I can’t trust the snacks from my coworker, large employee won’t use heavy duty chair, and more

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

1. My boss wants me to fire a heavier employee if she won’t use a heavy duty chair

One of my employees is a rather heavy person and has broken four chairs in the past year. My office is pretty flexible about office equipment, so after the first chair, I gave her the catalogue to pick what she needed. After chair #2 and two conference room chairs broke, I suggested getting a heavy duty chair. She burst into tears and said she didn’t want a “fat lady chair” because it was stigmatizing. I get it. Our culture is unforgiving to fat people, especially fat women. Chair #3 met the fate of chair #2, so for chair #4 I ordered her a heavy duty chair. She swapped it with a coworker. That chair broke too. My boss, looking at our supply budget, said that she takes and uses a heavy-duty chair or she is gone.

So, my question to you is what did I do wrong to get to this point? And how should I approach the “use this chair or be fired” conversation? She’s an otherwise okay employee, not the best, not the worst. I just can’t have her absorbing the equipment budget for six people.

It’s reasonable to require her to sit in a chair rated for her weight, but it doesn’t sound like you’ve told her yet that this isn’t optional — and if that’s the case, it’s premature to threaten to fire her.

I don’t think you did anything wrong to get to this point — you were trying to be understanding — but you do need to be more direct now and say something like, “We don’t have the equipment budget to replace chairs this frequently, so I need you to use the new chair I’m purchasing. You cannot swap it for someone else’s.” If she pushes back, say, “I’m sorry this is upsetting, but I don’t have any flexibility with the budget anymore, and I do need you to stick with the chair I’m purchasing.”

If your boss is really serious about firing her if she doesn’t comply, you’d be doing her a favor by letting her know that too. But ideally you’d explain to your boss that you haven’t yet been clear and direct with your employee that the chair isn’t optional (assuming I’m understanding that correctly), but that you’re going to make that clear now and announcing her job is at stake before you’ve done that will be counterproductive and alienating. If your employee refuses after you get clearer with her, that’s a different issue — one that wouldn’t about the chairs, but rather about her refusing to do something that you’ve explicitly told her she needs to do.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. I can’t trust the snacks from my sort-of-vegan coworker

For about a month every year I go vegan. I’m newer to my current job so this hasn’t yet happened but will very soon. The problem is that my coworker Bessy is vegan. But she’s not. We’re a very snacky office and food gets brought in a lot. One time I brought in a snack and read out the ingredients to make sure Bessy would know if it was vegan. The snack had skim milk and I expressed that I was sorry she wouldn’t be able to eat it. But she ate it. We’ve also been out to lunch and she’s eaten pizza with non-vegan cheese and Mexican food that says on the menu it’s traditionally cooked in lard.

I am so not the food police and could care less about what Bessy labels herself. She’s fantastic and I have a very good working relationship with her. The thing is that when I go vegan I try very hard to stay completely plant based. Bessy brings in homemade “vegan” snacks and desserts routinely. I’ve tried them every time she brings them. However, when I’m vegan, I don’t want to take a chance that there are animal or dairy based ingredients in what I eat. How do I opt out of her food without implying I think she’s not a real vegan? Just for clarification I’m connected to Bessy and other staff on social media where the vegan challenge is discussed openly so I can’t pretend I’m not doing it.

The easiest option is to just not take the food she brings in and not say anything about it. But if she asks, can you say, “I’m being really strict about seeing the ingredients on everything I eat this month”?

Of course, that won’t work as well if she sees that you’re eating treats other people bring in. Ideally it would be nice if you were able to just say, “Oh, I’m being super strict and I know you’re sometimes more flexible about ingredients” — but that’s the kind of thing some people get weird and defensive about, so I wouldn’t say it unless you know she won’t react that way.

3. Taking another job with a boundary-challenged ex-manager

Last year, I relocated to a different state, leaving a job that paid extremely well and gave me tons of opportunity for growth. While I enjoyed the paycheck, my employer had some serious boundary issues, and I struggled to maintain work/life balance. The issues stemmed primarily from the fact that he thought of me as a friend, first and foremost, rather than his employee, and would do things like text me all the time about work (and non-work) related things all hours of the day. It’s hard to get into specifics, because our whole relationship was a boundary issue in itself. I was a highly valued employee, and the company really tried to get me to stay.

I enjoy my new job, but opportunities for growth (especially in terms of pay) are somewhat limited, and the culture here isn’t all that healthy. Overall, though, I don’t have any major complaints.

My previous employer and I have kept in touch, and I now have an offer in front of me to work for the company remotely. The pay is significantly better than my current employer, and I’ll have more flexibility in terms of time off and scheduling.

Part of me thinks that working remotely will alleviate some of the boundary issues I experienced previously, but another part thinks I’m crazy for even considering it. I wish income wasn’t such a big factor, but I’m the breadwinner, and it is a significant factor in weighing the decision. Do you think it’s possible to establish boundaries with a boss when you previously didn’t do a good job of that?

I’d be very, very skeptical that it can be pulled off, especially about a relationship that you call “a boundary issue in itself” and especially with a manager who thinks of you as a friend more than an employee.

In theory, you could try having a very candid talk about what the issues were last time and what you’d need to be different this time … but even then I’d be skeptical. If you’ve seen this person be extraordinarily self-aware and able to make major changes in response to feedback, then maybe. But I’d go into it assuming that there’s a good chance the issues will recur, and figure out how willing you are to deal with that if they do.

4. My coworker keeps commenting that I work all the time

I’m a manager at a Fortune 500 health care company. I work a flexible schedule of 9 hour days (with a required 30 minute lunch break) so I can have a half day off every other Friday. I’m the only employee in my smaller satellite office that has a flexible schedule, as far as I’m aware.

I get into the office by 7:45am and leave by 4:45pm most days. A new employee recently started at my office, and she sits near me even though we work in different departments. She works an 8 hour day, getting into the office after I’m already here and leaving before I do.

She has recently started making comments to me about how I must live in the office because I’m always here, I guess as a way to make some small talk? I told her I leave before 5 so I’m not at the office late, but she has continued to make these comments on a daily basis. I’m the only one in my area she makes these comments to, even though others are here before her. This morning, she made a comment to the tune of, “Hey, at least you had a change of clothes for today!” I gave her a half hearted smile and shrug and went back to my work because I didn’t really know how else to respond. She seemed miffed that I didn’t reciprocate more.

Should I have reacted differently? I don’t complain or discuss my workload with her, so these comments seem really weird to begin with. Or am I just annoyed by some innocuous comments and I should just laugh and move on?

My bet is that she’s latched on to this as your mutual “thing” — in her mind, this is the small talk you make together and she thinks it’s enjoyable banter for you both, rather than realizing how annoying it is.

If you want to put a stop to it, you can say, “It sounds like you’re really concerned about my schedule. Like I’ve mentioned, I work nine-hour days so I can take a half day every other Friday. There isn’t anything weird about that, so I’m wondering if there’s something you’ve misunderstood.”

If it keeps happening after that, then she’s not someone who picks up on subtleties (although the above isn’t really subtle) and you’ll need to be more direct: “All this talk about my schedule is unnerving. Could we find a different topic?”

Or, sure, you could ignore it. But it sounds annoying, and it’s also not great if one of your employees happens to overhear her and starts thinking you’re working crazy hours and then feels like their own hours aren’t sufficient.

5. Can I ask if there have been changes to a job I turned down that would make me reconsider?

Last August, I applied for a job at a very small nonprofit. I was interviewed three times, including a full day on site to meet the employees and the board. I really fell in love with this organization and I think the job would be a great fit for me personally and professionally. However, they made it clear early on that the salary range was lower than my expectations and current salary – also significantly under market value. Each time it was brought up, I was honest that I was only willing to consider a lower salary in exchange for more flexibility and generous PTO. They made an offer and, unfortunately, indicated that they were firm on only offering two weeks vacation and no option to occasionally work from home – so really no flexibility or extra PTO at all! I turned down the offer and explained that I would need significantly more time off to make up for the reduction in salary and wished them well on their search.

Flash forward to now. The position has just been reposted for the third time. Is it ever appropriate to reach back out to see if they have reconsidered their stance on time off and flexibility? To be clear, if they haven’t I would not be interested in the job, but I’m wondering if seeing the candidate pool and their difficulty in filling the position would have made them soften the hardline stance. To add context, the board and the executive director have all been with the organization a very long time, and the previous person in this role worked there for 15 years, so I think some of the rigidity around time off and working from home was due to being unfamiliar with how the standards for flexible work arrangements have evolved in recent years. I imagine that other candidates are similarly turned off by the combination of low salary with high demands and no flexibility because otherwise this job would be quite desirable in my field and region.

Should I just assume that if they changed their minds, they would have contacted me and leave it alone? Or would it look strange or unprofessional to reach back out to see if they have reconsidered some of their positions?

It won’t look strange or unprofessional to reach back out. That said, it’s not likely to be terribly fruitful — they have the same info you do about what the sticking points were last time, and if they were ready to reconsider, they’d likely let you know.

But there’s nothing wrong with saying something like, “I noticed the X position is still open. I know we couldn’t agree on the terms of your offer back in August, but I wanted to reiterate how excited I’d be to do this work if you end up having any flexibility on the salary range or the PTO and remote work. I realize that likely hasn’t changed — but if it ever does, please know I’d love to talk.”

{ 700 comments… read them below }

    1. LW1 Here*

      LW1 here, yes please, no fat shaming. That is why this whole situation happened in the first place and why she doesn’t want to feel singled out.

      Everyone, I love all your comments and will try to get to as many as possible. I have a meeting set up with my report on Tuesday, so some scripts would be great. I want to do the direct order, but I want to follow-up with showing understanding and support, especially if she feels bullied at any point. It shouldn’t happen with our group, but if it does I want her to know that I have her back.

      1. WellRed*

        Please don’t mix up bullying with an admittedly awkward conversation about this situation. It needs to happen and you have already shown that you will be compassionate. And, if her coworkers haven’t bullied her previously, I’d give them the benefit of the doubt now that they still won’t.

        1. Observer*

          Why would you give them the benefit of the doubt is such a case.

          The OP says that they don’t expect it to happen in their group, and I trust their judgement. But if such a thing HAD happened? No way I’d be “giving them the benefit of the doubt” that they suddenly became nice. I’d be watching them like hawks.

          1. WellRed*

            I don’t think it’s appropriate to assume the worst of people when they’ve never given you reason to.

          2. HQB*

            WellRed said that if the “coworkers haven’t bullied her previously” she would give them the benefit of the doubt, not if they had.

        2. LadyCop*

          Maybe I’m really really ignorant about this stuff, but is a chair for a larger person really so noticeably different that someone might bully her about it? I think the real issue the employee has is her own issues from other negative experiences in her life…not current office issues.

      2. Amber Rose*

        Regarding the conference room chairs, is there a plan for when she needs to be away from her desk? I don’t really understand her resistance to a properly rated chair, but I would definitely not want to wheel around my chair everywhere because I can’t sit in on meetings otherwise.

        Aside from that, there are a few scripts here, but I think you need to remember to be firm as well as compassionate. I get that she’s upset and embarrassed and you don’t want to hurt her, but she needs to know that one, it’s not safe for her to use chairs that can’t support her and it’s not acceptable to knowingly put herself in danger, and two, the company will not keep buying replacement chairs and if they have to, her job is at risk.

        I have had to have this conversation. I have also had a coworker break his arm because his chair broke. Guess which situation sucks more to deal with?

        1. Cathie from Canada*

          Unless there’s something here that I missed, she likely doesn’t need the new chair herself at this stage. Rather, she gets her expensive chair back from the coworker she had previously traded with, and the coworker gets another, presumably cheaper, chair. So that might make the boss happier.

        2. Camellia*

          I have a ‘bad back’ and a great ergonomic chair and I push it from meeting to meeting, where all the chairs are crappy, because I like to be able to walk at the end of the day. Hopefully she will become comfortable enough to do this too.

          1. Amber Rose*

            Ergonomic chairs are less stigmatized though. Not completely, but as a bigger person, the stares both real and imagined would make ushering my chair around intolerable to my anxiety.

            The balancing act of that and the mortification of breaking a chair would probably cause me some serious problems, actually.

        3. Peachkins*

          The LW actually responded below confirming that since they were going to replace their conference room chairs anyway, they would all be switched to heavy-duty. The employee shouldn’t need to worry about having to bring her own chair.

        4. That One Person*

          This is what I would’ve come out with because it’d be so easy to hurt yourself on the way down. As nothing’s stated I’m going to hope she’s been lucky thus far on that front, though I can’t imagine the shock of it breaking is anymore fun either (despite the relief afterwards of coming out all right).

          I also wouldn’t be surprised if she’s a bit mortified that she keeps breaking chairs and I imagine she’d receive a lot less attention for using a sturdier chair than to be constantly going through them. For the sake of her dignity and comfort I’d keep to the argument that it’s for her health/well-being to avoid any accidents. If it’s a case that there are people actively fat-shaming in the work place I’d look into that as well since that’s causing an issue here (though if it’s a case where she’s experienced it outside the work place or at a prior employer there’s unfortunately nothing you can do about that other than to reassure her that if something DOES happen to please report it so it can be dealt with as I hope your office won’t stand for such things).

          1. LGC*

            Thanks for arguing this so eloquently!

            I agree that she almost certainly IS mortified about this (she burst into tears when LW1 first brought up the chair issue). Unfortunately, she’s decided that having the “fat lady chair” (her words) is worse than breaking a chair every two months on average, from what it sounds like.

          2. JulieCanCan*

            Perfectly stated!

            Seriously, everything you wrote is ON POINT! I found myself agreeing with your entire comment and going “YEAH” at the end in support of it.

      3. LCL*

        I would take the L and I approach. The company is supposed to prevent workplace hazards. If the company provides her with inadequate chairs, they are creating a known and proven hazard for her. This should be approached no differently than refusing to wear a hard hat in hard hat areas.

      4. EPLawyer*

        Maybe I am exceptionally slow and unobservant (highly likely) but I am not sure I would recognize a heavy duty chair from a regular chair. If anyone notices they might just go “huh, that chair looks different” and then move on.

        Also in the obvious part, I think her co-workers already know she is a larger person. her using a different chair is not going to make them suddenly go “Hey Susie is fat, let’s pick on her.” Well, it shouldn’t but people suck sometimes.

        1. Anon chubby regular*

          This also occurred to me. I don’t think they look much different, and I don’t think using a slightly larger chair would be nearly as embarrassing as breaking multiple chairs in the office (for me, personally).

        2. Mr. Tyzik*

          I think the chair would be wider than a regular chair, possibly with larger hydraulics and a reinforced back. There are chairs that are more stealthy.

          At a previous workplace we had someone large who needed a special chair. The chairs were all uniform and the brand had a heavy-duty chair in the same style. His was wider than others, but only noticeable if you stopped to talk to him. At a glance, it blended right in. I wonder if the chairs are disparate in LW1’s workspace since everyone gets new gear every five years (per comment below).

          1. Loux*

            We have all different styles of chairs at my work. There are some that are more common, but then lots of random ones that were ordered for one reason or another, sometimes repurposed. I don’t think I’d even notice someone with heavy-duty chair.

      5. I Work on a Hellmouth*

        I think you’ve been extremely kind and compassionate with your employee. Maybe you could help gently reframe things for her if she reacts badly after you follow Allison’s script? If she cries and says she doesn’t “want a ‘fat lady chair'” again, you can just nicely say “But this isn’t a ‘fat lady’ chair, it’s just a chair that’s rated correctly for you. This isn’t any different than ordering left handed scissors for a left handed person.” If she continues to protest, maybe say something like “In addition to not being able to budget more equipment, we really want to make sure that you have a comfortable chair and won’t have to worry about possibly being injured because of equipment that won’t work for you.” Maybe?

            1. Observer*

              Actually, it would be – for HER ergonomics mean the correct size and weight rating. Just as for some people it means a wrist rest.

        1. Anna*

          I think this is a very kind way to put it. Making it about the right chair and not about it being a “fat lady” chair.

      6. Clorinda*

        Does the chair really look so different from other chairs? Are there options of various heavy-duty chairs so she could choose the one that looks most comfortable for her? Surely, you can present this with a strong emphasis on her comfort. It must be terrible to have a chair collapse under you, and she could get hurt. It’s not just about the expense, it’s an issue of safety for her.

        1. A*

          Besides the fact that a chair collapsing under you would attract significantly more attention than simply having a larger chair, I have to imagine that after 4 chair breaks, you would have to have a constant, low-level fear of it happening again. So I can’t fully understand her rationale for not wanting a chair that’s less likely to break, but feelings aren’t always rational in this particular area.

          Given her level of sensitivity on the subject, I’d want to steer clear or gloss over the conversations that have taken place between the LW and her boss, but if the “get a new chair or get fired” information has to be passed along, I guess that’s not an option. If she’s upset about the idea of using a bigger chair, the idea that people are having meetings about her use of said chair must be mortifying.

      7. Kaybee*

        LW #1, you sound so supportive and amazing; I wish everyone in my orbit was as concerned for people’s physical and emotional well-being as you!

        I’m wondering if it be possible to for your office adopt a general policy of letting new employees or people who need to replace their chair (which, over time, should be everyone) meet with an ergonomic specialist at the store you buy your furniture from to select and customize their own chair from a pre-approved line? There usually are a ton of customization options that are included in the cost of the chair or for a relatively small additional fee. That way *everyone* would have a chair that was unique to them, and anyone who needed a non-standard chair wouldn’t feel singled out.

        Additionally, there is so much that that goes into selecting a chair that fits you correctly that a lot of people aren’t aware of (certainly I didn’t) that this policy could make a lot of your colleagues, not just your heavy employee, more comfortable. And I think it’s easier to talk about your body and your needs with an outside ergonomics specialist who is trained to have a professional “bedside manner” about these things (and whom you’ll probably never see again) than a coworker with whom you’ll have to interact with every day, especially if you’re ashamed of some aspect of your body.

        This piecemeal approach doesn’t allow you to take advantage of bulk discounts, but my work has been doing this for decades with a family-owned business in my community and we get an equivalent discount for our long-standing relationship. My work also lets us customize colors for our office chairs that would look pretty eclectic if we all pulled them together, but you guys could designate a single color if you wanted a more uniform look.

        Obviously this is a long-term approach and doesn’t solve the immediate problem of reconciling your employee with her reinforced chair, but it could help prevent similar problems in the future. (And not just for heavy people – I worked at one place where a new, very young, employee burst into tears “I guess I’m officially short” when facilities showed up to swap out her desk chair with a petite chair.) And the fact that no matter what your body shape/size is, having a chair that fits you makes such a difference in your work day!

      8. Snark*

        “Jane, I really sympathize with your desire to not be implicitly singled out – it must be incredibly hard. But at this point, this is a budget issue, because we cannot continue to replace broken chairs, and a liability and safety issue, because the company would be liable if you hurt yourself. Neither condition is sustainable, and candidly, upper management has let me know that they would need to reevaluate your employment relationship if you continue to refuse to use the chair we’ve provided. I would view that as an incredible shame and would like to do anything I can to avoid that eventuality. And on a strictly personal level I want you to be comfortable and safe. What can I do to help you become comfortable with this requirement?”

        1. Snark*

          And I think, also, that you could offer to find her a chair that is potentially less obviously an HD model – obviously the dimensions are going to be what they are, but there’s some that look less….reinforced? than others.

