my coworker is blaming someone else for an anonymous complaint I made, dress code changes, and more

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

1. Dress code changes with little notice

My work has one major, face-to-face-with-clients event for one week a year. 51 weeks of the year the dress code is jeans and company t-shirts. This one week is dressier, probably closest to business casual with the women wearing nice dresses, or slacks and blouses, as each woman chooses for herself. For five years, I’ve chosen dresses and have built up a small set of classy dresses in the company’s color scheme without dropping major cash all at once.

This year’s event is 16 days away, and today I heard through a coworker that the dress code is changing and we’re expected to wear all slacks and blouses, in company colors, with the hint, but not the demand, that we’re to match with each other. I’m furious. I don’t have seven days worth of dress slacks and blouses because that had not been required in my regular work attire, was not required for the annual event, and is not part of my street clothes closet.

I get it — the boss can set the dress code and I’m fine with what is expected to be worn, just not the amount of time I was given. Am I out of line to ask for a clothing allowance, or the company card for an afternoon of shopping? I do have the funds, but pardon me for having other plans for that couple hundred dollars I will now be spending on slacks and blouses I will not wear 98.07% of the year. My coworkers seem okay with the change as they have some slacks/blouses and will fill in with a couple of new pieces.

I will talk to the boss but I want to come down off my wall first. I otherwise love my job (and its very casual and comfortable dress code) and the boss is a true human being that values his staff, the compensation is above fair, as is the vacation time, so I don’t want to make a mountain out of nothing where I’ve otherwise got a good deal, but I do feel put out. Is that justified?

You’re absolutely justified to feel put out by the short notice. But it’s pretty unlikely that this is going to end with the company buying you new clothes. That’s just not something that normally happens.

Before you get too put out, though, talk to your boss. You haven’t heard this officially yet and your coworker may be wrong. So first confirm it with your boss and if it turns out it’s true, then say this: “Is there any flexibility on that? I have dresses that will work, but if the requirement is pants and shirts in company colors, I’d need to buy a week’s worth of new clothes, and I don’t have the budget to do that right now. I’d be glad to wear dresses that will match the color scheme.” If you’re pushed to do it anyway, you can say, “It’s really not possible for me financially, unless the company will cover the expense. Given that, what would you like me to do?”

If your company won’t budge, you might be able to do this on the cheap by going to consignment stores or even borrowing from similarly-sized friends. But have the conversation with your boss first, as it may not have occurred to them that they’re asking something that might not be easy for everyone to accommodate.

2. I made an anonymous complaint about a coworker and she’s blaming someone else for it

I work in a fairly toxic environment in the financial sector. Within the team are three women who are very close friends and have created a cliquish and gossipy environment. One of the girls in particular, “Jane,” has also made several racist comments that I find unacceptable. I unfortunately have an extremely incompetent manager who avoids difficult conversations at all costs, so although I have raised it with him previously, he disagrees that there is an issue and hasn’t corrected Jane’s behavior at all. I have challenged some of her comments at the time, but this often results in retaliation and I suffer from anxiety, so I’m ashamed to say I do often stay quiet for an easy life.

Recently, Jane made a racist comment that completely crossed the line in front of our team and two VIP visitors. My employer has a dedicated whistleblower line and I decided to call them and anonymously report this incident. They were appalled and agreed that this needed to be acted on, and said they would forward my complaint to HR. Our HR department then contacted my manager, who took my coworker to one side, told her about the complaint, asked her to “tone it down,” and considered the matter closed. I know this because since it happened a few weeks ago, she has been livid and loudly discusses it with everyone.

While she is now being careful not to say anything racially charged, she and her two friends have decided for some reason that they know who complained — and it’s not me. They are blaming our other coworker, “Sarah.” Their behavior towards her is borderline bullying — ignoring her or talking over her, calling her names behind her back and on social media, and generally making her work life as miserable as they can. She has told them she didn’t make the complaint, but they don’t believe her. Our manager has been witness to some of this and has turned a blind eye to it.

I am actively job-hunting to escape this, but in the meantime I feel very guilty that Sarah is dealing with the repercussions of my complaint and I don’t know how to fix it without admitting that I’m really the culprit. I know I’m a coward, but I can’t bear the thought of turning their bullying attentions onto me; I am already taking medication for my anxiety and if they knew I was the anonymous complainer, I think they would badly affect my health. Between my terrible manager and having already utilized the whistleblower line, I feel like I’ve already exhausted all my options. How do I fix the situation I’ve accidentally put my coworker in?

Go back to either the whistleblower line or HR — because retaliating against someone for making a good faith complaint of harassment or discrimination is illegal, and your company could be legally liable for allowing these employees to retaliate against the person they believe made the complaint. (And it’s ridiculous that your manager knows this is happening and is saying nothing. He sucks.) So go back and explain what’s happening. Make sure you use the words “engaging in retaliation for a good-faith report of harassment, which I believe is illegal and opens the company to legal liability.” You should also mention that your manager knows all this and has done nothing.

Your company has a legal obligation to shut this down. And if they do, but the behavior just goes underground (like if it’s still there but they’re being more careful about not doing it around your manager, for example), go back to them again. They can’t act on what they don’t know about, and they’d want to know about this.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. My manager says I have to clean up my desk before she’ll approve more vacation days

My manager is also the HR person where I work. I have been with this company for 11 years and lately she has been questioning the state of my desk, which isn’t any worse then the desks of the other three people in the office. I have been taking Mondays off using my vacation days, and this last week she has decided to not approve my request for the next two Mondays off. The “hook” she has attached to approving it is that my desk is a mess and she won’t let me have the days off until I clean it up. She has gone off in other years about too many staples and paper clips off the floor, just to name a few things that she focuses on. My reviews are very good and my attendance missing almost no days. The other people in my office don’t receive this “extra attention” at all.

I would just clean up your desk. Maybe she’s singling you out unfairly or maybe your desk really does seem worse than other people’s, or maybe it matters more in your job for some reason (like if more people meet with you or people need to retrieve items from your area more often, or maybe your work seems less organized than other people’s and she’s guessing the mess is part of the reason why). But regardless, she’s made it clear that she’d like you to clean up your desk, and you need to do that before she’ll continue approving Mondays off for you. Why not just clean up your space?

I’d feel differently about this if you had an organizational system that worked for you that involved stacks of paper on your desk that she was categorizing as “mess.” But if she’s talking about things like trash on the floor … the easiest path here is to just clean it up.

4. My employer wanted a doctor’s note before accepting that I, a man, am my kids’ primary caretaker

My wife and I have one child and a second due via surrogacy in a few weeks. My job offers a certain amount of paid leave for all parents and longer leave for a primary caregiver. My wife has major back problems and, although she stays at home, I am the primary caregiver for the foreseeable future. In a bout of possibly over-disclosure, I informed my job of the details of this situation because my wife may later become the primary caretaker and there are some reasons why I think it would help to have my employer know that in advance. I regret my disclosure.

HR told me I could have the primary caregiver paid leave if we established with a doctor’s note–that would have to be updated during my leave–that my wife was unable to be the primary caregiver. That seems fundamentally problematic. It seems to me it’s up to us to decide who does the primary caretaking of our child. If my wife were perfectly healthy and we decided that she would watch TV all day and I would work AND be the primary caretaker of our child (probably with the help of a nanny), I think we could do that (although we would not actually do so).

My sense was this was entirely a gender-based issue and if a woman had made an identical request it would have resulted in a different response. Do you think I’m missing something here? My employer ultimately relented, but I’m trying to see their initial response in the best possible light.

Yeah, I would bet money that was gender-based. It would be interesting to know if your company routinely asks women who are taking parental leave for doctor’s notes saying that their husbands are unable to be the primary caretaker. Assuming they don’t — and I strongly doubt they do — this was about you being a man and not fitting their ideas of who stays home with kids. It’s gross, and it’s good that you pushed back.

5. How to follow up with my boss about turning my internship into a full-time position

I’ve been working as an intern at a large consulting firm this summer that has already been extended into the fall (I’m graduating in June 2019). A couple weeks ago, I requested a general feedback session with my boss, which was overall glowing, and asked if there would be a full-time spot for me post-graduation. Her answer was a resounding yes (yay!), and she told me we would work out the details when her boss gets back from vacation in about a week. My boss and her boss are both very busy and I assume that this has fallen off their radar, but I would love to get the details ironed out and signed within the next couple months so I can relax my senior year. When and how should I bring up my offer again without sounding greedy or pushy?

Wait a couple of weeks after your boss’s boss is back (since she’ll likely have higher priorities waiting for her). But after a couple of weeks, it would be fine to say your boss, “I wanted to follow up with you about the full-time spot we were talking about for after I graduate. I’m really excited about moving forward with it, and I wondered if you think it’s something we’d be able to iron out in the next month or so, or if there’s a different timeline I should have in my head?”

{ 680 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    OP #2, when you follow AAM’s advice, it is not only a good idea to tell HR/the whistleblower line about your manager’s conduct – it is essential that you do so. A manager knowing about and permitting this behavior is putting the company at risk in a way that Jane by herself would not be.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes. Frankly, I think the manager should be fired, although demoted would be an ok compromise. It’s a huge dereliction of duty to avoid addressing racist statements because you don’t like difficult conversations. If you can’t have a difficult conversation about something this basic, then don’t become a manager.

      In addition to the retaliation concerns (which are huge and definitely open the employer up to legal risk), you’re also not allowed to try to suss out who the whistleblower is. OP’s manager’s failure to intervene in (1) the effort to “out” the whistleblower, and (2) shutting down the retaliatory behavior is exactly what’s going to create legal liability for the employer.

      1. Annoyed*

        The manager sucks.

        I don’t like confrontation/difficult conversations either but my reaction to racist language is immediate termination.

        Of course the manager might not have that unilateral authority, but she should be doing *something* or not be a manager.

        You’re the manager…your personal level of comfort with conversations comes in behind actually you know…managing.

        1. Annonymouse*

          There is also uncomfortable conversations (Jane, your clothes aren’t business wear appropriate. Fergus you had a piece of spinach in your teeth during the presentation)

          And stuff you shut down right away or fail as a human. (racism, bullying etc)

          Not picking on you, OP. You’ve tried but ultimately as it is happening at work it is your boss that has to set the boundaries and consequences.

          But not doing anything, wether they mean to or not, they are saying that not only is it ok to act that way but they approve.

        2. NW Mossy*

          And as a manager, overtly racist comments (in front of important visitors!) can be much easier to deal with swiftly because they’re so obviously beyond the pale that you’re highly likely to have the full backing of your leadership and HR in taking decisive action. More subjective criticism can require more case-building on the manager’s part, but this is easy.

      2. Jadelyn*

        I’m leaning toward firing the manager, myself. Someone who lacks the spine to address something as huge as racist behavior in their team, or retaliation for complaining about that behavior – or even just bullying, even if it weren’t retaliatory – is not an employee I would want to have at my organization, at all. What else will you roll over and let someone get away with in order to avoid conflict? Or, worse, maybe the manager agreed with the racist remarks and didn’t want to address them because of that, in which case, is it possible to fire someone twice?

    2. Woodswoman*

      Agreed. OP, if you are hesitant to out yourself in person to HR, you can call the anonymous hotline–especially since the employer took the first anonymous call seriously, it sounds like they would respond swiftly. This is is important since harassing a whistleblower is illegal. And I imagine it couldn’t make things any worse for your co-worker Sarah who’s in the crossfire.

      1. Temperance*

        I think that you’re conflating the company’s use of the word “whistleblower” with the government definition. LW may not be legally protected for reporting her rude, racist coworker, even though she did so to the company’s “whistleblower” number. This is very fact specific when it comes to federal law.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          She very well may be protected. EEO laws protect workers against retaliation for reporting potential violations of employment discrimination and harassment, and making a complaint to the company about someone’s grossly racist remarks certainly should be covered.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          She’s likely protected from the retaliation, though, under Title VII. Reporting racist conduct that affects the workplace (especially because it was verified/validated) brings her complaint under Title VII’s protections (and in most cases, any parallel state protections).

        3. OP No. 4*

          I am the letter writer here – something I now realise I never mentioned is that I’m in the UK, so I’m not sure how the laws over here apply to this situation.

          1. Colin*

            Whistleblowing is a more specific thing in the UK that’s aimed more at things like criminal fraud, and it doesn’t generally cover harassment or discrimination. However, discrimination generally comes under the Equality Act, and that does specifically protect “victimisation” (see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents, especially section 27). IANAL, though, and if you end up relying on this you should absolutely consult one.

            Still, it’s a good sign that your org took the first anonymous approach seriously, so I’d definitely try a second anonymous approach before digging into the details of your legal protection.

    3. AKchic*

      Manager should be fired. The manager should have been put on notice as soon as HR was notified of the initial incident (knowing that Jane had been making comments like this previously and the manager brushed everything off, and continued to allow her to talk like that *emboldened* her behavior, which is why a report was made).

      Now she has escalated, which resulted in the report. Manager should be on notice. Manager isn’t doing their job. Jane and clique are bullying who they think reported. That is wrong on so many levels and Manager *knows* it’s happening and isn’t shutting it down. Manager fails at managing, therefore cannot manage. Cannot do job, should not have job. Whoops, no job for Manager. Buh-byeeee. Jane, having opened up a liability for the company and having been spoken to already and ineffectively counseled would no longer get warnings. Out the door.
      Rest of the clique would get severe final warnings. Not a toe out of line. Not a single scintilla of a hint of trying for any kind of retribution on behalf of Jane or yourselves. Be good humans or go elsewhere. And yes, mandatory sensitivity training. Should have happened after that reported incident, but now it needs to happen. Plus whistleblower training, harassment training, and diversity training.

    4. Gypo Nolan*

      I think OP#2 needs to grow up and acknowledge that she is the person who raised the complaint. It’s utterly unfair of her to stand by
      and let this other employee suffer the consequences of your action. It’s as bad as allowing someone else to be arrested for a crime you’ve committed; actually it’s worse because in this case you’ve done the right thing! You had to have known that it was a distinct possibility the racist employee would react in this manner. If you weren’t prepared or willing to face the consequences, you shouldn’t have lodged the complaint in the first place. Doing the right thing trumps your unwillingness to endure a little extra “anxiety.” Man up!

      1. Ally*

        No one should have to “man up” (problematic phrase, BTW) after using an anonymous resource to report real problems. The issue should be taken care of through management and the offending coworkers should change their behavior. The other coworkers are at fault here, not the person reporting very real problems.

        Admittedly, that’s not always how it works in the real world, but it’s not the OP’s responsibility to fix everything here.

      2. Ego Chamber*

        Wow. No. Absolutely not. GTFO with that.

        There shouldn’t be any expected consequences of reporting -ist behaviors in the workplace, other than those behaviors being stopped. LW2’s manager is the one who sh#t the bed here, by not shutting the comments down in the first place, not shutting the comments down after they were reported to him from the hotline, and not shutting down the retaliation that’s taking place now.

        “If you weren’t prepared or willing to face the consequences, you shouldn’t have lodged the complaint in the first place.”

        This is… probably the most problematic thing you said, in a whole sea of problematic things. Rather than blaming the person who made the racist comment, or the person who has the power to address the issue but chose not to, you’re blaming the person who reported it. My dude, there is literally no scenario where retaliation for reporting something that should not be happening is the fault of the person reporting it.

        Btw—Your username has racist connotations.

  2. Greg NY*

    #3: Asking you to clean up your desk is reasonable. Treating you worse than the others who, from what was said in the letter, are just as messy, is unreasonable (unless it’s indeed true, as Alison says, that there are other factors unique to you compared to them). While I would definitely clean up your desk and not push back on it (the best solution is to have four clean desks, not four messy ones), I would ask why you are being singled out. I would normally let this one thing go and just clean it up, but if she’s coming after you and not the three others, and she’s threatening to not approve more vacation days until you clean up, there’s definitely something going on beyond just the condition of your desk and you need to know what it is. If she was treating all four of you the same way, I would say she’s strange, but singling you out means most likely something deeper is going on.

    1. Sapphire*

      It reminds me of something that happened at ToxicJob where my boss sent me several emails after hours on Friday night telling me my desk was too messy and to clean it up (again, no messier than my coworkers’ desks). I came in on Monday morning to find that she had taken it upon herself to clean my desk, and I found yet another angry email from her about it.

      1. Julia*

        That sounds like my mother when I was a teenager. Not sure how I’d react if the same thing happened at work.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          The covert message is “I don’t trust you to do it if I just ask so I have to withhold something of value to make sure you clean your desk.”

          I’d grade the message delivery on this one as an F minus.

          She could have just said to everyone, “Everyone needs to clean up their areas, it’s a safety issue. Staples could end up in someone’s shoe or foot and paper clips jam the cleaner’s vacuum.”
          The other important thing is to allow time for cleaning to be done. A manager cannot hit their employees with a list of 30 things to do Right Now and sincerely expect their work areas to look tidy. It may not work for your group for various reasons, but I used to declare the last 15 minutes of work on a Friday as clean up time. Just stop and pick up stuff. This worked out very well as clean up time became associated with going home for the weekend. On Monday the areas were neat and welcoming rather than messy and burdensome. It made a big difference psychologically on Monday morning.
          Currently, I clean up my space at the end of the week. I had not been at the job long and my boss noticed and commented that I kept my desk picked up and the desk was usable. (She has to use my desk from time to time.) I really didn’t do it for seeking approval, I did it so Monday would be easier on me.

          1. Mobuy*

            Maybe the manager’s message is not covert at all. It sounds like she has asked before and not been listened to, so in desperation she is doing just whay you said, withholding something of value because otherwise it won’t get done.

          2. Snark*

            “She could have just said to everyone, “Everyone needs to clean up their areas, it’s a safety issue. Staples could end up in someone’s shoe or foot and paper clips jam the cleaner’s vacuum.””

            I mean, I agree that the presentation is F-, but I guess I can understand a level of exasperation with an adult human being who has to have those facts pointed out to them to convince them to keep a reasonably orderly workplace. I get that some people have different levels of comfort with clutter, but there’s a difference between “not how I would organize and maintain my workspace” and “actively dangerous and gross to the point that one couldn’t walk in barefoot.” I know, some people are pilers and that’s how they organize things, and I grok that, but there’s a line.

            1. Jadelyn*

              I think this is a good distinction. I was originally sympathizing with the OP simply because I’m a piler and have had Words with my grandboss, who hates seeing stacks of paper, about him “tidying up” my desk while I was on vacation to the point where I couldn’t find anything and had to re-sort everything that I’d previously had organized in a way that worked for me. (I bought a bag of huge rubber bands, and now I rubber-band the individual stacks to keep them separated from each other and hide them in one of my desk drawers when I’m going to be out of the office, so he doesn’t get tempted to try to “organize” my desk again.)

              But the bit about paperclips and staples on the floor makes me think maybe this is about actual messiness, not just disorganization (or perceived disorganization), and at that point I understand the manager being frustrated that they have to tell someone to do basic things like “keep the floor clear of debris”. And if someone is failing to do that kind of thing, then yeah, I can understand withholding something they value in order to get them to understand that this is not a request they can ignore.

          3. Lew*

            In other contexts there’s a strong feeling that group announcements (“Everyone needs to clean…”) are a poor management choice when only one employee is the problem. Speak to the problematic employee directly is the usual advice.

        2. Les G*

          Fair enough, but the OP will come across as worse than a petulant teenager if she refuses this eminently reasonable request.

        3. Sapphire*

          Yeah, I was not pleased about it. That manager resigned very soon after that, and I now work at a much better company with a manager who treats me like a competent adult.

      1. Kathleen_A*

        Or maybe her desk really is messier than the others. I keep a pretty messy desk myself, but it just doesn’t look that messy to me. We messy people aren’t always the best judges of what is and isn’t messy.

        I don’t like that the manager is withholding vacation days in retaliation…but I also don’t like that the OP is reacting to a legitimate complaint from her manager (staples on the *floor*?) by stonewalling. Just clean up the darn desk – and pick up those staples and paperclips, for goodness’ sake.

        1. Tardigrade*

          Agreed. Withholding vacation days seems infantilizing, but then not cleaning up your desk after the manager questions it seems a bit juvenile or at least a bit stubborn. I’m guessing both behaviors are feeding on one another.

        2. Washi*

          Yeah, I was very much on OP’s side until I read that the manager is complaining about trash on the floor, which OP does not dispute. Whether or not she’s addressing it with the other coworker and whether she is handling this in the best possible way, that is a legitimate complaint, and a really easy thing to fix. Maybe it’s dumb, but if you want your Mondays off, take 5 minutes and pick up the trash off the floor.

          1. Yojo*

            I have to wonder if the manager has already tried to simply request a clean-up unsuccessfully.

            If that’s the case, I kind of understand using the leverage she has to get results.

            1. the gold digger*

              Possible. My husband complains that I poke him so hard to stop him from snoring. I have to remind him that if I have escalated to really hard poking, it’s because he has ignored the gentle taps I started with when he first woke me up.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            It says that the manager has gone off about trash on the floor, but it doesn’t specify if this was directed at everyone or the OP specifically, or that it’s a general problem and not one that is peculiar to the OP. This sounds like either a patronizing or a really frustrated attempt by the manager to get the OP to clean up her space, but the OP might be bringing it on herself if she is, in fact, messier than other people. The manager won’t come down on other employees, of course, if they’re not doing anything that requires her to do so.

          3. Jen S. 2.0*

            This was my thought as well. I strongly suspect the LW’s area is really, really bad, and s/he is just not that great a judge of it (like, maybe LW’s coworkers leave books and papers around, but LW is lazy about cleaning up food leftovers and doesn’t get the distinction). I know we are asked to believe letter writers, but I raise an eyebrow at anyone who is digging in their heels about picking up trash on the floor at work, and pointing around at the rest of the mess to justify it.

            1. Messy But I Know It*

              I would bet a dollar OP’s desk is messier than her coworkers’ desks, and she just doesn’t realize it. Mess doesn’t seem to bother OP (she is annoyed because her boss doesn’t want people leaving trash on the floor!) so she should just accept that she isn’t a good judge of how messy a work area is.

            2. Jen S. 2.0*

              Agreed. At this point, frankly, it sounds like LW needs to clean up her office no matter the reason or state of the rest of the place. However you slice it, the boss is irritated about LW’s work area.

        3. Specialk9*

          If they’re bent over staples, that’s not really that big a deal. If they’re poke-side-out, yeah not cool.

          1. Kathleen_A*

            Even as a messy person, I cannot justify leaving bits and pieces of stuff on the floor. And staples (even bent over ones) are often difficult for the vacuum cleaner to pick up.

            1. Random*

              Staples might get accidentally overlooked because they are so small. Paperclips are a different story. Maybe it is just me but I find myself immediately picking those up if I know I have dropped one or if I happen to see one on the floor.

        4. PepperVL*

          Depending on how messy the desk is, though, it could be relevant. If people covering for her have trouble locating things or using her space when needed to do her work, then it does need to be cleaned up before she gets another vacation day. Her colleagues are already doing extra work when she’s out, she should make it as easy as possible on them.

        5. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, I was thinking that maybe OP’s desk is messier than the others and she just can’t tell because it doesn’t seem messy to her.

          But here’s the thing: my desk at home is very cluttered and I don’t really use it except to stack papers that I should file. I hate cleaning it because cleaning it means that I am sacrificing valuable “at-home time” when I could be doing other things that I would much rather do. But at work, I am being paid to be at work and do work things, and I figure taking a few minutes to clean my desk counts as a work thing, so my desk is quite neat. OP, it might take more than a few minutes if your desk is pretty messy, but since you’re being paid to do it, why not spend the 30-60 minutes and get it done? Sure, you’d have to put off another project for that amount of time but since your boss is “requesting” (“ordering”) that you do it anyway, it seems like she’d be okay with that.

