updates: the office pee-er, the engagement ring, 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. I think I know who the office pee-er is (#3 at the link)

I wrote to you about the person that was peeing all over the women’s bathroom toilet and floor. I thought it was a certain woman, and asked for your opinion on whether I should say something. I am really glad I didn’t, because that woman came to me herself and asked if we could do something about it, as she was tired of using the bathroom with urine sprayed everywhere (I work in HR).

I discussed the situation with the HR Director, who told me that they were narrowing in on identifying the culprit. We have cameras all around that area (but not in the bathroom itself, of course), so it was easy enough to watch footage and check the toilet frequently to identify who the pee bandit was. Turns out it is a very sweet, very benign special needs staff member. The HR Director had a discreet conversation with the employee’s father, and the situation has been resolved. Thank you!

2. Should I tell my manager about my bulimia(#5 at the link)

Not a single commentator here thought that I should reveal my bulimia at work, and I took that to heart. I wonder if I was just feeling very alone and wanting to reach out, because after I slept on my question a few days I realized what a terrible idea it was!

Unfortunately, the news that I would be out for an unspecified amount of time again did not go over well. My boss became visibly upset, asked me if this was absolutely necessary and that I was really leaving everyone in the lurch. She wanted to know why I hadn’t told her earlier that this could be a possibility and that it was hard for the team to function with me “taking time off” every year. How I wish I were here working and living life instead of going to a treatment facility! I feel guilty and concerned about what will happen with my job going forward. At the same time, I NEED to do this. I didn’t mention it in my first letter, but I often actually purge at the office (never on our floor, but still). I have been afraid for awhile now that I will be caught and that would be far worse than me taking medical leave. And frankly, after so many years I am acknowledging that my body just can’t bounce back like it did when I was 15, and that I am really at a high risk of serious medical complications or even death.

I do have FMLA that will be available for me to use, so my job is protected in that sense.

I leave as soon as there is a bed available, and I am hopeful that after this I will be able to recover. The truth about work is that I will be a much better employee without this hanging over my head, and I hope I get the chance to prove that when I return. Thank you to everyone who was kind and supportive to me in the comments – nobody judged me, and I am thankful for that!

3. I can’t go on vacation because no temp can meet my boss’s demanding expectations

I did mean to send an update and it simply slipped my mind. It must be because my boss suddenly and unexpectedly retired and my new boss is amazing and had no qualms about me taking the three weeks off! :) It almost felt as if I’d quit my job – I was gone so long!

She is ten years younger than I am and has two young children. It’s a whole new work-world for me. I got to take my time off AND I’ve already pre-booked three weeks next summer. She is a huge proponent of work/life balance. In fact she’s off next week herself!

I was actually encouraged to train a backup person to cover some of my duties and Ms. New Boss said it’s not the end of the world if she doesn’t have my specialized reports for one time in the year. I love her haha!

In truth, I ended up going to counseling to work through the damage caused by my old boss. I guess I coped because I thought I truly had no choice in the matter.

I appreciated all the helpful suggestions I received from your readers and many of them have been put in place now. Imagine!

The last few months have been so relaxing in comparison with my prior experience. I still have some habits to break though. I am only taking two days off at the end of December. Ms. New Boss is off that entire week and the first week in January. I’ll have to learn by example I guess!!

4. My current employer asked my new job to push back my start date (#4 at the link)

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question from a few months ago (and thank you to all of the AAM commenters who shared their thoughts as well!). I wanted to provide an update now that I’m on the other side of the transition and fully settled into my new role. As a few commenters suggested, the relationship between my new and old companies was more nuanced where my departure was concerned.

My new manager kept me in the loop to the best of his abilities after I expressed that I had not made any changes to my start date. Shortly thereafter, my previous employer presented me with a temporary transition arrangement. The details had been negotiated by parties well above my station, including someone who had transitioned from my previous employer to my new employer several years ago. My start date was effectively pushed back, but my previous employer compensated me at my new rate through the soft transition. I was asked for my blessing, which I gave, but not necessarily my input.

As strange as it was to navigate, the transition ultimately worked in my favor. My new employer took my previous employer’s request for an extension as an indicator of my value and I’m genuinely happy in my new role (a first!). Thank you again for all of your invaluable guidance.