        2. Wintermute*

          I really like this. It focuses on the behavior, not the circumstances, it’s empathetic without being fakey-sympathetic, and it delivers the message clearly.

          I think an important thing to focus on is that communicating with kindness here really is letting someone know their job is in jeopardy before it’s a surprise they’re out of a job.

      9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        You’re approaching with empathy and understanding. So please also remember that she has to take control of her own insecurities and fears at some point. All you can do is be kind and consistently so.

        I say this as a large woman who was a large kid. I’ve been bullied and destroyed emotionally throughout my life who feels for her greatly as well but there’s only so much you can do for her.

      10. Observer*

        I wouldn’t bring that up at this point. Being as matter of fact and referencing safety rather than her weight per se, as much as you can, is the best approach. If she DOES indicate a fear of bullying or even just weird behavior, tell her plainly that that kind of behavior is not acceptable and although you do not expect is to happen, if it does she should let you know and you will deal with appropriately.

      11. Wintermute*

        It’s very possible that she will *feel* bullied. That’s not something you can control. You can minimize the risk by being professional and making this a point about what it really is– this isn’t a “we don’t like fat people” issue, this isn’t a “you don’t fit our image” issue this is a “we’re incurring a cost we cannot afford” issue.

        I’m overweight myself, getting better but still rather significantly, in addition to being naturally very tall (I’m 6’6″ tall about 320 pounds), when you’re in that position you just have to accept you have limitations. I can’t get away with some things other people could, I have to be careful about office equipment, I have to be aware that I can appear very imposing and intimidating, especially to shorter people, I even have to watch where I step in the data center because I’m not sure if the ventilation-flow flooring tiles in the hot isles of the server racks can support my weight.

        That’s just a fact of life. It sounds like she’s in denial about that fact. But that’s not up to you to manage.

        The route here is to focus on behavior and outcomes, not on emotions and feelings. It’s the same as any other performance issue related to a medical issue when they are not using the accommodations that you’ve negotiated. If someone was blind but wasn’t using the voice assist features of their computer and was just not responding to emails instead, if someone was not using their specialty headset because of hearing issues and instead talking loudly on speakerphone and disrupting the entire office.

        Focus on what behavior you need to see, and the consequences if you don’t see them.

        1. YoungTen*

          Exactly, Compassion is needed but the reality can’t be denied. The company is not responsible for her feeling of insecurity in this matter. she needs to own her feelings or face the fact that the company can not afford to keep replacing chairs. They are providing accommodations.

      12. JulieCanCan*

        This just makes me sad. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this OP1. My friend/coworker went through a similar scenario – breaking chairs in the office, she broke one at a party at the company owner’s house…….I honestly felt sick reading this letter.

        This is a rough one but OP you cared enough to write to AAM and you’re going to be fine. Good luck- I hope it goes smoothly.

      13. Dal787*

        Please, please, please, get her the chair she needs! Ideally, you’d buy 2: one for daily use, and one for the conference room. It’s for safety reasons, and not to embarrass her. Imagine if she were seriously injured in a fall from a broken chair, then she’d be well within her rights to sue the company. I’ve purchased chairs like this in the past for employees, and there are multiple models available. Some companies offer heavy duty chairs that look exactly the same as standard ones, while others offer wider versions with two legs. Involve her in the process, but discuss it from the safety angle, as you wouldn’t allow her to use a blow torch or clean outside windows without the proper safety equipment.

      14. Suzie Post*

        A chair breaking under a person can lead to serious injury. That is what the heavy worker should be told. It’s not just a matter of saving money on new chairs.

    2. CaliforniaHeavy*

      I’m a “fat lady” – 275#, 5’8″. There are literally certain conference room chairs that I can’t fit or are painful to sit in. I need a chair that is wide, deep, and doesn’t feel flimsy or cramped.

      I have an ergonomic chair that fits me. It’s wonderful. It’s not a “fat lady chair”, it’s a chair that I can sit in comfortably that fits me at (that happens to be heavy-duty enough to not break.)

      If she’s broken three chairs (because they are cheap or flimsy or whatever), then I would think she would want to sit in a chair that fit her and that wasn’t going to break underneath her.

      That’s not stigma, that’s safety and comfort. I’ve had jobs where I would have killed for a chair that fit, that didn’t feel flimsy, that didn’t pinch and leave me with a backache.

      That being said, the right solution is to have her help pick out a chair that fits and supports *her*.

    3. Pat*

      We had a similar issue at our company. A heavy woman hired as a receptionist broke her chair and hurt her arm -she then went on to sue us for not supplying her with a chair suited to her needs. If I were the OP, I’d be concerned about a law suit if this keeps going on.

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, it’s totally ok to just turn down the snacks. If she gets weird or hurt by your snack avoidance, just say that because this isn’t your year-round diet, you have to be vigilant about prepping and monitoring your meals or your levels get weird (added bonus: this is probably true). You can tell her you appreciate her generosity and look forward to partaking in her snacks when your challenge is finished. That way it’s not about the reliability of her “vegan” snacks, but rather, about your need to get the right caloric mix when you’re on a specialized diet.

    1. HannahS*

      When people offer me homemade food and I don’t want it*, I just leave it at “Wow, they look great! I’m not hungry right now, though, so I’ll pass.” No one (reasonable) will argue with you about whether or not you’re hungry. If you’re literally eating while you say it, just say that you brought enough food, so no thank you. Avoid getting into conversations about why you won’t eat her snacks. If she starts telling you about how they’re really very vegan, just smile, nod, and reassure her that you’re not hungry.

      *Reasons why I rejected food and said, “Looks great, not hungry” and it was fine: You used pre-made pie-crust which usually contains lard and no one but me seems to know that. We don’t know each other well enough for me to quiz you on ingredients. It looks like it contains desiccated coconut and I don’t like desiccated coconut. I don’t trust your level of hygiene. You tried to make a dessert thing healthy which is fine but I’m more of a have-real-ice-cream-a-couple-of-times-a-year than a have-low-fat-frozen-desert-every-day kind of gal so I’ll pass on lentil-chip cookies. Finally, occasionally, I’m actually not hungry.

      1. Jasnah*

        “Thanks! I’ll save it for later!”
        Put it in the drawer.
        Discreetly dispose of it (hours, days, weeks, months) later.
        Never speak of it again.

          1. LavaLamp*

            I wonder if she’s confusing being vegan with being vegetarian. It was always explained to me that vegans don’t eat any animal products and veggies are okay with some things like dairy generally speaking. Do correct me if I’ve got it wron* though.

            1. Same.*

              Vegetarians don’t eat meat but do eat other animal products (egg, dairy), while vegans don’t eat any animal products at all.

              1. TechWorker*

                Even then there’s variety in how strictly people take it – like Parmesan isn’t vegetarian (animal rennet) and some wine isn’t (processed with gelatin or something from fish..) some people who count themselves veggie spend a lot of time checking that stuff, others don’t ;)

                1. MsSolo*

                  The majority of wine and beer isn’t veggie – they use isinglass from fish bladders for clarity. It’s getting slowly more common in small vineyards/microbreweries to just skip the step, to get a bit of the vegetarian market share, but if it’s not labelled as vegetarian it almost certainly isn’t. tbh, it’s something most veggies I know aren’t too bothered about, especially if eating out or at a friend’s house, because it’s very hard to determine if alcohol is veggie.

                2. londonedit*

                  There are also certain food colourings that are derived from animal products – again, there are vegetarians who don’t pay too much attention to that sort of thing, but there are also vegetarians who will check labels extremely closely and who won’t eat foods containing those colourings.

                  Similarly, some people are happy to eat vegetarian food that’s shared a barbecue with meat products, and some people would want their food to be cooked on a completely separate grill. Generally I think it’s on the person who’s following a particular diet to let people know if there’s something they won’t eat, or if they’d prefer to have their food prepared separately. I think most people would be happy to do it, but it’s polite to give some advance notice!

              2. Else*

                And most vegans count honey as an animal product, but some will eat it even though they avoid all other animal products. I don’t really think those folks are vegans, but I’ve known some to call themselves that. While eating a dairy-free, egg-free biscuit just dripping with honey.

                1. Flash Bristow*

                  Yep. My understanding is that vegans will only use products that are “freely given” .

                  So, shearing a sheep is “stealing” its wool and so wrong, but if you collect bits of wool from the fence they have been “donated” by the sheep and they’re ok to use. Ideally you say thank you, tho.

                  I’m really not being facetious – various vegan friends have explained their beliefs in this manner. Full disclosure: I’m a strict vegetarian, though I don’t care what others do.

                2. Bad_Vegan*

                  Oh yes, I’m one of those. It’s not like I eat honey by the spoonful or anything but unfortunately, bee hives and nuts/avocado/some other ‘vegan’ items are so mixed up with commercial honey production that it’s hard to really separate them. So if there is a little honey in something, especially if it’s more of a sugar replacement instead of an addition, I’ll probably eat it. Those articles you see saying vegetables grown in manure and avocados aren’t vegan etc… we all do our best.

            2. Meliza*

              You’re right, that’s pretty much it. As Same mentioned below, vegetarians (like myself) will eat some animal products such as eggs and dairy, so it’s not entirely plant-based. I do try to avoid cheeses made with animal rennet, and anything containing gelatin, but not every vegetarian does.

            3. Jack Russell Terrier*

              Vegetarians don’t eat lard – generally if it says on the menu that it food contains lard a vegetarian will avoid it.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Yup. As someone who *hates* peanut butter I have often grabbed a tasty looking snack, taken one bite, realized it was disgusting, then set it gently on my desk for ‘later’. Later being the time I am going to sneak it into the kitchen to throw away when no one is watching. Although if you know ahead of time you don’t want to eat it, and don’t want to get into your weird food things I am a fan of “Maybe later” and if pressed later say you had one and it was delicious.

          Speaking as an office baker, they don’t actually need you to eat the food, they just want the warm compliment of being told they are a great baker/provider/food bringing er. Say something that will make her ego happy “It is so nice of you to bring in food for us” and that’s all you need to do. Yes – a lot of my ego is wrapped up in my skills as a baker and I can admit I am very shallow when it comes to my baked goods being praised. Everyone’s got a vice.

          1. Amber T*

            “Speaking as an office baker, they don’t actually need you to eat the food, they just want the warm compliment of being told they are a great baker/provider/food bringing er”

            Hi twin. This is me when I bring in treats. I think it’s this, coupled with “omg we have the same* diet/restrictions!” When you’re going through a diet challenge (eyeballing Whole30 myself), it’s nice to have someone who’s doing it with you – to keep yourself accountable, to cheer each other on, to share recipes.

          2. Jennifer Thneed*

            There’s stuff I can’t eat. If someone offers me a baked good, I say something like, “Oh, I can’t eat that, but it really looks great”. Or I’ll comment on how good it smells.

            (In my 20’s, for awhile I couldn’t eat solid food. I learned that I missed the *odors* just as much as the taste. I very much enjoyed smelling my friends’ plates of food. They’d feel bad for me at first, but I did not feel deprived because there was no willpower involved. I physically couldn’t eat it, but I still enjoyed smelling it!)

          3. Michaela Westen*

            I think it’s safest to take the thing home and throw it away there. There’s a possibility they’ll see it in the office trash. Why take chances?

            1. Jasnah*

              Maybe because I’ve only worked in offices that had the trash lid covered, but this seems really odd to me that someone would notice what was in the office trash.

              I suppose you could always wrap it in napkins/tissues, but even if they see it in the trash they won’t know who threw it out. And then even if they see it, sitting in your trash uncovered, the polite thing would be to not say anything about it to you.

              1. Michaela Westen*

                It’s more about they way they’d feel and the effect on the relationship than what they’d say.

          4. BoredFed*

            Speaking as an “office Baker,” I bring cakes in to make people happy (which, I confess, gives me satisfaction). Pressuring someone to eat my stuff if they are reluctant to do so…is a really ineffective way to make them happy.

              1. LavaLamp*

                Thats how I discovered that Fergus the resident mouse at my old job hated bbq chips. I left some in my desk overnight.

        2. Rebecca in Dallas*

          I do this a lot. Especially if it’s something homemade, as someone else pointed out below it’s more about complimenting the person on their baking skills. I’m not really a big sweets person, but I’ll just set it on my desk “for later” and then sneak it (wrapped) into the trash later.

          1. TechWorker*

            This is kinda crazy to me – like someone pressuring you to take food to the point it gets wasted.. also so so different to my company where someone will send an email round saying stuff is for eating in the kitchen and you usually have ~20 minutes before it’s all gone :)

        3. Middle School Teacher*

          Hahaha, the teacher MO. “Oh, happy birthday, Jeremy! Sure, I’ll take a cupcake, but I’ll save it for my recess snack, ok?” Recess rolls around… dispose covered in napkins to absorb the pound of frosting on cupcake.

      2. 5 Leaf Clover*

        Agree – you never need more than a bright “no thank you!” to refuse food. I think trying to explain the reason will actually be more awkward.

      3. Anonandon*

        Oh my gosh! I used to work with this lady who loved to bake for the office, but who *did not* wash her hands in the restroom. Ever. I also knew that she had several cats, and she would often mention how they liked to hang out on her kitchen counters. Needless to say, I avoided her home baked goodies like the plague.

        1. Qosanchia*

          Hilariously (to me, anyway) I had the exact opposite reaction. “Ooh, lentil chip cookies? That sounds tasty!” Probably oatmeal lentil, too. I’m looking up a recipe now

      1. ElspethGC*

        In that context, probably blood sugar levels etc – some people need to really keep an eye on how much of different things they eat (sugar intake, carbohydrate intake etc) otherwise their body reacts oddly. Not sure if that’s what was meant, but that’s how I read it.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes, that’s what I meant! I also meant to include protein levels. Basically that you’re getting the caloric mix your body needs because you’re hitting appropriate “levels” of different kinds of food categories.

      2. Just Elle*

        I’m guessing macros. The right mix of protein/fat/carbs is really hard to maintain on a vegan diet and is super essential to not feeling like crud.

        1. Dz*

          It’s not actually hard unless you have another underlying health condition, an intense workout regime, or a weigh loss goal. I know a ton of vegans, and am in vegan groups, and this just isn’t something most people need to spend a lot of mental energy on.

    2. Winifred*

      I’m vegan and people are constantly offering me homemade snacks and treats at work. I usually take it, say “thanks, I’ll have this later,” and throw it out.

  2. John Muller*

    OP #1 – this sounds like an OHSA issue. Your coworker is not using equipment with the proper weight rating, and your company can be held legally liable if she hurts herself. Your boss is in no way out of line – if a worker on a construction site refuses to use rigging rated to lift a given load, they would be let go in pretty short order.

      1. Thursday Next*

        And hopefully the employee will be able to reframe it as her employer’s concern for safety rather than focusing on her self-consciousness.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        Why not both? The employee should respect that employer doesn’t have unlimited money to buy new chairs.

    1. Aphrodite*

      I hadn’t remember this until your comment, but at the college I work at the groundsmen are required to wear a specific earplug (supplied by the college) when they are using power tools. One relatively new employee was fired when he was still found not to be using them after the second warning.

      1. Aphrodite*

        I should add warning #1 was from his supervisor. Warning #2 was from HR. And, well, there was no warning #3.

      2. media monkey*

        and they should! my FIL is a former crane driver. he is now mainly deaf as he refused to wear ear protection at work (not cool i guess!)

        1. Cathie from Canada*

          A fellow I used to know was the safety officer at a potash mine and so it was his job to enforce the protective gear rules. He talked about having to fire a worker who just would not wear a helmet, after repeated warnings that the worker’s job was at stake for not wearing it. He couldn’t understand that level of ego or stubbornness or toxic masculinity or whatever it was.

        2. Loux*

          It’s so important to wear proper ear protection! I worked at a factory for two summers in university and I knew tons of people who, after years working there, even though they used earplugs, they still had hearing loss because even with proper hearing protection there is still damage done. It’s multiplied tenfold if you don’t wear it.

    2. WellRed*

      That was my thought, or also a liability issue for the company. But, it doesn’t sound like they are in the US.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        Hmmm, I just reread it and didn’t see any indication of that. Is there a particular clue that I missed?

    3. Competent Commenter*

      I like this framing. As a short person with some neck and arm issues, I need a chair that won’t give me back pain because my feet don’t reach the floor and ill fitting chairs exacerbate my previous injuries. Getting a chair that accommodates this employee’s body type is no different. That’s how I would frame it to her: “Eh, I need this chair for my reasons, you need your chair for your reasons, no shame in it, let’s get you what works for you so you don’t get hurt.”

    4. CleverName*

      This is right, but PLEASE don’t use a metaphor about lifting heavy things! She doesn’t need to be compared to freight.

      It is a safety issue, but more like personal protective equipment – hard hat, eye protection, gloves, harness, etc.

  3. Jenny*

    For LW1, I was just involved in an ergonomic furniture replacement for my office unit, so I understand where boss is coming from. Those chairs are really, really expensive. In my office we were talking high hundreds per chair. You just can’t allow someone to destroy thousands of dollars of equipment, whatever the reason. She had been given an accommodation and actively sabotaged it and caused more damage. I don’t think firing someone for that is unreasonable if she continues to refuse to use a chair that accommodates her needs. You just can’t expect an employer to eat costs of broken furniture like that, especially when they have taken steps to accommodate.

    1. Artemesia*

      It is odd that she doesn’t realize that breaking chairs is giving her a reputation that just using a properly rated chair is not likely to do. The message needs to be clear — ‘You must use the appropriate chair’ — and I agree with Alison that you don’t mention getting fired UNTIL the first time she refuses to use the chair and then it is both ‘You must’ and ‘it is a condition of your continued employment to use appropriate equipment.’

      1. Jenny*

        Plus if a chair breaks the wrong way or she falls as a result, she could severely injure herself. I am not sure why anyone would want to risk that.

        Upon further reflection, this isn’t dissimilar to a physical issue I have. I have to get help with certain lifting/opening tasks due to a problem with one of my hands. Yeah, sure, it sucks having to find a coworker to open/lift stuff for me as it plays into this “weak woman” stereotype. It is even a more active need than the chair because I have had to explain it multiple times. But me dropping and breaking things because I don’t like asking for help would be unacceptable.

        1. Elemeno P.*

          I’m not sure if your hand issue is related, but I have arthritis in my fingers and bought a cabinet-mounted jar opener for my house and it is AMAZING. Link in my username. I don’t work for this company or anything; I just really like being able to open jars by myself and want everyone else to be able to as well.

          1. Jenny*

            Mine is a little weird. Due to how I was born, the nerves in my non dominant hand don’t quite work right. So I don’t feel pain, but I can’t quite grip properly.

          2. Wintermute*

            It’s astonishing to me how many of those “as seen on TV gadgets” like egg crackers, jar wrenches, one-handed bottle openers and things are really accessibility aids in disguise, because of the taboo (and limited marketshare if you) advertise something “for the disabled”. They have this thing that’s a jar wrench basically I saw at work because we have the weather channel playing all the time and the weather channel at midnight is full of those kinds of things.

        2. CaliforniaHeavy*

          I hear you on that one. I’m disabled – right side hemiparesis. To lift/carry some things actually requires me to get someone else to do it. Having to ask for help can suck, but it beats dropping stuff and breaking either it or me.

      2. On Fire*

        Exactly. And it appears that she has broken six chairs (office chairs 1-4 and two conference room chairs). That takes the price even higher. Awkward though it is, I can see the boss’ perspective.

        1. RUKidding*

          Not wanting a “fat lady chair” is understandable. Who wants attention on their weight?