          1. BookishMiss*

            My desk at LastJob was objectively a nightmare, but it was an organized, clearly labeled, user friendly disaster needed entirely on my work. The others in my position had equivalently disastrous desks. Now that I have a different job, I keep my desk absolutely empty except for what I need.

            At LastJob, if my boss had instructed me to clean up my desk, I’d have asked for her input on other strategies to still be able to do my job while keeping a desk at her standards.

        6. Susana*

          Staples on the floor happen in a normal office. That’s what the cleaning crew is for – to vacuum. Yeah, keep your desk tidy. But it indeed appears there is something else going on here, if mgr is singling out one messy desker. Also – withholding contractually guaranteed PTO? That would make me look for a new job. I don’t like being treated like a child. And I do not agree that failing to clean up the desk makes one a “petulant teenager,” because parent-child is not the model for an adult work relationship. It might make the worker insubordinate, or guilty of failing to follow directives. But teenager? Nope. What is the mgr going to do next – make her sit in a corner of the break room without any lunch?

          1. bonkerballs*

            So many, many places don’t have a cleaning crew. And it’s totally a manager’s prerogative to approve or deny vacation requests.

          2. Aitch Arr*

            Unless there’s a collective bargaining agreement, we don’t have ‘contractually guaranteed PTO’ in the US.

            1. Greg NY*

              PTO once given cannot be taken away, but the manager does have the ability to determine when it can be taken (and if it isn’t granted at all, it has to be paid out). Employers don’t have to give PTO, but when they do, they can’t take away PTO that has been earned without allowing an employee to use it. “Use it or lose it” policies are only enforceable if the employee has been given a chance to use the PTO.

              This is the same for all benefits. It would be like the organization making a contribution into an employee’s 401(k) and saying at some later date “we don’t like your performance, so we’re withdrawing the company contribution”. Nope, not gonna fly.

          3. Carrie*

            I don’t think the manager is withholding PTO altogether – just saying that the OP can’t take off a *particular* day because it’s now designated as a cleaning/organizing day. This all seems completely reasonable to me.

          4. Jadelyn*

            PTO isn’t contractual, at least in the US. And even if you are guaranteed a certain amount of PTO, unless you A: actually have an employment contract, which is vanishingly rare here, and B: the contract specifically includes stipulations on USING the PTO, rather than just how much you get and how it accrues/rolls over/etc. – unless both of those conditions are met, it still wouldn’t violate any obligation on the manager’s part to deny a PTO request. Managers still get discretion over when and how their reports use PTO.

          5. Cassie the First*

            We have a facilities crew who come in 3 evenings a week to empty out the trash. I don’t know if they do any cleaning – maybe if there was a giant puddle of coffee on the tile floor, they’d wipe it up? Otherwise, mopping/sweeping the floors is not part of their regular job duty. We have to put in a special request for that.

            There are times when I go into the copy room and there are a billion staples all over the place (I guess people pull them out of the documents to make copies and cannot be bothered to toss them into the trash). I don’t get it – it cannot be that difficult to do.

        7. batman*

          I need more details on what exactly is on the desk and the floor. Staples on the floor seems like something the cleaning crew should be able to vacuum up. Paperclips on the floor seems wasteful and are something I would pick up, but those can also be vacuumed up.

          Different people have different thresholds for clutter and I don’t think it’s appropriate to criticize someone for being messy unless they are also dirty (e.g. leaving trash or old food around) or it’s impacting their work (which it definitely could be).
          But I had an ED once who hated it when his employees had messy desk and it was extremely frustrating because level of messiness is not indicative of how good an employee someone is. Different people have different work styles and I think we should be trusted to handle our jobs even if we have a little clutter on our desks.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            If it’s carpet, staples often snag and don’t vacuum up well. And there may not be a cleaning crew. I’ve worked plenty of places where there wasn’t and, yes, we were responsible for cleaning.

      2. Emily K*

        It’s also not clear to me if she has authority over anytime but LW. LW notes that she’s also the HR person, but at every job I’ve ever had, it’s the manager who approves leave for their own reports. HR’s job is just to record it/deduct it from the PTO balance, managing the administrative aspect of it but not the approval. It may be that her manager/HR rep doesn’t have the authority to deny leave to the other 3 or to ask them to clean their desks because she isn’t their manager.

    2. LCL*

      I think this has very little to do with the messy desk. The reason the desk is invoked is because it’s a convenient stick for the manager to hit the employee with. What I believe, from my past experience, is that manager is annoyed that OP is taking every Monday off. When employees take the first or last day of the week off on a regular basis, initially it can be really irritating because it feels like the employee is getting over, somehow, by working a shorter work week. If the manager was a better manager, and a better person, she would just grit her teeth and continue to approve or not approve leave based on office workload and staff availability. Not bull!@#$ like a messy desk. So yeah OP, it won’t hurt to clean up your desk, but I bet a dozen donuts it won’t solve your problem with this manager.

      1. Mia*

        Idk how much it’s playing into her boss’s motives, but I did think LW taking every Monday off is curious. Unless she has unlimited PTO or has worked out an arrangement with her boss, taking a day off every single week seems like it could create a lot of issues.

        1. Greg NY*

          One of the cardinal rules about taking any kind of planned time off is to reduce its impact on your colleagues as much as possible. I’m assuming she knows her organization and her department and is doing that. Of course, if she isn’t, the manager can explain that to her, but this manager is making it about her messy workspace.

        2. Steve*

          I’d bet half a dozen donuts OP doesn’t take many vacations, has PTO she has to burn by the end of the calendar year, and is burning it one day a week instead of taking a whole week off (either because she doesn’t want to sit around doing nothing for a week, or she thinks a whole week straight would be more disruptive to the office than one day a week for a month.)

      2. Greg NY*

        In this case, this employee could clean up their desk and the floor near their desk. What then is the manager going to say about approving her Mondays off? If there is a problem with the Mondays off, it’s better to address that right off the bat. Otherwise it would be moving the goalposts, which is infuriating.

      3. Elizabeth Jennings*

        I wondered that too. If OP has worked there 11 years they could have a good amount of PTO banked, and if they’ve already done this a few times and have already requested 2 more Mondays, that could start to add up.

        But if that’s the case, the manager needs to address that problem directly, not nag about a messy desk. If they’re also the HR rep, they’re even in a position to address it for the whole office. (We have unlimited PTO with a written policy prohibiting us from using it as a back door to a flexible schedule. If you want to take 20 days off a year, you can, but you can’t take 20 consecutive Fridays off unless you and your manager have talked about what it would mean for you to have a 4-day workweek for 4 months.)

      4. Jen S. 2.0*

        Good point. Taking every Monday off for 6-8 weeks IS a lot, even if you have the leave time for it. But agree 100% that the manager needs to address that as the issue, and then address the desk separately.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Yup.

          And on the off chance the manager DOES have a problem with the way OP uses her PTO but has decided to be an atrocious manager and invent a kinda bizarre fictional pretext for denying time off instead, then the best course of action for LW is to…. clean her desk. Which she should do anyway.

        2. LCL*

          Totally substantiated by my real life experience. Which includes approving PTO for my group, in a larger company that doesn’t normally restrict PTO if you have the leave available. My decisions are strictly based on staffing availability, not on any aspect of their work performance. And, small sample size but so far, 100% of the people I have talked to that use leave to regularly shorten their workweek can’t resist talking about how they are shortening their work week, which rubs everyone the wrong way. They are allowed to do that, but they could be more discreet in how they phrase it.

    3. Lew*

      Personally I don’t see #3’s manager as withholding something. Another interpretation is this: “Keeping a clean workspace is part of your assigned duties. When you take Monday off, it seems you don’t have time to get that task finished so I can’t approve more regular vacation time until it’s clear you’re keeping up.”

    4. Gadget Hackwrench*

      The last time someone told me to clean my desk they were clearly trying to manage me out. They had a rule that the only personal item allowed on one’s desk were a travel mug and one framed picture. This rule was very seldom actually enforced. When they told me I had to get rid of the stuff I’d had there for months it was clear they were doing it just to make me miserable. (The rule is stupid in the first place. It was a call center. No customer visibility.)

  3. Greg NY*

    #4: That’s pretty outrageous if you ask me. It reminds me of the old days in which women were automatically granted custody of children in divorce absent her abusing the children. The fact that your organization offers “primary caregiver” leave rather than simply extended maternity leave means that the leave is open to either the mother or the father, not just the mother. Until quite recently, in fact, maternity leave (if there was any parental leave at all) was all that was offered. Paid parental leave, as your organization gives, is a realization that both parents need time off to bond with and care for their new child. You shouldn’t regret disclosing this to them and you are absolutely right to push back. They have a gall to think that the primary caregiver is by default the mother. By going through this, you have learned something important about your organization, and it’s not a good something.

    1. Someone Else*

      I thought the regret was about mentioning the wife’s injury and that she may later become the primary, possibly because it made them ask more questions rather than just accepting “yup, primary, the end”.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Really the egregiousness is requiring a doctor’s note to determine who the primary caregiver is, flat out, and it’s outrageous because it sounds like it wouldn’t have applied to women (although we don’t know for sure). That’s straight up bat guano. I seriously doubt they make women provide medical documentation to establish “proof” that they undertake primary caregiving, and if they don’t, it sounds like classic gender discrimination.

      1. Observer*

        There is no way it would have applied to women. Let’s face it, most women ARE the primary care-giver even though their husband are perfectly capable of taking on the role physically. Which is to say that the default situation is not based on medical necessity, and no one in their right mind is going to insist that a couple “prove” that they have this set up because it’s not physically possible to do it otherwise. If nothing else, you could never be able to “prove” who is the primary caregiver if a couple always had to prove that one parent was not physically capable of being the primary caregiver.

        What’s happening here is that if a woman is the primary care-giver that’s normal so we don’t question it. But men “can’t” take on that role unless they “have” to. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that some couples want to do it that way for their own reasons.

        1. Susana*

          Agree – and this demand from the company is offensive to both men and women. Men, because the company assumes he can’t/doesn’t want to do it, and women, because they assume she wants to do it and has to prove why she can’t.

          There are female lawmakers on Capitol Hill whose kids’ schools *still* call them first when the kid is sick or here’s another issue. They simply can’t get away from the idea that the woman is primarily responsible, even if she’s, you know, a US SENATOR.

      2. Mad Baggins*

        How would a doctor even know? I know in this situation the doctor can verify her injury is real, but if she was just watching tv all day and OP was working and primary caregiver like he suggested, what kind of “proof” of primary caregiver status would satisfy HR? A report in crayon signed with a handprint? This is bananacrackers.

        1. Lance*

          Right? Like, what would the doctor’s note possibly have to say, or what would the doctor themself possibly have to infer, to satisfy this frankly outrageous request from the company? It doesn’t make sense from any angle but ‘we’re sexist and don’t want to approve your time off for this’.

          1. Mookie*

            Maybe they can cook up a ridiculous prescription for her: bonbons and no nappy duties. “Sorry, doctor’s orders.”

            This is a really gross thing LW and his family have been dropped in. It’s like traveling back in time. “Are you sure your husband has given you permission to open up your own bank account, Missus?”

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Of course the doctor can see inside people’s homes and know for a fact which parent does all the cooking, child care and so on. Because isn’t that how science works? /snark.

          If I were a doc I would have a field day with that one. “It’s generally accepted in the use of the word parent, that this is a person who acts as primary caregiver for those underage people in their family/household. Typically, when a child needs food or water or other things they do not ask a random neighbor down the street. They ask their parents. So one can safely assume that regardless of being a man or a woman, a person who is a parent is assumed to be the person who gives primary care to the child. In two parent homes, both people are considered primary care givers because they are equally responsible for the safety and well being of that child. Therefore, OP is a primary caregiver.”

        3. :-)*

          Not only that, but I doubt that it is legal that a doctor’s note on the wife’s injury should be given to the husband’s work. Isn’t that a breach of doctor patient confidentiality?

          I mean, I see no reason that his work should know about her situation. At all!

          1. Jadelyn*

            That, too. I have absolutely no intention of sharing my spouse’s medical conditions with my employer in any way, aside from providing the legally required form if I were to request FMLA to care for them. Just to appease an uneven enforcement of internal policy? Hell no.

          2. Ktelzbeth*

            Without the wife’s permission, it wouldn’t be legal. With her permission, it is. If the doctor gives the note to the wife and she chooses to give it to husband’s work, it is.

      3. Mookie*

        So much this. It just screams Wife Is Clearly A Defective Model (Because Deep Down All Women Want to Be SAHMs). It’s medicalizing a family’s decision on the basis of outdated models, where if you stray from expectations you must be sick.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Or going the opposite way, “Men cannot possibly take care of another person, they lack the ability to manage such a multi-faceted and complex task.” Granted it’s not the primary thing people see here, but I have heard remarks about men only being able to do one thing at a time. I think that is also biased commentary.

          There are plenty of people who multi-task well and there are plenty of people who do not multi-task well, it has nothing to do with being a man or a woman.

          1. Specialk9*

            My husband, the dad next door, and a random guy we met last week said that exact thing: “we can’t multi-task!” Studies show distinct trends along that line. It’s not biased to believe people. (It’s biased to assume everyone must follow that trend.)

            And of course men can watch kids anyway! I just don’t talk to my husband while he’s taking point with the kid, except for truly urgent things. He simply can’t process when his brain is focused elsewhere. I also have in my small inner circle two men who are primary caregivers. Their kids run to them for comfort, and run to the mom to show off something cool.

            1. batman*

              @Specialk9 – Studies show that NO ONE can multitask. Our brain isn’t designed to do it. We can switch tasks really quickly, but we still have to take some time to reorient ourselves each time we switch. For things that don’t require much thinking, this can be done quickly, but it’s still not multitasking.

            2. Mad Baggins*

              I think that is learned helplessness (not your husband, the men who claim they can’t multitask therefore they can’t watch kids). I know plenty of men and boys who can navigate a character around a 3D virtual environment while listening to a podcast and texting their friends. But somehow watching a child and doing the laundry simultaneously requires circus-level capabilities.

          2. Gloucesterina*

            Interesting, I have not heard quite that version of the “men are unable to manage human complexity” bit before! But it might justify for people who hold that type of belief why men alone are suited to doing car repair, winning Fields medals in mathematics, and being surgeons.

            1. Gloucesterina*

              All that being tongue in cheek of course! For instance, it’s hard to see how one gets by as a surgeon without working within a team, responding to multiple different situations as they arise, and, say, communicating with patients and families.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Okay that, paired with the letter, sounds like you’ve just got someone with exceedingly traditional views and a great deal of ignorance about anything beyond the “Man Make Money. Woman Keep House and Babies.” model of household management.

            Which means that’s NOT the person who should be enforcing that kind of policy. Not without some education on nontraditional families and respectful diversity and inclusion.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        No one ever asked any of me, that’s for sure!

        The subtext here is “we are not going to believe that a man can, or would want to, be a primary caregiver for his child unless his wife is literally incapacitated and he has no other choice”. That’s beyond gross.

        1. Engineer Woman*

          Actually, there’s no subtext. Literally: to grant you primary caregiver leave, please provide doctor’s note that your wife is physically incapacitated such that she cannot hold this role. (Because, of course, this role is for women)

          1. Aveline*

            It could also be, there’s a person at home and we think you are trying to scam the system.

            That’s possible. Don’t think it likely.

            Assuming it’s not sexism, but a company that has a benefit offered it really doesn’t want to pay out: point out that this looks sexist to reasonable outsiders who don’t know the people involved.

            Sometimes saying something looks sexist, racist, homophobic instead of saying that it is so gets people to adjust behavior.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Doubtful that this company demands that women taking maternity leave being a doctor’s note. That they might think a man being the primary caregiver is pulling a scam is sexist itself.

              1. Sarah N*

                I actually had to have extensive paperwork filled out by my doctor to have maternity leave at all (as a woman), I don’t think that part is actually that strange. My male coworker whose wife had a baby around the same time also had to have her doctor fill out paperwork to have his leave approved. It think this is fairly standard via FMLA, if that is the policy one is taking leave under (not sure if that is indeed the policy OP is using).

          2. Joielle*

            But I think the issue is more that OP has already said that there’s another adult at home, so the company wants to know why that adult isn’t the primary caregiver. It’s a ridiculous leave policy, to be sure – if both parents are healthy, why make them arbitrarily choose a “primary” caregiver? Especially when most modern couples are trying to make things as equal as they can. But I can see how OP’s explanation might sound shady to HR (“You’re the primary caregiver for only the length of your extended leave, and then your wife will suddenly become the primary caregiver?”).

            Yet another reason to share as little personal information about yourself as possible with HR.

            1. Steve*

              Honestly that seems like a fairly likely explanation. It’s not just that OP, a man, says he plans to take care of his kids. And that OP’s wife is going to be home but incapacitated with a “back problem” (the stereotypical fake complaint of worker’s comp/disability claims). But after OP’s leave runs out, suddenly his wife is going to get better and take over?

              Don’t get me wrong, I 100% believe OP. But I don’t have money on the line here. Even though they handled it poorly, can we really blame OP’s employer for being a bit skeptical in this situation?

            2. JxB*

              I had the exact same thought. That it was more about the fact their was a full-time parent at home already so likely seemed unusual OP#4 was asking for this extra benefit.

        2. OP#4*

          I actually don’t want to be the primary caretaker. Not that I don’t love caring for my children; it’s just that my wife and I decided we wanted the kids’ primary caretaker to stay at home until they are in school. And since I’m the main breadwinner, we want that to be my wife.

          In some ways, I think that was part of the confusion. Our CHOICE here is driven by health choices, but that isn’t necessarily the same thing as true medical necessity. But we are allowed to make that choice!

          1. aebhel*

            Unless they’re insisting that everyone provide exhaustive proof that their spouse isn’t able to act as a primary caregiver before allowing them to take advantage of a company-offered benefit (which, hey, they might, but I kinda doubt it) it kind of is egregious.

          2. Susana*

            This is parental leave. He’s a new parent. And it’s not up to the company to decide that men can;t take the time unless they prove the little woman is incapable of it. Of course it’s egregious.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It’s absolutely egregious. There’s no indication this is caregiver FMLA, even though the OP is describing it that way. Moreover, the kind of certification you need for caregiver FMLA is entirely different than parental leave, which only requires that you be a parent. You don’t need medical evidence to request FMLA parental leave, or to act as the primary caregiver for children.

            1. Ophelia*

              Exactly. AFAIK, the medical stuff re: maternity leave typically only comes into play re: making a disability claim (my office works it so that you have short-term disability with the remainder of your leave covered by FMLA).

            2. formergradstudent*

              Princess CBH– A question for you since you seem knowledgeable. I have now gone through two pregnancies, and my employer required my OBGYN to fill out FMLA paperwork in order to take maternity leave after my children were born. I asked them why, since if I were not the birth parent (say, if I were adopting a child, or if I were a man) there would be no doctor to sign off on my leave, and that would be fine. They didn’t have a good answer, other than, “Well, since you have a doctor, we ask that you please do it. It’s a CYA thing.” Any thoughts?

              1. Sarah N*

                This was also the case at my workplace. My male coworker who took parental leave at about the same time I did (his wife gave birth) also had to fill out similar paperwork, filled out by her doctor. So, the doctor signed off in both cases.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Generally, certification (i.e., a doctor’s note) is only applicable for FMLA leave taken because of a serious medical condition (e.g., complications from pregnancy, late-term pregnancy, or complications post-birth) or military parental leave.

                The Department of Labor’s FMLA Guide for Employers states (emphasis in the original):

                Employers may not request a certification for leave to bond with a healthy newborn child or a child placed for adoption or foster care. However, employers may request documentation to confirm the family relationship (see chapter 3 for information about documenting the family relationship).

                To establish or document a family relationship, an employer can, but is not required to, request that the employee provide either a statement asserting that the relationship exists, or any other vital record (e.g., birth certificate, marriage license, court document for adoption, etc.).

                Which is a long way of saying that in no circumstances can they require medical documentation, and doing so violates the FMLA. So their “CYA” move actually creates legal liability for them.

                1. formergradstudent*

                  Thank you Princess CBH! I just took a copy of the relevant pages of that Dept of Labor document to my HR department. They are reasonable and nice about things, so they received it gracefully. Hopefully this makes things just a little easier for the next person taking maternity leave. I appreciate your help.

          4. Seriously?*

            But he isn’t asking for the time off to care for his wife. The time off is to care for the baby. Unless the note is about the fact that the baby was born, it is irrelevant. I could see making them both sign a form saying that he is the primary caregiver, but that is all.

          5. OP#4*

            Yes, I think that was what was driving their thinking. But I’m not taking medical FMLA leave. I’m taking FMLA bonding leave and our policy allows 12 weeks for the primary caregiver, i.e., me.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Would it help them if you frame it as “parental/bonding leave”? Or are they truly hung up on the “primary caregiver” language? It sounds like they’re misunderstanding or misclassifying your leave, which in turn is confusing them on which standards apply under FMLA.

          6. Jadelyn*

            In an FMLA situation, that’s not egregious. But this isn’t about FMLA. They’re not requiring certification for legal compliance purposes. They’re demanding health information for a non-employee, for purposes of Because We Said So, That’s Why. And that is egregious.

    3. Michelle*

      I took it that the doctor’s note was to confirm that the other parent (who is at home) is unable to be the primary caterer because of her medical/health issues?

      I’m in Australia and we have paid parental leave for primary carers -this is defined in Legislation. Only one person can be the primary carer to be eligible for paid entitlements. So if you had both parents at home, it would not be an unusual request to ask for a medical verification to support that one parent is unable to be the primary carer. And upon this, the other parent would be entitled to paid leave.

      1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

        Yeah, I think the situation has everything to do with the fact that the wife is not employed and stays at home with their child and nothing to do with gender.

        It is unusual that OP is designated as the “primary caregiver” when all appearances indicate that the OP is employed outside the home and his wife is a stay at home mother. The job is just trying to ensure that their policy is not being taken advantage of.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          I fail to see how the wife not working is any of the husband’s employers business.

          If they *do* ask women applying for this benefit whether their partners work, I agree it’s all fair and good.

          1. valentine*

            I agree with Buffay. The OP gave the employer too many details and the employer is slotting them into their definitions whilst distrusting OP, especially if OP presented it as the primary role switching from Wife to them and included the possibility of it changing back (and forth). I don’t see why a doctor would attest to this, though.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              Yeah, I wouldn’t be impressed by my employer distrusting me, full stop.

              (Having a wife and her being ill now or in the future are not good reasons for my employer to distrust me. So I don’t see these as being “too many details”.)

          2. WS*

            In Australia, the government pays the parental leave but the employer has to apply for it; it is then paid to the employer who pays it to the staff member like a regular wage. They pay 1x longer leave for the primary carer and 1x shorter leave for the secondary carer, so you need to establish which parent is which so that you (and the other parents’ employer) don’t get investigated by the tax office for fraud. If only one parent is working (and thus only one set of leave is to be paid), you still need to establish what leave the parent working for you is taking. We recently went through this process with a staff member and there were a lot of BIG SCARY WARNINGS about establishing this correctly! A medical certificate is one way to establish the primary carer, and this sometimes occurs if the partner who gives birth planned to be the primary carer but due to medical issues with the birth or with post-natal depression is then unable to do that.

