boss shares personal info with the whole office, holiday parties outside work hours, and more

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

1. My boss shares people’s sick leave info with the whole office

I have a question regarding letting people in the office know when someone has called out sick. In my office, we just have to email our boss and he will respond with “ok,ay feel better,” but he wants to know the full extent of the illness. (One time I said I wasn’t feeling well and he asked me to elaborate before giving me the okay.)

My boss then forwards the employee’s email to the entire office to let them know the person is out. I was sick the other day and told my boss I had a fever and was unable to come in, and later in the day had emails from coworkers telling me to feel better and hoped my fever broke.

Is my boss’s forwarding of these types of emails against some code? I felt uncomfortable having the entire office know my issue, but you can’t just say “you’re sick” to him.

It’s not against any kind of legal regulation, but it violates people’s privacy and is utterly unnecessary — and the same applies to your boss’s belief that he’s entitled to the personal details of why you’re taking sick time.

If you ever wanted to tackle this and you have decent rapport with your boss, you could say something like, “I’ve noticed you ask for details of exactly what’s wrong when I take a sick day. There are lots of reasons people might prefer not to discuss medical conditions at work, and I’d like to simply be able to say I’m sick without being asked for what could be private details.”

Or if you just want to take on the emails to the whole office, you could say, “Would you mind not forwarding details about specifically why someone is using a sick day? Sometimes that could be really personal and not something I would want shared with everyone.” If he pushes back, spell it out for him: “I don’t think anyone should need to share details of, for example, gynecological issues or legally protected disabilities with the entire office.”

2. Inviting an hourly employee to a holiday party outside of work hours

I am a young VP who works in finance and a first-time/young manager. As part of my general responsibilities, I manage a team of salaried employees and one hourly worker. We are a small but close-knit office. This year I am hosting our annual holiday party at my home. I plan on providing a festive buffet and some drinks for the office and their spouses.

My question — we have one hourly employee on our team. I have of course invited her and her husband, but I don’t want her to feel obligated to come or feel as if she is providing free labor. I also cannot get my boss to sign off on allowing her to “clock in” for the party. Am I wrong to invite her? I do not want her to feel obligated to participate but I do hope she comes and has a good time!

You definitely need to invite her! It would be far worse for her to feel she hadn’t been invited when everyone else was.

The best thing to do is to let everyone know that attendance is optional and that you hope people will attend but that you also understand that it’s a busy time of year and people have a lot going on. That way, if she’d prefer not to attend, you’ve given her an out — but without singling her out or making her feel unwelcome.

3. I work remotely — do I need to share my pregnancy until I’m much further along?

My entire company works from home and not locally, and in all the years I’ve worked here, I’ve never even met my boss. I’m wondering if it’s appropriate to keep my pregnancy secret from my entire workplace. I will not see my boss or any of my coworkers during the time I’m pregnant. We don’t offer maternity leave or short-term disability even, and I have not decided if I will continue to work or become a stay-at-home mom. There are a lot of factors to consider, and I won’t be able to have a firm decision on if I’m staying or going until much closer to the end of my pregnancy.

The issue is I do a lot for the company as a middle manager, and replacing and training a replacement is not going to be a two-week gig if that’s the way this goes. I know as soon as I mention I’m pregnant, my boss will want to know my plans and intentions, and I don’t want the pressure of needing an answer that I really don’t have. I understand why my boss would want as much time as possible to plan, and I respect that and plan to give as much time as I can, but I just won’t know until much further along due to some possible promotions at my husband’s job and us possibly moving. My job and boss have been good to me through these years, and I want to be good to them, too, no matter what I decide to do. Additionally, my annual review and raise will be smack in the middle of these nine months which further adds to the confusion.

If you wait until you’re eight months pregnant to announce both the pregnancy and that you’re leaving, it’s likely to come across oddly to your boss that you didn’t say something earlier.

I’d share no later than six months, but that doesn’t mean that you need to reach a decision sooner than you’re comfortable with. Until and unless you decide that you’re definitely not going to return after giving birth, you can simply stick with saying, “My plans are to continue working, but I’ll let you know if that changes for some reason.” That does mean that at some point you’ll need to do some talking about what your leave might look like and what the plans should be for your position while you’re out — and that may be planning that ends up being unnecessary if you decide not to return to work, but sometimes that’s how it goes. Sometimes people’s plans change later in their pregnancy or after they have the baby, and that’s okay.

4. My boss wants to give people a day off, but legally I can’t

I work as an administrative manager for a team of about 25 at a large state university. Our faculty, including department head, are completely unaware of staffing rules and HR policy. Things get tricky around the holidays because our department head will tell me to “give everyone the day off” as an act of generosity. The trouble is that I legally cannot do this. As a state agency, only the state can modify of working schedule. A unplanned closure tends to happen only due to inclement weather, natural disasters, or something very major (sudden death of a state official). While I doubt anyone would complain about me to the university, I don’t feel comfortable breaking the rules to make my department head happy. His request puts me in a very difficult position, especially since historically the unapproved time off was given before I joined the team. How do I explain to him, and my staff, that I’m not trying to ruin the goodwill but rather trying to be compliant to rules beyond my control?

Talk to your department head and explain what you explained here. He may have no idea that this violates a rule (especially if it’s been done for years), so I’d assume the you simply need to fill him in.

Say something like, “Since the holidays are approaching, I wanted to check with you about how in the past you’ve sometimes suggested giving everyone the day off right before Christmas. I’d love to do it, but I’ve learned that we actually can’t — legally only the state can modify our working schedule. I wanted to flag it for you in case there’s something else we want to do for people this year instead.”

5. My coworker is trying to drag me into her conflict with my boss

I started a new job at a mid-size nonprofit a few months ago. Yesterday my coworker came into my office fuming and crying, saying she had just tried to file a complaint against our manager but had been told by our president that there was no evidence of misconduct. She then told me she wanted to hear “her side of the story” and ranted about our boss for several minutes, telling me he was disrespectful and had driven other people out of the organization. I was dumbstruck and just said “that sounds like a tough situation” until she left.

I have no idea why she felt the need to share all this with me—she clearly wanted to get me on her side, but as I said, I’m new to the company, and we’re not friends. I’ve gotten sucked into workplace drama at other jobs and seen the toxic environment it can create, and I have no interest in that anymore. Additionally, my relationship with my manager has been positive and respectful thus far, and I’m not interested in hearing other people trash talk him.

I guess now I’m wondering if I should tell my manager about what happened and how uncomfortable it made me. I want to nip this in the bud so that my coworker doesn’t try to pull me into this situation again, and I may need my manager’s support with that. But since main goal is to avoid being part of this conflict, I’m worried that talking to my boss would entrench me further in it. Should I just plan to rebut her more firmly if she approaches me again and tell her I’m uncomfortable with the conversation, or should I talk to my manager before she has the chance to bring it up again?

I don’t think this warrants talking to your boss about it. Your coworker tried to pull you into a conversation you didn’t want to have, you stayed neutral, and it hasn’t happened again. You may have been a sufficiently dissatisfying audience that she won’t attempt it again, but if she does, you can try shutting it down with something like, “I’m sorry you’re having a difficult time, but I don’t think I’m the right sounding board for this; I’ve always had good experiences with Bob.” If her attempts to discuss it with you become disruptive, at that point you might need to pull in your manager — but right now this is just one coworker venting to another, without realizing it wasn’t welcome, and that’s not boss territory.

{ 431 comments… read them below }

  1. Lena Clare*

    OP1 I feel you! I once called in with vomiting and diarrea (we have to tell our regional office why we’re off sick :() ans there was only one person in the office when I called did she took a message.

    She then sent an email to the CEO and everyone in the management team telling them I was off with V&D.
    (Insert fuming emoji face here)!

    Some people are just clueless and your boss sounds like one of them.

    1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I had a horrific allergic reaction once when some seafood got mixed in with my meal at a Mongolian place, and was covered in these giant hives and had my throat swell up leading to being hospitalized. When I got back to my office I found out my boss had emailed everyone saying I was out with a really bad rash. Which just….no. I spent a week assuring everyone that no, I did not have a rash and I was not contagious, I had an allergic reaction.

    2. EPLawyer*

      I think the boss is just clueless and possibly taking the easiest path. He needs to tell people that someone is out sick so there is coverage. Instead of taking the few seconds to send a separate email, he just forwards the email. Time saved, issue addressed efficiently.

      Except well, not the right way to do this. At the very least someone needs to clue him in on the office wide emails are not appropriate.

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        I had a co-worker who emailed about being out for the next 2 weeks because his mom was sick and basically on her deathbed. The manager forwarded that email to the whole team. People came up and started saying, I’m so sorry, to the co-worker. He got ANGRY and, well, that was the last we saw of him… it was definitely a bad choice on the manager’s part (and possible over-reaction from the co-worker, who was put in a difficult place).

      2. Kelly L.*

        Yep. If I had a nickel for everyone I’ve worked with who was too lazy to write their own email paraphrasing something I’d sent them!

        1. Emily S*

          Yeah, you get burned a few times and you eventually learn to never put anything in an email that you don’t want forwarded to the worst imaginable person to read it. What may seem like obviously “don’t forward” content to you may not come across that way to your recipient, or you may not anticipate that what you say will trigger the person you’re writing to, to CC another person who has just unexpectedly become relevant to the project/question.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            OMG yes. I’ve been burned by that too. Now I just put the acceptable words into the email and if needed, I walk over to the person to share additional information personally, face-to-face.

    3. Super Anonymous For This Reply*

      My former boss used to pressure us into telling him what our illness was. He was relentless. Once, I had had a nasty hemorrhoid lanced and was out for a couple of days until the excruciating pain subsided. He kept at it until I just blurted out, I had a hemorrhoid taken care of, okay? I was so embarrassed, but he stopped dead in his tracks, turned bright red and walked away silently. He still made others give their reasons, but never asked me for details about my sicknesses again.

      1. Mellow*

        My boss doesn’t push for details, fortunately, but if he did, the “I had a hemorrhoid taken care of, okay?” would begin my list of what to say when pushed, even if untrue, just to make the point. Hard-working, reliable employees should be able to just call in sick and have that be the end of it.

    4. Mallory Janis Ian*

      My coworker and I joke privately with each other that we were “dying of dysentery on the toilet” when we have a V & D problem. Fortunately neither of us spreads that info any further than with each other . . .

    5. Hiding Out*

      I’m in an office where most people like to share details. I’ll get text messages from people telling me they’re going to be out with precise details of everything they’re going through.

      On the other hand, one of the big bosses loves to know what’s wrong with people so that he can suggest alternative medicines to deal with the illness.

      1. bonkerballs*

        Yes! I work in an office with 16 people, and when we call out sick we just send an email to the whole office so everyone knows. And some of the people in my office just give way too many details! Usually I do a pretty generic “not feeling well.” Sometimes I’ll be specific if people already know what’s going on – “looks like my cold got worse” or whatever. But we have this one woman who gives so many details about how she didn’t get any sleep because her daughter had a nightmare at midnight and was up for two hours and then wouldn’t go back to sleep without a song from her dad, but her dad is out of town so they had to call and wake him up, and then the dog threw up so she had to clean that up and now she’s worried she’ll need to take him to the vet, so she didn’t get to bed until around 5 so she’s going to sleep now and see how she feels in a few hours and then she’ll let us know if she can come in later. And then we’ll get an email several hours later with an update saying the daughter wasn’t feeling well because she had been up so late so she decided to keep her home from school so she has to stay home from work, etc, etc, etc. Girl. Just say you don’t feel well!

        1. Mellow*

          Isn’t there something about going into too much detail can be a sign of lying? Seems I read that somewhere.

          1. bonkerballs*

            That’s definitely something they say, but I know this woman pretty well and I don’t think it’s lying, I think she just annoyingly over shares.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              She had to call and wake up the kid’s dad for a song? Oh, I’d’ve been SO MAD if I was that dad.

          2. Kat in VA*

            People who are being truthful convey information. People who are lying attempt to convince you their story is true.

            Some people are naturally more detailed than others, but when it gets down to excruciating-level of detail, it’s usually not (entirely) true.

    6. AdAgencyChick*

      This reminds me of the season 1 (I think) South Park episode where Mr. Garrison demands to read Kenny’s sick note to the entire class and then doesn’t do it because it says “please excuse Kenny, he has explosive diarrhea.”

      If even a South Park character knows not to tell everyone…

    7. Dr. Pepper*

      I’ve worked in places like that, and quite frankly I make something up. I’ve had “the flu” or a “nasty cold”, regardless of what the real issue was, because seriously? I’m not feeling well, I’m not going to be in to work, and I have no intention of describing my health issues to my boss.

    8. Karen from Finance*

      In my office, the protocol was when you were out sick, you emailed your boss with CC to the HR lady. The HR lady would reply, copying in the whole office, asking for details.

      So this one time someone got sick (pun intended) and responded with a bullet-pointed list of symptoms they were experiencing. It was waaaay too many details.

      The protocol changed since then.

      I suggest this approach for OP1. It really works and makes for a few laughs.

    9. Not Today*

      I’m so curious what would happen if you pushed back on this ridiculous invasion of privacy. I would ask if anybody could show me the written policy requiring employees to divulge their personal health information to random people.

  2. Anonicat*

    #1: could also phrase it as, “After all, I’m sure you wouldn’t want it shared with the office if you were being sent to a specialist for a more thorough prostate exam!”

    1. Mongrel*

      Personally I’d avoid the “How would you like it if it happened to you?” scenarios because a) Some people have absolutely no sense of embarrassment and are more than happy to explain why they were out, sometimes with pictures, b) Some people are happy to lie so they can be right.

        1. On Fire*

          Oh, this. My mom basically has no filters, and when Dad was terminally ill, she would tell *everyone* *everything.* It was horrifying. I tried to rein her in, to no avail. But since we know this is how she is, she gets highly edited information. The most she ever know about us being sick is “oh, just a cold,” or “eh, headache.” (Luckily, Mom was a SAHM and has never had to be in a workplace.)

          1. Erin W*

            OMG, this reminds me of being at a grocery store with my mom, while she regaled the checker with tales of my sister’s labor experience the day before (“then there was some extra bleeding, so they decided to bring her in for a D&C”). She’s not normally that kind of person, so I think she was just sort of fried from the whole experience/elated to be a new grandmother, and her head was filled with this info and she had to get it out to everyone she encountered.

      1. LQ*

        Agreed, never fight the battle in their battle ground, these people are entirely unaware. (The first group, the second are just horrible.) Sometimes these can even be otherwise empathetic people, they just cannot fathom a universe in which people wouldn’t want to share. They feel bad for people who are sick and think that sharing the sickness is a way to elicit other people to feel bad which they assume everyone wants. They think this is the good thing. In that case it’s sort of educational.

        (I’m so incredibly glad my last couple bosses have been the opposite and very much not sharers.)

      2. Antilles*

        Some people are happy to lie so they can be right.
        And often enough, such people don’t even realize that they’re lying.
        When you’re just sitting in a chair and it’s not actually happening, it’s easy to *think* it’s not a big deal. “I don’t see why I would care if people found out that I was out of office for a prostate exam; it’s a commonplace medical procedure that every man over the age of 40 should have checked annually. Why would I be embarrassed about people knowing that I follow standard medical advice?” But when something actually happens, most human beings just don’t have calm, rational, emotionless responses like that.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, don’t do this. My dad will share anything about himself, and also anything about anyone else, because he figures if he’s not embarrassed, nobody else should be, either. Don’t get me started.

        1. Razzle Dazzle*

          Hi Dust Bunny! I’m the one who submitted #1 and I just LOLed at your comment. I am afraid that is how my boss might feel too. I appreciate everyone’s suggestions, and I’m glad I’m not alone! I have weekly 1:1 meetings with my boss, so I think I will bring it up next week.

          1. Arya Snark*

            Next time, try telling him you have Anal Glaucoma – You’re so sick, you can’t see your a$$ coming into work today.

            That’s actually code a friend and I used when we took mental health days but we were lucky and had a boss who NEVER wanted to know anything about us other than we weren’t coming in and whether we thought it would continue longer than a day, but it might work in your case. Good luck!

      4. Harvey P. Carr*

        I can add another one to your list of reasons to avoid playing the “How would you like it if it happened to you?” game.

        c) If you’re dealing with a boss it’s easy for him to say “It wouldn’t bother me” when he doesn’t have to back up his words.

