updates: the employee who wouldn’t sit near men, 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. Our employee says she’s not comfortable having her desk near men

I wanted to give an update on the employee who was uncomfortable with a male seated behind her.

We did end up moving her to a desk that was closer to her direct supervisor and in a row that was all women. We did let her know that we couldn’t guarantee her that we’d never have to seat a man by her but we’d avoid it if possible, and she was very appreciative.

Since then, she’s been assigned to a team that has one male supervisor and we’ve worked with her to avoid any uncomfortable situations (he’ll call her to check in rather than stopping by her desk, for example). She’s said that she knows that there may be times where being in close proximity with men is unavoidable and emphasized to her leader that it was nothing personal, and in general has said that she’s very grateful that we’re willing to work with her on this at all.

The only downside to the situation is that she’s presented it to peers who have asked as “I just asked to move my desk and they moved it,” which is counter to our actual policy that we only move people if there’s a business need or for medical accommodations. This has led to a few other people being frustrated that they aren’t being allowed to move upon request, and of course we’d never share with them the private details of why we actually moved her.

2. Will employers care that I drop my G’s? (#2 at the link)

Thanks for the advice and a big thanks to all the commenters! I really enjoyed reading peoples’ stories about their accents. I ended up getting offered two jobs – both of which had a public speaking component so I am happy that my dialect did not hold me back in that respect. In fact, I spoke on a few podcasts for my current job and tried to focus on the content of what I was saying over how I was saying it.

I have tried working on my accent a little but it still sounds silly. Now I over-pronounce the g so it will sound like “runninGGG”. Maybe I will get the hang of it but as some commenters pointed out, it is important to feel comfortable being yourself in the workplace. I will probably try and tone down the dialect but am no longer too concerned about getting rid of it completely.

3. My new coworker thinks she’s my manager

The manager who was hired and I ended up working well together. She cooled off her micromanaging, and I put down my defenses, and we collaborated on projects together. However, she ended up leaving about two months after she was hired, and I’m the lone copywriter again.

The company went through some huge turnover (6 people left in 3.5 months), and in all of that mucky soup, she found a new job and left. And I can’t blame her! 6 people (well, 7 including her) left in a 10-12 person company and a bunch of new people came on. I basically work for a completely different company, except for the boss. If I’d been hired in the middle of that and looked around, I would have felt duped and left too.

Thankfully, things seem to be getting better. I think the huge turnover opened my boss’ eyes a little bit and he’s been more receptive to feedback and hopefully employee retention will get back to normal. I had been looking for a new job for months and not finding anything. Then last week someone reached out and offered me an interview, and I turned it down. It wasn’t a job I really wanted, and I’ve been much happier at my current one. I realized I have the ultimate job security – I’m not going to be fired after 7 people left!

Thanks again to you for your advice and to the kind readers in the comments who offered support!

4. Should I suggest we get rid of our unlimited vacation policy(#2 at the link)

I was the one who asked the question related to Netflix’s family leave policy. At the time that I asked the question, I was in a toxic work environment but hadn’t started the process of finding a new job. I was attempting to “grab on” to things I thought I could change, in order to feel like I had some control over the situation. Needless to say, that tactic did not work for me! The work environment was totally out of control, as there were lots of issues that weren’t being addressed.

Your response (and the responses in the comments) were 100% right- the issue was definitely about my boss and not really about the vacation policy. Had I gone into detail about the other issues, I think my situation would have fallen into the “Your boss (and boss’s boss) is a jerk, find a new job” category. I ultimately decided to find something new, and it was a great decision! I have been at my current job for almost 3 years. Of course, it’s not perfect, but it’s way better! Even so, I’m grateful to my old job for teaching me so much. Thanks again for the help!

5. Why do I have to stop working for two months before my contract can be renewed? (#5 at the link)

I wanted to give you all a happy update! After completing my break, I was eligible to reapply, and I did. I’m back in my contract gig, and I couldn’t be happier. My team was thrilled to have me back, too. (I got cake!!!)

I did apply for Unemployment during the break, and I received it without a problem. No one said a word about it, and the staffing agency did make a good effort to find something for me in the interim.

For the record, I would have been professional about my exit regardless of any opportunity for rehire — but it really didn’t hurt my chances that I went the extra mile in wrapping up my projects, creating hand-off notes, having a good attitude, and just handling the whole thing positively and professionally.

Thanks so much, Alison and commenters! You totally rock!

{ 147 comments… read them below }

  1. SusanIvanova*

    “we’d never share with them the private details of why we actually moved her.”

    Just say “her move was in line with company policy”? You did move her nearer her boss, so either one of the options could apply.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I would say “there are reasons we moved her that aren’t just because she asked that I’m not at liberty to disclose”.

      1. Canonical23*

        I would hesitate to use such a response because “I’m not at liberty to disclose” is such a tempting phrase for nosy people and/or people who like to speculate. I think SusanIvanova’s idea of saying that it was “in line with company policy” is a much cleaner way of handling this.

        1. MT*

          I don’t know if you ever want to say it’s company policy to make accomidations for a person to be sexist.

          1. WellRed*

            That’s … not at all what they are saying. Company policy allows certain accommodations. This is an accommodation. albeit a slightly unusual one.