            However, I doubt this fairly clunky system is a common one around the world, so it may not be relevant to the OP.

            1. Annoyed*

              In the US anyone fortunate enough to get any paid leave, with a couple (only a couple) of exceptions, is getting it only because it is the employer’s policy.

              In no circumstance that I am aware if is the government covering the cost.

              Unless of course you take into account that some of the largest corporations pay the least taxes, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of bouillabaisse.

              1. WS*

                Yes, it’s only in the last few years that parental leave was introduced here, though our other leave policies are pretty reasonable. Part of the campaign was pointing at the US’s lack of policy and saying, “Do you want to be like them?”

                1. Specialk9*

                  That’s legit. If we act like schmucks to our own citizens, we deserve to be the one other countries try not to emulate.

            2. batman*

              This isn’t relevant to a situation in the US, though, which I guess I’m assuming the OP is. The only thing we can get in the US is 12 weeks unpaid leave. This is definitely an issue with the employer and not with the government.

              1. Greg NY*

                Even that isn’t available to a surprising number of employees. There are those that have been with their organizations less than a year, but the much bigger number is those that work in organizations too small to be subject to FMLA. More organizations than many people think are small enough to not have to comply. The FMLA law is a good start, but it’s deeply flawed.

                1. Jenn*

                  I work for a 5,000 person multinational corperation but I don’t think fmla covers me. as I work just a little too far away from a large office. The law has some bonkers carve-outs.

          3. Guacamole Bob*

            My wife (non bio parent in a same sex marriage) had to tell her employer when I was working/in school full time and when I wasn’t because of this kind of leave setup. They would only approve the longer leave as primary caregiver once I wasn’t home full time anymore.

            No doctors note required in our case, but I agree with those who say this has everything to do with the wife being home full time when OP wants to take leave. Especially if they expect her to be primary caregiver not far in the future it has the outward appearance of taking advantage of their policies.

            1. Thankful for AAM*

              I’m surprised by the situation described by guacamole Bob. Benefits from my employer are my benefits. I don’t have to say if my husband is home sick or not when I call in sick.

              Why can’t both parents take parental leave at the same time if it is a benefit offered by the employer? It is not a benefit paid by tax dollars.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                I think the way these policies came about is that employers want to provide generous benefits (something like 4 weeks for all new parents but 4 months for primary caregivers, taken any time during the child’s first year in my wife’s case), but they either anticipated or actually saw employees taking the full amount of paid leave offered when they had a spouse at home full time with the kid(s). So the employers in that situation felt like they were spending a lot of money on paying people to not come to work when they didn’t really need the leave for the purpose it was intended for.

                So they put policies in place that you can only take the full generous amount of leave if you’re the primary caregiver during that time. It cuts the employer’s costs a fair amount without making the employer look stingy – after all, employees who are primary caregivers are still getting 4 months’ paid leave.

                My wife took her leave after I went back to work, and most of her colleagues staggered leaves with their spouses, too. I’ve seen new parents make that sort of arrangement in various jobs without these policies, too. Typically I see the father take off a week or two when the baby is born, the mother take a full leave, and then the father take as much leave as whatever policies allow when the mother goes back to work. That’s why FMLA is written so that the leave can be within the child’s first year of life.

                1. ThatGirl*

                  While I can sort of understand the idea that it’s for “primary caregiving”, I also think it’s crappy to dictate how people take their leave — why shouldn’t both parents be able to bond with their baby and spend time together as a family for a month or whatever?

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  @ThatGirl. Yeah, like we are adults and are capable of figuring out how we want to use our leave. I am not impressed with business/government deciding for us. It is like management went into people homes and decided for them how to spend their time together or in this case how to spend their time separated. And the motivation is clear- employers thought they were wasting money. Nice. really nice. (not)

                3. Gadget Hackwrench*

                  Wouldn’t initial bonding with the parent who’s going to be away much of the day be pretty important to a child too? Working parent shouldn’t be a stranger to their child.

              2. CAkid*

                Interesting. My sister is a SAHM, and my BIL’s company grants 16 weeks paid for primary caregiver and 4 for secondary. (This is the US too!). Because she was not taking leave from her own job as primary care giver, he was able to take the primary leave from his employer. So if she worked, she most likely would have taken full FMLA (12 weeks – whether paid or not) so he would be considered the secondary and only get 4.

                1. Gloucesterina*

                  Cakid, this is wild! So at BIL’s company, an employee in a family with one stay-at-home adult is eligible for 16 weeks, whereas an employee in a family with two working adults may be eligible only for 4 weeks?

              3. Overeducated*

                Because it’s structured as “primary caregiver leave,” not “parental leave.” The difference is that it’s a slightly less sexist way of saying only one parent needs/gets to be home with a kid. If they both worked for the same employer, only one of them could take the time, they would not both be eligible for parental leave. It’s a little gross to require documentation if they don’t, but seems in keeping with the kind of judgment that would imagine that’s a good policy at all.

                My employer at the time I had my child had that policy, and I was like “oh, how terribly generous, 8 weeks paid for one half of a couple.” (My husband and I had the same employer up to two weeks before the baby was born; his new employer had an actual paternity leave policy, of which he only took two weeks because he was so new in the job, but that was still more than the zero he would’ve had at old employer. My current job offers no paid parental leave at all, so my rage at the time may have been displaced.)

                1. Greg NY*

                  But one parent is being penalized by both working for the same employer. That’s a big, big problem. And it never applies when only one parent works for that employer.

                  If an employer really wanted to be a stickler about it, it could require affirmation from their spouse’s employer that FMLA leave isn’t available (or is available in a smaller amount due to some already having been taken), just like some employer health insurance requires a spouse not to have coverage available from their employer before covering them. Yet I never heard of any employer trying to coordinate FMLA benefits this way.

              4. Grapey*

                “It is not a benefit paid by tax dollars.”

                Not directly, anyway. Employers that provide FMLA can apply for tax credits, which effectively reduce how much tax they pay. So it’s less money in the general pool for society, but it’s an incentive for businesses to take care of their employees.

                I would personally prefer employers to be out of the business of providing benefits to people and instead have the general tax pool take care of that for everyone, but hey, capitalism.

          4. Ann O.*

            I think it’s clear how the wife not working is the employer’s business. If she is actually the primary caregiver, the husband is taking the benefit fraudulently.

            You’re second question is IMHO the real question. Are they applying the policy even-handedly? Particularly hard to say in this question since the OP voluntarily disclosed information that raised the suspicion and it’s hard to know what type of pushback he would or wouldn’t have received otherwise.

        2. Mad Baggins*

          Ah, I can see this. But I still am not sure how the company currently checks on whether their policy is being taken advantage of, in a way that doesn’t come across as preeeetty sexist.

          1. Annoyed*

            Yeah it’s like “prove your wife is too ill to be the primary caregiver because if she’s not ill then obviously she has to be the primary caregiver because…vagina and you aren’t able to be because…penis. Liar, liar, pants on fire”

            1. doreen*

              I don’t know about that. I would be certain it was sexist if the employer had no idea that the wife would be at home anyway and insisted that the OP provide proof that the wife couldn’t be the primary caretaker – but that’s not what happened. The OP shared the details so the employer knows the wife is home and that she may be the primary caretaker in the future- and the OP also says that he or she (women can have wives) feels that the couple should be able to decide the OP is the primary caretaker ( and hence eligible for the longer leave) even if the wife was perfectly healthy and they decided that she would watch TV all day. From the employer’s point of view, it sounds like the OP will be the primary caretaker only for the length of the extended leave at which point the wife will become the primary caretaker. That may not be the case, but sharing those details gives that impression.

              1. Annie Moose*

                Women can have wives, but OP’s letter makes it fairly clear that he’s a man. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have said ” if a woman had made an identical request it would have resulted in a different response”.

              2. OP#4*

                I agree, this was much less bad than if they asked all men to prove their wife couldn’t take care of the child (I’m sure we don’t do that). But I still think if the genders had been reversed, I would have gotten a different initial response.

            2. Zip Silver*

              “then obviously she has to be the primary caregiver because…vagina and you aren’t able to be because…penis.”

              That’s a weak argument. It’s not silly to expect an unemployed stay at home parent to be the primary caregiver. If she’s got a physical disability, then that changes things, but getting a doctors note to prove OP isn’t trying to scam his company isn’t a “Literally Sexist ZOMG” request.

              1. Just Employed Here*

                But what kind of note would they want if she (to steal a few examples from other commenters here) was an astronaut, or just generally traveling a lot for work? A note from NASA/her employer, saying she really can’t take care of kiddo?

                I really dislike the general assumption that OP could be seen as trying to scam his company, or that it’s normal that the company should have to make sure he isn’t.

                1. Zip Silver*

                  You can dislike the assumption all you like, but there are unscrupulous people in the world. It’s the same reason companies run background checks and purchasing cardholders have to fill out expense reports

                2. Zip Silver*

                  Plus, they likely wouldn’t require a note of she were employed. What-if’s don’t really matter. According to OP’s letter, she’s a stay at home parent.

                3. Zillah*

                  “Stay at home parent” has a specific meaning, and it’s clear that she doesn’t fall into that category – combining the two in the way you are isn’t really having a good faith discussion.

                4. Just Employed Here*

                  It’s really different from background checks, which are done as conditions of employment, before you have actually hired the person. This OP is already an employee, someone they know. I’d also argue it’s different than expense reports, because those are needed for bookkeeping and taxes.

                  I’m glad this employer backed down from this stupid request, and that the OP stood their ground. Had they not backed down, and not been able to show that they require the same information from other parents, I would have started updating my CV if I were the OP. I’m not at all saying that he (or anyone) should feel this or do that, but if my employer a) has sexist policies or b) doesn’t trust me, I’ll make sure I’ll find another one sooner or later.

                5. Sarah N*

                  If she were an astronaut she…would be employed? The comment is specifically referencing the fact that she is not employed.

              2. Zillah*

                It actually is really problematic to make that assumption, though!

                People who are unemployed are usually unemployed for a reason – and that reason is often related to their (or someone else’s) health. One of the underlying assumptions here is that unemployed people are lazy unless proven otherwise, and that’s really problematic. Requiring people to get doctor’s notes to prove chronic illnesses or disability can also veer into some really sticky territory, because doctors can also come in with a lot of preconceived and problematic ideas about what proper performance of disability/illness looks like.

                And it also undervalues parenting. Even if someone isn’t working, that doesn’t mean that they’re the parent who’s better equipped to deal with a crying infant. It’s not easy, and it’s not reasonable to connect those two completely separate situations as though one makes the other the default. Many families make that call – some out of choice, some out of necessity, and some out of something in between – but it’s really inappropriate for the employer to insert themselves into that.

              3. aebhel*

                It’s not silly to expect it, but continuing to demand proof after the OP has explained the situation is ridiculous. If you mistrust your employee to that degree, then why on earth are you employing them? Also, being this stingy with benefits is a bad look regardless of the logic behind it.

              4. Jessie the First (or second)*

                “getting a doctors note to prove OP isn’t trying to scam his company isn’t a “Literally Sexist ZOMG” request”

                The company is not asking for a doctor’s note for FMLA leave for its own employee. It was asking for a doctor’s note to certify the medical condition of a person who does not work at the company. Whether it is sexist or not, it is absolutely an enormous overreach. A person should not have to be providing their own private medical information to their spouse’s workplaces.

                Also – a designation that one parent is the primary caregiver does not require that the other parent be physically incapable of parenting. So it’s not only an overreach, but an irrelevant one.

                Basically, whether you decide to see this company’s actions as sexist or not, it is still wildly inappropriate and legally problematic, and because society does actually have a lot of gender-based biases and assumptions of who should take on what role in parenting, it is not a strange leap to make to call this likely sexist. (And as a lawyer, the company’s actions have me cringing, let me tell you.)

            3. Joielle*

              I don’t know, I think it’s more like “Wait, you’re the primary caregiver for the duration of your leave… but at the end of your leave, your wife will suddenly become the primary caregiver? Prove that you actually are the primary caregiver during your leave so we can make sure you’re using the leave for its intended purpose.” I do think the leave policy is unnecessarily strict – why not let both parents have the extended leave? – but I don’t think it’s outrageous for them to enforce the leave policy in the only way available.

              The question does remain of what would happen if the genders were reversed, but since this is a pretty rare circumstance, I don’t think there’s any way to know. Hindsight is 20/20, but OP probably should have just given the minimum necessary amount of information to have the change made.

              1. Just Employed Here*

                Lots of people have family situations where the role of primary care switches between the parents. There’s nothing weird about that.

              2. OP#4*

                No, my wife will not become the primary caretaker at the end of my leave. If she recovers well from her surgery (a point she won’t reach until 6 months after my leave is over), then she will hopefully be able to take on primary caretaker role as a SAHM. We will have a nanny when I first go back to work. This was all in my request. I shared that info because there are specific daycare benefits we can get related to my NOT being a primary caretaker and I thought my employer might appreciate a heads-up about my likely future usage of resources. Oops.

                1. Zillah*

                  You wanted to be open and honest, and it doesn’t sound to me like you overshared sensitive information. What they did with it is their oops, not yours.

              3. Jessie the First (or second)*

                It’s really not rare for parents to switch on and off being primary caretakers. (Not that this is the OP’s situation anyway.)

                That’s kind of how a lot of leave policies function at companies that have decent leave benefits – both maternity and paternity leave offered, and they can be taken any time after birth. So for example, mom takes 8 weeks of leave after birth, then returns to work, and then dad take 8 weeks. First mom was primary caregiver, then dad was. This is not a unicorn of a situation.

                Again, though, not actually even the situation for the OP.

          2. Nita*

            Maybe they don’t, but in this case they felt they should check, but that they had no grounds to push too hard for the documentation, because they don’t do it to others. Considering that offer better “primary caregiver leave” than just plain “parental leave,” and that they know OP’s wife is home full-time but OP is claiming he is the primary caregiver, I can see why they’d be suspicious that he’s trying to take advantage of the system.

            It’s sort of like if a company does not require sick notes unless you’ve been out several days. So it’s honors system, and it seems to work for a while. Now one employee has started going on about how great the fishing is on rainy days, then taking an awful lot of rainy days as sick time. And then the boss has to decide if they’re going to just take the employee’s word that they were sick, make them and only them bring in sick notes, or change company policy to make everyone bring in notes. (Not that caring for a baby is anything like going fishing!)

            I honestly cannot think how anyone could prove they are, or aren’t, the primary caregiver short of a situation where one parent is clearly medically unable to provide care, or physically living elsewhere. So either the company should be willing to keep the honors system going and take the risk a few people may abuse it, or they should just provide the same length of leave for any caregiver, and let the parents sort out who is primary. OP’s situation is not that uncommon in that as kids’ needs and parents’ health/work situations change, it may not always be the same parent providing most of the care for the little ones.

            1. Mad Baggins*

              That is a good comparison to see why they would suddenly want to confirm the policy. I agree with your conclusion that their proposed solution doesn’t actually confirm anything, and also there’s the added layer of weirdness because the wife isn’t even an employee.

        3. MD*

          I was a full-time medical student. Even though I wasn’t getting paid and technically wasn’t working, my role was more demanding and time-consuming than his job and he took on more parenting responsibility. It’s not “taking advantage” for the primary breadwinner to also be the primary caretaker.

        4. Susana*

          IT DOESN’T MATTER, since it’s not the company’s place to decide which parent will be the primary caregiver of their infant.

          1. AMPG*

            This exactly. And I’m VERY sure that if the genders were reversed, the company would not have asked the mom for a doctor’s note proving that her non-working husband wasn’t the primary caregiver.

        5. Observer*

          No, she’s NOT a “stay at home mother” in the picture.

          Either the employer can ignore the fact that she’s at home or the need to accept ALL of the information they were given, which includes the fact that mom is undergoing surgery.

      2. Observer*

        Wait. Are you really saying that the decision as to who is the primary caregiver is down to who is medically incapable? What happens when both parents are actually physically / medically capable? No one gets the benefit?

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Seriously, this is an awful set up. We may not get paid parental leave by legislation in the United States, but there’s no assumption that a parent cannot take parental leave unless the other parent is medically incapacitated. I’m lucky to work for a department that covers parental leave, and we routinely pay people for the leave period, regardless whether the other parent is also taking leave or a SAHP.

      3. OP#4*

        There’s no “primary caregiver” statutory definition in the U.S. Nor was there one in the policy.

        In Australia, what happens if both parents are in the exact same situation — i.e., both are taking say 6 weeks leave to be with their new child. Who is the primary care giver? Is it really not up to the family to decide that?

        And look: our policy could have define the primary caregiver in such a way that if either parent stays home–even if it’s for medical reasons–they are deemed the primary caregiver. That would be a pretty crappy policy, but I think they could do it. But that’s not what my employer did.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          The other issue is that your company’s policy has to comport with the FMLA. They can’t define “primary caregiver”—in the context of parental/bonding leave—to exclude a parent who is not the primary caregiver because you already have a statutory, federal right to take FMLA parental leave.

          1. OP#4*

            Everybody at my job is allowed to take unpaid FMLA leave for bonding, which is legally required if you’ve been here for 1+ years (my understanding is they will also normally grant this leave even if you haven’t been here for a year). Part of it is paid for everyone. Twice as much is paid for primary caregivers. This issue was all about that “twice as much.” Nobody is pushing back on my taking leave or paying me for the part that everyone gets paid for.

            Overall, my employer is really excellent on this type of thing, which is part of why I was so taken aback.

            1. AMPG*

              A friend of mine had a similar issue at a company which was generally known for its progressive and family-friendly culture. His wife is self-employed, so he was primary caregiver as soon as she was recovered enough from the birth to start working again, and their parental leave schedule reflected that. His employer asked him to certify that he was taking parental leave because his wife was not acting as primary care-giver, and he’s quite sure they didn’t ask that question of his female colleagues.

    4. Specialk9*

      Greg, I initially read this as an MRA dog-whistle (‘it’s really men who are oppressed!!’) but on re-read I don’t think you are doing that.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t know that “I originally thought you were doing something awful but realize you aren’t” comments are useful here (and have high potential to derail).

    5. Aveline*

      “ reminds me of the old days in which women were automatically granted custody of children in divorce absent her abusing the children

      That’s a myth in the USA. It was never fact.

      All studies conducted on this show that, both today and historically, when men have asked for custody and. It’s contested, they get it far more often than women.

      Historically speaking, women were given custody most of the time because they asked and men didn’t. They asked and men agreed because of societal sexism.

      It was never the problem of the court itself being biased. It can’t award custody to fathers who don’t ask for custody.

      As someone who has seen the sausage made, any time I’ve heard a man not get custody, there was a reason.

      This myth, like the hot coffee case, is believed widely because media fed it to men in the 70s and 80s. If one bothers to look at facts, the result is different.

      I’m not pointing this out to nitpick or derail. There’s a point: as with this request of parental leave, even those of us who want equality and try to be woke have internalized a lot of cultural myth. We often aren’t aware it’s myth. The bias toward mothers in courtrooms is a myth. Mom’s as primary caregivers as the only option if mom is healthy is another.

      So the first thing dad needs to do is to ask questions at work to see if this is internalized sexism. He needs to ask why this policy is in place and lay out facts.

      He may want to get wide eyed and innocently say “boy, that could look like sexism to an outsider. Can you explain why there is the police of x?”

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        The problem with this is that you can’t make sweeping statements. It’s highly dependent on state laws, county courthouses, and individual judges. The same fact pattern can result in different outcomes from one county to the next.

        As an aside, it’s for this reason that you should always get a good family law attorney for anything that happens in a court room, even if you think you have an open and shut case.

        1. Aveline*

          One can make sweeping statements if there are actual studies and statistics.

          It’s statisticalky true that if men ask for custody, they get it. That’s fact. In every state. Fact that has been studied,

          So it’s not a sweeping generalization, it’s proven fact.

          AAM – can you delete this thread please? It’s going to derail and I don’t want it to do so.

          Also, I’m sure all of the attorneys on here don’t need to have to argue against this old myth. Particularly since it seems impervious to actual factual counterattack

        2. Susana*

          Aveline is correct: women *were* given custody in the overwhelming percentage of cases in the past, but it’s also true that men overwhelmingly didn’t ask for custody. So the suggestion that courts were motivated by being biased in favor of the mother is simply not supported by actual facts.

      2. epi*

        Great comment.

        As I was reading through, I was thinking that the explanation probably depends on where this OP is. In the US, I’ve seen some employers get way more assertive about trying to get spouses off their medical plans, including charging extra to cover family members who had access to another plan. The request could also be about the bottom line– if the OP is in the US, they are likely covering their family and also now saying they are the primary caretaker. They may also verify lots of these claims because they are expensive to provide. That isn’t too say this is OK, or that sexism isn’t in the mix in deciding which expensive-to-the-company situations are suspicious. Just that there could also be large financial or regulatory motivations to hassle the OP as well. Good on them for pushing back.

    6. Sue*

      #4 really got to me. I don’t think they were being sexist at all. The problem was he told his work that his wife was at home and then wanted to take time off as the ‘primary care giver’. There is NO evidence the situation would be different if the wife was working, said the husband was at home and then wanted to take carers leave to look after children. I am a women and yes I have been scrutinized when asking for careers leave myself. Often it is on top of normal leave and the workplace tries to ensure its only given when absolutely necessary.

      1. Zillah*

        I think there are two things at play here.

        The first is that many employers are cheap and push back on leave of any kind – whatever your gender.

        The second, though, is rooted in sexism. The OP said:

        My wife has major back problems and, although she stays at home, I am the primary caregiver for the foreseeable future. In a bout of possibly over-disclosure, I informed my job of the details of this situation because my wife may later become the primary caretaker and there are some reasons why I think it would help to have my employer know that in advance. I regret my disclosure.

        If we’re taking him at his word, which Alison has asked us to do here, he was clear that his wife was at home due to significant health issues. Just breaking it down to “he said his wife was at home” leaves out a really, really important detail, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that an employer’s reaction to a woman saying, “my husband is at home because of a serious health condition” will usually be different than what the OP experienced.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Based on a comment upthread by OP, the 2 things at play are that OP wants to use benefits meant for primary caregivers now (extended paid leave) and also wants to use benefits meant for non-primary caregivers later (subsidized daycare). And I kind of think it’s bullshit that he thinks he should get both, just because that works out better for him?

          He’s stated multiple times that his wife isn’t (and doesn’t want to be) the primary caregiver, so changing his classification in the future to get subsidized daycare seems disingenuous at best, and I understand why his employer is questioning him about this plan he freely disclosed to them, especially since it sounds like nothing relevant is going to change about his family situation: his wife will still be at home, and on disability, but hopefully the surgery will improve things.

          I don’t think his employer has put a lot of thought behind their policies that affect parents. They should be giving the same benefits to everyone— instead of basing it on primary/non-primary classifications—to avoid people deciding to change their classifications to get whatever benefits they’re seeking regardless of whether those classifications are accurate.

      2. Sonia*

        I agree with this. It’s very reasonable for HR to request a doctors letter to indicate that the wife was injured and not able to care for a newborn. It would be no different if the gender roles were reversed.

    7. LCL*

      What happens when a man in a same gender marriage asks for primary caregiver leave? Does like a neon TILT sign light up in HR’s suite and smoke pours out the windows?