5. Do ethics rules prohibit accepting an engagement ring(#4 at the link, first update here)

I’m the OP who had the contractor-friend “Jennifer” and her now-fiancee “Steve” who is a government worker, where “Jennifer” was threatened with being rolled off her contract because of her relationship with “Steve”, even though they didn’t work at the same agency. I’d already provided an update where “Jennifer”‘s government lead got dismissed…apparently there was a lot more going on there than met the eye.

Well, Jennifer and Steve have set a date, and I’m invited. On top of that, they’ve told me that Jennifer has accepted a job *in* government, and she’ll be working in the same building as Steve, but not for the same agency. They’ll be peers. Carpooling for the win!

{ 95 comments… read them below }

  1. Martha Marcy May Marlene*

    Re: #5 Living together, driving in together and working in the same building is a receipe for disaster. Relationships with that level of codependentcy are not healthy and usually are doomed. I hope Steve and Jennifer know what they are getting into.

    1. Laura H.*

      Every couple is different and people usually try things at least once.

      What doesn’t work for some might work for others. I’m not quite sure a everything is this way approach is the one to take.

      Best wishes for your coupled coworkers OP.

    2. Roja*

      Wow, that’s an unnecessarily pessimistic view. Many couples work together just fine, and being codependent is a very separate (and much more serious) thing than being coworkers and a couple.

      Anyways, best of luck to them and all the LWs!

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I type this as someone who probably wouldn’t work well professionally with my spouse: people do this all the time. Especially as they are not even on the same team, or at the same employer, but just close enough to each other’s workplaces to carpool–there’s a reason “never carpool with your spouse–you already live with them” is not a hoary old chestnut.

      My husband carpools with two coworkers when their schedules permit, and calling them ‘codependent’ would be weird.

    4. Stuff*

      Uh – wow – uh – I’m speechless at this.. I don’t know about your relationships but this can work out just fine for people.

    5. Lizzy May*

      This seems very harsh. Like other have said, many couples do this successfully. Also, they’re working in the same building, not in the same agency. It’s very possible they’ll see each other in the elevator and nothing else during the work day.

    6. animaniactoo*

      [raises eyebrows] Depends on how they manage working in the same building and the carpooling.

      Many people manage this setup just fine, figuring out getting to work or home separately if necessary, and going to lunch with others and not just each other all the time and waving at each other in the hallway but not stopping by each other’s desks all the time.

      Co-dependency only rears its head if they don’t know how to do those things.

      1. Nonsensical*

        If it is anything like my building, you can be in the same building as another person and never see them. I doubt them working and carpooling together is going to dramatically impact their work or foster co-dependency. As long as they network and don’t eat lunch together all the time, it should be fine.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        I’m OP#5, and I am reading this… I’m a good friend, but not really close enough to be asked to say a toast. I’m familiar, also, with the building that “Jennifer” and “Steve” are going to be working in, and I don’t think it’s an issue. It’s huge, has multiple agencies in it, and they will never see each other during the workday unless they choose to have lunch together. They’ll be fine.

    7. PB*

      Wow. Lots of couples do this successfully. There’s no reason to think this is a problem, and really has nothing to do with the letter.

      1. Venus*

        There is never a guarantee that any couple will be fine, but I think it’s safe to say that relationships do not thrive or perish based on a carpooling arrangement…

    8. mkt*

      Hubby and I did this for 3-4 years before my schedule changed. It was fine for us, and I know others who are also successfully navigating the same type of arrangement.

      I guess I don’t see the big deal, or the assumption straight away that it’s an unhealthy codependent relationship.

    9. Rovannen*

      Please let me reassure you it can work! My husband and I have been carpooling & working together for the past 10+ years; married 35 years.