            1. MT*

              This woman asked for an accomidation that she can treat people different only due to their sex. This woman was able to get the company to make her supervisor contact her by phone vs having a one on one conversation. This isn’t a requirement for the female supervisor.

              1. tinyhipsterboy*

                I think that’s an incredibly uncharitable reading of someone whose life was affected by trauma. The worker wasn’t asking to never be in contact with men, and actively worked with OP to find the best solution that could accommodate her trauma while not disrupting the office or discriminating based on sex.

                1. MT*

                  I think its a spot on reading of the situation. Trauma doesn’t give the company the right to allow an employee to discrimate on the biasis of sex. If you read the orginal post that is exactly what the expert said it was.

                2. Not Rebee*

                  This isn’t discrimination, this is medical accommodation. It would be discriminatory to refuse to see men or speak to men on the sole basis of their gender, but that’s not what is happening here because it’s not like she wanted men removed from the office (nor was the company offering such a thing). Actual discrimination would not be a reasonable medical accommodation. It’s really tempting for people to say that mental health issues don’t require medical accommodations but mental health is still health and therefore we should treat it as though it was any other medical condition.

              2. she was a fast machine*

                That’s just straight up wrong. The letter only says that he calls her instead of dropping in, not that they don’t have one-on-ones at all. You’re being particularly uncharitable towards a situation that is not “sexist” as you make it.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  I’m gonna bet money that MT is male. “Look women are sexist too!!!” As if you know, power and oppression isnt a thing.

          2. Parenthetically*

            I just rolled my eyes back so far in my head that they got stuck.

            Yes, that poor poor man, I’m sure he’s thwarted by his gender everywhere he goes.

            1. Sandy*

              Yeah, but is historical privilege a factor you consider when making staffing decisions that could potentially lead to discrimination charges? I get the impulse, but I don’t think it’s appropriate here.

              1. Lily Rowan*

                Is the location of your cube something that could potentially lead to discrimination charges, though?

                1. Sandy*

                  I’m thinking more of the additional information provided; her supervisor has been instructed not to directly speak with her but to check in by phone. That could affect his ability to do his job. I understand the premise here; this woman has been traumatized and having someone sitting, say, right behind her could be very difficult. I can understand her requesting that her supervisor meet her away from her desk, so she isn’t surprised by him in her space. But I think the option they DID choose was not great.

            2. Cat Fan*

              Yeah, that’s a silly interpretation and not really the point. Discrimination based on gender is the point and that’s what this is. I’m practically always on the side of women’s rights, but this company is going too far in the other direction.

            3. OfOtherWorlds*

              Federal civil rights law works on the principle that everyone should be treated equally, not on the principle that historically opressed groups should be lifted up.

              1. Sylvan*


                We might not always agree with or like the results of that, but they do protect all of us equally in the same ways.

              2. Not Rebee*

                When historically oppressed groups are treated equally, they by the very nature of equal treatment should be getting lifted up. The only reason there’s an up for them to be lifted to at all is because they’re treated unequally.

          3. mark132*

            Yep, as a thought experiment, just replace ‘man’ with ‘ black woman’ and think about making an accommodation like that.

          4. JSPA*

            Someone who has PTSD or (real) phobias triggered by [noun] is not necessarily philosophically in any way anti-[noun], though.

            One can be very thankful for the role snakes play in the ecosystem, and still pass out if faced with a snake. Knowing and admitting and working on the problem that you’re the irrational one doesn’t mean you can just stop doing that irrational thing.

            I still wonder if they should have demanded more supporting documentation–if she’s treating it as “anyone can get this,” she is either misunderstanding or misrepresenting the situation in problematic ways.

            1. IndoorCat*

              Well…I dunno. I think it’s a bit different if you’re phobic of a kind of person.

              I mean, what if someone is genuinely afraid of Muslims? Or gay people? The fact is, while there are people who are simply hateful, there are others who treat certain groups badly because of legitimate phobias. There are still people in my home state (according to recent surveys) who are afraid to touch gay men, even to shake hands, due to fears of AIDS. Which, it’s so bizarre; you’d think everyone by now knows that AIDS is not transmitted by handshakes, and that most gay men do not have AIDS. But people developed the fear in a more ignorant era, and it still affects them (it doesn’t help that our state has lower than average rates of literacy, high school graduation, etc, so people are less likely to learn new, more accurate information).

              But if someone said, “I can’t sit next to Fergus, because I know he’s gay and he might have AIDS,” even if their fear was real and something they were going to therapy for, I don’t think I can say, as a manager, “It’s okay for you to treat Fergus differently.”

              I do feel for her! I myself have actually undergone exposure therapy to get over a severe dental phobia. After two years of therapy, my fear has decreased so that I can attend a particularly accommodating dentist with a low dose of Valium or Xanax. This dentist allows me to make three-hour appointments for procedures that are typically 90 minutes so I can take breaks. She’s absolutely amazing.

              Before therapy, I had to pay for my dental work out-of-pocket, get driven two hours to an in-hospital dentist, so I could be completely sedated to even do a cleaning. It was awful, and the therapy really helped.

              But the therapy just takes time. If someone’s phobia is of someone so common, like men, it might be wise to simply prioritize your health treatment over work right now. I know that sucks, especially given our healthcare system. But it might be the better option.

