screaming toddler on work calls, telling references their recommended candidate was horrible, and more

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

1. Employee’s toddler screams in the background of work calls

I am a first-time manager of a virtual team, and one of my direct reports works from home 100% of the time, which is a company privilege. My manager told me that on a recent call, this employee was providing an overview of a new system and in the background, everyone on the project team could hear his screaming three-year-old child. It was distracting and evident that he was not in the office. As a result, I provided coaching during our next check-in call, sharing that I was not sure if he was aware that others could hear his child. He said that this was an early morning call, he on the west coast, and his child was fussy that morning, in another room. He hoped that no one heard. Fast forward two weeks later, I am on a call where he is presenting a report with other business partners, and this time I heard the crying for a few minutes. I couldn’t focus. I asked him to stay on the line at the end of the 30-minute call, and I shared that it was distracting and I was not following what he was saying because of the noise. I asked if he was using a speaker or headset. He advised he has a headset and the child was “across the house in another room.” He acknowledged it for the second time. By the way, this employee was rated as exceeded expectations by a prior manager.

How should I handle this if/when it comes up again? Will I need to threaten to take away work-from-home privileges, which would mean that this employee must make child care arrangements? How should I communicate this while being professional at a company that promotes work-life balance and flexibility? I don’t think he gets how bad it is or how it reflects poorly on him and me/my team.

It’s reasonable to tell him that he needs to make work calls from a quiet environment, unless it’s a rare emergency. That might mean that he needs to find a different work space, or that whoever is providing the child care needs to take the kid out of the house when the employee has important work calls. (I’m assuming that he does in fact have child care and that he wasn’t just leaving a toddler to have a meltdown on her own, but in case not, it’s worth noting that it’s very normal for companies to require that people working remotely have child care if they have are young kids at home.)

In any case, the first thing to do is to have a conversation and be very direct about what you need from him. It sounds like in the past conversations, you just noted that you could hear his kid and it was distracting. He may be thinking, “Yeah, I know,” so you need to be more explicit — as in, “I know I’ve mentioned this a few times, but it’s really distracting to have a screaming child in the background and can reflect poorly on us. You need to have a quiet environment for work calls, which could mean working out of a different space on days when you have calls, or otherwise getting creative about how we solve this.” But do have a real conversation with him where you make it clear something needs to change and where you try to collaboratively problem-solve it together. (And do that now, before you even start thinking about revoking his ability to work from home. That would be a huge thing to do to someone who works remotely 100% of the time — potentially even something that would motivate him to leave the job — so you want to try other options first.)

2. Should I tell references their recommended candidate was horrible?

We were in a situation where we needed to fill a position very quickly so I reached out to my network, and a trusted colleague recommended the only candidate who (we thought) met all of our needs. He was interviewed, and honestly didn’t do well in his interview, but one of his references — another person who I’ve known for years who has actually interviewed me before, and who has been in this industry for decades — gave a lovely reference so we offered “Fergus” the job.

Fergus is awful. He claimed in his interview to be expert at a few things that he is terrible at, and has been put on a professional improvement plan, through which he is struggling, partially because he has the IQ of a rusty nail and the work ethic of a sloth. He’s only on a one-year probational contract because it is his first year with the company, so we’re not likely to have him around after this runs out. On good days, he’s annoying. On bad days, I’m mortified that he represents any portion of our team because his flagrant incompetence is embarrassing. After he is gone, some of the damage he’s done is going to take me a year or two to fix.

His horrible job performance (I’m basically doing almost all of his job for him at this point, or taking him through his job in baby steps and feel like I work with a 14-year-old — I cannot tell you how stressful this has been) has made me lose a lot of confidence in the person who recommended him to us and the person who provided the reference, both of whom I have always respected. Should I reach out to them and let them know that he is not someone to whom they should have their names attached? Or would this just be petty? He takes no responsibility for these problems whatsoever, so I know he will not be honest with them when they ask why he needs them to be references again so soon. When our boss has asked him about specific problems, he’s feigned ignorance in an attempt to make it look like I was equally as guilty in a deadline being missed. My bosses, thank God, are too smart to believe this for even one second, but the fact that he would lie and try to get me to share blame in an attempt to cover his own ineptitude is just one more reason that I cannot stand working with this guy!

Why are y’all keeping someone this terrible for a year? The most pressing thing here is that it sounds like Fergus needs to be fired, and that’s where I’d focus your energy. Plus, once you fire him, you’ll have an easy opening to contact those two references and say, “I wanted to let you know that Fergus didn’t work out in the job and we’ve parted ways. I hope you’ll keep this confidential, but since you vouched for him, I wanted to let you know that we had some pretty serious problems. If you want to jump on the phone, I can fill you in about what happened if you want that information before recommending him again in the future.”

To be clear, I wouldn’t normally recommend this when someone doesn’t work out. Some people just aren’t the right fit for particular jobs, and it’s not right to torpedo them with their references over that. This approach is only for when the problems are egregious, as they are here, and when you know the references personally.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. My boss questioned me about my cough

I was just called in and asked how I was doing because some coworkers in my near area have been complaining about my “chronic cough” after I returned to work from having the flu. I was told that it was distracting and loud and basically they were “concerned” with what I might have! I was deeply offended and cannot comprehend for the life of me where my rights are in all of this since the manager knew I had the flu. Why was I even told that and questioned if I was taking care of myself with medication after I brought back a doctors note? I am livid at the idea that people could be so unkind to even question / say those comments. I even used all my sick time already. I also work for a top financial industry which should be more effective in handing this type of issue. What are my rights?

Not many in this situation.

I get why this is frustrating to you — it’s no fun to have a cough, and it’s not like there’s anything you can do to control it while you’re recovering from being sick (beyond the basics like cough drops, etc.). That said, it’s also not great to hear a coworker coughing all day long — it can be distracting, and people do understandably worry about whether you might have something contagious that they might catch and whether you should therefore be staying at home. They don’t know what your sick leave balance is, and they probably don’t know the exact details of your illness, and they’re allowed to be uneasy about working nearly someone who might be contagious.

But your manager should have told them, “Yes, Jane was out with the flu, but she’s been cleared by a doctor to return to work, and just has a lingering cough” (assuming that’s true). And if necessary, “I know that hearing a regular cough can be distracting, but we work with other humans and sometimes we’ll hear this stuff. It will clear up in time.” It sounds like your manager instead just passed their complaints along to you, without actually dealing with the situation herself.

As for as legal rights, though, none of have been violated here. If you had a cough linked to a medical condition that was protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, that law would restrict what your employer could ask you (although even then they could raise the topic to explore potential accommodations with you). But the flu isn’t covered by the ADA, so this isn’t a situation where laws are being violated or you have legal protection. I’d cut your coworkers some slack here and just try to move forward without getting too hung up on this.

4. My phone number used to belong to an escort

I learned the other day that my phone number had been previously used all over the web by an escort. I don’t get texts anymore, so that’s a non-issue, but there are a lot of interesting ads and pictures that are left up. Is this something I should be concerned about while job searching, or am I okay to use it?

Thanks in advance,
Of Course This Happens To A Virgin

It would be pretty unusual for an employer to google your phone number, but to be completely safe, you might consider setting up a Google Voice number to use on resumes instead. You could set it to forward to your current phone, and you wouldn’t have to worry about anyone connecting you to the previous owner of your number.

(That said, if you just got this number and it wouldn’t be a huge pain to change it, it might be worth changing it so that you don’t get calls from people who see those old ads!)

Read an update to this letter here.

5. My boss wants three months notice before I resign

My boss called me into his office a few months ago to tell me that he would need three months notice when I leave. When I took this job a year ago, he knew that I would be leaving since I had plans to go back to school for a full-time program, which I disclosed during the interview process. At the time, it didn’t seem like a problem to me because I gathered that I would be able to give him enough time from the moment I found out I got into a program to the time I would have to leave for school.

It’s been a little over a year since I’ve been working here. My circumstances changed when my dad suddenly passed away and now I am in need of a job that will allow me to save some money and take care of my mom, which is nearly impossible with the rate at which I am being paid. The cost of living is extremely high here, and. I’ve managed to get by with careful planning, government assisted housing, and my mom contributing what she can. But assisted housing will soon no longer be an option for us, and I have to think about my mom and my future. At this point, I have decided on pushing school back a few years and just finding a job with a better salary.

I have been applying to other jobs and I’m just scared how my boss will react if I find another job and give him two weeks notice. This is my first job out of undergrad and I dealt with the low pay because I told myself experience is hard to come by, and I’m scared of burning bridges with my boss.

My boss is normally a very reasonable guy, but when it comes to an employee leaving I’m not so sure the same applies. Also, this is a very small company with no HR. I am aware that two weeks is standard and I am also aware that the state I live in is an at-will employment state. This is my first job out of college and this is just a first for me. How should I handle it should another job opportunity arise?

Expecting three months notice is not reasonable in the vast majority of fields. It’s definitely not a reasonable expectation in an entry-level job. Sometimes people ask for three weeks notice. Three months is pretty unworkable — yes, it could happen if you were leaving for grad school and thus had lots of advance notice, but if you’re leaving for another job, in many cases you’ll need to start far sooner than that.

Is there any chance that he meant he’d want three months notice before you left for grad school, but he didn’t mean it outside of that context? Either way, I think you can use that as an explanation when you do resign. If he brings up the three months thing, you can say that you assumed he was referring to grad school when of course you’d have that kind of notice, but that since you’re leaving for another job, that’s not something you can do.

You can say this when you resign: “I want to let you know that after a lot of thought, I’ve accepted another position. I start there on the 30th, so my last day here will need to be the 28th (or whatever). I’ve really enjoyed working with you, and I want to do whatever I can to make the transition a smooth one.” If he asks about grad school, you can say, “Unfortunately after my dad died, my plans had to change. This was such a great offer that I couldn’t pass it up.” If he says he’d asked for three months notice, you can say, “I would have been able to give that kind of notice if I was going to grad school since I’d know well in advance, but of course I can’t do that with a new job, since they need me to start sooner than that. But I want to do everything I can in my remaining time to help with the transition. Here’s what I’m thinking so far: I can meet with Jane to transition the X and Y project, I can spend most of next week documenting Y and Z, and (fill in with other details).” Note the subject change there; that’s deliberate, because how much notice you gave isn’t a debate; you’re just explaining the situation and moving on.

{ 696 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    OP #5, your boss is taking advantage of your inexperience and financial situation. Three months’ notice is ridiculous and nothing more than a power play.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yup. Unless he signed an agreement giving OP 3 months’ notice before firing (and expecting the same), this whole months of notice thing is a crock. OP, two weeks is standard and considered a courtesy.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        “two weeks is standard and considered a courtesy.”

        But not an obligation. Two minutes isn’t an obligation.

        “At will” goes in both directions.

        And if you give notice after you’ve accepted another job, the good will of the current boss matters a lot less. When it’s your first job, and was only a year, it matters almost not at all. Nobody will ever notice it’s not on your resume.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, it’s not an obligation, but it’s convention and in most cases it makes sense to give it in order to protect your reputation (not just with your boss, but with coworkers) and preserve the reference.

          And the reference really does matter, especially since it’s her first job. The next time she’s job searching, she’s not going to want them to contact her then-current boss, which means they’ll need to contact this one. Yes, eventually she can take it off her resume, but for now, there’s no point in torching the reference by no notice if she can easily preserve it with two weeks.

          1. Mike C.*

            How should the OP expect to preserve the reference when the boss is expecting three months?

            1. Anonymous Poster*

              Not sure, but if he goes on a rampage during the reference call and it comes out that it was because the OP gave 2 weeks notice instead of 3 months, how many reference checkers would think, “Oh that’s a good reason to give a horrible reference”?

              The OP should take the high road and when there’s something this unreasonable out there, just go with a standard professional norm.

              1. Ted Mosby*

                Right, whereas if he can tell future employers “She left with a day’s notice” they will naturally see red flags. Being able to honestly say you did the right thing matters.

            2. CarrieT*

              By being mature and understanding of her boss’s concerns, yet firm about her needs. Even pouty, unreasonable people usually come around once the shock of the initial interaction wears off. The OP says this boss is reasonable, so there’s no reason to think he’d be vindictive.

            3. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The way I described in the post. Plus, as I pointed out, it’s entirely possible that his statement was linked to the assumption she’d be leaving for grad school, when three months would be possible. The OP says he’s reasonable.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                Yes, the context of this ask was that she would leave for school, something that will firm up acceptances 4-6 months beforehand. It’s not like he came up with it out of a clear blue sky.

              2. bookish*

                Yes, I thought that too – that he was asking for such advance notice in the event that LW5 was accepted to grad school. I’ve had a few coworkers decide to leave the company to pursue advanced degrees and what was different about their situation was that they knew far in advance that they were leaving for other plans that were firmly in place, and they even took it upon themselves to tell their boss in advance (as in, not just in a two week window) that they would be leaving for school because it made more sense to be able to plan for the future of the department and having a nice cushion of time for interviewing and training the replacement.

                This sentence “My boss is normally a very reasonable guy, but when it comes to an employee leaving I’m not so sure the same applies” made me wonder if LW5 has noticed the boss being unreasonable about other employees when they gave their notice, so I hope that’s not the case, but the advice still stands. A longer notice period makes sense in this case when you know you’re going to leave – if it’s the much shorter timeline of the LW’s father dying, and LW needing to look for jobs ASAP and not being sure when they’ll leave if they get one, that’s different.

                And I’d encourage LW5 to not worry TOO much about leaving the company in the lurch when it hasn’t been paying you enough to live on. Goodness! I wonder if they’re used to high turnover if the pay is that low.

                1. AdAgencyChick*

                  Yeah, I saw the “normally a very reasonable guy, but…” and the fact that it’s a small business and my antennae went up. It wouldn’t shock me if this boss really does expect three months no matter what.

                  Which doesn’t mean he should GET three months no matter what. Do what you need to do, OP!

    2. Artemesia*

      And please don’t worry ‘how he will react’. Who cares? You behave professionally and don’t worry about an irrational ex boss — hope he is ex soon.

      1. Massmatt*

        Sorry but that is terrible advice. The boss is capable of causing significant damage to the OP,’s career prospects. How the boss reacts should very much be a concern.

        1. Ted Mosby*

          Um, not really? If OP is already leaving for a new job it will be a bummer to lose her first reference out of college but unless Boss is very powerful and respected in the field AND decides to head a crazy smear campaign against OP this wouldn’t be that significant.

          I went through something fairly similar and it was basically a non issue. I just very matter of factly explained the situation as though Boss had done nothing wrong and it was just a weird sad thing that happened and got references from people one level above me (but lower than my boss’s level). People drew their own conclusions. (I.e. I said “Fergus was extremely upset when I left because I, unfortunately, was unable to give him the three months notice he really wanted. Because that made our relationship tough during my last two weeks at Teapots Inc, I’m using Peeka, who oversaw my work, as a reference, rather than Fergus, who I reported to directly.”)

          Logically, OP has to behave professionally and not care what her boss thinks. Her other option is essentially stay forever in a job that pays below a living wage until she finds a better job that also allows her to give three months of notice. Unlike one missing reference right out of college, staying in a dead end job for years really can hurt your career.

          1. Anna*

            Agreed. Unless the OP did something illegal and egregious, the idea her first boss could ruin her career prospects is overstatement at best and paranoid at worst.

    3. Casuan*

      If you have time & can do so surreptitiously, you could start to make the transition easier by noting what a colleague or replacement might need to continue a project, or where relevant files are located, & especially the things that are more exclusive to your job. At minimum, if you don’t have these infos yet then make a private list of what you’ll need to do when you do give notice.

      to clarify: I suggest being surreptitious & private because of your boss’ demand & you don’t want to provoke suspicion. Often this won’t be an issue, although it is here. When you do give notice, you can ask your boss what he needs from you to help the transition. Also, when you do quit, be prepared for him to dismiss you immediately or to try to coerce/guilt you into staying beyond the standard three weeks. If he does the latter, have a broken-record response ready & use it as often as needed.

      OP5, my condolences to you & your family. It’s great that you’re looking after your mum.
      Good luck!

    4. Violet Rose*

      Three months is actually pretty normal in some places outside the US, but that’s for highly skilled professionals – and since three months is the norm, companies plan around it. I’m guessing that if OP were in any of those places, they would have said so

      1. Observer*

        Yes, also in most places where this is standard, employment is not (completely) at will. Very, very different situation.

        1. Thlayli*

          Yup. I had 3 months notice in a previous job but they could not fire me without due cause and due process (or whatever the term is). I could have sued them if they fired me for no good reason.

      2. TL -*

        I’m wondering if she’s in academia with a lab tech type job – 3 months is pretty normal there, but it’s often general notice, like: I’m looking for a new job in industry, so I’ll be leaving in the next few months with any luck. And then the “official” notice is 2-4 weeks, depending on the company they’re moving for.

        Same for grad school; you tell your boss you’re applying up to a year before you leave and then you discuss actual end dates when you’re much closer to leaving so you can be on the same timeline.

        1. Former Prof*

          Academia is super different from almost anywhere else. I decided to leave a position at a college, as a professor, and I gave them ONE FULL YEAR’S NOTICE and they still grumbled endlessly that I’d left them “high and dry.”

          1. TL -*

            Yeah, the combination of low pay + grad school in discussion from beginning + long notice expectations makes me think academia.

            Also, I totally believe that a college couldn’t adequately prepare for your leaving with a year’s notice :)

            1. Wrenched*

              I’m actually in higher ed & potentially leaving this fall for grad school. Haven’t told my boss yet because I wasn’t sure I’d be accepted anywhere/actually go. I’m starting to panic about it a little.

              1. Betsy*

                I’m in academia and about to resign really soon. There is just some official onboarding paperwork that needs to be completed as part of accepting my new job offer, otherwise I would already have resigned. I am honestly terrified about resigning. My boss has a very unpredictable personality and I don’t know how she’ll take it. I’m a bit concerned she’ll pull a similar ‘three months notice’, even though I’m legally only required to give one month, or tell me I should have been grateful for the job and they all expected I’d stay longer. I’m going to give two months, but I’m a bit worried about how I’ll be treated after I give notice.

                1. InfoSec SemiPro*

                  Why are you giving 2 months if you think your boss is going to be a jerk about it?

                  Long notices are for bosses/workplaces that will handle them well. They’re a courtesy and a favor, and frankly a GIFT. If standard for your industry is a month and you’re concerned that your boss is going to treat you poorly after you give notice… give a month. And if you are being treated poorly, you may be able to leave early. (I don’t know the laws where you are, but I sincerely hope they don’t have “You must stay and take abuse”)

                  My industry has a habit of just turning notice into gardening leave. We have access to so much sensitive stuff that crappy bosses change “I’m leaving in 3 weeks” into “How about today is your last day, we’ll send your stuff” and good bosses change it into “We’re happy to pay you for three more weeks, but how about you go home now. We’ll send your stuff.” We’re starting to figure out how to handle notice as an industry, but its still a crap shoot.

              2. JennyAnn*

                Just make sure to keep them in the loop about how things are going when you do tell your boss. My bestie was working as an adjunct professor while applying for doctoral programs, and the dean of her program just assumed that she would obviously get in and be going, but finances didn’t work out for her at the time. As a result, even though she never gave notice, they didn’t assign her any classes for the new year, effectively laying her off. They were apologetic and kept her on the list as a substitute, but she still had to find another job with no notice.

        2. Science!*

          Ha, this is so true. I talked to my boss recently about the coming end of my post-doc and that I’m thinking of applying to a couple places now. He looked at the calendar and decided that he could see me leaving in July. One of the jobs is a semi-lateral move to a different position in my same institution and if I take it, my new supervisor will be expected to negotiate my start date with my current PI about when I get to transition. If I take an industry job it will be a faster transition, but it will take longer to get through the applications-interviews-acceptance stages.

    5. Lil Fidget*

      To me, I don’t think it’s a “power play” – I’m sure the boss is just thinking of OP’s stated plans to go to grad school. S/he hired this employee with that understanding and isn’t considering that OP might leave for another position, and it is more reasonable in that case. When that is explained I think it will all clear up.

      1. WellRed*

        I agree. leaving for grad school is different then leaving to go to another job. Also, where is everyone getting all the outrage?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, I think people are just reacting to the “three months notice” part without processing the rest of the question — that he’s a reasonable person and that it was said in the context of the OP planning to leave for grad school when she was originally hired.

    6. Nita*

      OP, I’m sorry for your loss. Two weeks is definitely standard almost anywhere in the US. If there’s anything about your job that would make two weeks difficult, making the transition as smooth as possible may help… for example, having an up to date spreadsheet with relevant contacts / work procedures / vendors / project status for the new person.

      I also wonder if your boss is seriously under-paying you and that’s the reason they expect problems with hiring a replacement. One of my first jobs, I gave two months’ notice when I was leaving (also going back to school). In those two months, my boss interviewed only one candidate, and rejected him although the guy seemed qualified. It kind of looked like he was going out of his way not to find a replacement. I found out why when I walked away at the end of the two months… he tried to offer me a 50% raise to stay on. Apparently giving me that kind of raise would have still been much cheaper than hiring anyone else with the same skills.

      1. Susan Sto Helit*

        One of my friends was not only being underpaid at her job, she was handling multiple roles – filling in as the office manager and taking care of payroll as well as acting as PA. Her boss only realised how much she was doing when he tried to replace her, and ended up having to hire three people.

    7. HS Teacher*

      It’s hilarious to me whenever an employer “demands” any amount of notice. These are the same employers that won’t give you a second of notice if they choose to let you go. I know we do it so as not to burn bridges, and I don’t mind doing it for a good employer, but I hate the whole concept of having to give notice. Why don’t they have to give us notice (or at least severance) when they uproot our lives by terminating our employment?

  2. Al Lo*

    4: I google phone numbers when it’s one I don’t recognize and caller ID doesn’t give me enough info. If I’m fast enough, I do it while the phone is still ringing; otherwise, I ignore the call and decide whether I’m going to call back based on what the search turns up.

    However, that’s for personal calls, not work. I likely wouldn’t google a phone number the way I would a name during the hiring process.

    1. Elizabeth H.*

      I google numbers all the time! I also sometimes can do it fast enough that I can decide to answer while phone is still ringing (I usually do answer unknown numbers though). I could see myself googling a phone number in a hiring process – I’m pretty good at finding information about people on the internet and will search on name, email address, DOB, various combinations, etc. including phone, if necessary – but I don’t think I would probably do that for a job candidate unless there was something curious or strange in their materials that made me want to find more information very assiduously, beyond simply a basic Google.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        But if you found the number was used on escort ads, would you assume OP placed them? Or would you think “hmm, must be an old number”?

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Oh, I’d definitely think that it was an old number – it would be obvious (although I don’t think I would care even if it seemed like the applicant was also an escort) from the context. Just saying that a lot of people google numbers :)

    2. finderskeepers*

      My google pixel XL phone has a default feature that automatically shows the name from caller ID feature, if available. So I would suggest OP ask some close friends to delete his/her number from their phone, and see what pops up

      1. Yams*

        My Samsung does that too! I wouldn’t swear by it though. I get a lot of calls from companies and only about 50% have the company name in the caller ID, the other half are some random employee’s name.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I do this too–but with Google Voice numbers calling my Google Voice number, that have the same area code and prefix*, they’re going to be spam. Those go straight to VM (where they never leave a message) and then get blocked. I don’t usually bother to search them.

      *My GV number has a Los Angeles area code–wishful thinking, I guess.

    4. Veruca*

      A phone number can be a way employers search for you on social media, so if that number is still tied to its previous owner’s social media accounts, it might be in your best interest to just get a new number.

  3. M*


    Livid seems like a really strong reaction to your coworkers being concerned about extensive coughing. Many people come into work when they’re still sick, so it’s not a huge reach to worry that your coughing coworker could get you sick.

    1. M*

      Also, I don’t think it’s unkind for them to be distracted or concerned about coughing. The manager, knowing that you’ve been medically cleared, shouldn’t have brought it to you, but I wouldn’t jump to thinking the coworkers brought it up just to be mean to you.

    2. Artemesia*

      There has also been a huge resurgence of pertussis which can be very dangerous for others; in adults it often manifests as a chronic cough and isn’t recognized for what it is. It is also potentially lethal to small children or the immune compromised. Being around someone who coughs constantly arouses natural fears of pertussis, flu, TB (also making a resurgence and in drug resistant form); employees are entitled to be reassured that none of these things is the case.

      1. Casuan*

        And it isn’t just a colleague who could become ill. That colleague could unwittingly infect others at home, in the shops, on public transport… all of whom could then infect others.

        1. Ambpersand*

          This ^^. My husband is on two different immun0-suppressant drugs (one oral and one infusion every 6 weeks) for treatment of an autoimmune disease and we have to be ultra diligent about avoiding germs and people who are sick. I will admit that I am the first to get nervous if I think a coworker is ill or potentially contagious- including if they have a persistent cough or runny nose- because it has ramifications that could get severe if I happened to catch something or took those germs home.

          As for the OP, I think being “livid” is a bit of an extreme reaction. Especially with the severity of the flu this year, people are going to notice your cough and be on edge. And your office is a shared space, so you are going to have to deal with other people’s reactions to your behavior and vice versa. I don’t think your boss should have brought it up to you in such a way, but I also don’t think it’s anything to get worked up over. I hope everything cools down for you soon.

      2. ..Kat..*

        Actually, the pertussis cough is really quite spectacular. It is nothing like a nagging cough. I say this as a nurse who has a nagging cough, and as a nurse who has heard pertussis coughs.

        1. ..Kat..*

          I have to wear respiratory masks on a regular basis. The “particles “ from these masks give me a hacking cough. I am not sick, I just have to wear the crappy respiratory protection.

        2. Violet Fox*

          I’m not a nurse. A coworker of mine had pertussis, ended up out of work for a few months because of it, and honestly it sounded like absolutely nothing else.

          1. Lindsay J*

            +1. It’s in the common name “whooping cough”.

            I’ve never heard it in real life, and was curious as to what it sounds like a few years ago because my younger brother has bad asthma, which, when combined with a cough leads him to make big wheezing/inhale-y sounds before and after a cough.

            But I found some clips online and it sounds nothing like the noise my younger brother was making, and nothing like a normal cough.

        3. RabbitRabbit*

          Doesn’t the pertussis cough sometimes manifest differently in adults? Not all adults whoop from it, which was my understanding, and why it’s extra-important that adults get their booster.

          1. Drama Mama*

            My teenager got pertussis and she didn’t whoop. They only caught it because there was a current outbreak and the urgent care was testing all coughs for it. But that cough lingered and lingered and lingered! She was cleared to go back to school by meeting the state health department criteria (2 negative nasal swabs a week apart) after about 2.5 weeks, but the cough lingered for another month afterwards. Doctor said residual damage to the lungs that needed to heal.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              I think slow healing from residual damage also explains a lot of the mismatch in perception. To the person with the cough, it’s far better–they aren’t risking a cracked rib from the violent coughing fits. To random passersby, it’s a distracting irregular loud noise associated with germs.

          2. Annabelle*

            Yeah, my ex got pertussis a couple years ago and his cough sounded like a pretty standard bad cold cough. They only managed to diagnose it because he’d gone to the doctor for something else.

        4. Artemesia*

          My boss at my last job had a nagging cough; he finally went to the doctor where he was immedately quarantined for 48 hours until the antibiotics kicked in to control his pertussis and warnings were sent to everyone who had been in contact with him. Like most adults he had had DPT shots long ago and the immunity had worn off but his illness was not immediately recognized because it was not classic. That is how adults infected those babies in California who died of pertussis about 10 years ago; no one knew they were infected.

          So yeah classic pertussis is not like the cough after a flu — except when it is.

          1. DizzyFog*

            It’s really hard when you’re the one with the cough… when I come down with a cold, the cold itself is gone in days but the cough lingers for weeks. And it’s a deep, raspy, awful sounding cough like a 20-year smoker – even though I’ve never smoked! I’m always so embarrassed by the cough and constantly apologizing and reassuring people I’m not contagious at first. But when it’s gone on for 3 weeks, there’s only so much apologizing you can do. At my last job I kept my office door closed as much as possible, took Rx cough medicine, used cough drops, and several times strained muscles trying SO hard to hold in the cough. And still I had the co-worker who would come by several times each week to complain that I was distracting her. I was horribly embarrassed but also eventually felt angry because I had explained what was going on and what I was doing to try and minimize it, but it wasn’t enough. Coughing OP may be feeling ragey because she’s actually embarrassed.

