coworker is blasting us with vanilla pumpkin fragrance, Xanax at work, and more

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

1. My coworker’s medication is affecting their work and our manager doesn’t know

On four separate occasions in the last month, a coworker has come into work completely spaced out. Slightly slurring, eyes not focusing, forgetting things we had just talked about, unable to stay on conversation topic, stumbly and unfocused when walking. They haven’t made any egregious mistakes, but it’s a problem. They talk in circles, don’t pick up on normal social clues and are a distraction to others on the work floor. I fear them talking to clients or our directors like this. The team started noticing but was not sure how to react or how to escalate it.

Last week, the same coworker came in and announced without prompting to our immediate team that they have been long diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, have been having trouble managing manic/low episodes, and are taking heavy doses of prescribed Xanax before coming to work sometimes to even it out. They told us our manager did not know.

This doesn’t feel like something as coworkers we should be touching. I don’t feel comfortable being involved in their health and medication issues, so how it is affecting their lucidity/professionalism at work it isn’t something I feel like we should navigate directly with them like one would a typical teammate issue. I don’t know if privacy concerns should keep me from saying something higher. I wish they had not brought us into it. At the same time, it doesn’t seem right that our team would know the medication cause of our coworkers very obvious impairment, but keep that from our management. Mistakes in our team’s work could have rippling affects that could potentially jeopardize our client accounts. Plus it’s negatively affecting our team dynamic. It’s the elephant in the room no one knows how to talk about or signed up for. What obligations do we have in this situation to our company or our coworker? Help?

What kind of relationship do you have with this coworker? If you’re pretty close with them, one option is to say privately, “You mentioned that you’re on a new medication, and I wasn’t sure if you realized that it’s causing some side effects that would be alarming to people who don’t know that — such as slurring, stumbling, and seeming unfocused in conversation. Until you told us what was going on, I was really worried about you. I didn’t know if you realized those things were noticeable to the extent that they might cause real concern with clients and directors.”

Alternately, I do think this is reasonable to discreetly mention to your manager. You wouldn’t share your coworker’s diagnosis — which isn’t yours to share — but you could certainly mention your concerns that it’s making it tough to have work conversations and that they may appear impaired to clients. You could frame it as “I feel awkward mentioning this, but I also feel uncomfortable not mentioning it.” The idea here isn’t to get the person in trouble, but to flag for your manager that she needs to take a look at the situation and presumably talk to your coworker about how to best manage it.

2. How to I get out of being filmed for “fun office videos”?

I work at an established company that has recently decided to up its social media profile … by taking pictures of us to use on email, in-house IM, and “even your personal LinkedIn if you want,” and by shooting videos of us in the office over the next few weeks to show potential clients how fun we are.

While I can’t believe we’re the only ones who feel this way, one coworker and I want absolutely nothing to do with this. I have had my share of online stalking/harassing and I don’t want to open the door to the possibility of more of the same, especially in my professional life. Plus, I just plain don’t think this is appropriate at all and want no part of it. I’m even afraid to socialize outside of work with my coworkers for fear I’ll get ambushed. I’ve managed to avoid the new social media person’s camera so far, but according to a coworker, they’ll be coming to harass us about it on Monday. I would like to plainly state to them that I do not and will not consent, now or in the future, to my picture being taken or being shown in “fun” work videos. I’ve tried searching for laws to back me up, but I can’t find anything for my state. Please help me avoid this!

I don’t know your state’s law on this, but it’s very likely that if you and your coworker can get out of this, although it might require some hoop jumping to do it. First, I would go to whoever is coordinating this and explain that you’ve dealt with online stalking in the past and it is not an option for you to have your image shared online. Say that you will be opting out of the photos and videos, and that you wanted to make them aware of the situation. You’re not asking for permission here; you’re letting them know. Then, if you see anyone around you with a camera, say, “Please don’t photograph or film me; I’ve talked to Jane about not being included in this.” If you get the sense they’re not respecting your wishes, you can get up and leave the room (if whatever you’re doing is optional at that particular moment) or call them out more assertively (“hey, I need you to stop filming me right now; please turn that off”).

3. Coworker is blasting vanilla pumpkin fragrance into the office

How do I deal with a coworker who fires up the aromatherapy without asking those nearby if they are okay with the headache-inducing smells? It seems pretty inconsiderate to just assume that plunging the office into a cloud of vanilla pumpkin will be okay with everyone.

Some people genuinely don’t realize that other people can be sensitive to smells, or assume it’s so rare that it’s unlikely to apply to anyone around them, or assume that if anyone who doesn’t like it will speak up.

Just be direct: “Unfortunately I seem to be sensitive to that scent — it’s giving me headaches. I’m sorry to ask, but can you not use (scent plug-ins/fragrance sprays/whatever they’re using) in the office?”

Most people will be fine with that. A handful will dig in their heels and be rude about it. If that happens, give it one more try: “I’m sorry to push, but it’s really causing me physical discomfort and I need to ask you not to use it.” And then if that doesn’t solve it, talk to your manager or HR, who should handle it from there (but you want to be able to say that you attempted to handle it yourself first).

4. How strongly can you block your former company from asking for your help once you’re gone?

How strongly can you block your toxic ex-company and your toxic ex-coworkers from asking for your help once you’ve left toxic ex-company?

I am a senior project manager and I left Very Toxic Company (VTC) a few months ago for a new position at Competing Great Company. One of the other very toxic senior PM’s at VTC who inherited most of my projects and clients has been reaching out to me “to get my history and knowledge of my recent projects.” I answered his first email out of courtesy – and these were not short answer type questions – but I did it anyway in the hope that my replies help him on his way and close things out. Nope. A second email followed with many more questions. Again, not short answer type questions. Both emails were rudely written and I feel they were looking to cast blame rather than get answers. Red flags regarding professional liability started popping up in my mind. I decided not to respond to email two. This though led to follow-up texts (“Hey, did you get the email that I sent? We really could use your input”). I ignored the texts. The texts were then followed up by my past manager reaching out to me via email (“Hey, did you get toxic PM’s email? We could really use your input”).

At this point, I wrote a profession but pointed email to my past manager saying please stop contacting me. My ex-manager replied that they would stop contacting me.

Is there any other way to handle this? Is it even remotely possible to walk the line of wanting to be helpful without it leading to getting “sucked back in”?

Generally you start off with a softer approach and then escalate it to a firmer one if it turns out you need to — because often the softer approach will work, and if you can preserve the relationship, that’s generally a better outcome for you. So typically that would mean saying something like, “My new job is keeping me really busy and unfortunately I don’t have time to do these questions justice. I’m sorry I can’t help!” Or, “I can answer one or two quick questions, but won’t be able to do more than that because of commitments to my current job.” And then if they keep pushing after that: “I’m getting the sense you’re hoping for some substantial help from me. Normally I’d suggest that we could figure out an hourly consulting fee, but the reality is that my schedule won’t allow even that. I’m sorry I can’t help!”

All but the most ridiculously toxic places will leave you alone at that point (and you’ll probably still have preserved the relationship and the reference because you were polite about it). But if they don’t, you absolutely can ignore any further contact after that.

5. Explaining to an interviewer that I’ve been caring for a sick family member

I’m writing because I have a question regarding what’s appropriate to talk about in an interview setting. Since the end of my most recent contract gig earlier this year, I’ve been helping to care for my mother, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. When the topic of what I’ve been doing comes up, I typically phrase it as “providing care and support for a sick family member.” This is usually enough to satisfy an interviewer on the topic, but I’m a little concerned that not going into further detail makes me look like I’m just trying to not give a full answer to the question. Is it appropriate to go into more detail about what I’m doing and why I’m not actively working? I have no problem talking about it, but I’m just worried that interviewers might think it was oversharing.

Nope, your current answer is fine. Interviewers don’t need more detail than that; you’re telling them the relevant part … and some people may actually be made uncomfortable by hearing more detail than that, because it’s not necessary and it will shift the focus of the interview to the details of a really tough situation rather than keeping them on you and the job. “Caring for a sick family member” is such a typical way to say this that it would be odd for someone to think you were trying to hide something.

{ 343 comments… read them below }

  1. Daria Grace*

    OP2, not sure how this would go in your office, but perhaps if you get ambushed on camera you could ruin the footage by saying things the company wouldn’t put on their social media?

    1. Aphrodite*

      I absolutely refused to be in any pictures or anything that my college’s department wanted whether for publicity or in-house photos of “fun” events. I didn’t explain why (though I was stalked long ago, and I have also loathed social media since day one) but I didn’t sugarcoat my response. No pictures at any time for any reason for any use. Just. No.

      The one time I couldn’t get out of a photograph I managed to position myself behind two taller people so at most you could see part of my hair. I’m even blunter and more stubborn now and I would not.

      1. Diverse Anon*

        I was asked to be photographed with a coworker who was being featured in a magazine. Great, except I’d never met or worked with coworker, and I suspect they just wanted me for the diversity photo. When I pushed back gently with “I don’t like to be in pictures,” they asked if it was OK to have me facing the other direction and just have the back of my head in the background (so diverse!). I asked if I could think about it and never got back to them, and they took my soft no.

        In the future I’d like to be able to push with a stronger phrase like Alison suggested, but sometimes it’s hard to push back and also keep good relationships/show you’re flexible and game for helping people out. I don’t have a reason like previous stalking or anything, I just don’t like to be the “diverse” one, and don’t really want my photo to be used in company PR materials.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          If you can’t push back and keep a good relationship, perhaps you don’t *have* a good relationship to keep.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          I would hate being the diverse one too! It would make me feel used and wonder if that’s why they hired me.

        3. GlitsyGus*

          I think not wanting to be the “diverse” one is a perfectly acceptable reason for not wanting to be roped into those kinds of things.

      2. Jennifer Juniper*

        I also do this, because I look like I’m about to barf if ordered to smile on cue. Group photos always take five minutes of standing still and holding a smile. I’m not a model and don’t know how to smile properly for a camera.

    2. teclatrans*

      Yes, I was thinking that Alison’ s suggestion of saying assertively some version of “stop filming me” would probably make that clip something they would want to cut/not post online. but there may be additional things OP could say.

      This puts me in mind of the Great British Baking Show/Bake Off, where, legend has it, in the early days Sue Perkins would ruin footage of contestants crying or otherwise breaking down by swearing & saying things about various brand names (competitors, maybe?) — stuff they couldn’t air.

      1. Astrid*

        If you’re a fan of Veep, Sue has a very firm “stop filming me.” She is most definitely blocked out of Catherine’s entire documentary and other hand-held camera scenarios.

      2. Anonny*

        GBBO used to be on the BBC, and one of the rules is that they can’t advertise. So shows like Blue Peter would say ‘sticky tape’ and ‘sticky back plastic’ rather than ‘sellotape’ or ‘fablon’ (apparently that is the common brand name for sticky back plastic but I had no idea of that because I grew up watching Blue Peter).

        So just standing there chanting ‘Tate & Lyle, Tate & Lyle, Homepride, Silver Spoon, Whitworths” would do the trick.

        1. WS*

          They also weren’t allowed to show swearing, so if a contestant was having a breakdown Mel and/or Sue would stand by them chanting swearwords so it wouldn’t end up on camera.

          1. Slartibartfast*

            When I was in high school on a trip, we had the opportunity to go whale watching. One of my best friends got very sick on the boat, and while she was barfing over the rail, pushy yearbook girl was trying to film it. Yearbook girl would not listen to me telling her to stop filming, BFF was in no position to assert for herself, so I flipped her the middle finger. Yearbook girl was Pissed! that I ruined her humorous footage, my mom was a chaperone so I was grounded when I got home. Sorry not sorry, I would do it again in a heartbeat. BFF was very grateful.

            1. Julia*

              I’m kind of side-eyeing your mother a little. Surely filming girl had it coming when she didn’t take “no” for an answer?

              1. Slartibartfast*

                That’s exactly my reasoning for doing what I did, but my mom is/was overly concerned with keeping up appearances and I embarrassed her. She’s better now that she divorced my stepdad, some of that was his influence.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            “if a contestant was having a breakdown Mel and/or Sue would stand by them chanting swearwords so it wouldn’t end up on camera”
            Oh, that is brilliant! I’ve never watched this show. I’ll have to look for it!

            1. Nanc*

              GASP! You’ve never seen the Great British Baking Show?! I don’t know whether to be horrified or excited that you’re in for such a treat!

              Er, on topic, as a marketing person I find myself in photos quite a bit. I’m a very plain woman (this is the truth, have always been so, will always be so and I don’t care) so I encourage others who enjoy being photographed to be front and center and I’ll happily be background.

              But yeah, photo and filming should always be OPT IN and if possible, subjects should have chance to review the result before it goes public (says she who nixed what was otherwise a fantastic video because we didn’t realize the speaker had lipstick on her teeth).

        2. Akcipitrokulo*

          Cool :) I can’t remember where I was told it was the same as sellotape. Actually good I was right!

          The make parts were the only part of Blue Peter I liked… all the rest was boring but my mum made us watch it. I remember being so happy every year when they took their break!

        3. Bagpuss*

          Or making Tracey Island but with ‘washing up liquid’ bottles not ‘fairy Liquid’ even though I am pretty sure than no other washing up liquid came in the right shaped bottles…

      3. Dove*

        That’s not legend, actually – according to an interview from the Guardian in 2013 ( ), Sue actually said herself that she and Mel would deliberately ruin footage if the contestants were crying or breaking down, so that it couldn’t be aired. The swearing is confirmed, but the bit about reciting brand names isn’t (although it would make just as much sense – the series would have to pay for any brand names that air, which could get expensive, and the BBC doesn’t permit advertising).

      4. Dove*

        Possible double-post (first one’s not showing up for me, which might be because I included a link to an article in it), but I checked and that’s not actually a legend. There’s a 2013 interview in the Guardian with the hosts of the GBBO, where Sue states that she and Mel would deliberately ruin footage of contestants who were crying or breaking down.

    3. Justme, The OG*

      I too was thinking that OP2 should ruin footage like they used to do in The Real World. If they didn’t want to be filed they would curse or make the footage otherwise unusable. I wouldn’t suggest cursing but definitely hide an a nit discreet manner or something.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        I wonder if it would actually have to be less discrete. Our workplace did some filming, but the audio was never going to be used, so unless it was “GOAWAY” (or wording of your choice!) mouthed very obviously, it would be hard to ruin the take.

        1. ElspethGC*

          I reckon a Very Dirty Look might work. If someone is out-and-out glaring at the camera, they’re hardly going to use that as a “look how fun our workplace is!” clip.

          Or a middle finger, but that might not fly with management.

        2. Justme, The OG*

          I would make faces at the camera then. Nobody wants the weird person crossing their eyes and sticking out their tongues in professional work videos.

    4. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Saying clearly “stop filming me” or “I don’t consent to this” or “I haven’t signed a release for this” will ruin the footage while still keeping things work-appropriate.

      1. Artemesia*

        The last thing you want is to hand the company video footage of you being inappropriate — so yeah, ‘don’t film me’. ‘I do not consent’. Or crossed arms glare. But no flipping the bird or swearing. That sounds like ‘firing with cause’ potential.