  2. LL*

    The situation in update #1 is still so troubling to me. I have sympathy for everyone in this situation, but am trying to imagine how this would work out with the genders switched: a male employee who won’t sit near women and who asks his *female boss* to interact with him only by phone and not in person. I think this would not go over so well, and (though I’m not a lawyer or HR professional) it also still seems like the company may be on shaky legal ground here.

    1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      Indeed, very troubling. It’s hard to believe the employer is intentionally orchestrating and endorsing this.

    2. Jordijojo*

      I agree. Some other analogous cases: man is assaulted by a gay man so doesn’t want to be by gay men, white person is assaulted by a black person so doesn’t want to be by black people, former military fought ISIS and doesn’t want to be by Muslims, etc.

      It seems like they basically ignored the advice of AAM and the employment lawyer, I’d like to know why.

      1. IndoorCat*

        +1 I live in a state where there are a lot of genuinely homophobic people– as in, not just “haters,” but are seriously afraid of gay people. The ignorant beliefs range from thinking all gay men have AIDS to fearing that LGBT people are possessed by demons. I wish I were exaggerating.

        I am proud to have worked for bosses where, when a homophobic employee has said, “If you don’t fire [lesbian employee], I’m just going to quit; I can’t work with people like her.” And my boss was basically like, “Well, there’s the door.” As you might assume, our state does not have workplace protections for LGBT people, so a work-at-will employee can be fired simply for being LGBT. Many employers, when weighing an LGBT employee’s needs with a homophobic employee’s needs, will side with the homophobic employee.

        I know the men in this workplace have not been fired, so it’s not exactly the same. But I am very wary about letting an individual’s phobia dictate how another person is treated in any context, because it is genuinely not a hypothetical.

    3. Higher ed*

      +1. I’m uncomfortable with how this situation was resolved. It seems like seating arrangements are only part of it. Can’t meet with a male supervisor in person, only on the phone? That doesn’t seem reasonable.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah, at that point I’d start asking the employee for a letter from their psychologist or something.

      2. Kes*

        Yeah, to be honest I’m really surprised the company went along so far with what the employee wanted. I can maybe see moving the desk if it’s not too much of a problem (though they should tell her to stop telling others they just moved her because she asked), but not meeting with your supervisor in person because of his gender seems pretty unreasonable.

      3. Glitsy Gus*

        That was the part that gave me pause as well.

        I mean, I don’t want to discount trauma, and if it were easy enough to, say, move her to a spot where no one was behind her at all so she didn’t feel that “lurking” feeling or something like that, that would make sense and I could see that being a good option. Or, if it were just ‘there’s a bunch of open seats, so yeah, this once we can move you, but no promises in the future.

        But her boss never walking over to her desk? Even if he’s more of a phone guy than an in-person guy that is not a great situation and, as many have said, were it reversed would be a big problem. I mean, if they’re all fine with it then I guess it’s working in this exact circumstance, but it’s a tricky precedent to set.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          ETA: So reading further the OP updated that the supervisor calling here isn’t a formal part of the arrangement, it was more something he offered to do on his own. I do think that makes a big difference here, and makes the situation far less fraught.

          I would still be very careful in making sure it was clear on both sides he wasn’t required to do these things, but supervisors and their reportees can set up a system that works for them, so I’m glad they did. I’m also glad he’s sympathetic enough to take this seriously.

    4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Even with the genders switched it would work the same. The US currently has a Vice President who has made it clear he won’t travel (including by car), eat or meet alone with a woman who isn’t his wife, or sometimes without his wife being present, for religious reasons; and there are other religions or religious sects that would have similar gender segregation rules that could be accommodated similarly to #1 (i.e. no guarantees, but whenever possible to limit situations that make the person uncomfortable).

      1. EBStarr*

        I don’t think it’s widely accepted that what Mike Pence does to exclude women he works with is in any way OK.

        1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

          I think it is accepted in the sense that his employer is accommodating his beliefs as much as possible without putting an undue burden on the employer — the same as they might for an Orthodox Jew, Orthodox Christian, Amish, Hindu, or Sunni Islam to name a few…Or maybe a case of accommodating someone with PTSD due to abuse or rape.

        2. Over the hill*

          But it IS accomodated for, meaning some people do find it quite Ok. And at that level its very visibly accomodated for and publicly discussed.

          Thats creating a powerful argument that it is an acceptable way to act. Not only as male, but religious restrictions on others in a publicly funded job. Women do not
          have the access to the Vice President that men do, on what has been stated to be religious and personal preference. By allowing it, it creates an powerful exception to “the rule”.

          1. EBStarr*

            I mean, there’s an obvious solution to both of these issues, right? If you won’t sit near/meet with/travel with people of one gender, then you have to decline the same activities with either. I’m sure Mike Pence would never put up with being required to give up one-on-one meetings altogether, but he sees women as disposable, so he just discriminates against them, and of course he gets away with it, because [political rant redacted by me]

            For this employee, I wonder why they don’t do something like that — asking *all* her colleagues to call her rather than coming up to her where possible, that kind of thing.

      2. Observer*

        You can argue if this is a good rule or not. But what he is doing doesn’t come close to what this woman is asking for, though. She not just refusing one on one meetings with males in private. She is refusing to sit near males, and won’t even meet with them in a public space! That’s a MUCH bigger deal.