      1. Joielle*

        I know you’re being a bit facetious, but I don’t think this would be a problem – unless, like in OP’s situation, HR knew that the other parent was going to be at home full time after the birth of the child. Then, it would be reasonable to question why the employee needed primary caregiver leave if the other parent was also going to be at home. If the other parent couldn’t be the primary caregiver for a legitimate reason, then the employee would get primary caregiver leave. This seems pretty straightforward to me.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          “If the other parent couldn’t be the primary caregiver for a legitimate reason”

          If a company decides to take on the responsibility of deciding what family and parenting configurations are “legitimate,” it is asking for serious legal trouble. And also is being horrendous.

    8. batman*

      This is bad all around. Women can’t make gains in the workplace if men don’t start picking up the slack at home and it’s ridiculous to require *proof* that the wife can’t be the primary caregiver in order to accept that the husband is.
      I wonder if they would have questioned him if he hadn’t mentioned his wife’s illness though.

    9. Essess*

      There seems to be a simple solution. Straight up ask the HR department if this is an ‘across the board” requirement that is required from female employees too. If yes, it’s annoying but it’s the rule. If no, then you gently point out that this is gender discrimination and a potential EEOC red flag.

    10. John Rohan*

      A bit less outrageous to me because this isn’t a widowed or divorced man. There is a stay at home mother in the picture.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        No, there is not a stay at home mother. Stay at mother is a phrase that generally means a mother whose job is to stay home and take care of the children. That is not what OP’s spouse is.

    11. OP#4*

      #GregNY

      We are all entitled to the same amount of parental leave. Primary caregivers, regardless of gender, are entitled to all of it paid; non-primary caregivers are entitled to 1/2 of it paid. Given that most employers give zero paid parental leave at all, and even fewer give it for non-primary caregivers, I think the underlying policy is generous (based on the unfortunately low standards we have in the U.S.)

      I think it’s possible the initial push-back could have been based on a misreading of my request as saying I think I’m entitled to paid leave because my wife is disabled, in which case it would seem to make sense that I have to prove she’s disabled. That would be incompetence and not malice. Given that they gave in to my push-back, I probably prefer to hold that view.

    12. OP#4*

      @Someone else — yes, you’re right on what I regretted. If I’d just said, “I’m the primary caregiver,” I believe this would not have happened.

      @Princess CBH & Observer — right, even with the medical issue aspect, I doubt they’d have done the same to a woman, but I do think the medical issue mixed with the presumption of gender roles in a way that was unfair to me.

      @Susana — I have a friend who is a state legislator. She is much more able than her husband, a construction worker, to take calls at work about her kid at school. Few jobs have more flexibility than legislator. The problem isn’t that they are calling the female legislators; it’s that they are not calling the male ones!

      A lot of people are asking, “what could the doctor say?” That’s sort of my point: that primary caretaker is a choice, not a medical decision. But, as I’ve said elsewhere, I think they read my request as saying I’m the primary caretaker so long as my wife’s medical needs require it. I can sort of see how they thought this, but it’s not what I said and I don’t think they’d have thought the same about a woman. So I think it’s more complicated than just, “no, because you’re a man.” But I also don’t think it’s great.

    13. Aaron*

      I’m aware of some cases where primary custody was granted to a mother, despite her having abused them. In one case, the judge simply refused to believe that a mother would abuse her children.

  4. Greg NY*

    #1: The changed dress code is somewhat reasonable given the reason for it (although I’m in the camp that a dress code should be as accommodating as possible for the employees). 16 days of notice really isn’t reasonable, especially when many people might not have the necessary clothes in their wardrobe. 16 days of notice for most semi-major or major changes such as this one is too little. Legally, the employer is in the clear here. Morally, they need to give more notice of not just you, but probably most of your colleagues, needing to acquire additional clothing, and since they want you to match, it would be best if they furnish it (or at least give you the option of wearing clothing they supply), like a uniform of sorts. I agree with Alison and I would talk to your manager.

      1. Kathy*

        Agree with Jack – any company that I have worked for always supplied employees with a polo and/or t shirt with the company logo on them.
        I have never heard of everyone has to wear the same/coordinated colors.
        Bottom line – the company is too cheap to provide the proper wear.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          “I have never heard of everyone has to wear the same/coordinated colors.”

          That is literally the Starbucks dress code: “wear any clothes you have, but only in these approved colors.”

          It was played off as “letting employees be themselves, even at work!” but really it’s to save the company the cost of uniforms by transferring that cost to their employees. Starbucks is progressive on a lot of things, but the fact that anyone thinks this decision was about more than saving the company money is pretty goddamn stupid. /rant

          1. Anonsy*

            I was a barista back in the day and we were not given uniforms – just the apron. So it was still your own clothing, only in even more limited colors. I had zero other reason to own the required clothes – especially since they’d then permanently smell of Starbucks. The thrift store was my friend, and I was fortunate to have a relatively easy time finding clothing that fit. Otherwise your first week’s wages would go entirely to your wardrobe.

            The OPs company is asking for an entirely new wardrobe, and this is disproportionately impacting their dress-wearing staff, which is a pretty big financial burden.

    1. Mookie*

      Agreed that the LW is not going to be the only one with less than a full working week’s wardrobe.

      Does the indirect directive that they “match” mean that everyone (just the women?) have to literally purchase the same garments in their own size, or that they coordinate to make it at least look that way from a distance? How does that differ from the mandatory code (all slacks, all blouses, same color scheme). Do they want everyone to coordinate which colors where, or what? I’m not clear what that matching suggestion means.

      I can see wearing the same slacks everyday, but the blouse is going to be tricky without a wash each night.

      1. Mookie*

        If they’d stretch blouse to knitwear or woven, maybe a durable cardigan + undershirt / scoopnet tee to reduce accumulated odor?

      2. Batty Twerp*

        I took it to mean matching the corporate colours, not necessarily identical uniforms. Our corporate colours are blue, orange and green, so I interpret the directive as Jane can wear blue (but it has to be royal blue, not navy blue), Anne can wear orange, Yasmine can wear green (but it has to be leaf green etc.) and so on.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Leaf green. I had a blouse that color in the 90’s – early 2000’s. I haven’t seen that color in clothing since.
          I wonder where OP shops that she can just buy whatever colors she wants in clothes that fit?
          I have to spend weeks and months looking to find styles I like in colors that aren’t awful, and once I get them I usually have to have them altered.
          Unless the styles and colors are something you can find easily at a uniform store, this doesn’t even look possible to me.

          1. Batty Twerp*

            Actually the shade of orange in our company colours would be the most problematic. And we have a couple of natural red heads (alright, ginger, yes, I’m allowed to say it), for whom orange blouses would NOT be a good look.
            Although, I suspect that, unless specifically mandated that ALL colours must be present, a combination of just a couple of the easier to source blouse colours, or asking if a neutral black/white would be allowed.

      3. Seriously?*

        At the vary least they need to be ok with whatever color people can find that fits. The short notice is too much for more than 1 matching shirt to be a reasonable request.

      1. boop the first*

        Ideal for environmental reasons, but thrift stores are weirdly expensive now. If I need a plain coloured t-shirt, I go to an overpriced craft store where a shirt is $3 – $5. Same shirt at the thrift store is $12+
        Kinda odd.

        1. Zoe*

          It really depends on the region and stuff. I worked at a Goodwill and blouses were 4.50 to about 7 unless it was a designer label. The place I get most of my clothes from, a shirt never costs less than 45. Even if the thrift store wants 10 for it, that’s often still a good price. It’s not free and I know some people have issues paying that much for something used but it’s a not a bad place to start. If you have a thrift store in a more affluent area you’ll also find better donations there so it could be worth the drive if necessary. But I also want to mention I get most of my plain camisoles and tank tops for layering from Wal-Mart.

      2. Positive Reframer*

        +1 yep Thread Up might be an option too if you live in a thrift store desert.

        Slacks are generally one of the easiest things to source in decent condition because they are so damned inflexible. (I think I have about 3lbs of flex per size). The thing that has the most wear is usually the crotch so check for pilling there. Also there is the supreme advantage that you can try on a LOT of different fits and brands all in the same store.

        1. Lynn*

          *If* you have a normal inseam. I need a 36″ inseam to wear flats and longer than that to wear heels. I have one pair of work appropriate pants that fit. Yes, there are online stores that sell pants, but I’m not going to pay for shipping in each direction just to try on clothes.

        1. Xarcady*

          Thrift stores also depend on where you live. Around here, thrift stores mostly have worn Target and Walmat clothing, a lot of jeans, flannel and fleece. Where I used to live, the thrift stores had tons of designer clothes, some new with tags. Lots of suits and nice business casual clothing.

          And if you need tall, petite or plus sizes, the selection is limited, even in the better thrift shops.

      3. Quackeen*

        I generally agree with this, although searching through thrift stores for the right shade of clothing in the right style and size can be an incredible time sink that might not be possible with such a short time between now and the conference and OP presumably having to work. Sometimes it’s just easier to fire up the internets, load up a basket on a website where you know the clothes fit, and hit submit. With convenience frequently comes expense, but time isn’t really on her side.

      4. Violet Fox*

        Thrift stores are pretty much out of the question for plus sized women, and due to the lack of extended sizes in a lot of places anyone outside of straight sizes might need more then 16 days to special order things from wherever they can find clothing that actually fits (this is also true for short and tall sizes too).

        1. No Mas Pantalones*

          I’m in the south and haven’t had this problem. But we also eat like…people that eat a lot. :-)

      5. Emily*

        Certainly a great option to consider, but as others have mentioned, it might be hard to find things in the right size/style/color in such a short time frame.

    2. Specialk9*

      Totally agree. And pants are terribly difficult for some of us – tall, plus sized, petite, body shape different from the ‘norm’.

      But… if she doesn’t get a pants ruling in her favor, I recommend 1-2 pairs of black pants. (Old Navy Pixie is my personal preference, and they’re pretty affordable.)

      If there’s a washer/dryer do that nightly; if not then hand wash. (Look carefully for stains and scrub out; soap and rinse the crotch for smells; roll in a towel and step on the roll to get moisture out; hang in the shower overnight.)

      1. Manya*

        Do you honestly either do all of the above or wash your pants after every wear? This seems like overkill, unless there are serious body odor issues.

        1. Safetykats*

          Yeah, I’m an office worker and I typically get 2-3 wears out of a pair of dress pants before washing – sometimes more for pants hat need dry cleaning. I do change as soon as I get home from work. Unless it’s terribly hot out, I get about the same from a nice blouse. And although I typically rotate clothes every day, when on travel I get through a week on 2 pairs of pants or skirts, and 3 blouses, with a couple of jackets or cardis. Just combine them in different ways and most people won’t notice.

          It’s still annoying – and I would have a hard time working anywhere that wanted to tell me what colors to wear, but confirming the policy change and then doing the minimum necessary to comply seems like the reasonable thing.

          I would definitely push back on the idea that pants are mandatory and skirts or dresses not acceptable. What if you had a religious objection to wearing pants? I’ve found that when people start specifying things like this they often don’t mean “no skirts,” they mean nicer pants for those who wear pants. If OP is one of the few who wears skirts or dresses, that option may have just slipped their minds.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I love skirts and rarely wear pants. If an employer told me I had to wear pants, I’d start looking.
            If there was a good reason – say, I was digging ditches or exploring a forest and jeans would be safer and more comfortable – that would be fine. If it was an arbitrary reason, that’s intrusive and disrespectful and offensive.

          1. anonny*

            good lord people. this is a workplace advice website. WORKPLACE ADVICE. if you feel compelled to talk about how your vagina smells, maybe you’re on the wrong website. i wish we could block users because that was a permanent block worthy comment.

      2. ElspethGC*

        I’ve pretty much abandoned trousers except for winter – there are a couple of brands here and there that work, but few and far between. Legs that stop an inch short of the ankle aren’t a good look for anybody. Winter is fine because I wear boots and it hides my shame.

        When I was in my final year at school, the administration decided to bring in specific uniform trousers – up until that point they allowed any navy trousers (too many girls were wearing leggings and calling them trousers). They only came in one length, and going up in size didn’t increase the leg length. I took in photos of me trying on the required trousers, with a solid inch and a half of leg showing above my socks. Yeah, the school let me continue wearing my extra-long ladies’ trousers rather than trying to force me into something made for 5’4 girls.

        1. Short Girl*

          It is so strange that men’s pants are regularly sized by waist & length, yet women’s are not.
          I’m short and I purposely buy the jeans that are meant to hit above the ankle – because they are normal length for me.

          1. Beaded Librarian*

            I should look into that. My inseam is short enough that even petite pants can be an inch or so too long and my height isn’t that short.

          2. I'd Rather Not Say*

            I fall in the too tall for petite, too short for regular, and a bit on the curvy side category. Eddie Bauer has dress pants and jeans in what they call “short” which is a regular rise, but simply shorter length and not quite as short as petite (which also has a shorter rise, which can be a problem if you’re curvy). They’re always having sales, which makes things reasonable for staple items.

        2. Brandy*

          My inseam is 27, Im 4’11, and it would help alot of womens pants did the inseam and waist as mens do. I find myself shopping alot in spring for Capris, they end to fit to my ankles.

          1. Decima Dewey*

            As a woman built for childbirth, I disagree. Length would be nice, but it’s not my waist that keeps me from zipping up some pants.

      3. whingedrinking*

        For some not-too-strong odours, you can put rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle and spray on as necessary; hanging things out in bright sunlight also helps if the weather is cooperative.

    3. Logan*

      One suggestion might be to have that new dress code on day 1 and maybe the last day (so it could be one outfit), and then have it as a new plan for the following year (to give everyone a year to acquire items).

      I don’t know why they wouldn’t let people wear reasonable clothes (dresses or otherwise) in the company colours, as I would find it a bit weird if I were meeting with a company who all had very similar outfits. Then again, I’m not a fan of rigidity in my work!

  5. Dino*

    I would buy one outfit and wear it every day, washing as needed, if the manager pushes back. They never said they had to be different outfits, did they? Just matching and following the slacks/shirt combo? It’s still bothersome to be out however much money it costs for the one outfit, obviously, but it would lessen the financial damage while still following the requirement.

    1. wondrous*

      I thought that, too, especially if there’s a color scheme then you’ll probably look mostly the same every day right? If one outfit isn’t enough, then maybe two pairs of slacks and two or three blouses would be enough.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Two pairs of slacks and two or three blouses could still easily be a couple hundred dollars, especially on a short time frame where you don’t have the luxury of waiting for a sale or shopping around at twelve different stores because you’re trying to get it done in an afternoon. All the more so if OP isn’t the mall-standard body (e.g. if she’s petite, or long-legged, or plus size, or so many other things). With clothes, you can usually pick two out of fast, cheap, and attractive.

        1. wondrous*

          I don’t think anyone’s arguing that it’s not an incovenience, or that it’s easy to get a new wardrobe, just that OP mentioned “seven days’ worth of slacks and blouses” and people are suggesting ways to try and pare that number down to do less damage.

          1. MK*

            Seven days worth of clothes doesn’t mean, for most people, seven slacks and seven shirts; more likely two or three slacks and maybe four shirts.

            I don’t know how practical the one-outifit suggestion is. I would be ready to burn the slacks after day 3.

              1. Liz T*

                1 pair of pants is plenty! You can get through a week without washing pants, if you don’t spill on them. I doubt the men are wearing freshly washed trousers every day.

                OP is right to be annoyed but if the higher-ups won’t budge I say hit up Uniqlo or something. (If the pants don’t have to be in some unusual color, which is a possibility.)

                1. Amy*

                  I have two furr balls at home so one pair of slacks means stripping down when I cross the threshold, which I would definitely do to save $300 in unnecessary expenditures. Keep a dry cleaning hanger & bag by the door to make it easy, and avoid saucy lunches, and you should be fine. There are also laundry products to freshen clothes in 20min in the drier.

        2. Rachel*

          Precisely my problem – there’s no time for online shopping, bargain hunting, clearance racks, etc. I have to take what’s on the rack, in the colors, and fits reasonably well (tricky with long legs and a “round” middle like you mentioned). It’s an out of town event, so no home laundry, and it’s outdoors. Cooler this time of year, but often upper 70’s to 80’s, just warm enough to sweat, making rewearing pants without washing kinda gross. Wouldn’t even think about attempting that with blouses.

          1. A.*

            I would check Nordstrom Rack online. Filter by color and price. They have a huge selection with tops starting at $10.
            Plus they generally have free shipping, easy returns, and you will receive the items in a few days.

            Order enough blouses for the week and a couple pairs of slacks. If anything doesn’t fit, they have free returns.

            I definetely get it. I once had to buy a business suit with a few days notice. And I didn’t want to risk buying it online since I was spending so much money on it. I went to several stores looking for a navy blue suit when all the stores seemed to carry at that time were linen suits and cream and white.

            It seems like when you are shopping under pressure that’s when you can’t find anything you actually like or want so in your circumstances, using filters on a online retailer is very helpful.

            1. Lynn*

              I live in a mid-sized city, and the closest one to me to make returns is a four hour drive away. Not always an option, though a great suggestion.

              1. Yorick*

                But there is almost certainly some reasonably-priced store that you (or almost anyone) could buy online from and return at the store if necessary.

                For example, Old Navy gives you a shipping label for free returns.

          2. Specialk9*

            I’m going to push back on this idea of out of town meaning no laundry. You’re not in a tent, right? There’s running water?

            So what you do is hand wash at night, and only have black or navy trousers. Look up tricks from backpackers. But basically you wash in the sink – a whole garment rinse with no soap, and soap on the crotch or any stains. Bring a soft scrubby if you can, but if not you double over the pant leg to serve as a scrubber (so you’re using one part of the garment to rub the other part). Then you rinse well to get soap out, roll it in a towel, step on it to get it as dry as possible, and hang or drape wherever you can with a towel under to catch drips.

            2 pairs of pants should be plenty.

            Also, Vagisil powder in your undies.

            1. Mephyle*

              Seconding this. Is it convenient and fun? No. But cheaper than buying seven outfits and probably less time-consuming in total than all the shopping you’d have to do.
              I just came back from a two-week trip (not for work) where I basically wore the same two outfits all the time, just alternating them and washing every night. It gets to be routine.
              Bring a couple of plastic hangers and a handful of clothespins, in case the hotel doesn’t have any, or they’re not convenient to use (they’re wooden, or locked into the closet).
              Specialk9 described it well. The only thing I would add is: bring laundry soap in bar form. If the bar is big, cut off a chunk and bring it in a small plastic sealable container (Tupperware-type).
              If possible, bring a silicon sink stopper mat in case the sink doesn’t have a stopper or doesn’t seal well. If you don’t have one, you can use a plastic bag.
              My routine was: Put clothes in the sink, soap up, and leave to soak while I have my shower. Dry off, put on pajamas. Then wash and rinse the clothes, squeeze as dry as possible, and towel-dry them. After pressing them in the towel, I find they don’t drip, so if possible, they can be hung where a draft from the air conditioner (or heater in winter) will hit them.
              The reason for doing it in this order is that after towel-drying the clothes, the towel will be very wet, so you want to dry yourself after bathing before drying your clothes.

            2. soon 2be former fed*

              How about using a pantiliner, changing it during the day if needed? I don’t like powders which are messy. Seriously though, offensive vaginal odor is cause for a doctor visit, it’s not the default. My dress pants don’t need all this washing though. Neither do my jeans for that matter.

              1. jolene*

                Dear Lord, mine neither. Seconding the statement that you need to see a doctor if the odour is that strong. Nothing to be embarrassed about, but get it sorted.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  Thirding. I can wear the same pants for a week or more as long as it’s not summer and I’m wearing clean underroos each day—summer brings it down to 2-3 days because sweat.

                  And wtf. I almost forgot what site I was reading with all the comments from SpecialK9 just assuming every lady has terrible lady odor that must be fought with constant vigilance. Get thee to your gyno, something is not right. (No shame, just reality-checking. Hope you figure it out and all is well.)

          3. Ali G*

            I recently ordered a bunch of dresses on Amazon on a Sunday and they showed up in 2 days (for free). Amazon has a lot of cheap work clothes, free shipping (usually) and free/easy returns. I bought 4 dresses for about $160 (US) and I am returning 2 at no charge.
            Also, while more expensive, you might try the “work active wear” places like Athleta and Lululemon. They have some pants that can pass work pants (I bought some of those too) – that are also quick wicking. One comment was that you could “wash them in the sink at the hotel at night, hang them to dry, and they would be dry and wrinkle free by morning.” Sorry I can’t remember which style they were.

          4. Falling Diphthong*

            That context helps.

            Per Alison’s advice, I would start with talking to a manager. Maybe “blouses and pants” was a telephone-game interpretation, filtered through someone who prefers that. Or maybe management tossed out “blouses and pants” thinking that was simple, and on hearing that dresses are actually simpler would be fine with that, too.

            The dress code for the event should not be conveyed via casual office grapevine. Especially when you’re only two weeks out and it involves shopping.

        3. EPLawyer*

          This is my problem. I wear skirt suits because they don’t have to be hemmed. If I buy pants, due to not bening a mall-standard body, they have to be hemmed. No way could I find enough pants and get them hemmed in time.

          Sometimes people wear dresses for a reason.

          1. aebhel*

            Same, from the opposite direction. I wear skirts because it’s almost impossible to find women’s pants that don’t leave three or four inches of ankle showing. Midi skirts have a little more leeway for tall, leggy people.

          2. AMPG*

            Same here – I have a business casual wardrobe consisting entirely of skirts and dresses for this very reason.

          3. Michaela Westen*

            The main reason I wear skirts is they’re more comfortable and versatile. They never ride up. They’re more flexible with weight changes and easier to alter, if necessary. More than once I’ve lost a few pounds and handled it by putting a pin in the waist of the skirt until I gained it back.
            Another reason is long legs – back when I tried to wear slacks it was hard to find them long enough. When I did find slacks in dressy material, they wore out in a few months. Skirts last a few years. I buy footless tights for winter so I don’t have to worry about length. Wear them with boots.
            All my experience is, skirts are better in every way and I would never let an employer tell me to stop wearing them… unless the employer agreed to do the shopping to find something comfortable and maintain it with alterations as necessary. ;)

            1. whingedrinking*

              I’m not a feminine or dressy type, and the first day I turned up to work in a skirt a coworker said, “Special occasion?”
              “Yes,” I said, “it’s a million degrees outside.”

        4. Just saying*

          Does op really not have 2 pairs of black slacks, and a few blouses in the correct colors. I’m just saying having 2 black slacks should be a staple for everyone. Then picking up 3-7 blouses either 2nd hand or full price would not be as hard. If you are dressing up you are likely not getting the pants dirty and should be able to hang them near an air vent and they should be fine to wear again. If nothing else bring a spray bottle of cheap vodka and spritz the pants.

            1. Just saying*

              Black pants are in no way precious resources, they are sold at Walmart, and most retailers because everyone has a need for them.

              1. Never*

                No, everyone does not has a need for them. I work in a place with no dress code, ever. I have no need for black slacks, or any business clothes. Buying them would be a waste of money, owning them a waste of space.

                Stop assuming everyone lives the same way you do.

              2. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

                Precious resources means “money”. The black pants are the “items they don’t need”.

              3. Specialk9*

                They don’t wear black pants, so they are not needed. Wasting money – the precious resources – on unnecessary items is not sensible unless one has lots of money to blow. Which this OP doesn’t. I’m pushing back on this idea that everyone should buy X clothes they don’t need, just in case.

              4. Alice L*

                I don’t have black pants whatsoever. I have a business dress code at my work, and I primarily wear dresses, because like the op, they fit me better. I hate how pants fit on me. Dresses, for me at least, need less altering, if any at all to fit my body correctly.