      5. bonkerballs*

        Agreed, I used to have a boss who would happily go into details with our clients about her bowel troubles. She would absolutely not understand someone wanting privacy around sick time.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          I’m sure the clients loved that and had a very high opinion of her professionalism. *eyeroll*

          1. bonkerballs*

            We definitely had some who just loved her – they thought she was so warm and grandmotherly and wonderful – but there were others who I could tell just did not know how to respond to her.

      6. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yes… when I was a kid one of my teachers literally brought in a lengthy video of her surgery and showed it to the class.

    2. CaribouInIgloo*

      I remember from a similar post a few days ago where someone suggested “anal fissures” as the go-to reason for taking sick-days if your coworker/boss is getting nosy.
      I strongly suggest OP1 to try this out (or maybe not lol).

      1. Winifred*

        Channeling Linda Richman of “Coffee Talk…” tell him you have “shpilkis in the genechte gezoink.”

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      A better route might be “*I* don’t want it shared if you are sent to a specialist for a more thorough prostate exam!”

  3. EditGrl*

    #4: Would it be possible to do something like administrative leave? My boss will occasionally give my coworkers and me a day off, and we mark it to our home cost center—so it essentially is counted as a day of work. (This is usually done to make up for working over a weekend; we’re all exempt.)

    1. LKW*

      Not everyone could have the same day, the office has to operate under the calendar of the state. Someone has to be there.

      1. General Ginger*

        Does that mean you could give half the staff one day off, and the other half another, so there is coverage, but everyone gets a day off?

    2. doreen*

      I’ve worked for both a state and a local government – and while there are a lot of things that can be done, I’d be surprised if there was any government agency in the US that would allow a local manager to decide to close the office on a day other than an official state holiday or give employees a day off in addition to the various types of leave they already receive.

      There are all sorts of other things that can be done – schedule adjustments where I get Tuesday off because because I worked a double on Monday are fine , as is taking Tuesday off because I worked Sunday. The two things I cannot do are 1) Approve so many people to be off the same day that the office cannot function ( “yes, we’re open but nobody’s here”) and 2) Submit/approve inaccurate timesheets – which often have to be submitted for exempt employees. Timesheets for exempt government employees may not require detailed time to be entered – but they often have some sort of statement saying that the timesheet is accurate and that the time worked plus accruals used adds up to a certain number of hours.

      1. Doodle*

        Our office will completely close when we have a staff retreat or training. State university, mix of exempt and non exempt employees. We’re working but the office is closed. Sometimes the offsite work ends early — boss sends us home early.
        Sometimes we’re all allowed to “work” at home. Boss is usually in the office though to ensure the phone is answered.

        1. LQ*

          When we do a staff training we have to split it up over multiple days so the office is still fully staffed (and being sent home early usually means about 15 minutes because once it got on a news channel and never again). I think part of it is how public. If our phones don’t get answers there are calls to commissioners, legislators, and the press (heck when our phones DO get answered there are those calls), so it’s a big ole nope for us.

      2. HB*

        I work for a state university and we regularly are allowed to leave early on days before holidays at our manager’s discretion. I do think this comes from the top (President’s office) and then can be decided department-by-department in terms of coverage. We are also kicked out early when a large televised football game is happening (they want the parking!). I think typically this is framed as “work from home”. I’m sure there’s some magic happening behind the scenes to approve this but I’ve never filed time differently for those days and my department head is able to give permission. There have to be workarounds here!

        Our university also does a general closure around the holidays for everyone – the whole university shuts down (power, heating, all of it). Exempt employees get the time off and non-exempt can bank extra hours earlier or just file for vacation time in between the actual state holidays. Your office actually has to ask for an exemption to be open at this time and make people work. I once worked for a public-facing part of the university and also had some year-end fiscal deadlines (donations) and had to come in…miserable! But I know there are ways for a university to categorize this type of time off to allow it.

        1. Another University employee*

          I also work for a large state university and this is our norm. I’m exempt so it doesn’t really matter for me, but I’m pretty sure our manager just has our hourly employees submit regular work hours (I’m not sure what she would say if anyone asked about it – maybe that staff are working from home, which we are allowed to do sometimes depending on our role). The general rule we’ve always followed is that if we can manage to get all pending work wrapped up a couple days early we’re allowed to not come in (this really makes sense around the holidays, when all the students and half the faculty have left – it’s a ghost town here). It’s not like you work for the DMV and your boss is giving everyone a day off. It doesn’t impact anyone because our customers (students) are all gone. We all understand that we have to keep an eye on email and deal with anything that comes up remotely.

          This is a super awkward position for the OP to be in, because OP is probably correct in trying to enforce the rules, but it goes so far against the norm (at least for most academic departments at our state university) that it will be wildly unpopular.

          It reminds me of my friend (not a govt employee) who had a vendor that always sent everyone in the office a Honeybaked ham gift card each year. Everyone loved it, until a new employee pointed out that it was above the $25 gift limit set by the company, and higher ups (who had been choosing to ignore it) were forced to send the giftcards back. It’s been years and that guy is still known as the Honeybaked Ham hater.

          I know that people shouldn’t do things that are against policy, but I also know that calling out accepted practices that have been going on for years, despite policy, is going to be a tough sell. Ooof.

        2. Erin W*

          Our university is the same–our current president always gifts us with the week between Christmas and New Years as holiday time, whereas our previous president always made us come in to work. (Needlessly, really, because the students aren’t here and we can get end-of-term stuff done in time to take the break.)

          I don’t think university regulations apply to this individual, though. They refer to their department as a “state agency” which I expect is affiliated with or housed within a university, but subject to regulations the university does not have. (Something like a hospital attached to a medical school.) They may very well have a non-student-oriented service that needs to be performed during the holiday.

    3. kittymommy*

      I know with the government agencies I have worked for in the past and the one I work for now the manager/director doesn’t actually close the office, but does send most staff home early as long as there is one person for phone coverage and any walk-ins. In the places I’ve worked, to their credit the director has been the one that stayed.

    4. rj*

      semi related: OP 4 – I hope your department chair appreciates you and keeping your dept on the legal straight and narrow! Faculty are often placed in these roles without preparation or skill (source: am faculty) and some learn on the job. I hope this chair is up for continuing the learning process.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        No. Because that’s “stealing taxpayers money” to pay a government employee for a day of work they didn’t do.

        This is the kind of thing where there isn’t really a work around. You just have to stick to the rules set down by the government HR office.

    5. Governmint Condition*

      This could be a situation where even the highest level officials have their hands tied. In my state agency, there was one morning where the main office building, in our capital city, had a power failure. The commissioner (who is a direct appointee of the governor) told everybody at that office to go home for the day. The state agency in charge of employee relations got wind of this and said he had absolutely no authority to do this. The end result was all employees of the agency, statewide, had to report to a time and attendance rules training class. Essentially, the entire agency was punished for the commissioner’s mistake. (Yes, we were taught NOT to follow the orders of our commissioner during an emergency.)

      1. fposte*

        One of my siblings worked on the fed payroll at a state institution. On 9/11 they decided to just close up but then hit a snag because there was no absence code to enter for that.

      2. Asenath*

        I used to work somewhere that sometimes did close for bad weather, but the question came up about not showing up if the place was opened, but conditions nearby were terrible. It was in the middle of nowhere, and everyone commuted. No problem. We didn’t have to report if the roads were officially closed. The highways people said they weren’t authorized to make that decision, even if things were so bad that they had pulled off all their equipment. Ask the police, the said. The police had no authority to close the highway either, although they could and did strongly advise everyone to stay off it. So, if someone got in to open the place, we worked or lost pay.

    6. AdminX2*

      You could not give them the day off but tell them they are all welcome to “work from home with zero expectation of deadlines or assignments coming through that day.”
      We had a corp policy change that ended a well instilled policy of leaving early the day before holidays and end of quarter at all the branch offices. The next day before a holiday the office boss had us all come to a meeting to “wish us a happy holiday *wink wink*” and we all left shortly after.
      Not always a perfect solution, but you can give them some time/ease of a day without having to officially close.

      1. Emily S*

        That’s similar to how my employer handles snow days. The office is 1) officially closed so nobody has to go in, but 2) most of the company can do our jobs from home and our timelines often don’t allow much wiggle room for things to grind to a halt for days on end because it snowed, so we’re generally expected to work from home on snow days, except 3) the company understands that snow days mean there are kids off school who might need supervising, or you might need to spend an hour outside mid-morning shoveling your driveway, so we’re not held to the same standard of availability or productivity as a non-snow-day.

        So in practice it means that people only tend to work on things with imminent deadlines when there’s a snow day, and if you’re caught up on you’re work, you’re more or less free to watch TV all day as long as you keep an eye on email so you’re not holding up anyone else who’s working towards an imminent deadline. I’ve always really appreciated the system as I feel it balances business needs with employee needs very well.

    7. CanCan*

      I work for a government agency, and our days off are set out in the collective agreement. However, we usually unofficially get the afternoon off on December 24th and 31st (or closest days to Xmas and New Years, if those are on a weekend). The rule is if you take the day off, you must enter one day’s leave, but if you come in for the morning, the boss will pass by around 1pm and allow people to go home. I’m not sure how that applies to those employees that work directly with the public (such as the info centre), – it probably doesn’t.

  4. NeonFireworks*

    The same thing OP5 went through happened to me: Obnoxious Coworker had an outburst at me about Manager and kept sighing at me and saying passive aggressive things like, “If ONLY someone would just stick up for me!” I shrugged and stayed out, and it really ticked her off. I didn’t take it to the higher ups. (I probably should have when she started a campaign of trying to undermine/frame me for annoying little things – so watch out for that sort of thing, I guess – but that was only shortly before our contracts were both up, and then we both got salaried positions in different directions and I never saw her again.)

    1. JB*

      LOL, that’s pretty pathetic.

      I had a very new employee include me on a mass email where he complained about our boss. I actually liked our boss and I considered forwarding him the email, but ultimately decided against it. I ended up just writing the employee and saying “Don’t include me in this.” And PS…. If you are going to complain about the boss, don’t do it on email!

  5. Storie*

    I have never heard of having to explain your illness as an actual policy! This is crazy and so invasive!

    Years ago, in the most corporate job I’d had in the entertainment industry, I was out for three days after having a miscarriage. I told my immediate boss I’d be out for a “procedure” and he knew better (and was kind enough) not to ask more. The day I returned, the HR admin cornered me in the elevator and kept asking me “so did you have that flu? Was it that stomach bug? Three days is a long time to be out” on and on. I felt so invaded, a I could do was say “no not the flu!” and walk off. Now I almost wish I’d told her the real reason to stop her prying. Nothing like an unpleasant truth to shut some people down.

    1. Tau*

      I not only had this at my last job, we also had a quick meeting scheduled with HR when we got back in which we talked about what could have been done to prevent us from being sick. Not fun.

      1. MicrobioChic*

        That’s insane.

        What kind of responses would you even give?

        “Well if I’d moved into a hotel as soon as my housemate got sick she wouldn’t have passed on the flu.”

        “Clearly going out in public is how I got this illness. I’ll be ceasing that immediately.”

        1. Stormfeather*

          “I believe constant exposure to germs at work made me ill, so I will be taking it upon myself to work from home in the future”

        2. JustaTech*

          “I got pink eye from the bus because you chose to put the office in the part of town that means I ride the bus that goes past the court house, the jail and the hospital that doesn’t require insurance.”
          (This happened to my SO, but when he called in with pink eye his boss responded with “Aaargh! Stay away!” not an interrogation of “why are you sick?”.)

      2. Gaia*

        “I’ve realized my exposure to the general public is the root cause of the illness. Going forward, I’ve begun to live in this sterile bubble which I believe will solve the issue.”

      3. Wednesday Mouse*

        That’s actually pretty routine in the UK. I believe the thinking behind it is for the company to be able to identify if they need to make any accommodations for your return to work, or of there was something at work which caused the illness/sick leave. Which is actually a pretty good idea for longer sick leaves, but it is a little silly when you’ve been off for a day because of a tummy bug.

      4. Zoe Karvounopsina*

        My office does that if you go over a certain amount of absences in a period of time. It is framed as ‘is there anything we can do to make you feel better/any accomodations we need to make’ but I still feel weird and invaded.

        (And it makes me less likely to take a day off when, for example, I am having a shitty mental health day, which is probably the intention.)

      5. CarolynM*

        OMG! The closest I ever came to that was when I worked as the office manager for a dental practice. They don’t spend a lot of dental school teaching you how to run a small business, so the dentist found some consultants to help straighten things out – the consultants were Scientologists and they used the secular teachings of L Ron Hubbard to teach running a business 101.

        One of the things they told us to do was if an employee wanted to go home sick, we should have a meeting with them. We should ask them about all the other times in their life they have felt the way they are feeling, we are supposed to trace it back to the first time they felt that way, help them realize that there was a trauma or something else (not actually being sick!) that really caused the symptoms that first time, and now that they know and can process that original event, they will never feel sick in that way again! But we should still let them go home for the day to rest … but they will totally never be sick that way again! Huzzah!

        We were also not supposed to take any medication (prescription medication included!!!) or drink any alcohol during off hours while we were taking their courses … we were supposed to tell them about any prescriptions so they could discuss them with us. Oh, you mean talking about the steroids I take to fly, finding out about the first time my eardrum burst on a flight and convincing me that my eardrum physically burst on a flight because I had an argument with my mom earlier in the day or something, and now that I know this I don’t have to take the steroids and my ears will be fine? Yeah – no – I’m not going to tell you about my damn medication! And after a long day in a different time zone, damn skippy I am having some wine with my dinner. And probably a drink at the hotel bar too!

        After we left that particular session about grilling sick employees, I told my boss (the dentist) that I would not do that to our staff and if I ever wanted to go home sick and he did that to me, I would quit on the spot. He laughed and agreed and we went out for dinner. And some drinks. ;)

        (I just want to say though, every person there that I even bumped into was perfectly lovely – super friendly and even though I am sure if I wanted to join up they would have helped, they weren’t trying to recruit us! And when they weren’t talking nonsense about things like measles and the flu being physical manifestations of emotional distress (not kidding even a little about that!), they had some good information. It boiled down to common sense … but common sense is not all that common …)

          1. CarolynM*

            Wellllllll ….

            I’ve actually seen an e-meter! That is the tool they use to “audit” you – like a mini lie detector thing. These cylinders you hold and a little box with a needle that swings back and forth. They weren’t using it on me, but while waiting for the course to begin I was wandering around the room and was like “damn! those things are real!” And they had a book shop where you could buy all the Scientology books and stuff. I thumbed through one that was talking about Xenu and the thetans in the volcano and the space ships and stuff … so when I saw that South Park episode I knew they were not exaggerating anything … I had read that stuff for myself!

            I had dinner at a Scientology center once – I wish there was something of interest to report, but it was really normal! If you didn’t know it was a scientology center, you would have thought you were in the dining room of a new-agey meditation/spa resort or something. And the Ahi Tuna was delicious! (Though my boss and I teased each other the rest of the night about it being seasoned with mind control drugs or something! lol) We didn’t know that is where we were going – my boss and I were headed to some generic chain restaurant for dinner when our instructor invited us along with her to meet some friends. Yeah … we didn’t think too hard, and were a bit surprised to find out where dinner was happening!

            We went to a lot of courses, but sometimes there were conventions where everyone using their practice management system would gather together. THERE you could attend info sessions about joining Scientology – they were a bit sly about staying for the extra sessions where they would talk about “happiness in your personal life” – yeah, it was about how you should pay some money and join the church. But for the most part, Scientology was kept pretty separate from the practice management stuff.

