5 updates (sleeping in the office, the engagement ring, and more)

Here are five updates from people who had their letters answered here in the past.

1. I’m supposed to sleep in the office when I travel for work

I just wanted to give you an update here since my last day at work is this Friday! After reading your advice and the 400+ comments from readers (wowza) I began looking for new work a few weeks after I submitted my question and am very excited for my new job. I’ll be getting a pay bump and will be at a much larger organization with more resources and structure.

While I was in the process of looking for new work, I had 2 more work trips scheduled with my job. Based on your advice, I told my manager I wasn’t comfortable staying in the office. There was a little bit of pushback on this, but it was finally agreed upon that I would stay in the CEO’s apartment while he was out of town on the first trip. On the second trip however, I stayed in another property he owned with another new employee (also a young woman). This second property had 1 bedroom and 1 bathroom (which could only be accessed by going through the bedroom). I got the bedroom while my colleague took the couch and it was a bit awkward for her to need to come in through my bedroom to use the bathroom a few times during the entire 3-day trip. Additionally, on the second night we were staying there the power went out in the entire apartment and both of us spent about 30 minutes searching around the house and property for the fuse box. The whole thing felt so ridiculous, at a certain point it became humorous.

Thanks again for your and everyone’s advice — I was crying from laughing so hard at some of the reader comments.

2. Do ethics rules prohibit accepting an engagement ring? (#4 at the link)

(Reminder of who’s who: Jennifer is the friend whose government lead told her she couldn’t accept an engagement ring from her fiance, Steve.)

Jennifer just called me back. After talking to her PM, she called Steve to talk to him, and he talked to his bosses. Apparently, my firm’s leadership didn’t even have to get involved. Steve’s bosses talked to Jennifer’s government lead’s bosses. Not only has this been quashed, the government lead is suspended pending dismissal! That happened QUICKLY. I’m absolutely gobsmacked at how fast this happened.

Apparently, this guy’s been an ass for much longer than Jennifer’s been at that client location. This was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Hooray for happy endings!

3. How can I ward off coworkers who will want to touch my pregnant belly? (#3 at the link)

Thanks to you and your readers for answering my question about warding off unwanted belly pats while pregnant.

I’d hoped there would be something I could say once to my coworkers that would prevent it. After reading your advice and the commenters’, I realized that yeah, it would sound pretty weird to say, “I’m pregnant! Please don’t touch me.” As someone pointed out, normal people would find that off-putting, and boundary-violators would think it didn’t apply to them.

The good news is that I had very little unwanted touching. Only twice, actually.

The first was a coworker with whom I have a friendly but not close relationship. She put her hand on my stomach, and, reflexively, I did an exaggerated, “joking” cringe. She looked surprised, and I said lightly, “Oh, I’m not a touchy person.” (New use of the word “touchy,” but she knew what I meant.) She apologized, I said it wasn’t a big deal, and it was all good.

The other person was a job candidate! Bold move to rub your interviewer’s pregnant stomach. (She didn’t get the job, but not because of that.)

Something that helped keep people away was sitting down more. Typically, if someone drops by my cubicle to chat, I stand up. I stopped doing that while pregnant. In fact, I sat every chance I had. Having my belly out of arm’s reach made a difference, I think. Harder for people to pat it impulsively.

Thanks again for your advice, and for everybody’s suggestions and commiseration in the comments! I really appreciate it.

4. Should I tell references their recommended candidate was horrible? (#2 at the link)

Thank you so much for answering my question in your blog! I was so excited to see your advice. I decided against speaking to the references of my awful coworker, because it seemed petty. All that tarnishing his reputation to his references would do is put myself into an even more awkward situation of being one of the few people who could give him a reference, and having to tell him that he needed to look elsewhere for someone to recommend him.

I went to my boss and laundry listed the problems I’m encountering after reading your advice about seeing what we could do, despite his contract. Apparently, I was not the only one to complain and my manager was shocked it took me so long to talk with her, and said she noticed (as did many other people, apparently) that I was doing the work of two people to compensate for Fergus.

His contract was not renewed, and he will not be back anymore. I got assist in the interviews for the next person, and will handle bringing a new person in much differently, having learned a LOT from this past year. I’m very optimistic about how things will be from now on!

5. My whole team brings their spouses on business trips

When I originally wrote to you, I was surprised that so many employees brought spouses to conferences. I followed your advice – and the suggestions of many of the commenters – and avoided making a big deal out of it. I followed the company’s policy on travel authorizations, which meant encouraging employees to choose the cheapest travel options within reason.

As I talked to employees about these conferences, I discovered that several questioned the value of attending the same ones year after year. It was easy for me to approve a more flexible professional development plan, where employees could choose from several possible conferences or paid training options based on their interests, skill needs, or even the advertised keynote speakers. Several members of our team are trying new conferences this summer and fall, and one has selected going to a training workshop instead. And fewer members have mentioned bringing their spouses.

{ 192 comments… read them below }

  1. Falling Diphthong*

    Bold move to rub your interviewer’s pregnant stomach.

    We may have a new gumption contender.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’d say that’s a pretty solid reason not to hire someone. Clearly they have no concept of boundaries.

      1. Observer*

        Seriously! On the other hand, it’s not surprising that there were other issues as well.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      Yeah, IMO that could absolutely and defensibly be the sole reason the candidate did not get the job.