              5. Dr. Pepper*

                My body type is apparently uncommon enough that most off the rack clothes do not fit me. To find pants that fit well enough to be comfortable and not completely unflattering, it can take hours of shopping at multiple stores, and even then I may have to go home empty handed. My jealousy of those who can find well fitting clothes off the rack burns with the fire of a thousand suns. I do not own any black slacks (or in fact, *any* slacks) because I have had no need for them in quite literally a decade. My jobs have not required them and I don’t go anywhere where a nice skirt wouldn’t do. To be told I was required to have a pair on short notice would mean a mad scramble and lots of frustration.

              6. Agent Diane*

                I never wear black trousers. They start looking cheap and shiny within two wears, and shoe marks like anything. I wear tweed. Which, btw, does not need daily washing. But the idea everyone must have black trousers is hooey.

                1. Rosemary*

                  But there are a lot of workplaces where buying the cheap $20 slacks would NOT fly. And there are a lot of jobs where having to buy seven outfits on short notice – even cheap ones – is a financial strain.

              7. Quoth the Raven*

                I have navy blue dress pants somewhere in my closet, I think; it’s been years since I last wore them so they might not even fit me anymore. I own two dress shirts (I do own plaid/flannel shirts because I’m a child of grunge, but they probably won’t fly here). I don’t own skirts (I dislike them) and I have one dress (that I also dislike) that goes into very formal territory because it’s what I wear when I have to go to a wedding or something.

                Dress code is a dealbreaker for me, as in I wouldn’t work at a place where I’d have to dress up daily. If I had to do it for a day, I could probably manage. A week? No, I’d need to go shopping and I wouldn’t take to that kindly.

              8. Rosemary*

                I have owned one pair of black slacks in my life – for interviews – and I’ve probably outgrown them by now. Plus they’re flare pants, so also probably kinda outdated. On top of that, I usually wore my grey pants to interviews because I kinda felt like showing up in black pants and white shirt was so incredibly boring.
                If my workplace said I needed to suddenly own seven pairs of black slacks, I would be really annoyed, too. I don’t even have OP’s financial constraints, and it would still feel like a waste (of money, of closet space).

          1. moql*

            But why should they be a staple for everyone? Just because they are easy and work for you doesn’t mean that is true for everyone. My body type us such that finding pants that fit is pretty much impossible so I don’t bother trying. You sound pretty self centered trying to insist that everyone should have the same clothes as you.

            1. Just saying*

              Self centered to think everyone should own a pair of black pants. You really do not own a pair of black pants. I really don’t know how to respond.

              1. Yojo*

                Nothing people aren’t planning to wear is something they “should” own…? Unless you think absolutely everyone is going to go work at Starbucks in the near future (they’re not, I promise) I really don’t understand how you can justify this opinion.

                This isn’t “you own a car, you should definitely own seatbelts.” This is single item of clothing that not everybody likes.

                1. Yojo*

                  PS: I’m a man. I wear khakis. Gray or navy dress pants when dress pants are required. Don’t plan to go to any funerals or black tie affairs in the near future. Am I somehow pathetically failing at wardrobe?

              2. Rosemary7391*

                Trousers for me either:
                – Cut me where the “waist” should be (yes, actual blood involved if I wear them long enough) or buttons come off etc
                – are so huge everywhere else they fall down, rub and generally look ridiculous

                I sew my own dresses when I care about looking smart.

              3. aebhel*

                …I still don’t get this insistence that everyone should have the same wardrobe as you. People have different body types, sartorial tastes, and dress codes. If OP’s job has allowed her to wear jeans 90% of the time and dresses the other 10%, why on earth should she own two pairs of slacks that she’ll never wear just on the off-chance that her boss might change the dress code at the last minute?

                This is like me saying that everyone ought to own a pair of snowboots and it’s irresponsible not to. That might be true where I am, but it certainly isn’t true in, say, south Florida.

              4. Falling Diphthong*

                People are different. They have different body types, different wardrobe needs, and different fashions that work with those. This is one of those discoveries that should invoke “ah” or “huh” not “INCONCEIVABLE!”

                1. Specialk9*

                  Ha, right? Doubling down when people explain that different people need different things is the part I find inconceivable. I learn all the time here! It’s nice to realize one’s beliefs on what is universal isn’t.

              5. Annie Moose*

                This is such a weird comment and I don’t know how to take it at all. Why on earth would everyone own black pants if they don’t have situations where they wear them in? If they normally wear jeans to work, and when they dress up for work or other occasions they wear dresses, why would they own a pair of black pants? Or take someone who doesn’t wear pants at all–if they always wear dresses or skirts, why would they own black pants? It doesn’t make sense to waste money on an item of clothing that they have no intention of wearing!

                Evidently this is news to you, but most people do not own a piece of every kind of clothing. They own clothing that they have a purpose for.

              6. media monkey*

                i don’t, unless gym leggings would be appropriate? they aren’t a staple for me as my work is casual. like the OP i wear dresses most of the time and rarely wear trousers at all.

            2. MD*

              Plus with the stipulation about color scheme, it’s not necessarily that simple. What if the pants need to be a color other than black or the blouses need to be bright orange?

              1. Decima Dewey*

                What if black isn’t one of the company’s colors? One university near my branch has blue and gold as its colors. Another university whose campus begins a few blocks south has red and blue.

                What if the employee doesn’t normally wear the company colors?

              1. Quoth the Raven*

                Not really. I worked at an office that was casual (think comic book T-shirts and jeans casual), so no black pants for anyone.

          2. LQ*

            Totally plausible. I own no black slacks. I own a whole bunch of skirts in the black/grey range. But no pants. I’m currently updating my wardrobe, I do not have black slacks on the list at all.

            1. Washi*

              I owned one pair of work pants before last week. Now I own two. I don’t like pants very much and they are super hard to find for my body type. I would figure it out, but I would be mad if I needed to get pants and blazers for a 1-week work thing that I would never need again.

            2. Michaela Westen*

              I like skirts too! I have no plans to buy dress pants, now or later. An employer who’s not ok with office-appropriate skirts is not one I’ll work for!

          3. Lily Rowan*

            I don’t know about the OP, but I don’t have two pairs of black slacks. I don’t generally wear pants to work. My wardrobe includes many skirts and dresses, jeans, and shorts. Oh, I have one decent pair of black capri pants. It’s really not a crazy scenario.

          4. Just Me*

            I work in a “professional” workplace. I do not own a single pair of slacks, of any color, and have not for over 10 years. They are most definitely not a staple for everyone. I wear dresses at work and jeans/leggings on my days off.

            1. k.k*

              I also haven’t owned dress pants in at least 10 years, maybe more. I’m a woman and work in business casual environments. Pencil skits and dresses as far as the eye can see, but no pants. I also only own one pair of jeans. I just don’t like pants. My spouse, a man who works in a casual office similar to what OP described, owns one pair of grey dress pants.

          5. aebhel*

            Why? I don’t own two pairs of black slacks because I don’t need them and dress pants are hard to find in my size; why would I go to the time and hassle of purchasing something I’m never going to wear.

          6. NotAnotherManager!*

            Why? If you don’t have to dress business casual for 51 weeks out of the year and prefer dresses to pants, there is no need to buy a business casual “wardrobe staple” that you’re never going to wear just to collect dust in your closet.

            1. soon 2be former fed*

              Geez, it’s not crazy for black pants to be a work wardrobe staple even though some don’t wear pants or black. The attacks on the person who made that comment are unwarranted.

              1. Anon From Here*

                I didn’t attack the person. I made fun of the comment, because I don’t think it’s actually universal that this is is a “should” for “everyone,” for all the reasons everybody else abundantly demonstrated in this thread. And also I’m a professional woman of a certain age who gets along just fine, thanks, with zero pairs of black slacks in my workplace repertoire.

          7. Nita*

            I haven’t owned a single pair of black slacks for a few years. Unless they’re required by dress code at work, there are so many other options that also look professional! Slacks in other neutral colors, skirts and dresses that don’t scream “party,” never mind that in some offices people often dress in clothes that can double as office wear/field meeting wear, so jeans are no big deal. So hopefully OP does have some black slacks, but it’s not out there to assume she may not.

          8. Environmental Compliance*

            I do not own two pairs of black slacks because I do not need to. I am also very much a not-off-generic-rack sizing, and if I want slacks to fit my bum, I’m going to need to have them hemmed and the waist taken in, which takes time & money. Even 90% of blouses I need to have tailored because if the blouse fits my boobs, it sure as hell isn’t going to fit my waist or shoulders.

            However, I do own blouses & slacks that I have slowly built up over time that are nice and professional and fit me well. I would be peeved if I had to go out and purchase clothing other than my grey & tan slacks and nice coordinating blouses simply because someone decided on short notice that we all need to ‘match’.

            Hell, the last time I owned black slacks was when I was in high school for band concerts, because that was what was allowed….which was told to you at the beginning of the year, several months before any concerts, to allow parents to have time to get them. Nearly 30 late-blooming me would not get anywhere close to fitting into those slacks.

          9. Kj*

            I only wear dresses to work. Never slacks. Maybe I wear jeans on the weekend. But dress pants rarely fit me and are never comfortable. I look far more professional in my dresses. I don’t get your insurance that everyone should own dress pants- many people have other solutions to dressing up.

          10. Not A Manager*

            It really bothers me when people respond to someone’s problem by explaining why it isn’t really a problem. If the LW had two pairs of black slacks, AND if those even met the dress code (the LW doesn’t say what the company colors are, or whether black slacks are acceptable), AND if the LW had the funds to buy a few blouses, AND if she was in fact unlikely to get the pants dirty… THEN this wouldn’t be a problem and she wouldn’t be writing in.

            But she is writing in, so probably at least one of those assumptions is wrong.

            Why not just choose to assume that the LW is an intelligent adult, and that if she thinks this problem can’t be solved with things she already owns, or could easily purchase, then she’s correct about that?

            1. aebhel*

              This. It’s like the opposite of ‘not everyone can eat sandwiches’. Just because something isn’t a problem for you personally doesn’t mean that it isn’t a problem for the person who’s writing in to ask for advice about it.

          11. EPLawyer*

            As noted i dont wear pants due to size issues. So no i dont have 2 pairs of black pants just sitting in my closet not being used.

          12. AMPG*

            I don’t own a single pair of dress pants, and I work in a business casual environment. I wear exclusively skirts and dresses.

            And come to think of it, if “blouses” for the purposes of this dress code specifically means button-front shirts, I don’t own any of those, either.

          13. The Other Dawn*

            Nope, not a staple for me. I have no need of black pants, or even black shirts, when I can buy so many other colors and they’re not necessary for work anyway. Also, I have a lot of cats and that is not conducive to owning black items of clothing.

          14. nonegiven*

            I’ll never buy black slacks again, they always look like crap unless you spend a half hour with tape getting the lint and hair off them.

          15. Green Cheese Moon*

            Joining in to say, yeah, no black pants here either. I just always wear dresses to work. The only pants I own are pajamas, jeans, and cargo-type for hiking.
            I could afford to buy a couple pairs, and am pretty easy to fit, but I would still be unhappy to have once-a-year pants (and blouses) cluttering up my closet!

    2. Greg NY*

      This would be a good fallback option, but doing laundry takes time, and it would be every day (or at least every other day) for an entire week. It may be that they can afford the time more than the expense, but it’s still a pretty big inconvenience. But it may the best of a lot of rotten options if it comes to that.

        1. Rachel*

          OP here! Correct – this is an anyway-from-home event where I won’t have access to laundry except the dry cleaning through the hotel. We’re working 7am to 11pm all seven days – yikes but it’s just a week and about 80% of our income is generated in this one week, so some allowances are made, hence the extra flexible vacation package. Maybe I could ask the company to pick up dry cleaning if I get a couple of pants and blouses?

          1. Mad Baggins*

            Good compromise idea, ask the company to arrange dry cleaning.

            If you are REALLY stuck, what I did is wear an undershirt that absorbed my sweat and aired out/shower-rinsed my blouse when I got home. If it’s not a thick cotton or you only wet the armpits it should dry mostly by the next morning. And lay on consecutively heavier layers of deodorant as the week goes on. It absolutely sucks and you shouldn’t have to do it but that way you can make one outfit last… if I were in your shoes and the boss wouldn’t relent I’d mention this as “well I guess I could do this… hope I don’t spill anything on myself” and see if that makes the point hit home.

            No one will fault you if on the last day of the event, you mention to a stakeholder, “sorry if I smell, they changed the dress code at the last minute and I didn’t have time to buy orange shirts so I’ve been wearing the same outfit for 7 days”…

            1. Just Employed Here*

              I would absolutely fault an employee who made any comments like that to a stakeholder.

              The sudden change (which is so far only a rumour) of dress code is indeed a problem, but *really* not laundry to air in public (ha!), outside of OP’s organization. There are many possible ways to solve this, assuming the rumour is even true: an exception being made for the OP, her getting an allowance for dry cleaning or even buying new clothes, etc., and they all start by talking to the boss.

            2. Lilo*

              I agree with “Just Employed. Yes, you will reasonably be faulted for both poor hygiene and making a comment like that. I have been a poor college student who had to wear a suit all week. I found ways to air out my jacket and clothes and hand washed items at night.

              Adults can manage this stuff.

              1. Lilo*

                In a hotel room, little things like steaming your clothes by putting them in a room with a hot shower can help. Some sprays (I have a tea tree oil one) can freshen you up and undershirts are cheap and do protect your clothes.

                But also: talk to your boss asap. I suspect this is overblown but if it isn’t, you want ad much time as possible to work the issue.

                1. Guacamole Bob*

                  Spraying a mix of vodka and water on your clothes can do wonders for smells, I’ve recently learned. It’s enabled me to wear my blazers another time or two between dry cleaning trips, especially in the summer.

                2. Specialk9*

                  In a pinch, use hand sanitizer and swipe it under your arms (above and below your shirt) and on your crotch. It kills the stank germs, but along your crotch it’ll open your eyes until the very warm feeling leaves.

                3. Liz T*

                  The Zero Odor spray they sell at Walgreens is A MIRACLE and when I was a temp it really saved my life. It’s better than Febreze and they have smallish bottles that are good for traveling.

            3. Les G*

              Adding my voice to the chorus of folks who would fault you very much. Come on, folks, this is…actually not a big deal? It’s an annoyance to OP, yes, but doesn’t come close to justifying passive-aggressive sabotage or malicious compliance.

              1. SarahTheEntwife*

                Spending what might be a couple hundred dollars on short notice is more than just an annoyance to many people’s budgets.

                1. Les G*

                  Sure, but it’s not to the OP. She says in the letter that she can afford it but would prefer to spend her money elsewhere. Folks are writing poverty fan fiction in a rabid race to out-woke each other here.

                2. Lilo*

                  And suggestive deliberately being gross or breaking social norms as some kind of revenge is gross. And could get OP fired.

                  One bad ask at an otherwise good job is not worth throwing a huge fit and sabotaging yourself.

                3. AnotherAlison*

                  I just don’t think the request is all that outrageous. I have a job that is probably 80% business casual, with jeans Fridays. But, for the other 20%, I have needed everything from FRP clothes and safety boots to a formal suit to the company uniform like the OP describes. The first time these requests came up, it was usually last-minute. At this point, I’ve got everything I need, but I’ve been in the OP’s position, filling in for my boss at a NY finance conference, finding out the Friday before and needing a suit. . .when I hadn’t bought a suit since my post-grad interviews 8 yrs. before. I get it if you can’t afford it, but my company pays well, and it sounds like the OP isn’t hurting either. It’s really not worth making a fuss about. I want to show I’m a flexible professional (even if I am annoyed), not a pain in the rear.

                4. AvonLady Barksdale*

                  That doesn’t justify making it her stakeholders’ problem, which is what Mad Baggins suggested above. I would be pretty peeved if I had to spend money on short notice (and on clothes, which is time and aggravation as well as money), but that doesn’t mean the OP should act inappropriately and unprofessionally because she’s upset. There are other ways to express one’s displeasure that are far more polite and appropriate.

                5. Yojo*

                  Would people be this unsympathetic if this was some other unexpected, inconvenient, last-minute personal expense suggested? I don’t get all the “suck it up” comments about this.

                6. Lilo*

                  Yes, we would if someone was suggesting acting incredibly unprofessionally in response to a relatively minor work request for a job OP otherwise likes a lot. This board should never suggest something that could get someone fired absent a circumstance OP finds untenable or in a clear abuse or safety issue.

                7. AnotherAlison*

                  @Yojo – I think asking for particular clothes for work is not particularly unreasonable. I would be peeved at the last-minute request, but 16 days is not extremely last minute. This is the type of request that has been present in most of our lives since childhood–you have to wear special clothes for specific events. I’ve had to buy numerous “team” shirts, for high school sports seasons, kids’ uniforms for fast food jobs, my own work clothes, khaki pants and polo shirts for college presentations, and so on.

                  If they asked her to buy a projector out of her personal funds for the event, or almost anything else, I might be more outraged.

                8. Yorick*

                  @AnotherAlison I agree, I’m plus size and a little picky about clothes and I still can’t imagine that I wouldn’t be able to find these clothes in 16 days. That’s plenty of time to either get an online order shipped to your house or go to multiple stores to find what you need.

              2. Thursday Next*

                Agreed, Les G. There’s no value or valor in taking a complaint like that to shareholders.

                Also, “poverty fan fiction,” below, is a pretty nifty turn of phrase. (And not insensitive to the OP’s situation, as she’s said she can afford the new items.)

                1. Thursday Next*

                  Nesting fail, sorry! “Poverty fan fiction” is above. Anyway, just adding my voice to those who have suggested that going to the stakeholders would be uncalled for.

                2. Kelly O*

                  Adding my own virtual high five to “poverty fan fiction” – it seriously gets deep around here sometimes, and that’s the perfect word for it.

          2. Tardigrade*

            If other options fail you, fill a spray bottle with vodka and mist your clothes (not douse, just mist) and place the garments in a place where they can air out. It has worked for me in a pinch to remove light odor, but YMMV.

          3. Nita*

            Maybe it’s already part of the covered trip expenses! I’d start by checking with your boss if the rumor is even true in the first place (because shouldn’t they be making an announcement soon if they want everyone to be prepared?) and if so, whether dry cleaning is a reimbursable expense.

          4. Oxford Comma*

            I asked a friend who worked in theatre, and she said “vodka.” She recommended packing an empty spray bottle and getting some inexpensive vodka which I guess you would mist onto clothes and that this would help with the odor issue.

            Hopefully, this is all just rumor, but if not, maybe something like that would help extend the life of the outfits.

    3. Marzipan*

      Personally I’d be pushing back on the slacks/blouse combo just because it’s not a good look for me AT ALL. The combination of big boobs and a roundish middle mean I’d be sticking out all over the place. I, like the OP, have nice dresses for work – because that’s what works on my body shape. So for myself, I’d be swiftly pointing out to my boss that I was going to look horrible all week for the big event if they insisted on this, and that I certainly wasn’t going to buy a week’s worth of outfits that would make me look horrible so if they went with it, I’d be getting just one such outfit and washing it as necessary.

      1. Julia*

        I prefer to wear dresses as well, for your reasons and because buying pants is a pain in the rear end. They never fit in all places, whereas a skirt just has to fit at the waist and then fall down.

      2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        There are also many people who don’t wear pants for religious or cultural reasons. I think that enforcing a dress code like this could be problematic.

        In any case I’d absolutely verify it first. Your colleague may have misheard or misinterpreted a comment made by someone else.

        1. Les G*

          Seriously? Then those folks would be given a religious accommodation. Everyone else would just wear the freakin’ pants, just like with every single other work uniform on the planet.

          1. anonny*

            “Not everyone can wear pants” – I am DYING laughing right now. This is AAM commenting at it’s finest. This is why I still come back and occasionally read the comments here – for gems like that.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              It doesn’t say that not everyone can wear pants, despite the quote marks.

              Body type can make buying professional looking pants challenging, something an off-the-rack shaped manager may not have contemplated–and OP says their manager is a pleasant, rational, accommodating person, exactly the sort of person you tell when their directive is more difficult than they might have realized. (A similar issue might arise when they assume everyone has a car, or that driving at night is no big deal, or that oxford shirts will work just as well on the new short buxom woman as they do on the three tall thin men on the team.)

              To the religious exemption I’ll add people who post-surgery can’t wear some pants because they discover the waistband is hitting on the scar.

              It’s not like this is an event where everyone has to wear pants to fit a server’s uniform, or for safety reasons. In terms of business formality, dresses are not considered a too-casual alternative to slacks. Like someone upthread, manager may have assumed that everyone just has these in their wardrobe already and they are simplifying things. (Assuming the new dress code is actually a thing, which should be determined first.)

              1. Thursday Next*

                I thought annony was referencing “not everyone can eat sandwiches” with that.

                But sure, in cases where religious or medical accommodation is needed, it should be granted once requested.

                1. Lilo*

                  Yes there are some (let’s be honest rare) instances where you accommodate people. But acting like wearing a woman wearing slacks is a huge ask is patently ridiculous. I think almost every single hourly job I have ever held required me to wear pants, either khakis or (more commonly) black slacks. I am talking 5 plus jobs from fast food to waiting to tech staff.

                2. anonny*

                  correct, thank you thursday. i was referring to the “not everyone can eat sandwiches” commenting rule that no one ever follows around here. this LW said she doesn’t want to spend money on new clothes for a week.

                  she did not say:
                  i can’t afford it
                  i have an unusual body type and can’t wear pants ever
                  pants are against my religion

                  i think alison sufficiently answered the question but the comments are just outrageous on this one.

                3. Michaela Westen*

                  @Lilo, the times I’ve seen jobs like that the dress code said “black pants or skirt”. I would wear a skirt.
                  Most dress codes have something about the length of the skirt so people won’t come in miniskirts. I expect these days they also say something about real pants, not leggings.

              2. Specialk9*

                I have a hard time wearing trousers post C-section. It took me 2 years to find pants that fit my decidedly-atypical body without rubning the tender scar or digging painfully into my still-very-tender belly. I did it, but I bought and returned or donated many pairs of pants in the process.

                All to say, this is a real thing experienced by many people… We just don’t talk about this kind of thing much in everyday conversation. I certainly don’t talk about my lingering post C-section pain at work! It’s not sandwiches territory.

              3. Yorick*

                This is exactly the same as the “not everyone can eat sandwiches” that is against the site rules.

                Sure, somebody might physically or otherwise be unable to wear pants, but that’s unlikely, and it’s not the OP’s situation

                1. jolene*

                  I used to work at a restaurant whose female straight owner got grumpy if I came in wearing trousers. “The customers want to see your nice legs,” she would say firmly. It was a fantastic, fun place to work and I didn’t mind at all, but she’d have been running a brothel a hundred years ago instead of a restaurant.

      3. Les G*

        Pushing back against what is, essentially, a uniform because you don’t like how it looks on you is *also* not a good look at all, I’m afraid.

        1. Phoenix*

          I don’t think it’s nearly as unreasonable as you’re suggesting. Given that they’re changing from “whatever suits you, but in our color scheme and of a certain level of formality” to a more homogeneous “uniform”, it’s valid to raise the question of whether the uniformity they’re going for is worth the lack of suitability for some body types. It sounds like they’re making the change for aesthetic reasons, since they mention wanting the employees to “match”, so raising a different aesthetic point is entirely valid.

          It would be a different situation if the “uniform” was already in place, and a new person who disliked it aesthetically tried to push back.