        1. Sandy*

          Is that true though? As Over the hill points out, the fact that the VP won’t take private meetings with women means by default, men have better access and therefore better opportunity than women on his staff. That’s pretty straightforward, whereas it’s not as clear with this woman. BTW, the LW updated below and said her supervisor offered to meet by phone. She did not ask. I think this was not a great decision, however.

          1. CatMintCat*

            It also means that, going forward, women are less likely to be appointed to positions that, if the VP was any sort of normal, would have that sort of access, because they won’t then have that access. Discrimination suits down the line, perhaps?

            1. Sandy*

              Right, it even can affect women OUTSIDE the administration too. You can’t, for example, send a female reporter to do an interview with the VP because he’ll insist someone else be in the room.

              1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

                Has that really happened though? Really? I imagine that if you’re meeting with the VP, you’ll likely be in the room with other people anyway. If it were actually impeding anything, it would have made the news already. Other than people making jokes about it, there haven’t been any reports of anyone being negatively affected by this at all.

                1. Sandy*

                  How can we know that? And that’s not how we should be making decisions. The point is that if a policy affects men and women differently so that one or the other gender gets less opportunity, that’s a bad policy and possibly illegal.

                2. Michio Pa*

                  The barometer for “is it legal/right to exclude people based on gender because of religious/personal preference?” is not “has anyone been affected/has the news reported any problems?” The barometer is the law that says it is illegal and wrong. It has made news because of how crazy and wrong it is, and the only reason it hasn’t made a bigger impact in the news is because of all the other crazy and wrong things happening at the same time and place.

                  You wouldn’t tell someone they had spinach in their teeth if they were falling off a cliff and also on fire and also being chased by a dragon. But that doesn’t mean it’s cool to have spinach in your teeth.

          2. Observer*

            I get that what the VP is doing presents a problem. I’m just saying “No fact to face meetings with men ever” is a much bigger deal than “No one on one meetings with men”. Because the latter may reduce access, but the former eliminates access.

            I saw that clarification later, and I have some mixed feelings about it. I understand that the supervisor is trying to be helpful, and if he can work with her effectively that way, fine. But it’s a really bad precedent to set. I hope that the employee *realy* realizes that this is subject to change at any time.

        2. tinyhipsterboy*

          She isn’t doing that, though. She asked if some of this is possible, and in this update OP even stated: “She’s said that she knows that there may be times where being in close proximity with men is unavoidable and emphasized to her leader that it was nothing personal, and in general has said that she’s very grateful that we’re willing to work with her on this at all.”

          That’s not a refusal to be around men; that’s an explicit recognition that she may have to do it despite her trauma.

    5. ExTexan or Y'All Betcha or something yet to be determined*

      There was a logic question on the GRE/GMAT/LSAT (can’t remember and clearly I was quite indecisive when I was in my 20s) of the “if the red house is next to the green house, where are the chickens?” variety. This one was about how to seat several people in multiple canoes, with rules like, “Each canoe has to have both men and women” and “there must be at least X of Y” or whatever.

      One of the conditions was, “And Bob cannot work with women.” All I could think – as I wasted time getting angry about it – was, “SO WHAT? THAT’S HIS PROBLEM NOT MINE IF HE DOESN’T LIKE WORKING WITH WOMEN AND CAN’T EVEN SIT WITH THEM THEN I GUESS HE CAN FIND ANOTHER JOB.”

      And – I still feel that way.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Yeah, I think I may have had to write in “Bob can bite me and then go work with a company that is fine with a discrimination suit.” and just taken the incorrect on that one. I would have FOUND a write in spot, even if they didn’t offer one.

      2. IDon’tRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore*

        So was the correct answer “toss Bob in the lake while everyone else sits in the canoes”?

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s always tempting to imagine role reversals. However it’s not helpful for situational issues.

      Every thing we do in human resources may turn into a lawsuit. We put protective walls in place and guidance but you get nowhere as a society or company being too afraid to do anything because “what if the next request is a racist!?” Then you say you can’t accommodate their request. Then maybe you get sued by that person instead of the other one? It’s a maze of laws.

    7. AnotherAlison*

      I think the impact of this request to only interact via phone could be a Big Deal or very minimal from a functional perspective. We don’t know enough detail. I have worked in matrix organizations where my “supervisor” assigned me to something, and for the next 9 months I would functionally interact with a project manager day-to-day. Next interaction with my boss would be him letting me know what my next assignment was, which could easily be a phone call or email. Even annual reviews were farmed out, so mine could be with that PM instead of my actual supervisor.

      From a legal can-of-worms perspective, I won’t touch that.

      1. Observer*

        Well, the supervisor apparently does regular check ins – that doesn’t sound like a “supervisor in name, but really a hands off grand-boss”. It sounds like an actual supervisor. So, yes, it’s a big deal.

    8. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I agree. Particularly given the free legal advice the OP was given, I’m pretty disappointed that they decided to just… ignore it, and make an illegal and discriminatory accommodation.

    9. Third username*

      I agree completely! I’m glad I’m not the only one that thinks this. I have sympathy for her, but you are going to encounter men everywhere, and trying to avoid them out in public, at work, on the bus is not feasible nor productive for anyone. I hope she finds some helpful coping skills. It must be hard to live in fear all of the time, but I don’t really agree with how the employer tackled this.