    10. HistoryChick*

      My husband and I work for the same company. Different floors & different departments, although sometimes our functions do cross. We commute together each day (1.5 hours each way) and we’ve been doing it successfully for quite a while. The only thing that this arrangement has limited for us is jumping into certain positions. I wouldn’t ever apply for a position within his department, which might be a good fit for me. A manager position recently opened up on my team that would be a great fit for him if I wasn’t on the team and so this was obviously was a no go for him. Occasionally we eat lunch together, but we mostly do our own thing, and we have very health lives with and outside of each other. It’s quite a jump to say that this type of arrangement is doomed and unhealthy. That said, we did have several long and in-depth conversations about working in the same company before I even applied to work there! We have a game plan in place if either of us ever feels like it becomes a problem, and it is worth discussing and trying to lay out plans as much as you can. (For example, we discussed what would happen if, heaven forbid, our relationship falls apart. I know I’ll be the one looking for a new job.) However, Jennifer and Steve aren’t even at the same agency – just the same building, so I think it would require less discussion and maneuvering. Good luck to Jennifer and Steve! Yay for helping the environment with carpooling!

    11. That girl from Quinn's house*

      That is ridiculous. Government workers tend to have rigid schedules in the 8-5 window, so carpooling probably makes perfect sense. And if they’re in the same building but different departments, they won’t see each other too much, I really doubt that the Llama Inspectors at the USDA spend much time with the Teapot Analysts in the FBI, even if they’re in the same building (hypothetically.)

    12. Phoenix Programmer*

      You sound like so many wrong people telling my husband him being stay at home will never work.

      4 years later it’s working out fine and we are incredibly happy with the set up.

      Also co-dependent? That word does not mean what you think it means.

    13. SusanIvanova*

      My building holds over 9,000 people. That’s plenty of space for any relationship.

      They’re government, so the building’s not *that* big (unless it’s the Pentagon) but it’s probably big enough that they won’t be running into each other all the time.

    14. Hmmm*

      What does working together have to do with codependency??

      My spouse and I worked together for 5+ years, and had no problems at all.

    15. Autumnheart*

      Pretty sure every couple who runs a business together might have something to say about that.

      And yeah, my building houses 5000 people. There are plenty of towns smaller than that.

    16. Holly*

      I am sorry if you had a bad experience or know someone who did, but this is a really inappropriate place for that comment, and nothing about carpooling and working in the same building says what you’re declaring it does.

    17. Lady Blerd*

      I see situations like #5 every day where I work so I fully disagree. If it doesn’t work out, it’s lonely because if issues outside of t he carpool/work peer situation.

    18. pcake*

      I worked with a S/O for years with no problems at all. We usually rode in together and drove back together, and enjoyed talking about the day.

    19. TechWorker*

      I live my partner, we work for the same place (we don’t drive in together any more, but that’s because we moved closer – he usually cycles and I usually walk). We’re not on the same team and rarely interact in a professional context, I can assure you it’s just fine :)

    20. Mimi*

      My husband and I have lived, carpooled, and worked together at 2 companies (though never on the same team!), and for an additional year we lived and carpooled together and worked about a block apart. It’s going fine, we have a baby and a dog and are quite happily married. We enjoy our time together but have plenty of separate interests and friends, and I’d estimate are no more codependent than any long-term couple. I’m betting Steve and Jennifer will do just fine.

    21. justcourt*

      Just out of curiosity, is it just couples who travel together in cars who are codependent? What about couples who travel together on planes? On subways? Ferries? Or, gasp, couples who share sleeper compartments on trains?

        1. Beaded Librarian*

          My father and stepmom were actually asked how strong their marriage was when they went to buy their first tandem bike. It takes very strong communication to ride one together especially if both parties are new at it.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I had an SO who was an avid cyclist, and wanted us to ride tandem. I thought about it for a long time, and eventually said no, which upset him, but I did have a bad feeling about it that got worse as I got to know him more. And now I know why! Our communication was terrible; as evidenced by the fact that he eventually dumped me out of the blue at the end of a mid-week date (picnic dinner, nature hike, the dumping). I would’ve seen that coming (and maybe even felt the same way he did about ending things) if our connection was better. I just did not trust him to go on a tandem ride with me and could not explain why.

            1. Mrs Mary Smiling*

              I’m so sorry you were dumped, but I just loved the mental image, like a movie montage of the picnic dinner, nature hike, the dumping. It has, like green leafy tendrils creating a picturebook type frame around the warmly colored vignettes of each scene. So, thank you??

    22. AcademiaNut*

      It’s totally doable but you need reasonable people and reasonable expectations.

