calling in sick with cramps, application system is flagging me as using “inappropriate words,” and more

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

1. Calling in sick with cramps

I tend to get pretty crippling menstrual cramps on the first day of my period — not enough that I’ve seen a doctor about it, but enough that it cramps my style for an entire day. Sometimes, I feel well enough to get things done, but not well enough to be off the couch and in public.

What should I say to my manager (a man some years older than me) if I need to call in sick? I am tempted to just say “I’m sick” and leave it at that, but I’m worried that it’ll look fishy when I come into work the next day totally fine, since most illnesses don’t put you out of commission for just one day.

I don’t want to make him uncomfortable or give TMI, but I *really* don’t want to come off as lying. We have a pretty good rapport and have talked about marginally personal stuff before, and I know he’s a staunch feminist so can’t imagine him being too squeamish about female body stuff. I’d also like the opportunity to ask if I could work from home instead of using a sick day, if that seems reasonable. It would be ideal to do it every month (assuming that first day didn’t fall on a weekend), although maybe half the time it’s tolerable enough that I *can* go in, just really don’t want to.

I’m wondering if it seems ok to say something like: “I’m dealing with cramps today, but I still have work I’d like to get done — can I work from home for the day, or should I take a sick day instead?”

It’s not going to look weird to take a single sick day and then show up the next day; that’s actually really, really common. The bigger issue is that if it’s happening every month with no context, that’s going to eventually be noticeable.

Given that, my advice would be to say something like this to him: “I get horrific cramps one day a month and would like to work remotely that day if I’m able to work but not able to easily come in. I wanted to just ask you about it overall rather than asking monthly.”

(And then if there’s a day where the cramps won’t even let you work remotely, just handle that like a normal sick day … with no worries about it looking odd that it’s not followed by a second day.)

2. Application system is flagging me as using “inappropriate words”

I’m currently on my first real post-grad job hunt and your website has been super helpful in terms of cover letters and resumes! However, I’ve come across somewhat of a conundrum while job searching. What should I do when a job application that requires me to submit my resume in text form flags some words as inappropriate? And I’m not talking about any four letter words or sexual innuendos. One HR website I’ve applied through, in two different industries, has flagged the words “refugee” and “religious” in my resume, even though those words are integral in my resume; the word “refugee” is literally part of my current job title! Is this scaring potential employers off if/when they see my application has “inappropriate” words? And if so, how the heck do I get around it?

There’s a small icon that’s clickable right underneath the text box, and when you click on it, another window pops up with the “Word Filter Report.” It lists how many words, how many unique words, how many inappropriate words, and then lists the inappropriate words with how many times they’re used. This hasn’t barred me from submitting and doesn’t outright say “You have a resume with inappropriate words” upon submitting the application, but it still makes me wonder if hiring managers can see that something’s up with my resume.

This is just a weird part of some online application systems. You can ignore it. The vast majority of hiring managers aren’t paying any attention to it and in many/most cases won’t even see it (and even among the small number who might, it’s pretty widely known that this kind of filter will flag things that aren’t actually problematic in the context they’re being used in). It’s not like the hiring manager is getting a report that says “this candidate used questionable language.”

3. Can I tell another team to stop doing my team’s work?

I work for a company that has a headquarters in one state and several remote offices in another state. My team is based in one of the remote offices. Over the years, many of my team’s job functions have slowly been assumed by other teams at corporate. It’s not that my team is shirking their responsibilities; they are already performing these tasks. I think the problem is that the corporate teams may not know that these are already being handled by our team. I’m worried about losing our jobs because people don’t realize what we do.

If I find out that someone in corporate is working on something I normally work on, is there a tactful way to tell that person that that is something I handle and they should back off and send those tasks to me?

Two things: First in the moment, it’s fine to say to the person, “I saw you are working on teapot orders. I normally handle everything having to do with teapot orders — can I ask you to forward that stuff over to me to handle when you see it, so that I’m in the loop on all of it? There can be some fussy bits that wouldn’t be intuitive if you didn’t have the whole order file.”

But second, talk to your boss about the pattern. If it’s happening more than very rarely, it’s something she should be aware of and addressing more in a more big-picture way. Or, if you’re a manager yourself (I’m not entirely sure from your letter), then you have standing to talk with managers over at headquarters to explain the problem and try to come up with a broader solution.

4. Having women-only bathrooms without men-only bathrooms

At my workplace, we had four single-person bathrooms (separate entrances and not shared once inside). These were gender neutral so anyone could use them.

I think in response to people being perceived to leave the bathroom in a mess (several emails went around on the topic) and complaints from female employees (I’m guessing here), management have placed a sign on one of these bathrooms indicating that it is for women only. Occasionally male people are caught(!) using the women’s bathroom, and a “reminder” email goes around.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ve stayed out of toiletgate, but I guess my thoughts are 1) not that big a deal so don’t worry, 2) single person gendered bathrooms are dumb, 3) if they’re going to gender bathrooms, it should apply both ways, and 4) I resent the implication that all men leave bathrooms in a dirty state (even if that may be true :) ). Interested in your thoughts!

Yeah, having a women-only bathroom while all the others are gender-neutral does imply that women are getting special treatment because men are gross. I’d say it’s moderately annoying, but not so egregious that it demands that good people fight back … but that if you want to advocate for a different system, it would be entirely reasonable to do so.

5. I saw a part-time job opening that would be perfect if it were full-time

I am in the private sector of a relatively small field where jobs are hard to come by. Recently, a job at a nearby academic institution has become available that I am well qualified for. I have wanted to break into the academic sector for a long time. It is a data management job, not a professorship. The problem is the job is part-time. I need full-time work. Is there advice you can give me on the etiquette and protocol for applying for a part-time job I would want if it was full-time or would it be poor form to submit my application materials?

If they’re advertising it as part-time, it’s very unlikely that they want to make it full-time. There may only be part-time work, or there may only be a part-time salary in their budget. So the only real way you can do this is by contacting them and saying something like, “I realize that this is part-time position, and I’m really only looking for full-time work. But I wanted to reach out and let you know that I’d love to talk with you if you ever decide to hire for a full-time role in this area.” Attach your resume, etc.

You’d do this not really expecting anything to come from it — since after all, they’re hiring for something different than you’re a match for — but if on the off chance it turns out that they’ve already been on the verge of realizing that maybe they need someone full-time after all, then great.

The point here, though, is that your framing — both to them and to yourself — needs to be “I realize this is unlikely, but just in case.”

{ 414 comments… read them below }

  1. Argh!*

    Re #1: Could this be an FML qualifying condition? That would solve the problem of having to explain things and you would be able to save sick leave for the things everyone else uses it for, like the flu.

    I suffered this way for decades until finally being diagnosed with a disorder after it had gotten way out of hand. I now take special hormones for it. Cramps that interfere with your life are *NOT* normal and the medical profession takes it more seriously nowadays. I didn’t go to a specialist in my teens or 20s and now I wish I had.

    1. MillersSpring*

      OP1: If your older male boss is married to a woman, he may be quite familiar with cramps and sympathetic. But I think most illness details are TMI. I’d rather say (or hear), “I’m sick and need to stay home.” Or for when you feel halfway OK, maybe, “I’m sick, but I probably can get some work done. You may see me online or responding to emails later.”

      1. Observer*

        On the other hand, he might be “Huh? My wife / sister(s) / Daughter(s) never had such problems.”

        Really, the best thing is if he doesn’t try to compare or use any of his female relatives as a yardstick. OP says she gets cramps, she gets cramps. And that’s all the boss needs to consider.

        1. PaperTowels*

          Exactly. I’m female and I’ve never had a menstrual cramp or any problems with my periods. I can totally imagine a shoddy boss being all ‘huh? It’s not that bad’ if he wants to be an a*s and has never experienced the women in his life suffering with theirs.

        2. TootsNYC*

          Remember that recent Twitter storm over the guy who said, “As a guy, I think menstrual pain is a myth.”

          Hopefully the guy’s apparent feminism won’t lead there. And of course, she can always say, “Each person is very different.”

          But I think she just has to decide what her risk is with him.

          1. Lissa*

            Was that the same guy who said women could “control” their periods and just weren’t trying hard enough, therefore menstrual products shouldn’t be covered by insurance etc? That was….special.

    2. Paul*

      That was my thought but I have 0 idea if cramps would count (unless there’s a diagnoses of something like endometriosis or some other condition). FMLA doesn’t have to be paid though, and they can require you to use your sick time first, so I’ll always take PTO over FMLA if possible (cause, money).

      I’ll also say that your boss may put 2 and 2 together if your period is regular and your missed days occur predictably-we don’t have periods but we know they happen (well…most of us).

      1. nonegiven*

        My sister used to call my husband at work to come get her and take her home from high school and he could time it, by my cycle. He had no doubt why she called.

        1. misplacedmidwesterner*

          I get severe cramps (endometriosis). I had to go home from high school more than once. One time I called my dad for a pick up and he picked me up, but gave me a lecture about not faking/how important school was. When my mom got home from work, she read him the riot act (she also has endometriosis). He apologized and never questioned a pick up again. My mom has stories about wanting to miss a day in high school but my grandmother (no endometriosis) who was a nurse making her go.

          So yeah I could see a boss being like “huh is it really that bad” because if you haven’t been there, and all you know is a media perception of “cramps” you might not know at all. Still worth a try.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            No sign of endometriosis here, but I had really bad cramps as a teenager–they kept me out of school at least one or two days a month. Flooded the bed often at night too. I was so grateful to go on birth control pills as an adult. It meant I could work and did not have to worry about calling out because of cramps or having to run to the bathroom all the time to clean up.

    3. phedre*

      I have a friend whose cramps are so debilitating that she has an accommodation from her work so she can stay home for a day or two every month. She needed to provide a doctor’s note and submit paperwork for intermittent FMLA, but her job was happy to work it out with her.

      1. TootsNYC*

        A doctor’s note might help with not FMLA, but with the argument for creating a work-from-home option for her.

        1. Not a Morning Person*

          It would help with FMLA, too. A doctor’s assessment is often required for the leave to be covered under FMLA, which would be a great protection for anyone who needs time away to care for themselves or a family member.

    4. all aboard the anon train*

      Maybe, but it’s very hard to get approval. I have severe endometriosis and it’s never been covered under FMLA. Two to three days a month put me out of commission. I can at least work from home, but my health insurance has never considered endo reasonable under FMLA.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        That sucks. Close coworker has endo – didn’t know much about it before but it’s clear it has a huge impact.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          TMI warning: beyond the painful cramps, I get muscle spasms in my back, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, migraines, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Sometimes it’s manageable, but the bad days put me completely unable to do anything. Sometimes I can’t even use tampons because it hurts like hell. I try to explain this to the insurance company each time I get a new insurance plan and they’ve always said it’s not serious enough to be covered, which is ridiculous.

          1. Misc*

            Ignore if this is something you’re well aware of, but the FODMAPs diet is supposed to be very helpful for people with endometriosis (more helpful than it is just for people with standard IBS issues)

            1. all aboard the anon train*

              It actually made it worse for me and my doctor recommended against going on it.

        2. Kelly*

          My younger sister has very severe endo, severe enough to need surgery. Hers was bad enough that multiple doctors suggested going off her medication for a year before she would even try to get pregnant and getting a hysterectomy. It’s better handled and controlled now than it was when she was in high school and college, thanks to the surgery and medication. Even now, her periods are bad enough that she doesn’t go out and if she needs groceries, gets them delivered.

        1. always in email jail*

          I was confused by that as well, how do FMLA and insurance relate? Isn’t that between you and your doctor?

        2. fposte*

          Yeah, that’s a weird thing–I wonder what the confusion is there? Is it possible that you’re talking about short-term disability, all aboard? That’s an insurance thing. FMLA is just a legally protected absence that doesn’t have to be paid. It’s usually between your workplace and you with a medical form to support you.

          Another possibility is that your work suspects this wouldn’t count legally under FMLA and is choosing to deny in the expectation that it’s reasonably safe (which I think they’d be wrong on), but even there that’s a weird wording.

          1. all aboard the anon train*

            Oh yeah, I meant short-term disability. That’s what I get for writing a comment at an hour when I should have been in bed. Oops!

      2. Not a Morning Person*

        I’m curious…what does health insurance have to do with approval for FMLA?

    5. Marzipan*

      I too did also want to suggest to #1 that this is a problem worthy of being taken to the doctor, if that’s an option for her (I know US healthcare is weird). OP, you shouldn’t have to suffer every month, and there are things that can be done about it.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yes, I think this is an example of humans being able to treat absolutely anything as normal, and surprised that when they switch jobs the new place doesn’t make them submit their expense reports written on marshmallow peeps–it actually was changeable all along.

        If a medical condition is going to regularly impact your work, I think it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about it. Both because they might have an easy fix and you will wish you had brought it up years ago (as with so many other things in life), and because if there’s not an easy fix then you are more covered asking for any accommodation. If you just assume your migraines, or allergies, or back spasms, or other recurring disabling symptom is the way things are and can’t possibly change–you might be wrong. Just like assuming that there is no way work could possibly give you an accommodation for a problem and so you never ask and then you do–and your boss is like “Sure.”

    6. MommyMD*

      It would not be unless she sought medical treatment for it and nothing worked. FMLA is not as easily obtained as it once was.

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        I’m not sure what you mean by that, FMLA has actually been easier and easier to obtain over time as courts have issued decisions loosening the definition of “serious health condition” and “care” quite a bit.

        There is no requirement in FMLA that medical treatment has not worked.

    7. Thlayli*

      “Cramps that interfere with your life are *NOT* normal”

      This 100%

      I read somewhere that a massive percentage of cases of endometriosis (something like 90%) go undiagnosed because sufferers are under the impression that it is normal to have debilitating cramps once a month.

      OP please do go see a doctor, one who takes you seriously. There is of course a chance that you do not have a medical condition at all and that you are just one of the unlucky ones, however there is also a chance that you have a condition. Any condition may or may not be treatable. Some conditions that cause menstrual cramps can also cause other problems so it is a good idea to get checked out and armed with as much information as possible.

      Also even you don’t have a medical condition it may well be that you can get some relief e.g. If you are not currently trying to conceive and you have no moral objection to hormonal contraception, there are some methods of contraception that can actually prevent you from having a period each month in the first place. Most pills for example will let you run one month into the next, something I’ve done many times if I have a particular event coming up and want to avoid my period at a particular time.(it’s definitely not safe to do this continually with a standard pill though – but I believe there are now injections that mean your period is less frequently than monthly on a regular basis.

    8. op1*

      Hi! OP from #1 here – I really appreciate you sharing your experience with me. I guess I just know SO many women who suffer with cramps, I’ve always sort of assumed it’s somewhat normal or at least not something to be super concerned about. When I’ve talked to doctors about it in the past, they’ve just recommended avoiding caffeine, eating healthy, etc & never acted like it seemed like a potential medical condition. I think you’re right & I should probably try to get it checked out. Thank you!

      1. TL -*

        Cramps that prevent you from working are very abnormal and a good OB-GYN (not a primary care doctor; demand to see an OB-GYN and find one that listens) will work with you on treatments that can help. The words “I have cramps so bad I can’t function; I can’t even go to work,” will be really helpful.