      3. Lora*


        Had pertussis as an adult, after my baby vaccines wore off because it was back in the day when they didn’t know childhood vaccines weren’t forever. It sucked so bad. Coughing until you barf, coughing until you tear muscles and ligaments in your chest, high fevers (I don’t remember a few days at all). Caught it from a patient in the ER waiting room, where I had brought the then-husband for wrenching his back.

        And I am one of those people who always ends up with weeks of bronchitis or walking pneumonia after a winter cold/flu, even though the whole rest of the office gets nothing more than a sniffle. My immune system sucks out loud, and that is similarly the case for many many people (cancer patients/survivors, pregnant women, HIV+ folks, etc). If I hear coughing, I am Very Concerned. That said, I am 100% in favor of unlimited sick time too. If you’re sick, stay the heck home. Fancy corporate culture is not a sufficiently compelling reason to make people abandon quarantine and risk public health.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Tell that to the employers–they are not going to let you stay home until a cough is completely gone. Most of us don’t have a choice, and that really sucks too.

          1. Lora*

            Oh, I do. In my industry this isn’t exactly unusual, because if you have any contact with the manufacturing area at all, they want you to keep your germs as far from the drugs as possible. But I preach to the unconverted every chance I get!

          2. Overeducated needs a new name*

            Exactly. I’m lucky enough to be able to earn over 2 weeks sick leave a year, but I can’t afford to blow it all to wait for the cough to go away after ONE cold or virus, because then I’d be at zero, and I am not one of those fortunate sturdy people who only gets one cold a year.

        2. yasmara*

          My fully-vaccinated kid got pertussis when he was 4. I think the vaccine is only about 80-85% effective in any given individual. This was many years ago and before there was more widespread awareness of the pertussis resurgence & we had no idea what the cough sounded like. His cough came and went during the day but never went completely away. We had no idea…took him on a plane to a wedding in another state (sorry, universe!), kept him in preschool after the fever went away, etc. Finally got him into the pediatrician who had to give antibiotics to the whole family, notify the state health department, etc. FUN STUFF.

        3. CocoB*

          Not all coughs are symptom of contagious illness. Had one cough for a couple months and after doctor finally changed my blood pressure meds it was quickly gone. Yes, it was annoying to coworkers, but be realistic. I understand that people need to guard their health… but it’s a delicate boundary crossing others health privacy expectations.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        I live with a parent who is elderly and also immune suppressed (transplant recipient): You’d better believe I want to know whether that cough is contagious or not. I wouldn’t be mean about it, but it would definitely worry me.

        1. DizzyFog*

          As an incessant cougher, I am completely ok with someone asking whether I’m contagious. I try to head it off by explaining first that I’m not sick, just have a lingering cough. But if someone asks I’m not offended and just feel bad that they are worried. (I only get upset by the people who complain that I am coughing and it’s bothering them – believe me, I don’t want to have this cough either! I avoid going out when I’m contagious and take every precaution I can, because I don’t want to spread anything, but I can’t avoid work and life for 3-4 weeks every time I get a cold.)

          1. Anna*

            I think that’s the part that bugs me the most about the “distracting” thing. Oh, do they think it’s not distracting to me to cough every few moments? I can understand concerns about being contagious. You can ask away if I am, but my empathy drops to Kelvin zero if you are “bothered” by it. So am I!

      5. I sound like a grumpy old man*

        Yup. Bad enough I sleep next to a snoring machine, I don’t want to have to come to work and listen to incessant coughing, dangit!

        1. Specialk9*

          In the nicest way possible, suck it up buttercup.

          Being immunosuppressed or living with someone who is, that’s a reason for someone else’s cough to lead you to comment outside of your head, within a narrow range of appropriateness. But “I don’t like when other humans are being humans in ways that annoy me” is, well, pretty grumpy and unreasonable.

        2. TheSockMonkey*

          Just want to point out that if the snoring is that bad, I’d recommend seeing a sleep specialist or at least a primary care doctor. There are a bunch of health issues that could be causing that.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      I have to echo this. OP, you **are** distracting with that cough. And people don’t know if you are contagious so of course they are concerned.

      Why in the world are you taking such strong offense at perfectly normal behavior? Especially since you ARE disrupting them? Deeply offended over what? Livid about what? Your boss let you know about the coworkers so that they could work with you for a solution. That’s good! That’s adult!

      1. Overeducated*

        I think the reaction was a bit strong, but it’s emotional…I have a lingering cough every time I get sick, stemming from an asthma variation, but it’s just not possible in an American workplace to take a week or two off for the cough after you’ve already used leave for the actual illness. I do my best to limit it with cough medicine, cough drops, and frequent cups of tea, but I work in an open office now and my coworkers do comment. It sucks for everyone, especially this winter with so much going around.

        OP is probably mad that they’re still a little under the weather (if it was flu, that’s exhausting) and don’t have the option to stay home more, and self conscious that coworkers are monitoring their condition and -here’s the kicker – reporting it to their boss like it’s an awkward behavior problem instead of asking after them with concern. I think being livid is a little much but I totally understand where it’s coming from on the emotional side.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yeah, I’ve had to explain to people that when I really start sounding horrible, I’m actually on the mend. I honestly thought this was more common. The nagging cough always comes at the tail end for me.

          1. Engineer Woman*

            Me three! I’m sometimes annoyed (with myself) that I sounded fine when I was miserable and then when feeling better, I sound horrible!

          2. WellRed*

            Me too! Right now! I am doing everything I possibly can to mitigate it, and have taken several days at home or left early when it got bad. I am now quite far behind in my work with a hard deadline. Of course, if they hadn’t decided to short staff us a couple of years ago, this would have all been a bit easier to deal with it.

          3. Emi.*

            But you also wouldn’t be livid if your colleagues wanted some reassurance that you weren’t contagious while mending, right?

            1. Genevieve*

              Not if they came to me and talked to me about it. Depending on how unreasonable my boss was, if they went directly to complain to them…yea, I might be.

          4. many bells down*

            I get post-nasal drip really bad from anything that made me congested. A cold, allergies, you name it. So I might not even have been “sick” at all, but that PND gives me a lingering cough.

        2. Clare*

          I agree, and I also can’t imagine complaining to my boss about something like that, at least not without asking my coworker first if she was okay.

        3. Betsy*

          Me too! The number of dirty looks I get when I have a terrible cough due to asthma! I try to tell people that I’m not contagious, but I still think there’s quite a lot of judgment about illness, even when the association with contagion is taken away. I think people don’t know how to react to asthma, and assume you could be cured if you just took a puff of Ventolin (I’ve had to explain this one a lot) and you’re just being stubborn and wilful by continuing to cough.

          1. Ambpersand*

            I have chronic sinus problems that are exacerbated by allergic rhinitis- which means I always have a runny nose that I carry tissues for and sneeze throughout the day. I make it a point to tell everyone around me at work that I’m not sick, and it’s just a chronic sinus problem. Luckily they’ve all be understanding so far, but the look of worry from others never really goes away. I think I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m used to it and have to be content with the knowledge that I’m not actually risking anyone’s health. But then again, I am also the one who frequently sanitizes the office and kitchenette to make sure we aren’t spreading germs.

            1. Kate 2*

              Me too with the chronic sinus problems! I often think I should buy stock in tissue companies.

              1. Ambpersand*

                Omg, I say that all the time! I’m never without a tissue, and we buy them in bulk from Costco… I have them in my car, on my desk at work, on my nightstand, in the living room… Everywhere!

          2. Specialk9*

            I had pneumonia, and then a looooooong lingering loud awful cough due to asthma. You know how many people believe you when you say that this awful cough is just asthma? I ended up grabbing some extra masks from the doctor, tucking it in my purse, and if I coughed a lot in an enclosed space I put on the mask. It seems to really help people relax, especially on a plane. This really is a very deadly winter, and people are understandably scared.

            1. Specialk9*

              Oh and as an aside, somehow with years of this exact kind of cough, nobody told me that there are TWO kinds of inhalers – rescue inhaler and daily inhaler. The daily inhaler is something you use during your high-reactive situation or season (for me, winter, for others spring or damp). It’s a life changer!

              Just mentioning it because I made it through decades and nobody ever mentioned it before.

              1. Namast'ay in Bed*

                Oh yea it’s kinda the best. The day my doctor prescribed a daily inhaler was life changing. It was also life changing to learn that a lot of coughing issues – such as uncontrollable coughs, waking up coughing in the middle of the night, coughing fits, etc – were all caused/exacerbated by my asthma, and could be addressed with a rescue inhaler.

                Mind = blown.

                1. yasmara*

                  I know this but I don’t get sick that often so I still had to be reminded by my dr when the cold I had turned into a sinus infection + reactive airway/asthma flare. Oh yeah, don’t let my inhaler prescription expire, that might be helpful!

              2. Overeducated needs a new name*

                I…did not know that! I had the rescue inhaler as a kid but never a daily one. I am starting a new job so I won’t have sick leave accumulated for appointments for a while, but in the future when I go to the doctor I’ll have to ask about that!

          3. Artemesia*

            So many people SAY they are not contagious when they are or have no idea. Some people think you are ONLY contagious before symptoms when with flu, you are contagious for a week once symptoms show (and a couple days before). With colds you are contagious during most of the active symptom period — sneezing coughing runny nose. With ’24 hour flu’ you carry the virus for a couple of weeks and can infect everyone in the office if you don’t practice meticulous bathroom hygiene and then touch door knobs, shared computers etc. (and as an additional bonus, alcohol sanitizers don’t touch norovirus).

            Raising kids I can’t count the number of times people brought snot nose kids to events saying ‘it’s just an allergy’ and then infecting all the kids in the place with their kids’ colds. So saying ‘it isn’t contagious’ is meaningless without more information. ‘I have asthma and this is a chronic cough I’ll have for awhile.’ ‘I had a cold last week and I always cough for two or three weeks after a cold.’ all helpful. And most of all being meticulous about catching sneezing and covering coughs as well as washing hands is critical.

            1. Colette*

              But by the same token, someone who looks perfectly healthy can be contagious – more so than those of us who have chronic coughs that are not contagious. It’s easy to assume someone is contagious because they are coughing, but the fact is that you could be exposed to germs from anyone. All you can do is take care of your own hygiene (hand washing in particular).

            2. Just Employed Here*

              How on earth do you know where someone caught their cold from? It sounds a bit too precise to say “that particular kid infected my kid”. It could have been any person (or surface) your kid was in contact with…

              1. Kate 2*

                ESPECIALLY when it is known you are contagious BEFORE symptoms show. So ANY “healthy” person could have gotten you sick. In effect it works as a prejudice against the chronically ill and stigmatizes us.

              2. Rana*

                Given that the infection window for colds is about three days, you can sometimes figure it out. There are two places I take my daughter to infrequently, and the majority of her colds came three days after visiting. It’s happened enough that the correlation’s pretty clear.

                But there are a lot of other random vectors, too, and the presence of a snotty kid isn’t enough for me to assign blame. I just up our use of hand sanitizer if there’s visible boogers in a kid she’s near.

                (And it could be allergies. Both me and my kid have near-constant runny noses and coughs throughout the the winter, and while *we* can tell when they are from a cold (you feel yucky and tired, there’s more gunk, the consistency and color are different) it’s probably hard for someone who doesn’t know us to tell the difference.)

                1. Alienor*

                  Chuck E. Cheese is one of those guaranteed germ vectors. My daughter used to get sick *every* time we went there, until she worked out the connection when she was 9 or 10 and wouldn’t go anymore. Her school had “fun night” fundraisers there a few times a year and her friends would try to get her to go, and she’d say “no, but you have fun getting sick!” You’re right though, it’s not always easy for a bystander to tell a snotty allergy nose from a snotty contagious nose.

            3. Kate 2*

              But why should people with chronic conditions have to open our private, personal, sometimes emotionally painful diagnoses to others, and deal with the comments, prying, stigma, and “helpful” suggestions that inevitably follow?

        4. CheeryO*

          Yeah, I had a spectacular cold that turned into a sinus infection and gave me a lingering cough for weeks when I was new at my current job, and I didn’t have any sick time. I took a handful of days unpaid to rest and go to the doctor for antibiotics, but it’s not like I could have stayed home until I sounded better. I had a coworker literally scream at me to go get the cough taken care of because it sounded so bad, and it was super upsetting. Looking back, I’m sure it was distracting and I feel bad for anyone who had to listen to it, but there really wasn’t anything more I could do. So I feel for OP, even though it might seem like a strong reaction.

          1. Xarcady*

            This was me the past three weeks. Nasty cold, then sinus infection. Really bad cough for 2+ weeks. I’m a temp, so no paid sick days. I did take 3 days off until I felt well enough to work again. And work called every day–I’m temping because they need the help to meet deadlines, so they wanted me in the office. When I went back to work, I was coughing, blowing my nose constantly and I had lost my voice. But I felt better.

            Fortunately for me, my co-workers were concerned about me–“Hey, are you all right? You sound like you’re dying over there. Want some vitamin C? Need to go home early? Go get some more tea!”

            This week is the first week in three weeks my nose isn’t running constantly (just the usual allergy stuff), I can talk normally, and I’m only coughing once or twice an hour and it’s not nearly as loud/hacking. But I was cleared by the doctor to return to work 2.5 weeks ago.

        5. Allison*

          Same here! After I got over the worst of my cold and felt well enough to resume my normal life, I did, because I didn’t want to keep sitting at home doing nothing just because I was still coughing, and had no voice due to all the coughing. But a few days later, my boss sent me home, and I worked from home for another couple days and returned to work the next week, still coughing but not as bad. I just wanted my life back!

        6. paul*

          Same boat. I’m good for a case of bronchitis about once a year and I’ll have a lingering cough for a couple weeks afterwards. I know it sucks, but it’s also not contagious and it isn’t like I can take a month+ for the infection and the cough together.

        7. Annabelle*

          I get why this would produce an emotional reaction, but idk. I think it makes sense to go to your boss if it seems like someone is coming to work sick. Presumably, the LW’s coworkers don’t know the details of her treatment or that she’s on the mend and asking those questions can be really awkward.

        8. a1*

          Exactly! If you’re worried someone is sick and/or contagious, ask them! “Hey are you OK?” “Are you still contagious?” I was asked this just this past weekend because I had had the flu and now have a slight cough. I said “Nope, I was sick 2 weeks ago and am no longer sick. This is allergies.” (which it was/is.
          I recovered just in time for unseasonably warm weather to release the snow mold.) And we both moved on. Easy peasy.

        9. Kate 2*

          Yeah, I actually get the OP’s reaction. It’s not like I don’t WANT to be out when I am sick, but even IF I had the paid sick days, I have to save those for when my chronic conditions flare up and I am not functional. And I am EXTREMELY lucky to get leave at all, never mind PAID leave, which hundreds of thousands of minimum wage workers, who need it the most, don’t get.

          I can’t help my cough, and it isn’t contagious, just leave me alone. It’s really hurtful when people treat you like a pariah for something you can’t help, and anyway that’s really not how people get sick. If I coughed on somebody’s face or two inches from their face, or coughed on doorknobs or something, AND I was still contagious, that would do it, but coughing by myself in my cubicle WON’T.

        10. chomps*

          I agree. A few years ago I had a bad cough after getting a cold and I hadn’t gone to the doctor yet because he won’t prescribe antibiotics until I’ve had the cough for 4 or 5 weeks. But several coworkers (including my boss’s boss!) came up to me and gave me cough drops. I was annoyed at first because it’s not like I was enjoying the cough, so I get that. I ended up emailing my doctor and asking if he’d prescribe cough syrup for me w/out an appointment and he did! I’m so glad I discovered that he’s willing to do that. It’s saved me a lot of annoyance over the years.

      2. Goosela*

        Not OP, and I am not saying that you aren’t right, but lingering coughs are frustrating and painful. I was stuck with a cough from September to January that would leave me in tears from the pain. There were times I thought I was going to give myself a heart attack. My doctor recommended an OTC syrup, I was constantly sucking on cough drops. I was cleared for work (I even was cleared to run a 10k in 20 degree weather…boy, that was painful at the finish…during the run I didn’t cough at all, but once I stopped. Major regrets.), but nothing could calm this cough. I am so thankful that I was given a private office so I wasn’t too much of a distraction, though occasionally people from the department immediately outside my office would check to see if I was okay, so I must’ve distracted them at least a little bit.

        My initial reaction if someone would have told me “Your cough is a distraction” would probably have been an emotionally charged, angry one, even though I am sure my cough was distracting.

        1. Casuan*

          I even was cleared to run a 10k in 20 degree weather…

          That’s just crazy talk. :-)
          20° Celsius or Fahrenheit?
          Either way, I’m impressed that you could run!

        2. Ego Chamber*

          I’m not qualified to give medical advice but the only thing that ever really works for my bronchitis cough is Tessalon Perles (the way the doctor explained it to me is benzonatate suppresses the signal in the nerve telling your body to cough, so I feel like a freaking biohacker every time I take these things); far as I know they’re prescription-required, but they’re non-addictive and don’t have any sedative effects.

          Worth asking about next time you’re talking to a doctor about any cough that feels like your lungs are desperately trying to escape. :(

          1. Melissa*

            I second benzonatate/Tessalon. It’s not at all uncommon for me to develop bronchitis or simply a lingering cough after illness (sometimes just after a cold) and there were times when I would literally cough for _months_, which was not fun for me, my coworkers, or the people on the subway with me.

            About 3 years ago my dr. started giving me benzonatate and it has been a wonder drug for me. Usually I stop coughing within a week, with no side effects at all. You do need a prescription in the US. My dr. told me to ask for it any time I’ve been coughing for at least two weeks after I’ve recovered from whatever illness triggered the cough.

      3. Annabelle*

        Yeah, I don’t really understand the outrage. The flu was particularly aggressive this year, and I think it’s pretty normal for people to get concerned when someone’s coughing a lot in any public space.

      4. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Sometimes when I’m recovering from a cold, I sound way worse than I feel. My team feels awful for me, even though I assure them I am fine. They cringe when I talk, they move their chairs away from me in meetings, and they bring me tea with honey.

        I didn’t set out to be a distraction, but there I am, distracting people. It’s a very human and understandable response, OP.

      5. Anna*

        I have a thought. Because the assumption is that the OP is doing it TO them, it’s on purpose, and that it doesn’t distract or bother the OP. That’s crap. They can be concerned all they want, but the best way around that concern is to ask directly if the person is contagious instead of going to your manager so that your manager now has to have a talk with you, which can feel very pointed.

        If my cough is distracting to you, imagine for a moment what it’s like for me.

      6. Anion*

        Yes. I’m stunned at an (ostensible) adult whose immediate reaction, on being politely told that her cough is a big distraction to her fellow employees and they’re concerned about her, is “But MAH RIGHTS! How DARE you!”

        Whether you can help it or not, you’re distracting people and worrying them. That’s on you, not them. You should be doing what you can to minimize it and apologizing for it, not screeching about how livid you are that they had the nerve to be distracted and worried.

    4. Beatrice*

      If OP3 is not taking steps to minimize her cough, she should. I hate cough syrup and preferred the discomfort of coughing over medicine for decades. A bout of pneumonia and a really good doctor taught me that pill-based cough medicine is pretty darn effective these days, especially combined with cough drops, and that I owe it to myself and those around me to do everything I can to minimize my cough – for my own health, because of the distraction/noise, and because of concerns about germs. If it’s a productive cough, I let the med dose lapse when I get home and get it all out then – if it’s so bad I can’t wait for that, I probably need to stay home. If it’s just a dry cough, there’s no need to let it go. (I wound up with a cough so bad that the muscles around a very old abdominal surgical scar started to tear apart again a bit from all the hacking! Because I wouldn’t take medicine!)

      1. Bend & Snap*

        YESSSSSS let’s hear it for Tessalon Perles!!! Lifesaver.

        I’m on my 7th upper respiratory infection in 6 months. The cough is absolutely awful, distracting and spreads germs. I work at home but on days I do go into the office I’m really self conscious about it.

        1. WellRed*

          I am currently on tessalon. Not that impressed, but maybe it would be that much worse without it? Who knows? Also, some of the strongest OTC cough meds out there, but still coughing.

          1. Nina*

            Tessalon Pearles did nothing for me, either. I’ve used them a few times and never notice any difference or improvement. Doctors tell me that they either work very well for some people, or not at all. :(

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          Another upvote for Tessalon Perles! When I was getting over my nasty flu I got just in time for Christmas (grr) and had a lingering cough, I used Tessalon + Mucinex and that was a *lifesaver.*

          Tessalon Perles are not a controlled substance and doctors are happy to prescribe it for coughs. If not Tessalon they can give you something else. OP3, go to your doctor and get something for your cough – you and your coworkers don’t have to suffer.

          1. Artemesia*

            I can’t take opiates without getting violently sick for hours, but dextromethorphan does work pretty well and is OTC.

            1. yasmara*

              @Artemesia, I’m the same way! I can usually tolerate Tylenol 3, so my dr prescribed that for a nasty sinus infection w/cough (along with antibiotics) a couple of years ago.

        3. DizzyFog*

          LOVE the Tessalon Perles! Just took one an hour ago after a coughing fit so bad that it left me choking and throwing up. (Current case of bronchitis – so grateful I’m working from home and had the phone on mute!) I only discovered the Perles last year (when I had bronchitis) and the difference they make is freaking incredible. So much better than any syrup (even the Rx codeine-based syrups). They make respiratory troubles bearable.

      2. pleaset*

        “pretty darn effective these days,”

        Effective for what? For stopping coughing or for actually ending the underlying illness.

        If my cough is interfering with work or sleep (ie recovery) I’ll take medicine. But otherwise, no. Unless you mean it will somehow actually help end the sickness earlier.

        1. Someone else*

          It sounds like a lot of the folks above are talking about a lingering cough. As in, they are no longer actively sick, but their respiratory system has been sufficiently irritated that they’re still coughing. Depending on what the sickness was (and if the person also has asthma to boot) this could go on for 4-6 weeks. Have you ever coughed for two weeks (while actually sick and on antibiotics for it) and then continued coughing for a month or more afterward? No medicine is going to necessarily end that earlier completely, but it can make it less frequent or less intense. It is not fun coughing every day for over a month. It can make your ribs hurt, give you a headache, all sorts of things, just from the strain. And I say this as someone who went to the doctor multiple times and was told, no there’s nothing more serious, and yes this is a normal thing that happens sometimes and just keep using an inhaler daily and keep up with the cough medicine. If I hadn’t it would’ve been unbearable.

        2. CatsOnAKeyboard*

          Sometimes stopping the cough stops the problem. I am prone to a chronic cough that isn’t illness related (once the illness stops) – the actual act of coughing is stressful on the lungs and causes irritation, which causes me to cough more and it turns into a feedback loop. To fix it, I have to take enough cough medicine to stop coughing long enough for my lungs to actually heal – otherwise it will last for weeks and months.

          1. Artemesia*

            I spent my childhood with 3 or 4 month coughs like this. Allergies combined with bronchitis after colds. mucinex and cough suppressents can help stop this cycle of coughing irritation which leads to more coughing.

            1. yasmara*

              I also had a chronic cough in childhood – oh, hey, finally diagnosed with asthma as an adult!

              1. GreyjoyGardens*

                My dad had asthma that was exacerbated by cold weather. Where I live, it doesn’t go below freezing very often, but even temps in the 40’s would make poor dad wheeze. So whenever I drove him anywhere I’d have to crank up the heater to Hell’s Furnace levels. So if he’d get a cough in the winter, the cold didn’t help things.

                BTW, it’s amazing how many people I know say they’ve gotten their asthma diagnosis after suffering from a chronic cough as kids.

          2. Specialk9*

            CatsOnAKeyboard – the kind of coughing you’re describing sounds like bronchiospasms, ie coughing because you’ve been coughing and inflamed things, not because of mucus or fluid in the lungs. Just in case nobody has mentioned it to you, you may well find an asthma doctor checkup to be useful. There are 2 different kinds of inhalers, as I mentioned above – rescue inhaler for when you have a bad cough, and daily inhaler to head off coughs.

            1. Abelard*

              I don’t have asthma, but a few years ago after a bad bought of bronchitis I had persistent cough that would not go away. After about a month I went to the doctor and for the first time in my life was prescribed an inhaler. In a much shorter amount of time the cough was gone!

        3. Ego Chamber*

          “Effective for what? For stopping coughing or for actually ending the underlying illness.”

          For reducing the symptoms. I used to be super anti-meds for some stupid, stubborn reasons I can’t fully remember (something about “letting the fever work”?), but I learned from—this is embarrassing, but bear with me—The Walking Dead of all damned places how useful it can be for recovery to minimize the symptoms of things like the flu. Also I’ve collapsed a lung when I bronchitis before, so I’m pro-cough meds now.

    5. Sabrina Spellman*

      I don’t know if anyone else experiences it, but hearing people cough can usually turn my stomach. I wish it didn’t, but it’s not something I can change. An employee in another department has had a lingering cough for months and numerous people have complained to my boss after hearing it in our area.

      1. Manders*

        I have this too. There are quite a few mental health or sensory processing conditions that can make it difficult to tune out repetitive noises or control your reaction to them, especially when it’s a noise associated with sickness like coughing or nose blowing. I’m a sympathetic barfer too. :(

        I think that arguing over whether someone has a “right” to come to the office still coughing or the coworkers have the “right” to be annoyed isn’t the real issue here. The current trends in office design, combined with limited sick leave and sometimes limited access to health care, have just led to some terrible acoustics issues.

        (For the record, I only asked a coworker if there was anything she could do about her cough once. In that case, it was a part of a pattern of really odd health-related behavior on her part, and she’d already told me she’d been prescribed medicine for the cough but had decided not to take it.)

      2. Casuan*

        No, I don’t experience this, although as one who might have the dreaded multi-week coughig fits I’m sorry to you & everyone else who must deal with hearing it. Just know that I hate it too & I’m doing everything I can to minimise the coughing & to get it stopped.
        And I’m secretly hoping that one day you might get. Cough like this as well— *not* because I want others to get sick [I don’t !!], rather because the quid pro quo is the only way my embarrassed self can envision making it up to you. You’ve had to listen to my coughs & I will have to listen to yours.

        All of this is my awkward way of saying that I think Sabrina’s comment was nicely worded.

    6. QualitativeOverQuantitative*

      Yes! Sitting near someone with a hacking cough, even if they aren’t contagious, is incredibly annoying. It’s not out of line for your coworkers to be annoyed or for your boss to say something. Also, the LW comes across as thinking she does not have any responsibility in this situation, when in reality you have a responsibility to keep the cough under control as much as possible (cough drops, sipping water, stepping away if you have a particularly bad coughing fit, cough medicine, etc.)

    7. palomar*

      Seriously. One winter I had a coworker who was out sick with something for a few days, came back with a lingering cough, coughed all over the small work area that five of us had to share… and the other four people, myself included, all got whatever she had. For me, it was particularly bad, because I was a caretaker for an elderly relative with a compromised immune system. I’m lucky she didn’t die that winter, tbh. Sorry that you’re so offended, OP #3, but… other people are allowed to worry about their health.

    8. Bostonian*

      I’m guessing OP is upset because going to a manager over coughing seems like petty complaints, especially if the coughing isn’t that frequent.

      OP also seems to be of the mindset: of course if I’m here at work and provided a doctor’s note that I’m OK, then coworkers have nothing to worry about (no longer contagious). So for the manager and coworkers to not trust his/her judgement could be upsetting.

      Of course, livid wouldn’t be my default, but I’m just throwing out some possible reasons for the strong reaction.

      1. Anna*

        Pretty much this. The OP’s reaction may be strong, but it’s not entirely misplaced.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, as a person whose cough can linger for 1-3 months after recovering from a cold or the flu, I think it may help to take a big step back and reassess. Being told that your cough is distracting or that others are worried that you’re contagious does not merit a livid-level reaction, impugn your honesty, or implicate your legal rights.

    It’s so common for people who are still contagious and symptomatic to come to work or to pick up a second URI while recovering from the first illness. This is why your coworkers are asking if you’re not well—not because they think you lied about medication,treatment, etc., but because they’re worried someone who is still symptomatic and contagious is coming in. It’s also why your boss is asking if you’re ok. This isn’t about questioning your judgment, but rather, making sure you’re getting the care you need because you still sound sick to your colleagues.

    I think you may be less livid if you interpret their concerns as concern for your wellbeing and health.

    1. Casuan*

      I think you may be less livid if you interpret their concerns as concern for your wellbeing and health.

      OP3, probably your colleagues are at least in part genuinely concerned for your health. Also, it’s natural for to be concerned for their health, as well.

