updates: the chronic illness and nosy coworkers, the icebreaker fan, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. My coworkers keep trying to find out what my chronic illness is

First, I want to thank you and all of the readers for you advice and compassion. I particularly want to thank some of the comments which pointed out that I felt like I couldn’t push back on their comments because of the age difference. They were right, and it’s been really helpful for me to realize that I tend to “go along” with a lot of things that make me uncomfortable in the office because of the perceived authority that comes with age, even when those giving the directions don’t actually have any authority over me or my job.

On to the update — I wish I had better news, but it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. I used your scripts with Barb and Deb, and it got some of the comments to die down — except that now, they have been telling other coworkers that I am too arrogant, that I shut them down when they were trying to help, and have suggested that I think I am “better than a couple old ladies”. I promise you that that is not an accurate description of me or my actions. I always try and acknowledge how valuable their contributions are, and I am very careful to be polite and conscientious. So in that arena, at least, I don’t think my job is going to get any easier in the near future. I am very grateful to have a job in my field at all, especially as we just elected a government where I live that is going to make it even more difficult to find full-time jobs in social work (my field). I love the client-facing part of my job, and it feels like I’m making a difference, so even if there was any possibility of finding a comparable job in this market and with my experience level (there isn’t), it would be very difficult for me to leave it.

However, there is a bright spot! One of my other part-time jobs involves giving anti-oppression and equity training, mostly for government agencies, NGOs, and schools. My great-grandboss, who founded our organisation, was in attendance at one recently. Afterwards, she approached me and complimented me on my skills and asked if I would consider writing and giving similar training to our staff — all of us. It might be petty, but ableism and anti-ableism make a pretty significant part of the training and I am really looking forward to looking Barb and Deb in the eye as I give it.

Great-grandboss seems to think I have potential and indicated that she was really happy I was part of the organization. She seems to think I have a future here, which I remind myself every time Barb glares at me in the kitchen or Deb says loudly “I think it’s terrible that people take advantage of accommodations when they don’t really need it!”. (For the record, my only workplace accommodations are an adjustable height-desk that I can fit my wheelchair under, and a speech-to-text software on my work computer for when my arthritis is flaring too badly to type.)

I hope to have a more positive update for you soon. Thank you again for your kindness and knowledge.

2. My coworker uses icebreakers in every meeting

First of all, thank you and the commenters for weighing in. I wasn’t able to respond to the comments when it posted, but I read through all of them.

One of the commenters asked if I work in academia — I do. I work for a private university. Because I had just started working there, at the time I wrote in I didn’t feel comfortable questioning the way things were done. Since then, I’ve noticed that the people who seem to enjoy the icebreakers and push them are those on the residential team, including Wilbur (my coworker from the first letter). They focus on students and extracurricular activities, so it makes sense. My coworkers in the office who are in finance, marketing, or academics are much less enthusiastic towards icebreakers.

The residential team sort of takes it as a given that everyone enjoys icebreakers as much as they do. We have a series of weekly meetings scheduled with them. At the first one, Wilbur announced excitedly that he’d formed us into groups, each of which would lead an icebreaker for one of the meetings. So far, some of them have been okay and some have been uncomfortable for me (often because they involve revealing “fun facts” about our personal lives and I tend to be a very private person at work.) Regardless, they usually take up at least 15 minutes of our 60-minute meetings.

At least my immediate coworkers aren’t so into them, so most of my meetings don’t require them. It’s probably not possible to stop the icebreakers with Wilbur, but I did appreciate hearing outside perspectives on this in the comments. The idea that he uses them himself to psych himself up for a meeting was an interesting way for me to look at it.

3. I have a job offer — but it’s been weeks and there’s no start date in sight

As advised, I resumed my job search. While I was drafting my salty “I’m alarmed about these delays” email to the recruiter, she provided an actual start date for the job at the bank. Finally began, and it turned out they only kept me waiting because they wanted me to train at the same time as ONE other person. And training was about two hours long. They cost me over $10k in freelance work to save themselves two hours.

I instantly knew the culture wasn’t a match, and the red tape quickly drove me me insane. My “manager” (in another city, who I never spoke to) was fired a few weeks after I started. Soon after, IT accidentally deleted my entire profile (login access, email, calendar, everything) and said they couldn’t restore it without a form signed by my now non-existent manager. It dragged on more than a week, so I started bringing my personal laptop into the office and communicated with my team through Gmail. I never had access to the bank’s customer info or any other sensitive material, but I still took a certain sick pride in breaking half the compliances rules they hammered into me during that fateful two-hour training session.

From that pre-start job search, I ultimately accepted an offer from a much better place, and resigned two months after I started (one day after IT finally restored my credentials). My supervisors were utterly shocked and baffled, natch. They always are at places like this, right?

Epilogue: I’ve been at my new job for seven months now, and it’s going well. This week, a different third party recruiter wanted to pick my brain about my experience at that old job, because the bank is trying to fill that role… again. I enjoyed being honest with him.