    5. OP2: camera reluctant*

      A social media person has recently been hired at the company, and they’ve been the ones sending out “PICTURE TIIIIME” emails. When a c-suite level person sent around the email about the videos, that’s when I got concerned. I ended up replying to their email saying that I was requesting to be excluded from anything camera-related, and left it at that. I also sent a message to my manager, letting them know what was happening and my response, and they said I shouldn’t receive any pushback, but to let them know if I do.

      It seems my state is more than a little behind the times with regard to employees’ privacy issues in the workplace, because I couldn’t find anything that covered something like this, but I agree that, at the very least, written consent should have been obtained from anyone willing to participate. What’s really funny is that the pictures they were so insistent on turned out to be largely a joke — of the ones I’ve seen, one of them is a full body shot from afar with the company logo in the corner so you can’t really even tell who the person is, and another is a closeup shot of someone off to the side of the logo, which is then shot kind of from a diagonal and isn’t even legible. I don’t feel like I’m missing out by not participating in the “fun.” I’m pretty sure the videos are going to be shot using the social media person’s phone, too. How professional, yet wacky!

      1. Iota*

        What you need to check is rules on audio recording, not employee privacy.

        “In 12 states—California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington—all parties involved need to consent before one of them can record the conversation.”

        If you live in one of those states, you should tell your boss they should get releases for all involved if there will be audio.

        If you live in one of those states, you already said no. So they can’t record you speaking to anyone.

        Video is a different matter. Video can be taken without your consent anywhere there is not an reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, they can video you in the parking lot but not the bathroom. This is why it is absolutely illegal for people to video or photo in a bathroom or locker room. In California, this is expressly in the statutes, but it is the law everywhere. (Law school prof covered this).

        This is why so many security cameras are video only. Legally safer.
        A lawyer friend was involved in a lawsuit in Cali where a woman was kicked out of her country club for taking selfies in the changing rooms. Judge informed her lawyers the first day that his reading of Cali law was that even taking out the phone was illegal bc of the camera features accidentally going off on the iPhone. The fact she did take pictures made it a very clear case. They didn’t appeal.

        1. Anon From Here*

          > Video can be taken without your consent anywhere there is not an reasonable expectation of privacy.

          That’s not entirely the case. There are also rights of publicity that an employee may have retained. Maybe the video can be taken, but it can’t necessarily be used for all kinds of purposes without the employee’s permission.

          One wrinkle is that LW may have already given their employer permission to take and use video of them. LW may want to check their handbook and/or their employee contract to see whether they have agreed to some kind of release regarding employer use of their likeness.

          1. Iota*

            I said taken. I didn’t talk about usage. Two different thing.

            You are correct in that, but OP likely already waived that in their contract.

            The right to record audio, however, can’t really be permanently waived.

            We aren’t disagreeing at all. You are adding more context.

          2. Anonym*

            Even if videos are taken without consent, a company can’t/shouldn’t be *using them* without your consent, as they would be – directly or indirectly – benefiting commercially from the use of your image. And sans consent that’s a no-no that opens up the possibility of a legitimate lawsuit.

            A lawyer would be better able to discuss this, though. (IANAL, I’ve just had to pass the message on to my team, repeatedly, from our lawyers.)

      2. AmeriCorps Alum*

        Is there any part of this that is just like an employee ID photo – you mentioned for use in internal IM and email? That part does not seem weird to me.

    6. AMT*

      They could pull a 30 Rock. Remember that episode where Tracy sang his insults to the tune of Uptown Girl (expensive to license) so they couldn’t be included in Angie’s reality show?

    7. Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way!*

      I don’t think this is the best route to go as it could potentially harm your reputation. There are more professional ways of addressing this.

    8. all the candycorn*

      I read somewhere that they way reality show contestants get out of having certain interactions broadcasted on air is by making obscene hand gestures very prominently, so the footage is useless. Apparently it’s how the hosts of the Great British Baking Show also keep the film crew from broadcasting footage of anyone having a breakdown while baking, too: they stand around them chanting profanities so the footage is ruined.

    9. Anon for this*

      I supervise a marketing department. We had an executive who requested to HR that he/she didn’t want to be in photos on our social media accounts. We spent some time checking accounts and deleting photos. We didn’t ask the reason why. I would do the same for anybody.

        1. PhylllisB*

          Yep. Last year a place that specializes in quick oil changes even had on their marquee, “We now have Pumpkin Spice motor oil.” I’m certain it was a joke, but I couldn’t help but wonder how many people might have actually requested that. :-)

            1. The Vulture*

              It’s the spice mix used for pumpkin pie, pretty much. Some places say “pumpkin pie spice”. Nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, allspice, those kind of flavors.

            2. LadyPhoenix*

              Pumpkin Spice is the spices used for punpkin pie. It usually contains cinamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and maybe others?

              I think the craze began when Starbucks forst released their pumpkin spice drinks—and now it is considered the definitive “Fall/Autumn” thing.

              A lot of people kinda caught the fad and added pumpkin spice to their things. Sometimes they may add actual pumpkin—but the focus is more on the spices.

              I prefer actual pumpkin, as it makes for great soups and desserts.

            3. Iota*

              It’s basically similar to gingerbread spices w some earthy notes. It is the scent of fall in the USA.

              Think lebkuchen.

              Some varieties if it are, however, sickly sweet.

            4. General Ginger*

              It’s spices usually used in pumpkin pie, so a mixture of a cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.

            5. Nea*

              Other folks have the gist of it – commonly sold as pumpkin pie spice, it’s specifically 2 parts cinnamon, 1 part nutmeg, 1 part clove, 1 part ginger. Allspice can replace one of the “1 part” spices or you can add 1 part allspice. It’s actually a mix that goes back to European recipes from the 1200s.

              Very good on yams as well as various gourd vegetables.

          1. Bagpuss*

            Reality may catch up with them. I don’t think they do a pumpkin spice version but last time I needed to buy windscreen washer for my car I discovered that they now do a variety of scented versions.
            I do not understand why you would want to add scent to something which is going to be squirted on the outside of your windscreen while you drive?

            To my shame, i ended up buying some because it was on special offer so significantly cheaper than the plain sort, but I still don’t get why anyone would think it was a good idea to produce that particular product…

            1. Blue Anne*

              I will admit I’m a sucker for scented anything. I just love nice smells. I would probably buy that just to see if I could actually smell it from inside the car.

    1. Amber T*

      I feel like I would need a xanax to deal with frustration of someone just pumping out scented stuff like that… probably wouldn’t help the headaches or potential migraines.

      1. Dolorous Bread*

        Even if someone likes scents, they might not like sweet scents. I love non-musty florals and fresh scents, but absolutely hate sweet ones. I find them cloying and nauseating.

  2. Greg NY*

    #5: What the interviewer is looking for is to gain insight into your life. What they want is to see is what your priorities are. If you took time off from working, they want to see what kind of a person you are and what you consider important (besides working) to be doing in your life. It’s the same reason that a relatively common interview question is what your outside interests are.

    Valid answers (those that an interviewer will be highly respectful of) include:

    a) your own illness or taking care of a family member (as you are)
    b) raising a child
    c) traveling around the world (seeing and experiencing different sights and cultures; not so much resorty places)
    d) learning a new skill
    e) volunteering
    f) recharging after a stressful last job

    Answers that would give an interviewer pause include:

    a) partying
    b) playing video games all day
    c) watching marathons on TV more than a week or so

    You are fine. As long as you answer the question briefly and matter of factly, as you did, you will have succeeded on that particular interview question. You may get a follow-up question about your work experience, but that would be a separate question.

    1. MK*

      I am very doubtful that all interviewers will be “highly respectful” of someone choosing to take significant time off work to travel around the world or volunteer full-time. Or at least, they may respect it as a choice, but still feel it means you are not as invested in your career. As for taking time off to rest after a stressful job, sure, if we are talking about a month or so, but a longer period is going to raise eyebrows. And learning a new skill is great as long as it relates to your work; if it’s irrelevant, the interviewer mught think you are looking to change careers.

      My point is, with the exception of illness and childrearing, you can’t really give a list of valid reasons; it mostly depends on how you will spin this.

      1. Seriously?*

        Yeah, it depends on how long the break was and what job you are applying for/leaving. If you left a notoriously high stress job and are applying for a lower stress job, taking a short break to recharge probably won’t raise any red flags. If the job you are applying for is also high stress or the break was very long, they may think you won’t be able to handle it.

      2. Greg NY*

        That may be true, but are those the employers that you want to work for?

        Good employers recognize the advantages of work-life balance. Answering a question in the way an interviewer wants to hear it, when your answer is a white lie, only sets you up for failure once in the position because you’d be held to the standard your white lie said you can maintain. It’s much better to answer honestly and realize that the position isn’t the right fit for you.

        Of course, this, just like many other bits of advice Alison and us provide, goes out the window if you are truly desperate and need a job, any job, for the money.

        1. MK*

          “Is this an employer you want to work for” in my book should be reserved for egregious issues, not any employer who might have different values than you. Also, taking a couple of years to volunteer at something unrelated or travel around the world is very much not work/life balance, it’s choosing to not do any work at all for a significant amount of time to prioritize something else. That’s a valid choice, it can even be an admirable one, but, it’s also valid for an employer to evaluate that fact to gauge how commited a candidate is in their career.

          Yes, I very much want an employer who will take that under consideration and not shaddle me with a coworker who studied law because their parents pressured them or because they thought they could get rich that way; my biggest problems in the workplace have been due to coworkers who didn’t really want to be lawyers and grudging every minute of the time they deigned to put in. The same goes for “recharging after a stressful job”; you need a month or two off as a palate cleanser between jobs? Understandable. You took a year off to recuperate after your last job which was equally stressful to the one you applied for now? You probably aren’t cut out for this kind of job.

          I did not suggest that candidates should lie. I was responding to you stating categorically (something you do a lot, by the way) that this laundry list of reasons for taking time off will be “highly respected” by an interviewer and the candidate giving them will be “fine”. The reality is that it’s not the interviewer’s place to respect the candidate’s choices or not; their job is to evaluate them as they reflect on their suitability for the job. And whether that will harm their chances depends on many factors.

        2. mrs__peel*

          “are those the employers that you want to work for?”

          Not everyone has the financial luxury of working only for certain employers who meet their exacting ethical standards, or a substantial savings cushion to live on while they’re job searching. A *whole* lot of people just need a job, any job, and a paycheck coming in soon.

          1. aebhel*

            To quote the post you’re replying to:

            Of course, this, just like many other bits of advice Alison and us provide, goes out the window if you are truly desperate and need a job, any job, for the money.

    2. Mookie*

      You may get a follow-up question about your work experience, but that would be a separate question.

      Well, I should hope a competent hiring manager would want to discuss that, yes. I don’t think the LW is confused on that point.

    3. Triplestep*

      OP#5, I think they partly want to see if you’re likely to leave the job for which they are considering you (and maybe on some level, they are also wondering if you’ve spent the whole time looking for work and no one else has seen fit to hire you.) That’s why I think your current answer is fine, but I would also work in the information that your last contract had ended when you decided to take time to care for a sick family member, just like you did in your letter.

    4. Bea*

      They’re looking to find out if you’re struggling to find a job because that’s often a red flag. This goes along with the idea it’s easier to find a job while still employed.

      It has less to do about priorities and more about digging at your employability.

      1. Greg NY*

        That’s true, but in my experience, that question alone won’t help determine employability. The (often irritating) question of where else you’ve applied is much more effective at that, and it’s more direct and to the point.

        The question in the letter is asked with full knowledge that the candidate has been out of the workforce for a while, and so in the interviewer’s eyes, the candidate already has a possible employability problem. And that’s even when the reason is universally totally legitimate. The blunt reality (even I admit this) is that someone out on disability, when it is perfectly obvious that person did suffer the illness or injury they attest to, is going to be considered at a disadvantage compared to someone who has been healthy and had no gaps in employment whatsoever. So no matter how you “spin” your answer to that question, it won’t remove the interviewer’s concerns about your employability because you will still have missed out on a year or more of new technology or laws.

      2. Even Steven*

        Bea’s got it right. And employability is not just about whether you’ve been seeking work and being turned down. It can also be about how expensive you could be to a company. Especially in a small company, health insurers bill on an average of age and insurance use. If you are recovering from an illness of your own (and that’s why you took time away from the workforce) you could prove to be expensive to a future employer. I was wisely advised here to address this by saying that I had taken time off to help a family member with a health issue that is now resolved, to maintain privacy and improve my application odds. It is truthful that I am a member of my family….

    5. Anne Elliot*

      As an interviewer I might have questions related to “I took time off because I have been caring for a sick relative” in terms of how that may impact the contractor’s/employee’s ability to give the job the time and attention it needs. In other words, if the illness is/was/has been such a serious issue that you had to leave work to address it, how has that situation changed now that you’re looking for work again? As I type this, I can see this is perhaps unfair, and certainly I would never inquire or say anything in an interview, but I will honestly admit if a candidate said he had to leave his last job to take care of his sick mother, I would wonder how circumstances had changed. Did she get better? Did she die? (Hope not!) This may well not be any of my actual business and the expectation may be that I am to trust the candidate if they say they can give the job the time and attention it needs. But in reality, if I were in that situation, I would offer not just why I took a break (“my near relation was ill and I was a caregiver”) but also how the situation had changes so that it was no longer a concern, or not as much of a concern (“she is now in remission/our family has arranged other care for her/she passed away”).

      1. Seriously?*

        Although in this case, the OPs contract ended and they chose to care for the relative rather than immediately look for employment. I think the fact that they didn’t leave the other position in order to care for the relative but rather took advantage of the timing would make it much less worrying to a hiring manager.

      2. General Ginger*

        I would imagine if the candidate took time off to care for a sick relative, and now is looking to get back into the workforce, the situation is resolved. Does it really matter how it was resolved? I’d think the candidate wouldn’t be applying if they still had the sick relative care load that required them to quit in the first place.

        1. Anne Elliot*

          It doesn’t matter _how_ it was resolved, but it could very well matter _whether or not_ it was resolved. The reality is that some people don’t come back to work because the situation was resolved, they come back to work because they need to work for the money while the situation continues to actively exist and to suck. I do realize that it may be terrible to carry a bias against someone who really needs a job and the money that comes with it, and also is struggling with a terrible situation at home — a bit of kicking a person while they are down? But that doesn’t change the fact that I, as a member of the hiring panel and a potential supervisor or coworker, might have concerns that a person dealing with a SPS (Sucky Personal Situation) may not be able to give the job everything I think it needs in terms of time, effort, or attention. That’s why my recommendation goes beyond Alison’s in that I would not only disclose the SPS to the extent necessary to explain the job gap, I personally would also offer up a reason why the company or the manager doesn’t have to worry about the SPS going forward. So not just “I had problem X” but “I had problem X but it’s been resolved.”

      3. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yes, when we interview candidates with a gap, we are mainly interested in whether the situation has resolved. “I stayed home with my babies, but they’re not babies anymore.” “I wanted to see the world and I saw it.” “I was caring for my sick mother, and she recovered/died/moved into a nursing home.” “I tried founding a start-up, and it failed.”

        Unfortunately, we have found it is a “thing” for people to realize they need money, so they want a job, without being honest with themselves about whether the thing that took them out of the workforce is now resolved. They just… hope it will somehow work out? I’m not sure.