      Please try to have more empathy with this, OP3, because:
      -The flu has been particularly virulent & deadly this year. Otherwise healthy children, teens & adults have died, literally within a few days of being symptomatic. Those with compromised immune systems have been in hospital in ICU or died.
      -Businesses have literally
      -Probably more people than others realise have compromised immune systems or other conditions that make them quite susceptible. Even a cut can become infected although it might not cause other symptoms.
      -Even though you know that you’re being conscientious about returning when you got the medical all-clear, your colleagues have no way of knowing this. Some colleagues might know you well enough to vouch for this ethic, although not everyone will.

      I do understand your frustration. However the reality is that a lingering cough can be quite distracting so it isn’t unreasonable for your colleagues to question it. Of course this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be working if you’ve been cleared. An apology & self-deprecating comment could help with your colleagues. Apparently this cough lingers for quite some time, so if you can think of a way for it to be less disruptive then that might help.
      For what it’s worth, I’m glad that you recovered. :)

      1. oviraptor*

        Casuan – it looks like part if your second point didn’t post (Businesses are literally). I found your comment interesting and would like to read the ending to it. Working in a pharmacy really makes you appreciate those people who understand herd theory. Thanks!

        1. Casuan*

          you’re welcome & thank you, Oviraptor

          the missing text:
          -Businesses have literally put signs in the windows to ask patrons not to come in if they have symptoms & as well as to warn that the business might ask someone to leave if their request is violated.
          to rephrase: Businesses are risking their profits. The risk of contagion is severe enough that businesses are willing to risk losing a sale & perhaps a repeat client who might bring in future clients.
          -Even medical offices are being very cautious to protect their staff & patients by using masks, segregations, & more.

          1. Lindsay J*

            Yes. All the medical offices I have been in this year have big signs asking people who have the flu to please go home and reschedule. (Other than, like, the urgent care office that I use as my PCP, who would be treating the flu.)
            But psychiatrist, dentist, ENT, endocrinologist all have them, and are all willing to waive the cancellation fee so people will just stay home.

    2. JamieS*

      Agreed. Even with a doctor’s note I don’t think there’s a 100% guarantee OP isn’t at all contagious. Then again, I recently got strep from someone who was cleared to go back to work so I’m still hyper paranoid involving coughs.

      1. Lynca*

        Strep is such a PITA. I got it last year from someone who didn’t stay home AND BROUGHT A SICK CHILD IN WITH THEM.

        1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

          I’ve sent my students home when they come to work and announce they have strep. I’d rather work short handed then get sick.

      2. Massmatt*

        There are no 100% guarantees for anyone’s health. You might be asymptomatic yet contagious right now. We cannot live in plastic bubbles.

    3. Elizabeth H.*

      I may be the only person who feels this way, but I would possibly be equally annoyed if I were in OP#3’s position. I am probably in the minority, but I find complaining about someone else coughing to be more petty and obnoxious than coughing (the person is not coughing AT you and probably wants to be coughing less than you want them to be coughing). Like Alison suggested, “hearing a regular cough can be distracting, but we work with other humans and sometimes we’ll hear this stuff. It will clear up in time.” I highly doubt that there is nothing that the coworkers do that is sometimes also objectively annoying.

      I get that our current zeitgeist is to be obsessed about the flu and acutely sensitive to people with compromised immune systems, but I hope people realize that it is still unlikely to be severely impacted by someone with a lingering cough, there are a million reasons someone might cough, and worrying that someone with a cough isn’t fit to work seems more paranoid and busybody-ish than legitimate to me.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Context is everything! We are still in flu season. This season is worse than the last few year.
        And several of us have had experienced coworkers coming in while sick and infecting the team. Once bitten, twice shy.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          Oh, yes, I remember one coworker who had been signed off by her doctor, ignored it and came in and coughed and sneezed over everyone. Out of a team of 21, 17 got flu. This was right before Christmas so our family members also got flu. That employee was NOT popular.

          Having said that it does sound like this OP is at a later stage and more recovered from their illness than my ex coworker was. If I worked in that office with OP3 I would be wondering whether they would be back, but it would be more about contagion concerns than irritation at the cough.

      2. Mad Baggins*

        I mean, I think it sucks to be on either side. When I’m sick, all I can think about is how much pain I’m in and how I wish I were feeling better. When I’m better and my coworker is sick, I’m annoyed by the distraction and hoping the germs don’t get on me. Both reactions are normal, a bit selfish, and could be mitigated by a bit of compassion and consideration for others.

      3. Steph*

        I was actually wondering if boss was asking out of concern for OP, aswell. The chronic coughing had been brought to his attention so he is tying to ask if there is anything else going on that may impact OP’s work or workplace: does OP need more sick leave? Is there something longterm going on that the employer should know about in case it impacts further on OP and the other staff?

        In my workplace, when and employee takes a certain amount sick leave leave within a certain time, without explaination, the manager is actually mandated to “counsel” the employee to allow the employee the opportunity to voice any concerns or issues that have further impact on their work (I discovered this when, upon returning from 12 months maternity leave, I then spent the next 3 months at home more than I was at work caring for 2 sick babies whose immune systems were not coping with day care bugs).

          1. El*

            My interpretation was that the manager was mandated to check in on the employee to see if they were ok/needed more support, such as if they had a chronic/long term illness, which seems like a good idea. Perhaps op can clarify?

      4. soon 2be former fed*

        I had a hacking dry cough as a side effect of blood pressure medication. Nothing contagious at all. It bothered me enough to tell my doctor, who changed the medicine and the cough disappeared. People did ask but always out of concern. Just reassure your coworkers, and don’t assume the worst.

        1. Artemesia*

          I had this stupid cough for 7 or 8 years and would ask the doctors if it was a side effect and they would say ‘oh if it were you would know — this is different’. Finally it got so bad that I had a chest work up — and you know how those go, tests lead to tests. Finally we just stopped the meds. Within 5 days it was totally gone and we switched to another blood pressure med. I used to have to take cough medicine before concerts, always have a pocket of mints and still barely contained the coughing — now, nothing.

          1. Epiphyta*

            Oh good grief, I want to thump your doctors! “ACE Cough” is a well-known side effect of certain blood pressure medications; when it happened to Spouse, his doctor said “Oh! Okay, we’ll try something that doesn’t have an ACE inhibitor” and what do you know? Cough went away!

      5. Temperance*

        Eh, I’ve been burned by people claiming to just have asthma or allergies when they’re coughing. I assume cough = communicable disease, and I am asthmatic and end up with a lingering cough every time I get sick.

      6. JAnon*

        I mean yea, coughs can be annoying but so can people talking on the phone, people typing, people chewing, etc. It’s part of being in an office. It might be equally annoying to hear that people are complaining about it but asking what your legal rights are is blowing it way out of proportion. There is nothing illegal or discriminatory going on here. It’s just people asking if she is still sick.

      7. Observer*

        Your reaction is no more fact based than that of the coworkers – in fact less so.

        The odds of being severely affected by someone who is contagious are actually quite high. Thus, it’s reasonable for the coworkers to be concerned. Also, it’s surprising how often people do NOT do effective things for things like an ongoing cough, so again, it’s reasonable for coworkers to ASK about this.

        Now, management was wrong in how they handled it, as they did know that the OP was under a doctor’s care and that they had been cleared to come back to work. But, being livid at the coworkers who have legitimate issues is not a really reasonable reaction. And yes, the OP gets to feel how they feel, but its useful for them to understand what is and is not reasonable here.

      8. Rockhopper*

        I have been in OP#3’s position. I used to hold on to a cough for 4 to 6 weeks every fall after my regular October cold left me with inflamed bronchial tubes. Although I’m not asthmatic, the doctor put me on albuterol but it only did so much. Twice (two different years) I was approached by managers on behalf of aggravated co-workers. I can’t say I was irate about it, but if, like me, the OP is not getting much sleep, they are probably a bit grouchy.

        I’ve gotten better over time. My last cough only hung on for a week after the cold and I didn’t need special medicine. I actually noticed an improvement after I started running 2-3 times per week.

      9. AngelicGamer aka that visually impaired peep*

        Not the only one. I’m wondering if OP 3 would be less livid if it came from co-workers themselves and not the boss. Sometimes hearing it from the boss and not from the people who are actually around you raises hackles.

      10. JeJe*

        Thank you for this, Elizabeth H! I empathize with the OP too (maybe not to extent of asking about legal rights). Criticizing someone for a cough they can’t control is unreasonable. We’re all adults and no one is coughing on purpose. Chronic coughs hurt and people would control it, if they could. And if you’re concerned about people coming to work contagious, then maybe direct your frustration towards your company’s sick leave policy; if you work in the US, there’s a good chance it’s inadequate.

      11. Tardigrade*

        I don’t think this is an either/or situation. It’s annoying to have a lingering cough and would be mildly annoying for people to pester you about it (although it doesn’t sound like that’s happening here). It’s also annoying to hear someone cough all day and hope and cross your fingers that they aren’t sick.

        But it seems an overreaction to be “livid” about either situation and consider legal recourse.

      12. heres goes*

        You would be “livid” and ask about your legal rights? It really seems like an over the top reaction to me.

      13. Annabelle*

        I mean, as someone with a compromised immune system I’m pretty glad the current zeitgeist is in favor of not making me perilously ill.

        But really, context is important. People aren’t worried about the flu because it’s trendy or a moral panic. A lot of otherwise healthy people have been hospitalized or even died, and we’re still in the midst of flu season. So OP3’s coworkers are probably, understandably on edge about getting sick.

        It’s also unfortunately pretty common for people to run out of sick time and be forced to work while sick, so I don’t think their concern is anywhere near rage-inducing.

    4. NYC Weez*

      I am susceptible to cold-induced asthma, which means that after I recover from even mild colds, I often end up with asthma attacks that can last for as long as 3-4 months afterwards. I’m not at all contagious, but I am suffering, as the coughing fits can be quite uncomfortable. I usually sound like I have pneumonia.

      It’s definitely worthwhile to see a doctor about the coughing. In my case, I have a few medications that I keep on hand: a rescue inhaler and Tessalon Pearls which are a cough inhibitor. Once I can break the cycle of coughing, I usually recover very fast.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is me, too, NYC, and I am so sympathetic to my coworkers. Having a months’ long cough is miserable and exhausting, and it’s also miserable (although less so than the person coughing) to hear an ongoing cough that sounds the same as when someone has a URI.

        (Tessalon pearls + an inhaler can be truly magical.)

        1. JessaB*

          Thirding the combo, it’s a lifesaver, and I don’t walk around with every muscle in my chest and back pulled and strained from the cough

      2. LCL*

        I went to the doctor yesterday because the 3 week cold I had aggravated my asthma and caused the resulting exhaustion. The cough only came at the end, when I was all better except for the asthma. He prescribed a short course of steroids. In the future, if I get the lingering cough/asthma after a cold, I will see the doctor ASAP. Beats the two months of hacking I used to suffer through when I was a teen.

        And yeah, people were giving me the side eye and concerned looks mostly because of the hoarse/squeaky voice that resulted from the cough. In the meantime, I can check the calendar and see when I SHOULD have stayed home two weeks ago, but didn’t because I didn’t have any symptoms other than a sore throat.

    5. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

      I had the flu this winter and the lingering cough was worse than the flu itself. It was so persistent that I saw my doctor, she confirmed it was just the flu having a final hurrah. I found a cough suppressant to use whenever I had to be around people. Otherwise, at home I just coughed my lungs out.

    6. Jennifer Thneed*

      PCBH: what is URI, please? Google will only tell me about URL’s when I look it up. Oh, and the University of Rhode Island, I think.

      1. MoodyMoody*

        Upper Respiratory Infection, or any kind of crud that affects the nose, sinuses, or throat. A Lower Respiratory Infection affects the bronchii or lungs.

  5. FTW*


    I really think your approach should depend on your office culture. If work/life balance (or integration!) is a priority there, then although it is annoying, it might be ok. For reference, I work for a major professional services firm, and a couple minutes of a crying child in the background would be no deal. Obviously, it would be better without, but we all realize life happens.

    Also, if you are having a call that is very early West Coast time, it’s really normal that people might take this from home, even if they go into work later… which means there can be sounds in the background.

    1. London Bookworm*

      He works from home full time, so he should have someone there to make sure his child is being taken care of.

      But I agree, if the calls are really early for him, it may be before childcare has arrived or before they’ve had a chance to leave the house for the day.

      1. Thlayli*

        “He should have someone there to make sure his child is being taken care of”

        This. 100% this. OP says that he “would need to get” childcare if his work from home privileges are removed, which implies he does not have childcare. I sincerely joe OP is mistaken because if he is in fact doing this without childcare, that means he is leaving his child having a meltdown in a completely diffeeent room, on the other side of yhe house and just ignoring the child while he works. Thats a pretty textbook case of neglect.

        This is not a work issue, this is a child safety issue.

        1. legalchef*

          That… is not a textbook case of neglect at all.

          If letting your child have a meltdown was neglect, then most parents would be guilty of it at one point or another. Because kids sometimes have meltdowns and there is nothing you can do. And what about sleep training? I let my baby scream for 2 hours in order to sleep train and did my best to ignore him. That isn’t neglect.

            1. tangerineRose*

              Toddlers need a lot of supervision – they tend to be very mobile and not so good at staying out of trouble. I can’t picture anyone taking care of an average toddler and being able to get work done at the same time, except during the kid’s naps.

          1. Thlayli*

            I completely agree that letting your child have a meltdown is not neglect. Leaving your child in a completely separate room with no supervision for an extended period (the call was a half an hour and then he stayed on longer at managers request) might not be neglect if it happened once and he was certain the child was secure in a safe place. But doing that as a matter of course every time he needs to have a call, and completely ignoring their screams each time, is absolutely neglect.

            If a child has a tantrum or you are doing sleep training, some parents would leave them in a safe place for 10 mins or so to calm down or cry themselves to sleep. That is not the same thing at all as routinely arranging your work schedule in such a way that the child is repeatedly left alone for long periods with no supervision or human interaction. It’s a combination of the fact that it’s another room, the times are based on work, not on what the child needs, the parent is entirely ignoring him during these times. When sleep training or doing tantrum calm down you should be listening all the time to see if the screams change in nature – indicating for example the child has injured himself. All of these things together add up to neglect.

            The alternative is that OP is incorrect and he actually does have childcare or his partner was minding the child, or else perhaps he was lying about the child being across the house and he was actually watching the child. I hope so.

          2. Kate 2*

            Seriously though, all it takes is a few minutes for something terrible and irreversible happens. And this coworker is apparently leaving his kid alone in a different room for long periods of time without checking on them during conference calls. That is neglect.

            1. Anna*

              How about we all just slow our roll on whether or not what’s happening is that this guy is being a terrible parent or not and just agree he needs to change some things for this work-from-situation to be better?


              1. Britt*

                THANK YOU. This comment thread is ridiculous. My kid goes up for quiet time because she refuses to nap anymore, which means she spends 60-90 mins in her room playing, maybe a catnap if I’m lucky. Same goes if she has a meltdown. As long as she is in a safe room, it’s not neglect FFS.

            2. amapolita*

              Of course it only takes a few seconds for something awful to happen, but most parents have to make peace with that sooner or later. It’s not bad parenting to leave your baby for a few minutes in a secure, childproofed area while you use the bathroom/take a shower/answer the phone.

              That’s a completely different issue from leaving your child alone to have a meltdown in another room because you’re working without childcare and you have to get on a conference call. The two shouldn’t be conflated.

          3. Just Employed Here*

            There are many different kinds of sleep training, but depending on the jurisdiction, 2 *hours* of ignoring a crying child may very count as an instance of neglect.

        2. neeko*

          Not rushing over to your child after a few minutes of crying is not neglect. That is pretty normal parenting.

          1. JessaB*

            Yes but not having an ear out to make sure the crying doesn’t change to OMG actual distress right now….

            Also I have worked at home, I have a metric tonne of friends who work at home and every single job REQUIRES that you are not caring for anyone else, pet, child, adult, anyone. Every job I know of also required you to 99% of the time not be able to tell the person is at home at all. IE no extraneous noise, no unusual interruptions.

            So good or bad parenting decisions as to letting kids cry notwithstanding, he cannot be responsible for the kid and be working AND if the caregiver has the kid in a place where that child can be heard on the phone, the caregiver needs to remove the kid from the house. Everyone I ever knew who worked at home signed something that said “not taking care of someone, no extraneous noises.”

            I can get it if it’s like one day, caregiver is sick you try to cover, but the minute you can hear the kid on the phone, a lot of companies will INSTANTLY revoke work from home privileges. This guy is lucky they’re working with him. Heck some companies actually come out to your house to check.

            When Mr B started work from home, they came out checked that his office had a closeable door, checked that he, get this didn’t have a TV in the office room and specifically asked me as a disabled person if he was required to care for me during business hours. Because he would have been ineligible if he was my physical caretaker. It’s one thing to take two minutes if I’m having trouble, but he could not work at home and be my primary carer. And if they could hear our cat in his office we would have had to bar her into another part of the house. They were VERY specific and strict about what work from home meant.

            I’m talking permanent mostly full time work at home of course not “I’ll work from home today I’m ill, or I have a contractor coming and I can run those reports from home,” type things.

            1. neeko*

              I agree that it’s not cool to try and work and provide full time childcare every day at the same time. Not only is it fairly difficult to juggle both but it’s unfair to expect your job to pay you while you are doing something else. Like I wouldn’t expect my job to pay me while I’m building a website for my side hustle or something.

              I was responding directly to the claim of neglect which was pretty pearl clutchy.

              1. Thlayli*

                “Pearl clutchy” lol never heard that before that’s actually pretty funny.

                I added another comment above explaining why I think it is neglect. It’s also not at all “a few minutes”. It’s multiple half hour plus sessions.

                I have done sleep training on both of my kids and often left them to cry for 10 minutes. But as JessaB said you have to be constantly listening to make sure the cries of “I want mammy” don’t suddenly change to cries of “Ive just fallen over and smashed my teeth in”.

                Routinely scheduling half hour plus calls during which your child will be left alone in a separate room and ignored no matter what happens is a very different thing from “letting them cry for a few minutes” when sleep training or teaching them to calm down from a tantrum

                1. Anna*

                  It’s two that we know of. It’s not an indication of anything other than on days the guy has to make conference calls he’s not attending to his kid and either way, he probably needs a different situation if he’s going to work from home.

            2. OklahomaSpeaks*

              At my moms job her company does in house unannounced visits for her work from home job her coworkers hate it

              1. Specialk9*

                Oh hey what now? Oh no no no no. They could take that job and stick it up their collective nose.

            3. Specialk9*

              JessaB, your experience is much more extreme than mine. I’ve never heard of anyone having to pledge not even to care for a pet (!!)… Actually no pledge at all. (Which, maybe they should, I knew a lady who watched her grandkid every time she ” ” “worked from home” ” “.) There has been really minimal guidance at all. I have heard some dog barking or kid noise in calls, and not thought much of it.

              1. JessaB*

                Well if you walked the dog on your break that’s one thing but what I meant is a noisy animal or one that needs special care like extra medication or treatment, not just generally drop food, let pet out door kind of thing.

                1. tangerineRose*

                  That makes sense. I’ve got cats and work at home, but I have to admit, sometimes when I’m on the phone, a cat decides to vocalize. People usually think it’s funny. Maybe the idea there is that cats don’t tend to need a lot of extra care. My cats tend to nap while I work.

      2. Specialk9*

        Yes! If somebody schedules a call for several hours before my work day begins, they can expect that they might hear some home life! 6 am is really early, and kids are pretty predictably cranky at certain times of the day.

        I think a reasonable response for him might be “ok, then I can’t do any calls that early” – in which case the window for calls may get a lot tighter, or the East Coast people may have to take a call from home after their day has ended. (See how that works?)

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s possible this is a sympathy-evoking 9 am east coast, 5 am west coast, baby also woke up at 5 and concluded BAD and his partner is walking up and down bouncing the baby who is nonetheless not being terribly reasonable, being a baby. And since they don’t live in a mansion or have a soundproof room, it’s audible on work calls.

      Preferred option: partner takes baby for a walk, or out to a coffee shop. But 5 am is kinda early for those options–if this is rare I would tend to chalk it up to life. But if it’s more regular, then a crying baby is one of the most distracting sounds possible–there’s a lot of hard-wiring that says “Baby crying must fix” and it is harder to ignore than, say, a dog barking.

      I would assume, as Alison did, that he had childcare. Just that both that and his work take place at home, in a normal-sized house.

      1. Oilpress*

        I would ask if he had childcare and see what information he volunteers. Maybe there are gaps in the coverage, and he is trying to do two jobs at once.

        Either way, if you can’t create a professional work environment at home then you shouldn’t be working from home.

      2. Bureaucrat with a Side of Coffee*

        I have a colleague on the west coast who works from home, and if this happens she takes the call on her cellphone in her car in her driveway.

        1. Specialk9*

          How well would it work to present from the driveway? It might, actually, especially if the computer can get Wifi from the house. That’s not a bad solution, actually.

          Because depending on the time, not even Starbucks may be open. (I think they open at 6.)

          1. Can't Sit Still*

            Starbucks opens at 4:30 am around here, 5:30 am if they open late. I’m on the West Coast, and lots of people are working in Starbucks by 5 am, since that’s 8 am Eastern.

        2. irritable vowel*

          That was what I was going to suggest, too. If he has a car that might be the best solution, and if his home wifi doesn’t extend that far (if he needs it for screensharing or whatever) he could tether his phone to the computer and use the cellular connection. Having the meetings at a more humane time of day for someone on the West Coast, if that’s an issue, could also help, as others have suggested.

        3. Us, Too*

          I’ve done this. Naturally, someone’s car alarm a few spots down started going off. Sometimes you just can’t win. LOL.

          1. Us, Too*

            Actually. I’m in my office today and I’m listening to a car alarm go off in the parking lot RIGHT NOW. OMG.

      3. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yeah, that is what I was picturing too. If it is at 5 or 6 local time, it is entirely possible his wife is home and “responsible for the child”, but asleep. That’s how it goes–you’re responsible for your child 24/7, but you have to sleep sometime. In fact, now that I think about it, I don’t know who else would be doing childcare at such a crazy hour. He’s probably hoping to spare her also waking up at an insane hour just in case the baby cries.

    3. Triplestep*

      For an employee who exceeds expectations – and who clearly stated the reason had to do with a time difference – I would support him by ensuring he wasn’t needed on 8am or 9am EST calls. He probably assumes people are aware it’s 5 or 6am for him and his family, hence the casual response. Now he knows the acoustics in his home aren’t as good at drowning out toddler cries as he thought, but there are other ways to solve this that are pretty standard for distributed teams.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yes, although if part of the job requirements are “must be available for many 8AM EST calls” that would be a good thing to discuss with him, I suppose. OP doesn’t sound like they think this employee is exceeding expectations, just that a prior manager thought so.

      2. MT*

        If he choose to live on the west coast in a different time zone then when meetings are normally scheduled, then its on him to make sure he is available to work during those times.

        1. Specialk9*

          The thing is, this guy is a high performer. Are they really willing to lose him over some really really early calls? That’s one of the reasons we high performer perform so highly — it’s so we get reasonable accomodation when we need it. This one seems like they should be able to find a solution.

          And also, as a high performing mom of a toddler currently working from home with said kid due to a winter storm, I’m kind of stoked that this letter is about a dude. I feel so extra jumpy about being a mom with the potential for toddler screams in the background, for a bunch of gendered reasons.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            Yes, but it’s because this employee was a high performer that he already was given a very valuable perk of working from home – and to be fair, I don’t think OP is finding this employee to be as valuable as OP’s predecessor did *now,* since he’s proving to be a distraction on conference calls and perhaps making the employee look bad externally.

          2. SkyePilot*

            We have a weekly team call where usually, without fail, one of our top performing sales guys says goodbye to his kids as they are on the way out the door to school. We can hear the kisses on the cheeks and everything. We can hear when they unexpectedly come into his office or start fighting in the background! Ahhh. The joys of working from home with children. Luckily, we have a fairly laid back office so we usually think “Aw, how sweet.” or “Thank God those aren’t MY children.” Depending on the situation…

            1. Another person*

              My real question about that is why doesn’t he just mute his phone when he is saying goodbye to his kids! One of my pet peeves on conference calls is when people do not mute themselves when not talking and you hear the combined background noises of many places (sometimes combined with an echo from hearing the call play back if people aren’t using headphones).

        2. aNon*

          The phrasing of your comment is a little off there. It could be a national company with locations nationwide. I wouldn’t say that he ‘chose’ to work on the west coast despite his company being on the east coast. He could be based out of a west coast location but need to work with east coast partners. I have a family member who regularly has to work around east coast meeting times as well as Japan meeting times despite living on the west coast. His job is based on the west coast but there are partners he works with around the world so it makes meetings tricky and in that situation, I fully expect everyone to give a little of their free time up so it’s not always the west coast person having to make a 5am call work.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            “It could be a national company with locations nationwide.”

            That’s how the letter sounds to me, since most managers wouldn’t be so quick to pull someone’s work at home options if pulling said options meant ordering the employee to make a cross-country move.

        3. Risha*

          That’s a terrible way to look at it. A majority of medium sized and almost all large sized companies will have employees in different time zones, because they’ll have multiple offices. Telecommuting slots right in with that. No one goes “well, all of the locations should be on the East Coast to make scheduling calls easier!” You just find a time that works for everyone, and if most people are in Chicago but someone’s in Mumbai and someone else is in London and a third person is in Seattle, you get flexible about working hours. That’s standard modern business practices.

        4. neeko*

          That isn’t a fair point. It’s a virtual team. Others might also be in different times zones and also on the west coast – just in office settings.

    4. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

      Also, if you have to organize a conference call with people in different timezones, I would try to reprogram it to a time that’s comfortable with everyone. If 9 am is too early for your remote employee, why not move the call to 11 am, or before lunchtime?

      1. Mike C.*

        This is what I was thinking about – we deal with the east/west coast issue and we just don’t schedule stuff when it doesn’t work for the other group.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          On the other hand, if OP is in a client-focused field, the client’s needs are probably going to set the schedule. If these are internal meetings, yes.

          1. Specialk9*

            I mean, yeah… But I’m usually the client these days, and I schedule humanely. I’m not going to ask someone to jump on at midnight or crazy early unless it’s really really necessary (like a call with Asia, Europe, and the US with time constraints and lots of urgency).

          2. LawLady*

            Yeah, and there are time differences that are bigger than east coast/west coast. When I was working a lot with a French team, I took a lot of early, early calls. Things needed to get done and it didn’t make sense for the team to put things on hold until it was a more reasonable hour for me.

    5. [insert witty user name here]*

      I can imagine very few industries where this would fly for more than about 30 seconds (IE, enough time to rectify the problem by getting enough distance from the noise) – I’m thinking companies that are focused on baby products and the ilk. Work/life balance does not mean kids and their associated noises become part of the work day. Yes, things happen and come up, but it sounds like this employee was not really doing enough to address the issue or try to work around it (yet). I think Allison’s advice is spot-on. Substitute other noises for a baby crying – a vacuum cleaner, a TV, a dog barking, a noisy street – all of those would also be distracting and unacceptable in the background of a work call, if they continued beyond the initial interruption. The OP said that working from home 100% is a privilege; I would propose that part of the employee’s responsibility is ensuring they have a satisfactory place to work, including accommodating for West Coast – East Coast support if your job requires it (I’m thinking this wasn’t sprung at the last minute – I mean, the call might have been, but knowing you’re going to have the support the East Coast likely wasn’t). Bottom line for me – it is not unreasonable to expect that professional work calls happen in a professional environment.

      1. Agnodike*

        There are actually a pretty wide variety of fields where organizations will take a flexible approach to the realities of work/life balance. After six years in various community nonprofits, I’m very used to hearing a little toddler chatter in the background on a call, or having people bring babies in arms to meetings. I brought my youngest to an international conference in my field when she was six weeks old, and she met lots of other babies there. Of course it’s a little noisier, and it’s a little more distracting, but since we’re all adults, we cope with it fairly easily, and the organizations I’ve worked with have been committed to not disadvantaging parents (usually female parents!) and welcoming their participation.

        Lots of organizations that are equity-focused recognize that requiring a bright line of separation between someone’s work and the entire rest of their life structurally disadvantages some groups more than others and make an effort to rethink which barriers are necessary and which can be removed with a little bit of expectation reconfiguration. That’s not the case for, say, vacuum noises or TV noises – there’s no one group that would have to significantly restructure their life in order to avoid running the vacuum while on a call. I get that that’s not the perspective that all industries have, and that’s fine, but it’s not as rare as you seem to think, and it’s worth considering how we determine what “professional” looks like and why.

