregnancy IS something that, at least once she discloses, she is entitled to accommodations for under the ADA, which could include having her co-workers not eat food like that in front of her. I mean, they COULD have medical conditions involving food that rise to the level of an ADA accommodation for that, but then that’s up to HR to sort out the conflicting accommodations. We’ve had the conversation about ADA conflicts before. So, if there’s a stink (no pun intended) about it, she might have to disclose early in order to get accommodated, but she absolutely is entitled to have her needs taken care of in a reasonable fashion. Having her colleague eat the bacon and onions in the break room instead of at her desk is perfectly reasonable.

                1. automaticdoor*

                  And before anyone jumps in, I know that you don’t ALWAYS get ADA accommodations. But this would, I think, rise to the level, because it would likely be substantially limiting a major life activity per the EEOC (concentrating!) and definitely a major bodily function (digestion). (Google Legal Rights for Pregnant Workers EEOC–not linking because moderation.) I think this would all be reasonable. But again, she WOULD have to disclose, so this wouldn’t be a mandated accommodation until she did.

                  PS, I AM a lawyer and took disability rights law in law school. I don’t practice in the area, but I know the basics and know how to interpret EEOC regs.

                2. fposte*

                  Per the EEOC, pregnancy isn’t automatically covered under the ADA; impairments related to pregnancy, however, may be.

  33. Beancounter Eric*

    Re: Names and nicknames

    I address ALL my coworkers as Mr./Ms. Whomever, and use Sir/Ma’am where appropriate.

    Years ago when I worked as a substitute teacher in an elementary school, drove the 5th graders nuts referring to them as Mr. or Miss Whomever. Please, thank you, and sir/ma’am flummoxed them thoroughly, also.

    And very rarely will I address anyone save extremely close friends or family with a nickname.

    In terms of names, I don’t care for an informal workplace – probably because I have been tagged with nicknames I don’t care for, and have a last name that was deliberately mispronounced by teachers in elementary school to “make it easier for the other students to say”.

    1. nhbillups*

      Wow, that’s…”sucky” is the word that comes to mind…of your elementary school teachers!

      I was raised to address people as Mr./Ms. FirstName (with the occasional Mr./Ms. LastName), and to use sir and ma’am. I do still use sir and ma’am, but I like to address individuals by name as well. I always begin corresponding with “Mr./Ms. LastName”, unless Correspondent has already addressed me by first name (or signed FirstName in a message to me). So really, I err on the side of formality, but follow the other person’s example when I’m given it.

  34. EP*

    #5- Please remember, if its an external email it might be their SOP to address people with titles – my organization addresses everyone with titles, and even if they ask me to call them something else (on the phone, in person, or via email) its always Dr. Ferguson not James. (With VERY VERY few exceptions – we have one board member who WILL NOT answer email or in person if we call her by anything but her first name – it drives or CEO nuts but she has been around longer than the CEO so she “wins” that one.)

    1. nhbillups*

      Thank you for your insight, EP! I am LW5 today. It didn’t occur to me that there might be a SOP about that. I often say “I have three sisters, I answer to pretty much anything” (which is true), but I generally prefer being called FirstName. I’ve never worked somewhere that requires the use of titles even against the individual’s request!

      1. EP*

        You would not believe how often people ask us to call them by their first name, and (especially when their last name is long, or hypenated, etc) it would make our lives easier but I KNOW if I did I’d be having a conversation with my manager – I’d rather have you confused by my over politeness than get pulled in to an office for that.

        Usually I say something like “I’ll stick to Dr. Ferguson-White!” or “I’m not comfortable with that” but I deal with veterinarians, MDs and PhDs often so I usually say I’m just respecting the amount of work they put in.

        1. a different Vicki*

          I’m happy to be called by my surname iff people can pronounce it correctly, which it seems like about 5% of Americans can. If someone insists on calling me by a mispronounced version after I’ve corrected their pronunciation and suggested they call me Vicki, I may be grumpy enough to keep saying “Correctly-pronounced-name” rather than answering their question or request. My name isn’t “Ms. Common Mangling of Name,” it’s either “Ms. Surname” or “Vicki.”

          1. EP*

            Oh I work at an international organization and while I’m usually sufficient at most Western European surnames – if its anything I think I’m going to stumble over I usually ask them to say their last name slowly so I can write it phonetically- I have a bunch of post-its around my computer screen of my regular callers until I know how to pronounce their names with out question.