      1. Tehmorp*

        Yeah, I don’t want to hire someone who doesn’t understand the norm of not touching people’s bodies unless they are 100% remote all of the time. Imagine testifying at the harassment lawsuit: “Yes, Your Honor, I did hire the defendant despite the fact that they had already begun touching people at work. No, Your Honor, I don’t think you can add me as a co-defendant at this stage. Wha- Hey, Bailiff, get your your hands off me! This should be illegal! I’ll see you in court (tomorrow at my arraignment).”

      1. OP #3*

        Just a wide-eyed stare. She touched me in the middle of a long stream of chit chat. It clearly didn’t occur to her that this was at all an unusual thing to do.

          1. Drago Cucina*

            Agreed. Who knew this needed to be included in interview tips? “If your interviewer is pregnant don’t touch her stomach.”

            1. SusanIvanova*

              Dave Barry ‘s classic advice: “You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.”

              This should be extended to “say or do”!

        1. Le Sigh*

          It’s unfortunate you can’t use a squirt gun on people when they do this. Works really well on cat.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              I’ve often wished I could use an air horn during interviews. THAT would get their attention!

            1. Rana*

              It’s a way of training your cat to not engage in undesirable behavior, like jumping on the counter or scratching the sofa. It’s not meant to abuse the cat.

              1. Erin*

                I tried the same thing for my puppy. But he tries to bite the stream of water now. So we moved on to a coffee can filled with gravel and we shake it at him. Both are veterinarian approved methods of training. I’m pregnant and haven’t had anyone rub my belly without asking. If I was in Op’s situation I’d just say “what are you doing? I don’t like being touched.” In my most insulted voice. But now I’m tempted to walk around with a coffee can filled with gravel at work to shake at people who try to touch me.

                1. sap*

                  One of my cats is too dumb for this method too (he was the runt and vets have suspected some sort of mental impairment for a while). You spray him, and he just looks around, clearly uncomfortable but also deeply confused, until the spraying stops.

                2. Donna Freedman*

                  I’ve been told that if someone rubs/pats/touches your belly, you could try rubbing/patting/touching THEIR belly.

                  Or do it the Miss Manners: a small shriek and the appearance of having heart palpitations. “Oh my….You just….You STARTLED me! Please don’t touch me!”

              2. SusanIvanova*

                There was a story going around recently about a cat who was intentionally doing the behavior that got her squirted, because it was a very hot day and they had no A/C.

        2. An.on.y*

          I doubt I’d be able to come up with a response in that moment either, but I can imagine someone with a faster processing time saying “have you ever been written up for violating a coworker’s personal space?” in a calm cool interviewer voice.

          1. sap*

            Hahaha, yes.

            I’m so using this if a candidate touches me to do something other than shake hands at an interview!

    3. Le Sigh*

      I like to think that there’s another workplace blog out there with a post from the interviewee: “I recently had an interview for a job and everything was going really well, until out of nowhere, I just…rubbed the interviewer’s pregnant belly. I really don’t know why I did it — it’s like I just saw my hand reach out and I couldn’t stop myself. I’m mortified. Should I apologize? Or just never say anything and assume I won’t get the job?”

      1. Le Sigh*

        Or, the other letter, “I even rubbed the interviewer’s belly to show how much I love kids. But I haven’t gotten a call back! What else can I do?”

          1. PB*

            “I didn’t even do it *during* the interview! It was before while we’re chatting, so it doesn’t count!”

          2. Kathleen_A*

            “Should mention touching the interviewer’s pregnant belly and my adoration of children in my thank-you note? I want to make she remembers me.”

            1. PB*

              “I was thinking of sending her a baby gift, to stand out! Should I Google her registry? Or just buy her a car-seat?”

              1. Drew*

                “Should I discreetly ask what sex the baby is going to be so I can send the appropriate colors, or just send both blue AND pink to be safe? Would it be too forward to send naming suggestions? The baby felt like a Eustace when I touched it, but if she’s a girl I think she’s more of a Lucy.”

      2. BadWolf*

        The charitable side of my brain was thinking it could have been nerves. Like you find yourself making stupid jokes that fall flat. Or get stuck on some weird thing so the interviewer thinks your obsessed with something.

      3. savannnah*

        I didn’t do it in an interview but I did do this to a friend. She surprised me at a dinner party and showed up 6-7 months pregnant and I just automatically touched her belly. I was mortified and apologized and she laughed it off but I really felt possessed. I have no excuses but at least it wasn’t in an interview!

        1. savethedramaforyourllama*

          A friend is a totally different situation. I don’t think its completely outside the boundaries for anyone you’d otherwise hug or share a drink/hotel room etc with (i.e. you have some level of closeness with)

          1. AdminX2*

            It is out of the boundaries, but it’s more excusable given they immediately apologized, no harm was done, and their friendship had enough goodwill built to let it go.

        2. NorthernSoutherner*

          I have to say, I find the horror of a touch a bit disconcerting here. Maybe because I was raised among Latins, who preface every hello and goodbye with a kiss? And my family members, being Italian, always hugging and cheek-pinching. When I moved northward, I had to make a conscious adjustment to watch my tendency to go in for the hug with people. I certainly never meant anything creepy by it!

          Back home, when I was pregnant, I recall my belly being touched now and again. It wasn’t constant or anything, just once in a while, by workmates or associates noticing that I had this gargantuan protrusion. And yeah, it was big (both kids almost 9 pounds). I don’t recall feeling weirded out by the touching. Just my own experience.