        1. Det. Charles Boyle*

          Thank you for posting this. Yes, it’s worth asking why work is structured in the way that it is — and that it specifically is structured to exclude certain groups of people, or make it tougher for them to “break in” to the work force. The lack of support in the US for parents, especially mothers, excludes so many high performing people who could contribute so much if these barriers didn’t exist.

        2. Lynn Whitehat*

          I work in tech, not in a particularly equity-focused or child-focused sector (network security, specifically), and really, no one would care on an internal call. Obviously nobody likes to hear babies cry, but life happens. It especially happens if you want people to call in at 5 or 6 AM their time.

          1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.*

            Same! I used to work at a tech/media company, and it wasn’t at all uncommon to see/hear babies, dogs, cats, whoever was around during the call. Sure, they probably wouldn’t do it during an Important Client Call or something, but just internally? Everyone loves to see babies and cute animals. :)

        3. [insert witty user name here]*

          Fair enough. I’ll admit, I have never been in a work situation where it would be OK to have your kid there while conducting work and can’t think of many where in MY opinion it’d be the right situation. But – that is why I think it is so important for us to consider other people’s opinions.

          While I do think you and I would probably still have differing views on where that separation line between work and the rest of someone’s life starts, I do want to let you know that your points about work-life balance are very well made and taken, and to let you know that you’ve got an internet stranger thinking about things from a new perspective.

        4. Sarah*

          I agree. I have definitely done work calls with colleagues who had a kid wandering in and out of frame or waving hi. Granted I work in academia and so there’s no 9 to 5 or “work from home privileges” — other than showing up to teach class or to a few required meetings (which I have also known people to do with a baby in a carrier in occasional child care emergencies), the general rule is just get your work done wherever/however/whenever you decide to arrange that. I realize this isn’t the typical workplace, but I’m sure there are others out there with a more relaxed attitude about this stuff, and I don’t feel like it really impacts productivity broadly (although obviously it can for specific people/circumstances).

      2. JustaTech*

        My question is, what can the employee do in the moment? Usually if I’m on a call (esp if it’s a video call) I am literally attached to my computer (via headphones) and it sounds like this employee would have had to leave the room to either 1) address the crying child or 2) go somewhere farther away.

        And I’m surprised no one has mentioned that guy who was being interviewed on the news when his toddler burst in to say hi.

        1. Specialk9*

          The one where the toddler rollllllled in, he had only half a suit on so couldn’t stand up, and the mom only realized the kid had disappeared when she saw it on the recording she was making? That was historical.

      3. Sammy Mcsamson*

        There are a lot of places where this kind of thing happens, in my experience. When I was a consultant we had conference call bingo for our internal (note – internal) calls that had squares like ‘crying child’ ‘car navagation system’ ‘barking dog’ ‘wind’ ‘hold music’. For calls with a client we all performed to a higher standard.

        When I worked for a Fortune 500 tech company people routinely had after-hours and middle of the night calls with China or Israel. and yes, there were noises and we all got past that.

        I know your experience is different – but i want to represent for the places where this is something that sometimes happens.

        1. Typhon Worker Bee*

          Something I never thought I’d have to say on a work call:

          “Can the person who’s calling in from a bus please mute their mic? The constant stop announcements are distracting”

          Mind you, I once forgot to re-mute after talking on a very early morning call I was taking from my sofa, and my cat purred into the mic for a while before people started asking if there was some kind of weird mechanical noise on the line…

      4. tangerineRose*

        I work from home. I have neighbors. Some of them have dogs. If a dog is barking while I’m in a meeting, I’ll close the window and worry that the dog is still audible to others in the call, but there’s really only so much I can do. I also keep my phone muted unless I’m talking.

    6. Nita*

      The West Coast thing could well be part of the issue. It could have been so early in the morning that everyone is still in the house. Even if the employee normally has someone come in later to provide child care, they’re not going to come in at 5 or 6 AM unless there are expensive additional arrangements. Also, if it’s that early, the child likely was not in another room alone – but just because they are with the other parent, doesn’t always mean the other parent can calm them down ASAP.

      If that’s the case, having the call a little later and making sure this employee has child care would solve the problem. They may also have to be ready to take calls from somewhere out of the house, if a relatively quiet location is available.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        FWIW, in my field it would not be reasonable to hold calls later because of our own internal employee’s needs -of course we would do it for an internal meeting, but that’s the minority of our calls. We’re focused on being responsive to the needs of the people we’re serving. To be fair this would be communicated from the start as a requirement of the job though – not sprung on somebody.

        1. Anna*

          But if that’s the case, and you’re working with someone who works from home, then you also have to be somewhat understanding if the lives of the other people in that house are going to sometimes intrude on things like phone calls.

      2. anonymous parent*

        This is what I was thinking. I work from home sometimes, and have kids, and have child care — but my child care starts at 8 or 8:30 am ET. On the occasion when I have had to make a call at 7am, yeah, I’m still home with my kids, because I’m being extremely accommodating with my personal time, and although they get parked quietly in one room and I go to another and shut the door, our home’s not that big and a three-year-old is an extremely loud creature.

        If I were on the west coast and routinely had to dial in to calls at 9 or 10 east coast time, I’d be screwed kid-wise, because that’s peak wake-up-and-cause-trouble o’clock, and you basically can’t get child care at that hour.

        Yes, this employee needs to do something about kids on the calls but also he’s being set up in a really bad way because of that time difference and I hope the company can help.

    7. Full time WFH mom*

      I work from home full time on a client that is PST (I am CST). My daughter goes to daycare every day, but if I need to jump on a call that is at 4pm PST, it’s 6pm my time and my daughter is home because her daycare is closed. This has happened to me before and I would hope that people on the call were understanding that I am working past my normal working day to be accommodating to them, so they can have a little respect for my situation too. It’s not always an open and shut case of not having childcare, especially when different time zones come into play.

      1. einahpets*

        Yeah, the timezones are where it gets tricky.

        Most daycares and school before-after care is done by 5:30 or 6pm, and most don’t open until 7am. I am not going to get a babysitter to watch my kids for a work call outside of those hours, as my spouse will watch them… but that also means I can’t always predict if/when I’ll get a kid-terruption.

    8. einahpets*

      Yeah, I’m envisioning the call was maybe before 7am PT, which is something I’ve had to do while on the West Coast for East Coast / European colleagues.

      I have young kids and a husband that does the morning routine (I’m in the office by 7am most days), but a 5am call is not going to get me in the office — I’m going to take it at home. And a child crying in the background would be my worst nightmare if I needed to present. I’ve taken calls in my car in the driveway before, but that would definitely not work for something I needed my computer presenting on.

      I had a coworker at an old job with an old parrot that could get reaaaaally loud sometimes. She was good at the mute button, but there were times we all heard random squawks and repetitive shouts and knew it was just C’s parrot.

  6. Artemesia*

    My daughter works from home and has an infant. She has a nanny during her work hours. And yes this is crazy expensive. I would never authorize someone to work from home if they don’t have child care; it is simply not possible to be productive when caring for a child and in particular a toddler. If this were a one off — the day care was closed or the nanny didn’t show, or the kid was home sick — one thing. But that fact that this recurs suggests that this employee is not suitable for work from home. If there is care and the child is so disruptive on phone calls, it is hard to imagine he is not also disruptive for work. In either case, this employee probably needs to be in the office.

    1. Mad Baggins*

      Yes, the issue of work-from-home-with-no-childcare has come up many times on AAM. It’s not clear what the employee currently has (presumably something, since the child was “across the house in another room”) but if it’s impacting calls, it might make sense to see if it’s impacting the rest of his workload. Does he exceed YOUR expectations as well? If not then it’s time to look at other childcare options and/or reevaluate the work-from-home policy.

      1. Yada Yada Yada*

        There’s a small line in the letter that made me think the employee might not have childcare currently:

        “Will I need to threaten to take away work-from-home privileges, which would mean that this employee must make child care arrangements?”

        This made me think the OP was saying his employee is home alone with the kid, and the employer knows it. Although, as Alison pointed out, if the toddler was across the house in another room alone, that would certainly be a little off, so maybe this is not the case.

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          Agreed. “…which would mean that this employee must make child care arrangements” struck me, too. Everywhere I’ve ever worked, the policy is aggressively clear that regular telework =/= regular child care. Yes, a kid might make occasional noise, but it sounds like the powers that be haven’t put ANY boundaries in place, not even “we don’t care how you manage it as long as it doesn’t affect your work.” It’s affecting his work.

        2. Mad Baggins*

          I noticed that as well and wondered if OP meant “alternative” or “proper” child care, as opposed to a grandparent in the house or something. I figured that meant the child was in their bedroom/playroom upstairs, or you have to go through the living room to get there from the employee’s home office, or something… whether the child is supervised there or not makes a big difference in how big the disruption is to the employee’s work (ie, is the kid just a loud screamer and grandma’s on it, or is employee typing with one hand and consoling a crying kid with the other and calling that “work”??)

        3. Thlayli*

          Yes this is the line that jumped out at me too. I’m actually really worried that this child may be being systematically neglected. There are some times of jobs you can do while minding a young child, or while working around the schedule of a young child, so I wouldn’t say that 100% of work-from-Home employees need childcare 100% of the time. But in this case it sounds like the employee is repeatedly leaving the child entirely alone for long periods of time, even being on the other side of the house from them, while focusing on work calls, and ignoring all screams and calls. If that is the case, then that is outright neglect.

          1. TL -*

            Ignoring a toddler’s tantrums can be a viable parenting strategy – I would cry for couple of hours once I got started and no amount of attention was going to change that.
            Most parents develop a pretty good ear for “real” crying versus frustration/attention-seeking. I think neglect is a bit of a stretch here.

          2. Health Insurance Nerd*

            Jumping from “people have heard his child crying while on conference calls” to being worried about systematic neglect is a VERY big stretch. The LW makes zero assumptions in the letter about the child being left alone, and children have been known to scream when others are present. Commenting that this is somehow an abusive situation isn’t appropriate (or helpful!).

            1. Artemesia*

              Saying ‘he would have to get childcare’ suggests he doesn’t have it; if he doesn’t then the child is being neglected. You cannot parent a toddler and work full time from home without both job and child being neglected.

              1. Health Insurance Nerd*

                I maintain that there is nothing in the letter that suggests the child is being neglected. His spouse could have been home and dealing with the child- kids make noise even when someone is taking care of and tending to them!!!!!

      2. JamieS*

        Not to wildly speculate but based on what OP wrote I wouldn’t be at all surprised if “across the house in another room” really means “2 feet away from me so I can multi-task between watching my kid and this phone call”.

        1. Birch*

          There’s really interesting how differently the letter can be interpreted. I got the sense that the child is screaming from the other end of the house and the LW is just getting huffy because they want complete silence or something. Would it be the same issue if they heard traffic sounds? Somehow I doubt it. I don’t think it’s reasonable to demand perfect adherence to your own standards of work environment if you’re going to make a call early in the morning when you know it’s disrupting someone else’s home life. I’m just really rubbed the wrong way by LW claiming this small disruption “reflects badly” on the WOH employee. I don’t think it does, I think this letter reflects badly on LW for not acknowledging the reality that people have lives outside of work and are doing their best. Maybe this hour for meetings doesn’t work for the WOH employee and they’re too afraid to speak up about it, but you could have a more frank discussion before leaping to punish them.

          1. TL -*

            A screaming child happening twice in a short period of time isn’t a “life happening” sort of thing; there should be childcare arranged during normal working hours and apologies made if a rare exception happens. The employee works from home full time, so I do think it’s reasonable to demand that their house is the same levels as an office, noise wise.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Happening twice in a short period, when it didn’t before, could also be that this is a new problem–toddler discovers the screaming tantrum; infant starts teething and tries to inform you it hurts–and so he hasn’t come up with the answer yet.

              I agree that homeworker *needs* a better answer, and his supervisor is right to tell him it is both audible and disruptive. But it could be that he has a set-up that was fine when the baby was reliably asleep at that hour, or fine when the baby’s opinion was “whimper mutter fuss whimper” and hasn’t yet figured out how to address SHRIEEEEEEEK. He needs to, but I don’t think it’s obvious that the baby is in the same room, or has no other caregiver. The baby has thrown a new curveball that its parents haven’t yet figured out. Whether the answer is one of the parents leaving the house during these calls, or a better door on the office, or something else.

            2. Specialk9*

              A kid crying at 6 am is… Life. I can’t imagine a nanny that would arrive at 5:30 am. You’re just drawing dogmatic lines in the sand, without any reflection of reality.

          2. Engineer Girl*

            Multiple people complained about the child and it happened on more than one occasion. This is not a one-off.
            Children have high pitched voices which can be piercing. It isn’t the same as traffic noise.
            I also don’t buy the early morning excuse. The employee is part of a virtual team. That means meetings at a variety of hours to support the clients. Sometimes it’s early. Sometimes it’s late. But it is part of the job.
            It isn’t disrupting someone’s home life. It’s the opposite. The home life is disrupting work.
            It isn’t happening outside of work but at work.

            1. Colette*

              I think it depends on how early the hour was. If it’s a call at 5 a.m., it’s reasonable that the child will be in the house, and unlikely the employee can go somewhere else to take the call. If it’s 8, other options are reasonable.

              1. Triplestep*

                Totally agree. There’s a huge difference between having a toddler home at 5am (8 on the East Coast) and having a toddler home in the middle of the day. People seem to be jumping to “this guy works from home with a child” when it’s as likely just bad timing.

                1. Lily Rowan*

                  Yeah, I think that’s really critical. It is 100% reasonable that an employee needs to have (reliable, invisible) child care when they are working from home, but how does that come into play if they are working off-hours?

              2. Lil Fidget*

                Yeah what are you supposed to do about 5AM childcare? There’s no daycare option that will cover that time, is there? And who can afford a sleepover nanny?

                1. Lindsay J*

                  Actually, there are some in some areas.

                  The area I lived in in Houston had a 24 hour child care, to accommodate parents that worked overnight shifts and stuff. It was in a shopping plaza and looked like a chain place, but I can’t be sure about that. (It also might be ungodly expensive).

              3. I woke up like this*

                Yeah, the time difference stood out to me too. It’s really hard (by which I mean impossible) to find childcare from 5 or 6am to 5pm (because the employee still likely has to work until the end of the day on the West Coast).

              4. Dust Bunny*

                The employee’s work-from-home situation was already described as a “privilege”. It’s on him to accommodate the hours of his employers, and that includes being prepared to work at 5:00 am (8:00 Eastern time, normal business hours for his employer). Otherwise, he can find a job with a company in his own time zone.

                1. Triplestep*

                  The post says it’s a virtual team and working from home is a company privilege. That means they all work remote, and they could be in multiple time zones. So it’s equally on all of them to find convenient times to meet, as many distributed teams routinely do. As manager, the LW could try to facilitate this rather than “coach” his staff member over a toddler screaming during a predawn call (which is when one could expect to find a cranky toddler at home).

                2. Colette*

                  Should everyone be prepared to work at 5 a.m.? Does it matter whether this is part of his regular hours or if it was a one-off meeting? What other hours should everyone be prepared to work?

                  In a previous job, I worked with people in 3 time zones (other than the one I’m in). I usually worked 8 – 5, but sometimes I had meetings at 5 p.m. or 7 a.m. or (on one memorable occasion) 1 a.m. Not every job is “business hours” all of the time, regardless of what time zone you’re in.

            2. Specialk9*

              Engineer Girl, as a working mom, you’re being ridiculous. If my manager had expectations like yours (“The home life is disrupting work” – seriously, are you joking?!) I’d quit so fast and then sue for sexist, anti-parent policies.

              1. TRex*

                Hmm not sure that an employer saying that your screaming toddler (on multiple occasions) is distracting to business partners on the phone … trying to conduct business rises to the level of sexism.

              2. Engineer Girl*

                You would sue me based on what exactly?
                The guy is AT WORK.
                The child is disrupting WORK on multiple occasions.
                It’s reasonable that there is separation between work and “home”. A door, a muted headset, etc.
                that’s not anti kid nor is it sexist.
                The basic rule is Don’t make your kid everyone else’s problem.

                1. BananaPants*

                  As a fellow engineer, I’m so glad that I don’t work for you.

                  I work on a global team. Sometimes 6 AM is the *only* way that North America (EST), Europe, and China can all be on the same teleconference, or 10 PM is when Japan has their big review (12 hour time difference) and needs me to dial in for 2 hours just in case I need to explain something. You’d better believe that I’m not doing that from the office. I’ll do my best to keep my kids quiet, but if my preschooler wakes up screaming from a night terror at 9:30 PM and I happen to be on a teleconference at that time, folks will hear her.

                  We all understand that sometimes people are going to be working off-hours or from strange locations. We’ve occasionally had a call “contaminated” by noise from kids, spouses/SOs, pets, and a myriad of background stuff – public transit loudspeakers, police sirens outside, the garbage truck, a roommate getting home from work and not realizing someone was on a call. People typically stay on mute unless they’re actively talking – if there’s an acoustic transient while talking, they’ll usually apologize and we all move on.

                  Would you be this pissed off if the guy’s dog started barking during a call?

                2. Engineer Girl*

                  Let’s get something straight. I’ve worked international teams since the 90s. I’m well aware of coordinating Indonesia with US (both coasts) with Hawaii with Australia with Europe with with USSR.
                  I’m also well aware oopsies happen.

                  That is NOT what is happening here and you know it.

                  The worker is demonstrating a PATTERN of child disruptions. It isn’t a one off. That’s a problem.

                  The worker failed to prepare properly for multiple meetings where he was the primary speaker and could not be on mute. That’s a problem.

                  And yes, if dogs or traffic or other noises continued to happen over and over from one employees speaker it would be a problem. Especially when it was situations where the mike could not be muted.

                  As an engineer, you should know that there is a huge difference between a single incident and a Pattern or trend. You should also know that you can’t equate the two.

                  If someone is repeatedly disrupting work in meetings then it is a performance issue. The key word here is repeatedly.

          3. Lynca*

            As for the traffic sounds, yes it would. I would be distracted if I heard someone’s car alarm go off suddenly or heavy honking. We’re talking about X and then you’re jolted out of the conversation by some other noise or it becomes difficult to hear the person. Same goes for construction noise, which is something we’ve had discussions about in my office.

            I’m sympathetic to the employee. A toddler having a meltdown is common for parents and they’ll sometimes do it for no good reason. But it does look unprofessional to have it going on in the background of a conference call with business partners.

            1. Sarah*

              But traffic noise, construction noise, car alarms, etc. would be just as likely to happen to non-remote employees working in the office! It’s not always possible to demand perfect silence and zero distractions, regardless of where an employee is working. When I am taking calls in my office, there are all sorts of disruptions that can happen — someone knocks on the door, there’s a loud conversation happening outside my door and I have to poke my head out to ask people to keep it down, random outside noise like the really loud beeps of trucks backing up (personally my pet peeve!) or road work, etc.

              1. Engineer Girl*

                But it’s not a pattern. That’s one of the key issues – it’s happened multiple times and the employees response is “oh well”

          4. Clare*

            People complain about traffic noise on calls all the time! It’s distracting and hard to hear others talking.

          5. Oxford Coma*

            I don’t know if I’d consider traffic sounds the same “genre”, if that makes sense. Incidental environmental noises are one thing, but household sounds are expected to be controlled in a WFH conference-call-heavy situation. So, a stupid crow that happens to be squawking in my yard when I’m on a call: annoying, but not my fault. I have a parrot that never shuts up when I’m on a call: my fault, needs to be addressed.

            1. TRex*

              Yes! definitely a difference between noises that are your responsibility to control while conducting business … and those that are reasonably not and although may be annoying, do not rise to the level of a Manager discussion.

          6. LQ*

            I have this guy as a coworker (not literally this guy but…) and it is incredibly distracting. I know his wife stays at home and takes care of the child so he has child care. But 2-3 days a week we have a phone call where we can either hear his kid screaming or just child babbling. And child babbling is cute and adorable when I walk past the kid in the grocery store entertaining itself by babbling. It is not cute and not ok when we are trying to get work done. I don’t expect complete silence. But I do know how audio and acoustics work, and that child is not in another room and is absolutely distracting him and he’s not as productive and he can’t answer. It does reflect badly on him, on the company, and on WFH in general.

            1. Artemesia*

              One minimal requirement for working at home also needs to be that they have an office that can be closed off at least for calls. (we don’t know if they work stretched out on the couch otherwise, but it is inappropriate to be taking calls in a room with other people making normal household noises or kids babbling or crying or screaming.

              1. Mary*

                I’ve worked from home with a toddler in the house (being cared for by my partner) and I’m confused that the answer isn’t just “get a proper headset”. I mean, unless you’ve literally got an open plan office in the same room as your living room and the toddler is doing the loudest possible scream they can within six feet of your desk, a headset with a microphone right by your mouth isn’t going to pick it up.

          7. Mike C.*

            Getting huffy? It’s perfectly reasonable not to want a screaming child on a conference call.

          8. Rusty Shackelford*

            If the traffic noise was as loud and disruptive as this child seems to be, I can see the LW telling the employee that they need to come up with some way to minimize it. If your WFH situation isn’t conducive to actually working, you have to fix it or change it.

          9. LBK*

            A conference call is essentially a meeting. Would you be okay with someone bringing a screaming child into a meeting? Would you want to take a meeting on a busy street with horns honking and sirens blaring? Yeah, part of the deal with teleworking is that you’re liable to overhear more background noise on a call than in a room together, but I do think you have an obligation to make it a rare occurrence. I spent most of last year sitting on conference calls and there were rarely problems with background noise, so it’s clearly doable for most people.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              Exactly. If you wouldn’t expect to hear certain noises at the office, you shouldn’t hear them in WFH situations. Barking dogs, crying children, interrupting family members, TV, music – these are things you can and should control at home. We have WFH at my company, and people handle it.

              Now, if there’s construction going on next door, or some other distracting noises you cannot directly control, then you need to move. Go to the laundry room, close your doors and windows, do whatever you can to lessen the noise. These things happen, I know, but you still have an obligation to lessen the background noise.

          10. Tuxedo Cat*

            I live in an apartment complex with two small children above and somewhat poor acoustics. While I can hear the kids scream, it sounds muffled to the point it’s clear the kids are not in my home.

            Traffic is more like white noise. And even then, the letter writer would be within their rights to ask the employee to take calls in a quieter space.

        2. Gen*

          I’m reminded of that guy doing a live BBC TV interview over video link when his two toddlers rushed into the room because they were faster than their mum (I think she was carrying a baby at the time?). Technically that guy had childcare just not out-of-the-house childcare. If these conference calls are happening very early due to time zone differences then outside childcare might not even be open and the employee hasn’t broached the subject of ‘physically remove the child(ren) from the entire house whenever I’m on the phone’ with the person caring for them yet. I know we don’t take the kid outside in the dark when my spouse’s boss calls him outside normal working hours but I probably would if it was for an agreed/expected call, so that’d be the next step- what arrangements does he have in place and what changes can be made

          1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            Same! That poor woman looked like she wanted to fall threw the floor. Dude! Lock your door.

            1. eplawyer*

              Even better, the same guy did a recent interview during the Winter Olympics. Everyone was watching the door instead of paying attention to what he was saying.

              But that was a one-off. Here it’s been twice in a short period of time. The guy is paid to work. They are work calls. No one wants to be distracted from the point of a call by a screaming baby.

            2. Temperance*

              Her pants were off! The poor woman was pulling up her pants while trying to wrangle her toddlers.

              1. Engineer Girl*

                I wonder if she had made a quick dash to the toilet and the toddler saw her chance….

            3. LizB*

              I really thought it would have been better for him, when kid #1 came in, to say “so sorry, excuse me for a second” to the interviewer and quickly pick kiddo up and take them out of the room, then come back to the interview. The whole rigmarole of the woman trying to sneak in, kid #2 drifting in, woman running into the door, was for sure more distracting and unprofessional than him just dealing with it calmly himself.

              1. Woman*

                Internet speculation (and my personal opinion) says that he probably wasn’t wearing professional pants, if he was wearing pants at all, which was why he couldn’t get up during the video.

                1. Specialk9*

                  He said he was wearing only half a suit, ie jeans or shorts, and couldn’t stand up.

              2. kb*

                Hindsight is always 20/20. I think he probably was hoping he could keep the daughter out of the frame until his wife came to grab her, but he didn’t know the baby would come rolling in too.

          2. RabbitRabbit*

            Something like that – I think she was trying to take a picture of her husband on TV or was otherwise distracted by the live video, and their kids decided “hey, that’s daddy, let’s go see daddy” – and he admitted he usually locks the door but forgot that fateful day.

            1. Aitch Arr*

              I remember reading that the kids thought Daddy was on Skype with Grandma.

              Poor Mom was just trying to go to the loo!

          3. Reba*

            I’m glad to have had a reason to re-watch that! The way the toddler strolls into the room with so much swagger is inspirational.

            They did some follow up media appearances as a family and seem to have taken the whole thing in stride.

          4. rudster*

            I remember that. There were two kids – first his daughter who looked about 6 came prancing in, followed shortly by her infant brother rolling in in a walker. Then the wife rushed in hustled them out. He’s otherwise a professor at university in ROK, so presumably the at-home interview was due to the odd hour/day and time difference. There was quite a bit of discussion about the fact that many people assumed that his wife was the nanny because she was Asian.

        3. eplawyer*

          that was my thought too. He got called out on the noise so he lied and said the baby wasn’t right next to him. Because if he really had a headset, then a crying baby from across the house is unlikely to be heard. They’re loud but not that loud.

          I think a very frank discussion on what is actual childcare arrangements are is in order. After you set that boundary you can see what happens.

          1. Oilpress*

            Yeah, he is probably lying, but proving it is just about impossible. The proof will be in the future calls. If the noise continues then you can bet we’re going to get an update letter!

          2. Triplestep*

            The quality of acoustics depends on so much. Loud sounds can travel when there’s not much to absorb them. This could be the difference between hard wood floors and blinds in a masonry building vs. wall-to-wall carpet and draperies in a wood frame building. I don’t think an employee who “exceeds expectations” is going to lie about something like this.

          3. Justme, The OG*

            I think you underestimate the lung capacity and volume of some toddlers. And in my house, “across the house” isn’t that far away because my house isn’t that big. I do agree that the OP needs to have a discussion with him about child care, but wouldn’t jump to him lying about the situation.

            1. Future Analyst*

              This. My youngest is a LOUD child, and would still be heard across the house (also not a big place). I would not jump to assuming the employee is lying.

            2. anonymous parent*

              I live in an apartment building and when my four-year-old really gets going you can hear her two floors away. (We work on this a lot. A lot a lot. But kids are not naturally contained, restrained, or understanding of shared spaces.)

          4. Nita*

            You’re assuming it’s a really big house. Also some kids are really, really loud. As a baby, one of mine always got lots of alarmed looks and comments when I’d just step into a store to buy a loaf of bread. When one of my aunts came to visit and heard her crying, she thought the kid must be in serious pain and needs an ambulance. Nope, just nice lung power…

            1. K.*

              One of my professors had the cops called on her twice because her middle child was a screamer and her neighbors (NYC apartment building, so lots of people could hear) thought he was being abused. He wasn’t; he just screamed. Their default “when we go out in public” behavior instruction was “no screaming.”

            2. Glomarization, Esq.*

              Same! When my kiddo was learning to walk, he found it so frustrating that he would scream at the walker-toy, scream at the ground, scream at me if I came close to him to help, scream at the world in which he couldn’t walk! I realized that I had sort of got used to this huge belly-scream when a neighbor came up to me with a very, very serious look on her face and asked if kiddo was all right.

              Some kids just feel indignant a little more than others and yell really loudly, I guess.

              1. Specialk9*

                This made me laugh. You clearly observed this a lot to be able to distinguish the sources of his ire.

        4. Anne of Green Gables*

          During a recent snow incident, uncommon in my part of the US, my husband worked from home while my 4-year-old and I were also home. Once we knew that my son & I would be home, my husband told me when his calls were and I scheduled child’s day around them: that’s when child got tv or tablet time. (We limit both those pretty heavily, so they are a fairly big treat for the child.) I was worried that we would interrupt his calls but all went fine. Now, this was 2 days and an unusual happening for us, not our situation 100% of the time. Planning ahead of time helped, even when “ahead of time” was 30 minutes in one case. One of the calls was even my husband’s twice a year review with his boss; I was nervous about us being around for that (it’s a small house) but child was memorized by Paw Patrol and there was no problem. If our child had been loud, my husband would not have been casual about it if it was brought up with his boss. That being said, I can’t imagine trying to manage a child in the house who is going to be noisy with an adult maintaining normal working conditions the majority of the time.