            The information from the courses was pretty good, actually. A lot of it was common sense, but some stuff was less intuitive and has proven really helpful. One thing is the tone scale … it is a spectrum of human emotion from ecstatically happy to literally dead. They explained that if someone is much lower than you on the tone scale, you can’t communicate with them. If they are angry, you meet them at angry, you take it up to pissed off, you take it further up to merely annoyed and then eventually you reach calmness where you can actually communicate, work it out and its resolved. On the surface it sounds like pure hooey, but think about it … if you are deeply depressed and going through hell, are you really able to take in what some hyper-chipper optimist is saying to you? So, you move people up or down the tone scale to facilitate communication. I have used it quite successfully in that practice and long after I left. It sounds manipulative, but its really a lot closer to active listening (“I hear that you are angry beyond your wildest imagination …”) – it’s really useful in an emergency to calm people down. You start by matching their scared/frantic tone of voice and acknowledge that there is a big scary problem. (I mean, when you are in mortal fear, if someone tells you “everything is fine – relax!” – exactly how likely are you to be able to just relax on their say-so? But someone who agrees that things are FUBAR and goes on to present a plant for getting things back on track – you know they aren’t delusional, they know there’s a problem, but they have a plan – so you can relax!) You ratchet yourself down to a worried tone and say that even though its scary, there are things we can do. Ratchet further to determined calm and say that right now panicking is just holding us back from doing what we need to do. Take it to a tone of reassurance and confidence and say I know you can do this – I need you – you’ve got this! Next thing you know, you have one less person freaking out and one more person helping.

            And really … everyone I met was just lovely! Our main adviser was a really good guy – everyone was just so nice! I mean, the folks at the top are creepy as hell and hearing some of the stories, they do some monstrous things … but the folks I met, just regular people without big important positions in the church were really good people.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              But were the buildings all blue? In Los Angeles, they kept buying up big buildings and painting them all blue. (Ahem, this was about 700 years ago though.)

            2. Not Today*

              They seemed like good people,but they support a horrible organization that separates families and abuses it’s own members, so they aren’t that good. Cult members will always come across as “nice” people because how else would they recruit? It’s all bullshit.

              I bet none of the folks you met have watched Leah Remini’s series exposing Scientology and it’s abuses. L. Ron Hubbard was a failed science fiction writer who created a self-help organization turned religion to get rich. I detest Scientology and everything it stands for. Go to The Underground Bunker site to see the family separations, some of which have gone on for years and years, including that of Mike Rinder, who cohosts with Leah. Sorry, I can’t stand by and watch positive commentary about the so-called Church of $cientology. It is complete bullshit.

        1. Amber Rose*

          That’s really interesting. I wonder if that kind of thing informed the policy they had when I worked for a document control company. We had 6 sick days to use, but if you used them more than once in a six month rolling period, you had to sit with your manager and have a meeting about why you were calling in so often. There was a form with a bunch of invasive questions, which to my manager’s credit, she did not make me answer. She did ask them, but then just marked my response as “unsure.”

          Because of course I’m unsure! I don’t know why I caught a cold twice in three month. I don’t know why I got pneumonia. Is “terrible luck” a response? Or how about “I use public transportation, which is a breeding ground for germs.” Sheesh.

          1. Emily S*

            “Why you were calling in so often”

            I would have literally addressed this as why I called in as opposed to why I got sick, to illustrate the ridiculousness:

            “To be honest, I just prefer puking in my own toilet if at all possible.”
            “It just seems, I don’t know, rude? to expose my coworkers to a highly contagious illness.”

          1. Gazebo Slayer*


            Those people are terrifying. They have actual manuals on how to drive people who criticize them to suicide, if I recall correctly.

          2. SusanIvanova*

            I’d give them some leeway if they didn’t realize it – Scientology has a lot of front companies to help them ooze their way in. But as soon as they use “auditing” to refer to people and not books, out they go.

      6. Collarbone High*

        “Hmmm, if you have a time machine and an Ant-Man suit I guess I could travel back to my conception and rewrite my genetic code. I’ll get right on that!”

    2. Non-Prophet*

      Storie, I’m sorry you had that experience. It makes an already-crappy situation that much worse.

    3. Amla*

      I am in the UK, and every job I’ve had has required some level of explanation of why you’re off sick, and when I’ve worked at larger organisations, there have been specific recording codes for different illnesses so managers can look back across time at why their reports have been off sick. (Although, I recently had to take part of a day off with really excruciating period pain, and there was no code for that so it was logged as a migraine. Hmm.) Managers would be in serious trouble for forwarding this info to the whole office, though! It is treated as confidential, with only the manager and HR having access.

      My current workplace mandates ‘return to work interviews’ – usually just a chat with your line manager – even if you just take the afternoon off to kick a bad cold. All of us who line manage anyone had a recent reminder about these, because so many managers skip them unless it was a more extended period of illness, or if the problem was work-related or related to an ongoing condition that might require accommodation.

      It certainly can feel quite intrusive to have a system like this, but sickness absence is treated very differently here to how I gather it is usually treated in the US – as with so many employment-related issues – and I think the trade-off is worth it for me!

      1. Cat wrangler*

        Ditto UK worker here and this is the system or similar in most places that I’ve worked across private and public sector roles, that our line manager would get a basic description of the reasons for calling in sick. It would be seen as a breach of confidentiality for the emails to be sent out as described; a simple ‘Jane won’t be in today/until next week’ would suffice in terms of arranging the work. Of course, this doesn’t stop potential gossip as to the reasons. It’s not always positive, I did hear one manager refuse to give permission for a pregnant colleague to leave early when she thought that she had wet herself but the colleague left anyway in distress. It transpired that she had gone into early labour and it had been her waters breaking.

        1. media monkey*

          I’ve never heard anything like that. we normally volunteer topline details (feeling sick, horrible period, migraine, vomiting) and I never communicate that to our male overall boss. if it is over a number of days i suspect someone would ask or if there were a lot of sick days over a period of time you’d probably get asked about it. But in the UK sick days are more or less unlimited so we probably ironically don’t take so many!

      2. Former call centre worker*

        Same here. I think informally a lot of managers might mention to close colleagues if it’s just a cold or something but only things that nobody would really mind being shared and not sending an email to the whole team about it!

        1. Scion*

          The managers are not the ones who should be making the call about what their employees would or would not mind being shared. Your personal medical info is YOUR personal medical info!

      3. Mike C.*

        Why do managers need to look back in time to see your private medical history?

        The closest business related reason I can think of for this sort of record keeping is if a massive number of people call I sick at the same time, possibly indicating a pandemic of some sort, but even this can be inferred from the absences alone, not this sort of crazy record keeping.

        1. Lorraine*

          Also UK. Possible reasons for asking for (general, not specific) details could be 1. in case work is making you ill, in which case other procedures begin to kick in, or 2. if it’s related to a protected characteristic, in which case the absence is counted differently.

          So, if pregnant employee has had some bleeding or cramps; or if employee with fibromyalgia has a flare up; or if warehouse tech is in bed with a bad back; those may need to be counted differently from the same employees having stomach flu when it’s doing the rounds.

          That doesn’t mean anyone at work is entitled to the full details, but it does mean that when you call in sick you ought to give enough detail so it can be recorded properly. And there’s an obligation on the employer not to share those details. For example, when I miscarried and ended up having eight or ten days off for medical procedures and recovery, not even my grandboss knew – I told HR “gynae” and spoke to my boss for support, but nobody else in the building knew and people were surprised when I brought it up in conversation months later.

          There is a lot of PTO entitlement for sickness in the UK – paid by the government after a certain trigger point, but typically I’ve been contractually entitled to claim 100% pay for up to four weeks per year on top of 6 weeks’ paid holiday. A colleague was paid 75% her full salary for several years when fighting cancer (she survived). That means there’s a LOT of paperwork that goes with it, to figure out whether the employer or the insurer or the government gets the bill.

          1. Bagpuss*

            The government doesn’t get the bill. The days when SSP was reimbursed are long gone, and it is the employer who pays. In public sector jobs sick pay can be very generous – I think my sister gets up to 6 months on full pay and 6 on half pay, but in the private sector amounts of paid sick time are much lower.

            I think one of the reasons for having information about why someone was off is, as Lorraine says, to do with differences in employment law. People here have more employment protections so dismissing someone is more difficult, and you have to have a ‘fair’ reason.

            Capacity/ capability due to someone being off sick a lot might be a reason to dismiss, but in other situations, such as when considering attendance as part of the criteria to decide who is made redundant (laid off) you would be required to disregard any absences due to protected characteristics such as disability or pregnancy, so you do at least need to be able to distinguish between a sickness absence which is disability or pregnancy related and one which is not.

            I’ve never worked anywhere which would track as closely as Amla describes, but it is normal to give a brief explanation (e.g. I’ve got a migraine / stomach bug /broken leg)
            If some on is off for a longer period and needs a doctors note then the ‘fit note’ will say what the reason is for the person being unfit for work.

            I definitely agree that sharing info with other staff is inappropriate. Where I work, if someone calls in sick then the person they have spoken to will generally do an e-mail saying something like “X is unwell and won’t be in today” (in our office, mostly people do need to know who is in or out )

            The office calendar shows whether someone is (or was) in or out, but only senior management can see why.

            1. Scion*

              Wait, so in the UK its considered acceptable to make firing decisions based on people’s medical conditions? As long as they’re not certain protected conditions?

                1. Scion*

                  It may be legal, but it’s (in my experience) definitely not acceptable. I don’t ever remember hearing about something like that and if it happened I imagine there would be tons of negative PR for that company.

                2. Cat wrangler*

                  I have seen people put through a process of dismissal for insufficient attendance (or regular lateness) at work / suspected incapacity to do the role they were employed in due to illness. It can happen.

                3. Emily S*

                  We have had letters here around this situation. It’s not necessarily, “You’re too sick, you’re fired! Your personal items will be mailed to you, please exit the building now.”

                  But rather it could be, “We’ve done our best to accommodate your illness, but the reality is we have 40 hours of work each week that needs to get done, and we only have budget to pay one person to do it, and it’s become clear that you’re unable to meet the demands of the position even with accommodations, so unfortunately we need to let you go.” At that point a compassionate employer will usually offer severance pay or a long transition period, and I think people usually understand that a lot of businesses can’t afford to keep someone on the payroll just because they’re sick if the work isn’t getting done and no accommodation has been able to bridge the gap.

                4. Gazebo Slayer*

                  I’m in the US and in my experience it’s common for workers who haven’t been on the job long enough for FMLA, or whose illnesses don’t qualify for FMLA, to just be fired. I was in a long-term temporary position (basically permatemp) where one of my coworkers got… I think mono? And after she’d been out for a few days she was off the payroll, even though her work was great and she was super friendly and helpful. I hope she at least qualified for unemployment insurance, but I don’t think she did. :-(

              1. media monkey*

                well not really. but i am sure if 2 workers need to be made redundant and one takes a lot of individual sick days with no chronic illness, they’d be first in line in the US as well, no?

                my experience is also that most “career” type jobs are unlikely to get rid of people even with long term illnesses – in my last company we had someone off with a mental illness for about 18 months, and he would come back for a couple of weeks and then go off again for months. he was paid for the whole time he was off until they decided to agree to end his employment and settle with him so that they could hire someone to do his job and take the pressure off his team who were always having to cover.

              2. Lorraine*

                It’s not so much that a particular condition gives you a free pass, but rather what you can manage with what’s called reasonable adjustments. An awful lot of British law is based on the legal concept of what is “reasonable”!

                – eg if someone applies for a job working at a customer service call centre but is profoundly deaf, a reasonable adjustment would be to have them operating the webchat function or answering email queries only; or someone with limited mobility might reasonably request to work on the ground floor or not stack high shelves.

                If a person can’t do a job despite all reasonable adjustments, which might include restricted duties or hours, or additional equipment (etc) then yes that can be taken into account during hiring and firing.

                What’s really gross is when a company taking up a reference will ask a previous employer how many sick days the person took in a given period. I don’t know how/if this is even legal but it comes up!

              3. Akcipitrokulo*

                Not sure where you go that from? Or is it from the number of days thing?

                Yes, absences can be counted as part of redundancy considerations.

                But you can have those absences ignored if they are due to disability/pregnancy/other protected characteristic.

              4. doreen*

                When Bagpuss refers to “protected characteristics such as disability or pregnancy” , I think the distinction being made is not between protected conditions and unprotected conditions but between sick days related to a medical condition and those which are not related to a condition but are more or less one -off events. Which absolutely does happen in the US- someone in my office is on her way to being fired due to her excessive unscheduled absences. If she had applied for and was approved for FMLA, she wouldn’t be in this situation but presumably she does not have a condition that would qualify .

            2. Lorraine*

              “The government doesn’t get the bill. The days when SSP was reimbursed are long gone, and it is the employer who pays”

              Thanks for the correction. Fortunately for me it has been a while since I’ve needed to know :D

            3. Amla*

              Just to clarify, I don’t think most/any managers at my workplace are actively tracking sickness reasons unless someone’s clearly taking the piss – but the info (for the last year anyway) is there if we want to.

          2. Not Today*

            I would hate for this personal information to be in a computer somewhere, information that could potentially be there long after I have left employment. I have several medical conditions and am private, so this system would be brutal for me. I would probably lie, and I guess those who need mental health days do. Ugh.

        2. Asenath*

          I don’t think I’d really like the European system where you have to give a reason for every time you’re off sick. On the other hand, when I needed more than the usual (and very occasional) day or few hours for a cold or medical appointment, I let my immediate co-workers know the basics of what was going on. I didn’t actually need more that a few days off at a time, but I was getting outpatient treatment for weeks and weeks and weeks – well, it seemed like ages – and my attendance at work was erratic what with appointments and sometimes side-effects. It was all covered by my doctors’ notes of course, but after I thought it over carefully, I decided that concealment wasn’t a possibility since it was obvious that something rather major was going on. So to nip any wild speculation in the bud, I chose to tell my immediate work group the basics. That worked well. The response was appropriately polite concern at the time, and if there was any gossip or speculation behind my back it didn’t come to my ears. But it was my choice. No one knows or needs to know if my day off for medical reasons is due to the flue or a stomach flu or some other mild illness that will (I hope) be non-contagious by the time I return, and will not require major changes to my schedule.

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            You don’t have to. If you’ve got a shit manager, on either side of pond, they might push you for reasons. If you’ve got a reasonable manager, not feeling well is enough *but* if you want the added protection if it is from a protected characteristic, you may want to mention it. Like if there’s a limit to how many days you can take and get full pay, if those days are due to pregnancy, they don’t count to the limit. So if you’d usually get say 20 days in a rolling 12 month period on full pay, and you were out with morning sickness for 25 days over a 3 month period, you’d get full pay for all of those, and your 20 days wouldn’t be touched yet.

            Also doctor’s appointments usually have to have time made up – maternity appointments don’t.

            So you don’t have to say – but a manager can be shit or it may be in your best interests.

            Also if it is something that work CAN do something abut, it’s worth having it recorded.

            1. Emily S*

              Yeah, it seems to me that even under the UK system the only information that’s really needed to be disclosed is “non-protected illness” vs “protected illness/disability.”

              1. Amla*

                That depends on your employer. It’s possible that I would be technically allowed to refuse to give info about why I’m off, but it may be in my contract to do so (I can’t be bothered to check, sorry!). It’s not always down to having a crappy or non-crappy individual manager. If my direct report refused to tell me why they were having a day off, I would have to ask HR what to do, because the recording system (NHS employment record system thingummy) requires a reason.

      4. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        I think the US system is like that because there are so few laws about things like this. How to handle sick leave is the company’s own business and nobody else’s, so if the company is OK with no explanations, they can do that. In countries that have more laws and regulations, there also has to be more documentation and information. It’s not just the company’s own business.

        I’m not familiar with UK legislation, but I know things about the Finnish system that wouldn’t really allow the employer to accept “I’m not feeling well” as an explanation in many cases. Firstly, for longer sick leaves employers get money from the state to help pay the ill employee, and in those cases it needs to be clear that they are entitled to this benefit. For this reason there needs to be a doctor’s note that gives the diagnosis (as all diagnoses aren’t covered in this system), but the doctor’s note is extremely confidential. Shorter sick leaves without a doctor’s note are possible if the company wants that, but I think the employer still has some kind of responsibility to make sure that the illness isn’t caused by the work. If someone has lots of short sick leaves, there will be a meeting with the boss, HR and occupational health care to assess the situation. Things like this mean that companies have to collect some kind of health data.

      5. HalloweenCat*

        I’m in the US and I’m pretty sure management isn’t supposed to share specifics here either! I was out for two weeks over the summer with a concussion. All my manager was allowed to say was that I was out, she wasn’t allowed to say why because it would be a HIPAA violation. Now, I’m not sure if this applies to all illness or if it was because I had to use FMLA leave to cover the absence. When I got back everyone asked if I had been on vacation! I was like “no i’ve been lying in a dark room with a cold rag on my face”

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          All my manager was allowed to say was that I was out, she wasn’t allowed to say why because it would be a HIPAA violation.