        2. jwg*

          So interesting. Does anyone have people who just really don’t abide by the name by which you introduce yourself?
          In my department everybody has their doctorate, and everybody goes by “Dr.” at work except for the student trainees, who go by their first names. It’s just the department-wide approach, and it sort of helps to separate the supervisors (licensed) from the supervisees (for the sake of people on staff as well as our patients). I’ve never been a super-formal person in general, but I’m a woman and I look young so I actually do like using my title, because I think it helps the families I serve to know that I’m a professional, qualified, etc., and it lets them know I’m actually on staff here. So when I greet my patients I introduce myself as “Dr. XYZ.” And yet I’m always amazed at how many of them will then go out of their way to call me by my first name. I’ve had people ask what my first name is (to which I reply, “oh, I prefer to go by ‘Dr. XYZ'”), and then some will actually crane their neck to look at my business card and see my first name and call me by that, or (after the appointment, since I will have given them my card, which includes my full name), they’ll send me an email calling me by either my first name (think “Jen”) or a nickname that only my family and childhood friends use (think “Jenny” – which is definitely not on my card). Often in those same emails they’ll refer to other people in the department they’ve met or whom they’re seeing for follow-up, and they’ll refer to those people as “Dr.” I’ll write back, sign my name as “Dr. XYZ,” and they’ll write me back again with the greeting, “Hey Jenny,” (again, not their nickname to use) at the top. I’ve had multiple families do this, but in that circumstance, it’s totally infantilizing and obnoxious.

          Once I’ve corrected people a couple of times, though, I don’t know how to keep saying, “Please don’t call me that,” without being rude. Ugh. Anyone else run into this?

  35. Beancounter Eric*

    In re. #2 – Fire them. Barring that, send them home with a note in their file to assign them to lesser tasks in the future….such as inventorying paper clips and ballpoint pens.

    They can’t prep properly for the job, they need to find another line of work.

    This from the man with seven pens, three pencils, and a click eraser in his shirt pocket, a box of assorted writing implements in his gear bag along with multiple pads and journal books, calculators, etc.

  36. Rusty Shackelford*

    Regarding #1, I’m disappointed (but not surprised) that so many people feel it’s not an obligation, but is a huge favor not to eat strong-smelling foods in the office, to the point that they make others feel like they’re going to vomit. I’ve always thought the unwritten rules for a forced shared space were that you remembered that it wasn’t your home, and were considerate of the other people there. And there are lots of things we do at home that are generally considered inappropriate at work. Clipping/filing/painting your nails where ever you want, listening to music so loudly that it can be heard outside of your immediate area, listening to music with headphones and singing along, talking on a speakerphone without being behind a closed door, spraying the area with strong air freshener, walking around barefoot, drinking the last of the coffee without starting a new pot, leaving dirty dishes in the sink, letting it mellow if it’s yellow, and yes, even microwaving and eating foods that are generally regarded as stinky by the majority of the local population.

    I wonder which of you I work with.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      But, as posted above, almost everything is smelly to somebody out there. I would never think onions or bacon would be on the list, tbh.

      If someone asked me not to do it, I’d be happy to comply. But it’s not the default.

      1. Nan*

        I once had someone tell me she didn’t like the smell of my oranges, they made her queasy. Oranges? Really?

        1. Rebecca*

          I loathe bananas, and the smell of them makes me extremely queasy. I don’t even like to touch them. We all have our quirks.

          1. fposte*

            Bananas and bacon are two things that I really like when I eat and then really don’t want to smell when I’m done.

            1. Parenthetically*

              My mother is only allowed to cook fried green tomatoes on the burner of the gas grill outside. It’s the one smell my dad will absolutely not tolerate in the house. He’ll eat them happily, but for some reason the smell after they’re cooked is stomach-churning to him.

        2. Myrin*

          They don’t make me queasy but the smell of oranges is actually one of the only ones I react strongly to – it’s so pungent and acrid, somehow.

        3. Observer*

          Yup. I *love* citrus, but it’s an extremely difficult smell for some people. I mean difficult in that it makes them ill or irritates their throat. And some people really are allergic to citrus as well.

        4. Liz in a Library*

          Orange oil in the peels (juice is usually fine) will make me cough a lot, sometimes until I vomit. Several times, I’ve needed my rescue inhaler.

    2. MuseumChick*

      My issues is the argument that the OP should reveal personal medical information. That really isn’t reasonable. IF your co-worker tells you that they have a medical issues that is aggravated by X, then as a reasonable person you should abstain as much as possible from X and not pry further.

      1. fposte*

        If the OP had said that there was a break room down the hall, that would considerably mitigate the request, but since she didn’t I’m betting there isn’t.