    2. Just Sayin'*

      Having a caregiver in the home doesn’t automatically prevent screaming. Some kids are prone to tantrums that are unpreventable, even with a nanny or mom right with them. Short of stuffing a pillow over their face (which, no), it can be hard to silence them just because dad is on a call down the hall.

        1. fposte*

          Or he can soundproof his room, or he can adjust his mike settings, or the caretaker can take the kid outside, or he can go to a co-working space or the garage. There are a lot of things that might help the situation short of insisting he be in the office, but the guy does need to start thinking about taking some of those steps.

        2. Lil Fidget*

          Unfortunately, OP says working from home is a “privilege” in this job and I do think it’s reasonable to hold WFH employees to the same standard as those who are in the office. Nobody in the office gets to have their child on-hand during the workday either, that’s a perk this employee is enjoying. To keep that perk, the employee needs to ensure that business needs are being met.

          1. Us, Too*

            I find it hilarious that anyone would position “gets to have their child on-hand during the workday” as a “perk this employee is enjoying”.

            I can’t imagine a greater hell on earth than having to figure out how to productively do my job with my two young children at hand. I mean, Jesus, my heart is racing just imagining it.

            I think the “perk” in this case is working from home. Which, if I did, I would do with my kids at daycare. So that I could, you know, actually WORK from home.

            It’s possible that the hour of the call was a contributing factor here. But OP can’t resolve this without having a direct and sincere (coming from a good place) type conversation w/her employee. As is often the case with AAM the answer is “talk directly with your employee and be a good listener so you can work together to find out if there’s a workable solution.”

            1. Rana*

              Seriously. I work “from home” because I’m self-employed and only need a computer and wifi, but there’s no way I can do it when my child is around and not being distracted by another adult. She’s actually normally pretty quiet and self-contained, but also has a knack for coming up to me and asking questions at the exact moment I’m trying to puzzle something out.

              So I either hole up in one room while my spouse or MIL plays with her (or, best, takes her to the park), go to Starbucks or the library, or wait until she’s asleep. In other words, it only works because I’m flexible in my scheduling, and because I budget my time very carefully. I can’t imagine trying to do regular work 9-5 with her in the house, especially if calls were involved.

              That said, I feel for this guy. It’s embarrassing and frustrating enough when I’m trying to call for an appointment and my kid has to talk with me RIGHT NOW – I can’t imagine having it happen for a work call.

            2. Specialk9*

              I laughed out loud to at that one too. I *adore* my kid, but dear merciful lord I’m so thankful for daycare.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      If I am trying to work while my husband looks after the grumpy baby, then I KNOW the situation is as in hand as possible, and can largely tune it out just as I might the sound of Spongebob. People who only have audio on the situation, though–unless this is very routine and they just expect the teething baby to occasionally be heard–are going to be a lot more distracted, because they are getting the crying-baby version of fight-or-flight hormones, without knowing whether the baby really is as cared-for as is possible and just objects to a sharp tooth literally carving its way through his flesh.

    4. Reba*

      I don’t think we can know from the letter whether the employee has child care arrangements that make sense or not. Having appropriate child care =/= “the baby is silent at all times”! The fact that the child sometimes makes sounds does not mean that the employee hasn’t made arrangements for its care–just that more soundproofing or another arrangement may be in order.

      1. Just Employed Here*

        But if he currently does have some kind of child care arrangements, why would the OP write “Will I need to threaten to take away work-from-home privileges, which would mean that this employee must make child care arrangements? “?

    5. Lia*

      I worked from home for 6 years and was required to have proof of childcare. I was on Central time and HQ was on Eastern, so yes, there were 7 a.m. calls at times — and I had to ensure that someone else was responsible for my kid(s) then.

    6. Another Jennifer*

      At my company, it’s required that you have childcare and an office with a door that closes to work from home if you have a child under 13. So, you can’t use your 13yr old to babysit the 6 year old in the afternoon. This is only for formal WFH schedules. If it’s just a random day where a situation pops up, that’s different.

    7. Jennifer Thneed*

      I want to know how many doors that house has, or is it one of those awful houses with doorways with no doors, like mine? Give me a door between the living room and the hall that leads to the bedrooms! That would cut all the tv noise away when I need to sleep. Two doors = airlock.

      Anyway, if people on the call can hear the kid “in another room”, EITHER the doors aren’t closed, OR that kid has some a-may-zing volume. If it’s the former, geezus, close the door(s)!

  7. Engineer Girl*

    #3 I need to be blunt. OP, YOU are being disruptive. Most folks would be apologetic at that. Instead, you’re screaming “How dare they!” like some cartoon villain.
    Please reconsider what’s going on. You’re probably still exhausted by your illness and not thinking clearly. Taking offense because someone is concerned about contagion is not a good look. More so if you are new to the organization.

    1. LouiseM*

      You don’t NEED to compare OP to a cartoon villain, Engineer Girl. This seems really needlessly harsh. Your interpretation is unkind.

        1. Time Out*

          And yours is way more so. It is possible to make a point without being rude, condescending and unpleasant. Try it sometime!

      1. Anne (with an "e")*

        Oh dear, Engineer Girl, I meant to agree with you, not LouiseM. I had to reread the OP’s letter several times because I could not understand the mindset. The coworkers are being distracted, but, beyond that, they are concerned that the OP might still be contagious. Numerous people have died from two different strains of the flu. People are justiably concerned, especially if they are older or at all immune compromised in any way whatsoever.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          I found the letter really puzzling, too, but after reading it 2-3 times, it sounds very much to me as though the OP was equating people’s concern about her cough with “unkindness.” Now, sure, that could be the case – it’s certainly possible to be unkind about someone’s unavoidable cough. But it sounds to me as though the coworkers just want some assurance that the OP is really and truly non-contagious, which is a perfectly reasonable thing. I’m not sure why this has so thoroughly offended the OP, but the letter really is a bit over the top, IMO.

          1. Elsajeni*

            I think it’s that she’s hearing about it 1) through her boss, and 2) with at least as much focus on the coworkers being annoyed by the cough (“distracting and loud”) as them being concerned that OP is contagious. The letter still registers as a little over the top, but I do feel like complaining to someone’s boss that they’re annoying you is a pretty unkind way to respond to a coworker’s lingering cough.

    2. JeJe*

      I don’t want to misinterpret what you’re saying. Do you think the OP is being rude by coming to work while still having a lingering, non-contagious cough?

      1. Temperance*

        I think that LW’s reaction is a bit outsized. She just got over a very communicable disease – the flu. People are understandably wary of catching something. I know that I am. She’s super angry that her colleagues might have any concerns, and to me, that’s strange.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          It’s a little strange to me, too. Perhaps the OP is still a little fragile due to the flu? The flu can leave you feeling pretty darn puny even after you’re technically “over” it. The last time I had the flu, which was years ago now, thank God, I was pretty dang whiny for at least a week even after I wasn’t contagious any more. It can really take it out of you, the flu can.

      2. JeJe*

        I was asking for a clarification from Engineer Girl regarding her comment on the OP being rude. I should’ve mentioned that specifically, the way threads can get tangled here.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          I can’t find that she used the word “rude” anywhere, nor any of its synonyms. Am I missing something?

          1. JeJe*

            The word used was disruptive. They may not appear together in a Thesaurus, but, if someone told me I was being disruptive in the workplace, I’d read that as being accused of rude behavior. That’s one of reasons I asked for clarification.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              Rude is intentional. Disruptive means others work is being affected. It may not be intentional. They are not the same.

              1. Kathleen_A*

                Exactly. Heck, having a heart attack or going into labor at work could be considered “disruptive,” but that doesn’t make either one rude. :-)

      3. Engineer Girl*

        Absolutely not! It’s unavoidable after a serious illness. And let’s face it, some cough medication has rather undesirable side effects.
        OP seems to be so focused on self that they are ignoring others legitimate concerns.
        They are offended, They are livid, they are talking about their “rights”. This level of unreasonableness would have me questioning their judgement.
        I can only hope that the exhaustion of their illness has also temporarily exhausted their emotional control.
        Because their reaction is way over the line.

        1. Delphine*

          She’s overreacting a bit, but having had a lingering cough after an illness, it can be easy to read someone’s concern over your health as concern over whether you plan on quieting down any time soon so they can concentrate…

          This goes both ways. OP needs to consider what her coworkers might be worrying about (inability to concentrate, contagious illness), but it’s not fun having a lingering cough. I’m sure if the OP could magic it away she would. So people who are dealing with a coughing coworker need to take a step back, too, and consider that she’s not purposefully being annoying. There’s only so much you can do. She doesn’t need to apologize for a cough she can’t control.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            I’ve had a persistent cough myself. It’s embarrassing, I get it. But I’m not going to get offended because others are concerned about my cough.

          2. Kathleen_A*

            I’m not sure any of her coworkers are asking her to apologize, but the OP sounds so agitated and angry that it’s very hard to tell. What she *says* is that she was “just called in and asked how I was doing because some coworkers in my near area have been complaining about my ‘chronic cough’ after I returned to work from having the flu.” “Complaining” could mean “Can’t she stop that obnoxious coughing?” but it could also mean “She coughs all the time, and I’m worried about the germs she’s spreading around.”

            That would fit in with the OP’s next sentence, which is “I was told that it was distracting and loud and basically they were ‘concerned’ with what I might have!”

            So, sure, maybe her coworkers are being unreasonable, perhaps because they are awful people or perhaps because a persistent cough can be very annoying to listen to. It’s not logical to be irritated by a non-serious cough, but it’s very human. But it could be that they aren’t being unreasonable at all – that they don’t know that she’s been cleared for work and that she’s no longer contagious, so what they’re concerned about is catching the flu.

            There’s just no way to tell for sure through the anger and hurt this OP seems to be feeling, or at least there’s no way for me to tell.

  8. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #3: I work in an open plan office. One of my colleagues has ben coughing constantly every few minutes since last October.

    I have hyperacisis and by the end of the week I’m just about to strangle her.
    Constant loud coughing is extremely annoying.

    1. CTT*

      I have someone in the carrel near me in the library who has been doing the same thing, also since October!!! No one knows him (most of us are 3Ls and he’s a 1L) so we feel deeply uncomfortable saying anything, but it’s driving us all insane. We finally heard a professor ask him about it and he was clearly clueless he was doing it and then said “Oh, it’s probably allergies.”

    2. Oilpress*

      I worked for/with someone who had a chronic cough for 10 years. Lots of medical tests, lots of theories, nothing diagnosed. What an awful way to have to live! At least I had headphones whereas she has a permanent affliction.

    3. ExceptionToTheRule*

      The guy in the office next to me has had a post-nasal drip induced cough for about 8 weeks. I hear it through the walls. It’s absolutely annoying as all get out. After 2-3 days, I asked him if he was okay. Yep, sure, fine.

      8 weeks of *throat clear**cough**throat clear* every 5 minutes for 8 hours a day…

    4. Kindling*

      That sucks, but a chronic cough is also no fun. When I was younger I had a serious cough for a full year. Lots of tests, different medications, but nothing worked. It just eventually went away after 300+ days. Still no clue what it was. It was so bad that if I did any moderate physical activity, it would result in a coughing fit and I’d vomit.

      I’d do your best to maintain your empathy for her if you can. I sympathize that it must be really annoying to listen to, especially with your condition.

  9. Anon4This*

    LW4: I’m probably just being oversensitive but I’m a little bothered by the “of course this would happen to a Virgin” comment. I’m sure it was just a joke but it kind of feels like shaming. Like 1. of course we all know sex work is super embarrassing and 2. I would *never* do anything like that, of course!! Just me?

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        She’s done it before. I don’t think this comment was out of line at all—cute, actually. But the other was a reference to the LGBTQ community being sinners or something. The commentariat asked for its removal. It was awful.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It really was. This one seems non-offensive to me—just a little self deprecating/tongue in cheek.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “I don’t want us to derail on this” means “please don’t derail on this by adding more comments about it,” so I’m removing the 12 comments that got added afterwards.

      3. bananas*

        I’m glad it doesn’t read as offensive to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s not offensive to others.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There will be a wide range of viewpoints on many things, but as the site owner, I’ve made the call that we’re not going to derail on this one, per the site commenting rules. Please respect that.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Yup, flustering. Moreso the younger and less experienced (generally in life, too) you are.

      I gather sex workers change their numbers pretty frequently, because stalkers.

  10. Observer*

    #3 I’m curious about your thinking here. There are a lot of things that are not clear here. What rights do you think you have that might have been denied by your co-workers’ complaints or your manager’s conversation? How do you expect your coworkers to know that you brought a doctor’s note? Given how many people have been told that they were “fine” and then turned out not to be fine at all, why would you expect people to not be concerned by what sounds like your being very sick?

    Also, I totally get that since you have used up your sick leave, taking off time is not really an option. What I do not get is why you are sooo offended. Livid is a very strong term. People have no idea what your leave bank looks like. And, as annoying as it is, it’s not even all that outrageous for people to express concern even if they know that your leave is up. How would you feel if you had reason to believe that your co-worker was exposing you to a serious illness?

    1. Doodle*

      Yeah, and I think she has the leave thing backwards. I’d be MORE concerned if I knew her leave was up because it means she’s likely being forced back to work because of logistics rather than coming back because she’s actually over the illness.

      1. Annabelle*

        Yeah, exactly. Someone’s sick leave being up usually means that they’ll be showing up to work even if they’re sick. Obviously OP3 can’t control how much sick leave she gets, but it’s totally understandable for her coworkers to be concerned.

    2. MicroManagered*

      Along that same line–questioning the thinking–I’m wondering “What is this *really* about?” Is there an issue with the coworker who complained? With how the manager delivered it? Is this the latest in some roiling resentment that’s been building for a long time? Is the real issue in OP3’s personal life? I get the sense that the letter was written right after this happened, but the reaction is still so disproportionate that it makes me wonder what’s going on between the lines.

    3. Hannah with an H*

      If you have used up your sick leave, and are still sick, you either need to take vacation time or unpaid time off. I really don’t care which, but I don’t want you infecting me and my co-workers. Your time off is for you and your manager to deal with, but you should not be selfishly coming into work while you are sick.

      1. Observer*

        That’s all well and fine, but the OP says that the doctor cleared them to go back to work. No competent doctor is clearing someone to go back to work if there is solid reason to think that they are contagious! The fact that they are coughing is annoying, but not necessarily a sign that they are contagious. As Allison rightly points out, in life you get stuck having to listen to a lot of sounds you would prefer not to.

        1. Kate 2*

          Not everyone gets sick leave, even in white collar jobs not everyone gets *paid* sick leave, and not everyone who gets paid sick leave gets much of it.

          Especially for people with kids or people with chronic illnesses, or have chronically ill partners or family members, sick leave needs to be portioned out very carefully.

      2. JeJe*

        Sick days, vacation days and unpaid leave are all handled differently at different companies. Vacation and sick days might be in the same time bank, which is already depleted. She might have sick time and not vacation time. Taking additional unpaid time off might cause her all kinds of trouble both at work and financially. This really bugs me. There are so many companies that have policies that make is really hard on employees who take sick time. Then employees go after each other for not staying home because they don’t have standing to complain about the policies that cause people do come to work sick.

      3. Perse's Mom*

        Agreeing with Kate 2 here. How very selfish of people with medical conditions to avoid losing their job and/or home and/or employment-associated health insurance by showing up to work when they absolutely must.

    4. Secretary*

      Also, I don’t know what kind of cough it is, but a cough after the flu can sound really scary! Like if you have a lot of phlegm and your cough is loud and sounds like you’re trying to cough it up. I’ve had coughs that make me sound like I’m dying. People probably just want assurance it’s not contagious, because they don’t know if you’re the kind of person who would come in still sick.

  11. Casuan*

    re OP2: When telling the references about Fergus, are there any confidential infos the OP2 should say?

    OP2: I’m not clear if you called the references yourself &or have much experience in doing so…?
    If so, in retrospect do you think there were subtle [or even not so subtle] warnings that you should have pursued to determine if the candidate might have been a bad hire?

    1. Casuan*

      to be clear: I’m not questioning the judgment of hiring Fergus. My intent was to encourage you to use this bad hire as a lesson learned.
      If I correctly remember, Alison has some cautionary horror stories of rushed hires & botched reference-checking!

      1. OP#2*

        Hi Casuan! I did not conduct the reference checks myself. I was on the team who interviewed Fergus, because he was interviewing to be the other person in the 2-person team that I am a part of, and since we *are* a 2-person team, my AM and Manager wanted me to be in on the interview, because this person and I have to work together very closely. My manager emailed the people listed on Fergus’ resume as references, one of whom is very well known in our industry and one of whom is not as well known. My manager then forwarded these references to me. (I don’t know if this is common practice outside of our industry, but this is fairly common place in what we do.)

        In retrospect, here were the following red flags that I see now with my 20/20 hindsight:
        1- the reference from the well respected person mentioned having a relationship with Fergus’ family. This was definitely not someone with professional objectivity, despite her professional credibility.
        2- he did not include the person with whom he had worked with directly in a very similar position previously.
        3- I should have given the impression that I got at the interview more attention. I just had a gut feeling that he wasn’t doing very well because he didn’t really know what he was talking about, which I attributed to nerves because this was a huge opportunity for Fergus. The person providing the reference isn’t the one who has to work with him – I am.

        I overlooked these things because we were in a time crunch, and we needed someone with the specific background that Fergus has. Kicking myself for this now, and that is a mistake I will not be making again!!!

    2. Happy Lurker*

      I have a couple of reference check lessons learned. Two phrases that when I hear now, make me pause.
      “It would be a mistake not to hire them”
      “They did everything I asked of them”
      I learned to ask follow up questions to both of those phrases. Two reference calls for two separate hires both used a version of the above. Both hires were lessons learned.

      1. OP#2*

        Ok, now I’m curious… what happened with the “it would be a mistake not to hire them” person?!

  12. Cristina in England*

    1. You are being a bit hard on the employee. In a small house a screaming child can be heard EVERYWHERE. Also this was an early morning call before normal hours, by your own admission. If you insist on conducting work outside of normal work hours, then you have to realize that other family members are home and can’t just be magicked away. This would be the same for a very late night call. Kids aren’t robots. Presumably the spouse or partner was getting the kid ready for the day, giving them breakfast, etc, so the employee wasn’t being deceptive about childcare. At 6 or 7am you’ve got to realize that you’re cutting into family life, not the other way around.

    To be clear, I would be mortified if I were the employee. But I also cannot put a mute button on a three year old. In a small house you can just hear stuff.

    1. Birch*

      Yes, you put this much more kindly than I did! If anything, it shows dedication to work that the employee is willing to take your call at home during off hours!

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I disagree. I work on the west coast and early morning calls are normal, especially if the majority of the team is on the east coast.
      If the employee is working from home then the expectation is that they provide a “work-like” atmosphere when doing work. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the family is doing. If the employee can’t provide that atmosphere then they need to find another place to do the work.

      1. TL -*

        Yes, this.
        If this was a rare exception in call timing or if the employee didn’t normally work from home than it would be different, but it seems like early morning meetings are a normal part of the employee’s schedule, which means child care needs to be arranged.

        1. Jubilance*

          But “child care” doesn’t mean “kid will never make a noise ever”.

          This morning my toddler decided today was the day she was going to scream at the top of her lungs while I got her dressed, even thought Mommy was literally right next to her. Clearly she’s being cared for, she just didn’t want to get dressed, and thus the screaming. It happens.

          A screaming child, or even child noises, does not someone else isn’t carrying for said child. Children aren’t robots, sometimes they make noise.

          1. Specialk9*

            I’m assuming from the accumulation of comments that Engineer Girl doesn’t have a kid. Because, as a mom, I literally can’t imagine a way to make a baby disappear on the regular in the way she expects, other than sending the baby and a caregiver to a hotel. Workers often have families. Any work that can’t figure out how to respect that is frankly pretty monstrous.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              No one is asking anyone to choose.
              But if you want to work from home then you need to present a professional front.
              Otherwise come in to the office. Or go somewhere quiet.
              There’s lots of solutions other than making the team put up with a screaming toddler.

      2. Steph*

        What would the practical solution be, then in a situation like this? It’s 6am, the other parent has the child on the other side of the house, trying to wake them up and get them breakfasted so they can take them to day care so they can get to work themselves and the employee is trying to conduct the conference call from their office, where all their resources and materials necessary for the call, are (because they work 100% remotely)? I’m not trying to sound facetious, and I realise I am making up a lot of details, but it’s a realistic scenario, so i’m wondering what the employee should be doing?

        1. TL -*

          I think that’s for the employee to figure out – it sucks but it sounds like early morning calls are part of the job. If they worked in an office, they could just go in early, but they work from home full time and part of that is going to be figuring out this situation.

          1. Sandy*

            I find this fascinating, because the implicit assumption is that working from home is a perk.

            In my spouse’s case, I was moving abroad for work, he was prepared to leave the job, and because it is such a niche field with a limited pool of potential replacements, the company begged him to stay on but work remotely from our new location.

            In that case, I think the onus is less on the employee and more on the company to deal with petty annoyances like this.

            1. TL -*

              A lot of people don’t really think of a screaming child as a petty annoyance. For me, if it happened once I would be sympathetic, but multiple times and I would be asking myself if Fergus reeeeeally needed to be included instead of just adding him when relevant.

            2. Gaia*

              A howling child is not a petty annoyance. It would be unfathomably distracting and potentially lead to misunderstood actions in meetings I regularly attend. That distraction and confusion could cost real money. Distractions in the background are not permitted at our company when you are remote. Full stop. Not negotiable.

            3. fposte*

              I think whether working from home or not is a perk varies, but in this post it’s stated clearly that for this employer it’s a privilege, so that influences my thinking on this situation.

            4. Mike C.*

              Screaming children are not “petty annoyances”, I don’t understand why people are being dismissive of this issue.

              1. Elizabeth H.*

                Personally, I think it’s a petty annoyance. Not everyone will see things the same way.

              2. Scarlet*

                Hell yes, it’s a HUGE amount of noise and it’s extremely disruptive (not to mention painful for migraine-prone people like myself).

            5. Tuxedo Cat*

              In this case, the letter writer says that is a privilege to work from home. It’s not clear if the employee in this letter has some niche skills that are more important the noise issue.

          2. Cobol*

            There isn’t much 6 am childcare, and if that’s when the day starts it’s reasonable it ends at 3:00. If it’s only occasional calls at 6 am then I don’t think that’s what the company wants.

            OP is right that their employee is going to have to find a quiet place, but especially if they live in an apartment complete silence before 8 am might be unreasonable.

          3. Observer*

            Not on a really early morning or late evening call. Because even if the person were not regularly working from home, these kinds of calls would be coming from anyway. And it’s utterly unreasonable for an employer to expect that a person arrange their home to be perfectly appropriate for work meetings 24×7.

            However, from what the letter says, I suspect that these are not meetings that fall significantly outside of the normal work hours for the employee.

              1. CMart*

                They daycare I use is 6-6, but that doesn’t mean I can start working at 6am. Unless teleportation becomes a thing.

        2. Harper*

          My guess would be efforts to soundproof the work/office space would be a reasonable solution. Even changing out a door to a sound-muffling one can make a big difference, and I think there are also panels you can put on shared walls. Of course, that puts an expense on the employee’s shoulders, but it’s a one-time thing that maybe could be considered offset by not having to commute etc.

          1. Triumphant Fox*

            Not that it matters with the new tax structure (your total deductions have to be pretty high to make any difference), but those expenses would also be deductible. Some of these expenses could be offset by the company. My FIL submits all of his office materials as an expense report quarterly and has gotten special equipment for this job. In discussing working from home with my employer, we’ve talked about setting up a home landline, getting an ergonomic chair/desk and having a desktop at home as well as at work. If employee is telecommuting full time – I understand its a privilege – but there are also costs the employer doesn’t have to pay as a result. They may be willing to put something toward keeping a better home office.

        3. Christmas Carol*

          I think the most practical solution would be to make the employee to sleep in the office on an air mattress the night before any 5am calls. We can have the CEO come in at 4:30 to get his stuff to get ready for work, that way we well be sure he is awake.

        4. Xarcady*

          My company has a fair amount of off-site employees. The company is based on the East Coast. Many employees live/work on the West Coast. Most of the West Coast employees work 6 am – 3 pm their time, so as to mesh better with the rest of the company. Those are their regular working hours and they are expected by the company to have child care during that time.

          If they need childcare, they either find a day care that can take kids that early, or they have in-home child minders who take care of the kids until the day care opens.

          In the case of the employee in the letter, if he does have childcare and the child’s noise cannot be muffled somehow, perhaps the employee would be better served by finding a quiet coffee shop or something for these phone calls. If the child can’t leave the house, the employee certainly could.

        5. Tardigrade*

          Given that this has happened twice (or more?) now, I think the employee and employer do need to figure out some kind of compromise. Maybe that means he takes the calls in his car, or either he or the child (with care) leave the house for the duration of the call. It might mean the employer could adjust the time of the calls, if reasonable.

        6. Yorick*

          Asking to move the meeting to a later time would be a start, assuming the problem is that the child isn’t in daycare yet at 6am.

          Alternatively, the other parent can get the child up and breakfasted earlier so that the kid can leave for daycare in time for Dad’s phone call.

      3. Akcipitrokulo*

        But this is outside normal hours – if the employee was office based, the call wouldn’t happen at all!

          1. Birch*

            Well, except that it’s possible that if the employee were office based, he wouldn’t be able to go in early or late due to the same reasons he’s currently working from home. I don’t think it’s useful to compare the situations. The employee is home-based for whatever reason, needs to be there, and the LW could have a lot more empathy about the situation.

            Then again I seem to be coming from a totally different work culture than most commenters here, one where we understand that work is not the most important part of life for everyone and no one is afraid to bring their child to work one day or that someone will call them unprofessional and threaten to change their schedule as a punishment if a child dares to make a noise while they’re on the phone.

            1. TL -*

              I have had plenty of coworkers who have prioritized their children over their work without ever bringing them into the office or allowing them to be heard on a routine call. (Also making a noise is a lot different than crying for several minutes straight.)
              You can maintain a good work/life balance and keep your kids out of the workplace.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              That’s not really true, though. For some industries, if your sister office time zones ahead of you has a call scheduled during their business hours, you find a quiet place to take the call… including possibly coming in early to the office. For example, I don’t take calls while I’m on BART, even if a call happens outside of my “standard” hours (granted I’m in a profession that doesn’t really believe in standard hours).

              The issue is not that work is most important. It’s that some jobs have requirements and hours that may not fit the standard 9-5, and folks have to make their decisions on how to achieve that balance. Harper’s soundproofing suggestion, for example, is excellent, and I certainly have colleagues who do just that for their home offices. A screaming child is distressing for the child, parent, and everyone on the phone and is much more than a “petty annoyance.”

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Sorry about that! It’s the primary commuter railway (think similar to MetroNorth, or a regional version of the Washington Metro) for the Bay Area. Technically it’s not the subway, but it does have routes that go both above and below ground. The more important issue is that it’s insanely noisy (even with no one talking in the background), and it would be disruptive for someone to participate in a conference call with all that noise in the background.

            3. LBK*

              The employee is home-based for whatever reason, needs to be there, and the LW could have a lot more empathy about the situation.

              Where are you getting that he needs to be there? The OP says this is a company privilege, not that he has some special situation where he’s been authorized to WFH.

              1. Birch*

                Well, OP says it’s a virtual team with people in different time zones. We don’t know the details, but there are a lot of possibilities–there isn’t an office close enough to commute is the one that comes to mind first. It’s important to recognize that “company privilege” doesn’t always mean “exorbitant perk due to the magnanimous nature of the boss that employees can take or leave at will.” It could very well be the only way the WFH employee can have this job due to other home life schedules (does he have a partner? what is their work schedule?) or transportation time, e.g. if the office is 2 hours away, that’s just not a feasible commute for someone with a young child at home, and not feasible for many people regardless of their home life. That doesn’t mean it’s not categorized by the company as a “privilege” but it also doesn’t mean it’s something the WFH employee can easily change.

                It just sounds like the call time is the problem. “Early morning” when you have a kid is not a time when most daycares are open, it’s when most people are getting ready for school and work, and most people can’t afford in-home childcare–it’s rough! I just think the OP is being really unfair to the WFH employee by jumping straight to punishment for an otherwise exemplary employee, and frankly I’m pretty shocked at the lack of empathy shown here in the comments. OP should be having a conversation about how to manage a more soundproof workspace, whether that means changing the time of the early morning calls or knowing in advance when to call a babysitter. Just too many assumptions coming from OP here.