          No, that’s not true. There’s a common misconception that HIPAA prevents anyone from sharing your health information. It does not. HIPAA prevents people who come across your health information because of their jobs in health care from sharing that information. If I tell my manager I have strep throat, and he tells the rest of the office that they might want to watch out for symptoms because I’m home with strep throat, it is NOT a HIPAA violation.

          1. HalloweenCat*

            Ah okay. That’s just what my boss and our HR rep told me when I asked about it. That makes a lot more sense though.

            1. Octopus*

              I think FMLA would’ve prevented your boss from being able to share your health information though.

          2. TootsNYC*

            Though anyone can decide that they want to follow the same guidelines that HIPPA imposes on health professionals.

            And a company might well impose that same set of restrictions on managers or HR, even borrowing the manual, etc. I would, if I were a business owner, or the top HR professional in my building.

            Just because I told my boss (or especially because the folks in HR often see the medical paperwork from your doctor) doesn’t mean I want everyone to know.

            Of course there’d be no legal penalty, and how it got enforced would also be up to the company. But for people to voluntarily follow the same standards is perfectly sensible. And they might just use the same wording.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Sure, there are lots of good reason for a company to have this as a policy. HIPAA just isn’t one of them.

            2. Michaela Westen*

              I wonder if there’s a U.S. law about HR workers keeping things confidential? If not, there should be.

              1. fposte*

                Only when it’s a part of another law, like FMLA. There’s no general HR confidentiality requirement

      6. peachie*

        It makes me so mad that ‘menstrual pain’ isn’t on the list. It’s frustrating how dismissive people can be about that. (I wouldn’t like the system you described, but if you’re going to have it, make the coding system either more or less specific!)

        1. Amla*

          Yep! I was pretty irritated. Although I don’t love how detailed the list of sickness reasons is, they either need to include it or go more general and have one that is just called ‘pain’!

    4. boxfish*

      I think this is fairly standard in the UK? In the places I’ve worked it has been, anyway. As soon as you’re back to work you have to fill out paperwork about it including the reason for your absence. I find it really intrusive, especially since i have medical issues that i don’t especially want to share with my boss.

      1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

        In the UK most companies require paperwork as a ‘self certification’ for any sickness up to seven days; beyond that they’re required to ask for a doctor’s ‘fit for work’ note. Ostensibly it’s related to people’s eligibility for sick pay (whether paid by the company or as a statutory benefit) but it’s also so that companies can ensure that no-one comes to work if they’re not well enough to do so, as that could mean the company is breaching health and safety or disability discrimination laws if they don’t accommodate.

        I’ve never worked anywhere in the UK that has NOT had ‘reason for absence’ on the self-certification form, but this would usually be a broad category (stomach, cold, mental health, broken limb etc.) and would be *strictly* confidential to HR and the line manager – sharing personal information such as ‘reason for absence’ would be considered absolutely verboten in most UK firms!

        1. londonedit*

          This came up a few days ago, and I agree that in my UK experience companies have required a short explanation, but I’ve never been asked to provide more than a brief ‘stomach upset’ or ‘cold’ explanation, and that’s only to HR on the self-certification form. As far as calling/emailing in sick goes, all I’ve ever had to say to my manager in any company I’ve worked in was ‘I’m not feeling well and won’t be in today’. Where I work we can self-certify for up to seven consecutive days of illness, and then need to supply a doctor’s ‘fit for work’ note when we return for anything longer than that.

          Some companies do have ‘return to work’ meetings with HR for absences that are longer than the self-certified period, but they’re (meant to be) about making sure the employee has everything they need to make a smooth transition back into the office after a longer absence, they’re not (meant to be) an investigation into how or why the person became ill.

          1. boxfish*

            That’s interesting – where I work it’s my line manager who fills out the form to send to HR, so you do have to tell your manager your reason for being off sick (plus if you’ve been off more than a couple of times in 6 months you have to have a meeting w manager about it). This isn’t helped by the fact that my manager is gossipy, judgemental and generally unprofessional so disclosing your medical info to him is never fun.

            1. boxfish*

              Also my manager explicitly framed the ‘you’ve been off sick several times/ for an extended period’ interview as a way of monitoring whether employees are lying about being ill. Which is not super encouraging.

      2. Nico M*

        Not my (UK) experience at all, such prying has only been for those off a lot.

        I’d mutter about “GDPR” , put a spanner in the works

          1. Nico m*

            (Puts barrack room lawyer hat on)

            You mean you don’t know?

            I think that’s a very brave and interesting decision to assume that GDPR doesn’t apply .

            Are you 100% certain that your recording and analysing sickness reasons isn’t “processing sensitive personal data”?

            Are you 100% sure that curiosity about the short absences of employees whose overall sickness days are within national norms amounts to a legitimate purpose for processing sensitive personal data?

            What’s the upside of opening this can of worms?

            1. media monkey*

              LOL. you may have 4% of my annual turnover as a fine (i do really know way too much about GDPR dammit and they way that some people are interpreting the rules are crazy – like my nephew who is a teacher and was told he can’t keep a list of his kids ion his desk and tick off when they hand in their homework! umm, not digital information!)

    5. LKW*

      “In my experience day-care and school germs are the most virulent. Therefore anyone with children must stay home so as not to contaminate the office.”

    1. Maria Lopez*

      Especially if it is a male boss and the illness or problem is menstrual related. Be sure to get blood and tampons in there somewhere.

      1. Lily B*

        “Why am I out sick?…Hoo boy, where to start? Cramps that feel like my lower body is being squeezed through a meat grinder for one, plus some heavy bleeding. And I mean heavy. We’re talking explosion-at-the-strawberry-jam-factory here. Bled right through my good tampons and now I’m into my emergency backup stash of the ones with cheap cardboard applicators. You know the ones. Oh, and did I mention the gnarly period poops?…hello? Hello?”

        1. Anonicat*

          “Honestly, if it goes on like this for much longer I’ll probably just fillet my own uterus out with a hunting knife, so I think you can count on me being back by Monday.”

          (Side note, I’m going to ask my dr about hormonal contraception options to deal with these Issues, so if y’all want to tell me about the pros and cons of whatever you’re using in the weekend open thread, I’d be very interested to hear it.)

          1. London Calling*

            I was going to say ‘SO BAD I wanted to rip my uterus out with my bare hands’ as something OP should say to her boss but Anonicat beat me to it.

        2. Phoenix Wright*

          Thanks, now I’m gonna need a couple beers, and maybe a bottle of vodka or two, to wash out this mental image.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I guess I’ve been reading OB/Gyne charts for too long, because I found this funny. Especially the idea of removing your own uterus. :D
            But seriously, Anonicat, are all your periods like that? If so you should be getting checked for endometriosis or fibroids. They can be treated!

            1. Anonicat*

              No, they’ve only started sucking in the last few months, after a 20-year hiatus of being mostly ok. I’m just determined to not go back to the bad old days of high school, when I’d have to run out of class to throw up (and when I had the self-surgery fantasies!)

              1. Michaela Westen*

                Hmm, it could be the beginnings of menopause. Mine seemed to revert back to teens/early 20’s with the added bonus of being irregular and unusually heavy!
                However, if you haven’t been getting regular exams, I still think you should get checked. If possible by a gyno who won’t be jumping to conclusions about your menopausal symptoms! One of the ones I saw said I might have cancer. She was so wrong.
                They’ll probably send you for an ultrasound, which should show fibroids or endometriosis if they’re there. If you do have either condition, they can be treated with medication and possibly physically removing fibroids.
                Good luck! :)

        3. Emily S*

          “I guess if I had to describe it – and it seems like I’m being asked to – it feels like my body is trying to vomit my uterus out through my birth canal.”

        4. Gazebo Slayer*

          “Explosion-at-the-strawberry-jam-factory” is fantastically evocative… though I worry that you may have ruined strawberry jam for me.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            I’ve always liked “It’s a murder scene in my pants” although it’s actually not ever been a big problem for me. (I know: I’m very lucky. My wife has terrible cramps and I guess we average out?)

      2. Iconic Bloomingdale*

        I thought the same exact thing. After I got finished with my description of the situation, he’d never want to ask me again for details why I was out sick. Lol

    2. LKW*

      I had a boss try this with me once in college. I just turned to the assistant manager and said “Was bleeding a lot from my backside (used significantly harsher language) and so I had to go to the proctologist. Turns out I have Anal Fissures. They gave me some medicine because you know … backside… and I was too woozy afterwards to make my way in for a minimum wage job counting erasers and pencil sharpeners.” (OK, that last part was silent).

      The look on her face tho’ … priceless.

      1. President Porpoise*

        As someone with IBS who has long ago lost normal feelings of propriety or shame in discussion of my bowel habits – I could make any nosey boss regret asking me such personal health questions, NP.

    3. n*

      That has the unfortunate side-effect of titillating people who have absolutely no boundaries whatsoever.

      I had a co-worker who had to schedule off for a minor surgical procedure. She didn’t want to tell her boss (the CEO) about it, but CEO kept prying, so co-worker finally admitted it was for a mole removal, thinking that would gross her out and shut her up. But when co-worker got back into the office, the first thing the CEO did was call her up, ask her how the procedure went, if it hurt, how long it would take to heal, etc. CEO then asked co-worker to come INTO HER OFFICE to show her the scar, and then proceeded to roll up her own pant leg and show co-worker her own mole and asked if she should have it removed.

      I never cease to be surprised at the ridiculous things people think are appropriate in the workplace.

  6. Aggretsuko*

    #4: I work in a similar situation and when the higher-ups have wanted to let us leave early, they’d schedule a “staff meeting.” For everyone. Off campus. Or you’re given some vague assignment like “go home and send an email.” Is there some way you can use something like that as a loophole? Claim it’s a “team building retreat day” or something?

      1. Darren*

        Depends on the team doesn’t it, if everyone would be keen to be involved in something like that yeah my work probably would :) also karaoke is actually probably a fairly common team building thing (whether it should be or not).

    1. Asenath*

      On Christmas Eve, there’s a sing-a-long – like, I suppose, most other employees, I’ve never actually attended. It’s in another building and it’s usually cold Christmas Eve. If everyone did attend, I suspect there wouldn’t be room enough to accommodate them. It is immediately followed by a “surprise” announcement that we’re closing early, which of course everyone knows about and obeys, whether they’re anywhere near the site of the sing-a-long. We all have contracts specifying our holidays, which don’t include Christmas Eve, but there’s never been a problem about the early closing.

  7. Thing 3*

    Am I the only one dying to know what’s going to be on the festive buffet (#2)? It sounds wonderful.

        1. Sara*

          Party meatballs (with grape jelly and chili sauce) are a party staple in my circle. Luckily they’re the easiest thing in the world to make.

    1. Former Admin Turned Project Manager*

      My festive buffet has lots of cheese and multiple varieties of kielbasa. As does my non-festive buffet.

  8. Nancy*

    With regards to #2 (the holiday party, which sounds really nice and thoughtful) I agree with Alison’s advice. I also very much appreciate the LW’s concern that she would feel obligated to come, not everyone enjoys those events, but I wonder why the LW is worried that the employee might “feel as if she is providing free labor” by attending. That is one thing I have never heard when people talk about attending office holiday events.

    1. Wednesday Mouse*

      There’s an argument to be made that such networking/socialising is of benefit to the company as it facilitates relationships etc, and therefore the holiday party should count as “work”.

    2. Caroline*

      On the other hand, #2 put a nasty taste in my mouth. I’m wondering whether the hourly employee is habitually treated as an outsider, if there is a general “us and them” between the salaried (?qualified/certified?) employees and the hourly (?admin/receptionist?) employee.

      If LW2 thinks people will think the party is work, I wonder if it’s being planned properly. Surely it ought to feel like a perk (just as if LW2 had brought in a big tray of cakes to the workplace) rather than an offsite meeting.

      1. Mookie*

        The LW’s question clearly hinges on salary v hourly wages, where if you can’t “clock in,” as the LW preferred, you’re doing a work-adjacent function without compensation compared to your fellow team members, for whom offsite participation could be regarded as less ‘costly’ to them. The LW’s intent here is obviously benign and thoughtful, even I do think she’s overthinking this a bit.

        1. Emily S*

          Yeah, this rings true for me having worked hourly roles before. Typically everyone was hourly at those workplaces except the owner and maybe an AM/#2 role of some kind, and we never had holiday parties, but we did once in a blue moon get asked to show up somewhere on Saturday for a staff meeting, even if we weren’t scheduled that day. We were paid for the time if we weren’t already scheduled.

          I can see if I was the only hourly worker in an office environment, and my background was places where everyone is hourly and there is no holiday party, I might apply my previous experience with those Saturday staff meetings to the concept of a Saturday holiday party and think that it was 1) mandatory and 2) time I’d be paid for, if nobody explained to me that it wasn’t.

      2. MLB*

        Wow, that’s a pretty far reach on this one. He stated he was a young, new manager and he’s probably just extra aware of how he treats his subordinates. It’s a whole lot better than the clueless idiots people write in about all the time. It does seem odd that he thinks the hourly employee may think she has the right to clock in for an outside of work party, but I just chalk that up to him still being new and being aware of what others may think.

        1. Kyrielle*

          If the party were mandatory, she WOULD have the right to clock in. In fact, she’d have to clock in. I think the LW’s concern on this one is correct – making sure the hourly employee feels included and welcome, *but not obligated*, because it is in fact not mandatory.

        2. Washi*

          I think the clocking in comment was him wishing that she could be paid for the party time, since it is work-related and how someone said above that these work parties do have a benefit to the employer. I thought it was quite nice of him to think carefully about this!

      3. Marthooh*

        AAM often gets letters and comments from people complaining about mandatory* office parties they’d rather not go to. I’m thinking OP#2 has read some of those and wants to do it right.

        There are many ways this can go wrong, and really no way to make it “feel like a perk” to someone who doesn’t consider social gatherings an unmitigated delight, but the OP is doing their best.
        *Or “Non-mandatory. Ha. Ha. Ha.”

        1. DaffyDuck*

          My company has an annual meeting where they fly all the remote workers in, put us up in a nice hotel, provide transport us to the office across town, and take us out to a nice dinner every night. Only problem is for the few hourly employees who are supposed to clock in and out of work, the in-office days are short (start late and end early) and dinner is not officially but really kinda mandatory, so we end up having to make up 6-8 hours of unworked time over the week (either at night after dinner in the hotel or on the weekend). I think the big bosses just don’t realize how stressful this is on the hourly employees.

          1. zora*

            Have you double-checked your state laws on this? I am nonexempt, and when I travel for our annual offsite, my travel time is all paid. Because I’m in CA, my clock starts when I leave for the airport and stops when I get to my hotel, but I’m pretty sure other states have versions where at least some of your travel/time in that other city is required to be paid. I made a fair amount of overtime for our annual meeting this year.

      4. Peggy*

        If the LW thinks the holiday party is work, it’s probably just because she reads this blog and especially its comment section, which has a strong bias against socializing with coworkers.

    3. Asenath*

      Sometimes employees are expected to “help out” at parties they might have been expected to be guests at – by laying out or serving the food, or cleaning up afterward. LW doesn’t say she has that in mind, but it was the first possibility that popped into my head at the mention of “free labour” at a party.

      1. Mookie*

        This happens, but there’s no suggestion of that in this letter. The employee’s husband has been invited (is the logic here that he’s going to be working as well? asked to cool his heels with a load of strangers while his wife joins the waitstaff or clean-up crew?) and the LW makes it clear that “participation” = attendance and fun on par with everyone else. Teams are certainly asked to pitch in at team-hosted events, but this is at the LW’s house. It’d be archaic beyond belief for her to ‘deputize’ a PA as ‘party staff,’ much less single out a (junior?) team member.

      2. WellRed*

        Eh, we’ve had enough letters and comments here to know this is a common complaint for hourly workers. No need to assume ill intent.

    4. Gilmore67*

      Nancy, I agree. I am not sure what that means either with the ” free labor ” statement. It is a party that is at the LW home after hours I assume? No office ” work ” is being done?