        1. blackcat*

          +1 to this.

          I get terrible cramps, that suddenly got worse in my mid-late 20s (apparently, this can happen! Who knew!). I was so happy when a doc was willing to do ALL THE TESTING to figure out what could be wrong. Unfortunately, no answer was found and I wasn’t willing to go for hormonal solutions, so it didn’t get better. But it was really great to have a doctor say, “No, your period should not interfere with your day to day life. If it is, we should investigate.”

          Plus, it’ll be easier to get accommodations at work if you can genuinely say, “I’m working with doctors to figure out a longer term solution. In the mean time, it would be very helpful if I could work from home one day a month.” I think that would go over better than simply asking for the work from home day–in fact, I can see a boss not being thrilled to grant an accommodation if you haven’t sought out medical options first.

      2. Argh!*

        Getting intermittent (1-2 days/month) FML will also keep you from having to talk to the boss about specifics. Ask about that too!

      3. Anony*

        I used to need to take 1-2 days off every month from cramps. My male boss actually noticed the pattern and knew exactly what was going on. I was embarrassed, but he was very understanding and let me schedule things around days I knew would be bad. I had a female boss who was not understanding at all because she said that “everyone gets cramps but no one else is taking off work.” It turned out that I did have endometriosis and the problem went away once that was treated.

      4. Lona*

        I had cervix issues as a young woman. 99% of my doctors brushed me off and said that I was overreacting and it was nothing. Then I met the one doctor who said “it may be nothing, but let’s run some tests to be sure.”

        If you have something that is really wrong and your doctor is dimisissive, he doesn’t respect you or doesn’t know what to do or both. Doctors who respect what their patients are saying run tests or try remedies.

      5. Lady Dedlock*

        I was in the same boat as you up until last year. Horrible cramps every month that no amount of ibuprofen or lifestyle changes would help, and sometimes I’d have to call out or go home early if I wasn’t able to function. I thought it was normal, since my mom’s were even worse when she was young. I went on hormonal birth control last year and it has made such a difference in my life. I still get cramps, but they are mild and don’t interfere with my life. I wish I had taken this step sooner.

        Allison, I know you said not to give medical advice, but OP seems receptive. Too often, women’s pain is not taken seriously by doctors, and we need to be encouraged to advocate for ourselves.

      6. Bea W*

        I currently work with a young woman who frequently has to take a couple days working from home every month. We’re an all woman department, so no one blinks an eye. We’ve all either experienced it, have a daughter who experienced it, or know someone who experienced it. Many women, including young teens, take birth control pills solely to regulate their monthly cycles due to extreme pain and/or excessively heavy flow. That’s a really common reason for prescribing it.

        If you haven’t seen a specialist in gynecology and normally get your care from your PCP, definitely try that, and even if you have it could be you didn’t see the right person. Not only does it negatively impact your ability to work. It’s a legit quality of life issue. Even if you don’t have a serious physical condition like endometriosis that is causing this, a good gynecologist will still take your experience seriously and give you some real options for improving your monthly experience. You don’t have to just accept being miserable every month just because you are a woman.

    9. Coming Up Milhouse*

      It could be :
      “Chronic conditions that require periodic visits to a health care provider, continue over an extended period of time and may cause episodic rather than continuing periods of incapacity of more than three days. Examples of chronic conditions include asthma, diabetes and epilepsy.”

    10. ZenJen*

      It’s possible.
      I think that if it’s bad enough you can’t work/function, the OP needs to see a doctor! There are medicines to help manage this.

    11. Nan*

      I think it could be FMLA. I’m not a doc or an HR person, but I’ve had staff members with FMLA for this reason. Conditions vary by person, but it’s not completely unreasonable that it might covered.

    12. Noah*

      FMLA only requires unpaid leave, so probably LW would still want to take a sick day. In any event, her problem isn’t that she doesn’t want to use sick days, it’s that she’s having trouble asking for the days off, which is a personal issue, not a problem with her not being allowed to take the time off.

  2. Midge*

    OP1, if your cramps are bad enough that they prevent you from going about your normal routine, then it’s totally worth seeing if your doctor can do anything to help! Just because it’s only 12 days a year doesn’t mean it’s ‘not bad enough’. Please take care of yourself! (I mean this in an encouraging, not scolding kind of way.) And I hope your boss is open to a WFH arrangement when you’re not feeling up to coming in.

    1. Observer*

      Also, this level of cramping is almost always a signal of something else going on, so it really is worth seeing the doctor for.

      In the meantime, Allison’s approach is perfect.

    2. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

      This is what I was coming to say. I thought cramps like that were normal; all women complain about cramps. But being completely debilitated is NOT typical. Having to curl up around a hot water bottle is one thing, but being unable to get out of bed is another. OP needs to talk to her doc. It could be as simple as an analgesic at a certain time to head off the severe cramps, but the doc will want to make sure it’s nothing else that needs more attention.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        TMI warning. I don’t get cramps except a slight twinge for maybe half a day. However, I rarely mention this to anyone because then I have to endure people telling me how lucky I am – when in reality I have to take the contraceptive pill to stop my periods even though I’m on medication that renders it 50% less effective, because otherwise I have a period every 26 days that comes with three days of stomach upsets and a flare-up of my chronic illness.

        My point is: yes, it does women a disservice when they aren’t told that debilitating cramps are not normal, but you may not be hearing from those of us who don’t get cramps due to the reactions we get when we mention this. Just a thought.

      2. Myrin*

        I’ve always found the “all women get cramps” narrative very strange and foreign because I don’t. In the fifteen-ish years I’ve had my period, I’ve had cramps three times. That’s it. Considering the “everyone gets cramps!” that I hear everywhere on the internet (not so much in real life, I must say), I consider myself lucky, but I’d also love to see actual statistics on this to know if I’m an outlier or not. I also wonder about how many of these “just bad cramps” are actually severe medical conditions and if women who were treated properly for them would end up being free from cramps in general.

        1. PaperTowels*

          I’ve never had them either. And I have/had endometriosis (that was lasered off a few years ago). My only endo symptom was insanely heavy periods until I went on the pill, and it was only discovered while investigating something else. A lot of women I know say they don’t get cramps or symptoms either (I’ve never had mood changes either).

        2. Elizabeth H.*

          Everyone’s different, I think it’s safe to say that some people get terrible cramps without an underlying different medical condition and some people do have serious medical conditions that affect their experience of their period. But this is absolutely no different from anything else in the world of health that people have different experiences of. For example, lots of people get migraine headaches that are completely debilitating and they have to stay home and take serious medication, but I actually get migraine headaches that aren’t debilitating and I just have moderate pain and the vision disturbance. I know I’m very lucky because this is so unusual for migraines. Some people get worse colds, etc. I think that the answer is just to believe people when they say they are sick and can’t do x and y because of it!

          1. many bells down*

            And it can change over time, too. My migraines used to knock me out for hours but now I can head them off if I catch them at the first sign of the aura. And everyone told me “oh, cramps will go away after you have kids” but mine actually got much worse.

            1. Bea W*

              I had bad cramps through my teens and early 20s, then hardly anything until my mid-30s when I started getting them again. I don’t think I know many people whose cramps went away after having kids. This did definitely not happen to anyone in my family. I’m sure there are plenty of women who have that experience, but none of us are in that lucky set!

        3. TootsNYC*

          And I have never heard “all women get cramps.”

          I’ve heard “cramps are common.”

      3. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

        I should have put “all women complain about cramps” in quotations because I know not all women get cramps, but that’s the stereotype that young women are taught when their pain is discounted. But pain isn’t normal; it may be typical for some women, but it isn’t standard.

        And I’ll add that I do have severe endometriosis so while I am someone with debilitating cramps, I know plenty of women who rarely get more than a twinge or backache.

    3. BMO*

      I get 12 days off a year. It would suck to have to already have those accounted for, regardless of the reason.

      Hopefully they let you WFH, LW#1.

  3. Annie*

    I really think OP1 should go to the doc and see what can be done to help with the cramps, even if they aren’t bad every month. Then, if things are still bad, talk to the boss. I mean, it just sounds like you’re not even trying to solve the issue in the most obvious way first.

    1. op1*

      Hi Annie! OP from #1 here. I have talked to docs about my cramps in the past and been given the usual advice about treating the symptoms (avoid caffeine, eat healthy, take ibuprofen), and for me, it hasn’t impacted my life/career enough that I wanted to take hormones. One day a month felt like a reasonable amount of time to deal with the hassle, because I’ve always worked with flexible/self-regulated schedules in the past. Reading some of the comments here makes me think I should probably get it checked out & see if there’s a reason I’m experiencing severe cramps, though.

      1. Sunshine Brite*

        Be prepared to experience dismissive care. I’ve brought it up to at least 3 different doctors over the years and no results. One diagnosed PCOS and did metformin but then that ran out and my new doctor didn’t want to renew it as it didn’t have much of an effect but didn’t have an alternative course of treatment either.

        1. Lona*

          Ding! They dismiss what they don’t know how to treat.

          I have a very very rare condition. Took ages to be diagnosed. There’s no known treatment that works and is generally approved, but my doc views us as a team trying to address it.

      2. No, please*

        I’ve always had terrible cramps and never had a male boss question me about the occasional sick day. I think Alison’s advice is great!

        1. Anony*

          I think male bosses are actually less likely to say no because they really really want to end that conversation (in my experience).

          1. No, please*

            That’s my assumption as well. I don’t want to have a long talk about it either, haha!

      3. Anon for this one*

        If by hormones you mean birth control, I’d avoid telling anyone that you don’t want to take them. People are really weird about this stuff and see birth control as the cure (probably because for many people it is) but there are also many people who either can’t or don’t want to take birth control for whatever personal reason, sometime religious. Some people might not be as sympathetic to your situation if they feel you aren’t doing what you can to mitigate it. The same stuff comes up when people with allergies can’t or won’t take allergy medicine. You’d think such a conversation is TMI but you’d be shocked how quickly this stuff comes up. You are out for a day. You come back. Coworker says “hope it isn’t anything contagious.” You say, nah, just cramps. They say “oh, I had that, birth control really helped.” You say “oh, I don’t take that because ____” and a whole can of worms has opened.

      4. Observer*

        As others have said, you may find that it takes some time and persistence to find out what is going on. The reality is that a lot of the advice you got really makes no sense – it’s based on the unacknowledged assumption that women are overstating the case, because that’s what women do, and a total lack of understanding of the causes of cramps. Not that eating healthy is a bad idea, but you don’t get cramps because you eat too much junk food. Sorry.

        Ibuprofen works pretty well, especially if you take it early, but it doesn’t deal with the causes. Now, it is possible that even once you have a diagnosis you’ll still be stuck with symptomatic relief, but you won’t know till you follow it up.

  4. Paul*

    letter 4: almost the exact same thing happened at our office. It’s certainly mildly annoying (and , back when I was in retail and food, the women’s bathrooms were usually worse at the end of the day). But I kind of came to the conclusion that it just isn’t worth the ruckus and fuss. The only time it ever really became an issue was when someone from another agency threw a fit that I used the “women” restroom when the men’s was out of order, and I am under the impression that someone (not me, and I’m not sure who–several people saw it) had a word with her manager because nothing ever came of it, but she also never spoke with me again even in passing.

    If you do enter the fray, be calm, be polite.

    1. KellyK*

      Wow. The men’s room was out of order, and she threw a fit that you used the women’s? I would hope someone talked to her manager, because that’s way out of line.

      My personal feeling on gendered single-person bathrooms is that they’re stupid, but that I’ll follow the rules because people get really weird about it. But. If the bathroom assigned to me is not available, and I need a bathroom, now, all bets are off.

      1. TootsNYC*

        especially if it’s a single-person bathroom! (it is, in the original, and Paul said “exact same thing”)

        I think they should label one, “Neat people’s bathroom” or something.
        Because there are men who are grossed out by disgusting bathrooms too.

        The one thing that’s not automatically gender related is standing vs. sitting. Sure, one gender prefers to stand, but it’s not required. I might label that bathroom: “For sitting persons only”

        1. paul*

          yeah. At the (old) location-we just moved a few weeks ago–we had 2 single seat bathrooms set up like a home bathroom really, just sans shower. And with worse toilet paper than I’d ever buy. Problem is there were a *lot* of people in the building and two just wasn’t near enough. Then when the one labeled “men’s” went down, ugh. One toilet, 30-40 people. The A/C broke the same week too….horrible damn week.

          Our new location has the same breakdown but it’s just us in this office suite (or whatever you call it) so now there’s not really ever lines for the bathrooms and it’s great! If only they can fix the HVAC.

        2. nnn*

          My university dorm ended up doing basically that with our co-ed washrooms. Some stalls were labelled “seat up” and others were labelled “seat down”. They didn’t care who went in the stalls or what they did, but the rule was that you had to leave the seat in the position corresponding with the label on the door.

        3. many bells down*

          Women don’t always SIT sit, either. The worst flame war I ever saw was between women who sit and women who “hover” to pee because they’re not putting their butt on a gross toilet seat that someone else peed on.

          1. TheCupcakeCounter*

            I strongly dislike the squatter/hoverers – they are usually the ones who pee all over the place!

            1. TootsNYC*

              If they’re going to stand up like men do, they need to lift the seat like men do.

    2. Been there*

      My prior office had the same set up. I asked about it out of curiosity. I guess one woman had a huge issue with not having a single gender bathroom even if it was single use. I heard they made the one ladies room as an accommodation to her. I don’t know if it was an accommodation in the legal sense or in the shut her up sense. What I picked up over time was that she had OCD (in the real sense, not colloquial) and that had something to do with it. As soon as she left, it went back to being a bathroom for anyone.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        My current office has this setup: 2 single-person sex-labelled bathrooms. I was talking about it at home, how I’ve just used the one labelled “Men” when the other was in use and locked, and my wife reminded me that I’m very new there and some people might be put off by that. (It’s not like the men’s has a urinal!)

        And then we got to wondering whether there might actually be legalities involved? I don’t *think* there are mandated bathroom labeling laws but does anyone know?

        Anyway, the labeling pisses me off a lot because I know people who feel erased by stuff like that and nobody needs to feel like that at work. We could easily already have someone who is trans or non-binary, and if not we’re likely to hire someone who is pretty soon, since we’re growing fast. So I’ve been thinking about how to bring it up, and to whom.

    3. Amy G. Golly*

      I’ve always wondered how certain people come to their conclusions about who’s cleaner in the public bathroom –
      men or women – since I’m pretty sure most of those people have very little basis for comparison! I’ve had plenty of jobs where I’ve been expected to clean bathrooms, or at least check them at the end of the day (ah, public service!), and in my experience, the cleanliness of bathrooms is much more bathroom-specific than it is gender-specific. For example, whether or not a men’s room reeks of urine at the end of the day depends very much on the type of urinals. Some women’s restrooms are strewn with toilet paper from women who cover the seat, then can’t be bothered to see that the paper gets flushed; other restrooms don’t seem to have that problem.