            4. Amy*

              I think that’s a little unfair. My child is absolutely 100% the most important thing in my life.

              Which is why I want my work hours to have minimal distractions. I want to be able to engage in focused and sustained work from 8-5 so that I can be completely focused on my child outside of work. I hate when work expands and bleeds into late nights and weekends.
              I’d far rather just buckle down and bang that s—t out. And I can’t do that with kids (mine or others) in the workplace.

        1. Yorick*

          An employee working in an office would likely ask to move the call a little later, and the colleagues on the east coast might be really open to that.

      4. Teapot librarian*

        “Work-like” doesn’t mean absolutely silent in the background, though. Now, screaming toddler is a background noise that I wouldn’t want to hear on a call and that wouldn’t be heard (usually) in an office, but things do happen.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Clearly, a “work-like” auditory environment would feature coughing instead!

    3. Mad Baggins*

      Oh, I missed that detail that it was an early morning call. I think you make very good points. That said if working outside of normal business hours is necessary because of time zones or the nature of the job, I think it’s reasonable to ask the employee to take the call at the office or in another quiet space. Just as I would cut someone some slack for bringing coffee and breakfast to work if they had an early meeting, I still wouldn’t want to hear someone chewing on the call.

    4. Engineer Girl*

      Another point on virtual teams: people are in different time zones! One person could be in Australia, another in Germany, another in India, another in US. Someone is going to work off hours. A quiet room is expected if you work from home.

      1. misspiggy*

        That is industry-dependent: mine is fine with child-noises on the phone. Its just seen as part of international working
        Obviously OP’s isn’t, at least as far as his manager is concerned, but it’s far from a universal standard.

        1. NYC Weez*

          Exactly. We often hear kids and other household noises on our calls because no matter what time of day you schedule a meeting, it’s out of working hours for someone. Usually everyone chuckles and then we move on.

          My dog has been known to warn the entire conference call that an evil squirrel was on the deck, and that she willing to go dispatch the squirrel for us if we’d be so kind as to open the sliding door for her.

          1. Ambpersand*

            This happens a lot around here! Lots of dog noises in the background for people working from home. It’s a big company with people across the US and overseas, and people typically laugh it off when a dog starts barking. Usually that person will just mute their line and get the dog to stop.

            1. Sleepy teacher*

              I can’t help thinking that a lot of commenters here would have a different opinion if it was a cat disturbing the calls.

              1. fposte*

                I might or might not, but it’s also the rare cat whose voice penetrates the way a toddler scream does.

                1. Dankar*

                  Tell that to my mother’s deaf cat. I can hear her through the phone, from another room, with the door closed, whenever I call home at night. (Though I admit the sound is much more pleasing to the ear than a toddler’s scream.)

                2. Kathleen_A*

                  fposte did say “it’s a rare cat” that has a meow that penetrating, not that “a cat this loud doesn’t exist.” I had one cat – part Siamese, of course – who had an ordinary meow but who could also summon an amped up meow when he felt like it, a meow that would practically melt the wax out of your ears. But The Old Man (my husband’s nickname for him) was an exception, and I expect your mother’s cat is an exception, too.

                  And in any case, if I worked from home during the many years this cat was alive, I wouldn’t have expected my coworkers to cope with The Old Man’s yowling, at least not on a regular basis. It would have been soooooo annoying and distracting.

            2. mrs__peel*

              I do a ton of conference calls, and every one has at least *one* barking dog. It’s just par for the course.

          2. Cobol*

            I worked with a fortune 50 company and the number of times I heard dogs barking and little kids saying “daddy, daddy” is too high to count. It happens.

        2. Birch*

          Yep, same. I have chatted to supervisor’s children over Skype. Reality is messy. People need to be a bit more flexible about these things.

    5. Amy*

      I work from home and have an incredibly noisy toddler. I feel a strange combo of sympathetic and very unsympathetic.

      Sympathetic for the occasional times when childcare falls through. Due to the storm in the NE today, our daycare is closed. It will be a long day of me attempting to work and him trying to prevent me from working. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a disrupted conference call in our future.

      Unsystematic because it’s your job to get this stuff right the other 95% of the time. In-home childcare simply isn’t always an option when you work from home. It’s loud and the kid knows you are there. Even if my husband is watching our toddler, my productively falls by about 30%. If I’m watching him solo and trying to work? I’m probably 80% less productive.

      If it absolutely must happen, then go outside or to the car for calls. I say this as someone who lives in a cold-climate. I’ve spent many an early or late conference call shivering on the front porch but it’s preferable to the shrieks of “Elmo” inside the house.

      But not a only do I think proof of childcare should be mandatory for this situation, I strongly feel it should be daycare instead of a nanny. Unless you have a really fabulous separate and sound proof office, which it’s clear this person does not.

        1. Amy*

          He does have some very strong opinions, an imperious tone and an ability to be quite single-minded.
          A recipe for leadership?

    6. Gaia*

      As someone who works remotely currently, one thing that was made very clear was that my remote environment needed to be indistinguishable from the office when it comes to meetings. I had to be just as available. I had to have the equipment to connect. I had to have silence in the background (no tv, no music, no loud noises).

    7. MT*

      Disagree, most businesses run on east coast time, if they have a large workforce there. If this employee choose to live on the west coast then it is his responsibility to be available during normall business hours.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        Nope. The West Coast does not run on East Coast business hours. Employees of companies based on the East Coast do not 100% live and work on East Coast hours if the employees live on the West Coast. When my household was in that kind of situation (one of us worked for an East Coast company while we lived on the West Coast), we’d have to be available on a regular basis for calls at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. our time. And we did have to check our messages promptly when we got up, in case something was happening early in the East Coast business day. But we did not have to essentially “be at work” from 5:00 a.m. every morning.

        1. VelociraptorAttack*

          I feel like this is kind of the point that is being made. Perhaps I am reading generously into what MT said but it seems like “it is his responsibility to be available during normal business hours” is your “we’d have to be available on a regular basis for calls at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. our time”.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        The expectations really vary. Most west coast offices don’t require east coast hours if the rest of the workforce is in the east. But there is an expectation that people may need to be available for early AM calls, and those calls should occur in a reasonably quiet/private place.

        1. Meara*

          Yeah, I’m west coast based for an east coast company—but they hired me to work with their west coast clients! So while I’ll occasionally take a very early call as needed, I’m not expected (nor would I have agreed) to work 5am-1pm. Or worse, 5am-5pm when my clients leave work! And while my company requires daycare (most of the company works remotely), I wouldn’t expect anything more than a quick hand on the mute button, if it’s outside normal hours (be that 6am for me, or an east coast colleague needing to attend a meeting at 7pm their time!) Certainly not special daycare arrangements! And while “take it in the car” may be feasible for some, it’s not for people who don’t have a car or a driveway! And a 6am coffee shop is noisy as hell!

  13. London Bookworm*

    “Will I need to threaten to take away work-from-home privileges, which would mean that this employee must make child care arrangements?”

    This line made me stop. He should already have childcare arrangements. A three-year-old is not old enough to be left to their own devices for a whole work day. They need stimulation and engagement, more than someone could feasibly provide while also trying to complete a whole separate job.

    1. CM*

      A lot of people have hit on this, but it’s not clear from the letter whether the OP#1 is assuming he has no childcare (hence the screaming) or if he actually has no childcare.

      A screaming toddler is going to scream even if another adult is looking after her.

      I wonder if this is an issue for OP#1, who is the new manager, but wasn’t an issue for the previous manager. I also wonder if others on the call were also annoyed and distracted, or didn’t care.

      Either way, I think it’s reasonable for the OP to say it’s generally not acceptable to have kid noises in the background during business calls, and the work-from-home employee needs to find a solution, which may be going outside or to another location, or may involve having out-of-home care for the child or taking the child out of the house during calls. And ideally OP would be a bit flexible on this.

    2. Cobol*

      Yeah. I’m not sure if this was just fast writing, or the employee really doesn’t have childcare. You can’t watch young children and work at the same time.

    3. Mockingjay*

      The OP doesn’t mention whether her company has a telework policy and what that policy specifies, such as
      separate workspace, separate company-issue laptop (can’t use home equipment), and proof of childcare. That might be a starting point.

      The other issue is time zones. We’re on the East Coast and have to work with West Coast agencies. We try to schedule teleconferences for midday or afternoon Eastern time so the calls occur during regular working hours for them and us. It seems a little unreasonable to schedule meetings when your colleague isn’t “at work” yet, for your own convenience. These meetings appear to be routine and can probably be shifted a little.

  14. Story Nurse*

    OP1, before you talk about threats, why not ask the employee how he will solve this problem? He can work with you determine solutions that are the best possible fit for his life while meeting your needs and expectations, whether that’s coming in to the office, scheduling all his calls for Tuesdays and Thursdays so he can go to a coworking space near his house on those days and work from home the rest of the time, or putting Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on mind-numbing loop in front of Junior to keep them quiet until the call is done.

    As a work-at-home parent of a toddler, I assure you that unless your employee is spectacularly negligent or crushingly broke, he has childcare already. When my kid’s daycare is closed, I do not attempt to both watch them and get work done, because that’s not possible even with my very flexible work that requires only me and no one else. One of my partners works in sales and makes a lot of phone calls, and we learned right away that doing this from home is not compatible with our child being home—and we have an extremely chill child who can play alone quietly and happily for long periods of time. So it’s not at all unreasonable to expect that someone else be in charge of watching your employee’s child while he’s in charge of doing his job.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Also, sometimes kids are like “I was so chill because I was resting up–now that I have turned 2, I am going to express myself through screaming.” The parents may be getting a handle on a new situation (teething, tantrums) where the likelihood and volume of background angry child noise changed.

      1. Jesca*

        Yeah, I think the responses here are most based on the reactions of people who do not have experience and less to do with the actual situation. I think it is odd too that people are so focused on this one part, but ignore the fact that this guy has a stellar history. Obviously something is amiss, and people are just jumping to lots of conclusions. No way you can work with a toddler. Hell, my daughter is 5 and my son is 9, and I would not be able to do a conference call alone with them in the house! Actually the other night I had to do this counseling thing over the phone (part of a state home buying process to secure premo interest rates) and my care fell through. And even with letting them eat hotdogs in my bed while watching Gumball on a mind-numbing loop, I was still interrupted. No way this guy has a stellar past if he doesn’t have this under control. People here are grumpy. It is why I don’t comment as much right now. I find those over the top reactions to just be emotionally exhausting anymore.

        1. TL -*

          I think it’s more how close the incidents were and the fact that the employee didn’t apologize or seem particularly worried over it – if the OP had written in that their response was “oh my gosh! I’m so sorry. These early mornings are tough on us.” rather then “I was hoping you couldn’t hear. It’s early here.” people would be more forgiving.
          Or if it had only happened once, or only once or twice a year, well, stuff happens.
          But this is looking like a pattern and the employee didn’t come off as particularly concerned.

          1. fposte*

            Yes, the lack of employee concern about this problem is significant here; there’s no indication he’s thinking about how to mitigate.

            1. Windchime*

              To be fair, his supervisor hasn’t really asked him to do anything about it. She has simply mentioned that she heard it and it was distracting. I agree with Alison that OP1 needs to be clear about the expectations that people not be able to hear his screaming toddler during work calls.

              Bosses, please be clear about your expectations. Don’t make what seems to be an observational comment and then be upset when your employee doesn’t leap into action.

              1. Aitch Arr*

                “Bosses, please be clear about your expectations. Don’t make what seems to be an observational comment and then be upset when your employee doesn’t leap into action.”

                Quoted for truth.

              2. LBK*

                I asked him to stay on the line at the end of the 30-minute call, and I shared that it was distracting and I was not following what he was saying because of the noise. I asked if he was using a speaker or headset.

                I think it’s fair to infer an action item from your boss having a conversation like this with you, especially if it’s the second time it’s been brought up. I generally assume that if my boss takes time to point something out, it’s not for his own amusement.

                1. Us, Too*

                  If my boss said it was distracting and asked if I was using a headset, I might naturally assume that if I answered “yes, I am using a headset” my boss would think that my mitigation techniques were adequate and this was just an annoyance that happened now and then on early calls. Bosses need to be CRYSTAL CLEAR. It would be better to say “The call today was super poor quality because of the audible background noise. You need to figure out how to address it so that these distractions are eliminated. I’m happy to help you test out some solutions so you’ll know if they work before our next call.” Or whatever.

                2. LBK*

                  I don’t agree – I think it’s pretty clear that if the boss could still hear loud, distracting noises while I was using a headset, that means the headset is insufficient. A boss shouldn’t have to explicitly say “please fix the issue that I just raised to you” – issues don’t get raised by your manager unless they need to be fixed. It feels a little like playing dumb to say that unless you’re explicitly given an action item, you can’t understand that you need to take action.

                3. Us, Too*

                  Well, AAM thinks OP needs to be clearer as well so it’s not like I’m pulling this from thin air. People aren’t mind readers. You really do need to literally say what you mean if you want to be sure they get the message. And then make sure it hits home by following through with clarifying questions, etc to be SURE they get it. That’s part of being an effective manager.

                  This whole “say exactly what you mean” thing became clearer to me when I managed people for the first time, but it REALLY got brought home when I had kids. If I say “stop screaming, that’s annoying” they will next start making other annoying/loud sounds that are not screaming sounds. It’s far better to say exactly what you want and leave very little to the imagination “Please be quiet and also hold still” LOL.

            2. Lora*

              This. If I am on the phone, my dogs sound like Cerberus has escaped and wants to put the fear of heck into the caller, or perhaps like a large pack of lycanthropes is attacking my castle. But after that happened exactly once, I made sure the dogs were out in the yard/garage during phone calls.

              Had a phone interview that went poorly some years ago because I was babysitting a small child and the hiring manager called with no warning, and then when I said it actually was not a great time to talk, the manager plowed ahead anyways. Hiring manager definitely got off the phone assuming I was a mom (it wasn’t even my kid! favor for a friend!) with childcare issues, but that’s what you get for calling with no notice and then ignoring my explanation that he needed to schedule another time to talk.

    2. FindDaycare*

      Exactly. My main question is whether his toddler is home all the time, or if it was just a case of childcare falling through those days. Because I am the parent of a small child and used to work from home 2 days a week, and always had daycare for my child because there is NO WAY I could get work done while he’s home. As a manager, I honestly wouldn’t be down for that arrangement either (except the occasional exception).
      And I hate to say this, but his lack of concern might be a gender thing. I wonder how this whole situation might be going down if the employee were a woman (and I wonder the gender of the manager). It is known that women are quick to apologize (generalization I know) in the workplace.

  15. Ruth (UK)*

    3. I sympathize with both the op and the coworkers here. On one hand I’d find it very tough to work with someone with a constant cough (I once actually changed my living situation as I could not longer deal with a housemate who cleared his through (loudly and grossly) about once every 6 seconds).

    On the other hand, I once had a nasty chesty cough that lingered about 5 months after an illness. This is going back to when I was a uni student. It prevented me from sleeping properly, my throat always felt awful and I was embarrassed as well. I had no other symptoms and couldn’t put my life on hold for 5 months because I was coughing. Lots of people weighed in with advice or opinions. I went to the doctor who just said students are always ill.

    The one thing that really upset me was a random woman told me off on the train for being annoying one day and told me to just stop it…

    Anyway, I think in the context of your coworkers’ reactions, it’s too much to feel livid, offended, etc, but I understand why you’re frustrated especially when there isn’t an easy solution – you can’t cure the cough and it’s not practical to remain off work for an extended amount of time for it.

    When I had my cough, I just told people that I just tended to get lingering coughs… Luckily I haven’t had problems so much since that one…

    1. CityMouse*

      I think people are also on edge because of this years flu. It spread through my office (fortunately the vaccine worked for me but it didn’t for my spouse). A number of my coworkers have reasons to really worry about catching the flu (pregnant spouses or new babies, being treated for cancer or a kid with cancer). People can be worried about catching it because this flu killed a bunch of people. OP should explain she has been cleared but also try to.mitigate the sound. My spouse had a bad cough from the flu and his doctor prescribed medication for it and he used it and cough drops at work.

  16. Sandy*

    Ugh. My spouse used to work from home when we had a baby (later a young toddler). We DID have full-time childcare, a wonderful nanny who we really couldn’t afford but we couldn’t see an viable alternative given the hours my spouse was expected to work.

    I really feel for the OP on this one. Our kid was LOUD when she was pissed (which was a lot). The whole house would shake. And some of his calls would start at 7 am, when realistically there weren’t a lot of places the nanny could take her to get her out of hearing range (not to mention that getting her dressed when she was already that screaming and pissed was a feat in itself).

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      That last part if a good point re early morning calls. Late morning you expect the kid and caregiver to be in some sort of clothing–it’s just harder to relocate at the crack of dawn.

        1. Amy*


          I’ve taken many a conference call in the car in the driveway with my laptop connected to a hotspot at 6:30am. Or in the backyard.

          1. Cobol*

            I was going to say this. I’ve done the same, but if employee lives in a 2-bedrooom apartment in a busy West Coast city (which seems very possible given the description) they may not have a car or driveway.

            1. Dankar*

              There has to be a limit to what the employer is accommodating for a WFH employee, though. If OP is talking about revoking the arrangement (which, no, OP, that’s the nuclear option! Try other solutions first), then it’s obviously not mandatory for him to be at home to do his job.

              As Amy says, there are some inconveniences to WFH, just like there are with flexible start/end times and other “perks.” He needs to find a solution to something that is clearly a problem for his supervisor and the other partners. I mean, he could probably use a study room in a public library, or find a coworking space, etc.

          2. Amy*

            I lived for years in a small Manhattan apartment.

            In that case, my “backyard” was the building lobby, a park or one of the several hotel lobbies I used.

            Teleworking is a double-edged sword. If you take the benefits of it, you have to take some of the inconveniences of it too.

        2. Observer*

          That’s not always a reasonable response. If I need to be on a call where I need access to a SOLID phone and my computer, working on the porch (assuming someone even has one) is a non-starter.

          If an employer wants to do early morning calls, they need to understand that there are going to be trade-offs.

  17. AlwhoisthatAl*

    I have to give 3 months notice, it’s in my contract. I’ve been at my job for 5 months and was told 2 weeks ago we are being taken over by the worst competitor possible (which explains why I have had no work to do for the opast 3 months) . I’m resigning today and giving them 1 weeks notice. It’ll be interesting to hear what they say…..

    1. here goes*

      Is there any reason you can’t wait two weeks? Unless you’re really willing to burn that bridge, an extra week would be worth it so when you apply for jobs in the future, they don’t have to hear “he quit with only a week’s notice!”

      1. AlwhoisthatAl*

        It’s to force their hand more than anything else. I eventually got a 3 line email back from my Boss asking me to stay until the end of March – so good of him to be so concerned. Burning bridges ? There is no way I’ll work for that competitor so it’s not an issue.

        1. here goes*

          I mean, if you ever plan on putting this on your resume, it’s possible they will call this employer and hear “he left with only a week’s notice!” If you’re worried about that, I’d wait an extra week, otherwise, go for it I guess.

      2. AlwhoisthatAl*

        It was to force their hand more than anything else. I eventually got a 3 line email back from my Boss asking me to stay until the end of March – so good of him to be so concerned. Burning bridges ? There is no way I’ll work for that competitor so it’s not an issue.

  18. MsSolo*


    I asked if he was using a speaker or headset. He advised he has a headset and the child was “across the house in another room.”

    But does he have a microphone, and is it set up properly? We have a real problem with teleconferences where participants are in offices, because laptop mics pick up every cough and snuffle in the building (I once couldn’t hear someone because a person on the opposite side of the office was wrapping a parcel and the tape drowned out their voice). Most conferencing software defaults to headset speakers but laptop mic, for some reason.

    1. misspiggy*

      This is interesting, as someone who relies on these types of call – could you explain what mic should be used, and how to use it with a laptop?

      1. MsSolo*

        We’re a non-profit with a wide range of whatever was cheapest at the time, but really any headset with a built in mic is decent as long as the laptop is set up to correctly identify the head set’s mic. There’s a bit of trial and error involved in getting one that picks up your voice well enough to be heard without picking up background noise. Operating system seems to make a big difference – when we were on XP all the headset mics were really quiet, but they’re fine with Win7. However, we’re upgrading to Win10, and no one’s managed to get it to recognise the headset mics yet, so we’re struggling again. We definitely have more success with headsets with two separate jacks – audio in and audio out – than we have with USB, but that may be the age of our equipment (which might also be why it’s confusing Win10)

        Gaming headsets are usually a good shout, but they’re more expensive. Most call centre style headsets are fine, or even at a pinch a handsfree headphone set from a smartphone (but not with our laptops – check if yours can do audio in and out through the same port).

        1. Naptime Enthusiast*

          I didn’t see your comment before adding my own thoughts. Gaming headsets for sure, and I’ve bought some on Amazon that work very well for $50 which I understand isn’t cheap, but much cheaper than Razer or Alienware.

      2. Lynca*

        I learned how to filter out noises from the house with a 20 dollar Logitech from Walmart (which I did when money was tight) and later a proper gaming headset. The headset generally has the mic attached but you can go directly into the audio settings of the computer to adjust volume and mic pick up (also set which microphone is default).

        Also checking the audio settings of the conference software you’re using because it will also let you adjust and I find that you have to tailor the settings to what gets you the best results in the software. It’s best to do that with someone on the line prior to a call and make sure it doesn’t periodically reset (like with updates). Had issues with Skype doing that all the time.

        1. Antilles*

          +1 on the audio settings. You can adjust the microphone pick up sensitivity, which really helps to filter out background noises – if you set the microphone to a low sensitivity, you can get it to sort of filter out background because it’s far enough away that the actual noise at the microphone is too low to get picked up.
          Also set it up so that the microphone only transmits when you hit a key on the keyboard (or at least set it up as a toggle), so that you aren’t constantly transmitting the background noise when you’re just sitting quietly listening. This is actually surprisingly helpful.

          1. Wheezy Weasel*

            +1. I’d also recommend checking the audio settings both on the computer operating system and the application that you’re using for the call (Skype, GoTomeeting, WebEx) because one can override the other. For instance, you may have told your Mac operating system to not automatically adjust your mic sensitivity and gotten it dialed in just right, but GoToMeeting’s default microphone settings automatically adjust, which just screws up all the work you did prior to the call making sure the mic wouldn’t pick up the dog/child/lawnmower.

        2. Perse's Mom*

          Any time I have to get a new headset, I set up a call with someone appropriate to test everything out so it’s ready before it actually matters. Nothing like getting into a game and finding out you’re unintentionally screaming or picking up a conference call and no one can hear you because the mic’s faulty.

    2. Naptime Enthusiast*

      Gaming headsets would be perfect if that’s the case, they do a good job of filtering out other noises. It might not be feasible if there’s video conferencing as well, since the heatsets tend to be large, but that would be less distracting than a crying child.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Would it really be distracting in a camera view? My meetings are voice-only, and I have occasionally done them in my son’s gaming headset after the puppy ate the cord on my headphones. (This was a puppy theme last fall.) But my usual over-ear headphones when not inside the puppy are the same size–earbuds make me squirm.

      2. Antilles*

        Assuming we’re only talking about the size (and not like, some hideous garish styling), I don’t think it’d be too much of an issue. People might notice it at first, but it’d basically slip into the background after like 5 seconds…and after the first call, it’d just be something that people completely ignore.

      3. Fuzzy pickles*

        They’re also very comfortable because the good ones are lightweight so you can wear them for hours. I love my steel case ones but they’re definitely on the pricy end but people are surprised at the quality between me answering my phone and walking over to plug them in. And this is in a quiet house but once calibrated they just filter background noise completely.

    3. Oxford Coma*

      Interesting point! Do headsets tend to use unidirectional or omnidirectional mics? I wonder if a more specialized set of equipment might help this guy.

      1. Antilles*

        Usually omnidirectional. However, since they’re so close to your mouth, they usually can be calibrated a lot tighter to cut down on background noise than the standard microphone embedded in your laptop or webcam/mic combo or etc located several feet from your mouth.

  19. mimsie*

    OP2: I don’t understand why you let the references override a bad interview.The interview is your own first hand experience with the person and an indication of how they would fit into the role in your company. These references don’t have the perspective to provide any of that. It’s too late now, but in the future, I would recommend that you use references to just validate what you have learned in an interview and to seek out additional information. One method I learned which is very handy is to ask references “If we were to hire Fergus, what should we do to help him succeed at his job?” It’s a positive spin on finding weaknesses. Depending on the reference, sometimes you can read between the lines.

      1. Irene Adler*

        yes- good question.
        Just thinking, though, that some people are just awful in interviews yet very good employees.
        Maybe the interviewer, because of the good refs, was thinking along these lines?

        I absolutely suck at interviews. My brain shuts down and it’s hard to convey my thoughts (no, I don’t exhibit the behaviors described by the OP. Not even close). Yet, I do well at my current job.

        1. OP#2*

          Irene, that *is* exactly what I thought. I had a gut feeling that some of his answers might have revealed a lack of confidence in the knowledge we needed Fergus to have, but I’ve absolutely bitten the dust at interviews where I know that I could have done the job well! It was honestly just the time crunch and the fact that the only other candidate that we had didn’t have the right background.

          What bugs me, though, is that I didn’t keep the notes that I took in that interview, and I could swear that in his interview, he claimed to have been “painting teapots,” at an advanced level for years, but “painting teapots” isn’t something he needed to do on a daily basis, just for big presentations about three times a year. So when a big presentation came up, and Fergus needed to exhibit his “teapot painting” skills, he came to my desk and said “So… I have a friend who paints teapots really well. Could I have him do this for us?” I said no – this was literally part of his job. He got very flustered and left, and he continued to struggle with this. Then, when the big presentation came, another person in the company came completely out of left field (no way could Fergus have initiated this – he was trying to hide this inability to paint teapots) and said “I just finished a seminar on painting teapots, and would love to paint the teapots for this presentation!! Can I please!? It would make me so happy!”

          I should have let Fergus fall on his face and paint teapots badly in front of the entire company, but I knew it would make us look bad, so I just went along with this random colleague who was so excited.

    1. Marthooh*

      Probably because Fergus was “the only candidate who (we thought) met all of our needs.”

    2. fposte*

      I’ve had that experience. My Fergus fortunately didn’t go full Fergus, but he was the person I saw in the interview rather than the person his recommender described. I think a ton of this recommender but she didn’t have that much experience hiring and supervising so I think she just had an overinflated opinion of the guy. Time factor meant we had to take somebody from the pool we had, and I knew he’d be okay even if he wasn’t great.

    3. LBK*

      I agree. References should be taken with a grain of salt for a variety of reasons – the primary one being that often people feel bad about saying bad things about someone, especially when a job is on the line. This is compounded if it’s been a while since they worked together, since absence makes the heart grow fonder. You often wonder in retrospect if that person was really as bad as you thought, and that waters down how you describe them to other people.

  20. Fish Microwaver*

    My supervisor “works” from home at least one day a week. We know she watches her grandchild on that day. She has been caught at the supermarket and in the park with the child and is not able to deal with work matters. Someone told our boss…
    I will be interested to see how this plays out.

    1. Naptime Enthusiast*

      One of our admins has been caught in a similar situation, but she’s still employed so we don’t know if anything has changed.
      On another note, your username just made me see red. So thanks for that!

    2. The Supreme Troll*

      Good, I’m glad somebody called her out on this. “Not able to deal with work matters” to me means taking a vacation day, personal day, sick day, etc. What it does not mean is that you’re doing your actual job from the place you reside in lieu of coming to the office.

      1. Fish Microwaver*

        She is gaming the WFH system in other ways and has brought the grandchild to the office on occasion. Boss once had her daughter in the office every day for 2 weeks during school vacation and she was extremely disruptive. It is a call center that deals with a lot of confidential information, not at all appropriate to have outsiders hanging around.

    3. Anon to me*

      We have a few people who abuse their work-from-home privileges, I’ll note, none of them are dealing with childcare issues. I just think there are some people who don’t recognize that work-from-home isn’t an extra day off, it’s just a change of location for work.

      For the OP, I’d definitely be asking about childcare arrangements, and ask the employee how they plan on preventing this type of thing from occurring in the future. I’d make sure and be crystal clear what your expectations are for this employee, because they may still be operating with the expectations of their previous supervisor (and a crying child from time-to-time may have been fine).

      1. Yvette*

        “I’d make sure and be crystal clear what your expectations are for this employee,…” EXACTLY! According to the OP, “I provided coaching during our next check-in call, sharing that I was not sure if he was aware that others could hear his child.” and “… two weeks later, … I shared that it was distracting…” . Unless there was something left out, it appears that at no point did the OP flat out say that it was unacceptable. To the OP those statements may have been polite code for “You need to make it stop!” Where the employee just saw it as a heads-up, FYI kind of thing.