    4. Chaordic One*

      OTOH, I’ve had the misfortune of being in the opposite situation.

      “Don’t you want to feel the baby kick? Come here and put your hand on my belly!”

      And I just sort of feel like “Ew.” If I’d kept my wits about me I could have at least come up with a “No thanks, I’m good.” (I must be some sort of monster not to want to share in this joyful celebration.)

      1. Joielle*

        Ha, this is totally me too. Also: “Do you want to hold the baby??” Uh… not really? I promise I’m not history’s greatest monster, I just don’t know what to do with babies!

        1. BadWolf*

          I don’t ask to hold babies, but I’ve learned when parents ask twice, I better hold the baby. One time, they’re probably just being polite and don’t care if I hold the baby. If they persist, they’ll be insulted that I don’t hold the baby. It’s a strange dance.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids, but I don’t get why parents would want people to hold their babies unwillingly – I think if I had a baby, I’d probably err on the side of too much caution when letting people hold the baby.

          2. KL*

            Or maybe they really need to pee or something and they’re just dying for someone to take the baby off their hands for a sec!

            1. Jenny Grace*

              I am pretty willing to throw my baby at a friend so I can pee or grab a drink or take another kid to the bathroom or whatever. But in those cases I don’t even ask “do you want to hold the baby” it’s more like “here take this for a minute would ya?”. It’s definitely a chore I’m assigning.

            2. General Ginger*

              Then they can say that! I have no problem holding someone’s baby while they take care of something. I don’t want to hold the baby just because.

              1. Strawmeatloaf*

                Exactly. What is it with people making excuses for these parents/parents just not saying outright? If they have legitimate needs they need to tend to right at that moment (bathroom breaks) no one is going to throw them in prison because they need to disappear for 5 minutes!

                Though I suppose for some it would be not only that but then if they don’t say the actual reason out loud that can just have the (not-wanting-to-hold-a-baby) person hold it for longer so they can do other things… But I myself would still hand them off XD

          3. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Same here. I think new parents want/need to know their baby is irresistible and precious to everyone, not just them. Something along the lines of ‘It Takes A Village’ or something. Whatever the reason, I ‘ve learned that holding or cooing at a baby makes the parents happy, so I just do it.

          4. sap*

            If you tell them you’re worried you/your family member might be coming down with something, they don’t want you to hold the baby anymore.

            1. chocoholic*

              I was going to say this too. If you don’t want to hold the baby, just say someone in your home/office/circle of people you see has recently been sick and you don’t want to spread germs. I let anyone who wanted to hold the baby but I didn’t foist them on anyone. I would sometimes ask someone to take the baby so I could to to the bathroom or something but that was about it.

        2. Decima Dewey*

          “I can see the baby from here just fine. No, don’t take it out of the crib. Don’t go to the trouble.”

        3. That Would be a Good Band Name*

          I always just say that I think I’m coming down with a cold and I should stay away.

          1. whingedrinking*

            Just don’t drop them
            Can’t speak for anybody else, but I routinely drop things that don’t squirm or need their heads supported. I prefer not to think about what would happen if one of my klutz attacks coincided with a wiggle fit on the part of my friend or relative’s infant child.

            1. JessaB*

              I’m lucky my friends with babies know I can’t. I’m not allowed to lift things like that, my fine motor skills are garbage, I no longer have a decent grip and my weight limit for lifting is about 15-20 lbs and I still drop stuff. So nope, not holding your kid unless I’m sitting down somewhere I can brace them. Want me to sit on the sofa with the baby and make sure they don’t roll off, sure. But pick em up nope.

      2. boop the first*

        Omg yes! I am over here flabbergasted that anyone would have the desire to touch a person’s stomach, pregnant or otherwise, friend or stranger, intentionally, let alone “automatically”!

    5. Totally Minnie*

      There are two reasons to touch a person who is interviewing you for a job.

      1. They have offered their hand for you to shake.
      2. The lighting fixture has fallen from the ceiling and you must shove them out of the way to save their life.

      No other reasons exist.

      1. Drew*

        3. You’re applying to be a massage therapist and they’ve asked you to demonstrate. On them. For some weird reason.

        Nah, I’m on board with Totally Minnie.

        1. Liz*

          Is that one weird? I’m sure there was a commenter here once who is in the business of employing massage therapists, and that was one of the ways she judges their skill and competence.

        2. Kat Em*

          Actually, “hands-on interviews” are quite the contentious topic in the massage world! Plenty of unscrupulous managers and spa owners who have no intention of hiring the person just want a freebie massage.

          General consensus seems to be that you should offer barter or payment for a full treatment from top picks, or limit yourself to a 10 minute demo, but recent grads get preyed upon a lot and don’t feel comfortable refusing.

      2. A username for this site*

        Lifeguards often have to interview by “rescuing” their interviewer to demonstrate skill competency.

    6. Phil*

      I would have made them poo themselves a little by doing the whole “What baby?/I’m not pregnant!” thing. ;)

    7. CoveredInBees*

      Bold is certainly a word for it. Not the specific word that I would choose (one in a stream of words…), but it is certainly applicable.

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP #2 — Ooooooo please update us again and let us know what happens! I am not surprised that this guy has a history of being a jerk.

    1. Annie Moose*

      Yessss, this one is very satisfying. When I read the original letter, I was wondering if this guy had a weird thing for Jennifer and therefore was specifically targeting and trying to control her, but with this update, it definitely wasn’t just about her.