          The thing is, having broken several chairs, if people are aware of it then they are already thinking of her as “fat lady who breaks chairs.” It’s not right of course and hopefully they aren’t saying anything, but I guarantee at least some are thinking it anyway.

          1. BRR*

            I was thinking that as wel but wasn’t sure how to put it professionally. As a larger person who has broken a chair in the past (although I think that was a freak accident), it was far more embarrassing to me to break a chair than to use a chair rated for higher weight.

            1. Jenny P*

              I thought the exact same thing. I am a very plus size woman and if I had broken 4 office chairs I would be mortified. Sitting in one properly made chair is going to be a LOT less embarrassing for this poor woman than continuously breaking others. However I do think accommodations do need to be made in the conference room. Depending on how many chairs are in there, maybe half could be the stronger chairs? That way no one is singled out.

              1. Qwerty123*

                Yes! Having to roll your special chair into the conference room each time you had a meeting would be really embarrassing.

              2. SophieChotek*

                Good point, although if they look to much like “regular” chairs, how would she know which ones to sit on? And if they are “obviously” different, would this lady avoid them (for reasons LW stated)? I never thought of that, though, accomodations would also need to be made in conference room.

              3. LW1 Here*

                I forgot to add to the letter that we got the conference room situation covered. I suggested ordering chairs like the one in my link to replace all the conference room chairs so we could accommodate clients, customers, and employees of any size. Since they were slated for replacement this year anyway, TPTB took up my suggestion. Small win!

                1. caryatis*

                  I hope you made sure that fit people can also sit in the conference room chairs. There was a letter here once about an office where the chairs were so big that non-fat people couldn’t comfortably sit in them! : o

                2. loons*

                  @caryatis, I’d like to gently suggest that “fit” people come in all sizes. It’s absolutely important that an office have chairs that work for people of all sizes, but the “fitness” of those people really isn’t relevant.

                3. Jennifer Thneed*

                  @caryatis, I think that was about a worker who was unusually *short* and the chair was aimed at standard-height or tall people, so their feet couldn’t touch the floor at all.

                4. Duckles*

                  I mean, win for the big and tall people. Our office offers chairs in three sizes, which is great except that the three sizes are Average Size Man, Tall Man, and Very Tall Man.

                5. Jasnah*

                  What a great and inclusive way to deal with the conference room issue! I’m sure your clients would appreciate it too!

                  And @Jennifer no it was specifically a side-to-side issue, another person could have sat next to her in the chair. So it is a good reminder that just as bigger people may need bigger chairs, smaller people may need smaller chairs (or can’t use the bigger chairs)

                6. CaliforniaHeavy*

                  That’s a wonderful thing. I suffer quite a bit from too-small conference room chairs on a regular basis. I make a point of getting to meetings early so I can get a chair that is comfortable for me.

          2. Blunt Bunny*

            But do the chairs look any different to normal chairs though? I’m not sure if people would even notice if they were wider than average chairs. This to me is a HSE issue, in my workplace a report is written for broken items, injuries etc. So after the first incident you would do the route cause and then determine preventative actions which would be the chair was not designed to take her weight preventative action would be to order one that does. We also use DSE to prevent workplace injuries like back ache, eye and wrist strain and would provide people with the right chair for them and if they needed a foot stool or standing desk or a desk where you could adjust the height were given. I’m wondering though that having an appropriate chair at her desk wouldn’t solve all the problems though, as they would have to take the chair to all meetings and eat at there desk or risk breaking the chairs which would put them at risk of being fired. I can understand not wanting to carry a chair around to all the meetings I go to, especially in different buildings if that is what they would have to do then I understand why she was upset as that would be humiliating and tiring.

            1. kittymommy*

              Yeah, I’m not sure the average employee would realize the chair is specifically for a higher-weight classification. I’m thinking they would just think bigger (and equal that to nicer) chair.

          3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            This stuck out to me too. You think it would be *more* embarrassing to be that lady that broke *all* the chairs. And you know office rumors are exaggerating the numbers of chairs she has broken.

            Of course because there is only one chair rated for her weight she might need to roll it around with her to go into meeting rooms, which I can imagine would make you feel super self aware.

          4. Dust Bunny*

            Breaking chairs will draw a whole lot more attention to her weight than just using the weight-rated chair. We had a client at Old Job Many Jobs Ago who damaged a chair pretty much every time she came in. If she’d just accepted the chair we offered her, new employees wouldn’t even have noticed and only the few of us who had witnessed the broken chairs would have known. Instead, EVERYONE knew that she was the lady who was too heavy for most of our chairs.

            (Plus, there are other reasons people might need “special” chairs. One of my former coworkers had a back problem and had a higher-grade chair than the rest of us because it was more adjustable or something.)

      3. Screenwriter/Mom*

        The weirdest part is that, I assume, she’s very self-conscious about being overweight, which I totally get (believe me!) but breaking chair after chair is calling far more attention to it than just having a chair rated for her weight! She’ll be much more comfortable in a more supportive chair, too!

        1. Traffic_Spiral*

          Yeah, being the person that has a special chair will be generally shrugged at, while being known as “The Chairbreaker” will probably stick around.

        2. The Other Dawn*

          I agree. I was once morbidly obese and while I never broke a chair (I was always scanning the room for the sturdiest looking chair), I would have been way more embarrassed by that then using the proper chair. I mean, anything at all that called attention to my weight was really embarrassing, but using a good weight-rated chair would have been less so.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          From one of the LW’s comments downthread it doesn’t sound like these were all dramatic chair-collapsing falling-to-the-floor incidents, more like broken mechanisms and so on. She may not be admitting to herself that her weight has anything to do with those (“the stupid height adjuster never worked anyway”, “Fergus keeps leaning on the back of the chair so that’s probably what broke it”, etc), or telling herself that nobody noticed.

          And as to the comfort thing, well, that’s the logical way to look at it! But weight is such a fraught subject that even when logically someone might be more physically comfortable in a different chair or size of jeans or whatever, the mental discomfort of having to admit that they need those things at all can be far, far worse. I know that when I put on weight I spent years in clothes that were honestly painful to wear (waistbands cutting in and so on) because at the time I would rather have endured that than buy clothes in a larger, more comfortable size. It’s messed up.

          1. fposte*

            To be honest, a workplace where five chairs in a row fail under somebody suggests to me that their chairs aren’t all they could be. I’ve worked with plenty of big people and never had a breakage rate like that.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        Eh, irrationally believing something in the face of evidence to the contrary is a very human thing. (I just finished You’ve Got Murder in which the amateur detective is an AI, and was thinking of this as a Turing Test. If someone doesn’t have a a blind spot, somewhere, you’re talking to a computer.) It’s why Alison frequently advises spelling something out very clearly with no softening language, even if surely-any-reasonable-person-would-realize…

        1. Anonymiss*

          That’s an interesting concept! And true – clearly she’s trying to pick what is less embarrassing for her, which is this way, for whatever reason

      5. ISuckAtUserNames*

        Agreed. And, really, it’s not like people can’t see her size. I don’t think I’d even notice a different chair, or think of her differently because of it. In fact, I might think the office were being jerks for not getting her a chair that would be more comfortable for her and think “oh good! They finally got something that will work better for her!” when the new chair showed up.

        1. Sam.*

          I once worked with a man who broke 3 chairs in a relatively short period of time, and there was definitely a sense of exasperation toward TPTB for not finding a better solution for him. Maybe they were trying to accommodate him and he was refusing to seek out the appropriate chairs (which would’ve been necessary, as there were no assigned desks), but since there would’ve been no way for the rest of us to know that, it really just looked like they didn’t give a crap about making sure their employees had the necessary equipment.

      6. Anon Now*

        For those saying it’s more embarrassing to break a chair than use a larger one… maaaaybe. It’s embarrassing to trip over your feet or realize your skirt is tucked into your underwear. But those are one-off things that happen to everyone, right? If the chair broke, it must be broken, and anyone can sit on a broken piece of furniture and break it, right? So I can just laugh it off this one time, right?

        I’m speaking from experience here – I had (and still have) a lot of denial about how my weight affects me. Sometimes I don’t believe the scale, sometimes I don’t believe that’s how I really look in the mirror, sometimes I don’t understand why pants don’t fit (women’s clothes sizing tho – whole different rant). A broken chair (or even several) can be explained for other reasons not related to weight. But accepting a larger chair made for heavier people is accepting the fact that she’s heavier – it’s pushing her out of denial.

        Alison’s advice was great! I agree that this is a problem that OP needs to solve! Me explaining this is more for commentors saying “why can’t she see this is a problem?” Denial runs deep.

        1. Anon chubby regular*

          This is helpful and appreciated. I’m an obese woman and I do struggle with my body perception. I think I look great in the mirror, but I can’t stand pictures and videos of myself. Complete body disassociation.

        2. WonderCootie*

          Anon Now-EXACTLY! Having to get the sturdier chair means admitting to *yourself* that your weight is higher. That’s a hard thing to do.

        3. pancakes*

          I don’t doubt denial runs deep, and I’m sure I have some of my own about something or other, but it isn’t shared by other people. It’s extremely unlikely that everyone else in the office thinks this woman keeps breaking chairs due to bad luck with chairs.

          1. Anon Now*

            We know, we’re just in denial about it. It’s easier to save face if we think everyone else is thinking the same thing.

            Denial isn’t logical. I have a logical voice in my head that knows the real answer (it comes out a lot during an anxiety/panic attack which is super not helpful). I don’t doubt there’s a part of her that knows getting a different chair would be better for her, probably more comfortable, and that coworkers wouldn’t care (while they do care about the chairs being broken).

        4. Amelia Pond*

          This makes so much sense that I feel silly not realizing it sooner. When I was overweight, in my teens/early 20’s, I absolutely refused to wear any pants with an elastic waistband, especially sweatpants, because in my mind, only fat people wore elastic waistbands. The fatphobia in this country is still so devastating and I think in a lot of ways, it’s getting worse, not better.

          1. Gumby*

            I strongly avoid dress pants w/ elastic waistbands. Well, “dress” pants. Not because they are fat people pants but because they are old people pants. That belief is based 100% on the fact that they are the kind of pants my grandmother wore exclusively. (Also? Gold cars are old people cars because…. she also drove gold cars.)

      7. Confused*

        It is odd. She is drawing more attention to her size by continually breaking chairs than she would by just using the right chair. I doubt anyone would even notice she had a different chair.

    2. Triplestep*

      Those chairs are really, really expensive. In my office we were talking high hundreds per chair.

      As I’ve mentioned here before, I design the places where people work including offices. So I’m the one buying the furniture. While heavy duty chairs are always going to be more expensive, what passes for “ergonomic” varies widely. Some places (like my current workplace) would rather buy $200.00 task chairs and have a graveyard of broken chairs because cheap chairs break easily no matter who uses them. A former workplace’s standard task chair was $800 and those did not break at the same rate, as you would imagine.

      This is neither here nor there with respect to LW#1’s heavy duty chair; it’s just to say that assumptions can’t be made about the cost or quality of this office’s standard chair.

      1. Jenny*

        Although at $200/chair we are still talking over a thousand in chairs in less than a year. She just can’t continue behavior that results in breaking things. Her employer is not cruel for considering firing her at this point, not when she was given a chair and swapped it out.

        1. Jenny*

          (To be clear, I either misread Alison’s letter earlier or she edited it, because I thought it was harder on OP’s boss for wanting to fire coworker. I apologize if I misread.)

          1. Triplestep*

            As I said, my comments were just to add info about the cost of standard “ergonomic” chairs which I thought could add value to the conversation, or at least just correct an assumption to prevent it from going down a particular path.

            1. Jenny*

              Yeah, my $800 ergo chair is basically a throne. I love it. I actually have a chair rated up to 500 pounds myself because it came with a certain adjustable option that I use for my back pain.

              1. The Other Dawn*

                And what brand/model is that? I’d be interested in checking it out. Even though I have a $1,000+ chair at work that’s supposed to help my back pain and I picked it out myself, it really doesn’t help. It’s better than our cheap office chairs, but not as good as it should be for that price. And it’s too low for me.

                1. Beanbean*

                  Not who you replied to, but I have a Steelcase Gesture with a headrest attachment (I have a disability that means I require more support). I often roll it over to meetings because it’s so much more comfortable for me. New people will sometimes comment on it, and I say “yep, I’m disabled!” really brightly, which tends to cut off any follow-up. Though the rest of the office has the Think and in my opinion it doesn’t look all that different.

              2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                Ironically, after I threw my back out last year, my ergo chair is no longer comfortable. I brought in a small lumbar roll, and an exercise ball chair that I sit on when the back feels worse than usual. But I’m the happiest now in a regular hard chair; also with a lumbar roll. Oh the irony. I’m going to look at the Steelcase ones just out of curiosity.

    3. Jaid*

      She broke the regular chair she swapped with someone, not the ergonomic one. The ergonomic one should be returned to the lady with instructions for her to use it this time and no swapping!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I’m assuming they were all ergonomic, but her #4 was also a heavy-duty one.

      2. Triplestep*

        Pretty much any task chair you get at work is going to be called an ergonomic chair even if all it has are height adjustments. There are no regulations dictating how that word can be used. It a just known by ergonomists, designers and insurance companies that some chairs, brands, qualities and available adjustments are superior, and better for people with certain physical issues. Many companies will choose to make a few types of those available to employees who produce doctors notes or go through some kind of ergonomic assessment.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yep. My current employer gave us all new ergonomic chairs when we started here. (It was a startup and a group of us started at about the same time.) I liked my chair a lot, and wanted to get one for home. Looked the model up online, saw the price, and was like, Nope, I’m good. Close to a thousand US dollars for a chair.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I have one of those chairs at home because I have a bad back and sit at my computer a lot. It was super worth it for me because I end up needing less treatment for my back and those physical therapy appointments add up.

        Now I work from home and am so glad I shelled out for it. It was $800 during a sale but it’s paid for itself in not having to pay for PT.

  4. Les G*

    I’m scratching my head a bit at #1, to be honest. All the “big and tall” office chairs I’ve seen are nigh indistinguishable from your standard office chair. Surely sitting in one must be less stigmatizing than breaking a chair, so I have to wonder if OP is getting less than the whole truth from her employee. An honest talk–with some questions, not just orders–may be in order.

    1. Jenny*

      I work for a large organization, but I know I was locked into one of five chairs by our organization’s contract. But the heavy-rated chair we could pick was literally the same chair in color and style but wider and reinforced. If OP has to pick from a specific catalog that could be similar.

    2. Ginger Ninja*

      Even if the chair looks indistinguishable, I could still see why someone would have issues with it. I imagine it’s quite demoralising to be told “This is the chair you must have, it’s been specially built for increased weight unlike normal chairs.”

      Unfortunately, she’s called more attention to the situation in trying to move away from it. Someone getting a new chair is unremarkable, someone breaking a string of chairs is fuel for gossip.

      I don’t know if it would help to mention or include this when tackling the situation. On the one hand, it might help showing how the accommodation can diminish the weight issues and their likely effect on her office standing. On the other, candidly discussing this is a conversation that could leave anyone feeling aggrieved.

      1. Civilian Linetti*

        It’s got to be less demoralising to be given the catalogue to choose your chair than to keep breaking chairs and risking injury? On one hand, you get to choose a chair that is rated for your needs and safety, on the other you get an office-wide rep for wrecking chairs. I think LW1’s employee is embarrassed about the wrong thing entirely. I would be mortified by breaking a chair in front of other people, or swapping my chair for someone else’s and breaking it. Getting a chair that wouldn’t break, especially being able to choose it from the catalogue specifically for me is far less stigmatising.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          I wonder if they’re involved her in picking out the chair. However, I can see how hard it would be for her. There’s been times when it’s been a real mental block for me to go up a size in clothing for something that fits better and looks better. Just the tag number can be a stumbling block.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            This is probably part of the reason why I like to shop for men’s jeans – I don’t have the same emotional reaction to the men’s sizes that I do to the ladies’. It’s funny, because men’s pants are literally sold by *measurements in inches*, but I don’t have years’ worth of memories of “when I was X age, I wore Y size, and Z size is a Fat People Size,” and such. Even though I’m curvy and un-man-shaped, I find them pretty comfortable – with women’s I’m more likely to go “fine, good enough, I just want to get out of here” rather than spend the extra time and effort figuring out sizes, and in the men’s department I have more patience. (Also, pockets are a nice bonus.)

      2. Asenath*

        But it’s fairly commonplace to have accommodations for office setups – people have special footstools that they must use, or their keyboards positioned with gadgets to make sure they’re at the right height and angle and so on, including different types of special chairs. Personally, I’d find breaking even one chair far more embarrassing than using a special chair.

      3. Emily K*

        Yes, I suspect her issue with it is more emotional than logical. People sometimes refuse things that will help them as a form of denial that they need help, even when they objectively do. In medicine doctors sometimes have to contend with people who won’t take their prescribed medications because taking all those pills makes them feel like a sick person, and they don’t want to think of themselves that way, so avoid the activity that makes them feel that way.

        It’s part denial and part wishful thinking, maybe I’ll just stop taking the pills and it will be fine and that will prove that I’m not sick. And these are people who have doctors treating them, telling them exactly what’s going on with them, telling them they need the medications – it’s not rational behavior and yet it’s a fairly common problem that doctors have to deal with. The human brain has a great capacity for logical reasoning. It also has a great capacity for irrationality, and you can’t combat irrationality with logical reasoning.

        1. Jerry*


          This is a valuable comment. I was struggling with it logically as well, and your analogy called to mind a patient I once had who did precisely that. He had heart failure, and wouldn’t take his meds because it made him feel old, we did more coaching and cajoling than scolding and that turned it around.

        2. Totally Minnie*

          It’s true of mobility aids, too. My grandmother can do so much more when she uses a walker, but for the longest time she refused to use it because she didn’t want to look old and frail. So she would walk slowly and painfully and wear herself out. She uses the walker regularly now, and seems much less frail than she did without it.

        3. Quoth the Raven*

          I started wearing glasses when I was 11 or 12. In the beginning, and for the longest time, you couldn’t catch me dead with them — I felt they were nerdy, and they made me look ugly, and they meant something was “wrong” with me, and you know, I could still see without them, just not as well (all of which I realise wasn’t true, but as you said, it’s not rational). It took me years to understand that I needed them and that I was doing myself more harm by refusing to wear them, and to feel comfortable doing so.

    3. Diamond*

      Right? Surely multiple broken chairs is far more noticeable and distressing than just having a slightly larger chair??

      1. Murphy*

        Yeah, I’d think telling someone that you broke a chair again would be a lot more demoralizing than using a special chair that most people likely wouldn’t even notice.

    4. Myrin*

      I totally get your head-scratching but at the same time, I don’t think anything particularly mysterious the OP doesn’t know about must be going on in the background. It’s really hard to comprehend if you (like me) aren’t prone to a mindset like that, but I have both a friend and a family member who sometimes behave the way this woman does. It’s like they get locked into a specific idea mentally which only knows the tune of “X must be avoided at all costs!”, thereby defying all logic and reason because Y and Z – which are resulsts of avoiding X – are actually objectively much worse than X. I’ve seen that cycle broken but in the meantime, it’s absolutely maddening to witness from the outside and must be really miserable to live with on the inside.

      1. Dull*

        I’m trying and failing to conceive of a hypothetical fat-shaming bully who is both oblivious to their coworkers size but yet acutely aware of the construction of their chair.