      Of course the boss isn’t signing off on paying her because she is not working.
      LW – Can you maybe explain that ?

      The whole party idea is great !

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        She may not be “working”, but if it’s an in-practice-not-actually-optional sort of thing where she’d be labeled as not a team player for not going, she’s still being asked to go and do things for work and yet not getting paid for the time.

      2. Someone Else*

        If the party were a mandatory work event, the hourly employee should be paid for attending it. From the letter we can tell it is not a mandatory work event. I think the crux of the issue is the party is NOT mandatory, therefore the LW wants to make sure the hourly worker in particular knows it’s not mandatory (because said worker is not going to be paid to attend and might otherwise feel pressure to do so) but to not, in making that clear, inadvertently imply the employee is not welcome. The “free labor” bit didn’t strike me as having anything to do with the employee having to do work at the party, but rather than if the party were officially required work hours, she’d have to be paid for it, and since she’s not going to be paid, it’s important the employee realizes she doesn’t have to go at all.

    5. PB*

      I assume OP #2 is thinking Work Party = Work, therefore everyone attending is “at work.” The exempt employees are salaried, and therefore compensated for the time, but the hourly employee is not.

      1. LQ*

        Agreed. It sounds like the OP is being thoughtful about how to make this work, a work party can feel like work even if it is a fun party and you enjoy it because it’s still a work event. I do think it was a good question to ask and to keep in mind.

      2. Caroline*

        Aha, I think I get what I missed before. Is this happening during working hours?

        I think I was assuming a Friday evening or something so everyone’s giving up their “own” time equally. But I can see that if it is happening when they would otherwise be working, salaried employees don’t care, but hourly workers would.

        1. Emily S*

          I think it’s more the opposite, because it’s about expectations. Salaried/exempt employees usually don’t have the expectation of having their evenings and weekends totally free, they know they will get called in from time to time, and they don’t expect to be paid extra during a week they worked extra or put in evening/weekend work. Whereas an hourly worker has an expectation that any time they are not explicitly scheduled to work is their personal free time, and that they are compensated for precisely every hour they spend at work or work events.

          So if the event was mandatory, it’s really no different to the salaried employees from any other time they’re asked to work through an evening, but for an hourly employee it’s a very different situation – their compensation/work agreement never said they’d come in on a Friday for any reason for no pay.

    6. hbc*

      I haven’t heard it quite put as “free labor,” but tons of people are unhappy spending time at a work function without getting paid. And no matter how lovely the party, there are going to be people who would consider being there with coworkers-but-not-friends to be business, not pleasure. I’m glad OP is keeping that in mind.

      1. OP2*

        Hi! OP2 here!!
        Just a few clarifications. I admit I am probably overthinking this, but in general, as a young manager, I am trying to remember that not everyone has the same preferences I do (I love parties!) and I try to protect people’s off time as much as possible (more for salary workers, as when our wonderful hourly worker is working she is always being compensated). This seemed like a grey area for me. Some of my personal friends who are the same age as me (but are not in mgmt positions at their respective companies) frequently complain about forced socialization, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being the Dreaded Bad Boss.

        The only person who will be commandeered into helping will by my own husband who will be our bartender and is in charge of helping set out the spread (ham, homemade peppermint ice cream, chocolate cake, various salads for the vegetarians, mini quiches)

        I appreciate Alison taking my letter and for all of you for responding! Happy Holidays – hope you spend it with those you love, and that no one has any unnecessary meetings from now until New Years!

        1. Marthooh*

          Thank you for clarifying, and for updating us on the menu. That sounds lovely!

          But really, no meatballs? ;)

        2. Fern*

          I’ve been invited to holiday parties out of work hours when I was hourly and I definitely always saw it as a time to socialize and never thought I would be on the clock/doing work. We’ve had department gatherings after work and it was made known that attendance was optional, and we’ve had a healthy mix of both salaried and hourly staff come, though some skip out due to other commitments.

          I think if you’re worried people could read it that way, when you do invite them mention that it’s optional for attendance but also that it’ll be an opportunity to celebrate the holidays/enjoy some treats and drinks prepared by you and your husband. She can choose to come or not, but I think if she heard that all the salaried people were invited/went and she wasn’t, it would be not great.

          And now I’m going to dream about homemade peppermint ice cream for a few hours.

        3. OP2*

          but I will now definitely be adding pigs to the blanket to the menu! This community continues to add value in wonderful ways!

          1. TootsNYC*

            oh, whew! ignore my earlier comment.

            (when I am filthy stinking rich and am hiring the world’s most expensive and hoity-toity caterers for my holiday party, they are going to be serving pigs-in-a-blanket)

        4. PJs of Steven Tyler*

          So thoughtful in every way! I love it. Wishing you an absolutely fantastic holiday season as well, with just the right amount of everything you love and nothing you hate.

    7. Bunny Girl*

      I’m one of the few hourly employees in my department and none of us go to off hour parties because we all feel like we just become free labor. Everyone expects the support staff to help clean up and set up for some reason. It never feels like a social thing, it feels like a work thing. Then the salaried employees all stand around and ask why we never come to social events.

        1. Bunny Girl*

          I think because of the boss’ attitude and willingness to open their home to their employees and think about how it will affect her, it will be less of an issue. But in our department, just because it’s held at someone else’s home, that doesn’t mean anything. My comment was more to explain the “feeling like it’s free labor” part because that’s how our department sees it.

    8. Shark Whisperer*

      My situation was a bit different, but at old job, we always made sure that hourly workers were paid to come to the holiday party. The reasoning was that the salaried workers were higher paid and could work less hours if they wanted to in order to maintain their free time, but asking low paid workers to come into work after hours was still an ask, even if it was for a “fun event.” The party was also optional, but we wanted to provide an incentive for people to come, especially because is was basically the only time everyone on the team could be in the same place at the same time.

    9. Elizabeth West*

      One job I had threw a company Christmas party offsite where plus ones were welcome, and they also had a family event at a local party venue (think Chuck E. Cheese on steroids), where employees could bring their children. My supervisor privately warned me not to go to the family one because Bosswife would put me to work. :P

  9. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    #5. Another possible reason for venting to the co-worker is to help build a narrative of how the manager and president are responding to her complaints. “July 4 , I told Fergus about the incident with the missing muffins.”

    1. Mookie*

      I’ve seen this. Establishing contemporaneous corroboration and then, as you say, logging it for future use.

  10. KimberlyR*

    #2-I have always been an hourly employee and never considered the Christmas party as work. Make sure it is completely voluntary but if she goes, she should treat it as a social obligation. If you had too many parties in a year, it could feel like work but once a year shouldn’t. (And if it does to her, she can opt out.)

    1. BeenThereDoneThat*

      This! I’m no longer hourly but I was for most of my career until the last few years. The only time I viewed a work event such as a holiday party as “work” (something I could clock in for) was when it was held during business hours. The times it was after work I counted as a social event with coworkers.

      I think OP is worried the individual will see “work event” as = to “working” but a lot of people don’t. Or at least not in the sense of needing to get paid.

      I think the advice was spot on – give everyone an out so that people don’t feel singled out if they want to/need to not attend.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I think Alison has mentioned this before, but office holiday/regular parties are never quite truly social or truly work, but they are “work” to some extent. I like and enjoy doing after work happy hour’s with my co-workers/boss and spending time at an office party. But there are still certain things that are NSFW topics of conversations. While I don’t get sloppy drunk with friends, but I defiantly tend to a bit drink more when I am hanging out with friends then I ever would in a social work setting. I am an hourly employee, while I don’t see it an after hours holiday party as “work” that I should be clocked in for, it is still work and if my personal situation was different I might choose to skip it and keep my own time.

    2. cajun2core*

      Make sure that you don’t ask the hourly employee to do *any* type of work at the party. I mean, don’t even ask her to pick up dishes, fold a table cloth, take the center piece flowers back to the office, take any leftovers back to the office, etc.

  11. Traffic_Spiral*

    #5: stay very neutral for now. The coworker could be nuts, but the boss could also be an asshole – there’s no telling who you’re going to need on your side in the future. Keep your head down until you learn more about the office.

    1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

      Very much this. Some people can be super nice with whom they like and at the same time super nasty with whom they don’t. Of course, this doesn’t mean the coworker is right, she may well be just a drama queen; but the OP is too new to know for sure. Better stay outta this.

    2. Marthooh*

      Yep. The best way to avoid a drama is to stay well away from all the players, and the best way to avoid taking sides is to not take sides. The OP’s response was just right.

      It’s also possible that the coworker just wanted to vent, and that is the safest assumption the OP can make.

    3. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production*

      Yeah, I was gonna say something similar. You don’t have to get involved in “drama” but pay attention to what your coworker is saying. Many abusive people aren’t abusive to everyone they meet, but that doesn’t make it OK. You don’t want to be the last person standing beside a boss that it turns out has sexually harassed people or something.

      There’s no need to “take sides” at this point, but not all drama is bad drama, and at work we tend to have a stronger bias toward not rocking the boat and letting things slide in service of keeping our jobs, and that has let to plenty of good people being party to plenty of very bad things.

    4. Ama*

      Yeah, at a previous job, my very first day the hiring manager “warned” me that the other two employees in my department might try to sabotage me. Turned out she had some definite social paranoia issues (not a diagnosis, she just approached all relationships as if you were either her best friend or her worst enemy) and was jealous that those two employees hung out outside work (they lived close to each other and also were on the same level so it made sense, but hiring manager seemed incapable of reading this as anything but an affront to her that she wasn’t included). Thankfully she seemed satisfied when I didn’t join the other two employees for after work socializing and left me alone until she burned out and quit a year later.

      I’d also be on the lookout for other coworkers who might also be caught in the middle who might be able to give you either some background or some tips on how they are handling it — again, OP will need to take some time and figure out who else seems like a neutral (and discreet) bystander.

    5. Workerbee*

      So much this. Neutral & keeping your eyes and ears open are the things to do until you know more. I’ve made the mistake of believing the wrong people before and probably will again.

      On the flip side: We recently had one of those “But I’m so compassionate!” asshole types who seemed to have fooled all of upper management as well as most coworkers…until you said the right things to the right people and uncovered a whole underground resentment. It was a weird time, lot of tension in the office, not sure who you could trust, and of course you had the “He’s always been nice to ME” people.

      Finally, after a few too many years, he was let go when enough people had come forward with enough evidence. And you might expect jubilation in the halls, but here there were just shared smiles and pockets of whispered glee. Somehow, it felt more meaningful. :)

    6. Gazebo Slayer*

      This so much. Speaking as someone who was the target of inappropriate behavior by someone whose subordinates loved her and could never ever believe she’d do anything wrong so obviously I was a liar.

  12. Sara*

    Re: #4
    When I worked for a state University, our managers and HR were allowed to give us “comp time” and “administrative leave” for any time off that was outside of our official days off. On occasion it was done as a “gift” to employees for holidays or other types of non-standard work related time off. Do you not have a similar option?

    1. Cheesecake 2.0*

      The university I work at requires Chancellor’s approval for all extra comp/administrative time off. :(

  13. She who must not be named*

    I would be extremely tempted to go in detail about my cervical mucus clogging up to cause intense and unbearable vagina pain, resulting in terrible anus warts spreading all over and oozing green pus.

    What, that could happen okay.

    1. Anonicat*

      Completely hypothetically, of course. I certainly haven’t ever fantasized about filleting my own uterus out, no indeedy.

        1. irene adler*

          But if you’d like, I can come into work right now and share with all of you. Would you like that?

      1. Bunny Girl*

        When I was in high school I hated going to our pep rallies, so I always would call out for first period, then come in to home room after the pep rally. My home room teacher knew exactly what kind of crap I was up to, so I would make up some ridiculous issue each time he asked me where I was. It got to the point I would come into class and he would say Okay Bunny what organ was it this time?

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Haha this reminds me of one of my high school teachers. Our schools official policy was something like after 5 minutes you were supposed to be marked tardy, but this teacher gave everyone an extra 5 min but you had to stand in front of the whole class and explain why you were late and if you had a sufficiently good/crazy story or one that made him or the class laugh. The one story, or part of it anyway, that I remember was the kid was driving to school when he saw a fox run out in front of his car. He slammed on the brakes and managed to avoid hitting it, but then a pterodactyl swooped down and picked the fox up and started to fly away with it. So the kid chased it in his car until the pterodactyl drops the fox. The kid then had to perform CPR on it to revive it.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          LOL that reminds me of this, from M*A*S*H:

          [Klinger reads Henry a letter from his mom that says his dad’s dying]

          Henry Blake: The father dying, right?

          Klinger: Yes, sir.

          Henry Blake: [takes out a stack of papers and reads them] Father dying last year. Mother dying last year. Mother AND father dying. Mother, father, and older sister dying. Mother dying and older sister pregnant. Older sister dying and mother pregnant. Younger sister pregnant and older sister dying.
          Here’s an oldie but a goodie: Half of the family dying, other half pregnant.

  14. She who must not be named*

    Also adding: my friend was going through fertility treatments and requested a day off work. Her much older male boss kept pestering her why she needed the time off. Finally she exploded and snapped, “Steve, I’m having a large stick stuck up my vagina to scan my lady parts. Is it okay to take the morning off or not?” Her boss and the administrator went quiet and he muttered yes before hurrying away.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      A+ response by your friend.

      Please tell me that boss stopped pestering people about why they were off in the future.

  15. Jennifer Anne*

    OP 3: It’s also important to keep in mind that babies don’t always come on schedule. I would suggest 25 weeks as the absolute latest to share your news, for that reason among others. Hopefully everything will go exactly according to plan, but if your little one does opt for an accelerated timetable, it’s going to come across pretty strangely to announce your pregnancy on your way into the delivery room.

    1. Asenath*

      Not technically job related – but the teenaged brother of a friend of mine did exactly that – told his parents (who were the last to know) that his girlfriend was giving birth to his baby, at the time it happened. It worked out well in the end – unlike many such youthful relationships, that one had lasted, at the point I lost contact with the family, through a couple decades and a couple more children. And the brother’s successful entry into the workforce, too, which might bring this vaguely back on topic.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          “SURPRISE, you have a grandbaby! Merry Christmas!” Whoa. At least it was… maybe… best present ever…?

      1. ElspethGC*

        That happened by proxy in my family this year. One guy took his parents to lunch on Mother’s Day with his girlfriend and they were planning to tell them that she was pregnant while they were out for lunch. Halfway through they got a text that his sister had gone into labour a week or so early. That baby was born on Mother’s Day, and they waited for a week or so to announce that there was going to be another one six months down the line. (Both cousins are now born, almost exactly six months apart. Family events for the next few years are going to be *loud*.)

    2. Gen*

      A coworker of my partner wore very loose robes and scarves all the time so no one except her manager knew she was pregnant until she suddenly stood up in a meeting and said she had to leave. The next day her manager announced she and the baby were fine and starting maternity leave, everyone else was like ‘what baby!?!’ She had at least told her manager and sorted out sign over procedures in advance though, straight up not telling anyone would be an issue

      1. LGC*

        …I have SO MANY QUESTIONS.

        Did she start carrying things in front of her all the time? Did she always position herself behind a potted plant in meetings? Are you actually from a prime time television show?

        1. ISuckAtUserNames*

          Some people just don’t show very much. Chatting with a few coworkers a few years ago, one of them pregnant. She looked maybe 5-6 months. Another asks her due date, and it was something like the next week. We all kind of boggled for a second. In her case, she was a slim woman, but kind of tall and long-torsoed, so she just didn’t show that much.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I once met a woman who was 7 months pregnant and you couldn’t tell at all. She said her doctor was upset because she hadn’t gained as much weight as she was supposed to.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              My grandmother actually *lost* weight with my dad, even though he was a large newborn, because she was so sick throughout her pregnancy. Her jerk doctor chewed her out about it in front of everyone in the delivery room. :-/

            2. Amberlyn*

              The doctor had good reason to be upset! I almost lost my baby because I couldn’t keep down enough extra calories and the baby was starving. Worked out in the end, but I don’t think the women who are envious of a pregnant woman not gaining know how scary it can be.

              They had to induce me five weeks early, and my husband had only just gotten paternity leave approved when we got the news, so he had to go back and resubmit paperwork with the new dates in a rush!