4. Should a sex worker avoid her corporate spouse’s social functions?

I’ve asked you a couple of questions over the years, and I wanted to send a happy update. I’m the sex worker (dominatrix and “various”) who asked you about how to handle my partner’s work events where there might be clients, and more recently, how to write a resume when sex work and community organizing were the only adult job experience I had (which you wound up answering but not publishing, as you thought my solutions were more or less all right).

So, the reason I needed that resume was because I was applying to a coding bootcamp (and just in time too — the passing of SESTA/FOSTA meant that doing sex work in the USA just became a much less viable option). I got in and went last year, and stayed on as a teaching fellow and then got SIX job offers, including one that both looked like, and has turned out to be, my total dream job. I even negotiated and got a title change/mini-promotion at the six month mark.

I’ve been reading your column for I think five or six years at least at this point, and I can’t emphasize enough how important that accrued knowledge has been in my transition out of freelancing and into a “civilian” office job. Bootcamp gave me a great deal of knowledge about how to write code, but there’s so much more to being successful in a job that they just don’t cover (because most of my peers in the program had other comparable work experience, just not in tech) and I would have been so much more at sea, both while interviewing and in my first months at the office, without your blog as a resource. It might sound a bit dramatic, but really, your writing has quite literally been life-changing for me. So. Thank you so, so much.

5. The friend who I recommended for a job in my office is secretly job-searching after just a few months

After considering the situation and how I figured my boss would react – she isn’t one to fire people unless they’re an absolutely horrible fit – I did end up talking to my boss about my friend interviewing on the day he was out. I let her know what I was really unsure if I was doing the right thing, but at the time I felt like keeping her in the loop was the best option so we could plan for the future. She decided that she would keep what I told her between us.

Ultimately, my decision to tell her or not didn’t matter at all. My friend came in the next day with a job offer from one of the places he interviewed at (a job he got on the recommendation of another friend). He worked for another week with us, and then because his new employer wanted him to start ASAP.

He is still working at the place where he got his new job, and seems to be doing well (I think I saw on LinkedIn he recently got a promotion). His mother finished her chemo, has been in remission for around two years, and is doing well from what I hear. I no longer work at that office either- last year, I took a position out of state in another line of business. We don’t talk nearly as much as we did before he took the job, but that’s likely due to a number of factors (getting older, my moving out of state, him moving in with his girlfriend, etc.).

Having had some time (years!) to consider the situation, I think I was a little too caught up in the moment, annoyed at how much I thought his quitting would impact my standing with my manager, and too worried about the effect of him leaving during the busy season. My manager still came to me for my opinions on business matters after he left, we continued to have a great working relationship, and enjoyed working together (we both cried when I gave my notice).

If I had to make the decision again, I probably would have just not said anything and let the situation resolve itself. It definitely taught me a lesson about how things that may seem important in the moment aren’t necessarily things that matter long-term. Its tough to always put that lesson into practice, but its still something I think about even now when I try to make choices.

{ 142 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    I didn’t remember letter #1 and my jaw dropped when I read that she uses a wheelchair and is still getting static about ‘accommodations she doesn’t need’. Oh I do hope she gets to do that training at her firm. What a bunch of maroons.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Barb and Deb are terrible people who should be grateful that they aren’t reported to HR. Thank you for the update and props to you for your career trajectory!

      1. AnotherKate*

        I think they absolutely SHOULD be reported to HR. That kind of mean-girl “saying things very loudly to no one in particular” nonsense is very clearly a type of harassment. I personally have no patience for it and want them punished.

      2. AKchic*

        Barb and Deb should be reported, and the training should be done regardless, because it sounds like *everyone* needs it after dealing with Barb and Deb’s toxic “maternal” nosiness and rumor-mongering.

        1. WorldsOkayestAssistant*

          Happily piling on with a grateful amen. How I would love to get front row seats to the OP’s long overdue training session. One heavily gendered downside to the administrative work I perform is this “maternal” nonsense, which is nothing more than an unladylike excuse to act like a jerk.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      Agree. I also think OP would be within her rights at this point to go to her (OP’s) boss and say, “I’m running into an issue with Barb and Deb. I’ve asked them to stop commenting on my medical accommodations, and they continue to make comments, they’ll just do it within earshot instead of to my face. It makes me really uncomfortable and I’d like your help in getting these comments to stop.”

      If OP’s boss is a good manager she’ll be horrified and will work with Barb and Deb’s manager(s) to get them to cut it out.

      1. Nic*

        “If OP’s boss is a good manager she’ll be horrified…”

        Problem is, from what I remember of the original post, OP’s manager isn’t that good. Similar age to Barb and Deb, and kinda resigned with a “oh they’re just showing they care” attitude. Maybe manager would be better about addressing the naked resentment/ableism they’ve now developed, but…my cynical side says not to put too much hope in that. Especially since they haven’t stepped in at any point so far.

    3. 2 Cents*

      If you’re allowed to have decorations at your desk, you could print out (in GIANT letters) a poster that says “Not All Disabilities Are Visible.” Like this: pinterest.com/pin/561331541036355018

      And I’m sickened on your behalf they’re doing this. As someone who has an invisible disability, I would have a hard time being civil to Barb and Sandra on any level.

      1. Observer*

        Eh, the OP’s disability is not all that invisible. The forearm crutches are a pretty good indicator to anyone with some sense that the OP has a fairly significant mobility issues.