        1. MK*

          I very much agree. It’s not the gap that’s the problem, it’s not even the reason for the gap, the issue is what does it mean for the future. I am not interested in passing moral judgement on my perspective coworkers, I just want someone who can do the work and will do so with reasonable good cheer. A person who spent a couple of years partying because they were not ready to settle down, but have got it out of their system and are willing to commit, is more likely to do that than someone who spent those same years volunteering for a great cause and would prefer to continue to do so but applied for a job for purely financial reasons.

        2. Kivrin*

          I am just starting to search seriously after having been laid off from a law job in March. I’ve been telling people that I figured I was not going to be able to spend another summer with the kids before they go away to college, so I should do it now while they’re still at home. (I also needed to de-stress for that time, but I haven’t been mentioning that part.)

        3. TardyTardis*

          I had a huge gap in my employment, but it was because of a special needs child who was able to transition into living independently, so the manager likely breathed a huge sigh of relief (which I also did at the time it happened, I might add), and plus, in a small town, a mom staying home doesn’t quite have the stigma that it could have in more urbanized areas.

      4. char*

        See, I hated any follow-up questions at the time when I was giving this reason for the gap in my employment because the answer WAS “she died”. Feeling forced to talk about my loved one’s recent death in an interview (which did happen at least once) made me instantly shut down and lose any interest in pursuing that job opportunity any further.

    6. mrs__peel*

      I WISH it was a given that employers were “highly respectful” of people taking time out of their careers to take care of children or sick family members, but that is often sadly not the case.

      There are a fair number of employers who will just toss your resume if you have any kind of employment gap, for any reason. If you do score an interview, there will be many who’ll take you far less seriously if you’ve taken time out of your career to be a caregiver. Especially if you’re a woman– the “Mommy track” is a thing, and taking time off as a caregiver can heavily influence things like whether or not you’re considered for higher-level positions and promotions.

  3. M_Lynn_K*

    #1- Bipolar presents in a lot of different ways. My partner has bipolar, and his episodes actually look like the symptoms you described here, so it may not be the medication that is causing the lucidity problems but the actual disorder itself. Thus the heavy doses of the medication may actually be making things much better. I don’t know if I’m particularly sensitive to this, but the mention of heavy Xanax use sounded a bit judgemental like they’re choosing to come to work impaired. Bipolar sucks really bad, and it’s incredibly difficult to treat. It takes a lot out on everyone, including family and coworkers, so I feel a great deal of sympathy for you.

    1. Mad Baggins*

      I can see why you might think that based on your experience, but in the letter said Coworker shares that they “are taking heavy doses of prescribed Xanax before coming to work sometimes to even it out.” So they are choosing to come to work impaired. It might still be better than the alternative, as you say, but it’s still affecting them at work.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Taking medication as advised is not “choosing to come to work impaired”.

        And if the response to that is “well, we don’t know if…” – that’s right. You don’t.

        1. Lanon*

          Depending on how impaired the colleague is the employer could have a strong case that their disability prevents them from fulfilling their duties in a way that can not be accomodated, which can be used to fire for cause (no unemployment)

          1. Julia*

            That would be a very unkind thing to do, though. Surely putting someone on leave to sort out their health should be the first course of action?

            1. Lanon*

              Depends. Many companies aren’t happy employing disabled people and will only do so under duress (of the law). A way to legally extricate yourself from employing someone who is potentially a lot more trouble then someone neurotypical might be enticing to the company.

              1. Bea*

                That’s a wild overreach. Many companies do not discriminate. The laws are to protect us from the villains out there but most businesses are ran by people who care about others.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  That has…really not been my experience. And judging from many of the comments here, and letters received, there are plenty of people who have not had that experience of businesses run by “people who care about others.”

                  And for that matter, the discrimination doesn’t necessarily have to be intentional or malicious. Sometimes people have knee-jerk reactions and assumptions that are discriminatory, and if they act on those without considering why they’re doing so, it is still an act of discrimination even if nobody was rubbing their hands together and cackling with malicious glee as they crowed “Now we can fire this disabled person!”

                  I had a hiring manager who had interviewed a few candidates, and I was debriefing with him afterward to get his feedback so I could tailor my searching to send him stronger candidates. He mentioned that he liked one woman, she seemed qualified, but, and I quote, “She told me, though, that she can’t stand for more than 4 hours. So obviously, we’ll have to pass on her.” He presented it as this regretful inevitability – but the job was for a bank teller, and it would be no difficulty at all to provide her with a tall chair to sit on while working. He was so matter-of-fact about the assumption that “can’t stand for an 8 hour shift = can’t hire” that he had already started talking about the next candidate by the time I could get past the record screech and “wait what?” in my head to tell him that’s not a valid reason not to hire – I had to interrupt and be like “back up a sec, we’re not done talking about the last candidate, this is not a “toss the comment and move on” sort of thing.”

                  So it’s not nearly so simple as “most businesses are run by people who care” – they might care, they might not, but it still doesn’t stop them making poorly-considered decisions that are nevertheless discriminatory.

                2. Maybe One Day*

                  It’s really nice that you believe that Bea, but that hasn’t been my experience. Or the experience of my friends (especially the one fired after disclosing, where the day before the office manager had implied they’d find a way to work things out).

                  I wish this was the case. Truly.

          2. Jessie the First (or second)*

            Letting someone go because they cannot perform the job? Fine.

            Going out of your way to try to block someone from collecting unemployment because you don’t like that they are disabled? Epic-level jerk move.

            But also, your premise is wrong. It varies by state, obviously, but firing someone because they could not perform the job well with reasonable accomodations because of a disability would absolutely NOT make someone ineligible for unemployment compensation everywhere. It’s far more complex and varied than that – being fired for cause (if the cause is, “can’t perform the job”) is really not often a bar to benefits.

          3. JSPA*

            It’d be pretty hard to make that determination without allowing some time to dial in a workable dosage and acclimate, no? It’s normal / expected for that to take a while.

            It would be pretty indefensible to fire someone for taking the standard, prescribed steps to return their level of functioning to, “reasonably functional.” (With the caveat that if someone is driving a bus or operating heavy machinery, it’s on them to report the possible short-term incapacity, and not put themselves and others at risk.) But in a standard office environment, a day or two (or even 5) of being tipsy on a new prescription? Really, not a big deal. That happens to people with cold and cough meds, all the time.

            The only thing I’d worry about is the “not telling the manager” aspect. It opens up the (remote) possibility of someone misusing non-prescription drugs, and explaining it away to coworkers who are not in a position to ask for a doctor’s note. But of all things, I’d guess people are hugely unlikely to make up being bipolar, when they could claim a minor, invisible-yet-painful physical injury.

        2. Mad Baggins*

          I understand the nuance you are getting at–whether not the coworker is acting irresponsibly, right?–It sounds like they have an idea that it might be affecting their work (hence letting everyone know) but aren’t aware of how bad it is. But I don’t think it really matters whether the coworker is acting irresponsibly or not (as far as action for the OP), the fact is that if taking medication as advised results in slurred speech, trouble focusing/concentrating, and difficulty walking, then that’s not safe for work. They should talk to the manager about accommodations for days where they need to take that medication.

          1. misspiggy*

            Perhaps OP should encourage the coworker to ask their manager for non-client-facing duties during this period, ideally backed by a doctor’s note.

          2. Jadelyn*

            I just really hope the coworker is either taking public transit, or not taking his meds til he arrives at work. If he’s driving after taking those…no. Just no.

        3. Mary*

          I think you can dispute the degree of “choice” involved, which depends very much on the company’s policy and culture around sick pay, but the critical part for the LW is that they are coming to work impaired.

          I think that you’re reading “choosing to come to work impaired” as if the alternative is “choose not to be impaired”, and I agree that that’s judgmental. But if “don’t come to work until the impairment is lessened” is financially and logistically an option, then I think it’s reasonable to describe coming to work as a choice.

        4. P*

          I’m trying not to venture too far into the realm of internet diagnosing, but hearing someone say “I’m managing my bipolar with xanax” sounds the same to me as “I’m managing my bipolar with alcohol” (they work by the same pathways, just xanax has less toxic side effects); xanax is good to abort short term anxiety but is not really a medication that directly addresses bipolar disorder; not the way say, lithium is. It should be used to help someone function better, not worse. I am hard pressed to come up with any situation where “evening out with xanax” to the point of slurring words and stumbling is acceptable.
          Yes I am a physician, no I am not OP1’s coworker’s physician, just saying based on what is presented here OP1’s coworker needs to go back to their physician and work on a better management plan, something like what is described shouldn’t go on for a long time from what is stated here. OP1 doesn’t have to get directly involved aside from bringing it up as allison pointed out above; kindly to coworker if close, gently but factually to manager if not.

          1. Mia*

            Yeah, this seemed unusual to me too. I’m not a doctor, but I have bipolar disorder and Xanax isn’t generally the go-to for “evening out.” I have friends who take it for anxiety, but even then it’s an as-needed prescription, not a daily one.

          2. Renee*

            I have an anxiety disorder and a Xanax scrip and I can’t imagine it being taken for daily management of anything. I take it when the anxiety interferes with my functioning and for me that’s not even every day anymore. Additionally, when I take it as prescribed (as I do), I’m not impaired. I take it to avoid impairment.

            On the other hand, I have been on meds that do cause impairment. I’m on a pain management med that causes some cognitive issues when my dose increases, but they’re temporary. I’ve also been on Topamax/topiramate as a migraine preventive and the cognitive impairment was significant so I don’t take it. Is it possible that the coworker misspoke and she’s on something else that does cause impairment (hopefully temporary)? On Topamax I had no idea what I was saying.

          3. PsychDoc*

            I’m a psychologist and had a similar reaction. Now, like you, I’m not this person’s doctor, but have concerns about the prescriber, because I am struggling to come up with a time when taking Xanax (or other benzos) daily is a good plan. More on point though, if the medication is causing impairment then it’s the wrong medication. A person may be asked to try to tough out some side effects for a brief period of time, but if they are unable to function at work, then either the treatment plan needs adjusting, or the person may need a week or two off for the meds to settle (though the docs I work with rarely give time off for her adjusments, but there are always exceptions and if some is prescribed daily Xanax, then they may always the exception. Regadless, good luck and God speed to the coworker. I hope they find a treatment plan that helps!

        5. Thursday Next*

          Taking medication as advised can *result* in impairment, though. For OP’s purposes, the impairment is the issue, not the medication per se.

          1. Iota*

            Yes, the coworker’s issues can cause problems at work even if it’s not their fault.

            We don’t need to blame or shame the coworker, but we do need to address that it is impacting their work.

            The focus needs to be in the impact on the work, not the diagnosis or the medication.

            Staring that “Your speech was slurred yesterday.” Is fine. Stating why is not. OP doesn’t know for certain the reason.

            Address the problem action and let coworker deal w the cause.

        6. Seriously?*

          Taking medication as advised can leave you impaired and may mean that you cannot go into work. If you are prescribed narcotic pain killers you should not go to work at a construction site. You are taking the medication as advised but the side effects mean you should not operate heavy machinery. If the medication is leaving the coworker impaired then the company needs to know and needs to determine if they can accommodate him.

      2. Yellow Bird Blue*

        I can see why you might think that based on your experience, but in the letter said Coworker shares that they “are taking heavy doses of prescribed Xanax before coming to work sometimesto even it out.”

        ‘To even it out’ is the key part here. They take the medication to reduce the symptoms, not aggravate them.

      3. M_Lynn_K*

        My point is that the being spaced out, not totally lucid on 4 occasions over the last month may be the disorder. The other 20-some days of the month where this coworker was functioning fine may be the days where the coworker took medications to control for what was happening in his/her brain.

        1. Mad Baggins*

          That’s fair. I don’t think that’s likely, but I guess it’s possible. Either way OP still needs to report this to their manager, if there are times that the coworker’s condition causes these symptoms.

    2. marmalade*

      I don’t understand this response – the letter writer is reporting what the coworker said about taking Xanax. What is judgmental about that? It’s just a fact of the situation.

    3. Perfectly Particular*

      So you’re saying that the “bad” days may be days when the coworker skipped their meds/took a lower dose, and the good days may be the ones where the meds are kicked in & working? That is really interesting. I can’t imagine how tough it would be to get that dose fine tuned while working.

      In that case, I think the OP should definitely have the conversation that Allison suggested with their coworker, and encourage him/her to disclose to their manager that there is something medical in play.

      1. Quackeen*

        TIL that sometimes Xansc is prescribed for bipolar. My first, cynical thought was that the co-worker was covering up illicit drug use.

        If the dose they’re on impairs them that much, they need to speak with their prescribing doctor. They might not even be aware of how impaired they are. I’d be concerned about their safety getting to work.

        1. Ruth*

          My thought too. The dose is not appropriate and it would be a kindness to let your co-worker know, “I’m not sure if you’re aware but the dose you’re taking is causing these behaviors: ….”

          I remember once that I had a terrible side-effect of “irritability” I was teaching high school at the time and this was NOT a drug that was going to work for me. But often you need to have someone point out to you that something is off, since if you’re experiencing it, you might not make the connection.

          1. CarolynM*

            Your story reminded me of one of my own – when I was a kid (12, 13?) I had asthma and my doctor prescribed a new pill for me to take. I remember him warning my mom that it could make me irritable. And it did! At the next appointment my mom was trying to be gentle about explaining why she wanted me off of it, saying that I wasn’t myself and seemed stressed. I looked at the doctor and said “she’s trying to say I am really bitchy and she is sick of my crap.” My mom turned red and looked like she wanted to die, but the doctor almost wet himself laughing. The medication was changed! :)

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            It would be a kindness to let your co-worker know.

            Reminds me of people who go back to work after general anesthesia–“I feel totally normal! I am typing all the emails!”–until their boss gently wrestles the keyboard away and advises them to go home and rest for a few days, and not type any emails.

            Sometimes we are bad judges of what is and isn’t visible to our employer. (Thinking of two updates–the burned out person who was sure her boss knew (nope! And he immediately offered concrete help when she told him) and the drug addict who was certain work had noticed nothing (wrong; they’d been fired in the update).)

            1. Collarbone High*

              Agreed. I have a pretty high tolerance for opioids and benzos, and I won’t feel like they’re affecting me at all until someone says “what the hell are you talking about” or “you seem kinda high right now.” I’d absolutely want to know if I was showing signs of impairment, so I could talk to my doctor and make some kind of changes, and to recalibrate my own sense of how the meds are affecting me.

          3. JSPA*

            Heh. I once had corticosteroid-induced excitation / mania / exhilaration / irritability (not having been warned about any of those not-so-rare short term psychiatric side effects). I will never again say that it should be obvious to the person experiencing mania that things are “off.”

            And yet, after having it explained to me, I found that I could intellectually see how funky my actions and thinking patterns were, and (to a large degree) compensate. (Lovely medicine, prednisone…you start at the maximum dose and then must taper down for safety, so you can’t just stop taking it.)

            1. Mary*

              Oh god, I’ve had that and it was weird! I felt like I was Buffy: just completely invincible, never hungry, never tired, with ALL THE WORDS. But it’s a very weird constant type of energy, with any ebbs and flows.

        2. Julia*

          Xanax is probably prescribed to lots of people (I have a few pills for anxiety attacks) and bipolar disorder can come with anxiety or panic, just like non-bipolar people can have anxiety or panic. I’ve never heard of Xanax being used as treatment FOR bipolar disorder, though, but this is getting really off-topic.