        1. Glomarization, Esq.*

          Agreed. Going from “it’s distracting” to “your work-from-home privileges are now revoked” leaves out a few steps in between of trying to find a solution or work-around to the yelling getting through the call audio.

        2. Jen S. 2.0*

          OP definitely needs to explicitly tell the employee that this is a problem and he needs to find a solution, instead of dropping hints. “I’m not aware if you know that others can hear your child,” and “your child is somewhat distracting” are hints. Someone else might get that OP means “FIX IT FIX IT NOW,” but clearly this employee needs more direct statements. There are a lot of people who would come away from those statements thinking, “well, Boss didn’t tell me it was a real problem, so I guess we’re fine.”

      1. Fish Microwaver*

        I will but I’m not hopeful of a satisfactory resolution. Supervisor has a long history of interpersonal conflict with coworkers but our boss has always backed her and people who were the target of her behavior come off second best.

  21. Humerous Username*

    OP 2- They said the person was on a one year probationary contract, so it sounds like it’s not at will employment, so they can’t fire him. I wonder if the company has the budget to hire his replacement and put him on some grunt work.

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      Eh, it’s hard to say without knowing the exact terms of the contract, but it’s highly unlikely the employee is unfireable. They might need cause, but they have it here.

    2. Reba*

      I would have thought the point of “probationary” is to make it easier to end the employment after a short time. It’s a trial period (or at least some people are trying, dunno if Fergus is trying) and the trial is failing. So what does probation mean if there is still this whole process around improvement etc.?

      It must be so demoralizing for OP2 to feel like she has no way to get out of working with this person, and I really hope that’s not the case that he is unfireable for a year. A year!

    3. OP#2*

      A one year probationary contract in our industry means that basically, unless you do something that threatens someone else’s physical safety, you really can’t get fired. This is because in our industry, getting fired is basically career-ruining. The probation part just means that you’re formally reviewed four times a year, and that, if the bosses don’t want you at the end of your contract, they don’t really have to give you much of a reason to let you go, because of how many evaluations you’ve been through. If he quits part of the way through his contract, it’s considered a pretty bad thing to do as well, and human resources can only report to others seeking a reference from our company a confirmation of the dates of employment, and the fact that you left while still under contract.

      We can’t hire a replacement for him until his contract runs out. As of right now, he has just over four months left on his contract and just under three months of his professional improvement plan.

      I believe that my boss’ intention of doing the professional improvement plan is to make sure that when it comes time to let him go, he can’t claim he was under supported, or that he didn’t realize that there were problems, because so much of his “game” is to try to feign ignorance, or be unaware of something. It’s awful. He’s gaslighting, and I think this is the first situation Fergus has stumbled into where he’s not just part of a large team, so he can’t get away with it. He’s late to work almost every single day, but there’s always some excuse, and he thinks he’s charming enough to smile and say he’s sorry and get away with it, but *I* don’t think he’s funny or cute or charismatic. He’s lazy, irresponsible, stupid and dishonest.

      I just keep chanting “four more months…. four more months….”

  22. Taking the Unpopular Opinion*

    Usually most employers who have workers doing regular telecommuting (both full time and partial) have formal agreements that need to be signed laying out requirements for working remotely. These agreements usually include that teleworking is not a substitute for childcare, eldercare, and even petcare and that it is expected that the person working remotely is free from such distractions.

    Even if you don’t have a formal agreement, getting to work away from the office under any circumstance is not an entitlement. It is the worker’s responsibility to be up to work expectations in this situation and not the other way around.

  23. Notice*

    My boss wants 6-9 months notice and is going to get about 3 when I tell her that I start grad school this fall. I just wanted to say that I sympathize deeply with the anxiety these expectation causes! But something I’ve been reminding myself of is that it’s most important to take care of my own needs first, not hers.

    1. I'm A Little TeaPot*

      You can want whatever you want, but what’s reasonable and what you actually get may not be what you want! Good luck with grad school.

  24. Academic*

    Re: #5

    The combination of grad school plans + not wanting to burn bridges makes me think the LW may be working in a field connected to academia? If you’re a lab tech or research assistant in any of the sciences, because they’re often grant-funded studies in the USA it’s pretty common to go along with the semester system and require ~3 months notice because of the way the hiring cycle works.

    When I worked as one after graduating, one of my fellow research assistants “Alex” found a new job and gave 2 weeks notice, and it was actually awful. Left us high and dry in the middle of a busy season (12-hour data collection days) with no hope of hiring someone for another two months to replace him. I think everyone was annoyed, my boss especially so – but it was the right move for Alex, and in the end the rest of us understood and didn’t actually begrudge him for that beyond the immediate couple of weeks. We found ways to make it work, and in the end it was a few weeks of miserably hard work but turned out fine.

    OP – at least in my office, it was common for people to give a kind of quasi-notice. Something like “I’ve started job searching. I think it’s realistic for me to have found something by X date, but I’m planning to stay here until I have an offer, if possible. Because I’m transferring to industry I’ll probably have a shorter notice period than ideal when I get an offer, and I wanted to see if we could make that work.” That normally follows up with an “official” two-week notice period once you get a job offer, or a readjustment of expectations as the job search goes on and you keep your PI updated. This approach allows the PI to start searching for a replacement on a more normal job cycle and not rush the paperwork. However – definitely be sure that your office or industry falls into this custom, because you don’t want to use it and then be actually kicked out immediately or by X date without another job lined up.

  25. Parenthetically*

    Am I missing something in #3? I can see being annoyed or a little embarrassed to be asked if I was still sick, but “deeply offended” and “livid” and asking about my rights? That seems… way, WAY too emotional.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      There’s a manners rule that you point out things a person can change (fly unzipped) but not things they can’t. I could see OP getting frustrated in a “What, seriously, do you want me to do?”

      Perpetual coughs are distracting to bystanders, like any other erratic sudden noise. To the people having the cough, it’s just a thing that happens. Compared to the bronchitis they had a month ago, the lingering cough may be genuinely minor, and they are used to it, and their perception of how annoying it is is skewed. While to the people listening, their perception of how erasable the cough is is also skewed.

      (I have asthma, and any respiratory infection is followed by a long period of residual coughing until my lungs finally recover from the extra irritation.)

      1. Parenthetically*

        I mean, I agree with all of this. But given the deadly seriousness of this year’s flu I can certainly understand the coworkers’ concern — we’ve all read the letters from people being appalled that their coworkers were coming to work with rotavirus/whatever. And I think it’s in OP3’s best interest to try to put herself in the coworkers’ shoes or at least TRY to see their perspective rather than rushing to deep personal offense and fury. It’s just too much emotion for a scenario that seems like it would require, “Hey man, if you’re worried I’m still sick, come talk to me about it!”

      2. Lindsay J*

        Yeah, put this way I can understand it.

        I apparently make noise in my sleep. Not snoring. Not talking. But like a low level groaning noise apparently.

        None of my roommates said anything about it until my junior year, when my new roommate pointed it out. And, like, I still don’t know what she expected me to do. Getting a single room wasn’t an option – I tried. There wasn’t really anything I could do to mitigate the noise because I was sleeping. If I could have done anything I would have. As it was, I apologized to her, and I felt bad about it, but if she had continued to bring it up I would have been annoyed.

        I did hear her making fun of me to another person at a party, calling me Moaning Myrtle. But, well, I can’t really blame her for that. I’m sure it was annoying to have to deal with. I was a bit peeved about it at the time, though.

    2. LNLN*

      In the letter writer’s defense, if they have a chronic cough, they probably are not sleeping well and are still recovering from an illness. I am never at my best under those circumstances, and usually more emotional than normal.

    3. Ice Bear*

      I was wondering the same thing, but maybe this manager makes it a habit of bringing this person into her office to pass along other information that she should be handling herself and this incident put her over the edge in terms of how she feels about her coworkers. I’ve had this type of manager and it doesn’t feel good particularly when you haven’t done anything wrong.

    4. LeRainDrop*

      I agree with Parenthetically. OP #3’s reaction is confusing to me and strikes me as over the top. I once had a co-worker with a chronic cough after being sick, and she was so stressed about getting work done that she delayed taking the time to go to see her doctor again. We spoke with her out of concern for her own well-being, and she finally went for a follow-up visit. It turns out, she had a partially collapsed lung, and that condition spiraled further downhill to require emergency surgery! So, yeah, no gonna apologize for speaking up about a co-worker’s long-standing bad cough. (Oh, and the other colleague with a chronic bad cough turned out to have stage 4 lung cancer, but he was already seeing his doctor before we expressed concern to him about the cough.)

  26. Murphy*

    I was self-conscious about my lingering cough earlier, and now even moreso… I feel badly, because I know people can hear me, but there’s not much I can do! (I do not/did not have the flu.)

  27. Boredatwork*

    OP #1 –

    I definitely think you should brain storm solutions, but ultimately the solution may be to turn your early morning calls into afternoon calls with this person. I think it’s a bit unreasonable to expect this person who WFH to “deal” with their small child at 5 a.m. If you wanted them to take these calls from the office, making the meeting for 10 a.m. HIS time would probably fix the issue. Also, think about this as a fleeting problem. Are you willing to make a HUGE deal, over an occasional crying child, with an other wise excellent employee who in the next year will have a 4 year-old? Anyone with kids can attest that the older they get the easier it is to get them to quiet down.

  28. Boredatwork*

    OP #4 – I’d just change my phone number. I google numbers I don’t recognize all of the time. If that popped up, I’d be extremely amused. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t put two and two together and realize it was an interview candidate.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yes, I’d change the number too!

      We once changed our number because it used to belong to a restaurant and we got sick of fielding calls from customers wanting to place an order. The phone company was super nice about it – no hassle, no cost to get it changed. I imagine they’d be even more understanding about an escort number.

  29. Marthooh*

    He said that … his child was fussy that morning, in another room. He hoped that no one heard. Fast forward two weeks later … (he) advised he has a headset and the child was “across the house in another room.”

    It sounds like work-from-home guy is trying to figure out how to manage the noise, but needs guidance or at least feedback. Maybe ask him to call you to test his next attempted workaround to confirm that it actually works, instead of live-testing it during the next meeting.

      1. Yvette*

        That would probably help, but the kid will still probably cry just when the employee is speaking and not on mute. Also, I am sure we have all been in phone conferences where someone is asked a question and there is tons of dead air until finally the person comes back with “Oops, I was still on mute, what I said was…”

  30. Product person*

    #1 But do have a real conversation with him where you make it clear something needs to change and where you try to collaboratively problem-solve it together.

    Hmm… I’m surprised by this response, Alison. As a manager, there are lots of things I’d try to collaborative problem-solver together with a report, but not this sort of thing. I once had to deal with a direct who repeatedly joined calls with a dog barking furiously in the background. I simply said, “This is very distracting, and can’t go on. What will you do to prevent that from happening again?”. He fixed it without my having to get involved in his arrangements.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I think that’s part of the collaborative process, though. If the OP brings up “Hey, Employee, this needs to change,” and the Employee immediately says “sure, I got this,” then end story. But it could also be that the solution is something like “schedule calls for 10am/7am instead of 8am/5am, so Nanny can take the kid to the playground.”

      1. Product person*

        Hmm… It would never work at my current job or previous jobs, to let an employee’s home needs dictate when meetings happen.

        But then, working from home is a perk here, not a necessity. If the employee can’t figure out a way of having a quiet place at home to take calls, he or she is welcome to come to our office, so no need for collaborative troubleshooting in our case (I can see that being a necessity IF the employee is hard to replace and the company doesn’t offer a local office as an alternative to working from home).

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I don’t think “letting an employee’s home needs dictate when meetings happen” is really the best way to look at it. It’s more a question of where the flexibility lies. If the meeting time is not terribly important to the company but would make a huge difference for the employee, then why not move it? And on the other hand, if the meeting really does need to be held at that specific time… well, them’s the breaks, and the employee is the one who needs to flex.

        2. Observer*

          To add to what CBF says, it’s also worth noting that at least some of the calls seem to be out of normal work hours, which does put more of an onus on the employer.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t know about the OP’s company, but 7 am wasn’t out of normal work hours when I worked on the west coast for a national company with a main office in the eastern time zone. We officially ran 7:45-3:45, but a lot of people would be in earlier to be in touch with eastern colleagues.

          2. Tuxedo Cat*

            This might be their normal, though, or out of normal work hours for the employee. If he’s on the West Coast and the company is on the East Coast, a meeting at 10 AM EST would be 7 AM PST. It wouldn’t make sense to schedule the meeting around one person, unless they’re like the CEO.

    2. LBK*

      I think the collaborative part is dependent on what his explanation is. If it’s simply a case of his childcare not being available until 7am, maybe they can work together to reschedule meetings so that he’s only rarely taking calls before that. But if the issue is that he doesn’t have childcare and is juggling taking care of his kid with working, then I agree there isn’t really anything for the manager to do – the employee needs to fix it, period. The point is that the OP should go into the conversation with an open mind assuming that there may be a simple solution.

  31. Madison King*

    OP #3, I have a chronic cough due to hypoxia that isn’t going away any time soon. I know some people feel uncomfortable at first but I just explain it to them and they’re understanding. Hope you feel completely better soon!!

    1. Happy Lurker*

      I have a terrible cough when I eat the wrong things…figuring out which foods those things are in is an entire life struggle.

  32. Hiring Mgr*

    On #1, it sounds like this is an above average employee (as per his reviews) who has had this work at home arrangement for quite a while. (not sure of his tenure actually). Every so often he has some noise in the background? Did this happen before you arrived? It didn’t seem to have impacted anything since as far as you know nobody complained and his work at home schedule didn’t seem to be in jeopardy. Doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to me, but you mention you;re a first time manger so I get the need to feel like you have to “do something”. But unless it escalates I would probably leave it

    1. Arjay*

      This is where I fall too. Sure, these two instances have the potential to become a disturbing pattern, but it could just be bad timing / bad luck right now. I’ve heard dogs barking, babies crying, and traffic honking when people take calls outside the office. I’ve also heard loud conversations, boisterous luncheons, and distracting coughs when people take calls inside the office. I don’t mind having a conversation about expectations, but this doesn’t seem like a big deal.

  33. Cordoba*

    It doesn’t work for everybody, but I find that my parked car makes a great “cone of silence” when I need to make a work call and the house is noisy.

    It’s a sealed sound-damped climate controlled metal box with comfy seats and a cup holder. Works perfect for phone calls. Some of them even have Bluetooth.

  34. Gloucesterina*

    I was curious about the distinction between “provid[ing] coaching” to an employee vs. requesting that they make a change (as in OP#1’s query). Could someone explain?

  35. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

    I’m not a fan of children myself, but I’m surprised by the sheer number of comments that are attempting to negate the entire existence of a child in OP1’s life. There’s a large amount of ‘OP1 needs to fix it’ going on–children living in their own homes, existing at an inconvenient time to a business call, are not something to be fixed. They’re a reality to be worked around, same as yesterday’s conversation about adjusted work hours. And sometimes they’re going to scream, and there’s really not much that can be done about that, which indicates that the flexibility needs to be on the other side of things. What on earth, commentariat?

    1. fposte*

      What on earth is that the employee gets to work from home as a privilege, and that privilege as currently exercised is interfering with his work. Of course there are things that can be done about it on his side, and Alison outlines some.

    2. Yorick*

      In this case, the home is not only the family home – it’s also an office where business needs to be conducted in a way that isn’t disruptive.

    3. Amy*

      Actually there are many fixes.

      Taking calls outdoors, daycares with early start times, using headsets, strategic use of the mute button, sound proofing an office, sound machines, renting a desk at a shared workspace etc.

      I have a lot of trouble thinking when screaming children are in the background. And I say this as the mother to a screaming child.

    4. [insert witty user name here]*

      Also – the employee’s grandboss said something about it to the employee’s manager. That indicates that it’s being noticed, and not in a good way. OP#1 is right to take steps to mitigate this problem.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        I feel like this point is being missed. It’s not that the letter writer is being petty.

        1. fposte*

          Right, there’s clearly a workplace culture here that this employee is out of step with; that can be true even if it wouldn’t be out of step with some cultures we commenters know.

    5. Erin*

      I really appreciate your philosophy that kids aren’t something to be “fixed.” Many, many people have kids and good employers will work with them to ensure a good work/life balance, a flexible schedule so they can pick them up from daycare on time (re: a recent letter on here), and etc.

      But the employer clearly knows he’s working from home with a kid, which is a huge perk – some companies do not allow that and make you prove you’re paying for childcare if you’re working from home.

      Honestly I think both parties need to put their heads together to work this out, it shouldn’t be all on one or the other.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        No one is saying that “kids” are something that need to be fixed. They are saying that the “disruptions” need to be fixed. There is a difference. The advice would be the same if there was a barking dog or a jackhammer going outside the house or any other number of loud distractions.

        1. fposte*

          A jackhammer is a good comparison. It wouldn’t be your fault if there was road construction outside your house for a week, but it could still mean you’d have to find someplace else to take conference calls.

          1. Temperance*

            This is a good example. Booth stopped WFH when the house next door was undergoing serious, noisy renovations.

            1. Lily Rowan*

              Yeah, that’s exactly right. If it’s predictable (ie, they started doing construction yesterday and it will be ongoing for a while), it’s on you to mitigate.

        2. Jen S. 2.0*

          Agree with this. The very existence of the child is not the piece for which people are using the term fixed, and I don’t think it came off that way in any response. The **ongoing disruption to work** is what needs to be fixed. The source of the disruption is not the point, and the fact that it’s a kid doesn’t make it somehow different.

    6. Detective Amy Santiago*

      How would you react if you were on the phone with your [lawyer/doctor/accountant/etc] and there was a child screaming in the background while you were trying to conduct important business?

      1. Amy*

        Also I think the effect on many parents’ brains is worse than a dog or a jackhammer.

        I’ve never felt that humans are really animals so strongly as since I had a child.

        When my child cries, I feel my animal instincts kick in. My heart rate rises. I develop something akin to “tunnel hearing.”

        No matter how hard I work to overcome this, I’m at best 50% present.
        And that’s a big reason why we do daycare instead of a nanny.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yes, this. It’s HARD for some people to ignore a crying child – it triggers an emotional/biological response.

      2. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

        I would ask to reschedule. Or I would power through it. Or I would say what I needed to say between wails. In other words, I would be understanding of the fact that sometimes lives and business intersect in a way that’s less than ideal, but unpreventable. This doesn’t seem like that hard of a concept.

        1. Amy*

          My point was is that “powering through” can be quite difficult. Frankly as a parent, there will always be a ton of times when you have to power through even if you have fantastic 100% reliable childcare.

          I got an unexpected client call at 6:30 pm on the playground on Tuesday. I did my best but there was certainly some background shrieking.

          But knowing the reality of parenthood tends to interfere no matter what, you need to set yourself up for success during the other times. This generally means planning things to the hilt. Assume your child’s default setting is crying and take it from there.

        2. Yorick*

          Really? If I were on the phone with my accountant and could hear a baby screaming, and he said nothing about it and didn’t try to do something about the noise, I’d think way less of him. And I’d certainly at least consider replacing him if it happened twice.

        3. Yorick*

          I would for sure not power through someone else’s baby screaming. You shouldn’t have to deal with such during a business interaction (unless it’s with a nanny or something)

        4. Tuxedo Cat*

          The thing is that it wasn’t a one-time issue in this case.

          Powering through something isn’t an option for many. Some lawyers charge by the hour. Therapists (and there are online options) give you a time-limi on your appointment. If this happened multiple times, in a client setting, I would be moving my business elsewhere.

    7. Cobol*

      Thank you for writing this. There was another child thing yesterday with similar responses. Per the responses below some people apparently are angry at the existence of kids. The anonymity of an online forum probably helps.

      1. [insert witty user name here]*

        I disagree. As others have stated, no one is saying kids need to be “fixed.” The SITUATION needs to be fixed. I’m going to put myself out on a limb and say the vast majority of commenters here are NOT angry at the existence of kids. I’ll say the same things I said here to anyone in person. If someone works from home, the onus is on them to work in a situation that is comparable to an office. fposte makes an excellent analogy above; if there was a jackhammer outside your house, you’d have to change something in your control to accommodate for something outside your control. Most commenters here are saying the employee in letter #1 needs to fix the things he can control so that he complete his work related conference calls without distracting and disrupting others.

        1. McWhadden*

          In any other letter where a disturbance has only happened TWO times people would be lenient here. But now suddenly two interruptions is just beyond the pale.

          It happened twice, once on a very early call, and people are claiming he doesn’t have childcare or is unprofessional. It’s completely ridiculous.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            It’s the OP who indicated he doesn’t have childcare — I think most comments I’ve read here have been assuming he DOES have childcare, but it’s not doing enough for every situation (whether that is an early morning call, or just a very loud child).

          2. LBK*

            But it’s a disturbance that’s, to an extent, within his control. If someone interrupted twice by running the blender for their morning smooth on a call or having the TV on in the background, I’d think that was pretty unprofessional, even though it was only twice. It’s a question of judgment.

            My boyfriend’s desk is in our bedroom and he has early work calls pretty regularly. I understand that I need to be out of the room by then so that I’m not making noise and being distracting in the background. Part of the deal with working from home is ensuring that your home life isn’t disrupting what you need to get done for work.

            1. McWhadden*

              It’s a disturbance that has only ever happened twice. It’s not a continuing thing, at all.

              I guarantee your boyfriend has once or twice had some sort of mishap with work.

              1. LBK*

                Well, I’ve also worked from home myself at least once a week for 3 years and I’ve never had an issue. There were a few months where we were having renovations done and I worked from the office during that time because I understood that the background noise would be distracting when I was on calls, so my home was not a suitable place to work from at that time.

          3. fposte*

            I think you’re catastrophizing the responses a little. The “he doesn’t have childcare” is drawn from the OP, since she suggests that he would have to acquire childcare if he came in. One person has said that it looks unprofessional to have a child having a meltdown in the background.

            Nobody’s saying the guy needs to be shot. But different fields and employers have different levels of formality, and both the OP and the OP’s boss have noted the disruption, and it’s happened twice in what sounds like a short amount of time, which is probably making people think it’s going to be a regular deal until the kid grows out of it.

            When they’re paying you money, they really do get to say that conference calls need to be reliably disruption free whether you’re working at home or in the office; it’s a standard that’s pretty easy to meet for most workers. If that means the pets get shut out of the room and given exciting toys or you get a better headphone or a co-working space or extra vigilance from the caregiver or you go into the office, that’s up to you, but they still get to say that disruptions are a problem.

            1. LBK*

              Precisely this. If your employer raises something as an issue, you don’t get to shrug and say it’s uncontrollable, especially when there are plenty of people who figure out how to control it. It’s similar to people who take public transportation having issues with punctuality – if most of your office takes the train into work and you’re the only one who can’t get there on time, it’s hard to argue that it’s an insurmountable problem beyond your control.

          4. BananaPants*

            I agree, this is bananas.

            Frankly, I think there’s a double standard here; if it was about a dog barking twice in teleconferences, I doubt half of the commenters would be so irate. They’d be relaying stories of their “doggo” barking while they worked from home, or of their cat adorably photobombing a video conference.

        2. McWhadden*

          Also there was a whole post about pets disturbing work calls and the general consensus was ADORABLE.

          1. LBK*

            Which post are you referring to? The post about pets intruding on your workspace (which is imperceptible to people on the phone) is not equivalent to disturbing work calls. My cat sitting on my desk makes no difference to the people on a conference call with me unless she starts yowling, in which case I’d be obligated to kick her out so she wasn’t distracting people.

          2. Sleepy teacher*

            Yes, I think the response here would be very different if the disturbance were caused by cats.

            1. LBK*

              I don’t think it would – pretty sure everyone would agree that if a cat is making noise on a call, it would need to be kicked out of the room.

              1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

                There was a thread about cats walking across keyboards/in front of cameras when on video calls. The consensus was that it would be adorable.

                1. fposte*

                  Because it’s not screaming. A dog is adorable. A dog barking isn’t. It’s also whether it’s a one-off exception or an ongoing problem. If the kid had done a quick bolt into the office while chased by her carer à la the famous interview, that wouldn’t be a big deal. If the kid was wandering around the office interrupting Daddy while Daddy was conferencing and it happened twice, that would be a problem because Daddy clearly hadn’t put the steps in place to prevent it.

                2. LBK*

                  Where are you seeing this consensus? I just reread the comments I can literally only find one comment that says they would find it cute if a cat interrupted a call. The majority of the comments are tips on how to keep your pets from disrupting your work.


                  If you mean the thread of pet pictures, the comments on that were about how cute the pets themselves were and/or the funny methods people had come up with to keep them out of the way during work. I don’t see anything even remotely resembling a consensus that pets disrupting work is acceptable/adorable.

                3. Yorick*

                  A cat on a video call would annoy me for sure. But it’s different from a crying baby, since the cat walks by and then is gone (maybe it leaves or maybe it’s kicked out of the room) while the baby crying is a continuous distracting sound.

                4. LBK*

                  Right – a disruptive cat can be picked up and removed from the room, and then the distraction is gone. If the baby is all the way across the house and can still be heard screaming, there’s no immediate solution to that problem (as many of the baby defenders themselves have reiterated).

            2. AvonLady Barksdale*

              Eh, I disagree. I have a doggy who I think is the greatest thing in the world, but he also thinks I am the greatest thing in the world, and he whines and begs for my attention when I’m home (we are working on it). When I had to present to a client group from home at 9pm, I closed the door because he would certainly have disrupted me, and it would not have been that cute. If I’m on the phone with colleagues, that’s one thing (“Sorry about that! The pup wants snuggles/heard the UPS guy/thinks there’s a cat outside”), but in a presentation setting or on a client call, I have to take steps to make sure I don’t get interrupted and no one hears him. My boyfriend won’t take calls in the same room as the dog because the dog snores and my boyfriend thinks everyone can hear it. Just because he’s snoring and he’s cute doesn’t mean he’s allowed to participate in meetings.

  36. Lindsay J*

    #4 This happened to me, too! I think I even wrote in to Allison about it at the time. I got a couple “questionable” texts, which caused me to Google my number. And I found a bunch of posts on Backpage and other similar sites advertising a bunch of different services.

    I was concerned about it at the time, but as far as I know nobody ever Googled my number and found that information. And if they did, it didn’t stop me from being offered jobs anyway.

    It wound up really being a non-issue.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      “Well, I want a billion dollars and a unicorn, but do you think I’m going to get that?” would be my dream response to this demand.

      (Not that I’d ACTUALLY say that. But I’d be tempted.)

  37. Lili*

    #5: I was in the exact same situation as you. My boss asked for 3 months’ notice when I planned to leave. I was caught off-guard so I just mumbled something along the lines of, “sure, I can try” but then my dad also passed away unexpectedly. Unless your boss is a total tool (and sometimes even then, because mine was) people are pretty understanding that in circumstances like that things change.

  38. Yorick*

    OP4: Someone put my cell number on a backpage ad once. I imagine it was a typo and this lady was wondering why she didn’t get any customers. Anyway, you may be able to get some ads removed by flagging them – that worked for me.

  39. I'm A Little TeaPot*

    OP3 – I have allergies and asthma. They’re normally not an issue this time of year, but there were some unusual events which caused my asthma to flare out of control. I’m coughing a lot and there’s not much I can do until the meds have a chance to do their thing. This morning a (known to be unpleasant) woman abruptly got up and moved away from me on the train. I’ve had strangers asking if I’m ok. I’ve told my coworkers what’s going on and apologized for the disturbance. People don’t want to be around sick people. It’s normal.

    In short, you’re being a little irrational here. Chill.

    1. palomar*

      OP #3 (and everyone else with a cough that isn’t contagious), bear in mind, also, that the flu this season has literally been a killer, and that people don’t know your cough isn’t the flu. I have healthy, able bodied friends who have been knocked the hell out from this flu… it even brought down the most energetic kids I know and had them laying in bed for days too weak to protest not being allowed to go to school.

  40. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    1. Employee’s toddler screams in the background of work calls Uf. That’s difficult. One of the crappy things about dealing with small children (as opposed to say, noisy pets or traffic or whatever) is that they’re in a state of constant change. An arrangement that worked just fine for the last several months may suddenly be unworkable because the kid has hit a new life stage and gained exciting new capacity to be disruptive.