        I don’t know whether Barb and Deb just don’t get it or really don’t believe that OP truly has a problem. But, to be honest, it seems to me that it wouldn’t make a difference because the thing they are TRULY angry about is that the OP won’t share personal details. And, hopefully, the OP will stick to their guns on that.

        1. Airy*

          Maybe we could set them up to be pen pals with that extremely strange man who uses a wheelchair he doesn’t physically need because he feels he should be disabled.

    4. Observer*

      Well, OP obviously doesn’t need the wheelchair, since they can walk from the parking lot! So, they must be using the wheelchair to get accommodations and attention!

      That MUST be the story or why else why would OP not share all of details of her medical condition to the satisfaction of Barb and Deb, who are of course experts in what is an actual disability and how disabilities all play out in real life.



        1. Flash Bristow*

          I’ve been told “you’re too young to be disabled!” as I put out my badge and got my chair out of the car.

          I think the guy just wanted my parking space…

          OP I gave suggestions in your original post on ways to shut them down, but I should have added: at least you *can* try to shut down a “what’s wrong with you”… I haven’t yet managed to shut down “you’re so brave” “I will pray for you” and “have you tried glucosamine”… Always seems to happen when I’m trapped in a queue or on a bus, too. Argh! I guess maybe I could look confused and burble in a made up language…?!

          And yeah I get the “oh! You can WALK!” thing very often. The only time I didn’t mind was when an inquisitive kid asked “can wheelchair people walk really?”, listened to my answer, accepted it and ran off to play.

          1. AKchic*

            I can tell you what I’ve shot back at people, and I am *not* kind:

            “You’re so brave” – so are you, to talk to strangers (with evil grin and manic eyes staring into theirs)
            “I will pray for you” – I will fart for you / don’t waste your breath / I generally charge for that / I thought gawd didn’t make mistakes, how dare you question his work?!
            “have you tried X medication/treatment” – who are you? / you’re not my doctor / I don’t recall asking you for an opinion
            “oh! You can walk!” – nope, just your imagination.

            My grandma watches a lot of television so I get a lot of phone calls with “I just saw a commercial for Y pill, you need to try it for your pain”. One time, she actually recommended Viagra based on a commercial. Another time, Aleve, because that’s what her church friend used for a bruised knee after falling on the ice. Yes grandma, my falling apart spine will be cured with Aleve and erection pills. You’ve cured me.

            1. LavaLamp*

              I see we share a grandma. She told me I should have major spinal surgery last I spoke with her about my illness. Asking if she was gonna pay for that shut it down right quick.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            When I was growing up I was sick from unmanaged allergies and depressed because of abusive parents.
            I got “You’re too young to be sick/tired/sad/angry” all the time!
            Apparently if you’re young and your health and life aren’t perfect, you’re a freak. :/

          3. Garry WhatTheHairian*

            The fact that a small child was more mature than all those “adults” is kind of funny to me. Especially compared to the know-it-alls who knos nothing at all.

            But you’d be entirely justified to treat them like the invasive, accusatory and/or self-aggrandizing twats they are.

    5. Beancounter*

      One of life’s best lessons to me was living next door to a lady with multiple sclerosis on the third floor of an apartment complex. She even had a disabled parking space painted for her, but to look at her, you’d see a body builder in great shape.

      1. emmelemm*

        Yeah, I live across the hall from a woman with multiple sclerosis. I was on the HOA board, and we have something in our rules about “no furniture in the hallways”, but she needs a small table outside of her door because she cannot bend over at the waist. So people tend to grab her packages for her from the floor in the lobby and put them there, or she can put down a bag that she’s carrying while she gets her keys out.

        We then had to put a sign over the table saying “HOA Approved” because people complained about it.

        1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          I was touring a seniors’ residence and every apartment had a small bench with a mat next to the door. It was so the seniors could remove footwear, put packages/purses down while getting out keys. It was so amazingly practical that I want one.

    6. Jennifer Juniper*

      Barb and Deb sound like what used to be called “old bats,” “shrews,” and “old biddies.” I look forward to further updates after you train these two!

    7. Used2Manage*

      Now that the OP is getting a good quantity of work capital from the great-grand-boss, after she’s successful in these talks, she needs to go to her manager and get this harassment to stop. That’s what it is. What if they were saying “I can’t believe they let a Jew work here!” in the break room? But it’s okay to snark at someone for being disabled? Sounds like a hostile work environment to me.

    8. Avalon Angel*

      I didn’t remember it either…and was aghast. One part especially stood out and needs to be addressed: one of the nosy ladies mentioned she “wrote MS off the list” because the LW’s condition isn’t terminal. The problem with that? 85% of MS patients have the relapsing/remitting course of the disease, and have a normal or near-normal lifespan. It’s a little murkier for those with the progressive forms of the disease, but to say that MS is automatically terminal just isn’t true.

      FTR, I have secondary progressive MS. I’m 23 years into the disease, and can walk with a cane or walker part of the time, and use a wheelchair or scooter when I can’t (or shouldn’t) walk. The ambiguity of the disease, and how it can vary widely from day to day, often leads people to believe patients are “faking” or “being lazy.”