    10. Ennigaldi*

      Okay, for the last time, you cannot simply say “what if a MAN did this?” in every situation. There is a power dynamic at play, which is expressed most easily in the phrase “men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them.” This woman went through trauma and is dealing with it as professionally as she can. Not everything is a slippery slope.

      1. bonkerballs*

        Except the legal advice that was given in the original letter was you cannot assign seats based on gender. Period. So…it’s not being dealt with professionally, it’s being dealt with illegally.

      2. Holly*

        I agree with you in a lot of contexts, but one context where what you’re saying is not true *is* employment law. Legally, there are are potential landmines with what this company is allowing.

      3. Michio Pa*

        I feel such sympathy for this woman, and would want to do anything I could to make her feel comfortable. If I were male and her boss, with an understanding of the difference in situation as you said, I would try to accommodate her as much as possible.

        That said. If the company considers this accommodating a medical issue, I guess I could see it–but otherwise I don’t think it’s right. Because legally the company has to treat men and women the same. Not “give women a boost because of societal oppression”, but the same. That’s the law. If a woman had a religious obligation to be away from men, the company should similarly refuse it.

      4. Lanon*

        That is an opinion and not relevant to the illegality of assigning seats based on gender, which is what people are upset about here.

      5. RUKiddingMe*

        Thank you! It is not an equal comparisson no matter how many male feels there are. It’s just not.

    11. she was a fast machine*

      Am I the only one reading it that her manager still speaks to her in person, just that he doesn’t “drop in” aka show up randomly at her desk to talk? My interpretation is just that he’s been asked to not spontaneously show up at her desk with no warning, which honestly, is unsettling for me and I have no issues with men!

      1. Canonical23*

        I read that too. There’s also nothing in the update or original post that mentions that supervisor is having any issues or frustrations with the limitations that the employee has asked for.

        I also agree with you – almost all of my bosses have been female and it’s still a bit uncomfortable when they show up without warning to be like “hey I need to check in with you right now this minute.” I can only imagine how the power dynamic and previous trauma could escalate that exponentially.

      2. Canadian Natasha*

        That’s how I read it too. And I think she (the traumatised lady) is trying to be as little of an inconvenience as possible in the circumstance so not sure why the really uncharitable replies people are giving.

        1. Canadian Natasha*

          And I see further down the OP (writing as Spooky Sister) has confirmed in the comments that this is what she meant.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          Because a woman got an accommodation and males are trying to equate historical (and current) power dynamics as if they are the same. Trying to say that they are discriminsted against and given less opportunity etc. because of their gender.

  3. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    Op#1: Yikes, you have organized this so that her personal contact with men is limited, and asked the male supervisor not to speak with her in person? Just… yikes. I’m not even sure what to say.

    1. MT*

      agreed. If the OP is changing how one supervisor does their job just becuase they are male, then it’s totally out of line.

    2. Sylvan*

      Yeah. While I have sympathy for everyone in this situation, it’s… not a good situation.

      Please don’t treat people differently because of their gender.

  4. Observer*

    #1 – I think you need to be a bit more forthcoming. Not to share details, but to provide context. Let her know what you are doing so she’s not blind sided. But if she doesn’t want you to do this, she needs to change her script. So, either she says “I had an issue that I brought to HR, and the accommodated me. You’d need to talk to HR to see if they can do that for you.” Or you tell people “Employee had an issue that we accommodated per our policy.” If they ask “what issue?” a frosty “Our policy is to NOT discuss personal matters with anyone but the affected employee.” If they ask “What policy?” “The relevant policy on accommodation.”

    Bland, no information on details, but clearly explaining that there are policies involved.

    1. Shark Whisperer*

      I dunno, I think it would be better if was worded like SusanIvanova suggests above, “her move was in line with company policy.” I think talking about a vague “issue” will lead people to naturally ask questions because they want to know what sorts of issues will allow them to move their desk. If someone comes and asks to move their seat and citing that Jane asked and she got to move her seat, it would cause less intrusiveness to say “we have a written policy on when moves are allowed and Jane followed that policy. Do you have a business need or medical accommodation that needs to be taken into account?”

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      But unfortunately, everyone will jump to the conclusion it was the new guy that just moved next to her. And then that poor guy will wonder why everyone is avoiding him.

  5. SherSher*

    I once worked with a gentleman who over-pronounced his R’s… as in “AR-uh.” He is very well spoken, except for this and the occasional malaprop. (He once commented, after an arduous meeting, that we needed to bring in a mysognist to relieve some of our tension…..)

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      My kids drop their T’s, and I have no idea where they got that from (not their fathers or myself). So kitten sounds like ki’in, mountain sounds like mou’in, button is bu’in, etc.

      1. Cat Fan*

        I just realized that I talk like that too! I don’t know, I guess I picked up the lazy way of pronouncing words somewhere. When I sit here and fully pronounce the t’s in words like kitten and mitten, and water, it sounds so strange to my ears. I grew up in New Jersey.