        And I’m really not arguing that it’s cool for the person to insist on eating onions if the OP’s throwing up; I’m just saying that this is a favor being asked, not an obligation on either side, and keeping that in mind when you consider the approach is wise for your longer-term relationship.

    3. George Willard*

      Agreed–disappointed but not surprised that people are aggressive about their own “rights” to the detriment of everyone around them.

      1. MuseumChick*

        Agreed. Is avoiding eating bacon for a few months really that much of a hardship? Onions are a little trickier because they are in so many things but still easy enough to avoid.

      2. Rumpus Time is Over*

        Ok, so this co-worker is pregnant, and my other co-worker has scent allergies, and this other just constantly bitches until people stop doing what they don’t like. At some point it gets to where you just don’t care about your co-workers comfort/discomfort anymore.

        1. Observer*

          You don’t see a difference between the “bitchy” co-worker (nicely gendered term there) and the ones who are ill?

          The fact that some people are jerks is not a really good reason to be a jerk to others. And “don’t care about people’s discomfort” is being a jerk. I get not being able to accommodate. But “Don’t care, won’t even try” is another level.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          That’s a good point. In a perfect world, it would be easier to accommodate these sorts of requests, but the thing is lots of people have issues around smell of different severity–and not just severity, different willingness to raise a stink (pun intended) about not being accommodated. It can make things a PITA to deal with, especially as someone who has minimal time/money to devote to meals.

  37. Wanna-Alp*

    #2: I suggest getting a pen and other borrowables from supplies. Decorate the pen generously. Maybe with bunny ears and fluffy bits. Decorate other supplies and wrap them all up in crinkly pink cellophane paper.

    Next time it happens: “Oh, Jane, did you not bring your own supplies? Here you go. I brought spares for you.” Hand over the package. *crinkle* *crinkle*.

    Not only will you and your colleagues be amused instead of annoyed for once, but I’ll bet buttons to bees she never does it again.

    P.S. Don’t forget your own supplies.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Honestly, I would totally forget my office supplies if it meant people replaced them with Hello Kitty stuff.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          I was going to suggest Justin Beiber pens, but I’m scared to see if they actually exist because I share an Amazon account with my partner and don’t want to answer awkward questions about what Amazon is recommending.

  38. Delta Delta*

    re: Smells – I once worked on a floor with 3 departments with a total of about 30 employees on the floor. A woman in another department was pregnant and was completely nauseated by the smell of microwave popcorn. Our floor had 1 break room that we all shared. My department and the 3rd all agreed to stop eating microwave popcorn while she was pregnant. Her own department – very ironically, the HR department – had employees who refused to stop microwaving popcorn, even though it was making their own colleague barf at her desk. I said something to one of them one day and she literally whined back at me, “but I won’t have a snaaaaaaaaack if I can’t eat microwave popcorn!” It struck me as so tone deaf that they wouldn’t consider not making their colleague vomit by eating a different snack.

    1. MuseumChick*

      This is basically how I see the OP’s situation. It’s really disheartening that so many people who align more with popcorn girl than with a pregnant woman.

      1. fposte*

        But it’s not simply a taking sides situation; it’s about the nature of expectation, and sacrifice, and vulnerability. So I think it’s kind of a cool conversation, actually.

        1. Cat*

          Yeah, I agree with that. I haven’t seen a single person saying “oh, just keep eating it, whatever.” What people are saying is much more nuanced than that.

        2. Taylor Swift*

          It may be an interesting conversation, but I’m definitely disheartened to see so many people are dead set against helping out a coworker if it causes even a minor inconvenience.

            1. tigerStripes*

              Seems like there are a lot of people who think this is a really big ask. I’d rather someone ask me to avoid eating something at my desk for a few months than have to deal with that person vomiting nearby. The smell, the sound, no thanks.

          1. MuseumChick*

            Agree. It’s sad that so many people expect their co-worker who asks for something minor (please avoid eating bacon at your desk for a limited period of time) as something just SO inconvenient they would need a detailed explanation before complying. Instead of respecting a co-workers privacy and accepting that demanding medical information is extremely rude.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              It’s not cut and dry black and white like you’re describing. It is an ask. How big of an ask depends on the individual situation. When you makes asks, you’re much more likely to get accommodated if you give a reasonable reason.

              Also, you have to weigh it against each person. If someone is always reasonable, I would always comply even if they didn’t provide a reason in this instance. If someone is always a PITA, I’d likely defer to HR if they refused to give even a basic reason (medical issue, allergy, w/e), and instead told me that I was being extremely rude in asking why I needed to make an accommodation.