      I have found using the Spoon Theory to be a good way to educate those who don’t understand why I was able to walk with a cane yesterday, but cannot get out of bed today. I highly recommend it to anyone who has a chronic illness, or interacts with someone who does.

  2. Micromanagered*

    OP1 the women in your office are assholes, and you are not the only one who knows it. Don’t sweat them.

    1. Cruciatus*

      Just what I was going to say. If other people have worked at your employer for more than a day they know not to put any stock into what these people are saying. And eventually it’ll be about someone else anyway.

    1. OP2*

      I don’t even think Wilbur wants to break ice exactly – he just thinks they’re a lot of fun and wants to play games with his coworkers.

      I have started pushing back a little bit more since I wrote the update. Sometines when I’m extra busy I say that I’ll only be able to come in for part of the meetings that are relevant to me. He recently asked for feedback on how the meeting series was going and I said that although they’re fun*, the icebreakers didn’t always seem like the best use of our time.

      *they can be, but this was mostly softening language

      1. Gumby*

        Another thing to consider – does Wilbur practice any sort of agile project management? There’s a strand of though that agile retrospectives should mostly include an “energizer” (i.e. icebreaker) near the start of the agenda. But 1. retrospectives are not *every* meeting and b. the energizer is not supposed to take up 1/4 of the whole meeting!

        It could be that he read something somewhere about retrospectives and generalized it to be a bigger thing than was meant.

      2. The Things I've Seen*

        OP2 I legit had flashbacks from my three years as an RA. Even RAs hate icebreakers, except for the time-suckingextranicepeoplethatyouwanttohatebutcan’t who go on to work for the university.

        1. Unspirited*

          I work in student support at a professional school and while we’re mostly non-traditional higher ed folks who just want to help grad students get on with their helping profession without going crazy, we occasionally hire res life people who want to do constant ice breakers and “spirit week” and all kinds of goofiness that they still love as adults but our adult students do not want any part of. I feel a little bad watching them wreck their school spirit ships on our institutional culture, but also…graduate and professional school. Commuter students. Average age of 32. You have a degree in higher ed, you should know what this means.

    2. kitryan*

      One workplace had about 10 all staff meetings a year, to coincide with the start of the rehearsals for each of the theater’s shows. Since the actors were hired by show and many weren’t local, it was a great way to introduce the staff to the actors and vice versa. We had an icebreaker/introduction for each of these meetings. I tried to remember that for most of the actors, this was the only one of these they’d go to-either for the year or ever and that it was only super repetitive for the staff. There was always a scramble beforehand to find the fun fact about Oklahoma or to figure out what our favorite word was. One variation that I actually kind of liked was when you had to find a partner you didn’t work with regularly and exchange answers with them. Then when you went around the circle, you’d introduce your partner ‘This is Fergus, he’s from Ontario and his favorite color is pink’ – and they’d introduce you. Since we had nice coworkers and the actors were usually friendly, it actually broke the ice instead of making things more awkward.

  3. Artemesia*

    Icebreakers. I worked in a field where they were important. I always tried to design ice breakers that were linked to the goal of the event, class or meeting. It really takes the sting out for performance oriented people who don’t want to guess with 20 questsions that Mickey Mouse is on their name tag or whatever. If you can’t get out of it, focus on a quick ice breaker that identifies the 3 things we want to walk out of this meeting having accomplished; your #1 personal goal for this meeting; the characteristics of the best (event, program, organization — whatever the meeting is about) you have previously been part of or even ‘what strength you personally have that will help us accomplish our goal today.’

    1. fposte*

      One of the best I went to was an org acronym guessing game (I think it was vaguely Jeopardy format). There were a lot of committee acronyms I hadn’t heard unpacked before.

    2. Emily K*

      I’m totally at the low end of the bell curve when it comes to tolerance for what I perceive as time-wasting, and these are good suggestions. Icebreakers to convey truly useful information aren’t a waste of time the way “tell us your favorite mode of transportation” or whatever is.

      IMO the best icebreaker is, when the participants don’t know each other very well, “Explain in 2-3 sentences what your primary function is and how your role interacts with others,” so that you don’t have the finance team asking the person who grooms the llamas to reconcile the grooming supply purchase orders just because the groomer is the only person from the grooming team that finance has met, and there’s a dedicated grooming supply purchaser who should be reconciling purchase orders against bank statements.

  4. Cotton Headed Ninny Muggins*

    OP 4- YAY! I’m happy that you were able to translate your skills from your non-traditional job(s) and that you are enjoying success in your new field! Congratulations!

      1. emmelemm*

        Hey, I’m wondering if you can share which coding boot camp you took. Nice to hear about an actual success story from one of them!

        (If you’d prefer not to, totally get it.)

        1. your favorite person*

          Not OP4, but my husband had success at a small local one in Iowa that was created by a local start-up organization. The program is called DeltaV Code School.

        2. "Ex" Sex Worker*

          yeah, i’m not really “out” as a worker, so I’m not comfortable sharing publicly which program (because they’re not that big), but in general, cirr.org is a great resource for gauging the legitimacy of student outcomes from different programs.