          1. ValkyrAmy*

            Xanax is not typically the only drug prescribed for bipolar, but it can be A drug prescribed to complement the others.

            I have been, at times, on upwards of 4 meds to manage mine. And my anxiety peaks in the morning, so taking xanax before work was something I used to do. If the person is experienced mania or a mixed state, they may seem impaired without the xanax/other meds. So without knowing if it’s the xanax causing the issues or missing meds, it’s hard to say.

            I’d suggest letting the coworker know that they’ve seemed a little off in the morning a few times (differences in speech patterns can be side effects of xanax or symptoms of bipolar) and to provide dates if possible so the coworker can check to see if they were missed-meds days or heavy xanax days. But I would 100% want to know if I seemed impaired so I could get back with my doctor and tweak things better. Managing bipolar is hard AF.

    4. Bea*

      Having vast experience with loved ones with bi polar disorder, I had the same thought. The circle talking was the biggest thing. That’s when I used to have to ask my friend if they had taken their meds “I forgot!! How’d you know?!”

    5. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      The mention of Xanax didn’t sound judgmental at all, as it was disclosed by the coworker and is well-known to have side effects like those mentioned. Of course you might possibly be right that the symptoms are the disorder rather than the medication, but it’s still relevant to the question, as people below have said- they may not realize how impaired they are and could venture into the realm of a safety issue if, like many Americans, they drive to work.

      Also, while I think you’re just trying to empathize with the OP and I might be particularly sensitive to this, but I think you may have strayed into inadvertent mental health stigmatizing. Like you say, bipolar disorder can present in a lot of different ways, and a consequence of that is that it may not take a lot out on the people around those with it. I grew up with a mother with bipolar disorder. She might be very lucky in that she seemed to find medication that worked for her fairly quickly, but still- you never would have known. I also only learned about a year ago that my sister was diagnosed ~4 years ago with bipolar disorder- I had no idea she had had mental health issues leading to her diagnosis. All this to say- people with mental health issues often just look like people, and the disease will not necessarily take a lot out of those around them.

    6. AdminX2*

      My migraine meds can leave me a bit tired and slow sometimes, but I’m not in pain and can actually focus on work so it’s a huge positive. Best to just say “Hey I’ve noticed blah on blah days and want to make sure you’re aware in case there’s a pattern. Please take care of yourself!”

    7. Nay*

      I’m not sure it’s particularly about the Xanax use, but I agree OP1 sounds judgey…I was sorta surprised to see Allison ask how close they are to the co-worker because they seem to have ZERO sympathy for their co-worker having a pretty significant mental health diagnosis, I hope they don’t consider themselves close…the whole letter reeked of judgement and lack of concern for the well being of the co-worker, only concern for how it affects OP.

      1. Mad Baggins*

        How could the OP ask for help for their coworker without digging into their private health information that’s neither their business nor right to know? I understand why OP is uncomfortable if they feel like they’ve been asked to make accommodations or give support that only their manager can provide.

    8. TardyTardis*

      I learned myself not to start a new job and new medication at the same time. However, if this is a new course of medication, the patient could well become habituated within a month or so and not appear so zoned out while still maintaining some kind of middle ground with the bipolar disorder. Also, the timing of the medication might need some adjustment, too.

  4. Greg NY*

    #3: It is beyond inconsiderate. There are several fragrances and scents that I’m sensitive to, they irritate my nostrils. Everybody, when they go into an environment where they will be in close contact with others, should minimize the fragrances they wear unless they are sure everyone they’re around can tolerate it. It’s not just in a workplace, it’s on an airplane and in a store (it has been infuriating to be subjected to fragrances in those places as well).

    Just follow Alison’s script, I like it a lot and wouldn’t change a word in it. They may be genuinely unaware that other people are sensitive to fragrances. It will hopefully be a teaching moment and the problem will be over with.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      I -heart- my current scent-free workplace, and I -heart- how the idea is catching on in public buildings, public transit, and so on. If LW’s workplace has a health ‘n’ safety suggestion process, maybe they could go that route. (In addition to bringing it up personally with the co-worker, not as an anonymous note type of thing.)

      1. BookishMiss*

        I have no idea who it is, but someone at my work seems to exude Vanilla perfume. I’ve managed to nail down the exact brand and perfume, just from the fragrance left behind in elevators and stairwells. It’s pretty incredible.
        My workplace isn’t scent free, but it’s scent could you maybe not please, which makes this even stranger. I hope that if any of this person’s immediate co-workers are bothered by the scent, there comfortable enough to say something.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          I have been able to tell that a certain coworker from another department has walked through the space I was in, and turned right at a certain hallway before because the scent they wear is so strong. I felt like a bloodhound. You should not be able to track someone through the office minutes after they walk through based on their perfume hanging in the air.

          1. TheMonkey*

            This seems to be common in my building with men’s cologne. I can definitely track whoever-it-is through the hallways using just my nose.

        2. Katelyn*

          I used to walk in a cloud of vanilla scent on the way to the subway in the mornings… and I was shocked when I eventually deduced that it probably wasn’t a perfume… it was a man’s cologne! And closer to him the other scents evened things out, but if you were a minute behind him it was just an impenetrable cloud of vanilla scent!

    2. Traffic_Spiral*

      Seriously, I would take public flossing or toenail clipping over aromatherapy. You can’t look away from a smell.

      1. Feline*

        So much this! My office was recently moved into new, low-sided cubicles, and one of the new cube neighbors wears so much perfume she has sent me home with a migraine. Noise is a huge issue in the new arrangement, too, but I can drown out noise with headphones. I can’t drown out a smell.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        OMG yes.

        I had a friend who was into candles scented like baked goods. I’m not generally that sensitive to smells but artificial banana bread is *nauseating*.

        1. Blue Anne*

          I LOVE those! Banana bread, apple pie, birthday cake, creme brulee!

          So I burn one in every room when I’m in my own home. Totally inappropriate to bring it into the office.

        2. Joielle*


          My mother in law is an absolute Bath and Body Works junkie and LOVES baked-goods-smelling candles (and plug ins, and reed diffusers, and room sprays…) AND she has several in every room and changes them out with the seasons. The spring and summer ones are ok, but once we get towards the holidays it’s all gingerbread and vanilla cupcake and pumpkin spice and I get a truly awful headache if I stay in her house too long. She gives them to us too. Suggestions of scents we like better haven’t worked, so I just give them directly to a neighbor who loves them (do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not let the candles in the house…).

          1. Dove*

            My mother-in-law’s favourite is Scentsy. Which is nice, in small quantities, but she stocks up every time there’s someone coming around selling it and the wax pucks get stored on one of the shelves in her kitchen pantry. Which wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that the smell does permeate even when they’re not being heated, it just takes longer.

            When we stay at her place, anything edible we put in that cupboard has to be sealed so that it’s airtight if we don’t want it tasting of whatever scent she’s most fond of right now….which is something that had to be learned from experience, after we ended up with potato chips that tasted like watermelon.

    3. Stephanie*

      I worked in a call center once, and someone doused herself in Victoria’s Secret perfume Love Spell. When I complained it was making it me sick with terrible headaches and the inability to breathe (I didn’t have healthcare at that point, so no ability to be treated), I was told that the company couldn’t infringe on her rights. That was awesome. Next place I worked, someone doused the Axe Body Spray and sent someone to the hospital in respiratory distress. We called him the Axe Murderer. People used to scent just don’t seem to notice it.

      My answer, if I get pushback from people over scented things, is usually to puke in their trashcan. I do not advise doing this, unless you’ve talked to the person, gotten pushback, and then gone up the chain of command and gotten pushback.

      1. Julia*

        Axe is the worst. I’m glad my brother grew out of it after his teenage years.
        I’ve had people dousing themselves (and me) on public transport, where the windows don’t open, and usually by the time I noticed what they were doing, it was already too late, but I guess “this is my legal right” would probably be the answer anyway. People really suck sometimes.

        That said, maybe OP’s coworker is one of the people who stop perfuming everyone when asked nicely, so it’s worth asking, if OP can find out who it is. Maybe look around for the diffuser in one of the power outlets and ask people in the general area if it’s theirs?

        1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

          Flannel handkerchiefs.

          I carry one with me, and when I’m trapped on transit near someone wearing too much scent, I hold it over my nose and mouth. Filters scents beautifully (also works well for cigarette smoke). I’ve gotten some dirty looks from the culprits, but better their side-eye than ending up in the ER with a bad asthma attack.

          1. Stephanie*

            I’ll have to try flannel. I’ve done the surgical mask(mentioned below), but I find them too hard to breathe through, and they tend to make me panic.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          Surgical masks work for this too! You can buy boxes at the drugstore.
          I’m allergic to tobacco smoke and I carry one in case I can’t avoid it. Some smokers seem to notice and some don’t if I put it on, but I’m not concerned with what they think. Maybe it will motivate them to quit or at least go off to the side so the general public doesn’t have to breathe it.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        I once waged a full blown war against a coworker who wore way too much cologne. It started when he would cover himself in it in a very small office (think ten feet by ten feet) with several other people in it, which resulted in a very direct “Dude – NO!”. But continued for nearly a year of trying to get him to understand that it was too much at the office while trying really hard to be polite. Nothing I did every helped, but one day some of the dudes in the office started teasing him that they “Missed his pretty scent” and he stopped wearing it immediately. So don’t underestimate the power of dude peer pressure.

      3. Foreign Octopus*

        Oh my god, this.

        I once had a student who doused himself in some god awful spray or cologne before every lesson with me; it was like he’d showered in it. It set my allergies off so badly that I could barely talk.

        I dreaded lessons with this student.

        1. all the candycorn*

          I used to work in a research lab where we’d have people come in to perform experimental tests/games on the computer, and I’d have to sit with them to advance it from level to level. Some of them wore so much cologne, I’d have coughing fits and have to hide in the hallway while they completed the level, then run back in holding my breath to advance it.

    4. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I feel like someone doesn’t need to be ‘sensitive’ to a smell in order for you to request it not fill the office. I just don’t like the smell of pumpkin (I know, I’m a failure of a white girl) and I would be super annoyed if the office was filled with it and have no problem telling whoever was using it “I’m sorry – I really don’t like that smell. Could you please not have that in the office?”. I mean, right now I’m pregnant so I’m ‘sensitive’ to all smells (I am dreading the upcoming fall season and all the pumpkin that comes with it) but in normal pre-pregnant circumstance I would still stand up to this.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Agreed. “Gourmand” scents don’t make me literally sick or give me headaches (most of the time) – but I really hate them, just because the “sweet” notes always come off sickeningly cloying to my nose, and if someone was filling the area around me with one I’d be ready to start an escalating scent war using the kind of incense/woods scents I prefer. “I hate this scent and since we’re in a shared space please stop forcing me to smell it” is valid too, even if it’s not “this scent is making me ill”.

        I just don’t get what’s so hard about “keep your scented candles at home”? Subtle personal perfume, okay – as long as it really is subtle, so you’re the only one who smells it. I wear a smidge of perfume sometimes, or use scented hand lotion, because it’s a form of sensory self-soothing I turn to sometimes to cope with anxiety. But the workplace is a shared space and you really should be considerate of others in it as much as possible. Scent the air at home however you like, just don’t do it at work.

    5. Anony McAnonFace*

      I would change the wording actually. I would make it much broader because you don’t want to spend the rest of your life saying, “also this scent and also that one”

      I would say: “Unfortunately I am sensitive to scents and perfumes — it’s giving me headaches. I’m sorry to ask, but can you not use (scent plug-ins/fragrance sprays/whatever they’re using) in the office?”

      (Also, I changed “I seem to be” to “I am” because there’s no need to soften it quite so much. This is not your problem, it’s the problem of the person inconsiderately blasting scent everywhere in this the year of our lord 2018)

      I’d be tempted to take out the “sorry to ask” and “unfortunately” too but I’m cranky this morning and there’s very few things that irritate me more than perfume wearers and scent blasters.

      1. MLB*

        Yes I’m a big believer in being straight forward and would totally remove the “Unfortunately” and “sorry to ask”, especially because for me it’s pain, not just a request because it annoys me. I get migraines and smells are a trigger. Even if I like the smell it can trigger a migraine. I had a cube neighbor who sprayed herself with perfume while in her cube – instant migraine. I asked her to do that in the bathroom in the future. She denied spraying it in her cube, which was a complete and utter lie, but she never did it again.

      2. Corky's Wife Bonnie*

        Ooooh, good point. I could see her just changing the fragrance out to Jasmine-Orange or something. Doesn’t matter for me, I am sensitive to everything.

    6. Anon because confessing*

      We have a lovely (truly, I’m not being sarcastic) colleague who brings in scented hand soap for the restroom. Some of those scents are so strong they’d stop an elephant at a 100 yards. I don’t even say anything — I don’t want to make her feel bad, and it’s confined to the bathroom — but I have discretely disposed of the most powerful ones. And I hold my breath.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I had a colleague who kept bringing in those ‘rush’ scent diffuser sticks and putting them in the WC in the office. She didn’t seem to be able to get her head around the concept that yes, all of them cause me breathing problems (and make me come up in hives if I touch them). To start with I just asked her to remove them, then I started moving them into her office and eventually got to the point of binning them (double wrapped).

        Happily she now works in a different building to me. I do not know whether she is still putting stinky products in the bathroom.

        For hand wash, i simply let the person who buys it know that they need to ensure that there is a basic, scent free one. If they want to order scented ones as well, and have 2 out at once, I can live with that.
        It seems to work.

        1. annejumps*

          At one place I worked, in the women’s room someone brought in one of those big heated wax-warming things, with a large jar of pumpkin-spice-scented wax. So, the smell of hot pumpkin filled the restroom. And sometimes the rest of the office. It was that big. I unplugged it every time I saw it was on.

    7. Iota*

      My general rule is that one should not smell scent emanating from another unless one is within a foot of that person (i.e., within the zone if physical intimacy).

      No one should ever use a spray, diffuser, or other scent broadcasting device in a public place. Save those for your own abode.

      The only exception is bathroom sprays provided by the employer. Even then, be cautious w spraying only the minimum. They can cause migraines and other allergic reactions such as severe itching .

      1. Free Meerkats*

        It took me way too long (not months, but years) to convince my wife that she can only use air “fresheners” when I’m not home. Yes, even in the bathroom. I know you don’t like the smell of poop, but I’d rather not have to pop an Imitrex and lie down in the dark. Seriously, stop. STOP!

        So, not even the bathroom.

    8. Snark*

      In general, I feel like strongly scented products are grouped with dogs and nerf guns in the category “Things that some employers allow and think is a great perk but which ultimately ends up alienating or annoying a significant minority and is generally just not a place to go if you can help it.”

    9. Temperance*

      I honestly don’t understand people who feel the need to spray or wear strong fragrances at work. I’m still salty at the high maintenance elderly client who apparently took a bath in perfume on Monday before coming in to my office. Thanks for the bronchitis, lady. I really loved sitting outside with you for 30 minutes because you didn’t feel the need to bring your wheelchair or tell anyone ahead of time that you had issues walking.

      (My allergies will trigger a sinus infection that will turn into bronchitis after about 2 weeks of suffering.)