      1. Annie Moose*

        Although… I just reread OP’s update in the original thread, and it sounds like it actually might have been a factor, just with more than just Jennifer!

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Seriously so satisfying. I had a Cheshire Cat smirk by the end of the update.

    2. Database Developer Dude*

      I’m dependent on when “Jennifer” talks to me…..so I’ll keep you posted, but no promises. Remember, she’s a contractor, so she wouldn’t necessarily be told anything more than “Fergus is not coming back, and his deputy, Wakeen, will move into the role permanently”.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        OH! I didn’t realize you were the OP for that one. And that’s totally understandable.

      2. GovtContractor*

        I’m not surprised it was fast. A misuse of power that blatant is “have security watch ’em clear their desk and walk ’em out” time.

        1. grey*

          I actually was shocked reading that. The way I understood it, its nearly impossible for a fed to get fired!

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think the government lead is also a contractor/private-sector? It sounds like Jennifer is a contractor, and the government lead is employed at the same organization.

            Unrelated, you can definitely terminate a federal employee. It just takes a bit longer than many non-union private sector terminations because the civil service has due process protections that must be fulfilled, first. And those due process protections were created to protect employees from nepotism and retaliation from political appointees. But one of the fastest and easiest ways to get fired as a fed is abuse of power or other forms of fraud.

            1. soon 2be former fed*

              Thirty year fed here.Feds definitely can and do get fired, just not so arbitrarily and capriciously as in the private sector. And certain bad acts are ground for immediate dismissal. It is just a myth that feds can’t get fired.

            2. Decima Dewey*

              You can fire a municipal employee as well, if you’ve done your homework. My library system has been lax about it. Some years back we had a money-handling scandal. The Grandboss at the time didn’t listen to anyone who tried to tell him there was a problem. In fact, he transferred one person who complained! In the aftermath, the people who admitted wrong doing got fired. The people who maintained they’d done nothing wrong got to keep their jobs, because TPTB hadn’t documented problems with those people.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            It’s not impossible to fire a fed. Their manager just has to stay more on top of documentation and following protocol to the letter, and there is the risk of the union appealing; however, if you’re a crappy performer, there is a way to get rid of you, provided your manager handles it appropriately and my sense is there’s less room for not following bureaucratic procedure. My spouse, who is a fed but not management, also says that, if you complete your PIP and then revert to prior behavior again, they have to start from Day 1, but I’d be kind of surprised if that was entirely the case.

            I would bet that the fired supervisor had a prior strike or was in some sort of disciplinary process already.

          3. Wintermute*

            That’s a really common myth, and there is a chestnut of truth to it, but it varies widely. For routine performance issues it takes a long paper trail and a long, documented series of attempts to improve performance (as it ought to, in my opinion).

            But the government is extremely good about a few things, abuse of power is absolutely not tolerated, and it gets escalated quickly. They know that they’re always one bad decision by one rogue employee away from being in readers’ digest’s “Outrages of the week”, there are so many people that actively watch the government for signs of abuse and mis-use (rightfully so!) that they are very sensitive to the appearance of impropriety.

            In a situation like this, there’s a perfect storm of potential risk factors: the appearance of sexism, potential for accusations of sexual harassment, abuse of a position of power over someone’s livlihood, the abject ridiculousness of the situation and how it would play if it went public. All of those will definitely get a rapid and heightened response.

  3. Tardigrade*

    I’m happy that OP1 is moving on to a new job, but I’m outraged on behalf of the people who are still putting up with that situation. Makes me want to haunt their workplace and write “get out” in red ooze on the walls.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      It illustrates that humans truly can adapt to anything if it’s treated as the norm, everyone does it, they’re all like that… Be glad OP1 that you got out before you found yourself shaking your head that some people actually push back when told they can sleep on the floor of the conference room during business trips.

    2. MagicToilet*

      Hahaha, I’m just going to assume from now on that Haunting and Spirit Writing are additional terrifying features of the horrid Water Bear.

    3. WellRed*

      Right? A couch is not an acceptable substitute for a bed. Neither is a mon private bedroom acceptable. And in a hotel, you don’t need to hunt for the fuse box.

  4. AdAgencyChick*


    I’m guessing the CEO was also the owner? Because the only way I can even picture your situation is if you’re dealing with an owner who sees every dollar spent on the business as a dollar coming out of his own pocket. Not that that made it okay to ask — as Alison said in the original answer, if he can’t afford to put you up in a hotel, he can’t afford to have you come to HQ!

    1. Bea*

      CEOs often get paid bonuses on profits. So he doesn’t need to be an owner to be so grossly cheap and corner cutting to save a dime so a nickel ends up in his pocket.

  5. Ali G*

    #5 sounds like the employees were just bored with the same conference year after year, and just wanted their spouses along to alleviate boredom and see a little of the city after hours.
    Sounds like a good compromise was reached!

    1. Annie Moose*

      Definitely illustrates the value of rethinking things–not just continuing to do something because it’s always done that way. Sounds like everyone is happier now, and likely more productive!

      1. Genny*

        Also demonstrates the value of finding out the root cause of an action before just banning it. You end up with a much better result (happier employees who are getting more value of the money your spending on their training/professional development).

      1. toomanybooks*

        Absolutely! That was my first thought. Why else would he be doing this?? (Because it didn’t seem like, idk, Jennifer had a public-facing non-profit Anti-Diamond-Mining job and then walked in with an enormous blood diamond)

    1. AsItIs*

      Wow! Three women in five years? I’d also want to look at the person who was protecting him.