      2. your favorite person*

        My husband also went to a code boot camp and had 4 jobs offers upon completing it! I’m so glad you were able to find something you enjoy and are passionate about. Good luck!

  5. Roscoe*

    Ha, for #2, this sounds about right. I was an RA in college, and my boss (and others on her level) LOVED those things. Now I’ll admit, I don’t hate them as many as a lot of people on here seem to, but they really did go overboard with them.

    I think its one of those things that you just deal with when in meetings led by other departments. Hell, half the meetings I go to I hate.

  6. WellRed*

    I cannot even believe how horrible the coworkers are in letter 1. OMG. It would never occur to me someone in a wheelchair wouldn’t need an accommodation (I realize this may not be true), let alone anyone else who went to the effort of seeking an accommodation. Why, oh why, do some petty people care so much about this? Your boss sucks for not shutting this down, but finally, finally, your last graph brought me joy. You will be leading training on this. Yay!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I know we had a letter about the guy who did use a wheelchair and had no physical disability, but yeah. The default is (or should be) that someone using assistive devices actually needs them.

      And the training is deliciously ironic. Heh heh.

    2. ..Kat..*

      What gets me is OP is a social worker. Which means Barb and Deb might be social workers! This kind of crap coming from social workers makes it even worse.

    1. npoworker*

      I disagree with this defeatist attitude, especially when people are actively antagonizing them about it. It’s disrespectful and harmful to presume someone is abusing an accommodation that they dont really need. I would continue to call them out until they stop, personally.

      1. Four lights*

        I meant it more like, even if OP explained all about her disability and shared her medical file with them, I get the impression these two would find something else to complain / gossip about.

        1. EinJungerLudendorff*

          She can’t change the complainers, but she can get them to shut up.
          And if she can’t, her boss definitely can and should.

  7. Polaris*

    OP #1, I hope you will be able to update us with the reaction to your lecture. Your coworkers are horrifying, and I hope the people they complain to are able to see how cruel and petty they’re being. My jaw about dropped at Deb’s comment, and I’m this close to “flames on the side of my face”. I’m glad your great-grandboss is supportive – that’s kind of recognition is way more important than your co-workers, and it’s great that you can use that to buoy yourself in the worst moments. I hope at some point in the future you will be able to enjoy some delicious schadenfreude.

  8. CatCat*

    OP #1 I am really looking forward to looking Barb and Deb in the eye as I give it.

    Oh, won’t that just be delicious.

  9. No Longer New Commenter*

    IANAL, but are these horrid coworkers creating a hostile environment based on protected class for LW1?

  10. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP #1 – I would like to attend your training so I can punch Barb and Deb in the throat.

    1. Flash Bristow*

      Um… I get the sentiment but I thought references to violence, however amusing, were generally frowned upon here…?

  11. Bibliovore*

    As a person with a not often visible disability, I have had dealings with “Barbs and Debs” This situation is simply “jaw dropping” to me. What the what? So as an “old lady” here is some advice. Do not respond to the unbelievably crass comments. I would respond when spoken to directly. Such as “it must be nice to have a handicapped parking tag” Yes, it is probably the only perk to having chronic debilitating pain. No one needs to know anything about your health. These women are not your friends. They don’t need to be. Keep up the good work.

  12. Antilles*

    Soon after, IT accidentally deleted my entire profile (login access, email, calendar, everything) and said they couldn’t restore it without a form signed by my now non-existent manager.
    So…did IT tell you what exactly they wanted you to be doing? Because I don’t know what your role was, but I’m struggling to think of a desk job at a modern bank which *doesn’t* rely on being able to log-in on a computer.

        1. Autumnheart*

          This was true back in the day when I worked for Stagecoach and Big Shield, and presumably it still is–they don’t let you BYOD at banks because of SEC regulations. You can’t use flash drives or any other device that could conceivably be plugged into the network. Customer and financial data is extremely sensitive, and even if you don’t work directly with the data, it is a huge no-no to do anything that *could* create a breach.

  13. EPLawyer*

    #1 — ignore them. They are jerks. If they behave this way about something non-work related, I would question their overall judgment and “knowledge.” That is awesome that the one person who matters Grandboss, recognizes how great you are and is encouraging you.

    #2 — Wilbur should be meet the over enthusiatic coworker from the update the other day. They would LOVE each other. Also, I think the response should be the same in both cases. Fine, Wilbur, you like icebreakers, not everyone does so dial it back about 12 notches. In his meetings, I guess he can do that, but unless he is running the meeting, no one else should be required to have ice breakers.

    #3 — so glad it worked out. Good luck with your great job.

    1. OP2*

      That’s how it seems to be shaking out. We do icebreakers in the meetings he runs, but not the others. It does help that I genuinely do like him as a coworker, so it’s easier to put up with this quirk.

      1. valentine*

        He could do the icebreakers beforehand to psych himself up. Maybe if you can chip away at the other 45 minutes, you can slowly crowd out the icebreakers.

  14. The Rat Catcher*

    or Deb says loudly “I think it’s terrible that people take advantage of accommodations when they don’t really need it!”.

    The passive aggressive loud insult?? Is your coworker Regina George?!