    10. Catherine from Canada*

      I think Bounce and all other dryer sheets should be shot into the sun. Whatever is in them (and in plug-in air fresheners) has me headachy in 60 seconds, blurred vision and slurred speech in ten minutes, unable to walk if it goes on longer than that.
      I regularly go around to my neighbours with unscented dryer sheets and ask them to use them instead. They usually will (until the box runs out, then they default back to the stinky ones).
      But I can’t do anything about the people who walk around with Bounce scent trails…

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I recently discovered there are “natural” dryer sheets without the chemicals. I had stopped using the unscented ones even though they don’t bother me because I have a better understanding now of how harmful those chemicals can be.
        I don’t need them now, but they will save me from static cling in winter! They also worked well on my hair. :)

      2. AdminX2*

        I actually like the Free & Sensitive ones. It’s rough as I have friends who will have MULTIPLE plug ins for a less than 1000 sq ft area. After a few hours I just can’t deal.

        1. Dove*

          It’s viable if you share a laundry facility with the neighbours – which is also what would make it a necessity, if you’re sensitive to the chemicals.

          1. Kelly*

            I’m still trying to figure out if Catherine from Canada is doing this at work or at home. Either way, a big nope from me.

      3. only acting normal*

        It’s because the “perfume” industry is not regulated in the way food or cosmetics are. They can legally include all kinds of actively toxic ingredients under the guise of proprietary recipes listed only as “parfum” or “perfume”. So those of us with allergies have no way of screening scented products the way we can with food ingredients.
        Also a lot of it reacts in the air and ends up as nasty things like formaldehyde which are objectively bad for everyone. And yet “But it smells nice!” is apparently enough of an excuse to carry on poisoning the air.

    11. SusanIvanova*

      Scented oils seem to be the new hot MLM scheme. Worse, part of the sales pitch is the claim that they’ll “cure” whatever it is you’re complaining about.

      Mom could get a migraine from just walking near the entrance of the mall department stores, back when they put perfume/cosmetics front and center, so I never built up any tolerance for it, in the colloquial “can put up with it” sense not the physical reaction one.

    12. zora*

      In addition to following the script, I think this is really about the tone. It’s totally easier said than done, because when I’m irritated about something, it’s so hard for me to keep my voice from sounding annoyed and pissed off.

      But, I have literally practiced in front of a mirror and it’s gotten easier! The more casual and breezy your tone when you say this, the more likely the coworker will not take it badly or be taken aback. Try to say it as if it actually just occurred to you, the same as if you were saying, “Oh, did you drop this?” or “Did you leave this on the printer?”

      If I try to do it in the moment I get really anxious and sound more pissy than I mean to, so I practice at home until I feel like I really can do it casually.

  5. Aphrodite*

    OP #1, the first thought I had when I read your post is that your co-worker is, I presume, driving to work under the influence. If she is stumbling, slurring and so on, don’t you think it’s only a matter of time until she causes an accident, possibly even killing someone. I wouldn’t stay quiet about this for that reason alone.

    1. McWhadden*

      That’s a huge presumption not based on anything in the letter. Millions of Americans use means other than driving to get to work.

      1. Aphrodite*

        That’s why I said, “I presume.” It is not stated and possibly the co-worker does not drive but I live in California so this influences me. IF she does indeed drive, she is a danger. If she does not, then my comment does not apply. No presumption.

        1. McWhadden*

          I think jumping to presume bipolar people are endangering people goes to a stereotype of them and is unfair without any evidence to support it.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Lots of people do drive to work. If you see someone arrive at work obviously impaired (and for whatever it’s worth, those symptoms are exactly what I’ve seen firsthand in a relative who was using Xanax), it’s not ridiculous to worry about whether they drove that way. I don’t want to derail on this because I don’t think it changes the advice at all, but I don’t think the concern is unfounded, given the potential risk.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              This seems like a classic derail, though. Instead of focusing on advice for OP, we’re speculating about a common-but-perhaps-not-relevant scenario that does not change the advice to OP. And, as McWhadden notes, the derail also contributes to stereotype bias.

              It’s really problematic and harmful to suggest that someone’s treatment or underlying diagnosis makes them inherently impaired/DUI, and that OP has to scout out a legal reason or crime before they can raise the issue at work.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                The suggestion wasn’t that the diagnosis might make the coworker an impaired driver, but rather that the Xanax use would, and indeed you’re cautioned not to drive on Xanax because it’s not safe.

                That said, it doesn’t change the advice, and I don’t want to derail on it, so let’s leave it here.

                1. Iota*

                  The only caveat is if the coworker has to drive for work or does so on a one off-basis.

                  Coworker should not do any driving in behalf of company until this evens out.

                  That ban includes both driving as part of her job and sending her on the coffee or lunch run.

                  Her own personal driving may bother OP, but we don’t police the reckless driving of coworkers in their personal time. Their driving on company time is well in bounds.

                2. Knitting Cat Lady*

                  I take medication that makes me sleepy as a side effect. I take it in the evening.

                  I have, twice, mixed up my morning and evening meds by opening the wrong side of my pill sorter.

                  Luckily I noticed before setting out for work. And called in sick that day.

                  Slept until noon because of that.

                  And when I was put on ADs the first time I was forbidden to drive until I had reached the therapeutic dose AND passed a cognitive exam.

                  Psych meds can have interesting side effects on your cognition while ramping up.

                  They played merry hell with my ability to concentrate.

                  So, being bipolar doesn’t make you an unsafe driver*, but unfamiliar meds can make you an unsafe driver.

                  *Mania, however, can lead to warped perception of ones own abilities and lead to increased risk taking in all areas. People have ruined themselves in many ways due to mania.

              2. Micromanagered*

                I think noting that the coworker’s symptoms indicate a level of impairment that could be a safety concern is a valid concern, though. It checks the “safety concern” box under “Reasons to Say Something.” At the same time I do think it’s important to make the distinction between noting a potential safety concern and further stigmatizing mental illness.

          2. Ellen N.*

            I believe that the view that the impaired coworker might be endangering others was due to taking Xanax not to being bipolar.
            I take Xanax to manage a phobia. I have trouble walking when I’ve taken Xanax. It would be dangerous for me to drive.

          3. Snark*

            The assumption is not “bipolar people are dangerous,” and it’s not really giving your fellow posters the benefit of generous doubt to leap to that. The assumption is that if you’re slurring and stumbling and in general have impaired gross motor functions, whatever the reason for that impairment, you’re probably not safe to drive. And the presumption that she’s driving to work is based on the extremely reasonable assumption that majority of American commuters in the majority of American cities do drive to work.

            1. Decima Dewey*

              I have my doubts about Xanax for bipolar, but I don’t have medical training. I do know from my own experience that not all people respond to medications the same way. One antidepressant I took made my mood worse, coworkers suggested that I tell my doctor about it. If Xanax is causing Coworker to be impaired at work, OP may tell Coworker what they have observed. Perhaps a change of medication is in order.

            2. madge*

              It’s not what is assumed, but what is implied. I trust that nothing harmful was intended, but it does still have the effect of reinforcing stereotypes about people taking psychiatric medications.

              1. Jadelyn*

                It really doesn’t, though, because the comment was about *the medication itself* and its potential safety issues in common activities (like driving, or if you work a job that involves machinery), not the person using it or needing it. This wasn’t “someone who needs psych meds is dangerous!” this was “this specific medication can impair someone in really dangerous ways and OP should probably speak up for that reason if nothing else.”

                1. madge*

                  Emphasizing that it’s the medication that makes the person act dangerously changes the impact only marginally, since we’re still talking about psychiatric medications, which carry an inherent stigma. (Not to mention that it implies the person taking the medication is acting recklessly while taking said medications.)

                2. Jadelyn*

                  Hard disagree, madge. You’re reading all kinds of implications into this that just aren’t there to anyone else, like recklessness (?) and “people with mental illnesses are dangerous” (???).

                  And I say this as someone who has multiple mental illnesses and is on multiple medications to manage them, and who has faced Some S*** from people over those medications. Just saying “If someone’s coming to work impaired because they took Xanax and are experiencing side effects from taking it, I’d be concerned that there could be safety implications,” is not implying anything about people who have illnesses or people who take Xanax.

                3. madge*

                  We see it differently, then. I’ll accept that. I’m only taking issue with the speculation that the coworker on Xanax must surely be driving impaired–which implies the coworker is behaving recklessly.

              2. Snark*

                No, I’m going to push back against that. It does not. I understand that mental health is stigmatized in this culture, and I understand being on your toes about this, but it is a far and uncharitable reach to say that this thread reinforces stereotypes.

                It’s a bare fact that high doses of Xanax impairs your ability to drive.

                1. madge*

                  I get that these comments aren’t going to read the same way for everyone, and I’m willing to accept that I’m particularly sensitive. The reinforcement of stereotypes happens whether it’s intended or not, so I’m not faulting anyone’s motives.

                  Pointing out the side-effects of Xanax doesn’t hurt. Speculating that the coworker taking Xanax is driving impaired does (because it implies the coworker is reckless).

              3. Geillis D*

                I had positional vertigo – bouts of dizziness that scared the living daylights out of me when they started out of the blue. Turning my head or changing head positions caused dizziness that required me to stop whatever I was doing and wait for about a minute until I felt right again.

                I stopped driving until this was resolved, thanks to a wonderful physiotherapist. It wasn’t about stigmatizing people with vertigo, it was about a real impairment. If I had a vertigo attack while driving and hurt someone, they wouldn’t care if I was drunk, high, medicated or suffering from vertigo.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree with McWhadden that this is a reach. As noted by M_Lynn_K, sometimes the symptoms OP is describing are symptoms of bipolar disorder (i.e., not an effect of Xanas, and thus not driving under the influence). I think there’s enough in the letter to warrant OP bringing it up because it’s affecting their work—no need to extrapolate to other, more remote possibilities to shore up OP’s resolve.

    3. Aphrodite*

      I don’t care why she’s taking medication or what the medication is. She is impaired. That makes her a special danger on the roads.

      I don’t appreciate people thinking that because she has these problems I am offending her illness. I am not. I am concerned about the drug’s impact on her as a driver because of her obvious impairment at work per the OP. And now, as Alison requested, I am leaving this alone.

  6. Magz*

    For the love of all the gods, if Xanax is impairing your functioning that much IT’S NOT WORKING. If you have the kind of relationship where you can do so, please tell her how it’s affecting her work and that she might want to bring that up to her prescriber.

    1. McWhadden*

      Sometimes it takes time to get the dosage right. Especially with something as difficult to treat as bipolar disorder.

      1. President Porpoise*

        It took my brother something like 6 years to find the right drug and dose. It’s been really hard on him – and it had massive long-term effects that will adversely affect him for the rest of his life. While it’s true that it takes a long time to get right, it’s also true that pulling your coworker aside and saying “hey this med doesn’t seem to be working s well as you might hope” might actually speed up the process.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I feel for your brother, a family member had to play pharmacology roulette for their problem, too. It was tremendously exciting, but often not in a good way (but a proper balance was finally reached, yay).

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Suggesting that the coworker bring it up with their prescriber is boundary-crossing. It’s unclear if the symptoms are from the Xanax dosage, from the adjustment period that applies when beginning a new medication or changing its dosage, or from bipolar disorder itself.

      OP has a solid business reason to flag for the coworker that their impairment is noticeable to others. But giving the coworker advice on what conversations to have with her treating physician assumes a lot that’s beyond the scope of the work relationship and a bit more invasive than necessary.

      1. Thursday Next*

        I’m wondering whether coworker opened the door for a “Maybe you should talk to your doctor” conversation by disclosing so much about their condition and treatment.

        I don’t think it’s boundary crossing for OP to point out what work-affecting behavioral changes they’ve observed, and suggest it’s something the coworker might want to bring to the attention of their doctor. It would be invasive to tell the coworker they shouldn’t take this or that medication, but saying, “Hey, I’ve noticed XYZ in terms of how you’ve been handling your work. Since you told me you’ve been taking Medication A, I thought this might be useful information to take back to your doctor.”

        1. Quackeen*

          I agree. Coworker opened the door to discussion by mentioning the Xanax and bipolar disorder, and specifically said their manager did not know. I would consider it a kindness to bring concerns to them directly, rather than letting them suffer a bad reputation or chance someone outing them to the manager.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think it’s fine to say, “Hey, I’ve noticed XYZ, and I wanted to flag it for you because [job-related reasons].” It’s up to the coworker to determine if they take that information back to their doctor, and OP can make their point without having to get into coworker’s treatment or conversations with their doctor. OP is already uncomfortable having this information. Although the coworker brought it up, OP doesn’t have to sit at the “let’s talk about your condition and treatment” table.

      2. JSPA*

        How about, “That sound rough. Do you have a doctor who’s responsive to your feedback about what’s working, and gives good guidance on how long it should take to dial in the right dosage? Also, would you like feedback from us on how your status comes across to an outside observer, or are you not at a stage where that would be helpful?”

        That allows for, “Yeah, the doc’s good, I’ll tell you when I’m ready for outside feedback, right now I have to pay attention to my inner emotional landscape” or “I prefer not to talk about it more, but thanks for the concern” or for, “nah, I can’t get an appointment for another month, so I go to MedExpress every four days and they give me a two day supply of what I’ve had before, and I spread it out over the next four days. It is what it is.”

        If OP is lucky, they might get insight into how soon coworker and doc expect it to take, for symptoms to level off, and be able to plan accordingly. If OP is unlucky, they might figure out that coworker is self-medicating. In any case, they’ll get direct guidance from coworker on what sorts of discussion are / are not currently welcome.

    3. Bea*

      It’s also not a good medicine for bi polar…you need constant daily meds to adjust to favorably not a patch to get you through stress and anxiety. But yeah, this is a coworker do going that deep isn’t a choice. I’m all bristled up over this letter with all the feelings…very few docs properly treat this disorder. Heck they can’t even diagnose it most the time. Of course they just throw Xanax at a person.

      1. ValkyrAmy*

        No one said coworker isn’t taking other meds, too. I’ve had xanax prescribed for my bipolar, but it accompanied 3 other meds (at that time). Sometimes things like xanax are to help with certain symptoms while waiting for the other longer-term drugs to take effect, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to talk about xanax (everyone knows about it!) than lithium or depakote, at least imo.

        Additionally, I’m functional on xanax up to a point, and everyone reacts differently, especially if different meds are thrown into the mix.

    4. Temperance*

      Eh, I’m going to disagree with you on both counts. I have chronic migraines, and the medication I take absolutely impairs me. I usually don’t take it at work, and I absolutely wouldn’t ever drive while on it, or with a migraine, but it’s working.

      I would not feel comfortable handling this on my own, and would talk to a manager. People already can tell that there’s something up with Jane.

    5. Seriously?*

      I wouldn’t say it is not working. We can’t know that. Sometimes the side effects are worth it if the symptoms are bad enough. Whether they are too impaired to work is the employers business. Whether the medications they take are working is not.

  7. Lexi Kate*

    #4 if your working for a competitor tell the old company that you are employeed with a competitor and according to your companies ethics agreement it would be a conflict of interest to help them. Depending on your real companies size and PHI needs and if you have an ethics agreement you may really have to turn them into your compliance office.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      My other thought would be to quote them a (ridiculously high) consulting rate and require proof of a liability policy that covers consultants (since that seems to be a concern).