              1. Michaela Westen*

                The woman I met said she had been eating, but still hadn’t gained weight. I didn’t hear about any problems with the baby or delivery, but I didn’t know her well.
                Glad it worked out all right for you and your baby!

      2. TheRedCoat*

        I have decided that I’m going to do this with my next one, just to avoid all the pregnancy attention.

      3. media monkey*

        my friend’s daughter found out she was pregnant at 38 weeks. they induced her at 39 weeks so they had a week to get ready. and the woman herself didn’t realise – it wasn’t that they kept it a secret. and she is 24, not a teenager!

      4. zaracat*

        When I was in a job which had a compulsory uniform, we had recently switched from pregnant women being able to wear civilian clothes once their uniforms no longer fitted, to having the world’s ugliest and most uncomfortable maternity uniform (tent-sized pinafore but no proper maternity blouse so you had to wear a regular one and just leave it unbuttoned at the bottom). When I was pregnant I only told the people in my team and my immediate admin boss, and wore my normal uniform for as long as I could. There were some mighty surprised looks at the admin meeting after I’d gone on 2 weeks leave at xmas “normal but a bit fat” and returned as “pregnant whale”.

    3. Jaybeetee*

      A colleague at a previous job had an apparently mythical I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant moment – like straight-up didn’t know until she went into labour. When I met this woman, she was a bit heavy-set, but not so much that one wouldn’t notice a pregnancy. But apparently it stunned all the other colleagues too, so I guess she just didn’t show much.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Some women don’t. My mom had a friend years ago who looked about 4 months along, max, the day before she delivered.

  16. LGC*

    I am still completely unable to understand managers who want details on employees’ illnesses. I don’t particularly care that – let’s say – you ate some bad oysters last night and they’re asserting themselves. (In fact, please spare me the details!)

    That said…I know a lot of people here say to give as little detail as possible, but it really depends. I’ll ask if someone is sick because most of my employees only have sick time. I’ll also mention if someone is out sick if anyone asks (without detail).

    1. irene adler*

      My thoughts exactly.
      Just let me know you aren’t coming in today. You are ill. I’ll give you my sympathies and best wishes that you get well fast.
      Don’t want to know the reasons or the details. I’ve actually stopped managers from going into detail beyond “Joe called in sick today” because I really do not want to hear about them. That seems to disappoint some managers. **shrug**

    2. Ali G*

      I’m with you. All I need to know is you are not coming s I can plan accordingly. It’s nice if you can give me a timeframe for your return (i.e. a day versus a week), but either way we’ll make do. The most I do is send a quick note to anyone that needs to know Jane isn’t available today, so if they need anything to contact me or Bob (or whatever).
      It’s really weird to me that people pry about this. I’m lucky to not have ever worked for someone like that!

      1. Michaela Westen*

        My best guesses:
        1. It’s a power trip. They demand personal embarrassing details because they can. I hope everyone like this gets an earful of details that make them sick.
        2. They’re medical geeks? When I first started reading charts for my job I felt “wow, this is so fascinating!” I read every detail. Of the first 5 charts. Then I’d had enough. Now I just get the info I need and move on.
        If it’s #2, they’re being rude by indulging their interest at the expense of respecting their employee’s privacy.

    3. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

      The questions that might make sense from a business viewpoint–rather than (only) being intrusive–are “do you know how long you’re likely to be out?” and “is this likely to be infections/going around the office?”

      The plausible answers to the second question are “no” (for things like accidental injury, bad menstrual cramps, and flare-ups of almost anything chronic), an occasional “yes” (for something like flu or chicken pox, which might have been transmitted to a coworker before the first person developed symptoms), and “I’m not sure [yet],” because someone might not know if they have food poisoning or an infection.

      “So-and-so will be out for $TIME with chicken pox, if you work near her and/or have never had chicken pox watch out for these symptoms” is a reasonable thing to send around. But it’s not my business whether Fergus in Marketing has a sprained ankle or a migraine, since I’m not going to catch either.

      1. LGC*

        I think that unless it’s reportable and relevant (like…say, you think you got food poisoning at your office holiday party, to keep it seasonal – or if you have tuberculosis, which I wish I was making up), I wouldn’t even ask if something was contagious. (The chicken pox thing is an example of that.)

        In terms of disclosure, there’s a really high bar for me to clear before I’ll specify to my team why an employee is out sick. (Basically, if it is something serious like chicken pox or measles.) I don’t think I’ve ever had to make that sort of announcement ever.

  17. Ragazzoverde*

    O.3 Your company doesn’t offer maternity leave??? How do they expect people to handle pregnancies/having a newborn baby?

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        LOL A+

        Here’s a tangentially related fun fact. I discovered yesterday that you can purchase condoms and pregnancy tests with your FSA card, but not menstrual products.

        1. Chinookwind*

          That leads to questions about what those who decide these things think women should do? And are there regular calls by food banks for menstrual products as a result?

        2. Perse's Mom*

          In related news, the “luxury” tax is (finally) being taken off those same menstrual products, but I think it’s a state-by-state thing.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Duh! We should just be ripping up old clothes for rags, right. (Wait, do you supposed that’s why women’s clothes are such crap quality these days? To make more rags?)

    1. MLB*

      I’ve worked for 5 companies since college and not one of them has had maternity leave. It’s not uncommon. Some don’t even have short term disability, so you need to build up your PTO and save money to prepare, because FMLA protects your job for 12 weeks, but you aren’t getting paid.

      1. Dragoning*

        If the entire company works from home, they probably don’t qualify for FMLA, either.

        Yikes, Yikes, Yikes.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          They still have to comply with employment laws. They are based on employees in a radius. This is what chains and franchises still have to comply with them even though a store only has a dozen or two employees.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Get ready to be shocked: only a little over half of employers off any (paid) maternity leave. Less than 10% off full pay.

      1. Ragazzoverde*

        Wow! I didn’t know that, in my country most employers would have to by law give you 6 months paid maternity leave, unless you work for the government in which case it could be slightly more. So do people just go straight back to work after giving birth?

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Yes, lots of people go back to work very quickly after giving birth. Those who can afford it may take additional time without pay.

          My organization offers 6 weeks of paid family/medical/caregiving leave. Most of my colleagues who have used it have extended it to around 12 weeks with a combination of saved-up paid time off/vacation time, donated PTO (our org lets you donate PTO to a specific person, so when there’s a baby on the way a request to donate usually circulates), and unpaid time.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          There are a few regions with short term disability laws. Otherwise the only mandate for employers in the US is unpaid leave to protect a job and that law is only for businesses with more than 50 employees.

        3. MattKnifeNinja*

          I worked with a nurse manager that came back after 3 weeks. Her OB/GYN cleared her to come back that soon.

          She said she had to work, and couldn’t take non paid leave. Uncomplicated pregnacy, and didn’t want to burn off vacation.

        4. Michaela Westen*

          Where I work they use short-term disability. They have to use PTO for the first two weeks, and I think they get 50 or 60% of their regular pay for the rest of the 12 weeks.

    3. OP3*

      Yeah, this is the part I originally cut out. You can take your PTO, but obviously it’s not anywhere near enough for a standard maternity leave. You are authorized to take up to 12 weeks FMLA, but it is unpaid. That’s what other people have done for “maternity leave” in the past. That’s one of my considerations-if I can figure out how to take 12 weeks unpaid, I would likely just become a stay at home mom. If I were to continue working. I would only take as much as my PTO allows.

      1. Could be Anyone*

        I’ve known several people personally who planned to take leave and then return to work but changed their minds after the baby came.
        My suggestion would be to tell your boss around 6 months that you’re expecting and will be taking 12 weeks off, then decide later. If they’re prepared to cover you for 12 weeks, it won’t be the end of the world if you don’t end up going back.

        1. zaracat*

          That’s exactly what happened to me. I was absolutely sure at the point of starting my maternity leave that I would return to work, but it turned out I had no idea what parenthood would actually entail. Throw in postnatal depression, no family nearby, and a husband who was unsupportive of the necessary childcare arrangements and unwilling to make any compromises at all in his own career on top of that and I had little choice but to resign and be a SAHM.

  18. Red*

    Does #3 really need to let people know she’s pregnant if she gets no maternity leave or other accomodations? If she was simply planning on leaving her job, she’d only be required to put in notice. Is she really obligated to share her pregnancy earlier than that and risk being retaliated against, vs simply giving the required notice for the position?

    1. MLB*

      Would you hide your pregnancy from your manager if you saw them daily in an office? I would hope not. She may not be legally obligated to share the news, but if there’s a chance she wants to come back (which she may not even know until after she gives birth), it would be a shitty thing to do to wait until she’s really far along to mention it.

      1. FirstTimeCaller*

        I think Red was thinking along the lines of if she quits instead of taking maternity leave. I had the same thought tbh, that she could just give two weeks notice, to protect herself. But that only works if she knows for sure early on that she doesn’t want to return.

        1. Colette*

          I’d be concerned about a reference in that case. Having a child is not usually a surprise, so telling her manager when it’s too late to plan effectively for coverage is not the kind of thing that will help her relationship with her manager.

    2. OP3*

      This is the thought I was having. If I’m not going to stay, it would be like giving my notice just like anything else. I would give more than 2 weeks though due to the nature of my role.

    3. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production*

      Yeah, I tend to agree. I think OP can choose whenever she wants to share about her pregnancy, since she’s intending to be thoughtful about giving the organization plenty of time.

      But if you’re not gonna offer parental leave, or fly your remote workers in to meet each other once in awhile, then I don’t really think you’ve earned the kind of loyalty where staff tell you information they don’t *have* to tell you. There are plenty of times, even here on this blog, where people know they’re probably going to grad school in a year but there’s plenty of contexual reasons why it’s OK for them to not let their company know far in advance.

      1. OP3*

        This is a good perspective. I hadn’t thought about some of those things and especially comparing to possibly going back to school.

    4. Ann Perkins*

      I think Alison’s advice is spot on here – later than 6 months would be odd, especially since either way cross training somebody to cover your role for at least a little while would be needed. And babies tend to come on their own time, so you could plan on 1 month’s notice at 36 weeks but then end up delivering at 37 weeks.

      1. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production*

        Yeah, I just don’t think that the fact that it would benefit the company to know earlier is enough to obligate OP to tell them, and I don’t think the standard of “it wold be weird not to” is enough to obligate them either. This doesn’t usually come up as an option in offices simply because pregnancy is often so visible. If it’s not, I think it’s worth considering it in the way you might consider any number of things that *might* happen in the future that would impact whether or not you’re leaving your job (grad school, moving for a spouse, etc) and the “when do you tell your boss?” question in each of those cases is highly contextual.

        1. OP3*

          This is spot on. There are a lot of things that you might keep quiet for awhile if it wasn’t obvious and tell your employer when it’s relevant. Taking into account that pregnancy is usually obvious by physical means or even getting sick at work in the bathroom makes it hard to imagine a situation where someone wouldn’t know organically.

    5. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      I had the same thought. If she knows she’s leaving, give normal notice, maybe an extra couple weeks in case of the baby coming early. Now, if she isn’t certain whether or not she wants to leave permanently, that’s more complicated.

  19. Lem*

    #4 is there another administrative manager in another department you could ask what they do about this type of thing? I think there is most likely a way around this, otherwise you are going to be the most hated person at the university. (sorry but blocking a previously given day off, is going to go over like a nuclear bomb especially this time of year)

    1. Sophia Brooks*

      This happened at my University and I still hate this person. The reason given was that it was illegal to have people clocked in when they were not on campus. We are a private university, and all our colleagues in other units get to leave

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Yeah, that’s my thought too. If I lost a day off during the holidays because some bureaucrat pointed out a technicality, I would not be very happy. I mean, technically I don’t have to respond to critical e-mails after hours, show up 15 minutes early to help set up a meeting, or answer my cell phone when there’s a stoppage during 2nd shift.

      There’s got to be some give-and-take in the system. Even for by-the-clock jobs, people sometimes have to put in a little extra off the clock. Recognizing that and giving back to your employees at the end of the year is really important. Unless you want people to do the bear minimum always. Keeping track of a formal give-and-take system, managing it fairly, mediating disputes, and the productivity cost of the decreased morale from infantilizing your workforce are all more expensive and wasteful of taxpayers’ money than closing on Christmas Eve.

      1. Tertia*

        #4: Something that *might* work is reviewing the state’s rules on when holidays may be observed. My state allows an institution to determine when some (not all) holidays are observed. So my university has the faculty and students “observe” Columbus Day by canceling classes while the staff still works, and the staff “observes” Columbus Day the day after Thanksgiving, thereby giving them a paid day off. That may have to be done at the institutional rather than the departmental level and it sounds like the staff would still, in practical terms, “lose” a day off. But it might be worth looking into.

        observances may

        1. Tertia*

          Durn it, I wish we had an “edit” function. Ignore the stray “observances may” at the end of my last message.

    3. WellRed*

      This was my thought. Don’t make a reputation for yourself as the one who always points to The Rules.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, this is a whole different kettle o’ fish. My small unit has a surprising amount of latitude for a state university, but I couldn’t pull this off if it involved any non-exempt employees.

    4. Academic Addie*

      I agree with this. I work in a notoriously finnicky state, but faculty are generally allowed to work “off campus”. We have to be allowed to, since our jobs take us off campus a lot for conferences or field work. We’re also generally salaried, under the expectation that some weeks will be a standard 50 hours, some more, some less. So the notion of the department head giving faculty a “day off” is bizarre to me. Especially since classes aren’t usually in session the day before Christmas, with most universities closing for non-essential personnel after finals. There’s something odd going on in this university, and it’s worth checking in with other admins.

      1. Elsajeni*

        I don’t think this is about giving faculty the day off, but staff — in fact, it sounds like the problem may be that the dean is used to the rules as they apply to faculty (not expected to keep a fixed schedule or punch a time clock, not expected to be at the office if classes aren’t in session, “everyone go home for the day” easy to implement) and doesn’t realize that that can’t be transferred to staff.

    5. Ama*

      I only worked in private universities so the state law aspect is not one I’m familiar with, but this feels like a time where it would be helpful to clarify with someone in the central HR office for the university (or whichever office is in charge of time off policies). You don’t even have to give them the full situation, just give your interpretation and ask if you’re interpreting it correctly or if there is leeway for the department heads to grant extra time off. That way no matter what HR says you have backup.

  20. Detective Amy Santiago*

    #5 – I’m automatically wary of anyone who gloms onto a new person in any environment. I’ve seen it happen all too often in other groups where a person who has a history of causing trouble will immediately act all kind and welcoming and interested in the newcomer in an effort to gain sympathy or an ally. It sounds like you and your coworker are at the same level so why would she feel the need to talk to you about what happened instead of someone she has a more established relationship with?

    Stay neutral and be very cautious of what you say about anything around this coworker.

    1. LKW*

      Good point. At that point you’d expect the co-worker to have a few trusted colleagues that would be the go-to listener.

      I started a new job and someone came to me and warned me about the office culture. She wasn’t telling me about her troubles though -she was flat out warning me. She was totally right.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        And that is such a dicey calculation to make. Your coworker took a risk by warning you because you could have easily decided that she was the toxic one absent any further context.

        1. Birch*

          There’s really no way to know which way it goes until you get more of your own information. All the same, I think it’s good to be at least frank and open about these things. I wish it wouldn’t have taken 8 months for me to glean that my manager has driven away 2 team members in the year before I started and continues to slander them after they left.

          1. Nay*

            I agree w/Birch – I think OP#5 is a bit insensitive; I understand wanting to be left out of drama, but I had to file a complaint against a boss in a previous job and my co-workers “never had any problems” with her, but that’s because she treated me differently than everyone else, so just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. What if we found out her complaint was about sexual harassment and the president didn’t take her good faith complaint seriously? She would be understandably upset and I bet most people who so quickly label her as a troublemaker would feel differently. Sure, you might still not want to be brought into, but, idk, don’t be such a d about it.

              1. Nay*

                Referring to it as “trash talk”? That shows zero empathy or sympathy for her and her situation, so, that’s how I see it

            1. OP5*

              OP here. Definitely not trying to be a dick, but I’ve been overly sensitive and become a sounding board for folks in other jobs which has led to a lot of trouble. So I’m just being really wary this time and trying to stay neutral. (And it’s 100% not sexual harassment. I have more context of the conflict but asked Allison to keep it out so I can’t be identified by other coworkers who I know read the blog.)