      1. Cat Fan*

        “You’re right, it is terrible! Especially when there are those of us who have the actual need for accommodations and we are scrutinized for it.”

        1. Mongrel*

          Or, maybe “Wow! You ought to take that up with HR, they’re the ones who arrange the accommodations. I’m sure they’d love to know that someone is taking advantage of this”

    1. Classic Rando*

      I gasped when I got to that part, the audacity!

      I’m daydreaming about the ideal followup update, where after OP does their seminar (preferably same-day) they make another backhanded comment like that in front of the great grandboss (who is completely scandalized by it) and face severe consequences.

        1. AKchic*

          “Oh, come on ladies, you know the words… I wrote the skit word for word from what you yourselves have said to me multiple times! You shouldn’t have any problems saying your own words again with a bigger audience! Help the company out by demonstrating ableism and bullying! You showed such great examples before!”

  15. BelleMorte*

    #1 This whole story smacks of abelism from the start, even before they found out you use crutches. The child prodigy comment had nothing to do with your age, it was a “look at the poor girl in the wheelchair, lets rescue her and fawn over her to make her feel better about her sad lot in life” reaction. As Op#1 surely knows abelism isn’t always insults or creating barriers, it’s also being overly helpful, patronizing or trying to rescue the “poor disableds” to make the rescuer feel good about themselves.

    Start documenting comments and issues with these ladies, including the date/time and your response which should be “You need to stop speaking to/at me like that”, “My health/disability/accomodation is not gossip fodder for your enjoyment”. Once you have a good amount, take it to your boss/HR. Even when the women change tactics to “too arrogant” is still speaking to your disability, think of it as referring to a black person who speaks up for themselves as “uppity”, that is the exact same thing they are doing here, they are demeaning you and disparaging your reputation to co-workers. It has nothing to do with your age, or lack of experience.

    You ARE protected as a person with a disability and they are setting the company up for a lawsuit when you have finally had enough. These women are 100% in the wrong and they are actively discriminating against you for having a disability. Failing that, use their behaviour, without naming them, in examples in your Abelism training seminars.

    It took a long time for me, as a person with a disability, to get the strength to shut down people like this in the moment, but once I started, I never looked back.

    1. CM*

      These are excellent ideas — even if you end up not using the record you create, it would be great to have. I also like the idea of using Deb and Barb’s behavior as an example in your training. Although their behavior is so extreme, your other trainees might find it unrealistic.

    2. AnotherKate*

      I agree with all of this. These women are behaving abominably, and luckily we’re not on the schoolyard anymore–we have laws in place specifically to protect against this sort of nonsense. I see a lot of “just ignore them, they’re sad jerks who feed off your reactions.” They are, of course, those things, but there’s no need to ignore them. They should face consequences for their behavior, but also, there’s a reason disability is a protected class–this kind of attitude, left unchecked, can create serious barriers to people with disabilities if they end up shared by a person who has power over your job, salary, benefits, etc. Leaving the Barbs and Debs of the world to loudly complain to no one in particular means that people with the power to do much worse may feel emboldened.

      That, and I just REALLY want to see them punished. It’s not actually that hard to just be a good person around all of this; the fact that they can’t means they deserve what they get.

      1. Rhoda*

        Is it terrible that I secretly hope one or both of them is forced to have to use a wheelchair for at least a few weeks for some reason?
        I’ll be taking my rental wheelchair back next week as my broken ankle has healed enough to walk on. The last few weeks have been a real eye opener on how hard life can be in a chair. I can’t even imagine having to do this for the restvof my life.

    3. kitryan*

      This is great advice. Documenting doesn’t mean you have to sue or even use it at all but it’s there if you need it.
      It sounds to me like they were initially treating OP as a pet, basically, and when she didn’t perform appropriately for that role, she became a target. It’s gross and ugly behavior on their part.

    4. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Failing that, use their behaviour, without naming them, in examples in your Abelism training seminars.

      I love this suggestion.

      OP #1, please send another update after you give the training and let us know how they reacted!

    5. Zombeyonce*

      I like this idea a lot. If you feel like having some fun with it (why not?) you could play gossip bingo with all the terrible things they say.

  16. Sled dog mama*

    OP #1 as someone who had a flare up of their own (invisible) debilitating condition last week, I’m still outraged by your coworkers.
    I hope your presentation to the company goes well and please do update on how it’s received.

  17. SD*

    Re the nosy coworkers: I have to admit, I thought even the first sentence Alison provided was a little harsh, especially if it was the first time the writer had asked her coworkers not to discuss her health. (From the original letter, it seemed as if she hadn’t before.) “You’re making me very uncomfortable” is a strong accusation, and it isn’t surprising that they reacted negatively to it.

    I’m not saying these ladies aren’t jerks — clearly, they are — but at the same time, they probably actually believed they were just being helpful. As an opening salvo, I think it might have been worth pretending their hearts were in the right place, just to keep things more pleasant.

    The writer could have said something like, “I’d really appreciate it if you wouldn’t bring up my health. You may be just trying to help, but it’s not something I want to discuss at work.”

    If the coworkers still didn’t shut up about it, then it would have been time to move on to the stronger, more confrontational statements.