      And thanks for the update link.

  6. Umiel*

    #4, your boss was shocked it took you so long to talk to her because she noticed you were compensating for your awful coworker? It would have been nice if she intervened when she noticed you were doing the work of two instead of waiting for you to speak up.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Seriously. “Shocked” that it took so long for OP to complain, because it was clear even to the manager she’d been doing twice the work for a long time?? Sounds like one of those managers who only cared that the work got completed and wouldn’t have done a thing if OP hadn’t brought it up. AKA not a good manager.

    2. samiratou*

      And not shocked enough to can the guy before the end of his year contract, from the sounds of it.

    3. zora*

      I came looking precisely to see if someone had made a comment on this part.

      This manager is The Worst. Why did she not intervene earlier instead of waiting for you to come talk to her?? If a manager notices one person is doing another employee’s job, they can and should act on that to figure out what’s going on and fix the problem. This is good to know about your manager, but keep an eye on her for other dumb-dumb behavior, and just know that this is not what a good manager does,so you know that for the future.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      That was bizarre, but I guess maybe they thought she was thinking “He’s trainable! He’ll get there” until she specifically volunteered that no, he wasn’t?

      1. Someone Else*

        If I wanted to give that manager the benefit of the doubt, I might think enough others complained that it was obvious to her, and they’d already decided not to renew the contract but didn’t feel it was worth the trouble to try to terminate it sooner than the contract end. So basically…OP’s complaint didn’t really make a difference because by then Fergus was definitely a non-renew. So the surprise was maybe moreso that everyone else had already complained and they maybe thought OP wasn’t as bothered since they never did? But not that they were in any way waiting for the OP to add their complaint to the pile.

    5. A Girl Has No Name*

      I came to the comments section to say the same thing – if the manager knew the OP was doing the work of two people and was expecting her to complain about it a long time ago…WHY not say something proactively to OP? Not very good management at all. Even if the manager thought OP was “fine” with doing the work of 2 people, why not at least check-in with OP just in case if they were already aware of the problem (or simply get rid of the coworker even if OP was okay with it because it’s just not right to expect people to do the work of 2 people, regardless of how good that person is…)?

      1. Totally Minnie*

        Why not say something proactively to the slacker co-worker? A manager’s job is to make sure the employees are doing their work!

        1. A Girl Has No Name*

          This too. I suppose I was willing to just go straight to “get rid of the coworker” but yes, attempting to manage the lack of work should be on the table as well.

          I also just feel like checking in with OP would have been good, even if the situation was already known and being handled (as Someone Else suggested above, maybe the manager already knew they weren’t going to renew the contract). But I think checking in matters because this is how you lose good people (by ignoring the challenges they are facing – they assume you can’t…or won’t…do anything about it so they figure they’ll just leave instead, at least by checking in you are demonstrating that you are aware of the issue and actively working to address it).

          1. Winter is Coming*

            I remember being told for 6 months that additional help was being hired. All the while working 60-70 hours weeks and being given new projects weekly. The help was hired after I gave and served my notice.

      2. zora*

        “it’s just not right to expect people to do the work of 2 people”

        and it’s really not a good use of your budget!

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      Seriously. At the very, very bare minimum, Boss should have spoken with OP to mention that it *looked* like she was doing her work and Fergus’s, confirm that was the case, and ask what was up with that/for some details. I sometimes like to confirm that what I’m seeing is reality and not that someone just seems like kind of a dingus, but once you suspect there’s an issue, you have to dive in, figure it out, and intervene with the problem employee directly.

      1. Mad Baggins*

        I agree. Sounds like the manager wants the credit for paying attention and having good intentions without having to follow through with good actions.

    7. Umiel*

      This point stuck out to me because I once had a similar issue. I was the new guy on the job, and a female coworker of mine was openly hostile to me and at the same time sexually inappropriate. Being new, I didn’t want to make waves, but I eventually had to say something to my boss. His first reaction was to tell me that he had noticed what was going on, and that he had been wondering when I would finally get fed up with it. He told me that in my place, he would have complained a lot sooner. Then he asked me what I thought he could do about it, and he suggested bringing us both together so he could mediate between us. I was fairly angry at this point and told him I didn’t need couples counseling. I also said that I expected him to address her behavior directly with her, and that I was feeling that my work environment was getting hostile. I will give him some credit, however; he did confront her fairly seriously about her behavior which only helped until he took another job. About a year later I took a job in another department, and 15 years later she is still in the same department. My understanding is that people complain about her almost daily.

  7. Not Another Unnamed Commenter*

    #2, I would have loved to hear how Steve’s (the fiancé’s) conversations with his bosses went down. I can’t imagine what my reaction would be if my employee came to me saying their fiancé was under threat of losing their job due to “misconduct” from accepting their engagement ring! I feel like Steve must be a hard worker with a good relationship with his bosses because of the way they quickly jumped in the ring for him. Even if the government lead had a history of being a jerk and was already on the outs, the fact that Steve’s bosses took action to correct the situation instead of being like, “Eh don’t worry about it, she probably won’t get fired” says a lot.

  8. mark132*

    @LW3, I can’t imagine touching someone’s baby bump, (that isn’t my wife at least). Very occasionally (fortunately) I’ve been asked if I would like to touch some lady’s baby bump (by the lady) and I would very much rather not, so it’s a little uncomfortable on that rare occasion.