      Anyway, I’m getting dangerously off-topic!

      LW: Unless you know the rationale behind the one “women only” bathroom, I’d assume good faith (such as the example Been there provided) and let it go. (Assuming it’s not causing anyone any real inconvenience.) Maybe it’s an accommodation (official or otherwise) for someone with a legitimate issue.

      However, if they’ve specified that the reason for the switch is that “men are gross and can’t keep a bathroom clean”, I wouldn’t hesitate to push back and let management know I feel insulted.

      1. The Rat-Catcher*

        The individuals I know with those responsibilities have generally felt that women’s restrooms were more gross than men’s.

  5. Preppy6917*

    LW4: I’m honestly not sure I would be able to let that go. Fortunately, my city (a well known liberal bastion on the west coast) has an office of civil rights where I can anonymously complain about such matters. I realize that may seem extreme, but at the same time anonymity in complaining about sometime like this can be pretty important.

    1. kittymommy*

      Yeah, this would piss me off. If there’s gender neutral bathrooms, make them all neutral (or set one side for the guys as well). Just the very principle of it happening would tick me off enough to say something.

      1. Preppy6917*

        Yes. What it says is “men are children and cannot be trusted with this special restroom”.

    2. Alli525*

      At my last job, we had two gender neutral bathrooms for our office (plus the gendered ones that the entire floor shared). It was a finance company, so we had a very dense male population and not very many women. We expanded our office and were told that we’d be getting two more GN restrooms… so all the women banded together and told the CEO and CFO that we were sick of seeing PUDDLES OF PISS on the floors EVERY DAY, and we wanted a women-only restroom. We got it.

      OP4, I wouldn’t fight this fight unless you are routinely waiting in line to use the restroom. There may be a reason the gendered bathroom was created.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        ^^This. I would bet money that the nature of the “mess” was pretty male-specific.

          1. Anony*

            Women can be pretty gross too. Especially hoverers who decide toilet seats are dirty so they won’t sit on it and then leave a mess behind on the toilet seat.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              There were non-flushers at Exjob, in a multi-stall women’s room. You’d open a stall door and find a bowl full of poo and paper. I was always afraid to flush it because what if it clogged? I know we had a couple of people who had IBS or similar issues, but the messes never seemed to be in the stalls they habitually used.

      2. TootsNYC*

        You could insist that one be labeled: “for sitting persons only”

        Because guys *can* sit while they go. It might be uncomfortable, but they can.

        1. LBK*

          Not to get too graphic, but I’m pretty curious what you think would be uncomfortable about it…if you need to sit, you don’t usually start standing up, take care of that need, then sit down to do the rest. Both get done at once, generally.

      3. Preppy6917*

        I’ve cleaned enough public restrooms prior to my professional career to know that “PUDDLES OF PISS” are hardly male-specific.

      4. Gibberish*

        So, my last workplace had single gender bathrooms that switched from men’s/women’s. The cleanliness immediately went way, way down. I have no idea what happened but I started seeing it – men were no longer picking up paper towels they dropped, we started seeing puddles of piss on the floor (never seen previously!), toilet seats were left up, and I overheard comments from guys about how women needed to essentially clean up the bathrooms more often (we have a cleaning service).

        That’s when I really started taking notice of the fact that men also mysteriously forgot when it was their turn to put away the dishes in the dishwasher, or clean out the office fridge. In the entire time I was there, I never saw a woman get up and leave dishes in the shared workspace, but I saw men do it almost every day. I always heard excuses like they were so busy (as if somehow, men are always busier than women?) or had important meetings they had to rush off too (as though the women in those meetings didn’t have to do the same thing?). I also saw male leaders “assign” their duties to lower-level staff pretty consistently…but only if those staffers were women.

        I hate the gender binary and love gender neutral spaces, but if men aren’t being better socialized to clean up after themselves in the workplace and not expect women to do it, then it’s not helping women.

      5. Bea*

        It’s the crowd you’ve been exposed to. Our women’s bathroom is a mess. Hovering. Over stuffing garbage cans. Tampon wrappers and blood smears on seats from not cleaning up afterwards. I’m disgusted that people act like women are so thoughtful and dudes just spray the floor out of spite so someone has to clean it up. There are gross people and that’s not gender specific.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        In California, single user restrooms in all businesses and public buildings are required to be unisex, as of March 1 of this year.

          1. Magenta Sky*

            California is very good at leading the country in following the leaders!

            (I think it’s really sad that we need such a law. But unfortunately, we do.)

        1. WhirlwindMonk*

          It could be a code issue even if that isn’t the law in LW’s state. Having worked for my uncle’s architecture company for a few years, I know that at least my state (and I assume all the others) has a required minimum number of toilets that a business must have based on it’s occupancy. It’s possible that taking one of the toilets away from the men could run afoul of that requirement.

        2. Jennifer Thneed*

          Ooh! Thank you. This directly addresses the question I had in my comment elsewhere. (Also, I doubt my company is responsible for the signage. I suspect it’s the building owner who is. Still need to think about how to approach this, though.)

    1. The Wall of Creativity*

      1 female 3 male would be even better. The be careful what you wish for solution. You’ll soon be back to four gender neutral.

    2. Thlayli*

      1F 1M 2N is the obvious solution. OP you will have more success asking for this than just complaining without asking for a solution.

      Also- very glad I don’t live in California. I know that #notallmen are messy in the bathroom, but every single place ive ever had to regularly share a bathroom with men the rooms have been utterly disgusting compared with female only bathrooms.

      The best solution would be to split bathrooms by “messy people/clean people” and leave all the messies of whatever gender together and the rest of us to share our lovely clean bathroom, but I don’t see any way to implement that other than having a bathroom inspector who grades people according to how clean they leave the bathroom – And I’m pretty sure that would be unacceptable in most workplaces.

      Another option would be to install a number of urinals – that would hopefully prevent people peeing on the seat at the very least! I am in favour of gender equality in theory, but shared bathrooms in my experience mean that those of use who sit to pee either have to clean the seat (usually without access to any sort of cleaning products – basically smearing urine around the seat without actually removing it), hover uncomfortably or run the risk of sitting in a strangers urine multiple times a day, whereas those who stand to pee only have to do that once a day if even that. Thats equality in name but not in fact.

      If all men lifted the seat to pee and ensured they flushed properly even if that means waiting for a second fill, then I would have no problems sharing bathrooms. But the reality is they don’t.

      1. Ange*

        Women pee in the seat too – even in women-only toilets. I haven’t been in a men’s room since I stopped working as a cleaner but I have seen some disgusting women’s rooms – body fluids smeared on the walls, pee on the seats, people using a clearly clogged toilet so it overflows, etc. Some people, regardless of gender, are gross and have no concern for leaving shared spaces in decent order.

        1. Handwasher*

          Yeah, I’ve been in some absolutely filthy female bathrooms and there are lots of otherwise sensible people who don’t know how to flush.

          Likewise I know many men who see obsessively clean and tidy.

          If I was a man I would be angry about being lumped in the “dirty” bathroom just because some other members of my gender were filthy.

        2. Cleopatra Jones*

          Yeah, I work in at a University and the number of times that I’ve walked into a bathroom stall where there has been pee on the seat, poo in an un-flushed toilet with no tissue (WTH tho??? How anyone can go #2 and not wipe is beyond me), and used feminine hygiene products littered everywhere is unbelievable.

          1. Whiney the Poo*

            Sometimes, all the poo doesn’t make it down on the first flush, even though the paper does.

          2. Retro*

            Yup. Attended university where we had to share group bathrooms and showers. Used feminine products everywhere. Even in the showers. So disgusting.

        3. Koko*

          Honestly when I worked in food service the women’s rooms were nearly always worse than the men’s.

        4. Gadfly*

          Although I have never seen a women’s only shut down for pissing on the radiators….

      2. JamieS*

        You’ve been lucky. It’s been my experience women only bathrooms are more disgusting than men’s.

        1. Just Another HR Pro*

          Seriously. In my last workplace, the women’s room was always DISGUSTING, so I would go to the Starbucks or the hotel across the street.

          I didn’t think it was good optics to have H use the men’s room, which, aside from some newspapers strewn across the floor (BTW – WHAT IS THAT???) the room was always clean.

        2. Ramblin' Ma'am*

          Yeah, in my office the women’s rooms are often disgusting (to the point that signs have been posted reminding people about bathroom etiquette).

      3. Jamey*

        As someone who can only comfortably use neutral bathrooms, I would be thrilled to live in California, as it’s very frustrating to go so many places that have no bathrooms I can comfortably use. When you’re feeling frustrated about bathroom situations, perhaps it’s a good thing to keep in mind that there are other people who have different needs (:

      4. I totally don't know anything about this*

        From the comments I’ve seen from bathroom cleaners the general consensus is that women’s bathrooms tend to be messier/dirtier than men’s bathrooms.

        1. T-non*

          Speaking as a current bathroom cleaner, the disparity in cleanliness will run seems to depend on numbers. If the total number of women using the women’s restroom is less than the number of men using the men’s, then yes, the women’s will generally be cleaner. But the closer the number of each gender gets to even, the nastier the women’s restroom gets.

          If you have an equal number of each gender using the restrooms, then IME the women’s will always be messier. Not sure why (although I have my theories), but this has been a constant truth everywhere I’ve cleaned bathrooms.

        2. Elizabeth H.*

          I think from the comment section here and elsewhere we can conclude that there is absolutely no hard-and-fast rule about which gender bathrooms tend to be messier!

      5. Elizabeth H.*

        I’m unusually unsqueamish about public bathrooms but if I need to clean the seat I usually get some hand soap on a wad of toilet paper and clean off the seat that way. It doesn’t bother me too much to do it, clean seat, everyone wins.

    3. INTP*

      This is the ideal solution IMO, if it’s legal in your area. Everyone still has enough stalls to choose from that they hopefully won’t wind up waiting to use them, and the single gender options are available if for whatever reason someone feels most comfortable using those. When there are only two stalls of course I think they should both be gender neutral (both for people uncomfortable with gendered bathrooms and for the simple reason that the women’s line always winds up longer), but with plenty of stalls I don’t see why a gendered option can’t be available since some employees have indicated they’d be most comfortable with that.

  6. all aboard the anon train*

    #1: I had severe cramps (among other period issues) since I was 16 and went years before I was diagnosed with endometriosis. About 1 in 10 women are affected by it, and most never bring up symptoms to their doctor because they think cramps are supposed to be that painful. That’s what happened with me, because I also had years of doctors and nurses telling me to “suck it up” or that it was normal. So I really do encourage you to talk to a doctor!

    That said, all you really need to say is that you have a flare up every month so you might need to unexpectedly work from home. That’s how I phrase it, and I make sure to say that it’s nothing terminal, but that my disorder makes it hard to come into work and I’d be more comfortable at home (for the really bad days where I legit can’t leave the bathroom or my bed, I take sick days). I always offer a doctor’s note if work wants one.

    1. hellcat*

      Fellow endo sufferer here – OP1, please get checked out! I was undiagnosed until I was about 30 and probably only got diagnosed at that point because I knew my mom had it. Before that I just had doctors telling me to take some Advil or just lose weight and that would fix it (note: weight loss is not a cure for endo). It sucks, but especially on women’s health issues, a lot of times we have to be our own advocates. Take care of yourself and don’t feel bad about taking the time you need to recover from flares.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        Honestly, I’m embarrassed that I started crying when I finally found a gyno who believed me and didn’t just tell me to take some ibuprofen and deal with it.

  7. just another day*

    OP1 Oh, this is such a difficult topic. We had an employee who did the monthly call out every single month and it was really challenging for our small team to cover her workload without it adversely impacting our goodwill toward her.
    I suffer from completely debilitating endometriosis and understand your struggle; not to be too graphic, but prior to my IUD being placed, I would literally use the restroom EVERY TWENTY MINUTES (around the clock!) to keep up with the situation. This went on for weeks at a time for years (while my doctor and I tried to figure out a way to manage it, since she refused to do a hysterectomy due to my age).

    I truly understand and having also been in this position as a manager of an employee with your situation, it really feels to me like it will totally depend on your manager and employer, which is probably incredibly obvious. It’s just that having dealt with this issue on both sides and in both large and small companies, there is a significant difference in the accommodations that can and/or should be made and what will be willingly supported. As a woman and someone who has gone through this, one of the key obstacles can be co-workers – some men don’t understand and some women have the feeling that we all have to deal with these things; either way it is challenging to not be labeled or judged for it.

    1. Observer*

      I’m a bit confused here. If the company gave 2 weeks sick time, she was only taking one or two days a year extra for her period – it doesn’t ALWAYS come out during the work week, you know.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        She presumably used sick days for other things too though. And having someone out unexpectedly every month can be difficult in certain jobs.

      2. Stellaaaaa*

        The issue is that routinely taking a day off every month is on the verge of becoming a change in OP’s schedule, which isn’t how sick time is meant to be used. It causes problems when one employee has permanent first dibs on time off on certain days.

      3. just another day*

        We only have 5 sick days a year and she called out sick for other reasons too.

    2. nonegiven*

      At least a lot of men will take ‘female problems’ as an explanation and shut up.

      1. JPlummer*

        Other men might take “female problems” as a reason to dredge up that crappy old canard that women are fragile, unprofessional, too wimpy to power through some cramps. I think it is a huge mistake, with all kinds of implications, for women to cite menstrual or menopausal issues as reasons to miss work. I’d advise the OP, maybe after consulting with her dr, to come up with a plausible reason, ANY REASON, to cover her absences that doesn’t include “female problems.” Why give the “biology is destiny” crowd any reason to grouse about the limitations of their female co-workers.

        1. Observer*

          Because making up stuff is a good way to make the problem worse.

          The reality is that these issues exist. And the only way that they are going to be taken seriously by medical practitioners, treated appropriately by women, and accommodated and understood reasonably well by the people we need to understand (like bosses) is by not making up stupid stories about the matter.

  8. Ramona Flowers*

    #3 I’m wondering if it’s the case that they don’t know your team does these tasks, or if they think these tasks can be done by anyone even if there’s a team for it.

    One idea might be to find ways to make your team more visible e.g. make use of any internal communications channels like an intranet, noticeboard or staff newsletter, run some training sessions or workshops, create and circulate documentation, whatever you can do to make your presence known.

    Funnily enough I was just discussing this with a colleague the other day. She wondered why we send teapot queries to the teapot team even if we know the answer. She thought the test was ‘ can we do it ourselves’ – it simply hadn’t occurred to her that the test was ‘is there a team that handles this and if so are we supposed to do their work’.

    1. JT*

      I think your last comment is spot on. I have definitely been guilty of doing things myself if I know the answer rather than asking other teams to do these things because I feel capable. (and I have definitely gotten annoyed when people referred things to me when I am sure they know the answer). However this role-definition issue has given me a new perspective. I think there is an atmosphere of empowerment at my company which, in some ways, is great, and in other ways leads to blurring of roles. I think it leads to some teams feeling overburdened because they have all this work they “have” to do while they really could be delegating a lot of it. I just get anxious about sounding mean or defensive when I see something come across my email that I should be handling.