      Or just tell them no, and refuse to answer any more messages (or block them entirely).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        People always suggest this when this comes up, but quoting a ridiculously high consulting rate will make you look out of touch, and that’s not good if you want to retain these professional connections.

        Both this and the conflict of interest excuse are unnecessary and really just complicate things. It’s perfectly fine to just say you don’t have time!

        1. Lanon*

          It might lead to making the time though. A friend of mine did this and ended up working on the side for his old employer for nearly a year at 5x his original hourly salary.

          1. Antilles*

            That really depends on if you actually WANT that as a potential outcome though. OP#4’s letter seems pretty clear that she wants to just be done with the toxicity (a perfectly legitimate choice), so in that case, you don’t want to provide any opportunity for them to surprise you by agreeing.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              This. Offering an excuse is an invitation to the other person to solve your ostensible problem. Don’t offer unless your response to someone taking you up on it would be “Great!”

              (This seems to come up a lot re “I don’t want my neighbor to keep asking for this favor” and people are “Ha! Charge her!” Like all things translate into a numerical payoff, and then once you set that number you never get to say “No, I won’t do this” ever again.)

              1. Seriously?*

                Yeah. If you don’t want to keep doing the favor but would do it if they paid you enough, then telling them the rate makes sense because potentially they could agree and both parties are happy. If you are just trying to put them off, then there is too much potential to backfire and it doesn’t even really come across as softer or nicer than just saying no.

              2. Mary*

                You do, though! You’re always allowed to refuse a client (well, unless you’re a taxi driver or a barrister.) I agree with the principle that you should only set a figure if you’re willing to *consider* doing the work for that price, not just because you feel like you can’t say no outright, but the idea that if you mention a figure you’ve then got to accept the work is not true!

        2. Mookie*

          “I don’t know if you can afford to match my going rate and I can’t afford the time” is a good one, with the right delivery.

          1. Seriously?*

            There is a lot of potential for people to be offended by the assumption that they can’t afford you though. If you have a going rate, tell them and let them decide. If you just don’t have the time or just don’t want to do it, then leave the rate out of it altogether.

          2. Jadelyn*

            Only if you’re cool with lobbing an incendiary grenade at that particular bridge – this seems to be an unnecessarily aggressive, condescending, snarky way of saying “no” to something you don’t want to do. Why insult them (“you can’t afford to match my rate”) when you can just say “I really don’t have the bandwidth to work with you further on this, sorry!” and leave the interaction on a professional note rather than a snarky one?

        3. SusanIvanova*

          A reasonably high consulting rate, OTOH, got my former co-worker a nice bonus for two days of work when they laid off the entire team and only then asked how to do one particular yearly task. Oops, nobody on the transition team has the first clue!

      2. Glomarization, Esq.*

        I have been there, done that, with both of these ideas. The first just makes for an extended conversation when the real reason I don’t want to work for the previous employer is … that I don’t want to work for the previous employer. The second risks that they call my bluff, and I end up working for the previous employer.

        The best thing to do is to say “I’m sorry, I’m not available” and leave it at that. (If I want to be nice, I’ll say, “I’m booked solid right now and can’t give your matter the attention it needs. Here’s a referral.”) “I’m not available” gives no information, makes no excuses, and burns no bridges.

        1. Iota*

          Never give reasons to someone toxic who might simply try and find a way around them.

          The high rate = I would do it if you pay me enough. So they negotiate on how much is enough.

          Free time = not right now. Bug me again in a month.

          Ethics = I’d do this if it weren’t an ethics problem. So they want to see if there’s any way around it or if your boss might allow you anyway.

          It’s usually best to give a firm no without reasons. You don’t need to justify.

          No is an answer. Anything additional is justification. Boundary crossers view your justification as a challenge, not an indefatigable fixed point.

          1. Anon From Here*

            Yes, “no is a complete sentence.” But it’s not a polite or professional way to turn down work. Saying that you’re not available isn’t a challengeable justification. It’s a polite way to nope out of an obligation or a business relationship.

            1. Antilles*

              Yes, “no is a complete sentence.” But it’s not a polite or professional way to turn down work.
              Even though OP may never want to *work* for these people again, she’s still likely to run into them from time to time as references or even in future companies, so you don’t want to go completely nuclear. The whole reason to provide an excuse is to soften it…then you just hold firm on your excuse.
              Remember, the best part about not working there is that even if they’re trying to push back on your excuse, you can easily ignore them since you don’t see them – first you let their email sit unread for a while, then you reply with basically the same exact excuse from before.

              1. Czhorat*

                True, but more than one brief request for clarification on project status after OP left is outside of professional norms. I’m not saying to fight bad behaviour with bad behaviour, but I understand the frustration.

                This kind of thing should have been thoroughly dealt with during the notice period; that’s a big part of the reason we give notice. An outgoing project manager (and their remaining boss) should identify who will take over existing projects, schedule handoff meetings, and be sure that a complete knowledge transfer takes place. It’s the nature of the PM role that this is a very important and not simple process.

                At this point, that horse has left the barn. IF there’s a brief repository of information that OP can send, I’d do that as a good faith gesture. If it would be hours of work, then you need to politely turn it down.

                1. OP#4*

                  @Czhorat – From one PM to another, this is excellent advice and well said – and is great advice for anyone reading this. (And yes, in my situation, all of the above was done to the best of our abilities in my last frantic weeks of employment.)

              2. OP#4*

                OP4 here. Yes, this. Because I went to a competing company, my old company and my new company have some of the same clients. I have to make sure my old company does not take to trying to trash my reputation if I don’t help them.

                And no amount of money would ever make me want to work for them again in any role.

                I like the suggestion above of discussing it with our in-house legal / ethics team to get their input and craft a statement.

            2. Leslie knope*

              I think people misapply the “no is a complete sentence” advice constantly here in the comments. It’s often not feasible to respond just with a flat no especially to an initial request.

              1. Mad Baggins*

                +1 if someone answered a request with just “no” I would assume our relationship had dissolved to the point that they didn’t even think I deserved an excuse.

            3. smoke tree*

              Yeah, I can see how that advice would be helpful in some extreme situations, or after you’ve made attempts to decline more politely, but in most professional communication, this is a scorched-earth strategy. In fact, this is basically what the LW ended up doing, and it sounds like she realized afterwards that it wasn’t the ideal way to handle it.

          2. Aleta*

            But also

            No = “Why not?” ad nauseum

            Like, yes, you absolutely don’t owe anyone a reason, reasons are for reasonable people, but “no” isn’t a magic word that makes boundary crossers back off. It is ALSO a challenge, because in their minds there has to be a reason, because if there isn’t, why can’t you just do it? I use a straight no with my boundary crossers, but I do it with the full knowledge that it’ll lead to at least a week of harassment, if not months.

      3. Snark*

        As others have said: I generally find the truth and polite firmness to hold together better than weak boundaries established by face-saving lies or obfuscations.

        “My availability is limited and I cannot continue advising the new project manager. Best, OP.” Done.

    2. Czhorat*

      Whether or not there is an official ethics department, op is working for a competitor of their old firm. “I’m sorry, but my current boss wouldn’t want me to spend time on this” is a perfectly acceptable answer.

      The one thing to look back at in hindsight is how you handed your projects off and what state they were in. I have seen people in roles with project management responsibility damage their reputations by leaving with projects in disarray and not warning anyone what the issues were. When you leave, it should be with a thorough handoff and some documentation. This way when they email project questions you can say, “I can’t take time for this because of newjob, but all the information should be in the notes I left”.

      (I take all of my meeting notes in MS OneNote, so I was literally able to give them my personal notes from every project meeting as a final resource. This is a neat thing if you work electronically).

  8. Julia*

    OP4, can you just be really slow in responding to them? Surely if you reply two days later, because you were busy (or “busy”), a lot of their issues should have resolved themselves.

    1. ambpersand*

      This is a good tactic. I used it myself a few months ago when transitioning to a new job and was getting weekly text message questions about my old tasks. I answered the first few, but the others I didn’t rush to respond, and within just a few hours they managed to have figured it out themselves. Luckily these were lower level tasks/projects, but it worked nonetheless!

  9. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    LW#2 I’ve had success in the past with approaching my manager and saying that I’ve been stalked and prefer that my name and picture aren’t posted on-line. It’s been almost 10 years but I need complete control of my image. I think most managers would agree. If they don’t escalation to the next level may be necessary.

    1. MLB*

      Even though LW has said she’s had issues with stalking in the past, that’s kind of besides the point IMO. I don’t know if there are legal issues here, but I don’t see how a company can force you to have a picture or video taken to be put online without your full consent. I have never had an issue with a stalker, online or otherwise and I would still have a problem with this request.

      1. CM*

        State laws vary as to whether consent is required for the video in the first place, and whether it can be used for marketing purposes without the employee’s consent. These are two separate issues — the first is about audio and video recordings and wiretaps, and the second is about the right of publicity. (In case you want to look them up, these are the terms you would look for.)

        Saying that you’ve been stalked is very relevant here. It may be a way to get your employer to understand that you have valid concerns about your image being used, and shift your employer’s position from thinking about what’s good for the company (or what is strictly legally required) to what’s good for the people who work there.

    2. Catwoman*

      Yes, and it’s also highly likely that the employer hasn’t even thought that they could be endangering employees with this new initiative.

  10. Djuna*

    #LW2 – We’ve had some videos filmed at work recently, and we were asked to sign a release to allow the company to use the footage. They were very serious about giving people (even people in the background of shots) time to think about their inclusion and the chance to opt out. No-one was voluntold to appear in the videos in the first place, either, thankfully.

    This doesn’t sound like it’s being handled very well, and I completely understand it being so stressful for you.
    Both of you should have a chat with your manager, and let them know you’d really rather not be involved. Then they can pass that along to the film crew so you and your co-worker are kept out of the footage. It shouldn’t be a big deal not to include you, and if they try to make you feel like it is, then you need to escalate it.

    1. H.C.*

      Agreed, ideally it should be an opt-in for inclusion in social media materials (or any marketing/comm materials, really), but an opt-out system is better than nothing.

      In addition to your manager, I would bring up these concerns with HR and/or the social media person’s manager too (typically manager/director/VP of marketing-communications)

  11. Kella*

    With OP#1 it kinda sounds to me like the coworker got it mixed up who they needed to give a heads up to about the reason for their impairment. Obviously not needing to divulge the specific health problem, but going to the manager would’ve protected the coworker from getting in trouble for unexplained bad work, and then they manager could’ve adjusted workload and instructions for the rest of the team accordingly without the team needing to know about the health issue. Instead it sounds like the coworker told their coworkers so that they wouldn’t have to tell the manager, and now the coworkers are in a weird position and can’t help this person get the accommodation they might benefit from. I’m not sure if this is useful for the advice for OP#1 at all, but perhaps if they do have a somewhat close relationship, OP can point out to their coworker that telling the manager is likely to help them here.

    1. Mad Baggins*

      Good point. The way it is now, OP and other coworkers feel the need to cover for the coworker without having the power to do so.

    2. Ender*

      Agreed. OP1 I think the best thing you can do for your coworker is to advise them to tell your manager themselves. Info you could point out:
      1 their work is either affected or at the very least appears to be affected (as Alison pointed out directors / managers may have noticed the slurred words and inability to concentrate)
      2 she will be entitled to accommodations but only if she discloses to her manager
      3 you and your team sympathise but you can’t really do anything to help without your managers knowledge.

      She may be hoping you will “cover for her” while she gets medication levels sorted out, but that’s not really reasonable for her to expect of you.

  12. AliceBD*

    I’ve been a social media person for companies for several years now. Marketing never pressures staff into being in photos. The only inadvertent photos we may have up is if employees are in a crowd scene at a public event, like the type of photo or video the news would take. (The news is usually visible at these events as well.) If it is a staged photo everyone is at least verbally asked if they are ok with it and have the option to step away, and usually have to sign a release as well. (All minors have signed releases before being photographed, if people’s kids are around or we’re doing a community service activity.) Now, I cannot help it someone feels uncomfortable opting out when given a chance and doesn’t do it, but I hope that doesn’t happen often.

    Another aspect — are you sure it is the social media person’s idea to show how fun you are? I ask because I am sent photos and videos from various managers of their employees being “fun” with the request to put it on social media. We don’t. Frankly, the quality of the output is not high enough quality for me to even consider posting, let alone a variety of other issues. So while it could absolutely be the social media person’s idea, it could also be a high-ups idea that the social media person feels they need to go along with.

    1. ambpersand*

      I’m a social media manager as well, I would have ZERO problems with someone letting me know that they didn’t want their picture or video taken and posted online. Even if it was just their personal preference, I get it. But I also don’t know if someone is uncomfortable about it without them speaking up. And you’re right- a lot of these ideas are generated from managers and people outside of marketing who think that it’s the Best New Idea to do something like this. And since the OP says that this person is new, it could easily be the case that they’re just taking the direction from someone else.

      1. puppies*

        +1! Social Media managers are humans just nicely let them know you don’t want to be on-camera or be photographed and they will respect that wish.

        1. Third username*

          I’ve also worked in social media, and I was wondering why everyone in the comments seemed so upset about this. Am I missing something? You just have to say “no thank you”. That’s literally it. Just ask to not be included. They aren’t mind readers.

          1. ambpersand*

            Yes! Exactly. I’m a little surprised at all the upset too. We’ve had multiple instances of this come up over the years, albeit for a variety of different reasons (one person was an undercover cop, another person had turned to modeling and requested we pay her for all photos that she was included in, etc etc) but it was never a big deal to say “Sure, no problem!” and move on. We don’t know to avoid you if you haven’t even told us.

    2. Miniata*

      So how should one handle it when they aren’t asked if they’re ok with it, or given a waiver, or even really voluntold but just told “ok now we’re taking photos of everyone!”?

      I was at a llama grooming training a couple weeks ago where the lead llama groomer (who is not also a social media manager) announced we were having pictures taking of the group and subgroups, without asking if everyone was ok with it; when I tried to hide in the back behind the taller people, the photographer told me to move closer to the front where he could get a good shot of me. And I have a conference coming up where, again, no one is a trained social media manager but just llama groomers who are in charge of the conference planning and communications and have iPhones, and one in particular has already taken a couple photos of me at other events and thrown them up on the company Twitter. So I’m concerned that I will again be told I need to be in photos, because it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that getting consent would be a thing they’d need to do.

      However, I’m also concerned that trying to get out of the photos in any way other than the most professional way will make my coworkers and manager think I’m not a “team player” (which was an issue at my last company).

      1. Annie Moose*

        Did you mention that you don’t want to be in the picture or asked the person who’s already taken pictures of you that you’d prefer to not have more taken in the future>

  13. Juli G.*

    OP2: Allison gave great advice. I think you need to just voice your reluctance to be filmed. And maybe the company will be unreasonable about it but it doesn’t sound like you’ve even got to that point. Ask and this might not even be a big deal.

  14. BeenThere*

    We had a non-official photographer at a previous workplace. He would bring his camera to all social events and take lots of pictures. Many of us avoided him… I did so mostly because I don’t like my pic taken, but I eventually also realized that no one ever saw any of these pictures after he took them. What was he doing with them? I’m a little afraid to ask. He was a bit of an odd duck, but hopefully nothing more than that!