    1. JessB*

      Really? I consider ‘You’re making me uncomfortable’ something that could be a neutral statement of fact, depending how it’s said- like most things. Alison’s advice didn’t say to get upset and make them feel bad, so I have to wonder whether you’re projecting your own interpretation of how you’d feel if someone said that to you?

    2. Zombeyonce*

      I disagree. I don’t consider telling someone they’re making you uncomfortable to be aggressive and these women have proven they’re not just trying to be helpful; they’re actively saying incredibly ignorant and mean things where OP can hear them. On purpose. I think that behavior is very worthy of a simple, straightforward response with no cushioning, and the repetition of it as needed. The language you suggested isn’t going to make a dent and gives them an out they really shouldn’t get.

    3. Greg M.*

      it was never about them helping her. it was about giving themselves a mental cookie. “Oh I helped the wheelchair coworker today I’m such a good person”
      If they actually wanted to help this person being told that would have resulted in an apology and them backing off. Instead because they didn’t let her be their little project she is now being harassed. Also frankly “You’re making me very uncomfortable” is a statement of fact and perfectly appropriate to say if it’s the truth.

    4. J.*

      Intentions really don’t mean anything. Even if they believed they were just being helpful, the outcome is that the letter writer felt uncomfortable, and it’s perfectly ok to name that in the moment.

    5. WellRed*

      Nah, asking people if they are terminally ill, or making it obvious to the letter writer that they are openly guessing what her illness is can in NO WAY be construed as trying to be helpful.
      Even if she weren’t ill, all the comments on her appearance and comparing her to their children (!) is unprofessional and infantilizing.

    6. Walter White Walker*

      “You’re making me very uncomfortable,” isn’t a strong accusation. It’s a statement of fact and should be respected.

      The idea that OP1 brought this on herself by failing to use the perfect, magical, sensitive wording that would pacify Deb and Barb is, frankly, siding with Deb and Barb and suggesting that on some level, their behavior to OP1 is justified. It is not. Deb and Barb’s actions are contemptible.

    7. Lady Phoenix*

      This is victim blaming.

      You are saying that OP has no right to protect herself from these witches and their bigotry, gossip, and bigotry.

      You are saying these people and their “hurt feelings” are more inportant than OP’s.

      This is victim blaning, period.

      1. Alianora*

        I’m surprised at these comments — I didn’t read SD as blaming the LW for the coworkers’ reactions, but saying that “you’re making me uncomfortable” is quite a blunt opener that’s unlikely to defuse a situation, if that is your goal. She didn’t say anything about the LW having no right to protect herself. It’s just that this script may not have been the best way to protect herself from retaliation.

        Just because the LW was justified in saying that doesn’t mean it’s going to make her coworkers react the way they should.

    8. JSPA*

      Hunh? That’s like saying that if someone’s standing on your foot, it’s rude to say, “excuse me, you’re standing on my foot.” Putting a simple descriptive name on what you’re experiencing isn’t rudeness.

    9. Kit-Kat*

      I see what you’re saying — Allison has talked here before about using “softer” vocabulary to preserve relationships as it’s a work environment. However, I think the prying questions about the nature of her disability, the “child prodigy” comment and the repetition of the comments/questions all made it an egregious situation. I work with patients who are by default in a vulnerable position so I have the same concerns about vocabulary and tone, and don’t want to make things into a power play. However, if someone says something exceedingly rude like calling me a “child genius” (and this HAS happened to me!) I shut it down with a flat, “that’s inappropriate”. I strive to keep my tone even and professional instead of emotional, so that it doesn’t come off as personal. And I find this works well. Just because I’m in a service role doesn’t mean I don’t deserve basic respect and I see that as essential to keeping a professional relationship. (I would do the same if, say, I had a patient leering at me.) I don’t see “that makes me uncomfortable” as any different.

  18. Observer*

    #3 – I have two thoughts.

    One is that when a prospective employer is asking you to do something that’s iffy, recognize that it’s a a red flag. What else is off in their culture or processes?

    The second is a full on attack of “did we fall through the looking glass?” I mean, the idea that IT could “accidentally” delete your entire profile is utterly bizarre enough to start with. The fact that they WOULD not (they most definitely could have if they wanted to) restore without a sign off from your manager, and that there was no backup for the manager is equally bizarre. But combine the two?! They are claiming that they need a sign off from your manager,and your manager only to correct the error that they made!? And, no one jumped on them over this, but were ok with you breaking every compliance rule in the book?!

    Were you working for a bank in The Twilight Zone?

    1. Lis*

      It is possible it was compliance by IT. There was an issue here where someone was told that they couldn’t change the manager the employee reported to unless they had approval from the now departed ex-manager. Turns out that was what was written in their SOP but everyone before ignored the rule because it was obviously ridiculous but someone who had been bitten before by not “following the rules” refused to do something against written policy. So the stupid policy got changed but it sucked to be the employee who was the test case for getting the OP changed.

      1. Lis*

        They needed manager approval for new software but approval went to now departed manager not current manager. Project went over planned time because of delay in software being available. Totally sucked but at least it won’t be an issue again. Not much comfort to my colleague who was at their wits end.