        1. Classic Rando*

          I grew up in Connecticut and do the same, except “water”, I give that a… soft? T sound. But words like kitten and mitten and hard hittin’ New Britain all get the glottal stop. It might just be words that end in n though…

        2. Jennifer Thneed*

          Please don’t say it’s lazy. It’s just another way of pronouncing the letter, and it’s perfectly appropriate. It’s not the “standard” method, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

          I used to really think poorly of myself for droppin my final g’s (like how I spelled it just there), and I worked hard to stop, until I realized that it’s a California dialect thing, and then I embraced it. We don’t have enough regional variation in our language and I think that’s a sad thing.

      2. shersher*

        Reminds me of a friend who used to say buttons like bud-ins. She had a cat named Buttons, so even though we haven’t seen her forever, anytime we meet someone with a cat named Buttons, my sister and I exclaim”Bud-ins!!!” LOL

        1. AnaEatsEverything*

          Childhood Michigander, now Washingtonian, and can confirm. I’ll forever been self-conscious about my dropped t’s, and also my “gonnas” and “goin'”s.

        2. Jordijojo*

          Thank you for this! Michigander here who was like… people pronounce the ‘t’ in those words? It just seems like so much effort :)

      3. Gloucesterina*

        Linguists called dropping the t in kitten a glottal stop; it’s very common in many forms of British English.

  6. Observer*

    #1 – You are a large enough company that you should have a decent employment lawyer on tap. I understand that your actions are well meant, but honestly, you may be walking on some thin ice here. If you haven’t had a discussion with an employment lawyer, please do so ASAP.

    The seating thing is one thing. Not letting her supervisor meet with her in person is just so unusual that it raises a lot of questions, because it really could hamper his ability to do his job. Also, where does it end? Again, you’ve gone from something relatively low key for you with ongoing major impact for her (because she’s sitting at her desk all day) to something that far lowers stakes for her (because she’s not meeting with her supervisor all day, every day) but rather big from the organizational point of view. How far is too far? What other constraints are you going to put on management? And, what other things are you going to accommodate?

    1. Cat Fan*

      Yes, I work very closely with my manager and I just don’t know how we would get some things done if we don’t ever meet in person alone.

      1. mrs__peel*

        It really depends on the job. Sometimes it’s not an issue at all. Most of my managers for the last 8 years have worked hundreds of miles away from me in different states, and we’ve never had any problems getting things done just via phone/IM/email.

        1. Observer*

          But that’s clearly not how this place operates. It’s not helpful to assume that you can easily graft a totally different model on a category of interactions in an environment that is not conducive to it.

    2. Close Bracket*

      > Not letting her supervisor meet with her in person

      That’s not what happened. The supervisor *volunteered* not to *drop in*. Nobody is “letting” the supervisor do anything, and there are more ways to meet in person than dropping in.

      1. Observer*

        The thing here is that the supervisor may have felt pressured to do this because of the way it was being handled. So, it’s still something that the OP and HR need to be really careful of.

        In general, the no meetings bit really is a pretty bad precedent to set. If the supervisor is very comfortable with changing this if he feels necessary, it’s not so bad, but it’s something that needs someone to keep an eye on it.

        1. tinyhipsterboy*

          That isn’t what’s being done, though. There’s no indication that the supervisor isn’t meeting with her; in fact, Sister Spooky updated in the comments that the calling is to let the employee know that he’d be going to speak with her, and as has been stated in the letter and updates, the employee has stated that she recognizes there’s simply no way she can completely avoid men.

          Yes, it’s something to be cognizant of for fear of discrimination lawsuits, but there have been multiple statements to the contrary of the company feeling pressured. Trying to accommodate someone with trauma who recognizes her trauma can’t trump discrimination and normal work-force woes isn’t the same as being coerced to do so.

        2. tinyhipsterboy*

          The OP has stated multiple times that the employee recognizes there is no possible way to avoid men completely, and has updated in the comments before this response was posted that the supervisor is the one who is a) offering to do this of his own goodwill, and b) not at all avoiding meetings, but instead letting the employee know that he will be dropping by. Several people in the comments have even mentioned this to you.

          It’s definitely important to be aware of the risks of employment discrimination, but someone reacting to someone else’s trauma doesn’t inherently mean they’re being pressured to do so, especially when the employee has clearly stated their realistic expectations.

  7. Copier Admin Girl*

    OP #2: Good for you for knowing the quality of your content is what counts most! Plus, an over pronounced G just makes me think of how Forrest Gump says “run-NING” lol. That would be more noticeable to me than dropping a few G’s here and there.

    1. Classic Rando*

      My brain immediately went to “LonGisland” at the mention of over-pronounced Gs. So you might get mistaken for a Long Islander now, OP#2!

  8. Stranger than fiction*

    Is it just me, or does it seem like #1 did not bring up the gender discrimination possibility at all with the employee and just accommodated them, and that is why there’s now an adjacent issue of other people wanting to move their seats for what seems like no reason ?
    This is what happens when you take the path of least resistance.

    1. BRR*

      I reread the update and original letter several times and with the information given it sounds like the company broke the law by accommodating this employee. I’m rather disappointed with how this played out. (And my apologies if there was an unmentioned ADA request that was factored in).

  9. Time to get that arranged marriage my parents want*

    #1 – Confused at why everyone’s upset at a situation that worked out well for everyone actually involved. Also, the update doesn’t say this employee never interacts with her supervisor in person, so I’m not sure why everyone is jumping on that point.