    2. Chinook*

      As someone who works in the head office of a set up that sounds similar to OP’s, I agree that communication is the issue. And possibly a lack of written standards/procedures. We are going through a process of writing down all of our procedures and are finding times when offices and departments are duplicating work because it is not clear where the hand off point is and we would all rather duplicate work rather than risk it not getting done. We have good working relationships between offices and departments and are careful to not intentionally step on toes (especially since regulatory and First Nations issues come in to play and nurturing both those relationships is integral for us and involves their own departments both in head office as well as field staff), but when things get murky, we are risk adverse and would rather do something twice (or thrice or more) rather than it being missed.

      Our solution has been to create clear procedures with flow charts indicating who does what and how we communicate when it has been completed, what triggers the next step and how that is communicated to the person doing the next step (the last part being important when you work across 2 time zones and some of the work is being done in areas without internet and cellphone reception). The discussions have been heated (in a good way) and complicated but the end result should be that, next year at this time, everyone will explicitly know who does what and when.

  9. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 I think I have (even) more of an issue with the ‘reminders’ than the arrangements themselves.

    I’m also wondering whether the toilet labelled female is the only one with a sanitary bin (or whatever you’d call this). There are reasons why men may need a bin in the toilet, whether cis or not, so that could be worth considering.

    I also think calling attention to someone’s gender after they use the toilet is not great to do. In general, and also because you could have someone on your staff who is not a cis-gender male – even if there isn’t a legal issue (obviously depends on geography and circumstance), there’s a basic humanity issue there for me.

    Reminders about leaving the toilet clean, and decent equipment with which to ensure this happens, may be more fruitful.

    1. Natalie*

      In my experience, single-use toilets don’t usually have a separate sanitary bin, they just have whatever trash can you’d normally have in the bathroom. I have a hard time thinking the men’s room wouldn’t have a trash can – where will they put paper towels and such?

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, our gender-neutral bathrooms just have a trash can. Basically they follow the home bathroom template.

    2. paul*

      I’ve never understood bathrooms without trash cans. I mean, I dry my hands with paper towels after washing; those aren’t flush safe.

      1. zora*

        I’ve seen bathrooms where they install hand dryers and then remove the trash cans, with the idea of reducing waste. But I think a bathroom should ALWAYS have a trash can, there are all kinds of things people need to throw away, not just paper towels.

    3. Mona Lisa*

      Yeah, my issue is more of the reminders than anything else. At my old workplace, it was a female-oriented non-profit staffed by mostly women. (2/35 employees were male.) The building had been signed in such a way that there were two female bathrooms and one gender neutral/handicap single-use bathroom. Given the gender ratios we had even among visitors to the building, this arrangement made complete sense for the organization.

      Calling people out for using the “wrong” bathroom when they’re all single stall seems to me a waste of time and resources. Also, what woman among us hasn’t used the single “male” bathroom at a gas station or Starbucks at some point in our lives because the women’s line was so backed up? Besides the weirdness of monitoring people’s bathroom usage, there’s probably a bit of hypocrisy on the part of the bathroom police.

      1. Chinook*

        Heck, I have used the men’s bathrooms at plays and concerts when the intermission is short, the women’s line is long and the men’s line non-existent. True, I often enlisted the help of other women (strangers at that) to join me so we could all get back to the entertainment in a timely manner, but I am of the mindset that, if the other facilities are empty, then why should I wait in line for the ones designated for me?

  10. Ramona Flowers*

    #5 As you want to break into this sector and feel this job could help you do that, would you consider doing it as a stop-gap to get in the door (don’t tell them that!) and maybe looking for other part-time work?

    1. Julianne*

      I agree that this could be worthwhile if the letter writer’s circumstances make it feasible to do so. If it’s not, I think Alison’s advice is good.

    2. Antilles*

      If it’s financially viable, this is probably a much better solution than just hoping that you’re hitting that small chance that they’ll hire a full-time person for a position specifically mentioned as part-time.
      To be clear though, OP needs to realize that the “stop-gap part-time job” is not just a couple months – unless the job is a contract part-time job with a specific end point, OP probably will be looking at a year-plus in order to establish her knowledge base, build up a recommendation from this job, gain some understanding of the academic side of the industry, etc.

    3. Muriel Heslop*

      I was going to suggest this as well. I worked two part-time jobs for a couple of years until I got a full-time position in my then-desired field. Good luck, OP#5!

  11. MommyMD*

    See a GYN if menstrual cramps are putting you out of commission each month. They are meds to control it and you won’t have to waste valuable sick days on it. This could easily add up to eight or more calls offs per year alone.

  12. Margaret*

    #2 – the software that my employer uses for employee evaluations has a “language check” that sounds pretty much like what you’re describing. But it really just functions like a spell check – it flags things so you can review them and see if you want to change them. You can choose to ignore just like you can ignore a word the system thinks you’ve misspelled, and still submit the document.

    (I’m in Portland, OR, so I’ve submitted evals with statements like “I began volunteering with the Portland XYZ Organization.” This system flags that because it thinks Portland = portly and is a reference to a physical attribute.)

    1. hermit crab*

      Wow, that example is funny! This situation reminds me of the plagiarism checker we had to run our papers through in grad school — it gave you a score and a color (green, yellow, red) based on the percentage of text that could be found in whatever database it used. One time, I was submitting an annotated bibliography, basically just a long list of references with associated notes. I got a truly horrifying “red” score because a large percentage of my text was made up of the titles of published papers. The little automated report from the checker basically said I was a horrible plagiarist with no integrity. But the professor was like, “haha, isn’t that funny, good thing an actual human will be grading this assignment” and I assume it’s the same with these hiring managers!

    2. Lora*

      What the heck?

      What happens if you’re a researcher who works on women’s health? Or a gynecologist? I can think of sooooo many words that would be flagged by that sort of nonsense. One of my friends worked on an HIV clinical trial and spent many years working directly with patients at a public free/sliding scale health clinic specializing in treating high risk (for STIs) populations: “anal”, “prostitution” and “sex worker” and so forth are often flagged on her resume and sets interviewers off into giggle fits.

    3. Froggy*

      Wow – even for a common city name. We once had a similar system used in our annual performance reviews. When I did my self-evaluation, it kept getting flagged due to my Last Name!!! It’s a fairly common Irish name, meaning physician or healer. However, this program flagged it for being derogatory and elitist. My bosses had a good laugh when I told them about it.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Some people leave bathrooms in a gross state. Some don’t. They don’t all have the same genitals.

      1. Thlayli*

        The issue I think is more that it affects those of us who have to sit to pee more than those who stand. every time I’ve had to share bathrooms with people who stand to pee there has been urine on the seats – not always because obviously not all men choose to pee on the seat and some are even gentlemanly enough to lift the seat, but often enough that it is noticeable. There also frequently are no cleaning products in toilets because it is more efficient to have a central cleaning store meaning the only recourse is to basically smear the urine around with toilet roll in an attempt to remove the worst of it, and then sit on that dried out urine, or hover uncomfortably.If some of us have to risk physical contact with a strangers urine 5 times a day while those with a penis only have to risk this once a day (or maybe poo at home and not risk it at all) then that is equality in name but not in fact.

        Ideally toilets would be divided into “messy people” and “tidy people” but I don’t see any realistic way of enforcing that.

        1. Sabine the Very Mean*

          Yeah I wrote a comment asking for advice about constant pee on the seat, rim, floor of the labeled women’s restroom at work. There are 20 men and three women. It feels almost deliberate sometimes and disrespectful to walk away from your own bodily fluids on a surface. Hover-pee women do it too but I feel when there are only a few women, they keep it cleaner than the masses.

          It sucks to have the choice of cleaning someone else’s urine before you sit, trying to ignore it and straddle the rim and watch the pee to make sure it doesn’t touch the inside of my pants, or not use the damn restroom. I don’t know why this is such a touchy subject for people: clean up your piss.

          1. nonegiven*

            My mom made a paper and taped it to the mirror. “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be neat and wipe the seat.

            1. Angelinha*

              We have one of these signs in my work bathroom and it drives me nuts. No one who would normally leave pee on the seat is going to be deterred by a cutesy sign, and it’s infantilizing to the rest of us.

            2. ancolie*

              I’ve wanted to make a sign based off that one:

              If you sprinkle
              When you tinkle
              Wipe your p*ss up
              You’re an adult, a**hole

          2. Sabine the Very Mean*

            Clarifier: it’s men peeing on the seat as the unspoken rule was that any room was open.

          3. fposte*

            To be fair, I don’t know why a quick wipe before you sit is such a big deal either.

            1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

              But then you are sitting on a thin film of stranger pee. If there were wet wipes that would be different, but just plain TP only spreads it around.

                1. Monodon monoceros*

                  In some of the public bathrooms here (Scandinavia) there are sanitizer dispensers for wiping the seat. I love it – should be in every public bathroom.

            2. Lora*

              My personal pee is gross enough all by itself, I ain’t going near anyone else’s.

              Yes yes I know intellectually that urine is clean but how I am I supposed to know who has a UTI and who has blood in their urine and kidney stones or all manner of other yucky things? “Please keep your bodily fluids to yourself” is just basic civilization once you’re past the age of 2.

        2. TootsNYC*

          It’s not just the tops of the seats–it’s the bottoms, or the oversplash on the wall and floor.

          Which is why I’d suggest “sitting people only” on the door, bcs men *can* sit.

        3. Super Anon for This*

          Thank you! This is a much more articulate explanation of why I think this women’s only policy is fair than my angry brain could come up with. Not to mention OP’s joke about how even if it is true that the men are messier it isn’t fair to admit it seemed kind of weird to me. OP do you really think the men in your office are messier bathroom users? Why does it bother you so much that the women get one toilet reserved when there are three others for you to use?

    2. SarahTheEntwife*

      It’s deciding that only women are delicate enough flowers to need clean restrooms. Some women pee on the seat. Some men are grownups who can avoid peeing on the floor or clean up after themselves if they miss. Some nonbinary people don’t want to have to decide whether they’re going to misgender themselves or use the gross bathroom because their coworkers can’t handle actually keeping the bathroom clean.

      1. Super Anon for This*

        But if you put “tidy people only” instead of “women” on one bathroom, you’d be asking people to subdivide themselves, and in my experience messy people almost always think they aren’t. Even if you point out the trail of mess they leave.

        Nonbinary people at OP’s office DON’T have to misgender themselves, there are three other restrooms they can use. If they really want to, they could suggest one restroom be made men only, and that would reduce the likelihood that men would use the other two gender neutral restrooms.

  13. Channel Z*

    #4. If we are talking about peeing on toilet seats, it is unfair to blame men. Some unidentified women pee all over the toilet seats where I work in the women’s bathroom, don’t wipe it up, ewww. Far worse than my young boys at home.
    For the sanitary bin, that has been used for incontinence pads which can affect either gender so isn’t justification for women only.
    This is what could happen- functional bathrooms. A urinal only room. A “big flush” room equipped with a fan, maybe a bidet. A handicapped accessible one of course. And General purpose.

    1. Anon for this*

      Oh! I’ve never seen that in women only bathrooms. Ok. Assertion that It must be male bodied people sprinkling urine about withdrawn.

      1. KAZ2Y5*

        There are some women who don’t want to sit on a toilet seat because of “germs” so hover over it. That’s how they get pee all over it. And I can only assume that they don’t want to wipe the toilet seat after because of “germs”.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Not to completely overshare, but I’ve also occasionally ended up sitting to far forward on the seat if I’m in a hurry. Which I then clean up, like a grownup human.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I should have known better than to run another bathroom-related letter. My delicate sensibilities cannot take these discussions, and then I end up having to avoid all comments on the post.

      1. Chinook*

        I am surprised that you just don’t post this type of question separately with a warning that you won’t monitor the content due to your known delicate sensibilities. You could even warn us that you will close it to commenting once it hits a magic number of comments (500?) that shows we have gone off the rails and can’t be trusted to self-regulate. Then, you would never have to read any of the comments involving our bodily fluids. :)

    3. kittymommy*

      Yeah, the amount of pee I have seen on seats in singe women’s restroom is mind blowing. And on the floor! Dine women do not hover well. (And truly the other bodily fluids in women’s bathrooms had made whatever I had to do immediately go away).

    4. paul*

      I’m the only male in my office at the moment and I’ve found pee on the seats so I *know* women do it too.

  14. Wintermute*

    #2– This is totally, entirely normal. Every document I submit through our HR software, including self-assessments and yearly reviews, gets run through a filter like this.

    It ALWAYS flags a few things as potentially problematic, and offers ‘helpful’ suggestions. When working in my last tech position it flagged “blacklist” and “whitelist”, an integral part of spam management, as racially insensitive. It also likes to flag things that might, potentially, possibly have a discriminatory connotation. Heck, it flags “FAT” as in File Attribution Table asking you “is this personal characteristic relevant to the conversation? Personal characteristics are often referenced in inappropriate ways”.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      #2 Oh wow. This reminds me of Turn It In, software used – at least here in the UK – to check for plagiarism. I used it for the first time when I went back to study and retrain. It helpfully flagged the name of the class, which I was required to put in the header, as copied from the internet.

      1. krysb*

        I have to use TurnItIn when submitting final papers. It flags all kinds of stupid stuff, including authors’ names and class names.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      Though to be fair, in 2017 we really should come up with better terms than black- and whitelist.

      1. Natalie*

        They aren’t racial terms – “blacklist” comes from Charles the 11 being colorful* in his execution orders.

        *Unintended pun but I’m keeping it!

      2. Observer*

        Why? These terms never had anything to do with race. I really do get that using words with a significant prejudicial meaning or (recent) history is a problem. But turning everything into a signpost of prejudice doesn’t do anything – and actually makes things worse by making it impossible to see what’s going on.

        It’s like MS’s original UAC (user account control). If flagged so many things as problematic that it became totally useless. People just got into the habit of telling it “Yes” no matter what it flagged. When the aggressiveness was dialed back, people actually started paying attention.

      3. Amazed*

        What’s wrong with them?

        Hopefully it’s not the use of the colors for fear they’re racial, because that covers many more terms than just ‘blacklist’. Black hole, black box, budget in the black, blacklight, whitewash, and I’m sure Google can find more than just those.

    3. CJ Record*

      I’ll admit, when I started to read #2, I expected that it was going to be a “Scunthorpe Problem” (wiki) type issue that was blocking the submission. I’m willing to bet that HR is well aware of the issues with the system for better or worse.

      Not gonna lie: if I were working HR, I’d not want software that warns the submitter against racially problematic terms–I’m all in favor of the chaff filtering itself out of the wheat.

      1. gladfe*

        That was exactly my first thought: Wouldn’t you want to know if a candidate thought it was a good idea to submit something inappropriate? Aside from any problems with implementation, I’m really curious about how this was intended to help anybody with hiring.

      2. paul*

        Yeah, that was my thought. It seems like a really easy way to cull out the worst offenders. Like a resume’ equivalent of truck nuts or something.

        1. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

          “Like a resume’ equivalent of truck nuts or something.”
          I’m dying from laughter at this!