    2. Allison*

      Merp? Why couldn’t they eat . . . anything else? Chips? Popcorn popped in a factory? Why does their snack have to be microwaved popcorn? Was that all they brought?

      Microwave popcorn is one of those foods that people should probably just not have at work. The smell is so strong, and spreads all over the office, and it’s so easy to burn if you’re not careful, which smells awful and sets off the fire alarm. It’s not necessary.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I just don’t know!

        FWIW, I think microwave popcorn smells like aspirin, and it weirds me out so I choose not to make it.

    3. nhbillups*

      My boss officially banned microwave popcorn from our office because of one employee who would burn it every time. That employee has since resigned, and occasional microwave popcorn is now permitted.

  39. Camellia*

    #2 reminds me of a team I joined, and discovered that one team member never, and I mean never, read his emails or looked at his Outlook calendar. How did he manage? The other team members went to him personally to tell him the content of their emails and also to tell him if he had a meeting he had to get to. So the first time he sat next to me in a meeting that required a follow-up meeting he said, “Will you tell me when it is time for the next meeting?” and I replied, “Nope. You’re a big boy and you can handle that yourself.”

    I don’t even remember if he made it to that next meeting or not, but he never asked me again to do that.

    1. Allison*

      Wow. I mean just . . . wow. How is any manager okay with people not taking care of their own stuff like that?

    2. MoodyMoody*

      Yes, this, Camellia! I work with several other ESOL teachers, and I check my email at least twice a day. One of my colleagues spoke to two other colleagues about a meeting on Saturday, and they were both shocked to hear about it. We have had five emails about it, and there are posters about it all over the building. However, they also don’t check their emails. I send information by email often, and they never see it. It drives me nuts!

  40. Allison*

    #1) I eat at my desk. A whole grain bagel with cream cheese, some chips, seasoned chicken with rice, veggies, etc. I don’t see anything wrong with eating those things at my desk, since they don’t seem to produce long, lingering smells, and no one seems bothered by it. If someone did tell me that a certain seasoning blend was bothering them, I’d refrain from eating it around that person! I’d either time it so I only bring in chicken with that smell when they were working from home (if they have a schedule), eat that flavor in the break room if/when I did bring it in, or just stop using it on my work lunches. Not a big deal!

    But, while I’d accommodate that person regardless, it would make a difference how they asked. I’d be put off if she stormed into my cubicle and angrily told me to eat that disgusting chicken somewhere else, as though she thought I was being obnoxious on purpose, but I’d be way more understanding if she came up to me saying “hey, not sure you know this, but that smells really strong and it’s [distracting/hard to breathe/making me queasy], is there any way you could avoid eating it at your desk? I’d really appreciate it!”

    #2) Your coworker is a professional adult who needs to learn to bring her own stuff, but when she’s on the job, she does need stuff to write with. I’d try lending her a pen, but saying “okay, but you need to bring your own stuff going forward,” getting increasingly serious about that each time, eventually letting your agitation show a little – “Jane, I’m serious, you need to start bringing your own pens.” If she claims she knows but just can’t remember, I’d start reminding her on the way out, or suggest she find ways to remember, because it’s important she has the tools to do her job.

  41. The Optimizer*

    I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask someone not eat at their desks but to ask them not to bring in any subjectively “strong smelling” perceived foods is completely different. Is this person eating onion sandwiches or just having a sandwich, salad, or other hot dish with onions in/on it? To ask someone not to eat anything with onions even in the break room seems to be a bit much.

    I had a very good friend a while back who developed a sensitivity to the smell of popcorn when she was pregnant. Unfortunately for her, our group sat right by the break room. People in our department were very understanding of her issue and either didn’t have popcorn or went to another floor to pop it or eat it, but we couldn’t control the whole floor in such a large company. She understood it was more her issue than anything and just got over it. I’m still not sure I’m over her weird thing for pineapple dipped in ranch dressing that she also had when pregnant, however :-)

    1. Observer*

      Sometimes you can’t just “get over it”.

      I do get that it’s not always a simple problem to solve. But, it does start with understanding that sometimes we’re not dealing with simple preference.

  42. Lemon Zinger*

    #2 is an issue many of us see in lazy/unmotivated/oblivious coworkers. My teammate “Jane” has been with us since August and STILL doesn’t reliably bring her laptop to offsite events. She also frequently neglects to bring a sweater, pen, water bottle, snack, etc. When she complains about it, I say “That’s too bad” in a neutral tone. I don’t want to show sympathy for something that is 100% her fault.