      2. Observer*

        Well, the rule is, as you note, utterly ridiculous. But here we have multiple supposed rules AND the fact that they actually deleted someone’s entire presence with not authorization to do so. That goes well beyond “stupid and ridiculous” into Twilight Zone or Bizzaro.

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          Maybe someone in IT wanted to get back at OP for turning down their advances or some other perceived offense.

    2. Beatrice*

      I’m not in banking or any kind of highly regulated industry, but I have run into my fair share of IT people who are sticklers for following rules personally, but adopt a “not my circus” outlook on non-IT people fudging the rules or sticking to the spirit of a rule rather than the letter. I don’t think that’s uncommon.

      1. Observer*

        The combination here is way out – and it’s only partly an IT issue. Because there is no way there wasn’t some way for someone else to get this untangled. And, it clearly wasn’t all that worried about compliance or there would have been some serious fall out over the communications via personal gmail and a personal laptop. I mean seriously!?!?!?!?

    1. "Ex" Sex Worker*

      heh, it actually didn’t come up in the end — spouse wound up taking a different job w/ less nosy employers.

  19. Jules the 3rd*

    OP1: “I think it’s terrible that people take advantage of accommodations when they don’t really need it!”.

    FLAMES. Flames on the side of my face!

    Deb and Barb are incredibly inappropriate. That is a terrible thing for anyone to say.

    On the plus side: many of their coworkers will have fended off similar intrusiveness and will understand.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      That statement genuinely POes me.

      OP, it’s your call, because you are obvious very capable of handling these two dingbats, but I would consider sharing that little snippet with your boss or HR. I’m sure there’s some kind of legal (or at the least moral) issue with harassing someone for having a disability and being unwilling to tell you it, and they’d probably be horrified to learn about these two ladies’ behavior …. *sigh*

  20. BadWolf*

    My brain is writing a fanfic where Deb and Barb used to work with the gentleman who was using a wheelchair and was not paralyzed and are now hopelessly and relentlessly bitter.

    1. valentine*

      But they don’t seem like people who would go get his print jobs when he asked and he didn’t have any accommodations.

  21. Hannah*

    I recently went to an interview and the director made us all do an icebreaker (the interview was with several managers at the company) before sitting down to the interview.

    I didn’t take the job.

  22. Lady Phoenix*

    Barb and Deb are those mean girls that girl up to be gossiping shrews. All they just want to do if spread rumors and laugh at other people to hide the fact their lives are beyond boring.

    Document any incident between those windbags and take it to HR if you fear they will escalate. Otherwise, wait until your training on accomadations and THEN report them when they step put of line.

    I think your boss (and probably everyone else) sees your real worth and these two are jealous and botter at the validation.

    1. Len F*

      I’d go up the chain about this at the first opportunity. Their behaviour is abhorrent. It was abhorrent to begin with, and now they’ve doubled down. I’d document it for maybe a week or so, then go to my boss with the evidence. If they won’t to anything about it, I’d go to HR (of my grandboss if I had a rapport with them). If they don’t do anything about it, I’d start eying the exits.

  23. Anonny*

    ‘ and have suggested that I think I am “better than a couple old ladies”’

    Well, I can’t say for old ladies in general, but these specific old ladies? Yes, OP1 is better than them.

  24. Mimmy*

    OP1 – Yikes, Deb and Barb sound like real winners! *sarcasm*. Have you discussed any of this with your supervisor or HR?

    On the bright side, it is really awesome that your grand-boss saw your potential and is giving you the opportunity to develop and present training at your organization! Please let us know how it goes! Hopefully this will, in some way, make Barb and Deb realize that their comments and behavior are not appropriate.

  25. learnedthehardway*

    OP1 – Well, you have proof positive that neither of these individuals were well meaning, that’s for sure. Yikes.
    That said, I guarantee you that your other colleagues know the score, and know that these two co-irkers are vicious gossips, rather than concerned citizens. Anyone who behaves like that when told to stop harassing one person has undoubtedly done the same thing to others. I bet you will find out that you’re not the only one to be on their bad side, just the latest one.

    Please do the training and include a module on “how to interact with disabled co-workers”, including a slide titled, “What NOT to say / do / ask”, referencing their game of 20 questions.

  26. 342g*

    OP1: is “Deb” the same person as “Sandra”? or a different person? that was confusing between the letters.

    OP4: good job getting into traditional work!

  27. Rhoda*

    I had to rent a wheelchair for a month after breaking my ankle (one leg) and a 5th metatarsal bone (other leg). What an eye opener! Jerks like those two coworkers should be required to deal with this for at least three weeks to shut them up.
    Things like handicapped door opening buttons that don’t work (In a hospital! And a pharmacy that rents wheelchairs!) Or handicapped bathroom stalls that can’t be accessed because the door to the washroom itself is a huge heavy thing that takes two hands to open and stay open. I could go on.

  28. Oaktree*

    OP#1, I have a feeling that you (like me) are an Ontarian suffering under Ford. (If so, my empathies; if not, sorry about whoever it is.) I’m not super up on the AODA except where web accessibility is concerned, but I would be checking the OHRC website, because you could easily have a case for something, and your grandboss/HR if applicable should be aware of that.

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