      3. Wintermute*

        Think of it as microaggression insurance. No one INTENDS to be racist but there’s so much loaded language out there, everything can be a dogwhistle for something, and a lot of terms people THINK are racist actually aren’t but people thinking it is, is just as good as it being so.

        For example: “Indian Giver” is actually a slur on whites, not native americans. It ridicules the tendency of the government to promise things to native tribes and promptly take them back again when they find out the land is more valuable than they thought at first. It’s actually a remarkably accurate and fair critique of the behavior of the US government towards the original inhabitants of the united states. But it just SOUNDS like it must be racist, so it is unacceptable.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, I work on stock compensation and every year when I submit my self evaluation the system flags “black scholes valuation.”

    5. Lauren*

      I’m concerned that if HR isn’t sending resumes to the hiring manager over this. If they get 100’s of resumes, is this putting OP in a hold bucket and then the HR person doesn’t bother to look at them – so the hiring manager never gets to see the resume.

      OP – For the systems you’ve seen this in, have you been getting calls at all? Interviews?

      1. Koko*

        I’m purely guessing here, but based on my experience with tools like this in the past they are usually used to surface things for further review rather than used to discard things and not review them.

        I used to moderate my organization’s blog comments and there was a similar filter, and I spent a few minutes every morning approving all the comments flagged for silly reasons.

        1. JulieBulie*

          So… is it possible that applications that get flagged are MORE likely to be reviewed by a human than those that aren’t?

          1. TootsNYC*

            Nah. I would bet that after about the fourth time the human being saw that the software was flagging stupid stuff, they’d just ignore it completely.

            At most, they might review the stats for any resume that they had already chosen to look at.

      2. OP2*

        OP2 here. I haven’t had any responses from the two places that used this system, and I applied maybe just over a month or so ago. It could be that I’m not fit for the job, or they just don’t see it because of a potential “hold bucket.”

        I ended up talking with my supervisor about it (she knows I’m job hunting as I’m basically a year-long temp) and she said that it’s possible they have it to dissuade applicants from disclosing personal information like “I am a refugee” or “I am religious.”

        1. Toph*

          That’s the context I’m familiar with this software as well. Not necessarily that they’re putting people in a No bucket because of flags but to self-help applicants from either TMI-ing things they shouldn’t share about themselves lest they be discriminated against, or to a lesser extent, prevent someone from submitting a horrifying autocorrect/wrong-word type situation. On the one hand, how nice to warn people they might be ruining their own chances. On the other, if someone is either not proofing their own stuff enough that they miss that (in the case of a typo/autocorrect/wrong word type sitch) or doesn’t recognize the reason for the flag if it’s not an accident (ie person is actually racist), let them self-exclude by submitting that. But for the bulk of people it’s more like what happened to you: totally reasonable use of word given the context, flagged but then anyone reading is like, this is not problematic. So the software seems a little pointless to me.

  15. Anon for this*

    We have gender neutral bathrooms at my workplace. Overall I support it, especially as one has a changing station (I’ve always thought it was absurd to only put them in women’s bathrooms).

    On the other hand, by the end of the day there is urine all over the floor and often on the toilet. They are essentially rendered unusable after 3pm. (It’s possible a cis-woman is doing that but unlikely).

    On the other hand – that’s more a matter of terrible bathroom etiquette than it is gender, so I don’t think that’s the solution.

    1. Miss Anne Thrope*

      Nah, I see urime on the toilet in women’s restrooms all the time. It’s not gender specific

  16. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    OP#2 – I live in the U.K., and once worked for a company that shipped plumbing supplies across the country. Our email system had to be fixed because we realised it was filtering out some orders and we were never receiving them. The offending words included plumbing items like stopcocks, but also all orders from the towns of Scunthorpe and Peniston.

    1. nonegiven*

      My husband realized he couldn’t read articles about about Middlesex, UK, during lunch.

      1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

        Ha! That’s tremendous. That reminds me of a (terrible) joke about the fact that in England there’s a Sussex (south Saxons), a Wessex (west Saxons), an Essex (east Saxons) and the Middlesex (middle Saxons), but the north Saxons had Nosex so they died out…

        1. RVA Cat*

          Kind of like the cheer for Norfolk Academy – “we don’t drink, we don’t smoke, Norfolk Norfolk Norfolk!” (The L is silent.)

      2. AMT*

        Now I’m going to get paranoid about whether my resume is going to be flagged in the future. I am a therapist and have written a soon-to-be-published book on sexuality, done sexuality research, consulted/lectured on sexuality issues, done training in sex therapy, and just generally have a sex-filled resume. I’m hoping no one in HR takes these word filters seriously. I mean, why would candidates use obscene language on their resumes to the extent that this is even necessary?

    2. Jaune Desprez*

      Back in the early days of the internet, I worked for a major U.S. cancer center that installed an aggressive porn blocking website filter. My colleagues down the hall in Breast Oncology were having kittens about it, because all of a sudden they couldn’t access any websites related to their specialty. They had to complain all the way up to the president’s office before they were able to get “breast” removed from the proscribed word list.

        1. Toph*

          That’s hilarious, but also unfortunate because it means they probably had to sift through a ton of actual spam too.

          1. Observer*

            No. Because good filters have been able to work on more than single words for a LONG time now.

    3. Trudy*

      I used to work in HR, and one time I was sending out a company-wide email announcing the dates of the annual seminar on prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. The email system wouldn’t let me send it because the filter said it was inappropriate for the workplace. I exclaimed in frustration “I know sexual harassment is inappropriate for the workplace! That’s why we’re having a seminar about it!”

      Then I calmly walked to IT and explained why I had a work related reason to send an email with the words “sex discrimination” and “sexual harassment” in it. They released my email from purgatory and the seminar happened as planned.

      1. TootsNYC*

        what a stupid setting!

        The people who DO sexual harassment don’t write emails that say, “I would like to sexually harass you.”

    4. OtterB*

      I once worked on a project with an older colleague named Richard, who went by Dick. Whenever I began an email “Hi Dick,” the email system would ask me if I really wanted to say that.

      1. Cruciatus*

        Almost related… You know the store Dick’s Sporting Goods? Most people I know just call it Dick’s and don’t think anything of it. One day I wanted to look something up at their store online and, well, did not add “sportinggoods” to the address. And, yeah. I’ve done that a few times. A moment of WTF?! each time before I realized where I went wrong…

        1. Cleopatra Jones*

          Haha, it is an endless source of amusement for me when I get sale flyers from there. The words ‘coupon for Dicks’ and ‘20% off on Dicks’ cracks me up every.time.

        2. Typhon Worker Bee*

          There used to be a music venue in Vancouver called Richard’s. It was on Richards Street. Everyone called it Dick’s on Dicks… good thing I never googled that at work!

        3. Allie Oxen-free*

          There is a chain of supermarkets in Pennsylvania called Giant. The one near me was in the same strip mall as Dick’s Sporting Goods. They put the highway signs right next to each other. Guess what order they chose.

        4. Mrs. Fenris*

          We used to do lots of internal communication via notes on a whiteboard. I came in one morning and one of the overnight guys had written, “Hey everybody, it turns out that the website for Dick’s Sporting Goods is NOT Dicks dot com. Just thought you would want to know.”

    5. Cruciatus*

      I live on a road similar to something like Peacock and there were times I couldn’t order things online (very rarely, but it’s happened once or twice) because the page said I was being offensive. I wish I could remember the exact wording because it was even stronger than “offensive” and I just can’t remember. Fortunately it has been a while…and fortunately not Amazon! I think I changed it to “Peacook” and just prayed whoever was delivering it would figure it out.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        I played an online game once that had an overly-protective filter on the group chat feature. The community was actually refreshingly polite for online gaming, but the filter resulted in an ongoing game to see what it would turn words like “peacock” into. :-b

    6. Namast'ay in Bed*

      Hilarious! Reminds me of Oldjob, where we had to run promotions for bars and restaurants, but all mentions of alcohol were blocked on our computers.

    7. Chinook*

      The Scunthorpe problem is also the reason that the Canadian history magazine had to rename itself from “The Beaver” after 89 years of publishing. It still makes me sad that this poor rodent’s name is now mud on the internet.

      1. Typhon Worker Bee*

        This just reminded me of the simply glorious letter from a guy in the States who received a letter from local authorities about unauthorised construction projects on his property. The “projects” were actually beaver dams. The letter was full of things like “Being unable to comply with your dam request, and being unable to contact you on your dam answering machine, I am sending this response to your dam office”

  17. Myrin*

    I’m seeing a strange irony in #4 because in every public venue I frequent regularly, the women’s restroom out-grossed the men’s by far (which I find fascinating given cultural stereotypes but also other people’s own experience). I’ll never forget the irate notes by the janitorial staff taped to every bathroom in one of my uni’s buildings to not behave like disgusting pigs in here and how somehow this is never a problem in the men’s bathroom.

    Doesn’t help the OP, obviously, but I really don’t think the people who instigated this at their workplace should be quite as sure that the men are the problem. (Although by now they might have observed that the women-only stall remains the cleanest out of all of them. Who knows.)

    1. Coming Up Milhouse*

      This. Men’s rooms have been far cleaner in public venues where I am. I’ve used the men’s room because it was cleaner.

    2. Lora*

      Heh. Went to a Pride event where the restrooms had only very recently been changed to gender-neutral. The men who went into the newly re-christened women’s restroom were HORRIFIED.

      1. Myrin*

        1. At most of the places I thought of when making that post, the restrooms are side-by-side and you can see inside pretty well whenever someone comes through the door. Dishearteningly, that one peek often already shows a very different standard of cleanliness.

        2. Talked about it with male friends. The female stalls are so gross sometimes that they make for almost automatic conversation and the men who hear me rage about it are usually surprised and taken aback. Obviously they could just have a different understanding of what “dirty” means but I’d guess that at least stuff like “no, I don’t regularly encounter clogged-up toilets” is pretty objective.

        3. The “public venues” I talk about are several where I also work/used to work and as such am/was responsible for cleaning. The women’s restrooms have been on average much more dirty than the men’s in all of those places.

        4. Janitors and cleaning personnel in general. Stuff like the aforementioned note, hearing them talk amongst themselves, talking with them personally about something else and then inevitably ending up at the toilet topic, all lead me to believe I have a quite accurate understanding of the Cleanliness Statutes.

      2. Free Meerkats (formerly Gene)*

        I know this because in high school I worked on a custodial crew. We had about 20 accounts and I rotated between them. We had banks, daycare facilities (we hated birthday celebrations), a diocese office, offices, retail spaces, etc.

        In general, the women’s were much messier and took longer to clean, usually had more urine on the floors, more bodily fluids, more paper products strewn about, and the like. The main exception to the urine rule were the daycare where the boys were learning.

        The stuff I put up with for $5/hour…

  18. Goreygal*

    Not medical advice -I’m just wondering if this is a culture difference?

    In the UK if you were out of work once a month for a health issue you would likely trigger the attendance management procedure; under that the employer would want reassurance (sometimes via medical report) that you were doing all you could medically to optimise your fitness for work (our employment contracts usually have a clause to this effect). If you aren’t/don’t it could result in being dismissed from the job. Does this not happen in US?

    1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

      I was thinking that – at my organisation ten days sick off in one go would be OK, but one sick day a month for ten consecutive months would trigger the ‘Bradford Factor’ and there would be capability assessments etc. That said, at my organisation no questions would be asked at all if someone asked to work at home one day a month (or even one day a week).

    2. Librarian of the North*

      I’m in Canada but it wouldn’t be an issue in my workplace. I think it’s workplace dependent though. I’m part-time and it isn’t a big deal if I call in sick but I don’t get paid sick time. My Husband has literal weeks of paid sick time a year so I’m sure they wouldn’t have an issue either.

    3. Thlayli*

      In a country without free healthcare I don’t think you could legally require someone to do all they could to manage their health.

      The best thing about Britain is the NHS.

      1. Bagpuss*

        It”s not actually (in the UK) about requiring them to manage their health , an employer has no standing to do that. It’s more about assessing what the appropriate steps are to deal with the issue – for instance, whether the issue is likely to resolve or not, and in what timescale (we had an employee whose attendance went down to just above 50%, due to sickness. Part of the reason she was not dismissed on the basis she was unable to do her job was that the medical information disclosed showed she was due to have an operation which was expected to significantly improve things) It can be relevant to whether someone is classed as disabled and entitled to protection under the Equality Act, and to allowing the employer and employee to work out whether there is a way to address the absences as opposed to moving towards dismissal.

        It can of course also be relevant where employer has concerns about whether someone is genuinely ill or seeking to abuse the system. (The employer does not have to consent to a medical report or any disclosure of medical information, but the employer is entitled to make a decision based on the information before them, so if you claim that the reason you are off every Monday is because you have an unusual medical condition, and not, for instance, because you party hard every weekend and are hungover, but refuse to authorise your doctor to release any medical evidence, then your employer is free to make a decision about your capability for the job without that input, and you won’t get very far if you then allege that they failed to make reasonable adjustments for a disability.
        On a more positive note, the intent is that it allows the employer to take the medical needs / issues into account to try to work with the employee to improve or accommodate things for them.

      2. Goreygal*

        It has nothing to do with free healthcare. It’s an employment law issue; your contract requires you to work so many days a year. If you can’t meet your contract the employer has the right to explore why.

        1. Blue Anne*

          Well… I dunno. Having worked in both systems… I think it does have something to do with free healthcare. An employer can ask for a lot of information about someone’s health in the UK because there is also a lot available to the employee in the UK. Not just in terms of free healthcare, but also protections for taking long sickness leaves, etc. And if I say to my manager in the UK “I’m having this problem because of an untreated medical condition”, the immediate question is, well, why isn’t it treated? And do we need to make workplace accommodations as part of your treatment? That’s not really a question in the US. It’s untreated because it’s too expensive to treat. The employer can decide whether to fire you or not, that’s about it.

          1. Marzipan*

            I think the sick leave aspect may be in play, yeah. The sick leave I get from my employer would allow me six months off at full pay and six months at half pay, but I would have to actually be sick to take that – so they can reasonably expect some information from me (and my doctor, if I’m ill for more than a week) about what’s going on.

    4. Sam*

      I take a sick day in most months, and it’s never been an issue (I’m in the US). However, I will usually drag myself in if there are things happening that I feel I can’t miss and I generally work independently anyway, so my absence doesn’t put an undue burden on others.

    5. Marzipan*

      The other thing we have in the UK – certainly in my workplace and I think more widely – is that the self-certification form you fill in when you’ve had a day off sick is used to get details of what type of illness you’d had. So, at my work you’d have to fill in a box to describe your illness (‘severe cramps’, say) and also tick a box for what category it falls under (‘Gynaecological, obstetric, pregnancy-related’ in this case).

    6. CrampyMcCrampPants*

      I’m in the US….also suffer from debilitating cramps. My gyn has pushed birth control as a treatment but I refuse because when I took it (tried several different ones) in the past, it created more health issues that resulted in more meds. So wow….I would be very very wary of my employer wanting details of my condition and determining whether or not I’m doing everything I can to be able to work. FWIW….it hasn’t happened to me. I hope OP’s employer takes her for her word when (if) she tells them she has an issue that may require her to be out or WFH once a month.