        1. WS*

          Try the other way around: the person in question has been forced to sit in a different chair in the past and bullied for that, so now their anxiety is hyper-focused on the fact that they MUST NOT have a different chair, that’s the trigger for horrible bullying. The bullying has already happened, and now they’re living with the results.

          It’s a horrible feeling, especially when you know that it’s irrational. And if the chair breaking is less obvious to others than the different chair (which it might be, if it’s just a crack or a hydraulic failure) they may be latching onto that as a false security blanket. The

          1. Thursday Next*

            This is an interesting insight. I’d add that perhaps it’s not that the broken chairs are less obvious, but that she’s currently in a functional workplace where adults don’t bully her about them.

          2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


            And it doesn’t necessarily have to be recognizable bullying, either; there are a lot of shades of drawing attention to things that can feel humiliating even if they wouldn’t look that way to an outside observer, or even if they are kindly meant.

          3. Seeking Second Childhood*

            And her experience need not even be at the office — familes can be horrible to members who don’t conform.
            (Some are as bad as chickens for pecking at the different one/ones.)

            1. Amethystmoon*

              This is true. I have 2 uncles who always harp about my weight whenever they see me and go “duabeetus!!!” even though I am an average-size woman who makes an effort to eat healthy, and the only health issue I have is ironically, hypothyroidism.

              1. pancakes*

                They sound awful and I hope you can stop seeing them. You don’t have to endure their horrid personalities simply because they happen to be relatives.

                1. Amethystmoon*

                  I cannot, as I have to deal with them for tax purposes at least once a year. However, I also don’t seek out family reunions to attend on that side, for sure.

          4. Wendy Darling*

            Okay so I’m fat.

            Everyone knows I’m fat when they meet me, it is super obvious.

            People sat next to me on planes see me and are immediately dismayed. I fit in my seat but I am FAT. I occupy the entire space available.

            For some reason the absolute horror humiliation line for me is needing to ask for a seatbelt extension on a plane. I’ve only had to do it twice (on tiny planes, for some reason big planes have longer seatbelts) in easily 100+ flights but I basically thought that it was going to cause everyone to hate me forever and possibly the flight attendants would decide I was literally too fat to be on their plane and throw me off and I would be stranded and have to call my boss and explain that I had not arrived on a business trip because I was just too fat.

            So I agree that LW1’s employee needs to sit in the special fat person chair, but I understand why the person does not want to and how you get into that mental space.

            1. BelleMorte*

              Just to relieve some stress, consider ordering your own seatbelt extension off amazon, they are only about $10-15 bucks and exactly the same as the one on the planes. You may not need it, but it will make you a lot less anxious.

              1. Auntie Social*

                My husband travels with one, he loves it. We do get annoyed by flight attendants who keep asking if I’m comfortable (sitting next to the big guy), there are other seats available, etc.

      2. Magenta*

        Its kind of like people who won’t buy the next size up in clothes, they are horrified that they have got bigger, so squeeze into the wrong size and end up drawing more attention to it.
        As much as I hate buying clothes in big sizes, I find that having clothes that fit and look good is more important than the number on the label.

        1. only acting normal*

          There’s a man where I work who has just given up his 10 year attachment to a wardrobe two sizes too small. He looks a billion times better! Best January sales shop ever.

        2. The Other Dawn*

          My friend does this. I don’t know if she does it because she’s gotten bigger and can’t accept it, or if she just has a different idea of how her clothing choices fit her. She consistently buys things that are one size too small, typically shirts. When we go shopping together I try to encourage her to buy something that isn’t quite so obviously too small for her. I don’t say it like that, obviously. I just say, “Well that’s a great color on you, but I think it’s too tight in back. If you go up a size I think it will make a smoother silhouette.” Sometimes she agrees and sometimes she doesn’t.

          1. Susana*

            I wish we women (and yeah, I think it’s more women) would reject the fashion industry’s standard that the clothes are constant, and we must change ourselves to suit them, instead of the other way around. How often do we hear, “I’m too fat for this dress,” as opposed to, “this dress isn’t the right size for me?”

            1. It's not just the sizing*

              What about “this dress isn’t the right SHAPE for me” as well? For example, almost any fit-and-flare dress will make me look like I’ve gained 20 lbs, even if I can physically get it on and it fits.

          2. Kat in VA*

            I have clothing in sizes from size 2 to size 12. They all fit. I loooong ago stopped caring about the size on the label and focus on the fit. However, it took many years and a lot of work to get to that point. Sizing is such an emotionally fraught situation.

        3. Mia*

          I was gonna say the same thing. My weight has fluctuated a lot over the years, and I’ve certainly been guilty of having this mindset in the past, silly as it is. Obviously LW’s employee is exhibiting an extreme case of this, but I can kind of understand how she feels.

        4. OhGee*

          This is exactly what I was thinking. I’ve been guilty of that myself as I’ve gained weight in the past few years. It can be very easy to convince yourself/beat yourself up thinking, “if I just try harder, I’ll lose the weight and I won’t need (bigger clothes/a bigger chair).” It’s a really unhealthy line of thinking, but I understand how it happens.

          1. It's not just the sizing*

            This is the same for people who purposely buy clothes a size smaller hoping they will lose the weight and fit into it. One time, I was at a consignment shop and there was a lady in front with me with an entire trash bag filled with clothes in a much smaller size than she was. She even said to the store employee that she bought these clothes, all still new with tags, in hopes that she would fit into them but didn’t so she was there trying to sell them.

          2. Mr. Tyzik*

            Yeah, I’m between sizes and just bought jeans with elastic. It makes more sense in fit as I lose weight slowly, but I had to get over myself on my embarrassment of buying elastic pants.

        5. Allison*

          Oof, I was that person for a couple years. I was in denial, thought it was just PMS bloat, or temporary gain from stress eating, that darn French food kick, I’ll go right back to my “usual” size if I just cut back on this or that food and walk more. I was not gonna spend all that money on new clothes just for temporary weight gain! But last year I was in the market for new clothes, and bought a new dress that actually fit my current body, and decided holy crap, I feel awesome! It actually helped me feel normal, sexy even, and it’s much easier to treat your body right when you feel good about yourself. It’s definitely worth investing in clothes that fit, even if you’re sure you’re totally gonna lose that weight in a few months.

          (in my experience, a lot of people like to explain CICO in response to comments like this, which has made it difficult for me to be open and candid about dealing with, but not necessarily “struggling” with, my weight. Please understand that I do appreciate the kind and helpful impulses that motivate such comments, but I assure you I do understand the concept, I am striving to create an adequate calorie deficit, and I am not looking for help from internet strangers at this time)

          1. Lehigh*

            Yeah, I’m still kind of doing this. It’s time to buy clothes, but I’m just finally working on discarding the thinking that goes, “But it would be so wasteful, I’m just about to lose weight! Then I’ll feel terrible that I spent all that money!”

            I’ve been “just about to lose weight” for years.

            1. Marthooh*

              Hey, I’ve been buying my own clothes most of my life, okay? I know what size I wear! But my ridiculous body keeps telling me I’m wrong :/

              1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

                How can you be so confident in your true size? I’m in the UK and have clothes in my wardrobe that *all fit* (barring some trousers which are too long – I have ridiculously petite legs, 26″ inside leg, I can just about get away with cropped trousers) and have tags running from 12 – 22, all from different stores.

          2. Junior Dev*

            I feel so much better about my body since I bought clothes that fit. I was so self conscious before. I can still fit into the larger clothes if I lose weight, they’ll just be baggy.

            And I’m on the smaller end of the plus size spectrum. What this woman is doing is irrational but I really feel for her, having done plenty of irrational things to avoid something I felt ashamed of before.

          3. Jasnah*

            It’s like the idea that poor people are just “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”… we’re all just “temporarily larger size-0s”…

        6. Amadeo*

          Yeah, I’ve seen this happen. I used to work at a department store and had a larger lady ask me for help finding a suit coat. I took her over to the plus size area and found her a coat, it was something like a 22W I think. She looked flipping awesome in it. It fit her perfectly. She thanked me and walked off with it.

          A few minutes later I saw her in the misses sized section, picking up a size 16 (the 22w coat was nowhere in sight, I can only assume she put it back). The clothes she was wearing were too small, and of course this coat was also going to be too small and it made me a little sad. I mean, I’m not a tiny person myself and I do sort of get it because it can be really depressing, but the difference that clothes that fit, and fit you well make to your appearance is not insignificant.

        7. Turquoisecow*

          Yeah, I recently started shopping at a few plus-size women’s stores (rather than digging through the pitiful selection at other shops) and while it’s somewhat humiliating to shop there and buy a larger size, it’s freakin wonderful to have pants that fit and not feel squished by my clothes.

        8. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Thanks to my bad thyroid and eating habits, I gained 25 pounds in the past year. I had to get some new work clothes for my new job, but I was also tired of tugging on my way-too-tight clothes. I actually gasped when I saw the sizes that fit me now! I’m working out more regularly and watching my eating habits, and I’m hoping I’ll get rid of the not-at-all healthy weight.

          I don’t need new clothes for a while, but if I do need to get something, I’ll either buy at a consignment shop or eBay. If it turns out I’m a larger SheLooksFamiliar, I guess I’ll deal with it and buy larger sizes. Sigh.

        9. monica*

          I think the flip side of this is that fat people are expected to hide our bodies way more than thin people are. Thin folks get a lot more leeway around how their clothes fit; fat folks are expected never to show our shapes because everyone knows rolls are the most offensive sight known to humanity, but it’s not like bagginess is any better. Not to mention that fat people have way fewer options to even find clothing that fits us — some of continuing to wear old clothing has to do with the lack of affordable, high quality clothing options for larger folks.

    5. nonegiven*

      >“big and tall” office chairs I’ve seen are nigh indistinguishable from your standard office chair

      Also, way more comfortable.

      1. JM in England*

        Agreed. At my current workplace, a member of my team is plus sized and has a specially reinforced chair. They are due to retire later this year and already, other team members are fighting over who “inherits” the chair!

        1. Allison*

          I actually wonder if OP’s employee is worried someone will steal the chair, as chairs do sometimes go missing from cubes and offices, and when she goes to get it back she’ll have to explain why the chair is hers, and why she needs that chair specifically and can’t just grab another one from the nearby conference room. That could be super embarrassing.

          1. boo bot*

            Oh, actually, I wonder if that’s what happened when she “swapped” with a coworker – if someone took her chair and she was embarrassed to go and ask for it back and have to explain why. The OP might want to ask that before going into the “do this or your fired” part (though she should still get that message across).

            I think there was a letter writer here a while ago whose ergonomic chair kept getting stolen and she finally attached it to her desk (possibly with a dog leash or bike lock? Can’t remember).

            1. Anon Now*

              Please don’t do this behind her back. Yes, it’ll be awkward to have this conversation of “we need this to happen,” but it’ll be way more humiliating for her to show up to a new chair she said she didn’t want. She’ll notice because it’ll fit her better, but I guarantee the demons in her head will be screaming that everyone thinks she’s fat, everyone is talking about her, this is a sign of bullying, etc. It’s going to be hard for her no matter what, but having a frank conversation will ease it a bit.

            2. Anon Now*

              @boo bot I’m sorry – I misread your comment and thought you were suggesting OP swap it without telling her. My advice still stands, but I’m sorry I replied too quickly and didn’t comprehend your comment.

        2. Auntie Social*

          Yes! When our heavier employee was on vacation we’d fight over her chair—it had so much more padding than the regular chairs and was so comfortable.

    6. Sleepless*

      I have a family member who had bariatric surgery last year. All of the chairs in the waiting room were heavy duty. They were the same design as a regular chair, but nearly twice as wide. You’d be able to see the difference.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      The nation is full of people refusing to buy clothes in a larger size because of a vague notion that the people around them will KNOW somehow, and then think of them as fat. People are not always rational.

      Also comes up with accommodations for elderly parents–like there’s a bucket of evidence that we now need X, but to actually do X is an admission they are not comfortable making yet. Apparently a lot of people eligible for hospice hold off, for example–a relative is in hospice and “start as soon as you are eligible–I really wish we had, looking back” is advice they got from a number of people.

    8. hbc*

      Thought process: “People who are too* overweight need special chairs. I don’t want to consider myself too overweight, therefore I cannot accept that I need a special chair.”

      See also the millions of people who think everyone else in the world is mumbling and refuses to get their hearing checked, everyone who tries to find the exact right distance to read a book but definitely don’t have age-related vision decline, and all the people who don’t take medicine because only sick people need meds.

      *No particular metric endorsed by me for what “too overweight” is, just reflecting a likely point of view.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          My husband is about ready to loose it with my parents over their refusal to get hearing aids. I’m pregnant and he is super worried about letting the baby be around them when they crank the volume on the tv or radio, or not being able to hear the baby crying. Every time he tells them they need hearing aids they laugh it off.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            We’re all in shock that my FIL finally got hearing aids. He spent years denying that he needed them and being too proud and vain to admit he needed them. Now all of a sudden he’s wearing them every day. I don’t know if his hearing got worse, or he thought at least he made it past eighty before putting them on, or what; we’re all just glad he finally got them.

          2. Jennifer Juniper*

            Hearing aids cost thousands of dollars and are not always covered by insurance in my country.

        2. Anonymeece*

          Not even age-related! My dad worked in a factory when he was 17 and lost a lot of his hearing. It’s gotten worse with age, but he refuses to acknowledge that he can’t hear. At home, he just claimed “we never told him” things. I sometimes wonder what he does at work, when that excuse doesn’t fly.

          Sometimes people just have blind spots that they don’t want to have to face.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Are you me? I just had a meeting where the organizer shouted for the entire duration of it. He’s new, so I don’t know what the deal is, but I assume hearing issues. Which reminded me of how I now have to yell at my mom, otherwise she’ll never know I said anything at all; but she won’t hear of hearing aids. Then my sons comment on how *I* am always yelling and am I angry or something?

          I did get my own hearing checked (after I dated someone younger than myself – in the early 40s at the time – who was legit hard of hearing, and knew it. He didn’t want hearing aids either, and LOVED watching TV and youtube videos, at full volume of course), and thankfully mine is good.

      1. Snow Drift*

        But can I get a hands-up for the persistent mumblers, too? I don’t have hearing loss, dear husband, I hear all my friends and colleagues just fine! Speak above a subsonic rumble, and actually form consonants!

        1. Jennifer Juniper*

          I have a slight hearing loss. If there is a fan or other background noise, I can’t understand what people say. My spouse has no hearing loss, and she’s the one who likes to blast the music to ear-blistering levels.

        2. Jen*

          Yes! I’ve often found myself wondering if I have hearing problems, when I can’t understand what my husband is saying. But then I remember I don’t have problems hearing at work or around friends or family. So the problem must be with him.

      2. Alienor*

        I’m convinced that a friend of mine has hearing loss. He’s only about five years older than me (I’m in my mid/late 40s), but for the last couple of years he has *constantly* asked me to repeat every third or fourth thing I say to him. I don’t speak any differently than I ever have and other people can hear me just fine, so it’s got to be him. I feel weird pointing it out, though.

      3. Kat in VA*

        It goes even for serious, life-threatening issues.

        My husband refused to even consider medication for his diabetes which he “controlled” through diet and refused to test because he didn’t want to see the results.

        A stint in the hospital’s critical care unit due to DKA and being put on a regimen of insulin (because that’s preferable to, you know, dying) has changed his entire outlook.

        Not to mention he feels like a million bucks because he was untreated and unmanaged for so long and it was a slow slide into feeling generally crappy all the time. But in his head, insulin = really sick people and he wasn’t REALLY sick.

    9. Phoenix Programmer*

      One important issue – there is no mention of replacing conference chairs. I am surprised Alison did not mention this as it has been brought up each time there is a broken chair letter. But yeah forcing an employee to wheel special chair from meeting to meeting IS stigmatizing.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Yeah, this is also a thing.

        Conference room chairs don’t have to put up with the same kind of stress as your daily office chair, but man, do I HATE walking into conference rooms and trying to scope out whether the chairs are going to be okay for me, whether I’m going to have to perch gingerly on them and keep weight on my feet, or whether I’m going to have to sit oddly because the armrests are too narrow for my hips.

      2. LW1 Here*

        I’m trying to catch up with the amazing comments (thank you! You all are the best) and I realized I had meant to talk about the conference chairs in my letter but left it out. I convinced the powers that be that, since the conference room chairs were up for replacement, to replace them all with the wider-seated chairs like the ones in my link with the logic that we should make sure that our chairs should work for any customer, client, or employee, not matter what their size.

        Will try to reply to the rest of the comments!

        1. ContentWrangler*

          That’s a great plan LW1!

          Now that you’ve solved the conference room issue, I hope your employee is willing to take and use a proper chair at their desk.

        2. Observer*

          Good for you and for TPTB.

          You’re doing the right things, and it’s really not your fault that things have gotten to this point.

        3. Junior Dev*

          That’s great about the conference chairs!

          Boo bot made an excellent point above, that maybe the “swap” with a coworker wasn’t intentional on her part and you should talk to her about it to find out what really happened.

        4. CaliforniaHeavy*

          If I had to visit your office, I’d definitely be happier at not worrying about getting my butt stuck in a conference room chair (which has happened before, embarrassingly enough.) Thank you.

        5. Close Bracket*

          It’s probably better to have conference room chairs that are too big than are too small, but small people will be uncomfortable if the chair is too wide. There is really no such thing as a chair that will work for any customer, client, or employee, not matter what their size. People don’t sit in conference room chairs for very long, so a small person floating from side to side of their too-large chair and stretching to reach the armrests will not be uncomfortable for very long. Just please don’t buy extra wide chairs for everybody’s desk chair. I’ve had the extra wide chair, and I have an extra narrow body. I could only tolerate it for a few days and I found somebody to swap with.

    10. Observer*

      A poster up thread made a really good point about this. This person is clearly in deep denial, because even if the chair really looks different – and absolutely might look very different! It would still be a lot less stigmatizing than breaking a bunch of chairs. The fact that she’s going to such lengths to essentially pretend that she’s not overweight sounds like denial.

  5. Kerr*

    OP #1, do the heavy-duty chairs look noticeably different, like giant padded executive chairs (when everyone else is using low-profile mesh)? It’s totally reasonable to ask them to use a properly weight-rated chair, but if it stands out, you might want to go off-catalog and explore options that would blend in.

    1. Jimming*

      Yeah the “big and tall” chairs at my office look similar to the “regular” chairs. I actually have the opposite problem – since we are open office with no assigned seating. I often have to circle the office to find an empty larger chair to be comfortable or get in super early. Thankfully I can work from home most days.

  6. Leah*

    #1- I would fire this woman. She is intentionally wrecking office equipment to prove a point. Her swapping the chair assigned with a coworker shows a willful disregard for the company’s wishes, and your authority. Also, I imagine it is much stigmatizing to be the person who breaks chairs than to have a special heavy duty chair.

    1. Les G*

      We don’t know, at all, that she’s doing this to prove a point. As near as we know from OP’s account, she’s doing it because she doesn’t want to sit in a heavy-duty chair.

      1. Leah*

        “Prove a point” was maybe the wrong phrase to use. But it really sounds like she thinks having to use a special chair will give her a “fat lady” label, and that she is willing to break office equipment simply in protest against that.

        1. KCD*

          And she may well have good reason to think that. Fat-shaming is real and it sounds like she fears being stigmatised by this. It’s not reasonable for her to refuse to use the suitable chair, but neither if it appropriate to go straight to firing her. She needs to hear clearly and directly that the chair is not optional. And that refusal to use it will result in termination. As the advice in the post says.