            2. OP5*

              OP here. Definitely not trying to be a “d”, but I’ve been overly sympathetic in similar work situations in the past and it led to much deeper involvement in the conflict and a really negative situation. I like my organization and I’m just trying to tread really carefully to avoid a similar occurrence.

              The complaint was 100% not sexual harassment. I have more context than I gave here, but left it out so I can’t be identified by colleagues who I know read the blog.

        2. LKW*

          I listened to her, nodded but stayed silent. She gave me the run down on what to expect. It was evident within a few days she was totally right. I’ve told the story here before how I found a new job within 2.5 months and was fired around 3 months in (before new job could formally start).

          I’ve been lucky since then my co-workers and clients have been delightedly professional. I’m sure there have been a few moments, but I can only recall one hazardously toxic co-worker and she is long gone.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        See, I was warned my boss and another manager were bad at their jobs and yadda yadda yadda.

        It wasn’t true. They are awesome but there are personality issues. I’m smack in the middle of “can’t we all just get along?” territory. It’s not toxic at all but has it’s hissy fits. They went from a boss who paid cruddy wages but had lots of lavish perks to much better pay and pizza instead of catering. The tears of injustice flow freely.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          More money in my paycheck >>>>>>>>> any perk

          But this is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            That’s my bosses idea as well. I’ve suggested a couple things and he’s been open to ideas (very open) but explained he’s a “give them money, not fancy cakes” kind of person.

            They used to celebrate every birthday with cake. Not just a grocery store sheet cake either. No thanks, I’m not a sweets person let alone 26 cakes a year!!!!

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              My current job has a great birthday system – in the middle of every month, they get a big cake and everyone who has a birthday that month gets a piece and they send out a list of that month’s birthdays. It’s a great low key acknowledgement.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      God, yes. I’m a friendly-and-outgoing sort, and I’ve had to remind myself not to be TOO friendly to newcomers lest they think I am this sort of person. (Because, yes, I’ve been burned by this as the newcomer.)

  21. LGC*

    Also, here’s my take on letter 2 (as an hourly employee): I think it’s REALLY NICE to offer compensation and I’d have done the same thing if I were you.

    On the other hand, the salaried employees aren’t being paid extra for being at a work function outside of a regular work context (yeah, they’re exempt but bear with me here). And if you want to dig down…she’s not doing work, technically! So I can see why your boss doesn’t want to clock her in for the party. Basically I think you have the right idea, but your boss’s decision is perfectly understandable.

    1. MLB*

      But would you honestly EXPECT to be paid to attend an optional holiday party, that’s not held in the office or during work hours? I’ve always been salaried, so I’m honestly asking because I have no idea. I’m generally not all that excited about forced work merriment, but our parties have always been after work and just about socializing (similar to going to happy hour).

      1. LGC*

        I wouldn’t expect it! But I’d appreciate it! Basically, I think it’d be a nice perk.

        When we’ve had holiday parties, they’ve been during work hours (but off-site). We’ve paid our hourly employees, but I don’t know if we would if it were outside of work hours.

        1. Dragoning*

          I think OT comes into play–if it’s during work hours, forcing them to attend a party and not paying them is actively punishing the hourly employees for participating in the party.

          If it’s outside work hours, however, and they worked the rest of the week as usual, they probably have crossed into overtime and time-and-a-half territory.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*


            OT is then clincher. We already budget for FTEs to get their 40hrs weekly. Most companies are anti-OT unless absolutely necessary to conduct business.

  22. Probably Nerdy*

    #5 – I was in a situation with a boss that was great if you were male, horrible if you were female, and so the women would try to warn the other new women hires. The gender of all people involved can make a huge difference. The women, myself included, had a VERY difficult time getting the male leadership to believe us.

    Just another possible angle to consider.

    1. MLB*

      The only problem is that I would be wary of anyone coming to me as a new employee to warn me about someone or something at the company. Is this person just disgruntled and THEY are the problem, or is there a legit issue at this company and I need to watch my back?

    2. FirstTimeCaller*

      I think that’s true, but also just a really different situation from what’s being described. This wasn’t multiple women banding together to support each other from a sexist guy, this is one person ranting about their own issues, and doesn’t sound like there’s any warning contained within or corroboration from others.

      If someone calmly provided HELPFUL information about a general problem I’m likely to encounter, like “hey when you’re presenting to Jack you really need to triple check your figures, he’s pretty likely to call you out and try to catch an error publicly, especially to the women….” (with a silent “he’s kind of a sexist jerk” ) I would take note, but if someone comes to me, as a new person, ranting about their own specific issues with a manager – then I have some evidence that at the very least they lack discretion and common sense, which usually points to a larger issue. My money is going to be on them being the problem.

      1. Yorick*

        I agree with this, but sometimes when you’re in a bad situation it can be hard to separate “sensibly warning the new person about legitimate problems with Jack” from “complaining about Jack.”

        I was interviewing while at a terrible job, and I wanted to ask questions to make sure I didn’t go somewhere else terrible, and I ended up asking the weirdest questions and probably seeming unprofessional and complainy.

      2. epi*

        This is really an unhelpful way to respond to allegations of sexism or harassment at work.

        Traumatized people often act, well, traumatized. Someone who is suffering doesn’t really owe you a neutral-sounding warning with a calm demeanor. It may not even be possible for them. Discretion and common sense kind of go out the window when someone else is causing personal problems for you at work. You no longer get the luxury of keeping personal stuff to yourself, in that case.

        It isn’t wrong to show emotion when talking about something serious, and it can be sexist to imply otherwise. And there is definitely no reason that a warning about sexism needs to be silent to be credible. How would that even work? People who enjoy abusing others may deliberately choose victims who come across as odd or otherwise lack credibility for some reason. They also don’t typically go around abusing people in front of a bunch of witnesses. Unless you always assume everyone is lying to you without corroboration, it’s pretty problematic to make that assumption about someone who is warning you about harassment or sexism.

        I totally agree that when you are new to an organization, it’s a good idea to take almost everything negative you may hear with a grain of salt, and avoid being seen to take sides until you have formed your own independent judgments. But it’s just not the reality that most people alleging sexual harassment or abuse are making it up or are ‘the problem’ themselves. Even if they are wrong, usually people believe what they are saying and are complaining in good faith. There is nothing neutral about ignoring evidence about how harassment and reporting work, in general, regardless of how you feel about the complainant or their demeanor. Pretty much the opposite, actually.

  23. frida*

    it seems like every office has someone who becomes obsessed with everyone else’s sick days/time off. At my old job I dreaded taking a sick day just because I knew I would get grilled by That Person when I came back (they weren’t my supervisor or even in my department). Usually I do share if I am able to be on email or not (i.e. if it’s a migraine, no, but if it’s a regular cold, usually yes).

  24. Argh!*

    Re: #1 I think instead of acting as a representative for the whole work group without their approval, making a personal appeal would be a better step. “Please don’t share that I am sick with [dread disease] today. I don’t want my coworkers to know.” And then informally at another time mention ignoring emails about sick leave. If enough people do this, it will / should stop.

    1. MLB*

      I would question it. “Can you explain to me why you ask for specific details when I call in sick? I prefer not to share personal things with the office.” Unless you’re abusing the sick time policy, there should be no legitimate reason to provide details. You’re a grown ass adult, sick time is a benefit of your job and you should be able to use those days as needed. If you’re out for several days in a row and doctor’s note is required that’s a different story, but you still shouldn’t have to provide details.

      1. Argh!*

        In some workplaces (like my current workplace) questioning the judgment of an authority figure will result in many types of pain, passive-aggressive and otherwise. Some fragile egos would much rather see themselves as so nice they couldn’t possibly offend, so asking (in a nice way) to protect your privacy is less threatening and appeals to their self-evaluation of themselves as nice people.

        Which goal is the easiest to sell to a jerk boss?
        1) Not having to disclose to the boss why you want sick leave.
        2) Not wanting to disclose to the whole office why you were out.
        3) Not wanting the boss to be a jerk boss.

        I vote for #2.

      2. Jennifer Juniper*

        Because I’m a sick, sick puppy, I’m wondering if the boss has a secret medical fetish. After seeing the Duck Club letter, anything is possible.

  25. CM*

    #4 is difficult because it seems like this has been done routinely in the past, everyone was happy, and now the OP is saying it violates the law and can’t be done. My first question is, is OP#4 correct? Maybe it’s worth asking around and saying “I’d be happy to give everyone the day off, but I was under the impression that this violates the law. Can you explain how we’ve done this in the past without any legal issues?” Then if OP#4 is certain that she is right, she would have to choose between shutting this down or going along with past practice.

    1. Tertia*

      I agree that’s the right way to go. The question should probably be directed to the Office of Compliance if there is one, although that will most likely lead to university-wide crackdown if the OP is correct that it can’t be done.

      1. State Worker*

        I’m the OP- and yes, that is the law. There is the whole “theft of time” thing here. People have been fired, very publicly I will add, because it was exposed that they ‘clocked in’ but weren’t at the office. Sadly, that is the rule. I should have pointed out that most (over 90%) of the staff are non-exempt.

  26. Agent Diane*

    OP3. Do you have someone as back-up for business continuity purposes, or a range of people who between them could cover your work? If not, you may want to work towards getting that.

    Firstly, it’s good for the business to have a back-up plan for all roles. Secondly, it means when you do say something you can offer possible options to your manager. So something like:
    “I’m still working out my plans for after the baby arrives, and I’ve made sure X, Y and Z can – between them – cover my work if I need to leave sooner than expected.”

    Also, no mat leave sucks.

    1. OP3*

      I do have an assistant who knows many of the functions of my job for when I’m out of the office, but not all.

      Thanks, I didn’t realize how much that sucks until I needed it. And now short term disability deems it a preexisting condition.

      1. Ann Perkins*

        How long have you had the short-term disability policy? Most will cover it as long as the disability was in place for 1 year prior to the birth.

        And solidarity on the no maternity leave sucks. 35 weeks pregnant over here. My organization offers great benefits in general but lacks in that category. Hopefully it will change as our corporate office actually went to 12 weeks paid maternity AND paid paternity so it’s kind of shaming the local offices who don’t offer at least something.

        1. OP3*

          Sorry I wasn’t clear. My work does not offer short term disability. I was referring to private policies. I didn’t have one in place prior, unfortunately as I wasn’t planning to get pregnant when I did.

  27. Emma*

    Re: OP #4 – I would arrange it as a full day of work in which people were expected to be 100% accessible and on-call OFF-SITE, and tasked with something vague that won’t actually be checked—with it privately understood that no one will actually be called.

  28. Micromanagered*

    OP 1 I would stop “elaborating” when asked. If your boss responds to your email notifying him that you’ll be out for the day asking you to elaborate, just don’t respond. If he REALLY pushes (like when you’re back in the office) then you can say you had gone back to bed and weren’t checking email. If he asks straight up for you to explain yourself, then bust out “I don’t feel comfortable discussing my medical information at work” or something like that.

    1. epi*

      I would probably do this as well. Staying up refreshing your email so you can answer questions from your boss really defeats the purpose of staying home.

      Also, for someone who just can’t let it go, there is really no reason to tell them the truth. Say you had a cold, flu, headache, or “stomach bug and let’s not discuss the details.” I really don’t get why someone would even ask– anyone can easily think up a non-specific complaint if they weren’t actually sick, or just don’t want to share the real story. The information is pretty much worthless.

    2. Argh!*

      I know I would never do this, but I still want to suggest it to LW1:

      Tell boss that you have herpes from a wild orgy you went to at his boss’s house a week ago and you have blisters all over your face.

  29. Murphy*

    OP4: Can you just let people go home early instead of taking the whole day off? Or tell people to “work from home” that day? I work for a state university and on the day before holidays, we get the officially unofficial “go home at 3pm” thing from the head of our office. (This is somewhat awkward because us nonexempt folks have to clock in and clock out. One time HR said they’d clock me out, but they didn’t….so now when they do that I have to set an alarm for myself to remember to clock out.)

    Somewhat related: We’re also only allowed a certain amount of holidays, but our university totally shuts down between Christmas and New Years, so sometimes depending on how the calendar works out, we’re all forced to use our own vacation leave because the university is closed, but they’re not actually allowed to give us that day off. It’s usually a day I wouldn’t have come in anyway, but it’s still kind of annoying.

    1. McWhadden*

      Yes, I’ve worked for state agencies that let people leave early before a holiday. It’s never been an issue.

      1. kittymommy*

        It’s been my experience it’s more of a “you can’t do that, but it’s not like we’re checking” type of thing. We can’t really shut down, someone has to be here to keep the lights on until close, but if we did, unless a citizen reports us, no one in the governing authority would know. There probably wouldn’t be any actual repercussions, especially for general employees except for a “don’t do it again”.

        1. fposte*

          How would the time of the non-exempt employees be reported? Do they claim to have worked those hours? That’s the sticking point for me.

        2. doreen*

          The state agency I originally worked for used to do a lot of “unofficial” things related to time and attendance. The reason I say “originally worked for” is that one of the repercussions is that we were merged with a much larger, more “by the book” agency. Other repercussions involved the entire professional staff at one location being terminated and criminally charged with grand larceny for falsifying their timesheets. BTW, in my experience, “unofficial” means the person who told you to go home early will claim that he never told you not to use your leave if he is ever questioned about it.

      2. CheeryO*

        Apparently people used to get released a couple hours early on Christmas Eve and the day before Thanksgiving at my state agency, and they did crack down on it. Now it’s PTO or nothing, and honestly, that’s how it should be. How am I supposed to report “was released early for a holiday” on my time card? It’s fraud if I say I was working.

    2. State Worker*

      OP here- yes, as a manager I have always done the whole “if you have leave take it” option for my staff on the day before the holiday break. We do get off between Christmas and the New Year as paid leave, since the university is closed at that time. I should have also noted in my original post that our staff is about 90% non-exempt employees that need to clock in and out.

      Folks usually use their own personal time off (PTO) for time off around the holiday break. For example, on the last day before the break (when my boss wants me to ‘let’ folks go) only about 50% of the employees work the day. If I were to let everyone leave I fear there would be questions by those taking PTO, along the lines of “why do I need to claim vacation time when you let everyone go home at noon?” To me, it is a slippery slope. As I stated, I completely understand my staff’s feelings but falsifying time sheets and exposing myself to retribution from the main HR office has me very concerned. I’m not trying to be ‘rule person’ but I do genuinely feel uncomfortable with this.

  30. Sara without an H*

    Re #1: Your boss is out of line. Frankly, if one of my employees has been up all night praying to the porcelain goddess, I don’t want all the details — just an email/voicemail telling me they won’t be in.

    Re #5: It’s possible the complaining co-worker has already alienated everybody else on staff and is trying to co-opt New Employee. Do not do this. Learn how to be politely unresponsive — it’s a very valuable professional skill.

  31. Birch*

    #5, do not talk to your boss about this. If your coworker is really just starting drama, it makes you look like a gossip and a suckup, tattling on what your coworker thought was a private conversation. If your coworker is right, you’re throwing her under the bus and marking yourself as the next target.

  32. mcr-red*

    Regarding #2, at my dad’s job, they are required to go to the holiday party after work hours (there’s no hourly workers, they are all salary, but it is known that is a requirement to be there). It used to be on the weekend and they brought their spouses, now it’s after work one day and no spouses. My husband’s job, it used to be optional on the weekend and you could bring spouses, but more and more people quit coming, so now they close down the office early one day and they have to stay – no vacation or sick days that day allowed – and no spouses. My job just caters lunch one day, and I much prefer that.

    So for the OP, if you’re wanting to have a holiday party, invite them to come like you would any party! If they can’t make it, then don’t be weird about it and try to come up with a way to force them to attend!

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      My husband’s job, it used to be optional on the weekend and you could bring spouses, but more and more people quit coming, so now they close down the office early one day and they have to stay – no vacation or sick days that day allowed – and no spouses.

      “Hmmm… people have stopped coming to the holiday party. Should we make it more enjoyable?”
      “We could, but it would be easier to just force them to come.”
      “Good point!”

      1. mcr-red*

        I know, right???