      1. Observer*

        Please find another doctor and see if you can figure out what is going on here. A doctor who keeps pushing a treatment that you KNOW presents medical problems for you is not one who is taking care of your health properly.

    7. JamieS*

      We don’t generally have employment contracts but yes an employer may ask for an explanation if there’s a pattern of absence. To my knowledge there’s no standard procedure though. It’s dependent on each company’s policy.

  19. Librarian of the North*

    It is so refreshing to see OP #1 being taken seriously. I have PCOS and get absolutely horrific menstrual cramps on day one. Since junior high I’ve commonly found that it’s other women who tell me to get over it or think I’m exaggerating because they don’t experience the same level of pain. In my experience men have been more “I don’t know anything about that, I’ll take your word for it.” It sounds like your boss is a decent guy who would be receptive to the advice given :)

    1. TL -*

      I didn’t get dismissive, exactly, but a lot of my friends didn’t believe that my really bad cramps were worse then theirs (until I tell them about the time I had an ovarian cyst burst and had my appendix out because they thought my appendix had burst.)
      Which was somewhat funny, especially when they would tell me that they had cramps so bad they took one more Tylenol than they were supposed to and I had prescription meds that wouldn’t touch the pain some days. But I’ve always had doctors that believed me, so managing them hasn’t been difficult.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Hmm, this is interesting and useful to me. Thank you to you both.

      My daughter as PCOS, and she was spending most of the day in bed with cramps. She came out to the dining room, and I asked her if she would put away the 6 towels I’d brought up from the laundry (involves stepping up on the toilet seat to reach the top of the cabinet–it’s a tiny bathroom), and she said, “I have cramps, can you make Brother do it?”

      I wasn’t best pleased; I didn’t mean immediately, and it wasn’t a lot of towels. And she was able to walk around.

      But maybe I shouldn’t have entertained the idea that she was wimping out a little.

      1. Toph*

        The reaching may have been part of what made that so particular request problematic, even if up and walking around. You know the expression “doubled-over in pain”? When I was younger there were times where I’d be literally hunched all day from the pain. The thought of trying to stand up entirely straight or reaching up or moving out of that slightly curled position seemed unbearable. Obviously everyone’s different, but I can easily imagine a scenario where if you’d asked me to put those towels away, I’d beg off (but if it had been a bottom shelf, might not have done so).

      2. Observer*

        What Top said. Also, please get your daughter to an RE to manage the PCOS. Also, keep an eye on her blood sugar – a very high percentage of women with PCOS develop insulin resistance and then go on to develop diabetes. Proper management from the get go reduces that risk.

          1. Jean (just Jean)*

            Might be Reproductive Endocrinologist…but this is a (somewhat well-informed) guess.

  20. Talia*

    In my job the only gendered bathrooms in the whole building are the ones belonging to one specific department. No one knows why that department has gendered bathrooms, especially since they’re all single stall. And especially since the company seems to ignore it itself– they’re in no way thoughtful enough for the sanitary container in the men’s room to have been because someone thought about trans men; it is most likely there because someone assumed women would be using the men’s one. And neither has a urinal.

    We all preferentially head for the one associated with our own gender, but if it’s occupied no one has any hesitation about using the other one. I find it annoying, but mostly ignore it.

  21. JanetInSC*

    LW#1: I’m older and would be embarrassed to mention cramps to my male boss, but I wouldn’t hesitate to say, “I have a health issue that occurs once a month. I can work from home but can’t come into the office that day.” (Some people might assume IBS. The point is no one needs to know the exact nature of your health issue, unless you want to tell them.)

  22. Yoshi*

    #4: Single-user bathrooms are preferred by many people for an assortment of reasons. For example, they are often larger, so easier for people with children, disabilities, mobility aids, etc. to navigate; they don’t rely on outdated concepts of a gender binary, and the forced aligning with that outdated binary, to determine who’s allowed to perform necessary biological functions where; there is added privacy, which can be helpful for people with gastrointestinal disorders… the list goes on. These are among the reasons that many businesses, and now some cities and states, are starting to move toward non-gendered, single-stall bathrooms everywhere.

    My workplace has two, non-gendered, single-stall bathrooms, and I will say that the thing that seems to make the greatest difference to bathroom cleanliness is not the (perceived) gender of the users but the number of them. We host educational programs; some days we’ll have 70 people come through in a matter of hours; some days it’s only me. On the busy days the bathrooms are a wreck no matter who’s using them or how tidy they’re trying to be.

    1. Imaginary Number*

      Bathroom nastiness is an exponential function. That’s why two people can use the same bathroom for two weeks without ever needing to have someone come in and clean it, but fourteen people can’t do the same for one day.

      If you walk into a pristine bathroom and accidentally squirt some soap onto the floor or leave hair in the sink, you’re much more likely to clean it up. You make sure that your paper towels go into the trash and, if you miss, you pick up the towel and try again.

      If you walk into a bathroom that’s already dirty then you don’t think much about adding to the mess. If there’s already a glob of soap on the floor where someone else spilled, you’re not going to clean up the little bit you add to it. If the trashcan has a bunch of loose paper towels around it you’re less likely to make sure yours also goes in.

      1. TootsNYC*

        The “broken windows” theory.

        That’s why I scoop up all the little schnibbles and stray T.P. squares off the floor, and pick up all the paper towels that have fallen out, and push the mass down into the trashcan better.

  23. AlphabetSoupCity*

    Re: gendered single stall bathrooms
    In my state, there are laws surrounding the number of gendered bathrooms a building must have. I work at a progressive institution and we had a building floor with two gendered single stall bathrooms. The ridiculousness of this was brought up, but due to legal reasons we were only able to change one of the bathrooms to a gender neutral one (the other one remained gendered for women). Could something like this be happening here? If it is, the level and type of enforcement is still inappropriate, but it might explain pure numbers.

  24. EleonoraUK*

    For OP #4, the female bathrooms seem like a cop out solution to the problem by management.

    It is reasonable to expect men and women to keep the bathrooms clean and tidy, anywhere, but especially in a professional environment.

    If that’s not happening, management should find a way to address it with the culprits, instead of leaving the rest of the guys to suffer because one or two of their gender are in the habit of making a mess.

    1. fposte*

      If you know of a successful way to ensure people keep the bathroom clean, it’s your moral obligation to share it with the world.

      1. paul*

        If someone can figure out a way to make people keep rest stop bathrooms clean they deserve a medal and a really huge check. Like 8 figures.

        1. Nerdling*

          Oh my gods, yes! And campground bathrooms. I’ve been in some amazing ones over the years, but I’ve also been in some amazingly awful ones, too.

      2. Retro*

        There’s an app for that! Finding clean rest stops I mean. But my solution has long been just going to a restaurant and buying a drink. I find those tend to stay cleaner since there are employees that have to use them all day too.

        I agree though, moral imperative, because dirty work bathrooms give me anxiety.

  25. Agnodike*

    I actually do think that policies that imply that men are by nature disgusting and that the only way to protect women from that inherent, uncontrollable disgustingness are something that good people should push back against. They create a hurtful environment for men (who wants to go to work and be told that they’re disgusting by virtue of their gender identity?) but also they reinforce some nasty beliefs that contribute to rape culture and all kinds of other unpleasant and dangerous consequences of sexism that hurt women. (It’s already been pointed out that gender-segregated single-person washrooms make no sense and are exclusionary/potentially dangerous for trans and nonbinary people).

    So please do push back against this, OP #4. Advocate for all your colleagues to behave like adults in the workplace and clean up after themselves, and also against the idea that there’s a gross gender that can’t control itself and a clean gender that must be protected from them.

  26. Handwasher*

    This is timely. The sink in the single stall women’s bathroom in my office has been blocked and slow draining for months. Today it’s blocked completely.

    The female office manager, who uses it every day, is neither calling a plumber nor getting drain unblocker, because she’s “too busy.” Huh.

  27. MI Dawn*

    Re: Letter #2. Our semi-annual reviews have a “legal review” component to them, where the computer scans for words that could be problematic. As AAM noted, it looks for words, not context, so I regularly get alerts on my reviews for using “aging” (discriminatory), “black” (racist), “colored” (even worse), and so on. Fortunately, my managers and HR actually read the sentences and know that I am discussing actual work accomplishments – “In my job, I have reduced the aging of claims to 7 days” and so on. The computer got VERY upset with me when I discussed making sure the printers always had black and colored inks in them. :)

    1. Beezus*

      My company’s naughty word detector used to go off any time I ordered all-purpose cleaner (Spic-and-Span) and every time I got notes from our logistics team on a shipment to one customer in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.

  28. Imaginary Number*

    OP #4: I totally agree with you that gendered single bathrooms are ridiculous. If it were just that your workplace was labeling them, but not actually enforcing the rule, I’d say let it go. Sometimes single bathrooms will be set up with items that are geared towards a particular sex (basically, one will have feminine products available for free and one will not.)

    However, if people are actually getting called out for using the “wrong” bathroom, I think that’s absurd. Particularly if women can use anyone they want and men can’t.

    If there’s an issue with people leaving a mess then that should be addressed. It seems like discrimination to blame one gender.

  29. Roscoe*

    #4 I agree that its a bit ridiculous. However bringing it up on principle probably wouldn’t be what I’d go for. Can you and the other guys show that by essentially having half the bathrooms that you have to wait longer whenever you need to go? That is a practical problem that needs solving, as opposed to just saying that you don’t like what they did.

  30. not my usual alias*

    #5 – My husband was an advisor, and someone from a different department on campus came to talk to him about a part-time opening that would be a good fit for one of his graduate students. The more they talked, the more they realized it was a full-time job. It’s my husband’s job now. ;-) So you never know what could happen. But as Alison said, it’s very, very likely that they’re looking for part-time because that’s all the funding they have.

  31. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I’m nonbinary, so the idea of changing over non-gendered bathrooms and watching who goes in them makes me break out in a cold sweat! (I generally use the women’s because it’s physically safer, and because I have an F-cup chest to go with my butch hair and androdygynous style). Surely there are better ways to deal with messy people, including firing the worst offender(s).

  32. Emi.*

    Can anyone explain why the application system is flagging “inappropriate words”? What is the point of this feature? Is it to catch embarrassing typos? (I once turned in a math paper that said “sex” instead of “let x…” so I sympathize.) But it seems weird for HR’s computer to do your proofreading for you.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      It’s not checking for typos, it’s checking for offensive and discriminatory language. But lots of the keywords it checks for have reasonable non-offensive uses as well, so it’s more like a nudge to check yourself and make sure you haven’t said anything inappropriate. If you haven’t, then you can just ignore the flags.

    2. Liz2*

      My cynicism says HR wants tech toys which pretend to be the magic pill to finding the perfect candidate instantly and only make the application process interminable.

    3. Jessie the First (or second)*

      I once read a legal memo that had been *submitted to the court* that said “menstruation” instead of “administration.” That got some good laughs.

        1. FiveWheels*

          Given some of the legal admins I’ve known, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was deliberate ;-)

          1. JulieBulie*

            Long ago I had an intern who was supposed to type something for me. The word “account” appeared dozens of times. She keyed most of them in as “acocunt”.

            I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that I was dating a guy who she liked. Or whatever. I saw the error right away and corrected it, then showed it to her supervisor and suggested that she be taught to use a spellchecker.

    4. Bored and Confused*

      I don’t get it either. I once worked for a place where we had to input descriptions of items into a database and we were constantly flagged. Apparently it’s offensive to state that the colour of an item (think cardboard box, book cover, etc.) is black, white, brown, red, or mostly one colour with a bit of another mixed in…. We had to petition the company to let us use those words so we could get our work done. It’s stupid because last time I checked context was very important when it comes to word meaning.

  33. Justin*

    I am not sure I’d fight on the bathrooms either, but it really should be just all non-gendered. Single Stall is great.

    And I bet some of the people who were messy before the emails weren’t men. I’ve had a lot of female roommates and.. yeah.

    Of course men can be awful, too, but it’s hardly just gender. And the people who “forget” to flush (how? what? huh?) are of all genders.

    1. Sled Dog Mama*

      My daughter is the no-flush offender in my family. I have to check behind her in public restrooms, but then she’s three and terrified that some of the louder toilets will suck her in so I’ll cut her some slack, adults though….unless you are physically incapable of flushing, in which case I’m wondering how you used the restroom without assistance, you need to flush.

      1. Justin*

        I had a roommate who was 3, wait, no, she was 23, and I tell you, I sometimes had to go in there and then yell her name. Like, what. WHAT.

        1. Typhon Worker Bee*

          My husband used to very occasionally forget to flush. Once it happened on Christmas morning, so I yelled “MR HANKY???!!!” at the top of my voice. He’s actually not forgotten since, lol

  34. Trout 'Waver*

    In regards to letter #2, has anyone ever applied for a job through an applicant tracking system and thought, “Wow, that was much better than submitting my resume and cover letter directly!”

    1. JulieBulie*

      I realize/assume this is rhetorical question, but seriously… NO. I’ve never encountered one that wasn’t a PIA to deal with.

      Especially the ones that require you to create a login. Those were getting more common maybe 10-15 years ago? I hope those have since faded into oblivion.

      I get that HR needs some help wading through hundreds of resumes per position, but I don’t think it’s safe for them to assume that the ATS is finding/weeding out the right people if the applicants who can afford to be picky are weeding THEM out.

      And a lot of the info collected by the ATS is stuff that HR doesn’t really need yet. I wouldn’t mind dealing with an ATS and filling in all those fields after I’ve been invited for an interview, but it’s really irritating to jump through those hoops at the stage when I’m just a needle in a haystack.

    2. OP2*

      I didn’t realize once I started job hunting how prevalent it would be.

      Please upload a resume. Next, input all of the information from your resume that you just uploaded into these text boxes.


      1. Elizabeth West*

        Some of them either have an option you can choose to autofill the text boxes, or they automatically do it. Either way, you still have to check them all because they pull everything and it gets all wonky.

  35. Shadow*

    4. You know there are studies that show equal bathrooms aren’t equitable. This is why if you’ve ever been to a concert or sporting event the women’s line is way longer

    1. LBK*

      But having all gender neutral bathrooms isn’t the same as having an equal number of bathrooms for each gender…it’s having as many bathrooms for each gender as there are people of each gender who need to use the bathroom at that moment. The distribution automatically shifts in accordance with usage.

  36. RMF*

    #4: Messiness may just be a collateral issue here; I’ve worked with female colleagues who feel uncomfortable using gender-neutral bathrooms because of the risk of men walking in on them (accidental or not). One colleague in particular was recovering from a trauma, and dealing with some anxiety about respect of privacy.

    Not to say that I’m against gender-neutral bathrooms, but that we all carry our on baggage.

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      They’re single-stall bathrooms. So long as the doors lock properly, how would anyone be walking in on you?

      1. fposte*

        I think we’re talking about a post-trauma fear, not a logical process. However, I do find sometimes I forget to lock the bathroom door at work; it’s not a swinging stall door so there’s no cue to remind me (you can’t even tell by eyeballing it), and sometimes I put something down or grab a paper towel and get out of rhythm.