    1. ssssssssssssssssssssssss*

      Oh, yes, this happened to me. Fellow took lots of pics of a coworker’s goodbye lunch and I wanted to see them, maybe keep one as the person leaving was my boss who I adored and was very sad he was leaving. I asked him a couple of times…and the pictures were never shared.

      Why bother?

    2. Bagpuss*

      Maybe he had found that being behind a camera means you don’t have to do so much socialising? It can be a fairly effective way of being present without having to interact with people too much. (Or a really good way of avoiding *being* in any pictures!)
      It’s a bit odd if he wouldn’t share photos if asked.

  15. EPLawyer*

    #3 are you in an open office plan? While everyone should be considerate before firing up the aromatherapy, at least in an office with a door that closes, it can be somewhat contained. In an open office plan, ANY strong smells of ANY kind are a no-no. When you have no privacy there is more of a requirement to not impose on others, whether it be loud noises or strong smells.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      I am currently getting my sinus’ cleaned out because a coworker has a cold and has a lot of menthol and eucalyptus essential oils on and around her.

  16. Loopy*

    Scents make me incredibly happy but I feel like it’s a known thing you just have to forgo at work. The most scent I make coworkers endure is my tea. I wouldn’t be shy about asking them to stop, especially since I get the impression more people are on the scent free side. And even if this person is like me and adores their scent, they’ll live. I do.

    1. Quackeen*

      Yup. I was asked to stop using the shower scrub and lotion I use because my office neighbor is just that sensitive to it. It briefly made me sad, because I find scent very grounding when I’m anxious, and then I changed to scent-free products during the week and get my scent on Saturday and Sunday.

      1. Yeah I'm Commenting!!*

        Wow! I know for a fact that I have never smelled a coworkers body scrub before. And only lotion if they had just put it on but the scent quickly dissipates after that. Its amazing that someone could smell that strongly. I guess my sense of smell is off from all those years of smoking.

      2. professor*

        Yeah, I would not change to scent free for work, that’s too much of an imposition. I don’t use any perfume, but I use scented bath products and the occasional lotion (often the night before anyhow). I think perfume is iffy and certainly you can be asked to not apply stuff IN the office, but trying to dictate basic bath products I use at home? Yeah nope.

        1. Lia*

          I’m happy to switch to scent-free bath and hair product if the requester will supply them at no cost to me, and if they are as effective as my current products. Otherwise, nope. I use the products I do because I like them and they work for me.

          I don’t use plug in devices and we are forbidden from having candles in the workplace.

    2. Allison*

      Same here, I am addicted to Bath and Body Works, but those home fragrance solutions are for your home and your car, NOT your workspace! I’d never dream of using anything that diffused a fragrance into the air. I do use scented hand creams, but I would stop if someone asked me to, or if we became a fragrance free workplace.

  17. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP #1 – Once upon a time, I was on Lexapro for my anxiety/depression. One of the rare side effects, which I was oh-so-lucky to have, was serious rage issues. I didn’t realize this and it took a good friend pointing out a pattern of behavior to make me realize that it was a serious problem and discuss it with my doctor.

    If you have a good relationship with your coworker, there may be a way for you to have a similar conversation about how they are coming across. But you have to have a very solid, personal relationship in order for this to have any chance of being successful and you have to approach it in a caring, non-judgmental way.

    Please don’t out your coworker’s medical problems to your supervisor. There are ways you can tip off your manager that there are issues without sharing personal medical information.

  18. Delta Delta*

    #3 – Smells should go. I once worked in an office that had some sort of natural citrus bathroom air freshener. Someone sprayed so much of it that one of our admin staff legit passed out from how strong it was. (She was already not feeling well and hadn’t eaten much that day; fine particulate citrus odor was the straw that broke the camel’s back) Grapefruit poo spray use was greatly reduced thereafter.

    1. Elise*

      We finally succeeded in getting the scented air freshener spray removed from the staff bathroom when two of us with asthma went to the manager after it triggered an asthma attack in one of us. People would spray it so much that I would end up using a gross public bathroom instead of the staff one to avoid it.

  19. The Doctor*


    I like Alison’s suggested response (“hey, I need you to stop filming me right now; please turn that off”), but you should shorten it (“Don’t. Film. Me.”) if the situation warrants.

    Perhaps a note to the company’s Legal Department would also be in order. They wouldn’t want you or your family to sue the company for enabling a past stalker to find and hurt you.

  20. John Rohan*

    LW#1 – why use “they” to refer to a single person? It’s confusing. I can’t wait for this fad to go by the wayside.

    1. Birch*

      It’s not a fad. It’s a standard way of referring to people when you don’t know their gender, gender doesn’t matter or the person prefers not to be referred to by “him” or “her” (it seems you’re ignoring the former reasons, which are very old and no one has had an issue with before now, in order to take issue with the latter).

      E.g. “Hey Birch, I heard someone was looking for me. Did you see which way they went?”
      E.g. “My student K has been doing really well on their tests.”

    2. LadyPhoenix*

      I know for individuals with more fluid gender/sex identity, it is a good way to acknowledge the person without misgendering them or-worse-dehumaning them (by calling them “it”).

      Get use to it.

      1. Czhorat*

        Yeah, this strikes me as an aggressive defense of traditionally gendered language and an unwillingness to understand real reasons why many people see it as less inclusive. I do not at all believe that those making this complaint find it at all confusing; I think “it’s confusing” is just a way of saying that they can’t be bothered to change the way they speak to make the world a tiny bit more inclusive to those not like them.

        Language evolves along with society.

    3. Oldie*

      There is a podcast called Grammar Girl which I LOVE.

      A lot of what we think is grammar is actually style. And a choice.

      A lot of what we think of as proper grammar isn’t. It’s just received rules.

      Using “they” as singular is proper grammar and also ways has been.

      Stylistically, it was out of favor in the US for a long time. A lot of olds were taught not to use it. I was back in the 70s.

      Nonetheless, one has to adapt and adjust.

      I managed to retrain my brain to only use one space at the end of a sentence when typing in a computer. Now, it’s instinctual.

    4. LadyPhoenix*

      I feel like the only reason John ever comments is to cause grief or pick a fight.

      He is famously known to mansplain whenever topics of sexism are mentioned.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not a fad. Do you think civil rights is a fad too? Come on.

      Others have answered this sufficiently (and I’ve deleted a bunch of other replies because the whole thing is off-topic and derailing, although thank you to people who attempted to reply to this), but it’s also against the commenting rules to nitpick language here, which you comment here enough to know.

      I’ve asked you before to stop commenting on gender related issues until you educate yourself, and at this point I’m putting your comments on moderation so that you stop derailing conversations here. To be clear, the issue is not disagreeing with the majority; the issue is derailing and dismissing people’s identities as “a fad,” which is not okay here.

  21. Persimmons*

    LW #2, you may have already okayed being filmed at work. The stack of forms I signed during onboarding included terms that allow my company to use my likeness for almost anything they want. I pushed back hard, and the response was bewilderment that implied I was weird and needlessly difficult.

    Over time, it became clear that I do not need to worry about my photo being used. Being middle-aged and dumpy takes care of it. If you are young, attractive, and/or a POC, expect to be hunted down for Kodak moments.

    TL;DR: Check your hiring paperwork to see if you’ve already agreed to this without realizing.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      I’d like to push back about the “show clients how fun we are” thing. What I care about as a patron/customer is how well something is done. If the waitstaff at a restaurant I’m eating at have fun, great. I’m more concerned about whether the Cobb Salad I’ve ordered inexplicably has a random red M&M in it, or whether the hot coffee I ordered is going to arrive lukewarm.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Eh, there are certainly some services or industries where the culture of the organization is relevant to clients/potential employees/other stakeholders. “Fun” doesn’t seem particularly relevant in my world, but I can imagine industries in which it absolutely could be.

      2. Gyre*

        Heh, justifying anything work-related as “fun” makes me jumpy these days – my boss tends to sell months-long work-intensive projects with dubious outcomes as “it will be fun!” to an already overworked team.

  22. Jaybeetee*

    How do we have “fragrance sensitivity so severe we’re going to dictate what products people use at home and literally smell people as they arrive at their volunteer gig” and “blasting aromatherapy around the office” in the same universe? Is awareness of the issue that lopsided?

    Also, for LW1, I feel how awkward this must be for you, but someone really should say something. If she’s stumbling and slurring around a client, that client may not assume that it’s a new medication/medical issue – they’re likely going to think she’s drinking on the job. And that doesn’t even get into the safety issues others have mentioned (stumbling and slurring don’t blend well with driving). I think if I were in that situation, and I was sure my manager wasn’t aware of it, I’d clue her in, and let her have the tough conversation.

    1. Annie Moose*

      Yes, perhaps LW3 should suggest hugging coworkers as they walk into the office to detect whether or not they’re wearing pumpkin spice perfume…


  23. Roscoe*

    #3 . I’ll be honest, until I started reading this blog, I had no idea people were so sensitive to smells. Maybe its just no one in my circle, or maybe they keep it to themselves. But if its giving you a headache, just mention it to them and give them a chance to stop before assuming they are inconsiderate.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      I found out a few years back when my friend had an attack. She had just moved desks and the guy in front of her apparently got a new cologne for Christmas. I was working and she came running into my cube, sat on the floor, and started stripping (just a little – sweater off but still in a shell but not the most professional look hence the sitting on the floor). She gets massive hot flashes from the scents and if it goes on long enough migraines. She stayed with me until she cooled off and the cologne smell had dissipated from her cube. The third time I went over there to sniff her neighbor asked what was up and since I have no filter I told him that his new cologne gave her hot flashes. Since he is a generally good guy he felt bad and went to the onsite locker rooms and washed some of it away and never wore it again. She made him some cookies as a thank you and I got smacked upside the head for laughing my ass off at her.

  24. Not your coworker*

    OP#1: I’m assuming you work in an office or other type of facility where any sort of confused/altered mental state is not a safety hazard. However, if you work in a plant or this employee has access to areas where there are heavy machinery, you absolutely have a duty to report it to either your safety coordinator or your manager. This is for your coworker’s safety and others’ safety.

    And I say this as someone who was almost killed by a guy driving a forklift after taking a similar drug but thinking “that warning about not driving or using heavy machinery doesn’t apply to me.” We found him other work while he was on the meds.

    1. NoOneInvitesMeToParties*

      As a safety officer for my company, even accidents happen in the HR/admin level, and I still have to investigate near-misses and actual accidents at that level. I would like to add that we have a mandatory drug testing policy that’s enacted whenever there is an accidental, or if there’s suspicion of the worker being under the influence EVEN IF an accident hasn’t occurred yet, and that influence does include legal prescription drugs. (Workman’s comp has a royal fit if the accident occurred because of Under The Influence, and may refuse to cover any required treatment for the injury, depending on your state and industry.)

      OP, if your coworker refuses follow up with their manager, you may want to look into what your company the safety policy is, and show it to them, a d explain the importance of following up with their manager/supervisor.

      1. Persimmons*

        we have a mandatory drug testing policy that’s enacted whenever there is an accidental

        As of 12/01/2016, OSHA ruled that blanket mandatory post-accident drug testing is in violation of the law because it can be considered retaliatory. There must be reasonable cause.

        1. NoOneInvitesMeToParties*

          State law permits for post-accident drug testing without reasonable cause if damage or insurance claims for medical expenses exceeds $1500.

  25. idi01*

    LW4: I also would try to help out even a toxic former company. But I would be concerned if they are trying to push some blame on the departed employee.

    Also, is there any legal risks if you honestly tried helping them, then things going bad with a client, and later they claiming that you sabotaged them?

  26. Corporate Lady*

    I want to suggest a slight amendment to Allyson’s advice. by just speaking to the symptoms, it sounds like a substance abuse issue and not a metal health issue. There are ways to support both – but one is more stigmatized. I’d recommend the vague statement of,” it has been shared that this is related to a medical issue that I’m not comfortable speaking to” I think this might squash some easily made assumptions and help the manager have a better lens.

    1. Bipolar Beanpole*

      It’s possible the coworker does have a substance abuse issue, but I don’t think we can conclude that from the information given. Xanax is a powerful drug, and has a lot of side effects. Bipolar disorder also can cause people to act in ways that are out of line with social norms. The bottom line is that the coworker’s behavior is affecting the team in a negative way. I think the LW should speak to the coworker first, even if it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, and encourage them to take it to HR/a manager to provide context for their symptoms. I don’t think it’s helpful to speculate though if the REAL issue is substance abuse, since that just muddies the waters.

      1. Yojo*

        I don’t think Corporate Lady is suggesting that this is substance abuse– rather, she’s saying is that if LW reports only the symptoms/behavior to her manager without any context, it’s going to sound like substance abuse rather than a medical condition.

        1. Corporate Lady*

          Yes! It could be either – but if the coworker is disclosing bipolar, I’d recommend referencing a medical issue to the supervisor. Bipolar disorder is so challenging and (for better or worse) an employer might be more supportive of a mental health issue other than a substance abuse problem (even though it’s all related)

      2. atalanta0jess*

        Substance use disorders are also medical issues. But you may be right that using that phrase wouldn’t ping “substance use” to some folks. I might still assume substance use even if it was framed in that way, but that’s probably due to my line of work, in which we all do consider SUD to be a medical issue.

  27. Environmental Compliance*

    #2 – I also intensely dislike having photos/videos of me floating about. I also intensely dislike someone taking pictures/video of me without express consent. Previous CrapJob, Crazy BossLady decided I needed to be the social media video person because “those Millennials know how to do this!!”. Or not, I went to school for ecology, not marketing, thanks, and I have a case of severe RBF that I’m sure will look real good on camera.

  28. Bipolar Beanpole*

    Person with Bipolar 1 here, who has been prescribed a whole pharmacopia of different kinds of meds over the years, and been hospitalized multiple times for mania and depression.

    I have a great deal of sympathy for the coworker in LW1’s letter, because Bipolar disorder is hard to live with. Also, benzos like Xanax are a legitimate treatment for manic episodes in certain situations, so I don’t think it’s possible to assume from the information given that the coworker is abusing illicit drugs or alcohol.

    But I also think that slurring and appearing spaced out is being impaired at work, and it would be a kindness to gently take the coworker aside and say, “Hey, I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable, but I’ve noticed that you seem a bit more spaced out than usual, and I’m not sure if you realized. I don’t want our coworkers or clients to get the wrong impression, especially since I know you mentioned that you’ve been changing up your medication lately, and I know sometimes it takes awhile to get things straightened out. Is everything ok?”

    I personally know that when my medication is working, I feel clear, present, and like I can appropriately match the energy in the room. When it’s not, I either feel frantic and like my mind is constantly racing (mania) or else completely checked out and like I have a 20 ton weight on my chest (depression). Sometimes it stops working and I have to go into the hospital to get prescribed benzos under a doctor’s supervision to get me evened out again.

    I would keep the conversation brief, emphasize the person’s quality of life over implying there’s drug abuse going on, and not go behind the coworker’s back or gossip with other employees about the coworkers medical condition. Like other commentators have pointed out, it’s possible that the coworker might not realize that their behavior has changed, so I do think saying something would be a kind thing to do, but try not to sensationalize it or imply the person is acting “crazy” or “drugged out.”