    When her neglect impacts our ability to work, I inform our supervisor, who has spoken to Jane about this a few times.

  43. GarlicMicrowaver*

    Ehh. It seems no one can win the battle of office food scents. Others complain over popcorn and hard-boiled eggs. Some cringe at garlic wafting through the air. Others are jealous of someone else’s pizza and how gooey and amazing it looks and smells. Many are drawn to- and some are repulsed by- “ethnic” (for lack of a better word) foods. The problem is, what’s offensive to some is pleasing to others. Instead of asking a coworker to be mindful of your trimester issues, is it possible to ask your boss for permission to take a walk during lunch hour due to medical reasons? Not to play devil’s advocate, but since this issue is so contextual, if you’re the one with the issue, you should probably take action, no?

  44. Robbenmel*

    Cookies? Is there anybody who doesn’t like the smell of cookies in the office? #justwondering

  45. Picky Patty*

    Honestly, the bacon issue is the reason I spent my high school career not eating lunch, and still have issues eating anything around people I don’t know well. I feel extremely judged, and avoid any outing that involves eating when possible. I’m sure I’m an outlier, but I think it’s worth considering how it will affect your coworker before you ask them to stop eating a pretty common food. There’s really no good compromise, I don’t think.

  46. Niccola M.*

    Re OP#2: did anyone else get an ADHD vibe about Jane? From personal experience, that sounds so ADD.

    I like the idea of presenting Jane with her own special Bag Of Supplies, perhaps in a bright dollar store fabric pencil case or something. I for one find making and keeping a little kit helpful in this regard. But it took some “hey, could I borrow a pen/Wite-Out/the stapler” moments before I made up my little kit.

  47. Dankar*

    I’m not sure where I fall on the smelly foods issue, since I’m very sympathetic to the queasy coworker. But! I currently can’t afford to eat anything but leftovers for lunch (I’m assisting my partner with his rent in a different city until he can join me, since I took my new job mid-lease). My pasta dinner tonight had both onions and bacon in it. A request not to eat those things would translate into not being able to make the dinners I enjoy, which is a no-go for me.

    Where I work, the break room is an unheated basement kitchen two floors below me, so I guess I could very uncomfortably eat there. Beyond that, my office is so understaffed that I would be wary about leaving my office for an extended amount of time. Luckily, I have my own office so I’m not particularly worried about the “egregious” smell of my food.

    I tend to think that if smelly-food-eater denies a kind request to hold off, we should remember that people come from a variety of financial, cultural and physical circumstances that might make such a request impossible or unreasonable. If waiting for a few moments until the smell has passed has worked for the OP so far, could it not work for the foreseeable future? If the coworker is unwilling to change her habits, anyway.

  48. Cassie*

    #2 – this reminds me of years ago when our (pre-pro) ballet company were at an event out of town, and one of my roommates kept asking to borrow my key card for our hotel room because hers didn’t work. After about the 5th time, I handed her the key card and said “Rachel, you need to go to the front desk and ask them to fix your key card”. So she did.

    In the workplace, ironically, I don’t know how direct I could be with a coworker. If it was someone I was close with, I’d say “agh! again?! you need to remember your stuff!” while handing over some supplies. But if it was most of my coworkers, I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying anything at all. I’d probably end not bringing extra supplies so that I would have a perfectly valid reason why I couldn’t share. (I usually bring at least 2 pens with me to training classes, for color-coding and in case a pen dies).

  49. Iain Clarke*

    #2 Isn’t the number one qualification for an auditor “attention to detail”?

    I like the idea of loaning a hideous pen… but my suggestion would be to demand a deposit, as there is also an issue if these items never being returned.

    $5 refundable deposit for a 10c bic biro will soon teach them to return things…. Or you’ll no longer resent the 2500 dollars you made per year carrying spare pens.

  50. Miss Herring*

    OP#2 – Yeah, it’s a pain that she forgets to bring her own supplies. When I went on audits, I started going to all the my-level-and-lower audit members (especially new hires fresh out of school) and saying “Let’s all go to the supply closet now to stock our audit bags. We don’t want to be borrowing pens from the client!” People usually had pens anyway, but it wasn’t until I started this that people had other things such as mechanical pencil lead refills, staplers, sticky notes, and power strips. Is this your responsibility? No, but it would certainly help things go more smoothly. If you are going to complain about her to the boss, make it about things that won’t leave you looking petty, no matter how justified you may be.

Comments are closed.