          1. Washi*

            Yeah, I don’t think this is crazy. If the company were providing polos for everyone to wear, that would not be something to push back on bc it doesn’t look good on you. But if the company is instituting this dress code because they want to look polished and coordinated, I think it’s worth at least asking why a dress or skirt in the correct colors can’t accomplish that goal.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              This. It sounds like the dresses would look more polished and coordinated with similarly hued coworkers than would some blouses and slacks thrown together based on what’s on sale this weekend.

        2. ket*

          That really depends on the industry. “I can’t wear this safety jacket because it looks frumpy” — no. “I can’t wear this insurance company polo because it’s ugly” — probably can’t do that either, because companies that buy you a polo don’t care if you look terrible, true fact, and you just don’t need to look that good for a lot of jobs. “I will not make as many sales of luxury condos because I don’t look the luxury condo part in pants” — that’s getting somewhere. If there’s no safety requirement and your job depends in part on looking a certain part, pushing back on a uniform that doesn’t look good on you is very reasonable, especially when you have a ready alternative.

          1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

            Looking professional and put together is indeed a part of many jobs. I even think you could push back on a company polo if they don’t go about ordering them the right way (send out sizing measurements, have you select your size, then order). “I’m sorry, I really can’t wear this medium/large/one size fits no one because it literally will not go around my middle”.

            1. Kj*

              I’ve been in volunteering situations where they wanted us to all wear matching t shirts, but didn’t ask for sizes ahead of time. I’m a smaller woman- I’ve been stuck wearing shirts that were dress length on me and you could have fit two of me in them. Thankfully, they generally got it when I pulled the shirt on and since I was a volunteer, they didn’t care too much. But I can’t imagine dealing with this situation as work….

              1. Gadget Hackwrench*

                Lucky. Every time I’ve been in that situation they just told me to knot it like it was the 80s again.

        3. Aveline*

          Thing about uniforms. Either the company pays for them or you are given notice way ahead of time they will be required.

          It is reasonable to ask for uniformity. It is unreasonable to ask for it so quickly on your employee’s dime.

          Also, I guessing you have zero clue about how difficult it is for many women to find pants that fit.

          I’m fairly trim, bit I have a three size differential between my waist and my hips. I cannot ever find off the rack pants that fit. Ever. So I wear mostly Aline skirts or super stretchy pencil skirts.

          Of my females colleagues, I know of only a handful who can find pants that fit correctly off the rack.

          This is not as easy or as cheap as you are making it out to be.

          For a huge percentage of women, pants need tailoring or adjustment.

          So this is a big ask for them. It’s also a gendered issue as far fewer men would have an issue finding OTR pants to fit.

          Add in the fact that women generally pay more for decent slacks than men…

          So it’s asking women to pay a disproportionate cost for uniformity demanded at the last minute.

          1. Julia*

            This.
            Plus, I have never worked anywhere that didn’t allow me to wear dresses or skirts. I find it very hard to think of a reason for pants only (other than security, which doesn’t seem to be the case here).

          2. Specialk9*

            This. There’s a reason I mostly wear dresses and skirts! Trousers are hard to find, can be painful, and are
            wildly expensive in my size and height.

        4. aebhel*

          It kind of is if you’re expected to fund said ‘uniform’ out of your own pocket at the last minute, especially since it sounds like it’s supposed to be decently formal and not, like, $5 Walmart khakis and polo shirts.

          I mean, I don’t think it’s worth making this the hill to die on, but I’d absolutely bring it up that this is an expensive inconvenience and isn’t likely to actually result in staff looking polished and professional.

      4. Lilo*

        Seconding this being silly. I did not look good in the bright polo my pizza place made me wear. I did not look my best in the futuristic space outfit I had to wear at a theme park. Suits are a bit outdated.

        None of it matters. You follow the dress code.

        1. boop the first*

          Ugh yes! Polos don’t look good on anyone! That one retail job, they made us tuck in our shirts, but they ordered shirts that go almost all the way down to our knees. That’s a “good” look… Poofy unfitted polo shirt and black pants with a huge lumpy ring of bunched up polo shirt wrapped around the butt. Very professional *rolls eyes*

        2. Aveline*

          Pants are different simply because they are so much harder for curvy women to fit OTR.

          I don’t know about OP, but a lot of women can’t simply waltz into a store and find 7 pairs of slacks that fit perfectly. Even if they do, it’s serious dough.

          I’ll wear any ugly shirt you ask me to. Pants? Can’t find any that fit OTR. All have to be tailored.

          1. Lilo*

            Thus is turning into one of those “not all people can eat sandwiches” posts. It doesn’t take much creativity to make it work. I am particularly aware of this because I am currently pregnant but those maternity panels just don’t seem to work for me. I bought some $5-$10 pants in various sizes from Amazon and paired them as needed with belts and a belly band. I am nowhere close to a normal shape at the moment.

            My 6’2” sister has also found online shopping to help her out.

            1. sb51*

              I don’t think this is a “sandwiches” case because the event is in *16 days*, and I’d guess that they’re quite busy preparing for it, so taking time off to drive all over creation to go shopping isn’t in the cards.

              It’s way too short of a timeframe for online ordering.

            2. Specialk9*

              So… You are ignoring all of us saying it’s really decidedly NOT sandwiches because you don’t have this problem?

              Oh.

              Ok.

              1. Lilo*

                I am saying that wearing pants is normal and there is zero indication that OP can’t wear pants. The hypos on this board get over the top.

                We should save outrage for actual outrage situations.

              2. Thursday Next*

                I think looking at the LW’s specific circumstances, a lot of the problems commenters have cited don’t apply. The LW’s question was about how “put out” she should be about it, given that she can afford it, just doesn’t want to spend her money that way, and that she otherwise really likes her job. No mention of religious, medical, or fit issues, or even the time constraint of shopping for an upcoming event. She’s “put out,” in her own words, but not in dire straits for any reason.

                Advice to the LW based on her specific situation with the details she described in her letter really doesn’t need to encompass all of the many considerations being laid out here.

                Advice to you, if you were put in the same situation, would be different, if you had different, specific needs.

                1. Purple Wombat*

                  Yeah- the OP literally says, “I get it — the boss can set the dress code and I’m fine with what is expected to be worn, just not the amount of time I was given.”

                  I feel like we’re getting pretty far off-topic discussing all the reasons why someone might not be fine with wearing the clothes associated the dress code, seeing as the problem for the OP is the timeframe/cost.

                2. Dr. Pepper*

                  Asking someone to spend their own money on something they really don’t want on short notice to suit the company’s arbitrary sartorial standards is definitely cause for feeling “put out”. You want me to wear a certain thing? Provide it and I’ll wear it, even if it’s the ugliest effing thing I’ve ever seen. Want me to wear an annoyingly specific “uniform” that *I* have to procure and pay for with my own money and won’t wear any other time? You’ll be getting some push back and I’m going to be pissed.

              3. Leslie knope*

                Yeah, I really don’t get the direction this post took. Obviously it’s an issue for the OP or she wouldn’t have written in…

              4. Yorick*

                I’m sure if you couldn’t eat sandwiches, you’d think that was a real problem, maybe even a common problem, and we were being insensitive with our talk of sandwiches.

                But really, I’d guess that most women buy pants off the rack and wear them without even getting them tailored. Often it’s tricky to get the perfect pair or they don’t look as good as possible. But don’t we all figure out that X and Y stores usually have pants that work but the pants at W and X stores are terrible? And if I needed some specific clothes item in a hurry (although 16 days isn’t that much of a hurry, imo), I’d be ok with rushing out and getting something that’s just ok.

                Also, I apologize if I just missed it, but the letter didn’t even mention that OP finds it impossible to wear pants and never wears them at all. That’s something that the commenters went off the rails with.

                1. nonegiven*

                  I’m assuming there is a reason that she built a wardrobe of dresses in the colors for this event, instead of pants and blouses, in the first place.

                2. Yorick*

                  I don’t think that’s a fair assumption. I like to wear dresses so most of my clothes are dresses. I find it’s like half the work of getting dressed as pants and a blouse (or less). I have only a couple of pairs of work pants. But there’s really no reason for that except that I haven’t shopped for pants in a long time.

            3. Oxford Comma*

              I would guess that if this was a regular dress code, OP 1 could make it work.

              It sounds like there’s an event in a little more than 2 weeks, and that the company may be making shift which will require the OP to have to purchase 7 different outfits that match what her coworkers will be wearing.

              Is it impossible? No. Is it inconvenient and potentially expensive? Yes. It’s also inconsiderate for the company not to have notified staff with enough notice for them to be creative.

              1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

                OP has no need for seven different outfits. Two pairs of pants and two, three tops. That’ll work.

                1. Oxford Comma*

                  OP is the best judge of that, I would think.

                  In any case, it’s still not a lot of time to get clothes for a lot of people.

                2. Oxford Comma*

                  From the OP’s follow up comment–she’s working 7 18 hour days. She also commented that “Cooler this time of year, but often upper 70’s to 80’s, just warm enough to sweat, making rewearing pants without washing kinda gross. Wouldn’t even think about attempting that with blouses.”

                  She’s the best judge of her own situation.

          2. Lynn*

            Except for button down shirts. If they fit me in the bust, they are way too big everywhere else. If they fit me everywhere else, I have gaps between the buttons which is not ok to require nor does it look professional.

          3. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

            Why would you need seven pair? Two, maybe. And many curvy women find pants they can wear–they don’t fit like custom but they are OK.

        3. Kelly O*

          I am a plus-sized woman who can have a hard time finding pants that fit right.

          But I have them and I wear them. I’ve found them online, in stores, at thrift/consignment shops. It takes a little work sometimes, but that just goes along with working in an office.

          For me this is ridiculous – you are part of your team at work. If the boss wants everyone in these coordinated outfits, then just ask if your dress will be okay. There may be a reason you aren’t aware of – maybe something changed this year, or is going to change.

          Either way, all you can do is ask, and if they say no, then go buy the damn pants. Or put out your resume, whichever feels best to you.

          And by the way, yes, I know there are special people who just cannot possibly abide by the rules of their office for “Reasons.” And as soon as I hit submit someone is going to come at me because their plus-sized situation is totally different than mine. Look, I’m an apple. I carry weight around the middle. I have a chest situation that, while not at a Mary Carey level, is not insubstantial. Yet I find button downs and pants and stuff (and yes sometimes I pay the nice lady $5 or $10 to alter something, or I go buy snaps or fashion tape or safety pins.

          The point is this – you put in the effort you want to put in. Whether it’s your appearance, your attitude, or your work. It’s your choice how contrary you want to be, and I swear it feels like half the time these letter writers and comments are just trying to be contrary. (Which is why I am so rarely around anymore.)

    4. nonegiven*

      No, I’d purposely spill my lunch on my shirt on Monday and wear it every other day of the week.

      Also, I’d wear the dresses until they tell you, in some direct fashion, about the new dress code.

      1. Lilo*

        I hope this comment is facetious and it probably is but, remember deliberately looking messy is just going to reflect badly in you.

        This is just a rumor at this point. Talk to your boss. It probably will come to nothing.

        But if it does come to something, don’t sabotage yourself. That is childish and will be seen not as a reasonable protest, but a lack of professionalism during what sounds like a crucial week. The kind if thing that could torpedo your whole job. Don’t do it. Talk to your boss, be clear about limitations, but do not make yourself look bad deliberately.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Completely agreed. I’m appalled that anyone would suggest that the OP make herself look deliberately sloppy as some form of protest. It’s professional clothing, not a T-Rex costume. I would assume that the OP wants to appear professional and neat.

          Also, what you said above about this just being a rumor at this point is so, so true. Who knows, maybe it IS true but the boss didn’t think it through. Or maybe the boss thought it through and wants the OP to comply. Regardless, the OP should speak to the boss (calmly) and ask what’s up and how they can work out a compromise.

        2. Emily K*

          I’m surprised so many people are making comments like this. Rachel makes a point of saying she otherwise likes her job and let’s face it, that’s a big deal. Lots of people aren’t so likely. You don’t poison the well the first time you’re unhappy with a single decision. This isn’t the final straw that she’s asking how to shame and punish her employer over, it’s a challenging situation she’s asking how to navigate the best way she can. Passive-aggressiveness is never the best way to navigate anything.

    5. boop the first*

      This is the way I deal with work uniforms. One pair of pants, and a bunch of really cheap t-shirts to wear UNDER the ugly shirt I am inevitably given. The under-shirt keeps the outer shirt relatively “unscented”.

  6. Observer*

    #4 I just want to say “Thank you for pushing back.” There are so many stereotypes built into these assumptions, and they are so harmful. Changing the policy and behavior may help to change those steretypes and the negative consequences of them.

    1. OP#4*

      Thanks. I actually think, in the end, my employer appreciated it, too. At worst, I think this was unintentionally sexist and when called on it they changed their answer.

  7. Observer*

    #2, you most definitely have not worn out your options. You CAN and SHOULD go back to the whistleblower line. Be EXPLICIT that you are seeing retaliation, and that your boss knows about it.

    Also, make notes of every occasion that you can recall and keep a log. If there is some sort of web based complaint system, send this along from a computer that’s outside of the office.

  8. Just Employed Here*

    OP 2, I don’t know if it’s just a turn of phrase at the end of your letter, but *you* didn’t put Sarah in this situation (not even accidentally). Jane and her cronies did (and your boss, by not stopping it).

    Based on your letter as printed here, you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. You should just keep doing the right thing, as advised by Alison.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It’s also worth reminding yourself that the comment Jane made that prompted you to act was said in front of the entire team *and* external clients so it’s entirely possibly your complaint was not the only one they received.

      Maybe that’s just my naive optimism hoping it wasn’t.

      1. Uncanny Valley*

        +100 to that
        Also OP#2 you are not a coward, you took action in the best way considering your circumstances.

      2. Logan*

        I was thinking the same. If the number is at all published outside the organisation then maybe point out that it could be the clients? (although there’s no point – Alison’s answer of reporting the manager and colleague is much more correct)

        1. OP No. 4*

          I should clarify – the VIP visitors weren’t external clients. I work for a really large company and the VIP visitors were managers very high up in the organisation that were visiting our location from head office.

          I agree that there’s not really any point in getting into a guessing game with them about who made the complaint. I have tried pointing out before that they have no proof Sarah complained, and it was completely dismissed as “We know it was her.” They’re not being rational about it at all. I think they disliked Sarah anyway and this gives them an excuse.

    2. JJ*

      I think this is totally right OP, and this situation is awful (and your coworkers are awful), but speaking of turns of phrase, I did want to point out that referring to your adult female coworkers as “girls” is not the coolest (and could be interpreted as sexist/ageist). Yes, they are acting extremely immature and this also might be a regionalism or a default phrase (like referring to a mixed group of people as “guys”) but it’s just something that caught my eye.

    3. Dr. Pepper*

      Yes. OP2, you are not responsible for Jane’s behavior. Let me repeat; you are NOT responsible for Jane’s behavior, nor the behavior of anyone else. Do not shoulder this emotional burden. Do not feel guilty. Jane is responsible for her own comments and your manager is responsible for not shutting them down, because it is his job to do so. It’s okay to feel bad for Sarah, she is indeed in a crappy position, but do NOT feel guilty. You have done nothing wrong. You do not owe it to anyone to “confess” that you were the origin of the complaint. Now is the time to complain again, using Alison’s script, because none of these people have ceased their appalling behavior. This is ALL on your jerk of a coworker and your spineless wimp of a boss.

  9. Tada*

    OP#1 Have you checked out any of the clothing rental subscription websites to see if they have pieces available that meet the requirements? You can often even get the first month free or discounted if you are a new user.

    I am not sure if I can mention specific sites here in the comments. But, if you Google the term “Clothing rental subscription” you will find three or four popular services at the top of the search results.

  10. Fight the good fight*

    (LW 4) I don’t think it’s that outrageous a request given he told his employer the reason he was going to be the primary caretaker of his second child was that his (stay at home parent) wife had health issues, and that his wife ‘may later become primary caretaker’ if her health issues resolve. This doesn’t seem to me to be as much related to the LW’s gender as to his specific circumstances.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      But his reasons for being primary caregiver are not actually relevant to whether the company should “allow” him to be primary caregiver. No company should be in the business of deciding how their employees divide childcare in their families. If he were going to be primary caregiver because his wife traveled a lot for work, should his employer require her boarding pass stubs as proof? If he and his wife just felt he’s more temperamentally suited to infant care, could the employer request a note from a psychologist who’s evaluated both of them for patience and empathy and rates him higher? Whether it’s because he’s a man or whether they’d still be asking for a doctor’s note if the genders were reversed (and I really do suspect it’s the former anyway), it’s not the employer’s place to say “our employees can only be primary caregivers if there is a Good Enougb Reason why no one else can take care of this kid.”

      1. Fight the good fight*

        Well the company isn’t saying he’s not ‘allowed’ to be the primary caregiver – they’re just saying they won’t necessarily pay him to be it. Paid leave above and beyond legislated minimums are business decisions and businesses are entitled to set parameters on how they determine eligibility. My main point – though I may not have made it well in my original post – is that I don’t see it related so much to his gender as to the fact that he told them he wouldn’t be caretaker if it weren’t for his wife’s health – the LW by saying this in essence ‘named’ her as the primary caretaker albeit one who is out of action (possibly) temporarily.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The OP says the company “offers a certain amount of paid leave for all parents and longer leave for a primary caregiver.” If they have that in their handbook or benefits info as something they offer, they can’t treat requests from men differently. than requests from women.

          1. Fight the good fight*

            My point is that we have no information about how requests from women would be treated if they said words to the effect of , ‘my husband would usually be caretaker, but he’s unwell so I’ll be doing it but he’ll possibly be well enough at some point to take on the role’. The LW said he was trying to see it in the best possible light and I think such a light exists because the circumstances around his request aren’t ‘typical’ of most requests.and that his ‘sense’ of gender bias might be wrong.

            1. Annoyed*

              Since it is assumed, by society as a whole, that women are “naturally” better at childcare, nurturing, etc. it is also assumed that the grunt work of taking care of the kids will fall to the woman, full stop.

              It is veeerrryyy rare for anyone, even died in the wool feminists who grew up with fathers one would define as a “feminist ally” (because…socialization) to think of the dad first whenever we imagine child and/or domestic stuffs.

              Ergo it is almost a certainty that the company is being gender biased.

              1. Fight the good fight*

                I have to say I find the assumption that because I can see a non
                gender biased reason for the company’s response, I must not understand systemic gender bias (and how it can affect decision making in the work environment), insulting.
                I simply think that there is a possible alternative reason in this case and I have pointed it out to the LW – he can do with it what he will. Given the rules say to not keep making my point I’ll stop now, particularly if my opinion is not going to be refuted logically but responded to with patronizing Feminism 101 speeches.

                1. Fred*

                  I wrote the same thing down below so you are not the only one who can see. A non-gender bias explanation, which is after all what the letter writer was asking for. For some people sexism is their favorite explanation for anything and you are denying them the pleasure of their pet grievance.

                2. Zillah*

                  @Fred – I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who takes pleasure in being victimized by sexism, nor is it reasonable to characterize a well-documented phenomenon as a “pet issue.”

                  I’ll leave it at that so I don’t derail the thread.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yeah, that is gross. Comments like that here (claiming that when people see sexism or racism, it’s because they enjoy being victims) are not welcome here.

          2. Jamies*

            We don’t know a woman who divulges her husband is home but not the primary caregiver is treated differently though.

        2. Just Employed Here*

          It would still be interesting to know whether any of the *women* requesting the primary caregiver leave are asked about whether their possible partners are stay-at-home parents, etc.

          1. Techworker*

            I totally agree this is probably sexism, but it’s also not that weird for them to require that only one parent is counted as the ‘primary caregiver’. My company is about to instigate a leave policy also based around this, which has its own issues, but when I raised that I found it weird company policy depended on what your other half did, they pointed out that’s currently the case (in the U.K. at least) with shared parental leave – where you get a certain amount of leave between you.

          2. Guacamole Bob*

            My wife was definitely asked this, and I believe her colleagues were, too. She took her leave a few months in when I went back to work. Another woman in her department who had a wife who stayed home with their kids only got the more limited amount of leave when her children were born. I don’t know how the specific HR person handled it because the policy was clear and both my wife and her coworker only planned to use the leave outlined in the policy, but it applied equally across genders.

            These policies where employers grant extra leave to primary caregivers aren’t as unusual as I think a lot of commenters are making them out to be.

            1. Zillah*

              I think the bigger concern people have is employers inserting themselves into who gets to be the primary caregiver.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                I kind of agree, but I think some employers would respond by giving less generous leave benefits to everyone. I’d rather have to abide by a more complicated policy and get the 4 months of paid leave that my wife got than get 8 or 12 weeks for everyone across the board. But I can see where others might disagree on the invasion of privacy.

                1. Zillah*

                  I would argue that if there’s a complicated policy that requires people to jump through a lot of hoops, those generous leave benefits are not available to everyone to begin with.

    2. Rez123*

      I don’t think it’s that outrageous either. And I feel like I read it slightly differently. I felt like the reason why it was asked was because wife is at home. I know many companies that has rules that both parents can’t be off from work at the same time. As in if you call in to be off from work because your child has fever, you can’t be off if your partner is also off. Of course not many companies require proof but some do. Here also both parents can be on parental leave for 3 weeks together. Remaining parental leave has to be divided. So I took it as if one parent is already at home, they need a note saying that both of you have not told the boss that you are primary caregivers.

      I took ‘primary caretaker’ to be the parent with the kid at the time. It’s ridiculous if there are 2 parents that the other is assigned as the primary (maybe in SAHP situation…big maybe). The whole concept of primary should not exist and the leave should be standardised.

      1. Annoyed*

        How would a spouse’s employer know about the other spouse’s employment situation unless they were told? And how is it their business?

        1. Czhorat*

          Yep. Exactly.

          Either they have a standard of asking every primary caregiver for proof or they take everyone at their word. Those are the only two reasonable choices.

          This is gender discrimination, at least in appearance. That’s not acceptable.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            But this is kind of a weird situation. I get the feeling that if OP had told them his wife was going back to work they would have accepted that at face value. Possibly also if she were permanently disabled such that she could never be the primary caregiver. But OP presented a situation that probably hasn’t come up before but which is, on the face of it, exactly the kind of thing that someone trying to take advantage of the policies to get extra paid vacation might come up with – a temporarily disabled spouse at home. We don’t really know how the company would have reacted if OP were a woman because the situation probably hasn’t come up before, and if it has then OP doesn’t know the details.

            It may be gender-based discrimination depending on how they typically handle primary caregiver leave, but it also might not be.

            1. doreen*

              Additionally, the OP very likely disclosed the surrogacy – not that the surrogacy itself makes a difference , but it does make it impossible for the employer to assume that the wife’s inability to be a primary caretaker is related to her own recovery from giving birth and therefore temporary. All together, this strikes me as a fact pattern that probably has never come up before and most likely never will come up with a different employee.

              1. doreen*

                I don’t think Guacamole Bob is saying that temporarily disabled spouse + baby = vacation. It’s the other way around- people who want the extended paid leave offered to primary caretakers even though there is a non-disabled spouse who stays at home would claim that the at-home spouse is temporarily disabled.

            2. Zillah*

              But OP presented a situation that probably hasn’t come up before but which is, on the face of it, exactly the kind of thing that someone trying to take advantage of the policies to get extra paid vacation might come up with – a temporarily disabled spouse at home.

              … with a baby. I’m not sure how “temporarily disabled” spouse at home + baby = vacation.