    1. boo bot*

      Yeah, seriously. The sheer level of invasiveness pregnant women are subjected to would have me shopping for spiked maternity clothing. (Fortunately, Cthulhu promised me I’d never have to have kids.)

      I was amused to see that the “joking cringe” worked, though. Miss Manners did once mention that a cry of shock and an expression of pain will permanently cure most people of the habit of touching women’s stomachs without permission. (Miss Manners, of course, would never recommend such a thing. She’s just sayin’.)

    2. Thlayli*

      Honestly I think the Internet exaggerates how ubiquitous this is. Im sure there must be some places in the world where people are constantly grabbing pregnant women’s bellies because clearly it happens to some women. However I’ve been visibly pregnant twice and I’ve never once had a single stranger try to touch me. None of my friends have complained of this either. Before I got pregnant the Internet led me to believe I’d be fending off random gropers on a daily basis. Even OP said in her original letter that people would ask to touch her and she found it hard to say no, not that people were randomly touching her all the time.

      Obviously it happens, since it happened to OP twice and has obviously happened to other women. And I’m sure there must be cultures where it’s a common behaviour (the American South maybe?). But it’s really not as common as t’Internet makes it out to be. it would be interesting to know where people actually do experience random groping, (and I would also like to know so I can avoid those places if I ever get pregnant again).

      1. General Ginger*

        Here, have some anecdata! The US, Northeast. Happened to my friend’s girlfriend regularly enough, through two pregnancies. At the grocery store most often. The only thing that happened more was after she had the baby, people wanting to touch the baby strapped into the seat in the grocery cart, mostly without asking permission, or doing some kind of half-assed “oh, look at those curls” while already reaching to pat said curls. So uncalled for.

        1. NewMom*

          Since he was born, I mostly have worn my baby while out and about.

          This did not/does not stop people from touching him. When he was tiny, it meant they would try to REACH NEXT TO MY BOOB to pet the baby’s head. WTF?!?! It was easy to turn and block them but seriously WTF. First of all, I do not want your germs on my newborn. Secondly, I do not want your hand near my boob. No. NO.

          Now I wear him outward facing in a carrier and that means that people compulsively grab his little toes. That will go into his mouth. But he’s 6 months now so I consider that to be immune building. And I also understand that it is more tempting to touch him since he smiles at people and does, in fact, laugh if you grab his little toes.

        2. Totally Minnie*

          My cousin’s wife was traveling with their baby a few weeks ago and people in the airport kept touching him without asking. At one point, a random stranger put her finger IN THE BABY’S MOUTH.

          1. Donna Freedman*

            I can top that one: While traveling by bus with my toddler daughter, she was playing peek-a-boo with the nice older lady sitting behind us. And then she turned around and was chewing something.

            “What do you have?” I asked, trying to see.

            “Oh, I gave her some peanuts,” came a voice.


            This was a long time ago, before peanut allergies were so common, but still…Who feeds someone else’s kid without asking? Especially small things that are a choking hazard?

            1. toomanybooks*

              That is terrifying!! Putting solid food in a BABY’s mouth! It could be a choking hazard!! And I’m allergic to peanuts… has the amount of people allergic to peanuts grown or is it more that awareness has grown, or perhaps a combination of both? I won’t derail the comments by going further off topic but just… it seems like such a dangerous food to give to a baby!!!

        3. Crochettouche*

          The biggest thing I had to deal with at work was not the invasive touching but the invasive questions.
          My favorite is the classic, “Was it planned?” What kind of question is that? Intended or not, you’re either asking if I had an oops baby that I’m going to broadcast to the world (my mom did tell me that I was an accident from Jesus), or you’re asking about the regularity of my sex life.
          My response has simply been to blandly repeat that we are very happy. The individuals will rephrase the question several times before they realize that I’m not going to answer them.
          Also, I used to have a female manager who would regularly ask when I was going to have kids. Not if. After giving noncommittal answers and changing the subject several times, she finally got pissy about it. I told her the status of my reproductive organs wasn’t really a work appropriate topic in my opinion. Yes, I used those words. Yes. I was laid off a couple months later. Why do you ask?

          1. Julia*

            I’m so sorry. :(
            Wtr to the people asking if you had planned the pregnancy, I probably would have replied with “are you serious?”, but I’m not always very nice.

        4. Thlayli*

          Wow it seems like strangers randomly touching babies is a much more common thing than randomly touching pregnant women. Also the peanut thing – wtf! Total choking hazard!

          I remember on a mommy message board someone saying she wouldn’t take her newborn out until vaccinations because “people would touch her”. I didn’t really understand and said “just tell them no”. but she told me in america it’s common for people to just randomly touch babies without asking. I’m curious – all of you who’ve experienced the baby touching without asking first – are you all in America?

          1. toomanybooks*

            OH wow, yeah, it explains a LOT that you aren’t in the United States. Don’t you know women’s bodies are public property here? :/

            1. Thlayli*

              Well there again I’ve been in the US a good few times and never had anyone touch me without consent. If I was to believe everything I read on the internet I would expect that the instant I landed in America I’d be attacked by self-assured men who think I’m their property. Clearly that’s not the case.

              Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it never happens, because there are creeps in every society, and I accept that America does seem to be very much behind the times when it comes to women’s rights, but it’s just that the internet really seems to blow the situation out of all proportion.