    1. Time to get that arranged marriage my parents want*

      Like, if I was a man’s supervisor, and he has some kind of trauma with women, I would work to make him comfortable as well.

      1. mrs__peel*

        Same here. I have no patience for the Mike Pences of this world who insist that they can’t work with women for BS religious/ misogynist reasons, but a genuinely traumatic/PTSD-type situation is a very different kettle of fish to me.

      2. EH*

        This. The OP and the manager are being compassionate and trying to accommodate her within reason (e.g., not promising she’ll never have to sit near a man, etc).
        Trauma isn’t rational, and you can’t always just talk yourself into being okay when your body’s alarm system goes off because something reminds it of a horrible thing you experienced. Extreme trauma takes years to work on, and I don’t think it’s fair to demand survivors keep themselves out of the workforce until they’re “over” it.

      3. she was a fast machine*

        Agreed. I would want to be accommodating on my own for someone with traumatic experiences.

    2. tinyhipsterboy*

      I think some of the discomfort is that assigning seats based on gender does run in contradiction to gender-discrimination laws, so if anyone ended up upset by it, the company is open to a lawsuit. At the same time, though, the update and original post itself have specifically stated that the employee understands that not a lot can be done but she will work with what she can. I might be bringing personal experience into this, but to my knowledge trauma can bring about things like PTSD, and it sounds like she didn’t want to bring official ADA-type things into the office but still wanted to mitigate any trauma flashbacks and such.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        I think the extra tricky thing is that it could be an employee entirely separate from the situation who reports it. Like, say, if one of those coworkers who wanted to change desks figured it out. Or if someone in HR was uncomfortable with the decision. The primary players being happy doesn’t change that it may easily be illegal and reportable.

        1. tinyhipsterboy*

          For sure, yeah, it can be tricky. OP1 added context that the manager and employee worked the phone-call t hing out on their own, in case you didn’t see, so I’m not sure how much that could bring in, but the act of switching her desk originally could still run afoul of discrimination laws even if it stems from PTSD/other trauma (as the original post said).

          I’m not sure how much the moving of her to this new team, though, had to do with her situation. It’s entirely possible that she simply got assigned to a new team, and the only issue here was that original arrangement. :/ I’m just glad she and her boss have worked something out.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        One employee with a legit issue (PTSD) is a lot different than separating women and males into groups.

    3. Observer*

      Well, it’s not entirely clear that the situation worked out well for everyone. The seating change is one thing – ultimately no one was really hurt by that. But the constraints on the supervisor are potentially troubling, because he may find his job significantly more difficult to do, but feel like he can’t push back. And the OP doesn’t mention how the supervisor reacted or how they intent to handle other issues that crop up.

      They do indicate that they have SOME limit, and that they’ve conveyed that reality to the employee, so that’s good. But where is that limit? How will the recognize if they’ve hit it?

        1. Observer*

          I saw that later, and it helps. But what’s not clear to me is whether he felt pressured, and how comfortable he will be changing that if he needs to.

          Also, it’s not clear if it’s going to change how he manages her vs how he manages everyone else and what that means for everyone.

          I’m not saying that this is a terrible outcome, but there are some issues here that don’t seem to have been thought out.

      1. Myrin*

        OP commented below (as “Sister Spooky”) saying that it was the supervisor himself who offered to call the employee so as to not make her uncomfortable.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      Because he just sort of solved the symptom, not the problem. And now the company isn’t covered in the legal sense if someone calls out gender discrimination. If she truly has trauma issues, she should make it official. That way everyone/everything is covered.

      1. Time to get that arranged marriage my parents want*

        Well…unless OP is a therapist too, she can’t solve the problem of her coworker’s trauma. If everyone’s being accommodating without needing to “make it official”, there is no reason to make it official.

        1. Lanon*

          Except right now anyone claiming gender discrimination (especially the supervisor) would have an extremely strong case, exposing OP’s company to a huge gender discrimination lawsuit.

          1. Time to get that arranged marriage my parents want*

            Down below (or above?) OP says that the supervisor offered up the suggestion of the phone calls himself, so it’s a moot point in this case anyway.

    5. Positive Reframer*

      Sometimes being human means you get to look at a policy, appreciate that the policy is a good policy and still go against it. Policies are there to serve the people, not the other way around.

      1. IDon’tRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore*

        It’s not policy we’re talking about here, but employment law. Gender discrimination is illegal.

    6. hbc*

      I agree. I would do the phone call thing in a heartbeat for someone who had issues like this, whether my gender, height, hair style, or something else was triggering it. If someone else got upset that they got personal visits, I’d offer them the same accommodation, because why not as long as the work is getting done? The whole situation wouldn’t be ideal, but it would be a reasonable adjustment to the staff and space.

      Totally different issue if she was the one in charge and refused to give men feedback they needed one-on-one (a la Pence.) Though the solution there is pretty obvious, if you’re not a giant tool–don’t meet one-on-one with *anyone.* If that restricts where you can go and how far up the ladder you can climb, sorry.

    7. Michio Pa*

      Yeah… I’m happy it worked out for everyone and the individual supervisor and employee are happy. Ultimately that is the goal.