                1. Guacamole Bob*

                  Of course that sounds hard – and if OP provides documentation, the company agrees that he should be able to take paid leave in that circumstance. I was trying to say that someone might lie about a temporary disability in order to get the paid leave, and that lie would be hard to distinguish from OP’s very real situation.

                  Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

                2. Zillah*

                  @Guacamole Bob – If you don’t trust your employees not to lie about having a disabled spouse, there’s a larger issue.

                3. Guacamole Bob*

                  @Zillah, the issue of trusting employees may depend on the type and size of company, as well as the culture. I’ve worked at places that were smallish and we knew each other and it was mainly white collar, exempt workers, and asking for this kind of documentation would have been kind of insulting. At my current large government agency, any policy that can be abused will be abused by someone at some point, so every i needs to be dotted on stuff like this. It’s a totally different culture, based on decades of history with a large, largely blue collar workforce that’s paid according to complicated union-negotiated work rules. I’m not saying that culture is great, but it’s far from unique.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                Depends on the baby, but for some people multiple paid months off with two parents at home would be pretty cushy. And regardless, our societal expectation is that one adult can care for an infant at home during working hours unless there are extenuating circumstances. At least, companies don’t feel the need to provide paid benefits so that their employees can be a second adult home with an infant.

                1. Zillah*

                  Sure, if both adults are in a position to take care of a baby. The OP said in the initial letter and has reiterated in the comments that he made it clear that his wife has a serious health condition; that’s extremely relevant information, because there are no situations in which that is “pretty cushy.”

                2. Guacamole Bob*

                  @Zillah, OP’s case falls within the “extenuating circumstances” I mentioned. Of course it’s reasonable that if OP’s wife has health problems then he should be able to access the paid parental leave for primary caregivers. I just understand why his company is concerned that someone could be lying about a spouse’s health problems in order to access a higher level of paid benefits.

            3. batman*

              But the thing is, who cares? If both parents want to stay home with the child for a few months, they should be allowed to.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                But this particular company decided they didn’t want to fund that type of benefit. Paid parental leave is really expensive for companies (which is why a lot of other countries have socialized the cost), so companies are within their rights to decide they want to put limits and conditions on the paid benefits.

              2. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

                Then you also come into other items in play. Children are a choice. If X wishes parental leave, fine, but Y should have the same chance to take off four months to take care of whatever business Y would like to do. What would be ideal would be a leave program that allowed employees time off for whatever needs (“After a year here, you will have a two and a half month ‘bucket’ of leave. This leave may be parental leave, care leave, or long vacation if you so choose. There will be separate PTO for sick and vacation.”) This way, childfree prople get to take off for their needs/choices as well.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  Dude. That ‘bucket’ of leave you’re talking about? That’s just PTO.

                  I’m childfree and I’m 100% cool with people who choose to have kids getting benefits based on that choice even if I don’t get a similar benefit to use for whatever I want (this might be because I have a chronic illness and I’m sick to death of people I work with saying they should be given access to 12 weeks of time off per year to do whatever they want, since I have a legal right to that amount of time to handle my medical issues if necessary).

                  Being childfree means we (generally) have more disposable income and fewer responsibilities revolving keeping helpless lifeforms alive. That’s what we get instead of paid parental leave. Personally? I’ll take it.

          2. Temperance*

            I can see the logic behind the policy. Women give birth and need to recover from birth, and are often the ones feeding the kid. LWs wife doesn’t work, which would normally mean that she’d be the caregiver.

            I imagine this is the first time this specific fact situation has come up.

      2. ket*

        I think it’s totally reasonable to ask for a certification of some sort that you understand for this leave only one person can be primary, and have to put a signature down & be liable for clawed-back expenses if you were committing fraud…. it’s the doctor’s note that is the weird or discriminatory part. Men just don’t get asked for a doctor’s note to prove that they’re physically unable to care for children, and somehow women get the primary caretaker benefits from these companies anyway.

        (In an ideal world you’d just have a generous leave package you could use any way you wanted, including both parents at home. Having my spouse at home for more than just 2 weeks after birth was really good for us all as a family.)

      3. Gadget Hackwrench*

        How does one determine “Primary Caregiver” if both parents work full time? Clearly the job will say that a stay-at-home spouse is the primary caregiver, but if both parents work, then IS there even a “Primary Caregiver?”

    3. LKW*

      The reason why she can’t be primary caregiver are irrelevant. Maybe she can’t be the primary caregiver because she is an astronaut and needs to go to Texas for training. Maybe she’s a singer in a band that is going around the world. Maybe she is ill and can’t be responsible for a baby because she’s restricted from lifting, driving, and other tasks.
      It. Doesn’t. Matter.

      All that matters is the husband has asked to change whatever paperwork indicates that his wife is the primary care giver to himself so that he can have the leave that is needed. The company is asking for information that they are not entitled to and asking them to get a 3rd party to provide evidence. Of course, people could use this to get more leave but that’s something that they have to manage in a different way.

      1. Alicia*

        I agree. It really doesn’t matter and in places where men commonly take parental leave, it doesn’t come up either. I get that in the USA, it is a fairly new concept and people are slow to change when they face the situation, but part of changing towards equality is not questioning the medical validity (? which doesn’t exist ?) of a perfectly reasonable request.

        I’m in a country where fathers taking the full leave is not uncommon. He took 6 months. Nobody asked him why I was back to work and why he stayed home. The truth was that he was just a more suitable parent at the time, regardless of medical or personal reasons, and that was that. Every child benefits from a loving caregiver in those first critical years, why do people feel the need to push back when one is happily available and willing?

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        To your last point, what would “manage in a different way” look like, here? The situation is that they suspect a violation of their policies because OP has presented a scenario that, on the face of it, looks somewhat suspicious (“my wife can’t be primary caregiver, but that will only be true for the duration of my paid leave”, essentially) and which will cost the company a lot of money. What would you say the reasonable course of action for the employer is?

        Note that I’m not doubting OP – people’s life circumstances sometimes happen in ways that don’t have great optics. But if others at the company have lied about their circumstances to try to get more paid leave than they policy allows for, then the company could be understandably suspicious.

          1. MD*

            My husband was the primary caregiver even when I wasn’t working because I was a full-time medical student and that was more time-intensive than his job.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              My wife’s company gave her paid parental leave as primary caregiver when I was a full time grad student. I think the point was that I wasn’t available to provide care during work hours, not whether I had an income.

            2. Temperance*

              I mean, sure, that makes sense, but this isn’t the same thing. She’s not a student, she’s an SAHM.

              1. Zillah*

                She’s not a stay at home mom – that term has a specific meaning that the OP has explicitly said does not apply to her.

                1. Temperance*

                  He used the phrase “stays home” to describe his wife. It’s not a slur to call someone a stay-at-home mom.

                2. Zillah*

                  I didn’t say it was a slur. I said that the term “stay at home mom” wasn’t accurate, because it has a specific meaning – a mother who is staying at home to take care of her child.

                  If I told you I had a unicorn statue, you would presumably assume I had a statue that was shaped like a unicorn, rather than that I had a totally unrelated statue and also a live unicorn.

        1. Joielle*

          Yeah – I’m usually the first to believe something is happening because of sexism, but in this case, I can see how the OP’s explanation might sound shady to HR. “I’m the primary caregiver, but at the end of my extended leave, my wife will become the primary caregiver” – this is actually true for OP, but on its face, it kind of looks like he’s trying to use the leave for a purpose for which it’s not intended. I can understand why HR might want outside confirmation of this unusual situation to make sure it’s legitimate.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            In another thread, OP states that he told the company his intention was to be classified as primary caregiver for the duration of his paid extended leave, to qualify for paid extended leave, and once his leave is over, he will hire a nanny. He also said he told them that it is intention, at some point in the future, to change his classification from primary caregiver to non-primary caregiver, to qualify for company-subsidized daycare.

            What about these intentions are anything other than gaming the system to get what’s better for him at any given time, regardless of what his actual primary/non-primary classification is? If this had been explained in the letter, I think the comments would have shaken out a little differently.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            This is the correct answer! The company should give the same benefits to everyone. If they can’t afford for their “generous family policies” to apply to everyone who needs to use those benefits, they can’t afford to be as generous as they’re pretending to be.

  11. Detective Amy Santiago*

    She has gone off in other years about too many staples and paper clips off the floor, just to name a few things that she focuses on.

    LW #3 – if I am reading this right, it’s not just about the surface of your desk, but about your entire work space. And, yeah, if you’re routinely scattering paperclips and staples on the floor, your boss has every right to insist that you clean up the area. Honestly, if I was your manager and this was something I had to speak with you about more than once, you very likely would have been terminated by now. There is a world of difference between some piles on your desk and trash on the floor.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Lots of potential reasons, some of which I outlined in the post. It’s not going to do the OP any good to approach this from an “it’s unfair” standpoint; it’s going to make her look like her priorities are off and it’s going to irritate her manager. It’s her manager’s prerogative to tell her to clean up what sounds like a messy workspace, and it’s not in the OP’s interest to argue back about it.

        (The exception to that would only be something like, “I’ll of course clean it up since you’d like me to, but can I ask if there’s something that seems worse about my desk than other people’s, so that I’m on the same page as you going forward?” In other words, she still needs to do it but she can politely inquire whether there’s something she’s missing about the standard.)

        1. Annoyed*

          Also “just as bad” may be a matter of perspective/subjective. I’ve encountered that argument way too many times. Almost every single time anyone (other than “it’s not fair” person) would say orherwise.

          1. Lilo*

            Boss may be working in them too.

            The mentioning of stuff in the floor makes it sound like OP does have a serious issue. The whole “not fair” thing is irrelevant. Keep your stuff clean.

            1. boop the first*

              Yeah, the “why me, everyone else is doing it” protest just makes me think of crafters who steal trademarked characters and literally profit off of it as if it’s okay to steal from a large company just because it’s large.
              My question is, why NOT you? What makes OP so special as to be immune from all requests to stop? Someone has to be first.

          2. akiwiinlondon*

            I was thinking about this also, my partner and I get grumpy at each other about cleaning because we notice/care about different things. We both then complain about the other not cleaning up certain things.
            It’s possible that “just as bad” are things the OP sees they’re all a bit messy but in different ways but perhaps to the manager the OP’s type of mess is something she finds particularly noticeable. While this could be a quirk of the manager it could be more professionally related that one type of mess isn’t as acceptable.

      2. MK*

        I don’t want to get into “doubt what the OP says” territory, but people tend to be very biased when evaluating how they do compared to others; it wouldn’t surprise me if someone looked at their coworker’s neatly stacked files and their own “I drop everything on my desk” system and thought there was no real difference.

        Also, is the OP sure that the manager isn’t addressing this with the others too?

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Both of these.

          Unless OP is directly quizzing everyone, she doesn’t know. And once you’re polling the office about who was told to pick up their spilled paper clips… just pick up the paper clips.

        2. EddieSherbert*

          Agreed (sorry OP!).

          My SO is a master of the “there’s no difference between how desks look” and it baffles me! I have a metal file organizer for different categorizes of documents/mail/bills on my desk… and he has a random like 3 foot tall stack of books/boxes/papers perched precariously on the corner of his desk that magically has not fallen all over the office floor yet.

          I could 100% see him writing this letter, actually!

    1. valentine*

      OP3, if getting the vacation approved is your primary objective, establish a baseline of things it would be comical to constantly retrieve from a drawer; these stay on the desk. Put everything else in drawers, which you can rearrange at your convenience. If your supervisor might be approachable in future, you might find three online images of neat desks and ask her to rank them so you know what she’s looking for. If no one is vacuuming often enough for your supervisor’s taste and/or the metal debris is still an issue: #magnets. If she’s playing favorites, you’ll see that post-tidying, whilst in a better position to decide what to do about it.

    2. Czhorat*

      Yeah, paperclips and staples on the floor go beyond “disorganized workspace”.

      It’s frustrating for the manager not tie it to time off, but it sounds as if the OP was – at least gently – asked to clean up. They didn’t, and now it’s a bigger issue. I can also see the argument that if the boss’s boss showed up on one of OP’s days off they’d look bad if their department was such a mess. Look at it a different way: you would likely not be allowed a day off if your workload didn’t allow it because of a big upcoming deadline. Cleaning ones desk to a presentable state is work that should be completed before taking time off, just like a deliverable to a client.

    3. Lexi Kate*

      My desk is always a mess while working, however before I leave for the day everything is straightened up. The floor around my desk I feel like is common curtesy to clean up as I go when I drop things paper clips, staples, paper droppings, etc. I would be completely mortified if I had to be asked to clean my desk.

    4. Bea*

      My thoughts exactly. In all my years I’ve never had someone blatantly leave things on the floor. Piles on your desk? I don’t care because I know lots of people who organize that way. Staples on the floor? No.

      I’m the sort who picks up stray paperclips, staples and bits of paper when I see them. And so if it were par for course I wouldn’t register, things happen. But I shouldn’t find more than the occasional “whoops this one sure flew away, didn’t it?” staple around.

      1. Someone Else*

        It’s interesting to me how many posts I’m seeing (not jus yours) taking the “paperclips and staples on the floor” remark as an indicator that OP’s desk area is especially messy. When I originally read it, I took it as an indicator that it’s actually not very messy and that manager was reacting to very minor things, sort of as an example of the unreasonableness. As in, there are a couple whoops this one flew away” staples and/or paperclips, and that’s an insignificant amount of mess to be concerned with.
        So now I’m not sure what I think given how many took that to mean there’s trash on the floor and the desk must indeed be a huge mess.

        1. Observer*

          Well, it’s clear from what the OP writes that it’s not just an occasional paper clip or staple. And that she hasn’t been cleaning those up either.

          Even if it’s only a few, this is stuff that shouldn’t be left on a regular basis. Also, if it were so little an so minor why would it be such a big deal for the OP to clean it up? The OP’s manager is saying that they are not approving leave till this stuff is cleaned up, which means that the OP is not cleaning this up right away – and is clearly leaving this stuff even before going off for a day or two.

    5. Specialk9*

      Wait, you’d ax someone over paperclips on the floor?! And that doesn’t seem petty to you? I’m super anal retentive about messy spaces, it almost physically hurts me. But I assume that adults have ownership rights to their spaces, with some reasonable limits. I just can’t imagine firing someone for having paperclips on the floor.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        I read that more that Detective Amy Santiago would consider axing someone who needed to be told to clean up their desk over and over again. It’s not so much the paper clips, and more that this person is not taking their manager’s instructions seriously, is not getting how to be in sync with the norms of the office, and needs to be told simple things multiple times. It’s not that a paper clip is a firing offense; it’s that a person who does not get that a messy desk is a problem in this office (or for this manager) is likely not going to be a good fit in this workplace.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I would terminate an employee who was insubordinate and refused to adhere to stated policies, especially if I had to have multiple discussions with them about it.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          Yes, this. The issue is not that the employee has a messy desk. It’s that OP is being insubordinate. The manager has asked numerous times for OP to take a reasonable action—and cleaning up a desk falls in that category—and OP has failed to comply with that request. OP may not like the request, but that’s part of working for someone else.

  12. Former Employee*

    LW2: Everyone keeps talking about what should be done to the manager. I have no problem with that, but Jane and her buddies are presumably grown ups and need to be held accountable for their behavior. I think that the company should either fire Jane or put her on probation. They should also make it clear to her co-conspirators that they need to cut it out or they will end up like Jane.

    1. Just Employed Here*

      You’re right, but I think it’s so blindingly obvious that Jane (and her co-conspirators) are wrong that many of us kind of skim over that.

      The boss has a different responsibility to the company than Jane does, and thereby him not putting a stop to this even after the anonymous complaint is even worse — even legally, I believe (although I am not a lawyer and we don’t know about the jurisdiction, anyway).

      1. Lance*

        That last paragraph is really the thing. Absolutely Jane and the others should be held accountable… but they would be far more easily held accountable by an actual effective manager. Problems like this often have to be solved from above, and right now, the one above them is failing badly in his duties.

    2. Unreality Monitoring Service*

      Well, yes, but that’s not something the OP has any control over so it isn’t really actionable advice for her.

    3. LKW*

      An ineffective manager is a problem, but an ineffective manager that allows for harassment and retaliation is a liability.

      LW 2 – call the hotline again. Use the words “Harassment” and “Retaliation” very very clearly. Whether or not Jane and her buddies get reprimanded or fired is a real (and deserved) possibility. But the manager here needs to cut that shit out NOW. As Allison said – it’s illegal. You work with some shitty people but for what appears to be a relatively responsible company.

      1. OP No. 2*

        I am the letter writer. I think you’re right in your assessment in your final sentence. My employer is a large, well-known national employer with a decent reputation but my particular department is horrendous to work for. I’m desperate to leave. It’s not uncommon to hear management say the phrase “If you don’t like it, you know where the door is” in response to legitimate concerns and our staff turnover so far this year is 57%. That’s adding to the dysfunction, especially in my team, where our reputation has got around – when we advertised our most recent vacancy we got zero applications.

  13. Nico M*

    Re: OP#1
    I’m always surprised by the naive assumption companies have that “professional” attire impresses clients.

    Eg I’m frankly biased against salespeople that are trying too hard to be well dressed .

    1. Mad Baggins*

      I get it if you mean like, at the mall. But I worked many events and conventions where participants, exhibiting companies, presenters, hosts, everyone was expected to where business attire.

    2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      Yeah I am kind of biased against the forced conformity look of, say, khakis and polo shirts. It just looks so uncomfortable for everyone. Though maybe I’m biased since I was forced to wear that at a big box retailer for several years…

      1. Rebecca*

        That made me think of the time I accidentally dressed in the same color scheme as a local big box store, khaki pants and blue shirt…and another customer asked me for help. I had zero luck convincing her I wasn’t an employee, and she said “I’m going to talk to a manager about you” and I said “OK, go ahead!”.

        1. Bea*

          I swear this happens to us all if you ever shop at Target or Wal-Mart!

          I had someone who worked at a grocery store ask me if I worked there too because I had my reflective gear on (similar to the vests the cart wranglers wear)…I was also wearing yoga pants because I was on my way to working out. It was such a bizarre thing.

          Older folks have never even bothered to ask if I work places, they just start asking questions.

        2. Goya de la Mancha*

          I think this reinforces why companies do it. It’s a mental thing, whether you remember seeing this employee at another point in the convention – you “know” this person works for XYZ company because of how they are dressed. It’s not a guessing game/mental gymnastics trying to remember which brown haired sales person you met for 2 minutes last night that you want to speak with in more depth about bringing your widget business to.

          1. Grapey*

            I would wager to say that if you’re launching a business, it’s probably better to actually remember the name of the person you want to talk to. That’s a little more high stakes than needing a visual cue for a shopper at Target that wants to find cat litter.

    3. Czhorat*

      Nearly everyone believes this. I had the same discussion on Twitter about the design of corporate experience centers and demonstration spaces; my contention was that if you wouldn’t feel comfortable buying a half million dollars worth of tech from someone displaying their wares on a sheet of plywood balanced on two old milk cartons then you DO care about the design of the space.

      So to it is with dress; how the team is attired sends a message, even if only a subconscious one. That message is part of your firm’s branding, and they should be, within reason, paying attention to it.

      1. Specialk9*

        Agreed. I think the ‘you’re too well dressed so I won’t buy from you’ thing is an outlier position. Which is fine, but I wouldn’t make any decisions for a company based on that.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      What? We strive to match the client’s culture/dress, or one level up if presenting and trying to gain business. If we’re presenting to a company in downtown Boston, we’re going suit it up. If we’re in a more rural area, we wear sport coats/no ties and probably take them off. You’re right, if we look too slick for a client, they aren’t going to trust us, but you still need to dress to impress. . .just in a different way.

      1. Czhorat*

        Exactly.

        Unless you think it’s ok to be presenting wearing a stained t-shirt with obscene words printed on it you have expectations in terms of dress. Whether there’s an explicit dress code or not, expectations always exist.

      2. Yojo*

        This is true, but if someone showed up wearing a green shirt even if their company color is–gasp!–blue, or there were some women in skirt suits and others in pantsuits, it would not register even a tiny bit with anyone.

        I have worked plenty of business formal events in a couple of organizations, and I have never heard of a uniform going to that extreme unless it was provided or MAYBE if they expected everyone to be doing a lot of crouching (I can’t imagine why) and they suggested that pants would be more practical.

        1. CAkid*

          To be honest, the color scheme seems really bizarre and cheesy. At least that is how I would feel on the outside looking in.

          1. Washi*

            I’m wondering if the idea is to help make the OP and her coworkers easy to identify as being from X company? But that only works if the company colors involve something sort of unusual like yellow or orange, and then I’d be extra put out by being asked to buy things in a color I hate that I’ll never wear again.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              I’ve seen the “uniform” at big client events that we host, but it is generally a company shirt, not one you have to buy, and they let people choose from a range of shirts and colors. You could pick the yellow button up, or you could pick a black V-neck sweater. The logo is what makes you “uniform.” I do think it’s a little strange to ask people to go buy, say, matching red shirts off the shelf.

              I’m not sure about the “no dresses” thing, but I could see some fatigue with policing what’s okay and what’s not. We used to have a micro mini-skirt wearing salesperson, and I personally think maxi skirts read a little more resort casual than professional. . .not that you wouldn’t also be policing black-leggings-are-not-pants or similar problems even with the only-pants rule.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            She says this is the week they do the bulk of their business for the year, so something about it seems to be working.

            It’s not the hill to die on. On the other hand, don’t spend time and money shopping based on the grapevine, and once it’s official it’s definitely worth questioning with reasonable management who might be quite accommodating for some variable they hadn’t thought of. This does sound to me like a change that could be envisioned as “we should simplify this, make it easier for people” because for the visioner that is simpler.

    5. Lilo*

      I also am going to push back against this. I normally only interact with people outside my office by phone so I wear whatever. When I go to a hearing or similar, I wear a suit. I have to show that I am following the professional norms of my job, both to the judge and to the people I serve.

      I would not trust the judgment of someone who showed up in jeans.

      1. Czhorat*

        This is a very similar discussion to the messy desk; in both cases there is a potentially unprofessional appearance, even if work is otherwise getting done in a professional manner. We all need to remember that appearances and perceptions are important.

    6. Lexi Kate*

      That really depends on what you are trying to sell if the hvac sales guy showed up in a suit it would be overkill, but if you are coming to my corporate office to sell us a new data system for the company and you showed up in khakis it would also cause a pause for your judgement.

    7. Mockingjay*

      What constitutes ‘professional dress’ is industry-dependent and can vary within a company depending on the event.

      I work on government contracts. Most days my company is very relaxed business casual – khaki or twill pants, company-issue polo or other top. When I have meetings with the government customer, I dress much more formally – sheath dresses, blazer, and quality flats, even when the customers are in polos and khakis. They pay us a lot of money (for the overall work, not my salary – ha) and I want to project the image that I am competent and focused on the work and products they’ve purchased, in line with my company’s values. When we do site visits to plan the system installs, I wear safety boots and jeans. Three different looks for three aspects of my job.

  14. Birch*

    OP1, the lack of laundry access is a problem, but if you can get the hotel to do it, one or two pairs of black slacks and two blouses is all you really need. And they don’t need to be expensive, they just need to fit you properly. There are plenty of stores that sell mid-range professional clothes and the really expensive stuff is often not any better in quality. Kohl’s, Dress Barn, Anne Taylor Loft, you can even find cute blouses and pants at H&M. No one is going to notice you’re wearing a $30 blouse rather than a $70 blouse and the same pair of slacks. If you can push back for your dresses though, I definitely would. I’m with you that dresses are much more comfortable and easier to find flattering cuts than pants.