        Also, the year when people quit going to it, it was when morale at his work was BAD. Maybe some time for the bosses to do some self-reflection? No? Just force them to go!

  33. Jaybeetee*

    Pregnant LW: Another thing to bear in mind, depending on the nature of your job, is that pregnancies tend to involve a lot of medical appointments during business hours. Maybe you have a job where as long as the work gets done, no one’s paying attention to when or how, but if you think it might be noticeable that you’re out of office for appointments a lot, you should consider that too – your boss may perceive that *something* is up, even if she doesn’t know specifically what.

    Day-off LW: I’m a govt employee, and customarily we get off at noon on Christmas Eve (unless it’s a coverage-essential position). This doesn’t seem to be at the discretion of management, but something that comes from On High and filters down to us plebs each year. Bounce off your boss what the custom is for your office, whether he gets the order from someone else/has the authority, etc. If it’s a longstanding tradition in your office, it might be something that’s actually fine.

  34. foolofgrace*

    OP#2: At first I assumed the party was after working hours, but after reading the comments and rereading the letter, it sounds like it might be happening during the work day, which would make sense about the paid versus unpaid.

    Tangentially, I was once an hourly non-exempt in a team of salaried exempts. My manager was trying (I think he was getting some heat from above) to put together a team-building event. It would happen during the workday and because of my status, I would not be paid for those hours since I wouldn’t be “working”. I pushed back, blaming my “bad ankle” as to why I couldn’t go bowling, go ice-skating, or get on a ladder for Habitat for Humanity. My actual feeling was that I wouldn’t be getting paid for the time, thus losing X hours of income, and the salaried people would. The event never happened, but in retrospect I should have just sucked it up.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Unpaid hours during the work day?! Heck no. That’s BS. Team building is working if you’re dumping it into the regular business day. You were right to watch out for your financial well being.

      If we have a company lunch or take a couple hours to zoom off to a museum for a “reward”, nobody clocks out. If someone is new and clocks out, as Master Of the Timeclock, I’m adjusting their time as soon as I see it.

    2. fposte*

      I think it’s not during the normal workday–it’s happening at the OP’s home and the title says that it’s outside of work hours.

      1. foolofgrace*

        Ah, I missed the title. Thanks. Though now the references to not getting paid are even more confusing to me. But I live with confusion daily…

        1. fposte*

          I think the manager is just bending over backwards not to impose an unpaid obligation on a non-exempt employee.

  35. LadyPhoenix*

    OP #1

    Bad Idea: Part of me would be very vindictive saying that the appointment is vagina related. Cause apprently once you mentioned the words “vagina”, “period”, and “gyno/gynocologist”, men clam up and tun in the opposite direction. Cause wimmen bits are gross when not used for sex… (eyeroll)

    Good Idea: Explain to your manager that demanding details about the sick leave is innaprorpiate and invasive and then telling the office about it is quadruply so.

  36. CarolynM*

    Re #1 – I have the opposite where I work. My boss would prefer not to receive a call or text – he just wants us to go into the system and submit for PTO and do nothing more. I am uncomfortable with that, so my personal compromise is to submit the PTO like he asked, but I can’t help also sending a text “out today – call if you need me”

  37. Linzava*

    OP 2,
    I just want to say how incredibly thoughtful it was of you to see if your boss would allow the hourly employee to clock in for the party. Even though your boss didn’t sign off, it was still a really generous thing to try. You sound like a really considerate manager.

  38. Armchair Analyst*

    Re: #1. I am in America. Once in graduate school, an international student (from Latin America) emailed our group saying he couldn’t make it because he had a bad case of diarrhea. Of course we said feel better. Later I emailed him and taught him about “euphemisms” like “I have an upset stomach” or just “I’m not feeling good,” that he didn’t have to go into all the… details.
    So this is just to say it *might* be a cultural thing??
    But mostly we see this one ALL THE TIME here on AAM and it is CLEARLY bad management, too! Ugh!

  39. LadyPhoenix*

    OP #3: Not child bearing (and no intentions to be), but I think it would be wise to inform the boss as soon at least 2 months in term and no later than half way (3-5 months)

    That way they can accomodate you for when you need to make trips to the Doctor’s or,
    i guess, if morning sickness that day is particular bad. Also, they can have time to set up your maternal leave paperwork if you take it, find and/or train someone to do your duties, and so on.

    Granted, someone here might have a better informed opinion or handling of pregnancy than I do.

    1. TheRedCoat*

      The common thing that is done is that you don’t tell anyone until you are at least 3 months pregnant- early miscarriages are very, frustratingly, common.

      My plan for next time is to tell my manager at 4-5 months and keep it “need to know” as long as possible, as my coworkers were very…. opinionated about my pregnancy. I will never regret that I sent out at email letting everyone know my leave was starting /now/ and escaping the building before people could make a big deal out of it.

      1. LadyPhoenix*

        Bah humbug to your opinionated coworkers. May they step on stick lego bricks in the middle of the night.

        And good luck to your future endeavors.

      2. Clisby Williams*

        I agree. With my pregnancies, I told them at about 5 months. (With #1, I was on site, so if I had waited too much longer I’m sure people would have realized. With #2, working remotely, just to give them a heads up. ) No way I’d be announcing a pregnancy to anyone but my husband at the 2-3 month mark.

    2. FirstTimeCaller*

      Many/ most (?) people don’t even tell friends and family until the end of the first trimester (aka after 3 months) due to the risk of miscarriage during that time. They don’t want to have to explain what happened and painfully relive it publicly if they lose the pregnancy. Some people do share early on, but at least in my experience it’s pretty rare.

      1. LadyPhoenix*

        I see, thanks forgiving me a better, clearer picture (and a big sorry for any woman who suffered the loss of a miscarriage).

    3. Emma*

      Miscarriages are not unheard of in the early months, so she shouldn’t notify anyone professionally until at least 4+ months in. Never at the start, IMHO.

      1. OP3*

        This. I’m not telling my immediate family until after 3 months, so work would not know before them.

    4. Judy (since 2010)*

      Usually you don’t inform until the second trimester (3 months), because the risk of miscarriage goes down significantly after that.

    5. Scion*

      A lot of people won’t even know that they’re pregnant at 2 months. 2 months is like 9 weeks, which is really only 7 weeks from conception.

  40. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #2. You’re very thoughtful to think about the possibility this party is viewed as work. I know a lot of times it’s brought up here that it should be during paid business hours. However from an HR level, it’s absolutely not mandatory to pay someone unless work is being required. Socializing isn’t work. Now if you also invited clients, that’s a new spin.

    We have only a couple salaried employees and everyone else is hourly. All our Holiday parties are after hours because we rent out restaurant banquet rooms for the occasion. It’s always voluntary. Nobody is being paid and we rarely hear any shop talk even. We’re there to celebrate another year ending and enjoy each other’s company.

  41. Spider*

    OP#5 — Good instincts about staying out of the conflict while your coworker was venting to you. Follow through with those good instincts and stay out of it with your boss. Unless (or until?) you are directly involved in the conflict, it’s not your fight.

    On a personal note, I’m working on doing this myself more (while working through codependency in therapy) — my instincts are always to try to soothe people’s feelings and smooth over conflict by playing ambassador between angry parties, but I’ve come to realize that this isn’t my job, these people aren’t my dysfunctional family members who rely on me to keep the peace, and they should address their problems with each other directly if they want to solve anything.

    Case in point: I work part of my day in another department on an ad-hoc basis, doing small projects for them. The department is made of three people: the manager Adam, and the two staff (John and Charlotte). The other day, while Adam was in a meeting, John complained to me that Adam had rearranged their workspace without John’s input. Now, John has appointed himself the man in charge of the workspace (it’s not in his job description), and he actually has no real grounds to protest Adam’s actions — Adam as the manager can do whatever he wants with the workspace (it’s in his job description.)

    My first instinct was to express vague sympathy with John out of politeness, and then politely point out that it’s Adam’s prerogative to change the workspace. But I kept my mouth shut on the latter point, because if he has a problem with Adam, he should talk to Adam about it, and Adam can advocate for himself.

    Then, John left for the day and Adam came back from his meeting. My second instinct was to tell him that John was a little put out by Adam’s rearrangement of the workspace and suggest he talk to him about it, so they can work it out. But I shut that instinct down toute de suite, because it is not my place to do that! John can use his words and talk to Adam like an adult, and if Adam notices John acting huffy around him, he can talk to John about it.

    Not my job, not my place, not my circus, not my monkeys! [I don’t care how cliche that phrase has become, I love it! :) ]

  42. Scion*

    OP#3, One thing that Alison usually points out is that your notice period is not intended to be for hiring/training your replacement (which would take much longer than two weeks). It’s just supposed to be for getting your work in order and providing enough support to your coworkers so that they can manage until your replacement comes.

    There are plenty of middle managers that give two weeks notice. Maybe your job is a little bit different, but it’s worth considering just how much notice you actually need to give.

    1. OP3*

      That’s very true, and I do have an assistant who is trained in many of the functions of my job that would likely be awarded a promotion if I left. They would not hire externally for my position in any case.

  43. anonymoose*

    OP #1, I’m so sorry that your boss does this! There is absolutely NO WAY that I would want anyone to know the details of why I’m sick. I understand telling your co-workers if you won’t be in, but I don’t understand how “Hey, Jane has diarrhea and is vomiting and spent the night sleeping on the bathroom floor” is any better or any different than “hey, Jane won’t be in today.” So weird!

    1. Amber Rose*

      Oh man, that imagery. I had something like whooping cough once (all the symptoms but not as dangerous), and I slept in the bathtub for basically 24 straight hours because I was making such a mess that even the floor was a bad idea.

      If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, human bodies are capable of being unimaginably disgusting.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I gather it depends on if the information is used to demote or fire a person in the end.

        If all everyone does is pry and cause general embarrassment, courts aren’t too concerned. If they use it to deny you something of value, promotions, bonuses or extra hours, then the court can access the value and are prone to start caring a lot more when there’s a price tag. Kind of like tacking on emotional distress to a lawsuit.

        And in general retaliation is hard to prove.

        1. fposte*

          Right now the main case seems to be Holtrey, where no administrative action was taken against the employee; he was taunted by other employees about his illness upon his return. The district court refused the defendant’s request to dismiss both on the interference and retaliation claims.

  44. Could be Anyone*

    #2 – Loads of hourly employees go to holiday parties (or other events) after hours and aren’t paid. As long as you’re clear that attendance is optional and not asking anyone to stay to clean up afterwards, don’t worry.

    I’ve always been an hourly employee and although some jobs have had lunchtime parties where we’re on the clock (and then close early afterwords but are paid the full day) I’ve attended many after hours parties. Usually I go in thinking I’ll make an appearance and then leave but I always end up having a good timing and staying all night.

  45. HB*

    OP #1 – I used to work for a (horrible, toxic) office that made us e-mail the entire staff (about 7 people) when we were calling out. Every. Time. I developed health problems because of how awful the office was, and also went on FMLA. There were two particularly nasty women working there who gossiped constantly and had it out for me, so it felt really great having to e-mail them an explanation as to why I was out again constantly. Managers – please do not do this!!!

  46. Lou*

    OP #5, I’m going to disagree slightly with Alison’s advice. I think it depends on what, precisely, your coworker said to you. I once had a coworker come to me about our boss, and it was very clear that he was trying to make me pick some kind of side about an issue he had gone to HR about. The first time it happened I was very uncomfortable but didn’t say anything; the second time, I went to my supervisor (not the boss) and found out that some of the information coworker had told me had been manipulated by him to look very, very different from what the actual previous “incidents” (with other people, not coworker) had been. Turns out there was a ton more going on behind-the-scenes that quickly became apparent after I talked to my supervisor, and everything eventually blew up in slow motion with my coworker. If I hadn’t said anything to my supervisor, I think things would have been very different.

    That said, if it seemed like just complain-y stuff (the stuff coworker told me was very serious, though it was also a little complain-y) that might not be worth running by anyone.

  47. Cat Fan*

    Worker calling Boss: I am sick and can’t come in.
    Boss:. What exactly is wrong?
    Worker:. I don’t feel good but I don’t want to get into it. I have to go, I’ll see you tomorrow.
    Worker emailing boss: I am sick and can’t come in.
    Boss responds: What exactly is wrong?
    Worker does not write back, goes to sleep, vomit, whatever.

    At least this is how I hope it would go for OP.

  48. giraffe*

    To #4 –
    I used to work for a state legal agency. We’d get to go home early sometimes on holidays, but the boss absolutely refused to put anything in writing about it in case we got in trouble. So at, for instance, noon on Christmas Eve he’d walk around the office literally whispering to everyone who hadn’t taken a vacation day, “Go home!” and we’d silently scurry out.

    Maybe you guys could adopt something similar — you could explain to your boss that you cannot officially modify the schedule but if he wants to tell everyone to take a day off, he’s free to do so verbally and you’ll pretend you don’t notice (don’t put that conversation in an email either though, just in case!)

  49. Kenneth*


    The Family and Medical Leave Act requires that you give at least 30 days notice unless it is impossible to do so (i.e. car accident leading to hospitalization and rehabilitation). So if you intend to invoke FMLA, you need to adhere to that.

    That said, I’d recommend giving three months given your role. After all, if one of your subordinates became pregnant and planning needed to occur around that, you’d probably want that much notice as well, especially if there was the possibility she’d resign her position rather than come back after the leave.

    1. fposte*

      That’s a really good point about the FMLA requirement. Theoretically, an employer would be legally permitted to delay the start of FMLA until 30 days from the notice date.

    2. OP3*

      If I decide to stay, I would definitely give more than 30 days notice to invoke FMLA. I would definitely have a decision made prior to that.

  50. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP1: Maybe you all can go to the boss as a group and let him know you don’t like him sending out all the TMI about co-workers’ illnesses. If the boss sent me an e-mail saying, “Sansa’s out with explosive diarrhea,” you’d hear me saying, “EEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWW!!!!” across the office.

  51. Ann Perkins*

    Op4–I worked at a large state university as well and our bosses would occasionally do something similar. We’d be allowed to leave after lunch on the day before 4th of July or Easter weekend. Or if things were slow on a Friday in the summer we’d be sent home around 4 while some of the managers would stay behind.

    It was a fairly common practice throughout the university, so it might be worth investigating to see if the culture is the same in other offices and if your boss would be willing to scale back to giving out just half a day or an hour or two.

  52. PABJ*

    #4 – Maybe you could do something like minimal staffing with an alternative day off for the people who have to come in? Either way, just tell the department head about the law and try to work together for an alternative option.

  53. She Who Must Not Be Named*

    I had the opposite problem where *everyone* at my office would include details of their sickness when writing a courtesy email letting the team know they were off work that day. When I was senior enough I asked everyone to stop doing this, as “Hi everyone, I’m away from the office today” would suffice. I had to explain repeatedly it was not necessary to give further details, furthermore, it may pressure newer/more junior staff to provide details they didn’t want to provide simply because everyone else was doing it.

    It took awhile but I eventually stopped getting emails along the lines of “Sorry everybody, I have diarrhoea so I can’t come to work.”

  54. Cassie the First*

    #4: I work at a state university. It’s not uncommon for the Dean’s office to let staff go at 3pm on the day before a major holiday (e.g . Thanksgiving). Our department will sometimes let staff go at noon. I’m exempt, but I think the non-exempt employees just put in regular hours on their timesheet. I guess technically it is against the rules, since non-exempt employees have to report start and stop times, but I haven’t heard of any issues about this. The Chancellor’s office encourages departments to let their staff go early on the Friday before commencement, because there are some graduation ceremonies in the evening and they want the parking spaces.

    In principle, I agree that we shouldn’t be taking taxpayers’ money and paying people to stay home, but how much work are people really getting done anyway? You can have your entire staff sitting there for 8 hours, watching the clock tick by, and being completely unproductive. But as long as the seats are filled with warm bodies, it’s legally fine.

    This reminds me of the time we had a shooting on campus and everyone sheltered in place for about 3 hours. There was a lot of confusion (naturally) about where the active shooter was, if the person was still on campus, was there multiple shooters or just one person, etc. Once the lockdown was lifted, law enforcement escorted our department out from our building and they told us to leave campus. Other departments, however, had to stay and continue working like any other work day because their managers wouldn’t allow them to leave.

Comments are closed.