      But I’m also concerned that someone in a comparable situation will read this story on this popular blog, and allow the Mike Pence’s of the world to discriminate. Yes it would be like someone reading that update about maxi pads in the car and discriminating against trans people, aka taking the wrong lesson from the story, but I’m not sure the right lesson is so obvious here–hence why the commentariat is divided.

  10. tinyhipsterboy*

    OP1 is such a tricky situation! I really, truly hesitate to call it sexist, not because men have privilege in society, but because trauma from past events can have lasting, devastating effects. Having an off-hand comment trigger flashbacks and panic attacks can derail your entire week, from what I understand. I’d worry a little bit about the impact to productivity with her manager only calling in to check on her, but given that OP only says that they’re working with her instead of always doing that, I’d imagine that there are times where if it’s urgent he will indeed talk to her in person.

    I get it if the situation were reversed it’d be different, but… that’s also a really risky way to compare things, given that we have so many discussions online about how a joke coming from a marginalized group is different from the same joke coming from a majority group. OP explicitly said that the worker in question understands things can’t always be done, considering both Alison’s advice and the legal ramifications, and it sounds like the worker has acknowledged that and is willing to do what she can to minimize her discomfort while also minimizing any impact to the office. Hell, OP specifically stated they told her they can’t guarantee anything, so while I worry about them running afoul of gender-discrimination laws, I do think that that’s something they’re keeping in mind.

  11. Sister Spooky*

    OP for #1- our HR department was definitely involved in this, though I’m unsure if they consulted with our legal counsel. To clarify, she did not ask her make supervisor to call her. She didn’t ask him for anything, simply made him aware that she struggles with this so he’d have context if she appeared to be nervous or uncomfortable around him. He offered to call her, in part because he doesn’t want to make her uncomfortable any more than she wants to be made uncomfortable. It was a mutually beneficial agreement.

    I’m not disagreeing with anything anyone else is saying and this wasn’t my decision to make, only to weigh in on. Just sharing details.

    1. she was a fast machine*

      OP, I’m glad you clarified, a lot of people are just assuming your employee was demanding all of this special treatment when in fact it looks like she is being sensitive to how her issues effect others. Kudos to both her and her supervisor for putting their cards on the table and working out something that works for them.

    2. OfOtherWorlds*

      The fact that calling rather than dropping by was the supervisors decision rather than a requirement from above makes me feel a lot less icky about the whole thing. If the “no dropping by” thing had been policy, I would, as a man, feel discriminated against, although I don’t know if that rises to the level of unlawful sex discrimination.

    3. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      I doubt that the male supervisor feels entirely comfortable with this situation, even if he is empathetic and cooperative. Egg shells. I’ve been thinking about this one more, and I just can’t make it right. It seems very wrong to even entertain the idea of this gender bias. I will don the black hat–I guess I’m just not that empathetic in this situation.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Funny when gender bias goes the other way (i.e. almost always) males don’t usually have a problem with it…

  12. Anonanon*

    The advice #2 was given strikes a nerve for me. If OP works in a public speaking type role, then the advice their professor provided makes sense. However, if it’s only to project a high level of education, then I think it reinforces bad stereotypes. Being articulate and communicating effectively is one thing, but changing an accent to sound more educated is quite another.

    I manage remote employees who are from various different US regions. All educated, experienced professionals. A colleague once bad-mouthed one of my direct reports as being uneducated. He is not. He just has a Southern accent. He is very articulate and experienced, and I have never had the impression he wasn’t either of those things. All I could base this comment on was his accent and nothing more.

  13. Goya de la Mancha*

    #1 – I’m probably wrong, but I read the update as the supervisor would call her to check-in or set up a meeting time instead of just “popping by” unannounced?

    If that’s not the case, then the solution worries me. I’m guessing she’s playing down her own issues when saying “I just asked and they let me” when talking to other people.

    1. Sister Spooky*

      This is correct. What is most uncomfortable for her is close proximity particularly when someone is behind her. So he just offered not to stop by her desk unannounced or sit down with her there which is essentially knee to knee because we are in a cubicle environment. If they are meeting in a room there will be a few feet between them and she can choose the seat nearest the door.

      1. Jaz*

        I have PTSD and have been offered similar accommodations at both my previous jobs. I’ve also been given permission to always have the door open during one-on-one meetings. I guess it’s a bit different because I request this with all colleagues (the trauma involved both male and female offenders) but the accommodations don’t seem to have placed any unreasonable burden on my employers and I would not have been able to work without them.

  14. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Accents are a bit funny. I’m from Minnesota and when I moved to the city from a small town I noticed a less distinct accent and just a more urbane way of speaking. So I kind of adapted.

    Frankly, the way I speak sounds strange to almost everyone not from the area. I definitely lengthen my vowels! And, having grown up spending time on Lake Superior (and reading James Herriot books nonstop), I’m afraid I drop my H’s.

    It’s a disaster. Think “Come from Away” meets Sarah Palin.

  15. Ennigaldi*

    Oof, I also needed to ask for accommodation by moving desks at Lastjob and it was nearly impossible to keep the reason under wraps. It looked like I got preferential treatment, but I wasn’t going to tell everyone about my bottoming-out mental health, my psychiatrist’s endorsement of needing quieter space, and the formal request I filed with HR. So instead everyone assumed it was because I hated the coworker I had sat next to.

    Best of luck, OP1, it’s hard to get that message across without people asking questions.

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