    1. Waiting for the Sun*

      Several comments have said dresses are more comfortable. I’m old enough to remember wearing pantyhose and heels with a dress – not comfortable. What footwear do you wear with dresses? I might wear dresses occasionally but don’t like to go sockless. My quirk, I know.

      1. Delta Delta*

        Dress wearer here. I love little footie socks – the style that cover the toe and heel. Sometimes they go about a centimeter above the shoe, so it’s fun to find coordinating colors and styles. I usually wear those until the weather is cold enough for tights.

        1. Specialk9*

          Yes! They need those little silicone patches on the heel, though, to stay up.

          With dresses, I like flats. My preference is pointed d’Orsay flats, which look very pump-like but without the heels.

          You can wear Oxford flats (I like Modcloth’s Study Buddies in all the colors), boat shoes, or penny loafers; or on the more casual end you can wear Puma flats (a flat-sneaker hybrid), or slim canvas sneakers. Or boots or booties with leggings.

          One trick is to match a slim belt (Target) with your shoes or accessories. You instantly look super polished.

      2. Temperance*

        I have a very cute pair of Clarks flats that I wear with dresses. I’m short enough that he’s are pointless.

        1. Lilo*

          I have a bad knee so heels are reserved for really formal occasions only. Clark’s flats are great, they often have arch support and look good. Footie socks help with odor and I also just wash out my flats and spray them with diluted tea tree oil.

        2. Kj*

          Clark’s or Keens are my shoes of choice. I have Keen Mary Jane shoes that I wear all summer, then switch to Clark’s for the winter

      3. CAkid*

        I absolutely hate dresses, I feel so exposed and uncomfortable. Especially because your legs are visible. I think if I were not allowed to wear pantsuits as a dress code I couldn’t cope. People might feel the same in the other direction

            1. Birch*

              To each their own! I feel much more exposed in pants–my dresses are fitted around the waist and flow outward. Being pear-shaped means pants tend to be a little *too* fitted around the muffin top/thunder thigh zones.

        1. ElspethGC*

          I absolutely feel the same in the other direction.

          I existed in nothing except full-length trousers for my entire pre-teen and teen existence because I was so unbearably self-conscious and refused to show any skin, even though I *wanted* to wear skirts and pretty things. Now I’m not (as) self-conscious, so I wear all the cute skirts and dresses that I like. I suck it up and deal with trousers in winter, and I have some slouchy lazy loose-fitting trousers for relaxing around the house, but I’m happiest in skirts. Being forced to wear trousers every day, especially the same office-wear look that I had as my school uniform, would take me right back to that old mindset of having low self-confidence and being self-conscious about my height and body shape and my skin condition and and and… I’m just more self-confident in skirts and dresses.

          1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

            I’ve found that I love wearing dresses in (Michigan) winter. Leggings+boots or thick tights (wool! Or fleece lined!)+shoes actually feels warmer than jeans or trousers.

            1. ElspethGC*

              Ah, but when it gets *really* cold (I’m from the UK, ok, I’m designed for a nice temperate -2-22C existence – and we are actually further north than most Canadian cities) I wear jeans over leggings, sometimes jeans over leggings over tights. I suppose I could wear several pairs of tights, but that would dig into my stomach something terrible.

              1. Birch*

                Comfortable super thick fleece lined leggings are totally a thing! I like to wear them under long skirts, then wool knee socks and cute boots. It’s very librarian-on-the-prairie but it works for some people!

              2. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

                My winters are months and months of negative Celsius weather for highs (along with going to Catholic schools that required us to wear skirts), so my legs have possibly just given up hope. ;) the fleece tights are amazing, though.

      4. Yorick*

        I wear flats and those footie socks like Delta said.

        When it’s cold out I wear leggings underneath and either boots or the same footie socks/flats.

      5. Bea*

        If you have larger feet, footie socks are the devil. I wear knee highs and ballet style flats. They have a ton of nylon options without the full on sausage feeling hose getups :)

      6. ElspethGC*

        I find dresses and skirts more comfortable because it’s much easier to find ones that fit! I only have to worry about the waist (and shoulders/bust, for dresses) rather than fit on the waist, hips, around the thighs, and leg length. Wide hips and long legs are difficult to fit. It’s just much less hassle.

      7. Birch*

        Everything! I have serious Thunder Thighs (TM) issues so I always wear opaque tights or leggings, usually wool socks, and ankle boots (cold climate). In the summer I’ll occasionally wear canvas sneakers or flats. My dresses are all wool, cotton, or linen and either A-line or sheath though–I don’t wear anything ruffly.

          1. Birch*

            Aw thanks! I hope so. Took me about 25 years but I feel pretty confident about it now. The hardest part is being pear shaped AND 5 feet tall–means I don’t look like I have a waist at all unless things are fitted there and nowhere else.

      8. Courageous cat*

        Guys I am fairly sure this is the derailing thing Alison continues to talk about. I know it’s so hard to catch yourself doing it but I’m sure it would behoove us to be a little more thoughtful before replying so these already-enormous comment sections don’t keep spiraling. Discussions like these are not helping OP.

    2. BeenThere*

      I only go into the office a couple days a week. We have to dress in appropriate office attire. I have two pair of black pants that I really like and they fit me well. I also have a couple other pair in other colors but the black ones go with so much that I find myself wearing them almost all the time. A different top, a different jacket, and no one knows. And if they do, who cares?

    3. periwinkle*

      Quick caveat on hotel laundry – convenient but OMG make sure you can expense it before choosing it as your solution. In his prior job, my SO had to stay in a downtown business hotel near HQ for up to 3 weeks at a stretch. Each small load of laundry (underwear, some polos and jeans) cost close to $200!

      When I travel, a travel-size spray bottle filled with Febreze is my best friend…

  15. Perfectly Particular*

    OP 1 – I had a similar issue when I worked for a company that was mostly men, and the reality was that they didn’t realize how challenging it is to shop for appropriate women’s clothing. They each had a few pairs of slacks in the right colors, and could grab some shirts from Macy’s and be done. I (and the few other women) would have needed to find slacks and blouses that fit nicely and professionally, hope they had them without obnoxious prints and in the right colors, and get them altered for length. We did push back to management, basically stating some of that shopping challenge, that we would look more professional in the clothes we already had for this year, and that we could work on an update for next year. Management agreed to this, and actually bought everyone, men and women, shirts and blouses in the company colors and with the company logo for the next year. Ugly, yes, but at least we didn’t have to pay for it! Making some suggestions like that may work for you. Also, if this event is out of town, check your travel policy, it may allow dry cleaning during trips longer than x days, which would help minimize the number of new pieces you have to buy.

    1. PM*

      Men have no idea how hard it is to shop for women’s clothing. It’s even worse if you are tall and/or plus sized. I need to special order my shirts and if the company colors are not currently in style then there may not be anything available on short notice. (It also depends on company colors – navy blue is much more consistently available than orange or purple, for example.)

      1. Rosemary7391*

        Unless we’re talking black or white, or a group shopping trip to get the exact same blouse each, the colour isn’t going to match anyway.

        1. LQ*

          Even if you’re talking black and white it’s not going to match. It’s going to sort of all be within the right family if you’re lucky, but if you smash everyone together in a group photo we can tell the hundreds of shades of red are different. And that assumes everyone went for a Red and not a coral or maroon or something. If they really want consistency (as much as I personally despise them) go with company polos.

      2. Dog Person*

        I am a male who cannot find pants that fit me in the store. I am a 29×34, which stores usually do not carry. Usually, I go to the store and look at the pants and try the 29 waist on in order to see if I like them. Then, I have to order them from the store’s website and wait for the delivery to come. Then hope the pants fit and do not need to be returned.

        Also, I wear a small dress shirt or polo shirt. It seems to me that stores only carry a couple smalls. A lot of times I have gone to stores I cannot find a shirt I like. I like plain polo shirts with no pockets not ones with stripes and a pocket. Also, I am picky when it comes to button down shirts. I do not like shirts with two pockets. I guess stores think short people are skinny and tall people are not skinny.

        I would not want to buy something that I would only wear five days out of the year. I cannot allocate the space in the budget nor my closet for an outfit I am only going to wear 5 days.

        1. AKchic*

          My 16 year old is a 26-27×34. We are lucky if we can find a 28×34 in his size ever. Usually we have to settle for 30×34 and then get a belt. And of course, belts don’t ever last long (and I usually have to buy a kid’s belt for him). The kid is 6’1″ and hasn’t stopped growing yet. He is so self-conscious about his height and lankiness too.

          Doesn’t help that I am 5’3.5″ (that half inch counts, I swear!). He does threaten to put my favorite things on the top shelf. Evil turd. Imma keep him.

        2. Yorick*

          Now imagine that instead of pants measured as a 29-inch waist, it’s some random number. You’re most often a 24, but stores and brands vary widely so you might be 22, 24, or 26. But some stores use odd numbers instead of even, so you might be 21, 23, or 25. And then some plus size stores have redone the numbering so you’re a 2 or 3 in their store. And some pants aren’t even given a number size, so you might be anywhere from XL to 3XL.

      3. Dragoning*

        Equally difficult if you’re short and/or tiny. Most of the stores people have been suggesting for cheap professional clothes don’t sell clothing that fits me! They fall right off!

      4. Database Developer Dude*

        PM, I think you mean *SOME* men have no idea how hard it is to shop for womens’ clothing. Some of us choose to educate ourselves.

      5. Specialk9*

        My fire station pants were a nightmare. They literally didn’t have female options. I had this huge gap between my butt and waist, and basically cinched down a belt and had all these uncomfortable folds of material.

        1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

          Ugh, I somehow end up with the belt pulling up ABOVE the waist fabric, so it pinches my skin AND still bunches the fabric. Perfect!

    2. BeenThere*

      I once worked for a (great!) company that had an anniversary event one year. They bought everyone matching shirts with the logo on it, and we just paired it with khakis (I think). The marketing team did a great job of selecting a style for the women that flattered everyone and was available in all sizes.

    3. ket*

      Especially if the tops are button-down dress shirts. Men have almost infinite options, and I can either find one that is HUUUUUGE to fit my bosom without gaping open at the buttons, or I can get a tailored one ordered from a specialty retailer, which is somewhat expensive and takes time. I’m 5’1″ and short waisted, so I have literally 11 vertical inches to fit 23 inches of horizontal fabric.

      One of the problems is that a guy can get an ill-fitting buttoned shirt and simply look normal, while if I get an ill-fitting shirt I’m going to have a wardrobe malfunction or look like a child stealing an adult’s clothes. I get all suiting and some shirts tailored to avoid this, and that takes some time.

        1. AKchic*

          5’3.5″ and finally down to a G cup (I was a J cup a few months ago until my chest realized I lost 60lbs over a year ago). I feel your pain.
          Broad shoulders, no waist, no hips, no rear. I am literally a plank of wood with balloons attached to one end. Clothes are problematic.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        This is a thing even if you have an A cup. My solution is to wear a coordinating tank underneath and leave the top unbuttoned to below the bra line.

    4. Could be Anyone*

      It would be so hard for me to find the appropriate clothing in this time frame. I’m very tall, so pants must be ordered online, and of course I’m limited more limited in color and style to what’s available in tall and in my size. To top it off (literally) I have a large chest, so button ups are not even an option, and other shirts can be hard to find that fit everywhere and are still business appropriate, not to mention sleeve/torso length being an issue. And I have all these issues BEFORE trying to find a shirt in a specific color!

    5. AnotherSarah*

      Agreed, and seconding the advice to bring it up with a manager first. I had a manager who assumed that most people (regardless of gender) would have pants suits, and it just wasn’t true. When some skirt-owning women pointed it out, it was no problem to get the policy changed to have skirts be fine.

  16. Czhorat*

    For OP1, I think getting out of there is the best option. HR for a complaint any racist comments, said “do better” and then dropped it with no apparent follow up? That’s shocking. Ideally there should have been consequences for Jane and the manager, likely including termination.

    If they both still have their job after the second complaint then the HR reporting process is useless.

    1. Specialk9*

      I was thinking that! WTF, they just made shocked noises and went about their day?! No investigation, special training, management follow through, probation, etc?!

    1. Les G*

      I’m glad the OP is able to stay home with his child, but not super down with this over-praising a male parent for, well, parenting. Sorry to nitpick, but it bugs.

      1. Jenna Maroney*

        That’s a fair point, I should have considered that. Although hopefully OP’s decision affects his male coworkers? This kind of change can happen on small levels (or maybe I’m being overly hopeful, who knows).

        1. YayBasics*

          And Jenna has a good point – in instruction/behavior, true positive feedback is positive reinforcement of the basic expectations rather than only when going above and beyond. I, too, wish we didn’t need to have positive reinforcement training wheels for male parents parenting, but every bit helps and he’s normalizing a relatively “new” social change.

  17. Fred*

    Maybe it is less gender based and more based on hearing that the other parent is not working. It kind of raises the question well why aren’t they taking care of the kids in all that free time? Maybe the boss feels like the employee is taking advantage of a benefit that is supposed to help two working families not enable one parent to take a vacation while the other takes care of the kids on the employers dime. So that is not really about gender.

    1. CAkid*

      I put this above, but the reason my BIL could claim primary caregiver is that my sister did not work. Basically the reasoning was that she was not getting any benefits from her company as a primary caregiver, so he was able to claim primary. If she worked and took leave, he would be considered secondary. The more I think about that is weird though, because most places don’t have benefits, you can just go out on medical/fmla. In that case, the fmla does not indicate who is primary or not. BOTH parents could be using FMLA at the same time. So, I don’t know.

  18. Lilly*

    #1: No one said you needed 5 unique outfits. If there is a mandatory scheme for that week buy one outfit and wear it all week like a uniform. Go to Walmart or thrift stores to avoid breaking the bank.

    1. The Doctor*

      The bosses will say, “It’s unprofessional to wear the same thing five days in a row because people will think that we don’t pay you.”

        1. Dog Person*

          That is true. I do not notice what my co-workers nor boss is wearing. Actually, my boss came into my office not long ago and I cannot recall what she was wearing other than a shirt and pants. I cannot tell you the color of her shirt nor pants.

      1. Dog Person*

        I would have to tell the boss that I could not afford to buy five pairs of pants and five different shirts. I have two pairs of slacks and two pairs of blue jeans that I rotate during the work week. Plus I would make sure the boss knows that I have other expenses like rent, food, electricity, water, truck repairs, retirement savings, and etc.

    2. Emily*

      I don’t know OP’s size or shape, but I would have a very hard time finding well-fitting professional clothing at Walmart or a thrift store.

      Hopefully it will be a moot point if her manager is reasonable and lets her wear her dresses or suggests another compromise, but I can understand that it might be difficult for OP to find inexpensive clothing that meets her color/style/fit requirements in such a short time frame.

      1. Temperance*

        Same! I might luck out at a thrift shop in a nice area – maybe – but definitely not at Wal-mart. I can’t wear any sort of button down shirt (or collared shirt, really), because anything that would fit my chest would be comically huge everywhere else. I would look sloppy AF.

    3. Chatterby*

      I second Walmart and the lack of need for 5 different outfits.
      As long as she has 2 pairs of slacks, she should be good for the week. Just alternate and no one will notice or care. Most men in jobs requiring formal business wear the same suit all week, and rotate between 2-3 pairs of the same trousers.
      As for tops, since she needs a specific color and may have to buy some, go to Walmart or Goodwill and find something vaguely that color.
      I believe Walmart has a line of women’s collared shirts called Rider’s Lee, and they’re ~$15, come in about 10 shades, aren’t see-through, and look nice enough that I wore them while working at a bank. They have 3/4 and full sleeve versions.
      Since they’re supposed to look matchy, no one will notice or care if her clothes aren’t carefully curated, timeless pieces, tailored to her body and style. It’s better they aren’t, since she’s supposed to blend in.
      However, the color thing was a suggestion, not a demand, so she should consider it optional. I doubt they’d say anything if she showed up in a white or black blouse she already owned.

      Other options: If she has a suit, she can find a shirt of the desired color and wear it all week, or
      she could purchase a cardigan or jacket in the color and wear it over her regular tops, so she only needs to buy one thing.
      If she absolutely cannot afford anything, she should look and see if her community has a Clothes Closet or similar, which is a place where clothes are given to those in need for free. You typically don’t need to prove your income and can just walk in during their operating hours (they will probably have inconvenient hours, though, since they’re local-government run). After the week is up, she can re-donate them back, or keep them. They tend to get tons of clothes, so a few tops and slacks won’t be depriving the poor.

  19. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I think my first stop would be with the manager to find out if, in fact, dresses are going to be banned from The Big Event this year. I think it can be framed in terms of, “hey I heard X, and it concerns me because my wardrobe for that week is all Y. It’s really short notice to go get a whole new wardrobe.” Then listen to what the manager has to say – it could be there are reasons why dresses aren’t practical (I don’t know what that is or why), or it could be that they hadn’t thought about it (seems more likely).

    I picked up 2 decent tops the other week at Target for (and I am not making this up) $2.40 each in their clearance area. They aren’t anything special, but I can wear them under a blazer or cardigan and look perfectly professional.

    1. BeenThere*

      Yes, but if they aren’t French blue (or whatever color scheme is needed) then it doesn’t help. I am with you that OP should go to boss first. I just don’t want to be required to wear a color or clothing item that I really wouldn’t wear any other time of year. (Also, I am the Queen of the Clearance Rack so I would definitely head there first if I had to do this… heck I head there anytime I need clothes!)

    2. Legalchef*

      Yes. There seems to be a lot of hand-wringing (both from the LW and the commenters) about something the LW doesn’t even know is definitely happening! I certainly understand why the LW would be frustrated if the policy has changed, but wouldn’t it make sense to, you know, actually confirm this before getting worked up.

      1. Positive Reframer*

        Yes! A comment from the boss might have been misinterpreted or over emphasized by the coworker. Presumably preparation for this event has been going on for a while now, if there was a change in the dress code then that should have been addressed at a meeting or a group email or something.

    3. Emily*

      Yes, this! Hopefully it is a misunderstanding that can be cleared up by a conversation with the manager. Some of the strategies people are suggesting might be useful if OP does, in fact, have to wear pants to this event…but she won’t know that for sure until she asks!

    4. Nancie*

      I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this is a case of one or more of OP 1’s coworkers stretching the dress code a bit too far last year, and were told they must wear slacks this year (instead of corduroys or chinos or whatever.)

      Definitely ask before shopping!

  20. BeenThere*

    I would really not be happy about being required to own work clothes to wear once a year (if this really isn’t something that would fit into my wardrobe choices for any other occasion). Frankly, as a woman of a certain age, I can’t be sure this year’s clothes will fit next year. I really think it’s a bit over the top. Maybe by OP asking about any changes and commenting on the hit to her budget, it will become clear that this isn’t something they should be asking. What’s wrong with just “business attire” for this week?

    1. Positive Reframer*

      Especially slacks, those things have no flexibility. Within 10lbs I can be easily 4 different sizes.

  21. Hiring Mgr*

    OP 3 would be wise to follow the teachings of philosopher Jordan Peterson, whose “make your bed” and “clean your room” wisdom are making things better one person at a time.. /s

  22. I've Been "Sarah"*

    #2: You could tell the others to leave “Sarah” alone. You don’t have to admit to being the one who made the call, but if she’s being unfairly treated and you’re witnessing it (just as your boss is) you could and step up and tell them to cut it out.

    I’ve been the one unfairly accused of some workplace issue. I had two women and one man treat me like utter garbage for six weeks while management decided how to handle the underlying problem. This ultimately ended with the dismissal of 2 of the 3 bullies. However, I was not the one who reported their bigoted behavior initially. What really kept me from losing my sanity was another coworker stepping up while she saw them bothering me and telling them they were acting like middle school kids and if they had a problem, they should take it to HR, otherwise grow up and let grown people work. She wasn’t someone I knew well, but I really appreciated her telling them off.

      1. Yojo*

        We all like to imagine our best selves, but not everyone thinks on their feet quickly or has the in-the-moment boldness to step in when they witness something–in a very complicated situation that they’ve already started trying to take steps to resolve. There’s also no indication in the letter that OP hasn’t offered Sarah her sympathy and support privately.

        And the behaviors she describes are “ignoring her or talking over her, calling her names behind her back and on social media.” Not the most overt stuff to call out. Plenty of room for “we weren’t being mean, we were talking about someone who doesn’t work here, we’re sooooo sorry if Sarah was confused.”

    1. WellRed*

      Those coworkers must have been shocked someone called them out on that behavior. I like to think I’d do the same if I saw such a situation.

    2. Junebug*

      I disagree – Jane and her cronies will just bully both of them and it won’t help Sarah. Even offering quiet moral support could backfire if Sarah realizes she made the complaint and outs LW to save herself. Unfortunately, the only thing LW can do without risking her health is to anonymously keep reporting while looking for the escape hatch.

      1. Annie Moose*

        Besides, LW said that she already stood up to Jane about the racism, and got bullied badly herself. While supporting Sarah is a great thing to do if LW is able to do so, this is a bad situation for everyone.

        (LW might be able to talk to Sarah privately, though? Not telling her that she made the complaint, but saying something like, “I know Jane has been terrible to you lately, it’s awful, I don’t know how to stop her but I wish we could” might help)

    3. Chatterby*

      Since the LW is leaving soon anyway, she can be bolder about standing up for Sarah.
      If you have to work with them for ever after, that puts a damper on the options available to you for calling them out, and makes it very intimidating to act. If you’re leaving and will be rid of them, then you can call them racists to their faces and mike drop on your way out.

      Another tactic would be to spread the rumor that it wasn’t just one person, but a bunch, including someone high up. Which would diffuse the pressure on Sarah and make the bad group extra paranoid about saying anything at all.

      1. AKchic*

        The mic drop as LW walks out the door, ne’er to return would be beautiful.

        Or if, as Jane, et.al., and Manager are all being terminated, LW says (as they are Perp Walked out of the office) “it was me!”, I would take an unholy delight in witnessing. Something I term my #PettyBetty side.

    1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

      But then again, Sarah is paying the price already. OP did the right thing. Perhaps she can go to HR and report bullying or the whistleblower line. Anxiety or not, Sarah is being bullied for OP’s very correct actions.

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesInYourHouse*

          But Sarah is still being bullied because of OP’s actions. It’s not OP’s fault and I said that but Sarah is being bullied and if OP doesn’t want to confront the bullies, perhaps she can go to HR and report them. For Sarah. Or encourage Sarah to do so and go to HR with Sarah.

  23. Bunny Girl*

    Op #1, I just want to say that I totally get you. I work in a business casual environment, and I can honestly say that spending money on work clothes is irritating to me. I know you spend a large portion of your life at work, but it’s so far away from the norm of how I usually dress that it’s irritating to me. Where I’ve really found success is as stores like Marshall’s, TJMaxx and Ross. You can find really decent work staples (like black slacks) for well under $20. I buy 2-3 pairs of those and just rotate them throughout the week paired with some basic nice shirts and a cardigan.

    1. I'd Rather Not Say*

      Pretty much the only places I shop! Also, TJ Maxx has an online store, so if you find something, but need a different size (or maybe just want a second pair of those perfect fitting pair of pants), you can order it. Returns to store are free.

  24. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP3… small thing occurred… did the conversation about the mess happen in public or private? If they habitually have these kinds of conversation in private, it’s possible you are not being singled out.

    1. Lilo*

      And that she and Sarah got far away from those toxic people.

      Alison’s advice is dead on. Hope they have a good HR, but I also hope OP gets out.