              Whenever I visit America the most glaring difference with other western countries is the poverty. It’s really sad seeing all the homeless people, particularly the obviously disabled people – and it’s noticeably a much larger problem than in other first world countries. But as a woman I’ve never felt more intimidated or uncomfortable in the US than anywhere else I’ve travelled.

      2. Ann Perkins*

        I would agree with this but have no idea where it would be more common. I’m in the midwest but I’ve never had a stranger touch me, knock on wood. One coworker did with my first pregnancy. Mostly I get annoyed at people stopping me while I’m running errands to ask my due date, the sex of the baby, and the name. It gets old very quickly. Admittedly I also get frustrated at the constant “but how are you FEELING?” question from every coworker as though I want to share my woes of heartburn and pelvic pain to everyone in the office.

      3. Episkey*

        I agree! I have been pregnant once and during that time, only have been touched once by a random stranger on the belly. She was an older, European lady (I think Polish perhaps, based on her accent)…so maybe it is more acceptable in her culture. I live in the Chicago suburbs.

      4. Beatrice*

        I had it happen to me once in the midwest. It was an acquaintance of my husband’s, and it wasn’t a cultural thing, she’s just overly friendly and ignores boundaries.

          1. Thlayli*

            I’m curious – what do you mean? Gaslighting is doing things to make someone think they’re crazy – how do you think Beatrice is making herself think she’s crazy?

            Or do you mean something totally different by gaslighting?

            1. toomanybooks*

              For clarification of that point – I’m not the same commenter but I understood the meaning – “Doing things to make someone think they’re crazy” is one way to describe gaslighting, but think, to what end? In this case it would be “convincing Beatrice she is crazy for thinking that people touching her stomach without permission is inappropriate and an invasion of privacy” for example. Basically gaslighting, to describe it in different terms, is manipulating someone so that they question the validity of their own response to their mistreatment, usually done by the perpetrator to be able to get away with the mistreatment.

              It appears that what AsItIs is saying is, you don’t have to convince yourself it’s okay/not a big deal/not bad/not an invasion of privacy or personal space if someone touches your belly. If you don’t want people to do it, you don’t have to ascribe good intent to the person doing it to make it seem ok. Thus… “don’t gaslight yourself.”

              Hope that cleared up the meaning! I think the term is being used a bit more often, at least in some circles maybe, sometimes as a joke (“I think my bank account is gaslighting me!”) but sometimes to point out that someone is being talked out of a rightful response to injustice.

      5. dawbs*

        There’s also that you’re probably either the person it happensto 42million times or you’re the person it never happens to.

        Related antecdata:
        I have long hair. People sometimes want to touch it. Strangers would pet my head in effing mcdonalds.
        One day inthe mid twenties I decided that this was “voicebut” (<that is autocorrect for "b.s." I like it.), and I pulled off petting someone in retaliation once when they did it ("I thought you and I were petting each other's hair"), and….poof.
        Magic, people quit touchinh me
        Never happened again. Bbecause I was a little older, a little more self assured, and my body language probably said "Try it, I dare you." (Where before it said "please don't, I want to hide"- which boundary pushers know means I want ti avoid making a scene, which gives them all the power)

        Soi not experiencing it probably means you're not the type people feel free to be forward with.- with all the good and bad that entails.

        1. Thlayli*

          There’s probably some truth in that. I have got pretty assertive body language. But I have some pretty timid friends (or at least friends whose body language makes them appear timid) and none of them have ever complained about strangers randomly groping their pregnant bellies without asking.

          I have one friend in particular whose body language screams “I have no idea what I’m doing and can be easily taken advantage of” so I might ask her if she’s ever had people touch her belly when pregnant. She never mentioned it but I don’t think I’ve ever asked her directly.

          Anyone who’s wondering how to get boss body language – take up martial arts.

  9. DaniCalifornia*

    Rereading the original post from LW #2 and I realized, how did the government lead even know what the engagement ring cost? I realize that there is probably a very low threshold to begin with (if anything) that Jennifer can accept, and most people assume engagement rings are expense. But unless Jennifer knew and was advertising the cost of the ring, how did the lead not know it was Steve’s family heirloom, or something fake they bought at Target for ethical or financial reasons?

    Some people are stupid.

    1. GG Two shoes*

      that threshold, if I recall, is something like $5. I remember them saying that a regular coffee would suffice but that’s about it. However, what a strange, petty person that lead was!

      1. Red 5*

        Yeah, as far as I know it’s absurdly low. I can’t recall if it’s single digit or double, but not what most people would consider engagement ring value.

        And technically it’s about the value of the gift, not what the giver paid for it, so an heirloom would still have value, though admittedly maybe not much? I don’t know anything about jewelry.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        It’s $20 at a time with an annual max of $50/year, per my fed spouse who recently had to re-up on ethics training.

        Back in the dark ages, when I was a very junior law firm clerk, a government auditor was in reviewing some client materials, and he wouldn’t even accept the offer of grabbing him a sandwich for lunch when everyone else ate.

    2. Bea*

      Heirlooms still have a value. Sometimes large ones.

      But yeah, you can get a cheap one from Walmart like that time on Teen Mom…

      Usually it’s anything less than a novelty gift in these cases. So anywhere from a cup of coffee to fifty dollars ish in my limited knowledge of these regulations.

    3. Former Fed*

      When I went through government ethics training, we were told gifts had a cutoff of $20, I think. So it’s not unreasonable to assume an engagement ring would exceed that.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      As others noted, the gift threshold is ridiculously low. (For state employees, it’s $15 in my state.) But what’s more ridiculous is that those gift ethics rules often have explicit exemptions for things like engagement rings, so this was really about the government lead being a petty tyrant and overall love-Grinch.