          Your approach would be as inappropriate as her refusal.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            “Fat-shaming is real and it sounds like she fears being stigmatised by this. ”

            Yeah, but… I’m pretty sure people can tell that she’s fat without the chair, yanno. I agree that she needs to be given the ultimatum first, but I think I’d also have a blunt, “EE, you *are* fat. Anyone that’s going to treat you badly because of that is a bastard, but also, gonna treat you like that regardless of what chair you have.”

            1. Doctor Schmoctor*

              “I’m pretty sure people can tell that she’s fat without the chair”.
              I think she’s afraid people will think “you’re so fat you need a special chair” which I’m sure we can agree can’t be a nice feeling. But as others have said, being known as the lady who breaks chairs would be so much worse.

              It’s a really crappy situation. For everybody involved.

              1. The Original K.*

                Yeah, I feel sorry for her, but I agree with those who have said that she’s now the woman who has broken many chairs and that would be worse than being the woman who has a special chair. I feel like her having a chair that she does not break will actually draw LESS attention to the issue.

              2. Sacred Ground*

                And it possibly has less to do with how she thinks others see her than with how she see herself. She’s maybe in denial about being fat, internally blaming the broken chairs on shoddy construction or bad luck. Getting a heavy duty chair means acknowledging a truth she just doesn’t want to face. And the way fat people, women especially, are treated, I can’t really blame her for wanting to deny it.

              3. Hi*

                People definitely ARE thinking at if she’s broken 6+ chairs here. Its unpleasant but she needs to take responsibility for using office equipment properly and the reality is that she’s breaking it due to her size. There are lots of explanations for her behavior, good and understandable ones, but there is no excuse. It would suck to be really overweight have broken 4+ chairs, there’s no denying it. But the idea that if she were to use the chair people will “think of her as fat” is not grounded in reality. Also, if someone is fat they’re fat, I don’t sit at home at night thinking about how my co-worker is fat. It just is. She’s making it into a thing when it doesn’t have to be a thing. Is it shaming someone with a disability by asking them to use equipment that makes them able to work properly, like a special phone, or text to talk? Does everyone have to use that now as to not “shame” the person? No. It simply is. Because of something about her, she must use a different tool as a person who is hard of hearing might use a tool to assist them.

              4. Random Obsessions*

                It could be that the chair’s she’s broken aren’t the obvious full-on collapse, a la legs snapped off seat plummeting to the ground.
                Perhaps the wheels have simply snapped or the arm that holds the wheels bent. The hydraulics could have given out or the back adjustment broken. Any of these are a broken chair and need to be replaced, but they aren’t Hollywood dramatic as we might be thinking.

            2. Gigi*

              As the employer, I can’t ever imagine saying ‘EE you are fat’. How would that help at all? And fwiw, she knows she’s fat. Trust me, she knows.

              1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

                Seconding this. Do not tell her she is fat – that is very very much the wrong way to go about this. What is that Dear Prudence test? If you sound like a villain in a Reese Witherspoon movie – that means you are doing something wrong.

              2. Traffic_Spiral*

                Well, I wouldn’t bring it up out of the blue, but if she started talking about how she didn’t want to use “the fat lady chair” I think it would be reasonable to point out that her size is what it is, chair notwithstanding. Further, while she should definitely let me know if I need to smack down anyone being a jerk about her weight, using the regular chairs isn’t going to make her any thinner, it’s just going to break more chairs – so that’s not an option.

                1. OhNo*

                  While I agree that the phrasing is not ideal (though frankly, I don’t think there’s going to be any phrasing that would work perfectly in this situation), you bring up a good point that the LW might want to consider.
                  Putting the focus on what to do if bullying occurs might help allay this woman’s issues. As in, “Using the heavy-duty chair is NOT optional, but I get that you’re worried about perceptions/bullying. Here’s how we will deal with that if it occurs…”

                  Honestly, all the language here about how more people will notice that she’s breaking chairs than will notice that she has a new chair seem off-base to me, like they’re putting the responsibility for managing her (potential) bullying on the fat employee. It’s not her job to prevent bullying, it’s the manager’s job. The fact that she is still worried about it means that LW should do everything in their power to reassure her, and ensure that the environment is not conducive to bullying. It won’t rid the employee of all her fears – nothing but therapy could do that – but it might help if she knows you’ve got her back.

                2. Yorick*

                  I wouldn’t say “You have to sit in a fat lady chair because you’re fat.” I’d say something like, “It’s not a ‘fat lady chair.’ It’s ergonomic equipment that will keep you safe and comfortable, and it will cost the company less because it won’t need to be replaced as often.”

                3. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  @Ohno I don’t think saying breaking chairs is more likely to bring attention to herself vs using a chair rated for higher weight is asking her to manage the bullying, but rather trying to work within her state of mind to help her feel better.

                  I think it is similar to when a kid in school gets a zit/pimple and tries many different things to cover it up but end up drawing more attention to it, than if they had just not done anything to begin with.

                  I do agree the manager should reassure her that any kind of bullying will not be tolerated in the office.

            3. Anonentity*

              Nooooooooo. You’re not wrong that her sitation is obvious but going in on that tack will backfire. If you have some reluctant behaviour because of identity crisis “I can’t do x because then I will be y”, focus on actions and behaviours required, rather than “well face it, fat is your identity, obviously”

              This woman needs to hear that the chair was allocated to her because of what happened to the old one, not because of her visible size. She needs to hear that everyone in the office would be expected to use specialist equipment ordered for their requirements and safety. That chairs breaking is unsafe and expensive and her behaviour needs to collaborative not avoidant. An in-denial person with invisible disabilities, like hearing loss, would be subject to the same ‘take this seriously, you need to use the equipment allocated to you as a non-negotiable safety requirement’

          2. LW1 Here*

            I think this was my mistake with the chair swap. When I ordered her the heavy duty chair, I said, “I ordered you a new chair I would like you to use going forward” not, “I ordered you a new chair you must use going forward”

            To me, the most noticeable difference between the chair I ordered her and a “normal” chair is that it is wider in the seat and back. I didn’t think that would matter so much because 2/3 of folks in the office has chairs or other gear that looks different. It is one of our kind of minor, but appreciated, perks that people can swap out our standard equipment if they want something different every couple of years (or as needed for physical comfort). For example, I have a treadmill desk and the guy sitting next to me is 6’7″, so has an extra tall cube, tall chair, and a much higher desk so he doesn’t bang his knees.

            1. Lehigh*

              I think you will have to “firm up” your language, but honestly I can’t blame you for what you initially said. In my opinion, “I would like you to” from a manager = “This is what you will be doing now.” I would never think I could just ignore that direction without at least asking for clarification.

              1. Michael*

                Yeah, co-signing Lehigh here. I don’t think you’re wrong to want to be more direct, but any employee who hears “I’d like you to do X” from their boss and thinks “well, my boss would *like* me to do that, but I’d like *not* to, so I won’t” needs some gentle course correction on workplaces norms.

                Phrasing requirements as requests is super, super common in professional settings in the US, where professional norms are largely dictated by middle-class WASP culture (in which giving direct orders often feels rude). It’s even more common for women, who are often socialized to couch their communications with subordinates in terms that are conciliatory/friendly/accommodating. Neither of those two things are inherently fair or good, but at the moment they’re *true,* and being ignorant of this (willfully or not) is a good way to cause yourself lots of trouble.

                1. Observer*

                  Eh, the norm of phrasing things as a request is NOT just “middle-class WASP” thing, nor is it a bad thing. It’s common up and down the social ladder, and across cultures.

                2. Elle Kay*

                  I agree. The only wiggle room in “I’d like you to do X” from a boss/HR/Manager *might* be for you to do X earlier or later later in your list of tasks. (Like “I’d like you to call that client about the invoice” could happen immediately, this afternoon, or maybe tomorrow morning but you definitely need to call that client!)
                  If she didn’t get that this meant she needed to use that chair she is willfully deciding not to understand.
                  AND, if your office is otherwise very accommodating to various chair/desk needs, then there is even less reason that her chair would stand out. I could almost see it if *everyone else* had identical chairs but LW 1 says (in comments) that 2/3 people have different options. So no-one but her will even think about it.

                3. Close Bracket*

                  My bosses have “liked” me to do lots of things that I haven’t done bc I’m an experienced person who is allowed to evaluate a situation and use their best judgement as long as I don’t violate any laws or contracts. My bosses don’t always have all the information that I do, so just bc they’d like something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. No course correction needed. Clear language about what’s mandatory, using words like “mandatory,” will go a lot further in distinguishing between “likes” and “shalls.”

              2. The Other Dawn*

                I agree. If my manager told me “I’d like you to do X,” I’d take that as “You must do X.” I wouldn’t take it as being negotiable or that I can just disregard and do whatever I want. But you do need to be really blunt with some people.

            2. LaDeeDa*

              I think your language was fine, she chose to hear it as a suggestion, but as Lehigh said when your manager says “I would like for you….” that means, “do it”.

            3. Observer*

              Unless your employee is very new to the workforce, your language was quite clear and appropriate.

              Having said that, Allison is right. Sometimes you need to go from language that SHOULD be clear – which is where your language falls – to language that can’t be misunderstood, like Allison’s script or your second phrasing here.

            4. Anonentity*

              I can understand you approaching this topic gently; probably you assumed she’d be so pleased with an appropriate chair she would just use it. It is always surprising to encounter illogical denial.

            5. Electric sheep*

              That’s so awesome you have a treadmill desk! I’d love one but our office sees them as trip hazards and won’t allow them. (Plus I suspect they don’t want to pay for it.)

              1. Jennifer Juniper*

                Boo! I am not coordinated enough to walk and type at the same time. I actually fell off the treadmill twice at the gym.

      2. HRJ*

        She may not be trying to prove a point, but at this point, she is breaking chairs deliberately. She has broken six chairs (chairs 1, 2, 3, swapped chair 4, and the two conference room chairs)! One would have to be incredibly stupid to break chair number five and not realize that they will break their coworker’s chair, too, when they swap for it.

        That said, I do agree with Alison’s advice.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t think she’s breaking them deliberately — like “aha, I will smash this chair again!” I think she’s being reckless and probably sticking her head in the sand, which is still a problem but in a different way.

          I’m also assuming that breaking the chairs might not mean they’re collapsing under her every time, but might mean something less dramatic that wouldn’t be noticed until she stands up or the next person goes to sit there (but I could certainly be wrong about that).

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yeah—this reads to me like sticking her head in the sand. She’s worried about the stigma, but she’s not realizing that breaking chairs is more likely to create a stigma than simply utilizing a chair that is more appropriate for her needs.

            But I certainly don’t think she’s intentionally or deliberately breaking the chairs. If anything, this sounds like wilful recklessness with a heavy dose of ostrich.

            1. Aveline*

              Playing ostrich is something we all do from time to time. Especially wrt weight.

              How many people do we know that insist “they are making clothes smaller” instead of realizing that they have put on a few pounds? How many of us keep clothes in our closets that are 2 sizes too small because we want to believe we will diet and be that thin again? How many people walk around in clothes that are straining at the seams be they can’t admit they need to go but double digit sizes? How many of us insist we are the same size we were in college, but can’t see that we are now wearing brands that vanity size for their aging demographic?

              [There are also people who do these things be of poverty or sentimentality, but they don’t erase the cultural denial about weight and body changes].

              We live in a culture that is totally dysfunctional about weight, body deviation, and the natural processes that occur as we age.

              It’s another aspect of our culture that is rooted in ignorance and shame. So the result is stigma and denial.

              I get why this woman wants to continue to behave like she’s just like everyone else. But she’s not.

              One thing OP can point out that it isn’t about a judgment on the coworker’s weight, it’s about her needs and her safety. She be doing the same for anyone with the same need and safety concerns. That would include someone built like an NFL linebacker. You wouldn’t call them fat, but they would also need a reinforced chair. Heck, I’d bet The Rock has inadvertently destroyed a few flimsy chairs in his time.

              I’d also point out that office furniture is flimsy. So for many people, it’s not going to cut it.

              Finally, OP needs to assure the woman that if anyone fat shamed her, OP aill have her back and will go to bat for her.

              1. Magenta*

                This year I have made the decision to get rid of the boxes of clothes in various smaller sizes that I have kept for over 10 years under the bed in my spare room. I keep them in the hope that they will one day fit, but in reality they are a stick I use to beat myself up. They are there looming in the back of my mind.

                I realised I bought them in my early 20s, I am now 37, I wouldn’t be wearing them even if they did fit!

                If I do manage to get back down to that size then I will want to enjoy buying new clothes.

                1. wittyrepartee*

                  My friend and I were talking about this yesterday. “Are you really going to wear clothes that are a decade old, and a decade behind your personal fashion sense as of now, if you lose weight?!”

              2. Anon Now*

                This. Society doesn’t like fat people and we’re highly aware of it. So if forced to change to something because we’re fat (even if it’s necessary! even if it’s for our own health and comfort!), it sucks. Because if we were “normal” sized, we wouldn’t be made fun of by movies, by ads, by family, friends, or random strangers on the street. And we wouldn’t be forced to do something different, which brings more attention to ourselves.

          2. anon needs a new name*

            Your second paragraph is a bigger concern imo, because if she’s breaking them in a way that’s not noticeable until someone else goes to sit in the chair, it also has the potential to cause harm to other people.

            1. Emily K*

              I think she’s referring to things more like, sometimes you sit down in a chair and you expect that sort of pneumatic cushioning feeling, where the chair gives a little bit to absorb the impact of you sitting down, but instead it’s like sitting straight down on a rock with no give at all because the pneumatics have broken. Or sometimes those mesh-back chairs that recline when you lean back will break and no longer be able to recline no matter how hard you lean back on them. Or the lever that controls lumbar support or heigh adjustment will break. And those are all things that can break under stress from too much weight, and they make the chair super uncomfortable to sit in, but it’s not risking harm to anyone.

          3. JamieS*

            I don’t think she’s doing it deliberately in the way you describe. However continuing to sit on unsuitable chairs after breaking multiple ones is a form of deliberation IMO.

          4. Jaybeetee*

            “I’m also assuming that breaking the chairs might not mean they’re collapsing under her every time, but might mean something less dramatic that wouldn’t be noticed until she stands up or the next person goes to sit there (but I could certainly be wrong about that).”

            That was going to be my question too. Is she having “Shallow Hal” – style blowouts several times per year, or is the damage more subtle than that? If the “breaking” is more subtle than a full-on collapse, that might also be enabling this woman’s denial that “maybe the next one will hold out better” and would make her concerns about stigma make more sense, if the current chairs aren’t breaking in a way that’s super-obvious to others.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Given past experience (OldJob cheaped out hard on our office chairs, and they broke down regularly for most of us) what’s most likely happening is hydraulic failure, casters coming loose, things like that. They are subtle, and don’t necessarily mean the whole chair is scrapped — which is not to say it’s okay, but it’s not total chair implosion.

          5. LW1 Here*

            Yeah, it isn’t deliberate and the break only occurred 2x where it was really noticeable (hydrolic on the bottom gave out in front of other people). It is generally more the back getting stuck way tipped because it wasn’t built for the weight, wheels coming off, etc. My boss is worried that 1) she is going to get hurt 3) we will get a worker’s comp claim and 2) we are going to blow through the equipment budget and then if someone needs an accommodation or is up for new gear (we allow replacement every 5 years) we won’t have the cash

            1. TheThatcher*

              Is there any point where instead of firing the employee it could be a situation where the employee is responsible for the cost of the broken chair. (There would need to be a rule that isn’t just this employee has to pay for new chairs… like anything above 1 replacement every 5 years is paid for by the employee rather than the company) This seems like a reasonable step to me, and can be implemented for other situations where equipment gets broken. Say, I took a chair and rode it down the stairs or tried office jousting.

              1. Observer*

                It’s not a reasonable requirement, in fact. Because things come up and there are a lot of good reasons why someone might need a replacement before 5 years or something breaks sooner. But now, you’re penalizing staff for it, or creating a whole process to handle something that should not need it.

                1. TheThatcher*

                  Then make the policy more flexible. the policy I stated was just as an illustrative example. The key point is that if the employee has to pay for the replacement of chairs broken due to sitting in them when you are over the weight capacity, it could deter the behavior without resorting to threatening to fire them.
                  I suppose it is really a half-measure suggestion and could be viewed as targeting the employee, or discriminating against overweight people. just brainstorming.

                2. Observer*

                  Creating whole new policies to deal with a fairly simple situation tends to be overkill. Besides, there ARE policies in place – provide appropriate furniture and USE it. This policy doesn’t apply only to this woman but to everyone who can’s easily use the “standard” furniture.

                  Keep in mind that budget is only part of the problem, as well. Forcing her to pay for the furniture would solve that (very real) problem, but not the issues of safety and liability at stake here.

            2. Kat*

              I would definitely lead the conversation from the perspective of her safety as that is your responsibility as her supervisor. Leave out the budget stuff. I imagine talking about the budget issue (which is a real concern for your boss) will make it seem to the employee that the issue is her weight and that it’s costing the company too much money. Even if you say it’s safety and budget I can imagine someone only hearing the part about the budget and feeling bad about themselves. I think the best way to show compassion is to treat this like any other H&S accommodation like you would for someone with mobility issues or vision or hearing issues. You already know she’s very sensitive about this topic so I think the best thing is to stay away from any language that might make her feel like she’s at fault for this situation.

              Stick to you/the company has a responsibility to provide a safe work environment for all employees. And that includes providing an accommodation by ordering specific office equipment if standard stuff poses a risk to an employee. The special chair is simply equipment that is safe for her and she needs to use it – it’s not negotiable. You’re sorry you didn’t make that clear before.

              Her refusal to use it puts herself at risk of injury and will jeopardize her job because the company can’t allow staff to disregard accommodations that are for their own safety as it could open them up to liability issues.

              Good luck!

          6. BelleMorte*

            I also wonder about the quality of chairs that are typically being used at the desks, or exactly what she is doing to break them because honestly they really shouldn’t be breaking that frequently. I’ve weighed nearly 400 pounds and am nearly 6 feet tall, but have never broken a standard office chair. OP1 may want to look at the general quality of the chairs they are using because that’s really weird.

    2. Jasnah*

      While I agree that personally I’d rather discreetly have my chair swapped for a sturdier one than have my coworkers see me break 5 chairs, I find it really odd that your conclusion is that she is intentionally breaking them to prove a point. What point is that? What would a fat woman gain from breaking office equipment? I genuinely cannot imagine even a convoluted insurance fraud scheme that would match this scenario.

      Instead of ascribing malicious intent, it reads to me that this situation is just what it appears on the surface: the employee would rather blend in than stand out because of her weight, and doesn’t realize her employment is on the line.

      1. Leah*

        She’s broken six chairs. Even if she doesn’t know that her job’s on the line, she knows that her employer wants her in a unbreakable chair, and she’s gone against that decision. I don’t think she’s going out of her way to break chairs, but shes willfully ignoring steps to guard against doing so. Again, six chairs. That’s not trying to blend in.

        1. Jasnah*

          When OP first brought it up, she burst into tears. This makes me think that the situation is not “oblivious fat lady with chair vendetta”, it’s more likely “fat lady with great sensitivity about her weight thinking ‘Oh god please nobody notice’.”