      I work in the same department as my spouse (we met at work), and there are a half-dozen other couples in the same department, and there is never any work related drama, and most of the relationships are of years or decades duration.

      You need a healthy relationship, and you need to be able to keep your personal life out of the workplace, and you need to keep somewhat separate at work. I think it’s harder if you work really closely – my work doesn’t really overlap with my husband’s at all – and there should definitely not be any supervisory relationship.

      If your relationship is unstable, or either of you has trouble with boundaries or appropriate behaviour, then I’ll agree it’s a bad idea.

    23. Screenwriter/Mom*

      Really, there’s nothing “codependent” about this! Plenty of husband and wife teams work in the same office, sometimes at the same job (running a high-stress TV show together, for example). This couple will be in entirely different jobs merely in the same large office building. How lovely for them! They can drive in together and chat with each other both ways–many husbands and wives enjoy each other’s company. I’ve been married for almost 40 years and still prefer my husband’s company to any other (and he feels the same way). There are times I’ve even asked him to come to work with me when I was under extreme stress (running a high-stress TV show on my own, to be specific), just to help me feel calmer! I feel that you’re being weirdly pessimistic about something that might not work for you, but works for umpteen other couples.

    24. Freelance Everything*

      My parents lived together, drove together and worked in the same office. At one point my mother was my father’s boss. And that was happening for at least 6 years.

      Spending time together to that degree does not have to equal co-dependency.

    25. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      HAHAHAHA Nice one! Oh wait, you’re serious.

      This… isn’t how things work in real life? What about all the couples who own and run small businesses together? Doomed or no? Does someone need to tell them all what they are getting into?

    26. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      Granted, I would throttle my own husband if we worked at the same place, but that’s our own peculiarity. In my field there are many, many couples who work and travel together all the time. We often move around from job to job; if they didn’t work together they would never see each other. It works for plenty of relationships and I don’t see how coming to work together = codependent.

    27. Mrs Mary Smiling*

      BRB, got to send a chat to my husband across campus about the impending disaster. I think maybe 60% of academia is also in trouble.

  2. Falling Diphthong*

    Re #5: We should keep a tally of what percentage of updates fall into “It turned out the problem in the first letter was a metaphor for a huge pile of disfunction.”

  3. Lola*

    For OP #2, how can they say OP isn’t allowed to have medical leave? What if OP had cancer? Jerks. Do what you need to do and get better!

    1. fposte*

      Ultimately, since the OP has FMLA, they can’t actually say that, or at least they can’t deny her legitimate FMLA, which this would seem to be. OP’s manager is asking for legal trouble if she’s making it hard for people to use FMLA.

      1. Call me St. Vincent*

        OP is also likely protected under Title I of the ADA. Leave can be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

        I too was dismayed at the manager seemingly pressuring an employee not to get necessary medical treatment. Yuck.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        Also, managers like this are why we need laws. Some people complain about government intervention, but in every case I’ve seen the laws are there *because* people didn’t do the right thing on their own.

    2. Nonsensical*

      I wonder if the OP meant a leave of absence rather than medical leave. FMLA isn’t determined by the employer but the employer can decide not to grant a leave of absence.

      1. OP2*

        OP here. I was on FMLA and also receiving short term disability benefits. She wasn’t denying me FMLA, she was just making me feel bad about it with her comments.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP definitely meant medical leave (it’s described at length in the original letter). I think OP’s boss doesn’t understand that it’s inappropriate to make comments regarding medical/FMLA leave.

        1. Snarl Trolley*

          Just curiosity here – when would comments that pressure an employee to not use FMLA, etc, cross the line from inappropriate into illegal? Or is it only illegal if they outright deny them their leave?

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            They cross the line once they create an “adverse work action.” That might mean making it difficult for OP to take the leave (FMLA interference); penalizing OP for having taken leave in OP’s performance evals, compensation, etc. (FMLA retaliation); or changing the material conditions of the workplace for OP, such that OP and a reasonable person in OP’s shoes would feel that the terms of their employment had fundamentally changed because of their efforts to access FMLA leave.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      My concern is the manager already made threatening noises. I would certainly alert HR to this when filing the FMLA paperwork. The chances that the manager will pull some sort of stunt will be higher, whether it is changing OPs job duties, marking them down on the performance review due to their “not doing as much work as the others” etc. I had both things happen when I took FMLA for my Dad.
      OP, please become very familiar with your rights.