    Which is not to say that you don’t need to take this up with your employee. You absolutely do. But I think it’s worth it to consider that this may be something new and startling for your employee as well, rather than a sign of negligence on his part. Get a conversation going, talk about possible fixes, and if this guy is someone able to get stellar reviews, give him the benefit of the doubt and come at things with the presumption that he doesn’t want to be an issue.

    #3 My boss questioned me about my cough Being sick sucks, OP, and I’ve definitely had the months-long “cough that is literally the only symptom of being ill” fun parade. I bet you’re probably feeling really exasperated with your respiratory system being such a pain, and just want everything to get back to normal.

    That said, loud awful coughing fits can be really distracting, and I think it might help everything go more smoothly if you can apply a little grace to this situation. Communicate to your colleagues that you understand your coughing can be distracting, assure them that you’re receiving appropriate medical care, maybe step outside (in decent weather; don’t know what kind of a climate you live in) for a particularly bad fit. Give a little, and they’re likely to be much more understanding in return.

  41. Erin*

    #1 – I’m tempted to take the side of the guy because I have a one-year-old and can empathize. It would be ideal if he could have a family member or someone come over to watch the kid when he has a call scheduled but of course this might not be feasible, especially if he doesn’t live near family. Since he “exceeds expectations” otherwise according to a former manager I would try to give him some leeway with this. Maybe it could be possible to schedule a call around the child’s typical nap time, if that works for the other parties?

    I mean, you were already clear with him that this is distracting and he understands that but it sounds like he hasn’t tried to work around it. Maybe you could have a more frank conversation with him about it: “Do you need to hire someone for when you have calls? Would changing the time of these calls help? Is there something else I’m not thinking of? We want to work with you on this but the child screaming in the background can’t continue, so let’s talk about what we can do here.”

    #3 – Boy do I sympathize. I have a chronic, non-contagious cough that I’m really sensitive about and it really hurts my feelings when people act disgusted by me or think I’m a gross. I shouldn’t have to tell them my diagnosis – my health is no one’s business. In your case, you did make your health their business by being completely transparent about what’s going on and even providing a doctors note.

    The way you phrased your question makes me think people complained to your manager about your cough instead of coming to you directly (another HUGE pet peeve of mine). So that makes it hard to shut it down when it’s happening. If your manager brings it up again I’d say (kindly), “Honestly, I apologize for causing concern in the office with my lingering cough, especially during such a bad flu season. But I used up all my sick time to take care of this, I’m not contagious anymore, and I have a doctors note explaining such. So I’m not sure what else I can do here, unless you’d like me to work from home until this cough goes away.”

    #4 – I was listening to “Like a Virgin” by Madonna when reading your question and got a kick out of that, so thank you for that morning pick me up.

    1. Temperance*

      He should have childcare when he’s WFH, though. You can’t work while minding a toddler.

      1. McWhadden*

        Since he is on frequent calls and this has only ever happened twice he either has the most well behaved toddler in the world or he usually does have childcare.

        1. Erin*

          This is a good point, we probably need more information before coming to a really solid conclusion on what to do about the situation.

        2. LBK*

          I think you’re making a lot of assumptions about the pattern here – the letter doesn’t specify that this has only ever happened twice, period, and it doesn’t say that the employee has been there for years and this only just started happening. The only timeline specified is that the second incident happened 2 weeks after the first incident, which is pretty soon for it to happen twice.

          It sounds like the OP just became his manager recently and that she’s not always on the same calls he is, so I’m not sure we can extrapolate that this is a freak coincidence and it’s otherwise never been an issue, only that with the limited data the OP has available it’s already happened more than is generally acceptable.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Yup. There’s a lot that we don’t know about the situation, but the bottom line is that OP#1, as the manager, needs to directly address it and let him know that it is not acceptable.

  42. Glomarization, Esq.*

    OP#1, taking away Dad’s work-from-home privileges is a bit of a nuclear option. I think you’re risking that he will see it as: jobs (and childhood development phases, and childcare arrangements) are temporary, kids are with you forever, so this job and its 5:00 a.m. conference calls can take a long walk off a short pier. I mean, if you’re OK with him quitting, then go ahead and terminate the work-from-home option for him.

    I hope you have, instead, some more back-and-forth conversation about how he can address the noise issue. Better technology on his end, more flexibility on timing the meetings on your end, whatever. Maybe it’s just me, but my kiddo was a screamer when he was a toddler, and believe me, the yelling wasn’t pleasant for anybody who could hear it. But the screaming toddler times didn’t last for very long; his verbal skills developed, and then before I knew it he was in school all day. (Today, he’s a persistent young man with a gift for doggedly seeing things through when they don’t immediately go his own way.) I agree that it is 100% not professional to have a little human yelling his head off within hearing of the meeting participants. However, if my employer had revoked my work-from-home because of a few poorly timed screechfests, it might have damaged our working relationship beyond repair. I hope you look into technology or some other solution before giving up on this otherwise high-performing employee.

  43. Workfromhome*

    #1 I do think there needs to be more context before jumping all over the employee with the loud baby. Yes the expectation should be that calls are taken in a quite area and a screaming baby is a distraction.

    BUT as others have mentioned the employee should take reasonable steps to do so. I have had a ton of experience working from home and working for companies that operate in multiple time zones. In my experience companies are often not considerate of these different time zones. I would often get meeting requests for 7 pm on a Friday night decline them only to get a message back..”Oh sorry we forgot you will have left for the weekend”.
    Unless the expectation is that people would come to the office at 5 am to take a call then its not reasonable to expect them to be able to take a 5 am call at home with no disruption.
    People should be expected to make reasonable accommodation when working at home so we need to know if this is the case before talking about revoking privileges. If the employee lives in a duplex with thin walls and the neighbor has a crying baby should they be expected to move? Also is working from home 100% of the time a “privilege” or is a cost saving for the company. In my last job I worked in an office with conference rooms if you needed quite for a conference call. Then they closed down the regional offices and moved most of us into home offices to save the company money. If the company requires absolute quite for home workers what alternative do they offer them? Is there an office they can go to on those occasions? Will they pay for a temporary workspace as an alternative. We don’t know all the details but I have seen instances in my work like where people jump to the conclusion that “working from home” is some privilege people choose so they can lounge around watching TV all day in their underwear while they have their laptop beside them. The reality may be very different where its forced upon the worker and has a downside (taking 5am calls at home).

    1. nonymous*

      My employer expressly forbids child or elder care duties when working from home. It’s totally fine to work from home so that you can be there right when the bus drops them off, but it’s expected that employees clock out at that point. When my coworker’s elderly parent in a different state broke his hip and needed transitioning to assisted living, my coworker was able to put in flexible hours from that remote location so that she could go to appointments during her non-work time. We’re hourly professionals, so it’s important to be focused during work hours, but we’re not expected to put OT or be available after hours.

  44. fposte*

    Hey, can you not be deliberately mean to people? It’s right there above the box when you comment.

  45. Kate*

    #2 – ““After he is gone, some of the damage he’s done is going to take me a year or two to fix.”

    WHAT?!?! No. Get rid of this guy now. Don’t let him do further damage that is going to take YEARS to fix.

    1. Yvette*

      #2 If “After he is gone, some of the damage he’s done is going to take me a year or two to fix.” is truly the case, and he has an air tight contract and cannot be let go, wouldn’t it be best to just have him assigned to low level, minimal responsibilities? Let him to everyone’s grunt work, prep conference rooms for meetings, get coffee, etc. Either way you will be out the cost of his salary, but this way you won’t have the added cost (both actual and intrinsic) of fixing his damage.

      1. OP#2*

        Part of the contract *is* his job description. I can’t change what jobs he is given – though we’ve modified them in light of the fact that he’s not doing a lot of his work. (this was part of his professional improvement plan.)

        I’m actually arranging a meeting right now with a supervisor to see if we can do something about minimizing some of the problems that will take me this long to fix – and it’s not *many* just a few things that I and his predecessor had been working very hard to get up to snuff, some systems that took years of development and maintenance, and he just hasn’t done the maintenance on any of them, so I’m going to have to do it retroactively after he’s gone. My bosses are already aware of this, but I don’t think they understand the long term ramifications yet, and frankly, there’s some other stuff happening in our company right now that I know has them stretched thin, and I know (just from having worked here for 6 years) has to take priority. Fixing Fergus’ damages is something that is going to be a thorn in my side for a long time, but it’s not honestly something that needs to take priority from a manager’s standpoint – they have bigger fish to fry in the company of ~95 people than one person on a 2-person team. Fergus ticks me off and stresses me out, but they’re doing everything that they can with an employee who’s under contract, and telling them the depth of the problems he’s creating – with the PIP he’s already under – isn’t really going to change much about the situation, other than making me look petty/whiney.

        Fergus’ contract only has about 4.5 months left now, so a lot of the damage has been done. At this point, it’s just trying to minimize it until he moves on.

    2. McWhadden*

      Honestly, something about this letter is off. He is really THIS terrible but they plan to keep him for the full year? Coupled with the very personal level of insults the OP has for him I think there is a lot more to this story.

      If he was really as detrimental to the office as OP claims they would not keep him on.

      1. Lora*

        Have seen companies keep people on whose contributions to the organization consisted of $75,000,000 in punitive damages. Not that this was a good decision on their part, but companies keep people around all the time who richly deserve nothing more than a cardboard box to put their crap in.

        But yeah, OP2, tell Fergus he can be in charge of cat pictures and goat gifs on the internet, put him in a room by himself with some colored pencils and a coloring book, and let him wait out his PIP there. If you MUST. And I would lay out the case with Legal and HR about why you should be allowed to fire Fergus NOW NOW NOW.

        1. Kate*

          Yes, this! Contracts generally don’t make someone unfireable. They might make it harder, but Fergus has clearly shown cause. If it’s not worth the hassle of building a case to get rid of him, then at least stop giving him responsibilities that can do so much damage to the company.

      2. Turkletina*

        I’ve been assuming that OP2 is not in the US and that the problem employee’s contract might not be easy/possible to cancel.

        1. Manders*

          Yes, the one year contract is pretty unusual in the US, so anything I have to say about how easy it is to fire a contract employee probably doesn’t apply to this situation. I’m only familiar with one year contracts in tech, where the “contract” employee is actually employed by a temp agency and it’s very easy to cut them loose if things aren’t working out.

      3. OP#2*

        McWhadden, I’m leaving out a lot of details to maintain as much anonymity as I can. I’m sorry – I know there must be things that are unclear because of that.

        The very personal insults are because I’ve been dealing with this for 7 months now and I’m so sick of it, and frustrated, and trying with all my might to maintain my professionalism in the work place, where I’ve managed to make a very strong reputation for myself, and where I otherwise absolutely adore where I work, and always have since my first day there – no joke. I’m someone for whom my job is my hobby, and I would do my job for free if it weren’t a job someone was willing to actually pay me money to do. I’m very well-respected and trusted by my supervisors and managers.

        He’s not detrimental to the company as a whole, but he certainly is to the work that I and the person who Fergus replaced, but we’re 2 people in a company of ~95… my bosses are aware of what is going on, but I know there are other things that they need to focus on more than this, and I respect that, because I think they’re doing everything that they can within the scope of his contract and PIP.

    3. OP#2*

      Unfortunately, as I’m by no means a manager, just his partner in a 2-person team (which is why I was in on the interview and reference process.) I have no power to fire him, or he would have been let go 3-4 months in.

  46. PomGuac*

    Re: OP#1 I really think a missing piece here is the local time of the call. Even many non-remote workers would have the option to call into, say, a 7am conference call from home (assuming that’s outside of his regular business hours) and it would be very difficult to arrange for out-of-the-home childcare that early in the morning, especially on an occasional basis. And if he needs access to files, etc. it makes sense that he would need to be in his regular workspace for the call. I’d ask him what his needs are and search for alternatives (better soundproofing, alternate call times, etc) before threatening to take away work from home.

    1. MT*

      If he chose to live on the west coast knowing that business is done on east coast time, then thats on him.

      1. Observer*

        You keep on saying that, and it’s ridiculous. They clearly have operations in the employee’s time zone, or the OP wouldn’t be talking about revoking his WFH privileges. So, that’s on the company.

        1. MT*

          you are just assuming that, or that revoking the WFH means he would have to relocate back to where the office is

          1. Observer*

            That’s an assumption that is much less likely. For sure, it’s not anywhere near a certainty.

      2. Colette*

        Well, clearly there is a benefit to the company or they wouldn’t have hired him. (Increased support hours? A stellar employee? Having an office in another state?) But it’s also not clear that all business is done on east coast time, or that those are the normal business hours for the entire organization or for his job.

      3. Trig*

        This letter writer said they are managing a virtual team. It doesn’t sound like everyone but this one employee is in the office, and this one employee has stubbornly insisted on living somewhere inconvenient to the business.

        In my context, virtual means people all over the place. On my immediate team, we have people from both sides of North America and one in India. My wider project team is even more distributed. Generally, our ‘business hours’ tend to line up wtih people on Central or Eastern time, even though our headquarters are in Pacific. I’m not on a single call in any given day where people aren’t calling in from mulitple locations and time zones, and yet we try to schedule calls in a way that works for everyone, even in India.

        If that’s the OP’s context too, it’s reasonable to suggest that the employer consider options that might make things easier for the employee.

      4. aNon*

        As I said to an earlier comment, your phrasing is off. It’s not about ‘chose’ to live. You know next to nothing about their work situation. It could be they have one client on the east coast and everyone else on the west coast. You have no way of knowing and saying they ‘chose’ this is reading as very judgmental.

  47. JeJe*

    I initially took OP3’s question about legal rights to be an overreaction, but, now that I think about it, is she being asked not to come to work with a cough while being out of sick time? That feels a bit intractable.

    If she doesn’t have flexibility for working at home and taking unpaid time can cause her problems, this question could mean … “Can I be fired or disciplined for this?”

  48. A.*

    #5 I wonder how serious the boss is being with his request. At my last job, every time someone would submit his two week’s notice, my boss would come into my office close the door and tell me I was not allowed to leave. I never once took him seriously because if he wanted me to stay, he could have paid me more. When I did give my two weeks notice, he was very gracious and kind about it. They made it clear they were sad to see me go and their good bye email stated I was “abandoning” them but I did not feel any friction or bad vibes when I left. It was not personal. My circumstances changed and I needed to make more money. Hopefully your boss will understand your circumstances have changed and you need to make more money. If not, oh well. You cannot please everyone.

  49. Rusty Shackelford*

    I tend to get a self-perpetuating, dry nagging cough after a respiratory illness (coughing causes irritation which leads to more coughing, repeat repeat repeat) and I always want to quote the great Kitty Bennet: “I do not cough for my own amusement.”

  50. McWhadden*

    I don’t know why everyone is acting as though the crying toddler in OP1 is a chronic issue. It’s happened TWICE over the course of weeks. This isn’t something that goes on every day.

    OP3 I don’t really understand why you are so offended by this. Most people don’t know your medical history. You could have something for all they know. And they don’t know the status of your sick leave bank. I’m sorry but coughing is distracting. There’s nothing you can do but it’s not out of line for people to check in over it.

  51. Alanna*

    for #1 – the first thing they might consider is a better headset with better background noise suppression. I work for a fully distributed team, and I have coworkers who often have calls with their spouse also having a call in the room, or their kid runs into the room, and I can’t hear a thing. So they could try a technological fix first!

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      My gaming headset is amazing for this. Because I live alone, my cat assumes any talking I’m doing must be talking to her, and sits beside me shrieking for attention while I’m trying to tank a raid. I’ve never had any of my guildies hear her, and I’ve asked!

      1. Tardigrade*

        What headset is this? And more importantly, does it have more than a two-foot reach so that I can recline on the couch while using it?

    2. Manders*

      Yes, not all microphones are equal! Some are designed to pick up all the ambient sound in an area, while others are focused on a specific zone. A good headset or a microphone designed for podcasters could go a long way toward fixing this problem.

      As someone who’s lived in some poorly insulated buildings with loud people, I do have some sympathy for this guy. There are indeed houses where a toddler’s scream could be head from the other side of the house, and nothing short of a major renovation will totally eliminate that sound.

  52. Penny Lane*

    Re the screaming toddler: It’s super common right now for white collar professionals to work from home, especially if their work is international and across multiple time zones. No one bats an eye if they hear an occasional child noise (or dog bark) in the background — the person typically apologizes and puts himself or herself on mute, everyone chuckles over the “no worries, been there, done that” and it’s treated much like how the temporary noise of a fire truck or garbage truck or train whistle in the background would be treated — it’s a five-second annoyance that’s no one’s fault, and move on.

    But it’s a five-second annoyance that is promptly dealt with. Minutes of crying is just not acceptable, and why can’t this guy put himself on mute? Reading between the lines, he sounds like he doesn’t care, which is the bigger issue.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Well, the OP addresses why he can’t put himself on mute — he was leading a training. Putting yourself on mute is only an effective solution when you don’t actually need to be talking.

      Plus, if the guy’s in a meeting, what exactly can he do to promptly deal with a child crying in another room? I doubt he can just take his entire office rig outside at a moment’s notice.

      1. LBK*

        The screaming may be unpredictable but the presence of a child in the house isn’t. I think the jackhammering example above is a great comparison – if you know there’s loud construction happening on your street, you obviously can’t stop the construction from happening, but you can take steps to adjust your work situation so that it’s not disruptive. If there’s nowhere in the house where a screaming child can’t be heard and there’s no way to take the child out of the house that early, then the employee needs to leave the house himself.

        1. Observer*

          That’s not always realistic. I don’t know what was happening on this call, but if he was leading people through a system and was using a screen share, leaving his home office may not really have been a viable option.

          Interestingly enough I just recently had a similar problem – except that the jackhammer noise was at the office.

          We don’t really have enough information to draw conclusions about what is going on here, although the situation does need to be deal with. But the OP doesn’t seem to have all the information they need either – and doesn’t seem to have even thought about what information they might be missing. So step #1 is to have an open minded, clear and human conversation or two in which they actually explain what they need to have happen (ie screaming kid in the background really needs to stop) and listen to what the employee has to say.

          1. LBK*

            Ha – my boyfriend also had the reverse situation, where there was loud construction going on outside his office for months so the company had anyone who took frequent calls work from home during that period.

            As far as the employee leaving the house, I didn’t mean running out to the garage for a minute – I was thinking more along the lines of going into the office, at least on days he knows he’s going to be giving a presentation where he’s going to be speaking for a sustained period and can’t selectively mute the mic to cover background noise.

            I do agree that the first step is the OP getting to the bottom of the issue, eg does he not have any childcare, is this a temporary situation, could it be resolved by bumping meetings to later, etc. My point was more confirming for the OP that it’s reasonable to expect that someone should have a quiet working environment when they’re working remotely.

          2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Then the child needs to leave the house.

            Let’s not let this become a “not everyone can eat sandwiches” situation. This is something that the employee has an obligation to resolve, and there are a lot of options for resolution (employee finds a different place to work when she’s leading a training; child goes to McDonald’s for an hour; employee soundproofs the room she works in or the room the child plays in; etc.).

            1. Observer*

              This is something that the employer has an obligation to work with his employee on. Depending on the specifics, saying that the child needs to leave the house is not reasonable, either. And, the OP doesn’t have the faintest clue as to what may be a reasonable in this situation.

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                The OP is the manager in this case. She is the exact person who knows what is reasonable in this situation — why on earth wouldn’t she?

                Of course employers should remember that their employees are humans, and should treat them humanely. But it’s not the employer’s responsibility to set up the employee’s child care situation; the employer’s responsibility is to make the expectations clear (“Your child cannot interrupt training sessions that you are leading”), give the employee grace in emergency situations (the nanny has the stomach flu, etc.), have a backup plan in case of those emergencies (reschedule the training; ask someone else to deliver it), and otherwise hold the employee accountable to the reasonable expectations they set.

                I’m baffled that people think this employee is being treated poorly. Imagine if she were leading the training session in person and brought her toddler along because she couldn’t work out another option for child care; nobody would think it was reasonable if the toddler screamed throughout the training. This isn’t different just because the employee was sitting in her home office.

                1. Observer*

                  The OP is the manager, but clearly has no idea of what they are dealing with here. They haven’t had a conversation about the matter, and the FIRST and ONLY thing they can think of is of is totally revoking WFH privileges.

                  Jumping to the nuclear option without ever having a conversation (or apparently checking with anyone else about this person’s history, what other people do, or anything else about the way the company’s virtual teams work) means that they clearly don’t know what’s reasonable.

                  As I said, the FIRST thing the manager needs to do is figure out what is going on and what the options are. It could be that the employee is being careless and rude. On the other hand, it’s equally possible that the issue is on the employer’s end – or a combination of the two.

  53. Kimberly*

    I don’t get why people in the situation of LW3 aren’t more proactive. This all could possibly have been avoided by simply saying to the people near them “My doctor says I’m over the flu and not contagious, but I still have a cough from the irritation to my lungs. I treating according to doctor’s instructions.” This has been a bad flu season and people are scared. Not just of getting it but passing it along to young kids, elderly family members, and friends and family that are immune suppressed.

    I have asthma. If I get a cold or flu – I’ll be coughing for months afterward especially since the spring allergy season will probably overlap my recovery. I have literally knocked myself on my rear coughing – and I’m not supposed to take a cough suppressive unless I cannot sleep or talk from the coughing. I just tell the people that have to be around me what is going on. The only time I have a problem with someone is if they are into fake medicine. In that case, I put as much distance between them and myself as possible.

    1. Observer*

      Well, to be fair to the OP, no one seems to have said anything to them, but to their manager.

  54. Natalie*

    I would hate, and have hated, a coughing co-worker. It’s really annoying and gross, OP needs to realise that.

  55. Lauren*

    #3 My first question was how long it had been since OP returned to work. Has he/she been back for only a few days and it would be pretty normal to still have a cough, or has this been persisting for a week or more?

    I think your reaction was a bit over the top. I have an autoimmune disease, so it makes me very uneasy to be around people who appear to be ill (such as in your case with a cough that is frequent enough to cause distraction) because if I caught something that other people’s immune systems could easily fight off, I might end up severely ill (or worse, especially given this year’s flu season).

    I wouldn’t assume that their statements about your coughing were a judgment of you personally, or that they think it’s somehow your fault you’re coughing or that you could magically stop if you wanted to. It’s a reflection of the lost work time they’re experience due to distraction and also the very reasonable and real concern that someone who has such a cough could potentially also be spreading illness in their work space, albeit unintentionally.

  56. Q*

    LW# 3 I can see how this would be super annoying to have coworkers complain over having a temporary cough due to to sickness. I sat next to a woman that had a body-rattling smokers cough which was horrible, and had to wear headphones to block out the constant hacking, which became worse after she came back from smoke breaks (and smelling like cigarettes). I never thought to complain even though the sound and smell were highly annoying. This is a totally different scenario and I think your coworkers are being overly sensitive. Hope you feel better.

  57. excessive leave required*

    I worked in an administrative (office manager type job) position once, in a small family owned business. The handbook required SIX weeks notice for any resignation, and if employees did not provide six full weeks notice, the company would not pay out otherwise payable accrued benefits. The accrued sick leave and vacation times were payable at 100% unless you provided less than six weeks, then you got NOTHING. Needless to say, hardly anyone ever got paid for their accumulated leave time. I gave three weeks notice, after three years of employment, and of course walked away from a fair amount of money for this reason.

  58. Cafe au Lait*

    OP 1: Something Alison didn’t address, but I picked up on was the the caller was on the West coast. Are you in another time zone? While Alison’s advice stands, you might want to consider holding meetings later in the day. For example: if your on EST, but your report is on PST, you want want to consider off-setting meetings to early afternoon.

    It’s annoying, but think about it from the employee’s end. To comply with what you want, he’ll need to reconfigure his home life to remove the child from the house. For a 10am meeting, that’s 7am PST–usually a time a child is having breakfast. The parents will need to get up earlier, feed kid, take kid out of the house. The simplest solution would be to ask the employee to block off all time before the child leave for daycare. Host meetings once his calendar is “free.”

  59. NYanon*

    Haha, the one with the toddler is making me laugh today, as we are in the midst of a snow day. They were predicting chaos outside (which mostly hasn’t happened) so my husband decided to work from home, which he doesn’t normally do. I work freelance from home and only work when the kids are in school, so since they are around today I’m on deck. I invited one friend for each of them, which usually works to keep them occupied. Except little one didn’t want to play with his friend, he wanted to chase the big boys, and there was a whole lot of screaming & banging despite my best efforts. My husband was barricaded in the bedroom on a call with headphones, but he said he pretty much had to keep it on mute for the whole 2 hour meeting, just un-muting to give one word answers. What a mess!

    That said, I totally took care of my both of my kids while working from home 2x a week when they were both babies (when I had a full time job). I wasn’t in great financial shape and my bosses looked the other way & never asked about childcare. It was never an issue since my job was mellow enough that I got most of it done on my days in the office & answered emails & did minor tasks on the laptop while nursing. There was one time I accidentally hit video on a skype meeting while I was nursing and the laptop camera was pretty much right there by the baby’s head, but the guys I was talking to just pretended it didn’t happen.

  60. skunklet*

    OP#1 – one thing that has not really been mentioned – phone tech. Maybe he needs something as simple as a new headset. My husband, the truckdriver, has a headset that has noise cancelling properties and even with him driving with the windows open, I can’t hear anything other than him speaking… so if this guy’s headset picks up everything, this can also be a part of the issue.

    FTR, I’m on the East Coast and have been on later in the day conference calls (Fortune 10 company) so we can speak to someone in Asia or the Middle East and yes, we occasionally hear kids – if it’s 9 pm or 6 am, I don’t understand why anyone would have an issue with that (esp if he’s covering West Coast hours).

    1. Mary*

      Yeah, a headset that can pick up a crying child in another room rather than just the voice which is 2″ away seems like really crappy tech!

  61. WillowSunstar*

    #2 — it is possible the references knew the person was horrible, and were just trying to get rid of him/her. Beware of overly glowing recommendations. I would have had to decline being a reference for Monday just for this reason — I’d have been tempted to make things up. Literally the only thing I could have honestly said that was good about him was that he showed up for work. Although for some managers, that may be all that counts.

    1. OP#2*

      One of the references implied in their answers to the questions that were emailed that there was some kind of a “family friend” relationship, so there was not a lot of professional objectivity. If Fergus asks me for a reference when he is job searching, I will have to tell him the honest truth – he needs to find a reference from someone who will have kinder things to say about him.

  62. GM*

    OP#1, I’ve been the person on a call with a screaming toddler in the background. It happened once and I was mortified! I made sure it never happened again. The clients on the call were NOT happy – one of them actually said “Can the person with the child please go on mute?” I had accidentally unmuted my line at the wrong time.
    I’d say it is on the employee to ensure it doesn’t happen, and work out a favorable schedule for the calls.

  63. Fresh Faced*

    (Not particularly helpful to OP #5 as the situation is wildly different.) But the question reminded me of my last temp job. My manager asked that I give 2 months notice if I wanted to leave before my contract was up. I (and I assume she) was fully aware that I only needed to give 1 week notice as written in the company wide staff handbook. I was planning to give 2 weeks as a courtesy as I knew they were short staffed at a busy time. I remember giving a verbal “ok sure”as she put me on the spot, whilst making a mental note to give the shortest amount of notice I could if the need arised (it did) and to make more of an impression on my other manager before I left. The job ended up doing a lot to try and take advantage of its mostly younger staff with things like mandatory OT and skipped breaks, and that manager enabled some terrible behavior so it was a good call.

  64. Former Hoosier*

    “he IQ of a rusty nail and the work ethic of a sloth” I think I may have once hired the same person.

    Years ago, I was an admin and one of my responsibilities was to assign pagers. The programmers were always angling to get a better pager or a newer one, etc. and I had learned to just say, “This is the one you get.” One day a programmer came to me and said he thought his pager number had been previously owned by a drug dealer. I thought this was just another gambit to get me to give him a new pager. Next time he was paged he came to me and we called the number on speaker phone. Sure enough, drug deal. I got him a new pager the same day.

  65. OP#2*

    Mini-Update to Situation #2, I talked to my supervisor about some of the problems – including the fact that I’m 99% certain Fergus lied in his interview – and she said, “Ok, in that case, you have to take it to our VP.” (who is the person who put him on the performance improvement plan.) and told her all of the things that have been going on. She was aware of many of them, but when I told her about the lie from the job interview about “teapot painting” but also said “I didn’t keep my notes, and there’s a chance that I’m remembering this incorrectly…” and she said, “And that’s precisely why we keep them with our HR department.” and said she was going to follow up with them about that.

    She mainly wanted me to feel supported and wanted me to know that they see that I’m doing my best under this much pressure, and reiterated that they know this has been hard.

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