          So I think it would be more charitable of OP to sidestep allllll the “why is she breaking the chairs” and “why doesn’t she notice” and “why is she concerned about this” and just focus on the result: she needs to use a chair that is rated for her weight for safety and budget reasons, and this is a condition of her employment.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            I think that’s the way to go. At this point, it really doesn’t matter why she’s doing this, what matters is that she starts using an appropriate chair. So the best approach from the OP would be to be matter of fact but firm. If she starts crying, wait for her to compose herself and go on. And I would say that if she pushes back during this conversation, then it’s appropriate to mention that breaking another chair will be considered a firing offence. I suspect that the OP will have to get to that point before the employee changes her behaviour.

            1. Traffic_Spiral*

              “it’s appropriate to mention that breaking another chair will be considered a firing offence.”

              I wouldn’t say that – that’s just going to have her stressed and hiding broken chairs. The requirement is that she use the proper chair, not that she keep doing the thing that breaks chairs, and hopes that this time it’ll be different.

              1. Jenny*

                Although then we are stuck in a catch 22. OP does need to make clear this is becoming a fireable issue to coworker because to do otherwise is unfair.

                1. LW1 Here*

                  This is where I am landing. I need to make it a direct order to use proper equipment a “you must” instead of “I’d like you to” or “I want you to” and then make it clear that not obeying the direct order will be fireable.

                2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*


                  I think you are being overly generous in your thoughts that you weren’t being clear.

                  “I’d like you to” is very clear to be a direct statement that means you expect whatever to be done.

                  That being said, I do agree that in this case you go with one more conversation that uses explicit language. “Must”, “Require”, “Expect”, “Comply/Compliance” etc. And use the phrase “Failure to do so will result in disciplinary action up to and including termination” “Do you understand that you could be fired?”

                  I would also add a bit about your previous directions not being followed as this seems like a willful ‘misunderstanding’ and the quotes were intended. She knew damn well that you wanted her in the higher weight rated chair, and she chose not to comply.

                3. Close Bracket*


                  “I’d like you to” is very clear to be a direct statement that means you expect whatever to be done.

                  This is why Alison so frequently asks people whether they are sure they are being clear. To me, the above is a clear, direct statement that you would like something done. It is *not* a clear direct statement that what you want done is mandatory. I mean, I would like you to give me a pony. See the difference?

              2. Rusty Shackelford*

                Yes, I’d say refusing to use the chair purchased for her could be a firing offense, but not breaking a chair (which could happen if the chair isn’t as advertised, or is defective, etc.)

              3. Kat*

                Same. The issue isn’t her breaking chairs. The issue is her refusal to use the one specifically bought for her which is safest for her. Saying she’ll be fired for breaking a chair will sound like fat-shaming and you don’t want to say something that could be used to argue you were prejudiced towards her because of her weight.

          2. Screenwriter/Mom*

            I said this above, too, but OP can also point out to her that she will actually be more comfortable in a chair, and point out that the company is willing to pay for a more expensive chair so that she can have a more supportive chair. OP could also point out that she would do the same if she was talking to a tall, muscular man–it has nothing to do with “being fat” but simply needing a chair that is appropriate. The more matter of fact OP can be, the better.

            1. Lucy*

              Yes: my spouse is 6’8″ tall and built for rugby. Our home office has always needed a substantial chair and it is just as comfortable for him as it is for our 50lb 7-year-old.

              Surely though at this stage LW doesn’t need to buy another “fat chair” but a standard office chair which goes to Swapper, and ChairBreaker gets the swapped special chair. I feel as though the focus is slightly different if it’s “Hey Karen, here’s your chair back” rather than “Hey Karen, here’s another special new chair for you” – but “You Must Use Only This Chair And Not Swap, No Arguments” must be part of the conversation.

          3. Observer*

            More charitable, and MUCH more useful.

            It’s good for the OP to understand what might be going on – which sounds to me a lot like desperation to maintain the facade of normal weight, to the point of retreating into fantasy land – but ultimately, the key to making something happen is to focus on results. This employee needs to be sitting in this kind of chair, regardless of how she feels about it, and she needs to be told this in language that is unambiguous to your typical 5 year old. Because even though she’s an adult, in THIS respect she’s retreating to the magical thinking of a young child.

          4. Decima Dewey*

            I realize the employee may be embarrassed at breaking so many chairs. But how is she going to feel when a higher up announces “Quick meeting, grab a chair!” and Fergus, Pam, and Lucinda say “not *my* chair, thank you very much!”

        2. Airy*

          People can really frantically kid themselves “As long as I don’t do this thing that I believe stands out, I’ll fit in!” while everyone else is totally on to them, and yet they are sincere.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I believe there’s a psych rule that the people who spend the most time staring in the mirror have the least accurate mental image of their appearance.

        3. Auntie Social*

          And it’s just for vanity, so she doesn’t have to admit that she needs a reinforced chair. She’s not thinking at all about her other coworkers, who are trying to use a chair with now-broken hydraulics, or about the department’s/company’s equipment budget. When one of our larger employees was on vacation, we’d argue over who got Joy’s chair because her chair had more padding than ours. Go figure!

          1. tommy*

            it’s not vanity. she’s trying to escape shame. she’s not doing it in a way that can work here, but vanity is not the right concept. it’s the opposite.

              1. Screenwriter/Mom*

                No. Shame. It’s really embarrassing and mortifying to feel fat in a world where women are constantly fat-shamed. She is trying to avoid the shame by pretending it’s not a problem. Don’t we all do this to some level, those of us who struggle even a bit with our weight? “My jeans just seem to have shrunk” “I can totally eat this pie at the holiday party, it won’t make a difference” “I’m just more comfortable in underwear a size larger”? I know I do. There’s no ego, there’s no malice. Just a lady who’s struggling with accepting herself. But OP just has to blandly make her point, with as little emotion as possible.

                1. pancakes*

                  Saying that there’s no ego in that doesn’t mean there isn’t in fact ego in that! A sense of identity that’s been reinforced so much it can withstand direct physical conflict—pants that don’t fit, say—is pretty much pure ego.

              2. tommy*

                only in the technical sense of ego, not the common usage sense.

                she’s terrified and ashamed. it’s not that she’s thinking of herself (or trying to think of herself) extra highly. it’s that she’s trying desperately to avoid thinking of herself extra horribly, or have other people think of her or treat her that way.

                (the question of whether her chair refusal accomplishes that is a different question.)

                1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

                  Thank you , sorry, I hit submit before finishing my thought. I did mean it in terms of ego, super-ego and id.

            1. A Nonny Mouse*

              Thanks for this, Tommy. Shame is so much more powerful than embarrassment and until you have experienced it first hand and come out the other side it is hard to see how it warps your thinking.

            2. Hi*

              But if no one is insulting her or being hurtful and they’re in fact being kind like OP how is that shaming her? Its not the OP’s fault that she feels shame. If people were mocking her that would be a completely different thing. She’s feeling shame because she’s breaking a bunch of chairs.

              1. tommy*

                who on earth implied it was the OP’s fault? nobody, and it’s not. when you live in a society that detests your body from myriad directions, you can feel shame anyway. she’s ashamed to identify with fatness, and that’s because fat people are hated and oppressed. you’re thinking of this from an individual point of view that only takes into account the specific scenario. i’m telling you that the scenario exists inside a broader cultural context.

                she’s not “feeling shame because she’s breaking a bunch of chairs.” she’s feeling shame because she lives in a society that doesn’t think we deserve chairs (or a lot of other things).

        4. Amy*

          I suspect it’s less intentional than even intentionally guarding steps against it happening.

          A lot of people get in a denial mindset about their weight. I don’t mean that they don’t know what it is, or that they can’t tell they’re heavy–but in a society that expresses a lot of virulent hatred for fatness, and for fat women in particular, it can be easy to mentally sidestep some of it by telling yourself that you’re not THAT fat (for whatever definition of THAT fat is in your mind). It’s not willful denial; it’s a defense mechanism.

          It sounds to me like OP’s employee has drawn their mental definition of ‘THAT fat’ around furniture–e.g. “I know I’m big but I’m not SO big that I need a special chair”. Yeah, logically multiple broken chairs would contradict that logic (though I’m wondering how flimsy these chairs are–I’ve been quite big at times, definitely big enough that I avoided obviously weak chairs, and I’ve never had an issue with your general office-grade furniture). But when your brain has latched onto something as a defense mechanism, logic doesn’t always apply. I could definitely see someone in that situation justifying it as being just bad luck, or those specific chairs already being on the verge of breaking–not because they’re stupid, but because their brain is trying really hard to protect them from crossing that line and confronting what’s going on. I mean, she burst into tears when OP brought up the idea of a different chair before; it’s obviously a painful topic for her, it’s not hard to imagine that her brain would try to subconsciously steer her away from it whenever possible.

          Obviously that doesn’t mean the situation can continue as is; it’s not safe, for one, and it could end in her losing her job, for another. There needs to be a serious talk where OP tells her that she has to use the assigned chair, non-optional. But I think there’s also room here for sympathy for the employee, who’s obviously really struggling with this.

          1. Akcipitrokulo*


            OP could also soften a little by saying something like “I think I may not have been clear, and I’m sorry for any misunderstanding – but using the chair is not optional. You must use the chair we purchased and no other.” … acknowledge that she may just not have realised this was a “you must use this…” rather than a “we got this if you’d like to use it…”

            Then, if she uses another chair… hopefully before any damage, take to one side and use the usual scripts “we spoke about this. What’s happening?” and “I need you to do this. Can you commit to that?”.

            1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

              Just a side observation – if using the heavy duty chair doesn’t look all that different to a regular chair (assuming it’s the same fabric and colour, just a bit wider, say), that shouldn’t draw much attention. But she broke to conference chairs. If she’s having to wheel her specially reinforced chair into a meeting, I can see how that would be stigmatising.

              1. Ceiswyn*

                Yes, and as a shy, ex-fat person I know that having to wheel a ‘special fat chair’ across the office, past the gaze of colleagues, every time I attended a meeting, would have been something that caused me significant anxiety and shame to the point of negative health consequences.

                Not that breaking chairs would have been exactly great either, but.

                1. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

                  LW 1 replied above that they are replacing all the conference room chairs with the reinforced chairs. I think they also said that almost no-one has “standard” furniture and other people have reinforced/special chairs for other reasons.

              2. Akcipitrokulo*

                Good point – I think it could be reasonable to say “we are getting one for your desk and one for the conference room, and it is a requirement that you use these chairs”. But definitely one for meetings would be good.

              3. a1*

                Lots of people wheel their own chair into conference rooms for lot of reasons. Why would someone assume it’s because of weight? I mostly see stereotypically “fit” people do it, but I have seen all ages and sizes. I would never even begin to assume why.

                1. a1*

                  Maybe by some people, but a lot of us just don’t care. I couldn’t care less if you bring your own chair in, if you bring your own food in, if you get up in the middle of the meeting to stretch or go to the bathroom, etc. People don’t think about us nearly as much as you think or as much as we think about us.

                2. Lily Rowan*

                  Also that’s got to be somewhat of an office culture thing. In my job, no one brings a chair to a room that already has enough chairs. But also no one is especially happy with any of the chairs here!

                3. Allison*

                  Depends on the office, how big it is and how far you’d need to travel to the conference room from your desk. Wheeling it down the hall a little ways, or across a small office suite? Fine. Bringing it in the elevator, or pushing it across a courtyard or skywalk to get from one building to the other? Maybe you wouldn’t think twice about it, but it’s bound to get some odd looks and side-eyes.

                4. GradStudent*

                  a1, I think you might be thinking about this the wrong way. Thinking “everyone is looking at me because I’m doing x” comes from self-consciousness and anxiety; not thinking your special or that people particularly care about what you’re doing. It’s pretty obvious this employee has very strong feelings about their weight and the chair. It’s not that much of a leap to assume they would be embarrassed about having to bring it into meetings.

                5. Astor*

                  There are a lot of things that fat people do that is automatically attributed to their weight that for a “fit” person would have a whole range of assumptions. Fat people can tell you about their experiences at the doctor, at the gym, at the office, on the bus, and really anywhere where this happens. It’s great if you don’t do it even if your head, but it affects our lives enough that fat people can’t help but be aware of it.

                  Do I sometimes get self-conscious and assume that people are thinking badly of my weight even though no one says anything? Sure. But god, if I had a dollar for every time someone I thought was safe has decided that they “can’t keep quiet anymore” about whatever it is that offends them about my weight. Or make fun of someone else’s weight. Or whatever.
                  Please blame them for my self-consciousness instead of dismissing it as a product of my anxiety.

                6. a1*

                  a1, I think you might be thinking about this the wrong way. Thinking “everyone is looking at me because I’m doing x” comes from self-consciousness and anxiety;

                  Yes, I know. The self-consciousness and anxiety often comes from thinking others will think less of us, or we’re different, or whatever. Knowing that the world isn’t thinking of you nearly as often as you think is actually a relief, then.

                  @Astor, at 5’5″ and 220lbs, I am fat. You’re not saying anything new. But the people that think or say negative things about that are still not as numerous of the dozens or 100s of people we interact with and pass on a daily/weekly basis. (Seriously, think about all the people you see on a daily basis, from the bus or train, to the mall or store, to work, to restaurants, bars, at the park, whever you go. It’s A LOT!) Most people say or do nothing because they are going about their day, in their own head, thinking about themselves. For those that do, it just reflects badly on them. Someone says something “mean” because of my weight? it just shows them to be an ass. Plain and simple. It doesn’t reflect on me at all.

                  And really, why should something some bozo said last week keep me from using a comfortable chair? (or going to the beach, or whatever else I want to do).

                7. Hi*

                  yeah i would never even think about that? And even if I did assume it was because of weight it would be totally neutral to me? Does she think people can’t see with their eyes that she’s fat? And I’m sure NO one cares.

            2. Observer*

              I think that the time is past for softening language. I don’t mean that the OP should be harsh, but ANYTHING of the sort is likely to allow her to misconstrue something. Also, unfortunately no more “can you commit” type conversations. If she pushes back, she needs to be told that it’s either that or her job. And if she doesn’t but swaps again, she needs to be told flatly that if does that again, she’s gone.

          2. Amylou*

            It definitely sounds like a defense mechanism. It probably feels like she would cross a mental line when she has to admit she needs this sturdier chair. The line that says – now it is really bad, now I’m really fat… a sort of mental point of no return. The mental gymnastics used in such cases are amazing.

    3. beth*

      Seriously? OP hasn’t even had a direct talk with her about this being a problem yet. They’ve suggested that she use a sturdier chair, but that’s not at all the same thing as telling her she has to. It’s very weird to interpret this as the employee intentionally wrecking things or intentionally disregarding OP’s authority, given that.

      And while yes, it’s not great that multiple chairs have broken, it’s also not something that I think most office workers would even consider they might be fired over. OP needs to talk to her about it, but firing her now would be extremely premature.

        1. Jasnah*

          OP hasn’t made it clear to the employee why this is an issue, or what the stakes are. If OP fires the employee without a conversation, I can see her writing to Alison:
          “Dear Alison, I’m really sensitive about my weight. I’ve broken multiple office chairs at this point and I’m so embarrassed. My boss suggested I use a heavy-duty chair but I really don’t want to use a ‘fat-lady chair’. Did I get fired because I’m fat?”

        2. Amy*

          Firing someone for just about anything (short of e.g. sexual harassment or racist comments) without having a real talk with them about the problem is premature. Yes, OP should have had that talk earlier–that doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to skip it now and fire the employee without giving them a chance to change.

      1. Observer*

        Oh, come on, the OP did mention the language she used in addition to the fact that she actually BOUGHT THE CHAIR FOR HER.

        I don’t think that the employee is being intentional in the way the most people think of the word. On the other hand, she is clearly blowing past office norms and ignoring things that adults in a functional workplace are expected to understand. Like the fact that when you boss tells you “I want you do to x” that is NOT a suggestions. That is your boss telling you what they EXPECT you to do.

        So, yes, I would have ONE more conversation with her. But JUST one. Because she’s been engaging in damaging behavior despite being given perfectly valid options and clear instruction.

    4. Civilian Linetti*

      I wouldn’t fire her without making it clear that she uses a properly rated chair as a condition of her continued employment.

      When someone is obviously tearful and embarrassed in front of you, there is a tendency to go soft and vague instead of compassionate yet firm. The world is not a kind place for the larger lady.

      It is baffling why the chair breaking behaviour is preferable to using a chair rated specifically for her weight, but the personal reasons don’t really matter because the behaviour has to stop regardless. There is no outcome where HR are going to say “Ok, you have strong feelings about this, you can keep using chairs that will break under you because we don’t want you to be upset.”

      LW1, I would order two chairs. One for her everyday use, and one to be permanently in the conference room for her use during meetings. If part of the employee’s reluctance is due to the horror of dragging her reinforced chair across the office to the conference room for meetings, eliminate that fear. The outlet on two higher rated chairs has got to outway the cost of replacing multiple lower rated chairs going forward.

  7. Les G*

    My thought on OP#2 is that Bessy surely knows that ingredients like lard, skim milk, and cheese are not vegan and makes the informed decision to eat them anyway despite typically eating vegan. This does not, at least to me, imply that she would make the same decision for others–particularly not people she knows are adhering to a temporary strict vegan diet.

    That said, I’d tend to go with Alison’s first suggestion rather than the second. The degree to which you have (privately and nonjudgmentally, of course) taken note of and even scrutinized your coworker’s adherence to her vegan diet runs the risk of coming off oddly to her.

    1. Jenny*

      I have a friend with diagnosed celiac and she has learned that certain people can’t be trusted on what they claim is “gluten free”. We have a person in our gaming group who talks about being gluten free a lot but my friend can’t eat the stuff she brings, it has made her prettysick in the past. It is awkward because the person tries to push food on her sometimes but my friend has learned it is best to just duck food without trying to explain. (I will say even with good intentions I messed up early on and she taught me how to look at labels). For OP I would take a similar tactic. Don’t engage on specifics, just decline food.

      1. Lurker*

        I have a co-worker with celiac and my mom sends care packages of cookies to my office every so often. Last time, she tried really hard to make something “gluten-free” to be inclusive; but in her mind, no flour = gluten free. She honestly didn’t realize that she needed to check the ingredients on every.single.thing to make sure there was no gluten. For example, she made Rice Krispies treats and thought they would be fine. However, Rice Krispies have some sort of malt flavoring which is made from barley so…not gluten free.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is typical for those who do Gluten Free as a trend and not for a gluten intolerance. They don’t know much about cross contaminates being a huge issue.

        1. Sunshine*

          Yep, there’s a blogger called the Bitchy Waiter who goes mad about this; specifically people who say they’re gluten intolerant when they mean they’re just avoiding it out of choice.

          He pointed out that if someone is gluten intolerant and orders food, you need to use clean knives, chopping boards, plates, and keep it physically away from gluten containing foods, otherwise the person might get sick. Then you see people where the kitchen staff do all this, then see that the person eats some bread, and it makes the staff take it less seriously next time.

          1. londonedit*

            Definitely. My sister (who can’t eat gluten or dairy for medical reasons, but it’s not an allergy) is always careful to say ‘It’s not an allergy, so I don’t need you to do anything special, but I do need to avoid gluten and dairy’ whenever she’s in a restaurant.

            1. Emily K*

              Yep, I’m in a similar boat. Wheat gives me some nasty GI symptoms and provokes an immune response from my body. But the severity of the symptoms increases proportionately to the amount I consume, and it takes more than cross-contamination to rise to a level that I notice. I will often order a salad without croutons or a burger without a bun, and in recent years that’s been more likely to prompt my server to ask if I’m gluten-free or have an allergy. I always say, “Oh, no, nothing that bad.”