      1. Cat wrangler*

        I’m in the UK and witnessed a Band 8 nurse (so management level and very experienced) in the NHS ask a colleague not to go home immediately but to ‘finish up’ a few tasks after handing in her sick note signing her off work from her GP. It’s illegal in the UK to compel somone to work once they’ve been signed off sick…. but it still happens. It sucks.

    4. Holly*

      Maybe I misread the comment, but I wonder if OP took the AAM advice too literally and thought that they shouldn’t tell their boss that it was medical leave at all?? OP says “the news that I would be out for an unspecified amount of time again did not go over well” and the boss just refers to it as “taking time off.” If that’s the case, I hope OP knows that they should be specifically noting it’s a medical issue.

      1. OP2*

        OP here. She knew it was medical and that I would be taking FMLA. I was going to be out for an unspecified amount of time because, I was. It was just inconvenient for her and she didn’t like it.

        1. TechWorker*

          Right and because in some people’s minds, if they can’t visibly see you’re sick then you’re obviously not…
          I’m sorry your manager is a jerk & I wish you all the best with your recovery. Them being weird about this is 100% not on you! You have the right to take sick time & time to get better the same as any other illness.

  4. Clorinda*

    #2: I’m pulling for you. Please keep on taking care of yourself and advocating for your own health. Do what you know you need, especially right now in this very food-focused holiday season.

  5. One Esk Nineteen*

    Update #2’s boss is upset that they’re taking time off every…year? Every YEAR? every y e a r ?

    Leaving aside the fact it’s not actually time off, it’s medical treatment, I just Cannot with this idea. What, does this boss think employees are house-elf-bots?

    1. Observer*

      Also, leaving aside the fact that it’s NOT “every year”!

      But, yes that was also one of my first thoughts. Does your boss routinely deny any and all leave requests? Or is it just you?

      1. OP2*

        Not really. When I’m out for short periods of time it’s not inconvenient for her and this really made it difficult for her me to be out for so long. Due to the sensitive nature of what I handle I can’t push it down, so she has to handle everything.

          1. OP2*

            I mean, for some things. But everyone has to get approval from me, and if not, then they need to go above me.

    2. Nonsensical*

      It is not that unthinkable as you might think. I believe she means FMLA leave, not vacation leave. FMLA leave is unpredictable and many bosses moan about it. I, myself, actually had my employer doing illegal things in response to the fact I took a FMLA absence last year. They refused to give me work even when I had been back for 6 months and hadn’t had any outright absences. They didn’t realize it was illegal to do so. Many managers are not well versed on how FMLA protects the employee.

  6. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Dear OP 2: Do not feel guilty for being sick. And definitely not for trying to get better. Your boss is not staying up at night thinking about you, really. She is not. She is thinking about herself and her problems. Maybe she is thinking you are adding to those problems, but guess what, she’d be thinking the same thing if you were dead. So let her worry about herself, like she’s doing and you take care of you.

  7. animaniactoo*

    OP#2 – I hope that everything goes well for you. Take care of yourself – not just because you’ll be better and stronger for it as a person and an employee, but because you deserve to. Rooting for you. [e-hugs] (if you want them)

  8. Bingo*

    OP # 2 – I am so so glad you are prioritizing your health. I’m sorry your boss can’t seem to grasp that there is something serious and important at stake here. As a boss (and as someone also in recovery from an eating disorder) that really grinds my gears, so to speak. But at the end of the day know that you are doing the right thing and even if your boss can’t see it, you can, and those closest to you can, and all of us here on AMA can as well. You got this.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Bingo. Your boss is myopic, OP. You are the broader thinking person here. The boss should have been able to figure out, “let OP go and she will come back a better employee because we let her have the time she requested”. That was not the first thought Boss had and it wasn’t the second thought either.
      I am glad you got the time and if you want to come back and tell us how you are doing. I wish you the best always.