    2. FiveWheels*

      I’d be horrified if a man walked in on me… But equally horrified if a woman walked in on me.

  37. Tomato Frog*

    #1 I recently found out that two of my coworkers generally call out once a month during their period (unless their bad day falls on a weekend). I’ve been working with them in the same open office plan for years, AND I’m a compulsive calendar-checker, and I had honestly never noticed. It really depends on the nature of your work and workplace whether or not it’s an issue. In my office, apprising your boss that you’ll have a recurring monthly problem would be completely unnecessary as would any explanation for absences beyond “I’m not feeling well.”

  38. Nan*

    #2 our computer system that we enter info in at work filters words and will wipe your whole note if you use an offending word. That’s great for when I forget the O in account. Not so great when I talk to a gentleman named Dick and can’t put his name in.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Wow, that’s absurd! I get flagged every year for words that might be used in an inappropriate context but are completely appropriate in my context. Would be hugely problematic if it just erased everything I wrote for no good reason!

      1. strawberries and raspberries*

        Yeah, back in 1997 I was finally able to convince my dad to get rid of our ridiculous “Net Nanny” program after it deleted my entire paper on the Red Scare because I typed the word “bomb.”

        Now that I think of it, most of our household tech upgrades (eliminating Net Nanny, getting broadband instead of dial-up, finally getting a smartphone) happened because I wasn’t able to do my homework.

  39. LisaLee*

    #5: My current full-time job began as a part-time position. I took it for the same reasons you’re considering this one: it was a highly-specialized job in the academic sector and that field is extraordinarily hard to break into. So it’s definitely possible!

    For me it took about six months of working part-time and juggling two jobs before my boss at this job decided to extend my position. Those six months really sucked, I was working a lot of hours for little pay, and by the end of it I was sending out applications to full-time work. But if you can handle doing two part-time jobs for awhile I do think there would be a lot of benefits to taking the position. Many universities these days hire primarily from within, so having one position is a great stepping stone to another, and really makes you more competitive for positions in other universities.

  40. Princess Carolyn*

    I actually think reserving one of the four bathrooms for women is fine if the office has a particularly lopsided gender breakdown, but this letter doesn’t mention that. I can see plenty of reasons to make them all gender neutral, of course, but I’m having a hard time understanding why this would be an issue worth raising. I would not choose this particular hill to die on.

    1. LBK*

      I suppose you can argue that the odds that a woman will have to use the bathroom will be higher at any given moment if there are more women in the office, but if there’s no women waiting and the other three bathrooms are in use, it seems kind of absurd to me that a man couldn’t just use the unoccupied bathroom.

      I could understand this justification for having more women’s bathrooms if you’re at a place with multiple occupancy bathrooms, but for single occupancy I don’t think it will notably improve the flow of traffic to gender one of them.

      1. FiveWheels*

        It would presumably make traffic worse, if anything. If all four are open to all people, unless four people are using the facilities simultaneously there’s no queue. Restrict one bathroom and there’s potentially a queue if only three are in use.

        1. LBK*

          Yeah – I mean, if there’s so much bathroom traffic that all 4 bathrooms are constantly in use/have lines all day, maybe they just need more bathrooms, period. Our bathrooms are 3-person and maybe only once a month do I need to wait or go use the bathroom on the other side of the floor.

      2. Shadow*

        Generally Women have more bathroom needs than men so I really don’t see an issue with attempting to accommodate that reality. Equal access isn’t the goal. Equal outcomes should be

        1. LBK*

          There’s nothing to indicate traffic is an issue, only cleanliness. I’m not really understanding what unequal outcome is being propagated here by leaving the bathrooms all gender neutral, aside from women getting to use a clean bathroom and men being forced to use a dirty one.

          1. LBK*

            Sorry, phrased that wrong – having only a women’s only bathroom is what seems to create an unequal outcome to me. I can’t see how there is one without the women’s only bathroom.

  41. D.W.*

    OP 1: I have a very similar situation. When I first started my job I spoke to my manager about it, and was pretty honest about the symptoms that come along with my period. I don’t have cramps all the time, but I get really bad diarrhea and light-headedness, such that I’m just in bathroom for 30min+ at a time, multiple times throughout the day. We’ve worked it out so that I will just work from home on those days. I still come into work, but if it looks as if I’m in the bathroom more than I’m at my desk, I’m free to go home w/o taking sick leave. It only lasts the first day, and then I’m fine.

    Speak with your manager about it. You don’t have to get as detailed as I did (my manager is female), but I think it’s having a conversation about.

    My mom recently found a study from Columbia University that points to prostaglandins as the source of my trouble, and that it’s more common than we think.

  42. LBK*

    #3 – This kind of raises my hackles…are you certain no one at corporate is telling these people to take on these tasks? And is there a strong justification for why your team should handle them, other than “because it’s what we’ve done in the past”? I’d be really worried that this is a prelude to your department being laid off.

    1. JT*

      I don’t think it’s intentional, but then again I’m an optimist! However I do kind of see the writing on the wall so I wouldn’t be surprised if they cut (at least part) of our team.

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, with that in mind I might skip the on-the-spot conversations Alison suggested and just go straight to management to try to understand what’s going on.

  43. Teapot Librarian*

    For OP#1, as a manager, I would probably notice if the day you take off every month is a Monday or a Friday. I’m less sure that I would notice that it was every four weeks and even less sure that I would put two and two together. I’d probably bring it up and want an explanation, and then feel bad when you tell me that it’s cramps. But if it’s another day of the week, I might notice but not say anything. Not that this provides any advice to you other than that you might have additional considerations if your crampy day is at the beginning or end of the week.

    1. Seal*

      This and I’m a woman who used to get cramps plus migraines once a month (hooray for menopause!). When my employees call in sick, they rarely tell me more than that. Unless it was the same day every month or was happening every other week, I don’t know that I’d notice a pattern.

    2. IvyGirl*

      Agreed. I manage a staff of nine, eight of them women. I notice a pattern of “a case of the Mondays” more than anything else.

      It’s rare that all staff are present each day for a full week, even in closeout timeframes.

    3. Liz2*

      Sigh I worry about this! On BC which starts on Sun, so my lowest hormone highest PMS point is almost always a Friday, no matter how much I have worked to prevent and use meds, migraines almost always happen . So by halfway on a Friday I’m out the door barely able to drive home before collapsing for the rest of the day/night. So far zero feedback because I do tend to be able to prep, but still…

  44. Dust Bunny*

    #4 if the nature of the complaints was urine on the toilet or floor, or something else pretty clearly male-related, than I’m afraid I think the men in the office have forfeited their right to one of the bathrooms. Because yuck, and women don’t have much of a choice but to be in contact with the toilet regardless of, um, their needs. I have female coworkers who are messy but it’s clean mess–water on the countertop, for instance, after they wash their hands. They’re not missing the bowl. I don’t mind wiping up some water but I’m not cleaning up somebody else’s pee.

    If this isn’t causing bathroom traffic jams, I’d let it go.

    1. LBK*

      My understanding is that women who “hover” can cause equally gross splashing, so I don’t know that you can conclusively say it’s men causing the issue. More likely, perhaps, but not certain. And FWIW, men also do have needs that require sitting, so it’s not like we’re generally thrilled by dirty toilet seats either.

    2. FiveWheels*

      I don’t see how one or most of the men making a mess should cause clean men to lose their right to one of the bathrooms.

  45. Rebecca*

    #1 – I had menstrual issues when I was younger, and a male manager…who was phobic about such things. I tried to explain to him in general terms about what was going on, and he just got a sort of shocked look on his face, put is hands up and waved them, sputtering “OK, OK, female stuff, I get it…no more”. Poor guy! And he was married with 2 kids! So from then on, if I had to call off, I just said I wasn’t feeling well, and if he asked anything further, I just had to say “female stuff” and he clammed right up.

    As odd as this is, he never gave me a hard time about calling off (we didn’t have sick time, so I had to take it without pay).

  46. Bored and Confused*

    #1 I have also suffered from killer cramps. I have found that how you approach the subject really sets the tone for the conversation. Don’t be too nervous or apologetic, just stick to the facts. Alison’s script is great in that respect. It may feel like TMI, but it’s information that directly affects your work and therefore it is information your manager should know. Of course some managers will not understand the severity of the pain, but that can somewhat be helped by stating that you are seeking or thinking of seeking medical treatment. For some reason saying it hurts enough to see a doctor about it is sometimes more effective than just asking them to trust you when you say you are in a great deal of pain and discomfort.

  47. Amber Rose*

    #4: We also have a bunch of single occupant bathrooms. It gives us a place to store shared supplies like sanitary napkins and lotion, or our own emergency deodorant and stuff and be assured that dudes are not using the bathroom if we need them. To that extent, even though it seems ridiculous, it has been beneficial to have a women only bathroom.

    But the bathroom beside it also says it’s men only. Because singling out one gender is kinda gross, even if it’s with good intentions. Nevertheless, since in practice the women use their own bathroom and the guys use the other ones, I probably wouldn’t raise a fuss if there wasn’t a men only toilet. It’s just not worth more than an eye roll.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I lost a sentence somehow. :O
      The second sentence was supposed to say that one of our single occupants bathroom’s is women only.

    2. Agnodike*

      Why would it matter if a dude was using the bathroom rather than a woman if you needed to get in there to retrieve some hand lotion or a tampon? Do you think the dudes are likely to steal your sanitary products? Do the guys in your office not get chapped hands (in which case, again, why would you care if they have access to lotion they won’t use?), or do you have strong feelings about the gender segregation of moisturizer? Why is it OK for you to use shared deodorant only if it hasn’t touched a male armpit? None of this makes sense to me.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yeah, I’m confused too. If you need your supplies, and they’re in a single occupant bathroom, why does it matter if the occupant is a man or a woman? Or is it that it simply reduces the number of people who use that bathroom, so there’s more of a chance it will be free when you need it?

      2. Amber Rose*

        The dudes outnumber us six times over. Having one bathroom for just us means I’m basically never competing. And honestly, it makes me a little uncomfortable to have my male coworkers know what brand of tampon I prefer. Some things you just don’t want coworkers to know.

        I don’t share deodorant period. I know the girls will respect that. I don’t know the guys will. Several of them have boundary issues.

        I also know at least a couple of the dudes never wash their hands and I don’t want them touching anything I own.

        1. LBK*

          This…seems super gendered to me. Maybe it’s a coincidence of the collection of people in your office and/or the fact that there’s more men, so more potential variety in personalities and boundaries, but it’s pretty weird to me to assume that no woman would ever touch your stuff while it’s much more likely a man would. I frankly wouldn’t be surprised if there are some women in your office who don’t wash their hands or who have used a swipe of your deodorant on a sweaty day, unless there’s only like 5 of you and you know them all well enough to know for certain that’s not the case.

      3. Anon for this*

        There are still people who have hang ups with CIS men being aware of female bodily functions like menstruation. They don’t care if Jane sees her tampons in the bathroom but cares if Joe does. Possibly in part because Jane isn’t likely to say “ugh, Sara’s just on her period” where Joe might and now he might have actual knowledge of when her period is. Even if we try to ignore it, it’s pretty easy to figure out whose stuff is whose in a communal bathroom.

        1. Retro*

          I’ve also known quite a few men who consider themselves very… progressive? woke? Who still find knowing things like that about women they work with in a professional capacity uncomfortable.

          1. blackcat*

            Yeah, this is something I have actively worked on with my husband. The day he came home and said, “I can hear Jane pumping in her office and that’s really weird,” he got an earful from me. He’s extremely liberal, raised to be a feminist by a hippie mom.

            It helped when I framed it as “When we have kids, I’ll likely need to pump at work, too. Do you want my coworkers to tell me–or each other–that’s that’s weird? Or gross? Or will you want me to be comfortable doing what I need to to feed our child?” It’s like he had never put together the thoughts of “Artificial food is bad for babies*! They should be breastfed for at least a year! Preferably 2!” (his mom breastfed until 2-2.5 with all of hers) and “women go back to work within months of giving birth.”

            *His extreme attitude is not mine. I have not yet fought this battle. I suspect one day I will, as I am on team “do whatever to feed your baby while maintaining sanity.”

        2. FiveWheels*

          I’m British I haven’t really come to terms with knowing *I* have bodily functions, let alone other people knowing.

      4. paul*

        why is shared deodorant a thing? That…I don’t know, maybe I’m being silly but that kind of grosses me out generally.

        1. Amber Rose*

          It grosses me out too. I don’t take part in that, but I know a couple of the other women do.

    3. MrsMac*

      I wondered if the “Women’s Only” bathroom was the only one with a sanitary disposal unit. If that’s the case, and it’s an office with significantly more men than women, I can see making it women’s only. Standing there wearing a soggy pad, waiting for the only bathroom with appropriate disposal facilities to become vacant while there are other bathrooms empty would be enough for me to go to HR to request a gender designation!

  48. Myrin*

    #3, I’d love to learn more about how these situations actually happen because I feel like the solution might lie in this.

    You say:
    “Over the years, many of my team’s job functions have slowly been assumed by other teams at corporate.”
    -> How does that happen? What’s the hierarchy like? Are assignments by headquarters stopped before they can reach your team? If so, how? Are assignments public and everyone can grab what they’d like? It doesn’t sound like it but then, how does news of this actually-specifically-for-your-team work ever reach the ears much less the desks of other teams? Since you say “It’s not that my team is shirking their responsibilities; they are already performing these tasks.”, is it possible that there is too much work of your team’s specialty to do so your boss is spreading it out so that your team isn’t overworked?

    “I think the problem is that the corporate teams may not know that these are already being handled by our team.”
    -> How is that possible? Do these teams’ bosses not know what your team does? If so, why? Aren’t you as the manager (I’m assuming) communicating with your own bosses or other managers?

    It really seems to come down to the question of how the corporate teams actually come by the information of the work that is tailor-made for your team. I’m really intrigued by this and would love to understand the situation better, if you’re reading. But in any case, I wish you good luck with this somewhat unusual situation!

    1. JT*

      At the risk of being too specific, my team analyzes and tracks promotions for “teapot” sales. We used to be a part of the sales organization and focused more on analyzing promotions, but leadership has changed several times and now we report to the finance organization so the analysis is more accounting-focused (more “did you get the numbers right” not “how can we make our numbers better”). Our team is responsible for a software system where promotions are tracked, so we used to be responsible both for tracking and analyzing performance and now we are just responsible for tracking spending and software management. There is a whole new team dedicated to strategy, and promotion performance is a key part of their role. So there is a lot of overlap between the Strategy team, Accounting, Finance, and our Promotional Finance team. There are so many new people at the organization and new sales people that questions end up getting routed to whoever people can see at corporate and not directly to the team that has historically handled them. And yes,we do need to get better at communicating what we do!

  49. Retro*

    #4 – There are a few assumptions here about cleanliness. Entirely possible, but I had another thought. Is it possible that this 4th bathroom is being used as a pumping room or at least being set up for that purpose?