    5. Totally Minnie*

      I’m not a fed, but one of the municipalities I worked for had a limit of $12. I have no idea why $12 and not $10 or $15, but I’ve given up trying to understand the choices city councilmembers make.

      1. louise*

        I’m a city council member.

        You are wise to give up on us. There is no accounting for ridiculous some of us are…

      2. FD*

        Maybe it was $10 at one point and it was supposed to be adjusted for inflation every year but at some point they forgot and so it just stuck at $12?

  10. Bea*

    So happy you got a better job, #1

    That place was nothing anyone short of someone invested in being a huge part of something they believe in should be dealing with. I’ll sleep in the office if it’s my pet project and my choice, not just because the boss is a cheap out of touch a-hole.

    Every boss of mine is cheap and so am I. Like Motel 6 is fine cheap but not sleep on an air mattress cheap.

    1. Avalon Angel*

      There’s cheap, and then there’s insanely cheap. The former can often be an asset to a company, while the latter tends to fall victim to the “penny wise and dollar foolish” category.

      1. Bea*

        Very true.

        My bosses never cut corners where health and happiness of staff were concerned.

        Just like I buy cheap office supplies but I’ll always get someone something different if they need it to be more comfortable but nobody needs a mahogany desk, you know? But they don’t break if someone rests their hips on them either!!

  11. drpuma*

    OP5, I love how you handled this by listening to your employees concerns and not just telling them they can’t bring their spouses and that’s that. Awesome job being a good boss.

    1. froodle*

      That jumped out at me too. The Manager Who Wouldn’t Manage, a franchise with infinite sequels, all of them terrible

    2. AsItIs*

      The manager didn’t care about how the OP was managed it, just that the work was done. Sign of a bad manager.

  12. tangerineRose*

    For #5, actually traveling from one place to another is usually a pain, so when I do go on business travel, I like to take a vacation day to see the place, sort of a reward for going there. I can understand why people would take a spouse so they could see the place together.

  13. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    I love #5’s update. Funny when you think you have problem A when in reality you have opportunity B… this is why it’s always worth asking the questions.

    Great update!

  14. Shamy*

    I feel so fortunate to have not had my pregnant belly molested by scores of people. I am in awe of the gymnastics people have to do to keep people from touching them. And a candidate touching their interviewer’s stomach…!!! I can’t even imagine bringing up someone’s pregnancy as a topic of conversation, let alone touching it. Now that I have put it out there in the universe, I will have hordes of people chasing after my waddling self to touch my belly.

    1. MLB*

      I have never grown a human inside of my body, but I will NEVER understand people touching other people without asking. If I ever had been pregnant, I would have carried a sign or worn one around my neck that said “Don’t touch me”.

  15. Avalon Angel*

    I’m really glad the Air Mattress Employee updated. That one really bothered me, as so many things could have gone horribly wrong. When staying in the office, a security or janitorial employee might think she was a squatter and called the cops. Ditto for anyone who may have seen her walking around the building from street-level or adjacent buildings. And if something went missing from either the office or the CEO’s place, suspicion would have automatically fallen on her. If she’s in a small, interconnected field, a reputation as a possible thief could potentially destroy her career. And those are just the least bad scenarios on the list of Why This Is a Spectacularly Awful Idea…the worst of which are nightmare-inducing.

    So glad to hear she’s moving on! And I feel sorry for her replacement already.

  16. Mrs. Smith*

    I don’t know if my RBF is stronger that any other woman’s but no one ever touched my belly without it being someone really close to me personally, like my husband or mother, and even they mostly admired it with their eyes. However, as a sympathetic and creative person I did briefly contemplate designing maternity T-shirts with a picture of two hands inside the red “null” symbol (you know, the circle with the diagonal slash?) for women whose social environs are less respectful than mine evidently are.

    1. Ann Perkins*

      There’s lots of hilarious options for those kinds of shirts. My favorite says, “Do I look like a golden retriever? Then don’t rub my belly.”

  17. Indie*

    #1, wait a minute: “another property he owned with another new employee (also a young woman”

    What’s he doing buying property with brand new employees? Running away was a good call.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Grammar confusion, I think – I believe #1 (a woman) had to share a space with another new employee (also a young woman). That space was owned by the boss.

  18. PersonalJeebus*

    OP5, so it sounds like your employees might have been especially happy to bring their spouses along because they were getting bored with these trips! Good move bringing it to them in a low-key, open-minded way. That approach often allows people to tell you about problems you didn’t know existed, and clearly you’re finding solutions that address a lot more issues than just the cost of spouses at conference.

  19. Contracting Officer*

    Re: #2



    Whew! Give me a moment to clear out the tasty beverage I just inhaled.

    If I heard about this ridiculousness on one of my contracts, I would have get my Official CO Hat, dusted it off a bit (I don’t have to get out the super official hat very often), and have…a chat, which would be quite to the point, with the vendor. Dude TOTALLY deserved to be walked out.

    1. Contracting Officer*

      To clarify (because I was laughing so hard I left out words) –

      I agree with the response to the crazy situation. The cite above is totally correct. Returning the ring should not have even been mentioned. My response was based upon the assumption that the person in question worked for the vendor. If they were a Fed I’d be having a remarkably similar conversation with their director.

Comments are closed.