  9. Suzy Q*

    It’s both good that the problem in #1 was investigated and that the unwitting culprit was handled with delicacy and tact.

    1. OP1*

      Yes, thank you. This company has its dysfunctional moments, but I have to say it is the nicest, kindest place I have ever worked.

        1. Beaded Librarian*

          Sometimes when working with the developmentally disabled it is necessary to bring their parents or caregivers in on some situations or conversations.

          I work at a library and we have a developmentally disabled volunteer who my director had to have a series of meetings with his father because she did talk with the volunteer but things weren’t changing. So since we didn’t want to stop having them all together the director talked to his father if an issue came up that addressing the volunteer directly didn’t help.

          We actually have a different case of an employee who is less developmental disabled who we are having trouble with (he struggles with the only thing that is part of his job shelving) and he has both given permission for his sister to be involved and wants her to be. In his case we really need to let him go as he improves for a short period of time but then back slides.

          But the previous directors and circulation manager never seemed to realize the problem and so even with documentation and two different job coaches to help him it had been allowed to go on so long his sister has serious traction to force hands for a while longer.

        2. AMT*

          Yeah, I’m not sure why an intellectually disabled person automatically makes it okay to involve a parent involved in their work. I know that if the employee were me, I’d feel embarrassed and violated. The manager should start with the assumption that the employee can understand “pee more carefully” without her dad explaining it.

          1. Win*

            I would assume that, depending on the unknown disability in this case, that it was appropriate action to take. However… if it wasn’t…. maybe we can get another update on the fallout!

  10. Sara without an H*

    OP#3: Yay! Yes, you probably have a lot to unlearn from your experience with Bad Old Boss. (BTW, I wonder how he’s spending his time, now that he’s retired? He’s either climbing the walls with nothing to do, or he’s driving his spouse/partner crazy.)

  11. Veger*

    Predicted future update for OP2 is as follows.

    I’m feeling much better now! Treatment was great, and I have many new tools for life. Also, I’m now working at a better paying job . My new manager does their job well and is a good human being.

    Best wishes OP.

  12. Anon for this*

    #2 – From both your letter and your update, you seem like so many women with eating disorders I’ve met over the years – high achieving, extremely conscientious, horrified of disappointing anyone, and pretty hard on yourself. I am so enraged on your behalf that your manager is questioning your leave!

    I’m writing because I was once in a similar situation – I had a mostly-wonderful manager who was outwardly supportive of her team’s medical leave but made it clear that she wanted to know the details of our particular situations, supposedly so she could prepare and plan around our absences. I confided in her (she made it really uncomfortable for us not to) and while it didn’t hurt my day to day with her, in the long run it cost me a promotion and I will always wish I had handled it differently. I would suggest in the future, if she questions your “time off”, you say something along the lines of “I have a long-term medical condition, which I am able to manage well, so long as I am able to receive treatment when it is needed.” I would also consider directing her to HR if she probes further or further vocalizes (or otherwise demonstrates) resistance to your leave, provided you have a good department – a good HR would shut this down fast.

    I’m so glad that you are prioritizing your health and getting the treatment you need. I wish you the best of luck!

  13. ella*

    I’m not saying this to criticize OP1 at all, because they used really common phrasing that I see a lot of people use, but I would like to suggest that people try to say “disabled” rather than “special needs,” particularly when talking about adults. I’ve heard from multiple disabled people that they dislike the “special needs” phrasing because it comes out of “special education” or “special needs education,” and subtly ties disabled people to school and childhood. It’s also not a word that disabled people came up with or ever use to describe themselves. Descriptors like “developmentally disabled” or “intellectually disabled” are more descriptive of whatever OP’s coworker has going on.

    I do want to commend OP and their employer for employing disabled people at all (my sister is intellectually disabled and finding an employer that treats her well, keeps her busy, and pays her at least minimum wage has been an adventure), as well as treating this issue with compassion and delicacy. At the end of the day that is way more important than the language OP used to describe the person in question. I’m only mentioning it because I had never thought about the implications of special needs vs disabled, but once I had it explained to me I see it everywhere, so I wanted to throw it out there for other people to consider and decide for themselves.

    Thanks again, OP1, for the update and for how the situation was handled.

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