    1. Observer*

      Several people seem to think that this is a reasonable assumption. However, it’s totally NOT a reasonable idea. For one thing, it’s gross and also illegal of the employer is big enough. For another, making one bathroom women only does nothing whatsoever to make it more suitable or available for pumping.

      1. Retro*

        At no point did I suggest that this was a reasonable or good idea. I simply asked if it was possible. Plenty of illegal and gross things are possible.

        1. Observer*

          When something is gross and illegal, in a reasonably functional workplace, you wouldn’t expect it to happen. And, there is nothing in the OP’s question to indicate that it’s not reasonably functional. Also, when something will do absolutely nothing to resolve a problem, it’s not reasonable to jump to that as a realistic suggestion. Given both things, the chances of this being the reasoning as near zero, I would say.

          1. Retro*

            We’ll have to agree to disagree. I’ve seen something similar happen at a reasonably functional workplace, which is what prompted me to ask. OP made it very clear they were guessing at the reasoning. I think its entirely reasonable to pose questions in that situation, just as its entirely reasonable for you to state that you don’t believe they’re possible.

            1. Observer*

              You mean that you have seen a bathroom which is also used as a bathroom turned into a pumping station – without telling anyone (except for the women who need to pump)? In a workplace that otherwise functions reasonably well and treats female employees appropriately?

    2. MrsMac*

      I wondered if it was the only bathroom with disposal facilities for sanitary napkins.

  50. NPG*

    – RE: #1 –
    I took a position in Dec. of 2015 where I supervised two women [I’m a guy], and I knew going into it that one of them had serious medical issues as well as various performance issues that would need to be addressed. My philosophy at the time (and still is) – I don’t want or need to know what your issue is, and (I believe) it’s also illegal, not to mention stupid, for me to ask for more information related to their health. So my solution was that if she needed to take time off, for her to just let me know that she’s taking a day. All you needed to do is shoot me a quick email – ‘hey, I’m not well and not going to be in’ or a voicemail along those line, and that would have been fine.

    For #1, the best way to address it might simply be to say she’s taking a sick day off to her manager, or if the need is that frequent, to work with someone in HR about getting the time off that she needs. That way the organization knows what’s going on, the manager knows that she has medical issues that are being accommodated, and the employee is covered. If she does need to take one day off a month and the business only allots 15 days a year for sick time (as an example), I would imagine that managing another illness, like a nasty stomach flu, could cause her to burn through all of her sick time, and I wouldn’t want her using PTO / vacation time for that.

  51. jv*

    I am so bothered by the fact that Refugee was flagged as an inappropriate word. Isn’t that a form of discrimination?

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      I know certain words are flagged on a lot of blogging systems because they are followed by arguments or racist statements. The moderator just wants to review the comment before letting it through to make sure it is a positive use of the word and not a negative use.

      1. fposte*

        I think jv is talking about the flagging in an application system, though, which probably uses different filters.

        I don’t think it would be legally discriminatory, though; it doesn’t prevent people from applying, it’s not about self-identification, and AFAIK refugees per se aren’t a protected class (there might be some arguments about national origin discrimination but I’m not sure how they’d map).

    2. OP2*

      I had a conversation with my supervisor that it was possible it was getting flagged because it could be personal information, like stating in the resume “I am a refugee.”

    3. Wintermute*

      No, it’s not, because discrimination is taking ACTION not asking for information or noting a neutral fact.

      Legal review software like this doesn’t say “REFUGEE IS AN ILLEGAL WORD!” it usually just prompts you with the word category and a brief statement intended to make you think about accidental racism/implications.

      For instance I wrote “FAT” (the acronym File Attribution Table) in a performance review, and the software we use (which is the most common out there for legal wording review) just flagged it and said something like “Discussing personal attributes is often discriminatory and rarely has a good business reason, is it really necessary to mention this characteristic?”

      For “Blacklist” (as in Device Blacklist, an anti-theft and computer security measure) it said something like ” Are you using this word to describe a person or an object? Using “black” to describe a person is often problematic.”

      I can’t possibly think that any sane person would think that software saying “refugee is a potentially sensitive and politically-charged word” would be discriminatory, that’s just a common fact.

      The reason that this software exists is that tons of language carries racial connotations, potentially devisive meanings or other problems that not all native english-speakers may be aware of. Think of it as microaggression insurance, it flags terms you might not even realize may be sensitive to some groups.

      They want to gently nudge you “so, you use the word ‘girl’ are you talking about someone under the age of 14? if not you might be being sexist” or “So… I noticed you used the word slave, did you mean to do that? are you talking about a computer hard drive in a master/slave configuration, about your work for a human rights charity, or are you accidentally being racist?”

  52. textbookaquarian*

    LW#1, I just wanted to say that I feel your pain. Hopefully Alison’s suggestion works and you’re able to take care of you. :)

    LW#4, is it possible the separate ladies room is also meant for changing clothes and breastfeeding? Just a thought that I had. If your office doesn’t have dedicated spaces for those (especially breastfeeding), maybe that’s something which needs to be addressed too. :)

    1. Shadow*

      No. Every time a woman needs something doesn’t mean a man needs to scream “what about the men”. You want a cabinet in the bathroom for feminine products too?

      1. LBK*

        Men don’t have an equal need for feminine hygiene products, but we do have an equal need to use the bathroom, so it’s not really comparable. I don’t see how this is a “what about the men” situation when there isn’t a strong justification for women having their own bathroom, and frankly it’s based on kind of sexist assumptions about men being the ones who are messy.

        1. Shadow*

          Women have greater bathroom use needs. Men can get in and out quicker mostly and don’t have to deal with periods.

      2. neeko*

        To be fair, some folks who feel more comfortable in the men’s room might need that cabinet.

  53. memyselfandi*

    Regarding menstrual cramps, I had them pretty severely when I was in high school. The school nurse used to give me some sort of tonic. It was clear and came in a clear bottle that had some berries on the label. The taste was reminiscent of blueberries, but maybe that was suggested by the fact that the berries on the label were blue. In any case, it really worked and I have always wondered what it was. Does anyone know?

  54. BMO*

    #1 do you use a period tracker app or anything? Obviously not everyone is consistent, but if you need to take time off/WFH one day a month it could be helpful to let your manager know a little bit in advance, “Hey, I’ll likely WFH on Wednesday this week.”

  55. Kelly*

    #4: The letter writer is only ASSUMING it was women complaining about men, but it’s highly possible that it’s the MEN who were complaining about women.

    Our office has 2 bathrooms that are used by both males and females. At one time there were 3 women and 5 men in our office. We VERY OFTEN went into the bathrooms to find menstrual blood on the toilet seat, unwrapped used hygiene products on the top of the trash in the trash can for all to see, a wrapped used pad on the floor next to the trash can … seriously gross. I’ve had a hysterectomy so knowing it wasn’t me (plus I’m not nasty) I had to ask the other ladies to monitor themselves more than once because it was the guys who were complaining about the women.

    Maybe the men want women to have their own bathrooms….I’m a woman and I don’t want to share a bathroom with other women. lol

  56. The OG Anonsie*

    #4 So, by all means inquire as to why this was the arrangement made and all, but I would suggest dropping the assumption that it’s because some women complained about cleanliness. That’s a leap unless you have some other information to lead you there, and raising protest in the context of “ladies are gross, too! They pee on the seats also!” is not going to really sell this as something they need to pay attention to.

    Similarly it would be kind of cool if we could not do that here. Going on about all the gross women’s bathrooms you’ve seen before kid of detracts from the actual concern here, which is that they’re calling out people for using certain bathrooms on gender lines.

    However, be prepared for there to be a really valid reason why they reserved some bathrooms. It might be for traffic and flow reasons due to the gender balance in your office, or because a specific woman (or women) needed some bathroom-specific accommodation and this was a way for management to meet that without calling attention to her. It would be totally reasonable to say, hey, sending out these reminders that people are monitoring gender with the bathrooms is potentially really problematic– why was this change made in the first place? Is there a way we can still meet people’s needs here without monitoring bathroom use like that?

    1. Paul*

      Those are really fair points.

      My own opinion is that in most cases gender designated single stalls are silly, but I don’t know much about predicting traffic patterns for bathrooms–maybe there were lines/wait times that this relieved.

      It’s a good reminder to try to get information about a situation before getting het up over it

    2. MrsMac*

      Before having that conversation, I’d check to see if the “Women’s Only” stall is the only one with a sanitary disposal unit. If there’s only one bathroom where women can change sanitary napkins I can understand making it women’s only, particularly if there are significantly more men than women in the office (making the wait for the “correct” stall even longer!)

  57. mf*

    OP #1: Can you address with your manager without being specific about what is causing you to be unwell? “Boss, I occasionally feel under the weather, and it’s bad enough that I can’t really get off the couch all day but could get some work done. Generally, in these kinds of cases, are you okay with me working from home instead of taking a sick day? I’m guessing this probably won’t happen more than once a month.”

    And if he presses you for more info, then you give him the details: “I get cramps every couple of weeks that are bad enough that I can’t come into work.” And if it gets awkward, well, he did ask so it’s it’s his own fault if he feels weird about having this conversation!

  58. Natasha*

    #5 – I’m curious about a data management role being in a sector that is hard to break into. From my experience, there is a strong need for data management, and it’s one of those roles that makes it really easy to cross industries, so if you took a full time job in another industry, you wouldn’t be counted out the next time a full time academic role came up.

  59. Scott R*

    I’m going to share a secret for getting past those automated screening systems and having a real person look at your resume since I’m one of the guys who helps program those systems. Most of these systems are not remotely sophisticated at all. They simply look for keywords in a resume and count the number of unique keywords. Those above a certain threshold make it to a hiring manager.

    The ethical way around this is, for example, to be sure to use as many words as possible but in the context of admitting you don’t know something. For example, if the job requires knowledge of “Teapot Software Version 12” you could say “Currently learning Teapot Software Version 12” in the resume.

    The slightly unethical way around this is to put all of the keywords in a job posting in a tiny font at the very bottom of your resume, and then set the text to white text on a white background so it’s invisible to humans but not to machines. A caution if you do this, though: a few systems take text from the resume and duplicate it in a field within the hiring system so the “hidden” text will become very visible.

    1. Candi*

      Alison and commentators have addressed this many times over the years. It comes down to good hiring managers and HR ignore keyword functions, from having resumes/apps that aren’t egregiously unqualified sent on to actively disabling the function when possible.

      Using those gimmicks has also been posted about and discussed here. Summary: they don’t work in any meaningful way.

      The only one that has been proven to work is a rare case when the commentator copy-pasted the job description into a resume draft and set up their skill section around the specific wording. And that company turned out to be rather dysfunctional.

  60. Anonny*

    Most places I’ve worked would look askance at taking 12 days of sick leave a year, every year. I think this raises an issue with the amount of leave you get and whether you have any left for getting the flu, etc. For the decade I worked in healthcare, we didn’t even get that much sick leave.

  61. Free Meerkats (formerly Gene)*

    And personally for #4, I’d visit the local sign shop, have 3 matching “Men Only” signs made, surreptitiously apply them to other 3, and get my popcorn. I find the tight-sphinctered who can only use a single gender one-holer to usually also have a stick up it, and they wouldn’t get the intended humor.

    Our office trailer has two bathrooms and had a former coworker who refused to go into the one labelled Women until the sign was changed. We have only men in our work group, and the only open lockers when he started are in there. We actually gave up an FTE to another workgroup to get him transferred out a few years later.

  62. AC*

    #1 – I’m going to go against the grain here and suggest being careful about giving your older male manager details about why you’re calling out.

    If he’s a chill, progressive, empathetic kind of guy – then go for it. But if he seems remotely retrograde or old school, proceed with caution.

    In my former job, a friend/colleague called in sick on the day of a moderately important client meeting (someone had to fill in for her last-minute, but while it was a scramble, all went OK in the end). When she came in the next day looking fine, our late-60s male boss/head of the 50-person company asked her how she was feeling. She said she was back to normal, that it was just really insane cramps. No joke, she was fired a month later. While the sick day wasn’t explicitly cited, her “lack of commitment to the job” was mentioned, and it was pretty obvious what that meant.

    Now this was a pretty dysfunctional workplace, which is why I’m no longer there! But I doubt my former boss is the only older male who would think that cramps are a BS reason for calling out.

    1. Anonny*

      I think what’s missing is the management perspective. If you had someone regularly calling out the same time each month, you’d wonder about the scope of the issue and how committed they are to their job and impact on the office. This is the reason people used to muster for why women shouldn’t be in the workplace. I think it’s your responsibility as an employee to prioritize the work you’re paid to do. That means seeking assistance for preventable absences (and period cramps suck, but there are OTC, holisitic and other medical reliefs that make you able to work). Should I take 2 weeks off each Spring, because my allergies are miserable? Would you want to manage someone who didn’t take those commonsense measures in regard to their job?

      1. AC*

        I don’t disagree. I was a bit surprised that she called out on a relatively important day for cramps, and then didn’t at least make up an excuse that sounded more dire (especially given the fact that our boss was not known as a nice guy). Just wanted to provide this perspective for OP #1 to consider, because there’s no guarantee that her admission may as well-received as others on this board seem to suggest.

      2. Observer*


        Actually, it is NOT true that there are ALWAYS “OTC, holisitic and other medical reliefs that make you able to work”. Sure, the OP should be talking to her doctor about finding possible causes, but sometimes you just don’t find it, and sometime even when you do find it treatment is not possible or practical, and even till you find it, you have to deal with the problem. And sometime the “usual” remedies just DO NOT WORK. Or not well enough to enable someone to work.

  63. Arila*

    #3 We have a similar issue with my group.

    In addition to addressing this with the corporate group, you can also follow the information flow backwards. How is the work going to them instead of to you? Can the work be re-directed from this source to you instead of the corporate group?

    Some people won’t or don’t feel empowered to challenge whether something is their job, so they just do it. If you can stop it from getting to them at all, they won’t feel like they are shirking or passing off work because it never comes to them in the first place.

  64. Restroom User*

    Question 4 could easily be from my work place, except we only have 1 single restroom. In our case I’m the female employee who raised concerns about the cleanliness of the bathroom because I was tired of having to check the floor for urine, or see it left in the toilet bowl or on the seat every time I went in. When I raised the issue with HR I explained that I knew at least one of the culprits- I’d gone into the bathroom several times as he was exiting only to find he hadn’t flushed the toilet (he definitely wasn’t drinking enough water!) but HR refused to address the issue with him directly, instead choosing to do a series of warning emails. When that didn’t work they made the decision to change the bathroom to a women’s only restroom. I don’t think it’s great that we now have a single gender bathroom, if it was up to me there would have been a discreet chat with the man about cleaning up after himself, but that’s not how HR decided to go. I haven’t accidentally stepped in someone else’s pee in months though so I’m not complaining about the result.

  65. Bill*

    Every janitor I’ve ever talked to has unanimously said that women’s bathroom are far dirtier than men’s, so I don’t see how it’s justified to make a women’s only room without making a men’s. It’s definitely discrimination, but if only make a big deal about it if HR were assholes about it when I mentioned it in passing

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