              I went off wheat in 2010, a couple of years before gluten-free stuff took off. I honestly love how much easier it is to find wheat-free products and at better prices starting around 2012. It’s great!

              It does frustrate me that people get so judgy about the way other people eat. I’m not Celiac, but I’m also not just following a fad, I have a food intolerance (Celiac is NOT a food intolerance, it’s an autoimmune condition). Wheat makes me feel bad, so I avoid it. Why does it have to be a life-threatening hyper-sensitivity for that to be valid? And yes, sometimes I will order “gluten-free bread” when it’s available, or tell a friend/family member who’s ordering food that I need the “gluten-free option.” Just asking for gluten-free food is not the same as saying I’m Celiac, but a lot of people act like if you ask for gluten-free and don’t have Celiac, you’re faking or following a trend.

              I know people who don’t eat cream-based/white sauces at restaurants because they’re too rich and make them feel bad. I know people who don’t eat raw fruits and vegetables because they have a pesticide sensitivity that can cause itching around their mouth and lips. I know people who avoid seafood because it makes them feel ill, even if it doesn’t close their throat up. We have this tendency as humans to try to separate the deserving from the undeserving, and we want to see people meet some arbitrary threshold of suffering before they’re allowed to seek accommodations for something that isn’t working out for them. If your suffering is at a 4 or less, you’re supposed to just keep suffering. Only if your suffering is at least a 5 can you ask for something different than what everyone else gets or else you’re just looking for attention or something.

              1. londonedit*

                Oh, absolutely. I was once having lunch with my sister, and she ordered a particular salad from the menu, but with a vinaigrette dressing instead of the advertised creamy one, and without the bread that was usually served with it. Not a problem for the restaurant staff. But two women on the table next to ours started having an extremely loud conversation about ‘these stupid young women and their ridiculous fad diets’. Being British we obviously didn’t say anything, but I wish we had gone over and told them all about her medical condition!

                1. Decima Dewey*

                  If I ask for no potatoes and no bread with the omelet special, how is that the business of the people at the next table?

          2. media monkey*

            my friend’s little girl has a lot of serious allergies including gluten. if they eat out, they bring special pasta (or whatever) for her, always ring in advance and explain the situation. she has on multiple occasions been served pasta with gluten (i.e. not the stuff they provided) or otherwise contaminated food. cue epi pen, ride in a ambulance and 3 or 4 days of sickness.

        2. Natalie*

          Even among two people with celiac, sensitivity can differ greatly. I have a good friend whose whole family has celiac and they all take varying levels of precaution depending on how easily they react, and they’re own willingness to suffer from mild symptoms.

      3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        The standards between people who are gluten free because they think it’s healthy for them and people who are gluten free because of an actual allergy are HUGE. My brother dated a series of girls who were diagnosed with ceilaic (I told him he must be a carrier of the worst STD ever) so I learned how to cook for it, and man you have to be so careful and think about every single thing that goes in and makes sure it doesn’t touch anything else. If you are just going gluten free as a health food thing there is no reason at all to go to all those lengths. I’ve noticed in certain restaurants their gluten free food has a disclaimer that you shouldn’t eat this if you have an actual allergy, which makes their food useless to the people who would need it most. So in a strange way the world trying to become more accommodating for people with celiac is really just presenting them with false hope.

      4. boop the first*

        “Gluten free” is such a unique beast. Every food service job I’ve had, eventually the boss will come in and say “we need to add some gluten free options”. And if I say that’s impossible, because this is not a gluten free kitchen, they ALWAYS say “no, it’s fine! my nephew/sister/friend/neighbour gets a “rash” if they eat a lot of (gluteny food), so they must be celiac! And they can eat this recipe okay!”

        Wow, it sounds totally worth potentially causing someone to lose function of their intestines now! Ok good luck!

        1. Karyn*

          Well, that’s where you make plain that the noodles are buckwheat, or the tortillas are all-corn, but you DON’T say it’s gluten-free. Or somewhere on the menu, say that the kitchen contains gluten products and you cannot prevent cross-contamination.

          That would be fine for me, and for lots of people.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      Some people are of the belief that “just a little wont hurt”. They’re the same ones that think “only a little” bit of peanuts won’t trigger an allergy or that it isn’t a big deal if people violate their diets, even if it is for religious beliefs. “Loosen up!” they say.
      No amount of discussion will change their minds. It is not a big deal for them so it shouldn’t be for you!

      1. Auntie Social*

        Those are the same people that don’t care if you spend the afternoon in cramps, in the ladies room, or in the ER because your allergy IS an allergy, and not that you need to “loosen up”. Surreptitiously inserting dairy into a vegan’s diet is just cruel.

        1. Sunshine*

          Yep. Remember the co-worker who was sneaking artificial sweeteners into their colleague’s coffee? A *lot* of people have bad reactions to sucralose and aspartame. They can trigger asthma and worse in susceptible people.

          1. Aveline*

            I dont’ want to derail. But to signal boost this.

            I’m fine with Aspertame. Sucralose makes all the food in my body violently leave it until I have the dry heaves. And it makes me itch incessantly.

            There are so many things people think are “harmless” because it doesn’t noticbly impact them immediately. That doesn’t make them harmless in general or harmless to other specific people.

            This is why we have to respect people’s rights to control what goes in their bodies. Even when we think it’s stupid. Even if we know it’s stupid.

            So, yes, I might roll my eyes internally at someone who is gluten free just bc it is a fad. But I’d never serve them gluten on purpose.

            1. AnonEmu*

              Seconding re the aspartame issues. It’s a migraine trigger for me and a bunch of other artificial sweeteners make my guts go haywire. I admit I’m always hesitant re my food issues because once I start listing “no gluten, no soy, no artificial sweeteners” people sometimes figure I’m doing it for fad diet reasons rather than “I get really sick if exposed”. “Just a little” can still -> I’m spending all afternoon in the bathroom or in a dark room with noise-cancelling headphones.

              1. Relly*

                I love, love, love those Sparkling Ice drinks you see at the supermarket. And I can’t drink them, because they trigger me like crazy. It took me forever to realize they were what was doing it, because in my mind “artificial sweeteners” were and always had been okay. Turns out sucralose triggers me, but aspartame is fine.

          2. OlympiasEpiriot*

            No! Who tf did that?? Do you remember when that letter was? Aspartame can be extremely dangerous for some people.

          3. Jennifer Juniper*

            What? I hope that asshole got fired for that and got some experience with the correctional system as well.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          In this case, I suspect coworker wouldn’t be so much surreptitious as don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff cavalier. Like, if I don’t worry about the occasional bit of dairy other people don’t. Whether those people are lactose intolerant or give up dairy for Lent.

          Maybe Kosher is a good example, especially because some people only keep Kosher during certain periods. People who are vague about Kosher–perhaps channeling yesterday’s boss to say “It’s Kosher!” very confidently when “It’s stuffed with ham!” would be more accurate–with no malice or point to prove, just a vague notion of the definition of Kosher and an assumption that everyone is as laid back about it as they are.

          1. Les G*

            I don’t know any Jew who would ever do that. Me, I don’t give a rat’s hiney about keeping kosher at any level of strictness, but it’s *very* serious to folks and even with a cursory knowledge, it’s obvious how complicated it is and how nothing I make is gonna cut it for someone who’s strict.

            Let’s please avoid another repeat of the great “are religious dietary restrictions voluntary and less or more important than preferences” debate we just had recently.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              I was thinking of the letter about the office with a regular kitchen and a Kosher kitchen, and how yes it needed to be kept reserved but people with a cursory understanding of Kosher didn’t get that, they just wanted more fridge space and it wasn’t like it was for cheeseburgers so what’s the problem?

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      There’s a ton of people who mix vegan and vegetarian up or start their own idea of the diets. They really don’t know you can’t have lard or milk. I’ve met them IRL and I have to escape quickly, it’s frightful to be around such ignorance. I’m talking about people who fight you that no, you can’t call that vegan, you just dropped honey into it! Kind of nonsense.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          Well, and there are those who I have met who think just if you don’t eat red meat, that is equal to being vegetarian. Sorry but the last time I checked, chicken and fish are still animals.

      1. Risha*

        I agree with your overall point but I’m amused by the example you decided to use, since last time I checked there wasn’t universal agreement as to whether honey is vegan!

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Former beekeeper here. If you could work bees without killing any, it would be a miracle.

      2. merp*

        I mean, I think there are a lot of people who pick and choose what feels right for them, and if pressed, might describe themselves as vegan or vegetarian in circumstances where it is easier than explaining various exceptions. Like, a person can decide to be vegan for most meals but not all, and that doesn’t make them ignorant, just means they’ve drawn their own boundaries about their food.

        But I’m with you that fighting others over it, or trying to apply their own version of their diet to others who are more strict sucks a lot.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      In my experience, people who claim they are vegan but still eat animal products do not exercise adequate care when making “vegan” treats for others. I see people do this with gluten-free and nut-free stuff all the time. It’s usually not out of malice—it’s usually obliviousness or forgetfulness.

      1. londonedit*

        I agree, it’s not usually out of malice. It’s more that people who don’t have to live with any dietary restrictions often don’t fully understand all of the implications. My sister can’t eat gluten or dairy because of medical issues – it’s not an allergy, but the symptoms of her illness are greatly exacerbated by gluten and dairy, so she takes care to avoid them. People often have the best intentions, but end up getting it wrong – like the example someone else gave of thinking ‘no flour’ means gluten-free, or even going the other way and saying ‘Oh no! I made you this thing, but it’s got eggs in it, and you can’t have eggs can you?’ Plenty of people think eggs are dairy, for some bizarre reason. And with vegetarian and vegan diets, there’s often a lot of confusion among people who don’t follow those diets – and people often don’t consider things like sauces being made with chicken stock, or sweets containing gelatine, or the fact that most vegans don’t eat honey. It’s not malicious, it’s just the fact that if you’re not immersed in a particular diet, or having to avoid particular foods for your own medical reasons, then you might not think about all the potential issues.

        1. Shad*

          I think the “eggs=dairy” thing comes from grocery store organization; the grocery store dairy section seems to catch all refrigerated animal products and substitutes, not just the true dairy (which is reasonable—there’s not a lot of other stuff).
          And yes, the diets and rules can be confusing for those who don’t follow them, though that’s what ingredient lists when you bring food and not feeling judged if someone doesn’t eat your food are for. I would certainly never expect someone whose dietary needs extended to avoiding cross-contamination to eat my food, no matter how careful I was, for example.

          1. londonedit*

            I think that is where it’s come from, but it’s particularly bizarre in the UK (where I am) because here, eggs aren’t refrigerated in supermarkets and they aren’t kept with the dairy products! They’re usually kept in the aisle with all the baking products, like sugar and flour. Yet the ‘eggs=dairy’ idea still persists here, too!

            1. boo bot*

              I think it’s because “dairy” is the closest thing we have to a specific category for “animal food-products other than meat,” and eggs are pretty much the only item that IS an animal food-product other than meat, and is NOT dairy.

              People understand and remember things more easily in categories, so we put eggs in the dairy category because otherwise it’s got nowhere to go. I think the rise in awareness of vegetarians and vegans in traditionally non-vegetarian/vegan cultures is probably adding to this, because it underlines those foods as a category unto themselves without giving them another name.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I think the eggs=dairy connection is that the farmer can collect milk and eggs without harming the animal…as opposed to meat.

    5. Akcipitrokulo*

      I’d definitely go with safe rather than sorry and avoid the food… but think usually people are more careful with others. I’m vegetarian who doesn’t mind if my stuff is cooked in same dish or grill as meat, because I’m ok with that chance, but would always assume another veggie would not be ok with is and act accordingly.

    6. Tallulah in the Sky*

      I want to add in all this speculation that another reason why she might be eating non-vegan stuff is because… it’s hard to eat non-vegan stuff in social situations. She might be 100% vegan at home, but be more flexible when she’s outside.

      That’s how I live my life, as a vegetarian trying to be vegan. I was very strict at some point, but the reality is I’m living in a non-friendly vegan/vegetarian environment and I’m the only vegan in my group of friends and amongst my coworkers. So in order to be able to eat stuff and enjoy my time with people, I’m just more flexible. If there’s a tray of snacks and I can’t eat them, but there’s one where there’s just a bit of skim milk, I’ll probably eat it too. If there’s no vegan cheese at a restaurant, I’ll sometimes eat some cheese anyway because pasta without cheese is sad.

      And I’d love to talk about vegan stuff with someone ! So from what you say of this coworker, it might be safer to just ignore her snacks. But if it were me (if I was your coworker), I would love it if you came to talk more about my vegan lifestyle and how I prepare my snacks :-)

      1. KHB*

        As a vegetarian-formerly-trying-to-be-vegan, I came here to say basically this. The easiest time to be 100% vegan is when you’re cooking at home, because you have 100% control over all your ingredients. And the most tempting time to make an exception is when you’re really hungry and you’re choosing between the options of “eat this delicious-looking snack that contains skim milk” and “eat nothing.”

        So I, personally, wouldn’t be inclined to assume that Bessy must be ignorant of what vegan means. That said, if it was really important to me to stick to a 100% vegan diet on a particular occasion, I probably would stay away from anything that she (or anyone else) had prepared. “No thanks, not right now” should be a perfectly acceptable script for that.

        1. Les G*

          Exactly. My wife will often have a bite of what I’m eating when we’re out to dinner, even if it contains meat (I used to be strictly vegetarian but have gotten looser). At home? She wouldn’t even let me store cow’s milk in the fridge for quite some time. Pretty much everyone I know is stricter at home.

        2. Linda*

          Yes, I was at an all day conference and they provided us with food throughout the day but everything had meat or cheese in it. There was a lady there who was vegan, so there wasn’t much she could eat. I believe there was hummus but she said she didn’t like the texture of hummus. So instead she just had like 6 chocolate chip cookies and 3 cans of coke throughout the day.

          1. KHB*

            Catered events can be so tough, especially when the one thing that’s suitable for your dietary restriction happens to be the one food that you just can’t stand. For me, it’s mushrooms, which a lot of caterers use as the basis for their “vegetarian option,” but which I just can’t eat without gagging.

            During my most-seriously-trying-to-be-vegan phase, I’d always bring some “emergency food,” like some nuts or dried fruit, with me to events like this. That got me out of a jam a couple times.

      2. Rez123*

        I have a few friends that are vegans, but when a group of us goes into a restaurant they can eat a vegetarian option. My best friend is a vegetarian but will eat meat once a year during a holiday since the specialty of that time is a meat dish (and when she is completely wasted like we witnessed during the summer). I know some vegans that are not too strict with the not obvious animal products. A colleague of mine only eats non processed meats such as animals that were hunted by a family member, but to an outsider she seems like a vegetarian.

        There are so many reasons why people eat certain way. So I wouldn’t either assume that she is not aware, just bending the rules how it suits her. But I do agree that it is not fair to claim to other that what she cooked in vegan if it isn’t.

    7. Canarian*

      Yes, I definitely agree with your last sentence. This really is so easily solved by simply… not taking her snacks. Saying anything other than “no thanks” risks the coworker finding out just how much time and thought OP has put into noticing and cataloging her personal dietary choices.

  8. nnn*

    For #2, I do agree with Alison’s first suggestion of simply not taking her food and not saying anything about it. But, if she asks, it might be more tactful to lead her to believe that you’re just not hungry.

    If you don’t want to lie, you could say “I’m fine” or “I’m good”. (Advanced option: use the same body language you’d use when declining a second helping because you’re full.) You could say “I just had breakfast” or “I had a big lunch” (with concepts like “just” and “big” being usefully subjective.) If you’re literally in the process of eating something else, you could say something to suggest that you’ll try co-worker’s food if you still have room after you finish what you’re in the process of eating.

    Since it’s only for a month out of the year, it’s possible this won’t read as a Great Big Thing, and instead might look like normal fluctuations in appetite.

      1. MLB*

        This. If she’s pushy, just tell her you’re on a very restricted eating plan and don’t want to eat anything without a ingredients label. Then rinse and repeat with the “No thank you.”

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      This works unless someone else *is* bringing tasty snacks that you could eat, and then you have to avoid them because you told Bessy you weren’t hungry.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I think this is actually pretty simple!

      Either the OP feels comfortable asking Bessy, “Are there any animal products at all in this?” and can trust Bessy to be honest; OR, the OP should just assume there may be animal products in Bessy’s food and therefore silently avoid it. If asked, go with a vague excuse. It’s only one month and shouldn’t be a big deal.

  9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    As a large woman I’d be more horrified and embarrassed by breaking four chairs! One chair and I’ll probably need to go to therapy, no joke, that’s traumatizing. That’s like wearing pants too small and constantly ripping them by bending over.

    I would tell her to use her assigned chair and no swapping with coworkers. Then up it to “I’ve been told I’ll have to let you go due to the safety issues if you continue to refuse to use your assigned chair” if she swaps again.

    How’s she not hurting herself breaking all those chairs? I’ve broken cheap plastic chairs at a bbq once and was lucky to have not smashed my head but I was in the wide open, in an office next to a desk…my goodness, you could bonk a head on so many corners or if you catch yourself, the force sprains or pulls muscles. It’s a ticking Workers Comp timebomb.

    1. WS*

      I’m fat and I have broken chairs, including an office chair, but fortunately it was an old one so not as bad as it could be! That said, obviously her brain has latched onto “different chair” as worse than “breaking a chair” and with the crap that fat people get put through, there’s probably some horrible incident in her background that means this makes sense to her, sadly. I think the best way forward is exactly what you say: address it from a Workers Comp/health and safety point of view and make it clear that this is not negotiable. It probably will be upsetting to start with, but it’s absolutely reasonable for it to be mandatory.

      1. Kat*

        That’s exactly what I was thinking too (approaching it from a health & safety perspective) and I’m surprised Alison didn’t touch on that. As a manager myself, if someone kept breaking chairs because they weren’t rated for their weight I’d approach the employee and tell them that they HAVE to use the proper chair otherwise the employer and myself as a manager, could be held liable if she hurts herself because she’s not using the appropriate office equipment. It would be no different than if someone needed a special chair because of a back injury but they refused to use it and kept injuring their back. Or if someone like me, who is very petite, kept using very large chairs that hurt my legs and back and refused to use a smaller chair that could be special ordered for me. To me this is basically an issue of an employee refusing to use office equipment that has been specifically ordered for them as part of an accommodation to provide a safe workplace.

        I understand it is stigmatizing to the woman but she cannot place her feelings above the company’s requirement to provide a safe work environment.
        I also think the LW should look into whether one or two extra chairs could be ordered and placed in conference rooms so that the employee doesn’t have to wheel around her chair, which could help with feeling ashamed.

        1. blackcat*

          Yeah, the safety/liability approach I think it the easiest one that comes off the least judgmental.
          “We have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for all our employees. You could injure yourself if you use chairs not rated for your weight, so we need you to use X chair. There’s one your desk and we’re ordering one for the conference room as well. This is non-negotiable. If any employee consistently doesn’t follow safety guidelines, we have to let them go. Your use of other chairs falls under that.”

    2. Rollergirl09*

      I thought the same thing. Especially when I read she broke conference room chairs. That would be mortifying. I try not to draw any extra attention to my weight if at all possible.

    3. Yvette*

      I think by “broken” we are picturing a chair dramatically falling to pieces under the weight of the person with them landing hard on the floor. It could be something more subtle like cracked back supports, a failed hydraulic seat lift or joints loosened beyond repair. The chair is still rendered broken and unusable but not so a person might notice at first glance. That doesn’t mean it is not a safety issue.