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      Not only that, but Xanax has a frequent side effect of dry mouth. Speech can be slurred just because there isn’t enough lubrication in the mouth to form the words.

    2. KR*

      I like this response and this script. Thank you for contributing and I hope your treatment is going well. I also agree with your point about impairment. If coworker is coming to work spaced out, not able to work, or slurring and it’s because they are adjusting to their doseage or the dosage is incorrect they are impaired. It’s a different impairment than if they are taking acid (lol) before their shift but it is impaired and they deserve a kind heads up in case they didn’t realize how bad/noticable it is. My dad was on very heavy pain meds growing up due to a life changing back injury (unlimited heavy opioid, sleeping pills, and muscle relaxants kind of prescription meds). He recognized after taking his evening meds or if he was having a bad pain day and needed to take more meds that he was not okay to drive, make major decisions, maybe not behaving normally, and not at his best to focus on work/ect. This doesn’t mean he was always abusing drugs or whatever but it meant that I or his close coworkers or friends needed to give him a kind heads up if he was acting differently or sometimes say, “Hey is everything ok, you are acting like x and it’s different than usual.” and he would use that information to adjust his meds or adjust his habits, not drive, ect.

    3. Bipolar Beanpole*

      One last thing I’ll add to my comment is that it *might* also be a case of sleep deprivation on top of taking Xanax contributing to the coworker’s odd behavior (although I don’t think it’s appropriate for the LW to ask too many personal medical details here, since the focus should be on finding a good outcome to make sure the team is functioning well as a group).

      If the slurring started recently, and the coworker had had a history of good performance outside of the four incidents this month, it might be possible they are having a bad period of time managing their symptoms, and hopefully this is temporary. I think it’s good to stick to a script that isn’t overly intrusive, and sticks to known facts, things that you would feel comfortable and appropriate saying to someone going through chemo, or trying to manage their lupus, for example.

  29. Katie the Fed*

    #3 – I had to out my own pregnancy before I was ready because people using air freshener in the office (and using a keurig right next to my desk all day – the smell of coffee made me violently ill). People were really understanding when I told them but I wish they’d just been considerate enough in the first place (the Keurig people get a pass – not the coconut air freshener lady)

  30. AnonyAnony*

    So I’m wondering with letter #5 if the current response being given about caring for an ill family member is sufficient. The interviewer doesn’t need (and shouldn’t want) more detail about the medical situation, but would it be helpful to then shift the conversation to why the letter writer is now looking for employment? Something along the lines of “Now that my time isn’t needed for that level of care anymore, I’m excited to get back to doing X work.” And then talk about interesting aspects of the job being interviewed for?

    I would think some interviewers might assume that a continued need to care for an ill family member could mean this candidate would have attendance issues at work. If the candidate previously couldn’t work full-time due to care taking responsibilities, has that changed sufficiently to allow the candidate to focus on work now? Or is the candidate looking to return to work due to financial reasons and will be attempting to balance full-time care taking with this job? Again, the specific details aren’t needed, but working in some language to address the fact that the situation is now different and the candidate is ready to resume focus on work. This, of course, assumes that the care taking responsibilities have decreased significantly or ceased altogether.

  31. JustMePatrick*

    #4. Had a co-work move on from to another job. After he left Job #2 for Job #3, Job #2 (Though I don’t know if they had a toxic environment) Kept contacting him. Story I heard is said he would do it if he got paid for it at a rate 2 to 10 times what has getting paid previously. OP #2, If they were to contact you again send them a Contract that any work you do would have to be paid an hourly rate of something like $100 bucks and hour ore more. You set the terms however you want.

    What your really doing is attempting to scare them off with the cost, but if they’re willing to pay you a crap load of money to do it and you have the time., why not. You set the terms, they want you not you wanting them. Be very detached.

  32. Belle*

    #2 – what if you are in a job, say sales, and the company wants to put your picture on the website (for people to contact you about the products) but you hate having your picture taken. Can you object if you don’t have a religious or stalker type reason – just that you hate having your picture taken. I have a friend that was required to have their picture put up because they said it was required for the position. So I am just curious if they would have had another way to opt out (other than to just say they prefer not to).

    1. ambpersand*

      Considering the position is in sales and that sort of role is customer-facing, probably not. In the world of AI and automated chat bots, companies want their customers to know that they’re contacting real people who will help them in a way that an automated system can’t, and sometimes that means putting a face to a name.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Yeah, I think that having your picture on the website of your organization is a basic and reasonable requirement of a lot of jobs. If there’s a specific reason that you can’t be photographed, it’s fine to bring that up, but “I don’t like to be photographed” doesn’t rise to that level (just as “I don’t like using Microsoft products” or “I don’t like sitting in a cube without a window” don’t mean you get to opt out of those requirements).

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Every job I’ve had, for starters.

          It’s very typical in the nonprofit sector to display photographs and bios of most or all employees on the website (or sometimes only employees who do programmatic work, as opposed to accounting or IT or other background work).

          I imagine the reasoning is to help clients or program participants feel more comfortable with the organization.

          1. Blue Anne*

            I don’t have experience working in the nonprofit sector, only using various services, so okay. I am trying to remember if I’ve ever looked up bios for people I’d be meeting at the various nonprofits whose services I’ve used and coming up blank, but eh.

            I can’t think of any job in the private sector where it would be basic. (So, every job I’ve had vs every job you’ve had.) Maybe therapy? I do like to get a feel for a therapist before I meet them. I’ve only been asked to have my photo on the website at two jobs and refused both times just because I don’t like it. Not a problem.

            I think for most jobs there’s a big difference between “I don’t like to be photographed” and “I don’t like using Microsoft office products”.

  33. Belle*

    #2 – what if you are in a job, say sales, and the company wants to put your picture on the website (for people to contact you about the products) but you hate having your picture taken. Can you object if you don’t have a religious or stalker type reason – just that you hate having your picture taken? I have a friend that was required to have their picture put up because they said it was required for the position. So I am just curious if they would have had another way to opt out (other than to just say they prefer not to).

  34. puppies*

    For #2 – It’s totally valid to not want your photo or likeness used for any reason, and I know a lot of these comments (about ruining the pics so they can’t be used) are sort of joking, but I just want to remind people that the social media person is a human with feelings and they were hired to do a job. Again, totally valid to not want to be photographed or filmed and your company shouldn’t require this, but there’s no need to show the social media person any disdain or hostility either. This isn’t directed at OP – they asked a valid question, but just a reminder to everyone piling implying that the social media person is a huge nuisance that they are just trying to do their job. Can you tell I have done some social media for my company haha?

    1. ambpersand*

      Also, it’s so much better to just TELL someone you don’t want to be photographed or filmed rather than to wait and try to ruin the footage… Someone has to spend a lot of time going through that content, and it’s 10x better to know NOT to take a photo and find a new shot rather than to waste time reviewing pictures or video just to find out that someone has ruined the product that they needed.

      1. ambpersand*

        I think the problem, though, is the assumption that the marketing team or the social media manager is going to ignore OP’s wishes (or rather, that’s the default assumption for all of these scenarios) when in reality she hadn’t even brought up the issue with her own manager or the SMM yet. Is it really necessary to go from “I don’t want my likeness posted online” straight to “you should sabotage the footage!” or “get your legal department involved” when the first step is actually to just talk to someone like they’re a human being?

      2. puppies*

        Why wouldn’t a professional take no for an answer? If they don’t take no for an answer, then escalate. But otherwise, why not just assume the social media person is a human being just trying to do their job like everyone else?

    2. Millennial Manager of Millennials*

      Agreed! I also wanted to point out that if you approach me and say you don’t want to be on camera I will respect that! I will probably continue to film/take photos (since that’s my job) but I will make a mental note to not use the photos Jane happens to be in or frame it in such a way that she’s not in frame or easy to crop out. A lot of these responses seem a little aggressive to me, especially if the photographer has no idea that the OP doesn’t want to be on camera. And I don’t think the OP even needs to go into why. I’d accept “Please don’t include me the photos, I was running late and didn’t brush my hair” just as easily as “I’ve had stalking problems in the past and would prefer not to be used in media.” That said, I think a person trained in media and consent will not pushback on complying with you whereas someone who has been appointed social media manager just because they like Instagram may have less respect for your wishes.

      1. puppies*

        Yes! I usually only took posed photos anyway (management preferred that), and so it would be:”hey can I take a pic of the three of you?” replied with: “No sorry I don’t want to be photographed.” And that would be totally fine with me. No explanation is even necessary! These were all people I worked with and was friendly with so there were no hard feelings.

  35. Master Bean Counter*

    #1. As a manager I would be pissed if one of my employers were impaired on a regular basis and nobody told me about it. There are thing I can do as a manager to make everybody’s life easier in this situation.
    #3. One effective way to cut that out is to have an allergic reaction so severe that you go home for the rest of the day to recover. After that all the people in the office will be asking you before they fire up any sort of scent producing anything. Not that I recommend this approach. It took a while for things to stop hurting from all the coughing.

  36. BigSigh*

    I’ve got a question along the lines of #3. I’m scent-sensitive. I get headaches, continuous sneezes, watery or itchy eyes, and it can even get hard to breathe.

    What about a scent that doesn’t cause any of the above…and I just don’t like the smell. I know some of my coworkers wear fragrances, and catch the occasional whiff. I let it go because it’s faint and infrequent. But I’ve got one coworker who I’ve started spending more time with and he wears cologne every day. It’s strong enough that I dislike sitting near him. I don’t have any of my normal problems related to scent sensitivity (like headaches or itchy eyes), but do find the smell pungent.

    In this instance, is it still alright to ask him to put it on a bit lighter or no, because it’s not actively hurting me? Complicating the matter, he’s started to request joining me and my team for social events outside the office. I don’t want to sit next to him at the bar/dinner/car ride for another few hours and smell it.

    1. SusanIvanova*

      You could ask – it can’t hurt.

      Like most choirs, mine is scent-free. Our very delightful retired English prof was absolutely appalled to realize that the slight but annoying new floral smell came from her. The lotion she’d been using for years had changed formulation from something that faded quickly to something still noticeable to tightly-packed singers hours after she’d put it on.

    2. Myla Mynderbynder*

      When I was a young attorney, just starting out at a large law firm, an older secretary decided to stop by my office one night when I was working late to tell me how awful she thought the perfume I was wearing was. She actually made gagging gestures, and told me how she couldn’t take even sharing a bathroom with me or couldn’t even walk into my office. She then mentioned that normally she’d go by HR but she figured I would understand if she came to me in person.

      Her delivery was so offensive and unnecessarily hurtful that I dropped a letter to HR about the kerfuffle and said secretary was terminated about three weeks later due to apparently having attempted to bully other young female attorneys about the same issue. I never wear perfume anymore, but I still get mad thinking about how rude THAT was.

      Something to think about and why I disagree with the advice to go to the person first in the letter above. I would’ve been so much more receptive to an anonymous complaint rather than being made to feel I’d been prancing about the office leaving everyone is some sort of Pigpen perfume wake. I think anything to do with personal hygiene is wayyyyyy too personal for firsthand complaining.

  37. KR*

    Also to comment on the first question with a possibly helpful anecdote… My good friend is going through IVF and the hormones are making her act much different than usual at work and home. In this case both myself and her coworkers said, “Hey this has never happened to you before since I’ve known you, could it be IVF?” She willing has told us she is going through it and shares her progress with us so it was ok to check in and ask. Since the coworker has announced they are on different meds and what ailment they are suffering from, I think it’s acceptable completly to check in kindly.

    1. Close Bracket*

      There was a letter here where a coworker was constantly complaining about the LW’s smell, and it turned out that the coworker was pregnant but didn’t know it yet (I don’t think IVF was involved). The thing about all things pregnancy related is that they are sensitive topics. Asking whether someone is pregnant is invasive enough. Asking whether someone is going through IVF is an extra level of invasive on top of that. I would stick with, “Hey this has never happened to you before since I’ve known you, is anything new going on with you?”

  38. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    It sounds like OP2 hasn’t told anyone that she doesn’t want to be included. This could be as easy as saying “Oh, no thanks, I don’t want to be in the videos.” There’s no need to be stressed out or angry about it before even taking that step.

    1. Triple Anon*

      Yes. But I think she’s right to be strategic about it. Some companies really try to pressure people into being included in those kinds of things. In that kind of situation, it helps to carefully choose who to talk to and what to say.

  39. LurkieLoo*

    OP5 – Just don’t go into it in great detail as your example of a difficult situation and what you learned. Especially don’t also then spin it as your greatest accomplishment.

  40. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#2: Did you previously sign any sort of agreement or consent that permits your employer to use your likeness for marketing purposes? In some industries, this type of consent may be embedded in a typical confidentiality agreement that employees sign as part of their employment.

    When my employer went social-media-happy with the candid photos and videos, I approached the Legal Dept and told them that I did not want my photo, especially candid photos that I was not even aware were being taken, used for social media purposes and published on the internet for world-wide consumption. I also pointed out that the company was posting photos of work events that included non-employee third parties (including children), without obtaining any permission from those third parties. I told the Legal Department that the company should obtain written consent from employees for this purpose. And they listened. And a consent was circulated to all employees, which included a “No, I do not consent” option. I still take the extra precaution of not allowing my picture to be taken, and not volunteering/posing for pictures.

    1. Triple Anon*

      Thank goodness. They were really opening a can of worms by filming children at outside-of-work events.

  41. melissa*

    what about having to sign a release for a company video posted on social media ? You’re not there as a civilian, you’re there as an employee. I would think that there is some legal issue here and if your company has a legal department, ask.

  42. Triple Anon*

    #1 – I would bring it up as being concerned for the co-worker’s overall safety and well being, and mention that you have reason to believe that it’s related to a medical condition. I empathize with everyone involved. That must be tough.

    #2 – Outside of work, you have to sign a release to be filmed or photographed if it’s not in a public area. I don’t know the exact laws. Maybe it matters if it’s for commercial use or not? But there are circumstances when you can ask for your image to be blurred out or not used because you didn’t sign a release for it. That’s why there are so many blurry faced people on certain kinds of reality / documentary type shows.

    Anyway, I would look at that angle. The laws might be national, not local. People who work in TV, film, journalism, photography, modeling, etc tend to know about that stuff. You could check professional resources for those fields.

    But I think you’d have a good chance of getting out of it just by telling your boss or HR that you’re dealing with a stalking situation. Regardless of what kind of people they are (understanding or not), it would be easier for them not to film you than to get involved in that kind of thing.

  43. Myla MynderBynder*

    When I was a young attorney, just starting out at a large law firm, an older secretary decided to stop by my office one night when I was working late to tell me how awful she thought the perfume I was wearing was. She actually made gagging gestures, and told me how she couldn’t take even sharing a bathroom with me or couldn’t even walk into my office. She then mentioned that normally she’d go by HR but she figured I would understand if she came to me in person.

    Her delivery was so offensive and unnecessarily hurtful that I dropped a letter to HR about the kerfuffle and said secretary was terminated about three weeks later due to apparently having attempted to bully other young female attorneys about the same issue. I never wear perfume anymore, but I still get mad thinking about how rude THAT was.

    Something to think about and why I disagree with the advice to go to the person first.

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