      1. Auntie Social*

        And not just for this employee, but for anyone else in the office that goes to use a chair that is broken and has been quietly swapped out by this woman. What if someone leaned back and the back of the chair fell off, or tried to rest their arm on a broken armrest? She’s endangering everyone, not just herself.

      2. WS*

        Oh, I’m definitely picturing falling dramatically to the floor and chair going everywhere, because that’s what I did! But you’re right that it’s more likely to be a less-obvious break to the hydraulics or a plastic part somewhere.

      3. Ceiswyn*

        Yes, I’m also visualising damaged hydraulics or broken wheels or something. At my heaviest I broke a couple of chairs in that way after heavy use – and continued to use them, because they were still usable even though they didn’t move / wore a circle in the carpet / tilted when you shifted your weight.

        So it could even be that the pattern of breaking chairs isn’t even that obvious to her co-workers, because there’s no dramatic crunching and falling. Whereas a special ‘fat chair’ would be more obvious…

        As a fat child I broke a couple of chairs at school; and was taken to the headmistress who had a ‘concerned talk’ about my weight, and all my classmates added that to their bullying repertoire for months after. If this woman has had a similar experience in the past, that might also explain some of this level of denial. (If I’d ended up in a similar situation, though, I’d’ve taken the ‘fat chair’ – but probably continued breaking the conference room chairs rather than have to regularly wheel my ‘fat chair’ across the office)

      4. Rusty Shackelford*

        This is the only way it makes sense to me – that she’s breaking chairs in a gradual, subtle way, which her coworkers can’t notice. Otherwise, the stigma of the chair dramatically collapsing seems like it would be SO MUCH WORSE than having to use the “fat lady chair.”

      5. Rainbow Roses*

        Even if the chairs get broken in a subtle way, surely her coworkers notice she keeps getting new chairs. Either they know the reason why or they must be put-off that she keeps getting new stuff while they’re stuck with old.
        I don’t know what a “fat lady chair” looks like, but I imagine it’s less embarrassing and noticeable than breaking six chairs. Does anyone even notice or care that the coworker using a “fat lady chair?” I doubt it. Sadly, it’s all in her mind but it can cost her a job.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I don’t know what chairs my coworkers have, but we’re in offices. I guess if you’re in an open area it might be more obvious, but unless it’s a very different color or style, it’s not the kind of thing that would jump out at me.

      6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Aaaaah that also makes sense!

        I’m the sort of person who uses that kind of “broken” regularly because I’m a miser and paying for a new one is not in my mind set. So unless it’s useless or noticeably going towards “implosion” levels, I’ll be using it with the knowledge it isn’t adjustable any longer.

    4. Anonymeece*

      I broke two chairs… in the same week. Not even because I’m overweight, but because one had a loose back no one told me about and another because it was a cheap camping chair that had outlived its life (RIP, camping chair). I was mortified even though they were freak accidents.

      That said, I agree that this is a good way to frame it, as a safety and health issue. I had a giant bruise from the first one, but nearly caught my head on a windowsill on the way down and could have cut myself badly. This woman has latched onto the wrong thing, and it wouldn’t hurt to reframe it as, “Going forward, you must use this chair for health and safety reasons. We don’t want you to hurt yourself.” If she’s worried about bullying, I like someone else’s suggestion up above about saying what you would plan to do if that happened.

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

      “freak accidents” I imagine this is her justification for continuing to break chairs rather than use the proper chair; it’s not her weight that’s the problem, it’s bad luck or cheap chairs or it was already broken before she sat in it. If she uses the proper chair and it doesn’t break…well then it’s nearly impossible for her to justify it as something beyond her.

  10. Augusta Sugarbean*

    #3 I’d think that with the flexible schedule you are describing, the boundary crossing would only get worse. Your work day would be even less defined than a “regular” job and I could see your boss calling you at all hours even more. “Not sure if you are working so I thought I’d check in!” or “Hey, are you working right now? No? Well, this will only take a sec!” And so on….

    1. NR*

      Agreed. I’m currently trying to gracefully exit from a job because of boundary issues and my manager and I are across the country from each other. Include the time zone difference, her WhatsApping me at 11:00 pm my time with a “work/friend crisis” continues to happen. Even when she sees me not responding until work hours the next day, she’ll still send messages or try to drag me back into these habits.

      After 4 years, it’s enough.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I wondered if not having to also see the boss in person might make the constant texting less irritating? If the annoyance was also lubricated with a lot more money?

      I would assume that it’s happening again, but the context might make it less annoying now that there’s physical space. Or the magic of technology might make it seem like he’s right there in the room having no boundaries.

    3. Mr. Tyzik*

      I also think the boundary crossing would be worse. The manager might think his buddy has returned and ramp up the behavior.

  11. Laura H.*

    OP #1: I would frame it as a safety issue.

    At my old workplace, I had to use a certain restroom, due to the fact that I use a mobility aid, and that the inner (unofficial employee only) restroom was used to store a cart of cleaning supplies which cut my maneuver room considerably. The outer restroom (that was open to guest use as well) was not housing a cart.

    I was a little miffed when I was asked to use the outer restroom exclusively but once it was framed as a safety issue, and I got myself into that routine, it was easier for me to adhere to.

    Yes mention the budget, but part of your job is to help an employee be safe as they work. Good luck!

    1. Geoffrey B*

      Is there a reason they couldn’t just find somewhere else to store the cart, though? This seems to be a common complaint from disabled folk I know, “accessible” restrooms made inaccessible by people using them as storage space.

      1. Laura H.*

        Back area was small, and there honestly was no better/ other place to put it that was discreet. As long as there was a restroom I could use- it wasn’t a big deal. (Both were single-occupancy restrooms)

        Hoping this doesn’t derail the discussion re Op 1’s issue!

      2. can'tremembermyusername*

        I had this at a restaurant recently. I use a mobility aid and need extra room too. The restaurant had a disabled toilet on the ground floor (so many have toilets down or upstairs, I once asked where the disabled toilet is and was told downstairs). But when I went in there were like 6 children’s high chairs that made it impossible to get my frame through the space between the wall and the chairs. The staff got very sniffy when I asked them to move the chairs. How dare the disabled person want to use the disabled toilet.

        In my country it is illegal not to have an accessible disabled toilet in restaurants. You can be fined. Yet I come up across this all the time.

  12. crookedfinger*

    As a fat lady… I would probably excuse the first chair breaking as a faulty equipment, because a lot of stuff is built really cheaply these days, but after break number 2 I’d be DEMANDING a sturdier chair. Breaking a chair is embarrassing. I can’t fathom why she’d want to keep breaking them rather than use one properly rated for her weight…

    1. Airy*

      Seriously, I understand her discomfort with the “fat lady” label but if she’s breaking chairs nobody is under the illusion that she’s any lighter than she is.

      1. Chriama*

        I mentioned below but “breaking” could mean something like the hydraulic lift mechanism stops working. It could be very undramatic where no one even realizes its broken until someone else tries to sit in the chair at the next meeting. Still inappropriate, but subtle enough for the employee to bury her head in the sand.

        1. Justin*

          It’s possible that the broken chairs are not obviously broken at first glance (ruined hydraulic mechanism or whatever), but if enough of them break I’m sure people are talking about why all these chairs are broken. Any way you slice it, she’s probably already embarrassing herself by breaking so many chairs and the heavier-duty chair is probably going to be less embarrassing for her.

    2. Not Australian*

      Absolutely. It’s happened to me, too … fortunately at home, rather than at work … and I suspect the only problem is likely to be keeping hold of the sturdier chair when co-workers realise how much more comfortable it is. I do sympathise with the chair-breaking lady, but I’m afraid she’s got to accept the reality of the situation … and, with it, the stronger chair.

  13. nnn*

    If we were advising #1 earlier in the process, when employee had only broken one or two chairs and was expressing resistance to a heavy-duty chair, I might recommend helping employee save face by simply getting a heavy-duty chair (that blends as well as possible with the existing chairs) and presenting it as a fait accompli.

    An opportune moment for this might have been after the two conference chairs broke, because then you need to order three chairs. “Since it’s three chairs, I have to make a bulk order to save money.” Then order three heavy-duty chairs (surely Employee will have to sit in the conference room at some point) and present it as “Our chair shipment has come in. Here’s your chair,” like you would if the shipment of printer paper had arrived. If the heavy-duty chairs look different, “They tweak the design from time to time.”

    Unfortunately, I think with Boss wanting to fire Employee, it’s too late. But I’m posting the idea in case any of it is useful to OP or googlers.

    1. Chriama*

      But OP got her one and she swapped it with a coworker. Your comment makes it sound like you could sneak the chair by her but I don’t think it would necessarily have gone that smoothly considering how hyper conscious she is of the whole situation. Also, if she has to bring the chair into conference rooms with her then there wouldn’t be a way to make that subtle.

      Bottom line is, I don’t think that her behaviour is something to be catered to. She’s a grown adult and a matter-of-fact conversation (“this is not a moral commentary on your weight. We can’t afford to replace damaged equipment so you need to use this chair from now on”) is a reasonable action. Her response, while understandable, is actually pretty immature and not what I’d expect of a grown adult in a professional office. I do think that OP should have made it clear that it was non optional before her boss got to the point of wanting to fire the employee, but failure to act on her part doesn’t justify the behaviour taken on the employee’s part.

      1. Susie Q*

        I agree. She’s not a child and she’s been given a reasonable accommodation. It’s unacceptable that she keeps destroying expensive office equipment.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think the whole thing started by letting her choose a chair. This is why standards I’ve always put in place is to only give limited choices like “do you have a color you like?”, not brand, make or model. Unless you’re getting them ergonomically fit by person, then anyone who refuses a chair with their weight limit increased indeed can deal or find a new job.

  14. beth*

    #2: Do you have to tell your coworker why you’re not eating her treats? I think you can probably just say “Not right now but thanks!” when she brings them around. Even if she notices that you’ve stopped accepting them, I think the odds are pretty good that she won’t call you on it–especially if she knows you’re doing a special diet challenge for the month. Even if she does, you can just say you’re trying to watch what you eat or that you’re cutting back on snacks; you don’t actually have to tell her that you don’t trust her to use vegan ingredients.

  15. Chriama*

    I feel like people are interpreting the broken chair as something really dramatic — like the seat falls off the hydraulic lift or a caster pops off or something. It’s possible it’s a lot more subtle, like the hydraulic getting damaged so you can’t raise or lower the seat anymore. That is to say, a broken chair is possibly a lot more subtle than a visibly different chair would be.

    I think OP needs to frame it as willful property damage and make it clear that replacing these chairs costs money that you literally *don’t have* anymore. Tell her that it’s non-optional and that any broken chairs as a result of her choosing to use one not rated for her weight will be considered deliberately damaging company property.

  16. MassMatt*

    #4 is an interesting flip side to prior letters where someone with flexible hours (or just an earlier shift) ha to deal with sarcastic “must be nice to leave at 3 every day” type comments. It sounds irritating, both because of the repetition and because it really is none of her business. The most recent comment about changing your clothes seemed to have a more inappropriate or nasty edge to it. Someone who makes the same tired joke ad nauseum and ignores the audience reaction (or gets miffed by it) seems to lack some boundaries or common sense.

    1. Chriama*

      I agree that the clothing comment, coupled with her reaction when OP didn’t engage, seemed a little weird. I might outright ask her “I’m a little confused why you keep commenting on my schedule. Do you have any concerns?” I’m assuming she’d say something about how it was a joke, to which I’d reply “Okay. I couldn’t tell because you say it every day. After the third time it stops feeling like a joke and starts sounding like an encoded message. We’ll have to work on a new daily greeting.” You have to keep the tone of your voice really friendly here so it might not be that easy to pull off, but I’m blunt by nature (sometimes unfortunately so) and I would honestly just be confused at why she says it every single day. If there is an issue I’d want to give her an opportunity to say it outright. If she doesn’t want to then at least say anything she knows how she’s coming across.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think coworker wants to bond with a nice complaint session about how awful work is, and hasn’t figured out that that’s not how OP rolls. That even if OP were working 15 hour days and hating it, she wouldn’t find that a nice bitter wallow with a coworker relieved her feelings.

    2. Doodle*

      Not necessarily a nasty comment. Sometimes people try to banter or be funny and they just…fail. I’d assume good intentions unless the evidence goes strongly the other way.

      I’d use AAM’s first script. If it happened again, I’d say — in an even, no-nonsense tone, “Griselda. I’ve explained my schedule to you, so these remarks are really annoying. Please stop commenting on how many hours I work.” (I wouldn’t say “unnerving” — that’s not getting the point across forcefully enough.)

      Hopefully Griselda will apologize — I’d take even a crummy apology (I’m sorry but I meant…I was only trying to…) — and that will be the end of it.

    3. Allison*

      I used to sit next to a coworker who’d often make comments like “are you going to be here tomorrow?” and when I’d say sure, why, she’d say “well it’s just that sometimes you’re not here.” It was super odd since despite working on the same team, we have separate functions so my work doesn’t really impact hers and vice versa, it really felt like she was just digging at me for not being in the office every single day. I took sick days, I took days off, and sometimes I worked from home, like just about everyone else, although I understood that her role did require her physical presence in the office, and she often had to prepare people for her absence even when she was just taking a couple days off or a long weekend, so I wondered if she resented me for having the freedom to simply not be there now and then. When I left before 5 she’d go “you’re leaving??” but any time I worked late she’d ask me why I was still there.

      I don’t miss working next to her.

      1. Mr. Tyzik*

        She sounds exhausting.

        I worked a 4 days, 10 hour week for a while. I got so sick of people telling me it must be nice to take Fridays off. I had to explain it wasn’t sick time – That was just my schedule! Nothing happened for me on Fridays. Many of them could have changed their schedule to match mine but found it easier to rag on me for my time.

    4. Kathleen_A*

      It doesn’t sound weird at all to me, though I get why it’s annoying.

      I think Falling Dipthong and Doodle are correct that it is intended to be a bonding comment. I’ve heard exactly the same thing, but in my case, it was because the other person saw me here long after hours – the reason being that they were here long after hours, too.

      In those cases, there really was something to bond over and there isn’t really so much of that here, but I do think the coworker is indeed just trying to joke, and as such, it’s not, you know, awful. What drives it into the “kind of irritating” category is that she keeps making the same joke. So Alison’s scripts sound pretty effective to me.

      1. Bostonian*

        It’s either meant to be small talk or is the result of some insecurity on the part of the coworker that she’s “not working hard enough” because someone is working more hours (or appears to be). It could be a bit of both.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          I think you’re right.

          Also, I left one of the H’s out of “Diphthong” – sorry about that.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Well hell’s bells, your correction sent me to the dictionary and I learned that I’ve been mispronouncing that word for 50 years. Luckily I haven’t had reason to WRITE the word except socially.

    5. MLB*

      Even if it’s not meant to be nasty, when someone comments on the time another worker spends at work, that means they spend WAY too much time watching the clock for someone else. And in this case, they don’t even work in the same department, and OP is a manager, whereas as co-worker is not. Unless you’re reliant on a colleague to get your work done, and need to know when they’re available, making comments about someone else’s hours is inappropriate and none of your business.

  17. Jasnah*

    #4 I think your coworker is mostly making these comments because she never sees you leave before her, and doesn’t realize you’re regularly out Friday afternoons (or it’s infrequent enough she hasn’t realized it’s scheduled). Some people think that working long hours=dedicated/skilled worker, and if enough of those people get together, you get a work culture where people gently tease each other like your coworker does. (“Hopefully you’ll get to sleep tonight! I’ll bring you coffee in the morning!”) I can definitely see your new coworker coming from a workplace like this and not realizing that it’s inaccurate and out of step at your office (never mind the intrinsic problems with the attitude itself…) In fact, her comments are a kind of compliment to your work ethic and dedication, which is why she was miffed you didn’t reciprocate (either by downplaying your “achievements” or “complimenting” her back).

    In your shoes, I’d try to gently call attention to her mistaken assumptions, like you have been (“Why would you say that? I leave at 5.”) and obviously wishing her a good weekend when you leave early on Fridays, and reminding her “Luckily our bosses don’t care about butts in seats!”

    But most important is that I think she is reaching out for connection with you. You say that she only does this with you, even though others come in before you. It reminds me of people who clumsily compliment your appearance when what they mean is, “I want an excuse to start a conversation with you.” Maybe building up another “small talk” topic with her will make this one go away.

    1. Cat wrangler*

      The Co-worker might have come from a ‘long-hours’ culture elsewhere and probably thinks that they’re being funny or lighthearted. It can be infuriating though. I had a temp job which was 10am – 2pm and everyday one of the permanent staff – who was by no means my manager – would look at me walking in/out and tap his watch….

      1. Mongrel*

        I’ve done the “Who’s got two thumbs and is leaving on time” thing there, emphasise the on time because that’s the important point to get across

      2. Dragoning*

        I have definitely had a coworker make jokes about getting me a cot for the office one week when we were slammed with work.

    2. Emmy*

      I was coming to say the same thing about a connection! I’ve come into new workplaces when my previous culture had been a standard joke/greeting in the morning with a friendly coworker. (I’m also the terrible at small talk type so banter was always easiest for me.) OP’s new coworker is probably coming from a similar background and is genuinely trying to be friendly. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s unwanted, but I think taking her goodwill into account and trying to redirect the conversation before/after correcting her may help to keep things amicable between you.

      1. Bostonian*

        Yup. When working night shift, it was completely normal to talk about how tired you were and how much coffee you needed and how you took a nap during your 15-minute break. Not so normal in my current day job!

        It’s possible the coworker in #4 is thinking she’s participating in completely normal work banter and doesn’t realize how annoying it is.

        Definitely explain your schedule OP; you can also amicably add that you find it odd she’s making so many comments about it.

      2. OP #4*

        OP #4 here- I definitely don’t think she was saying this to be malicious and is probably looking for something to make a connection with, but it’s continually missing the mark. I also recently found out that she transferred to our smaller office from my company’s main office in town, so she’s been with the larger umbrella company for several years and should be somewhat aware that flexible schedules do exist within our company.

        She might also be under the impression that I’m in a similar role as hers but I’m not (legal vs. design, for example), so it maybe hasn’t clicked yet that my schedule is flexible even after telling her. I think I’ll frame my response to any of her future comments (if there are any) as, “It sounds like you’re really interested in my schedule- it works well in my position as [my title]. If you’re interested in having a flexible schedule too, here is the policy where you can learn more. Otherwise, let’s move on to another topic.”

        1. Elle Kay*

          At my organization we have flexible-ish schedules except for the administrative staff; their schedules are flexible too but it’s set as a formal flexible schedule since I need to know when I can get ahold of administration. The solution to this is that we have a list of every admin staff’s schedule- and they’re all over the place. Person A might be like you but Person B is in early MWF and late on TR, Person C has 2 hours off on RF for medical reasons, etc etc. It might be a little too passive aggressive to give her a print out of your schedule but if there’s anyone else in your dept/workspace who also has a flex schedule wonder if you could list them out and “distribute” them as a “reminder” -particularly on her desk

        2. Bulbasaur*

          I think you are probably right, but I would look to shut it down anyway, since you said you’re a manager. If you get a reputation for working long hours (even if undeserved) it may create pressure on your staff to try and do the same, which is probably not what you want.

          If direct contradiction doesn’t work (“I work a standard 40 hour week, the same as everyone else”) then I think you would be justified in politely asking them to stop. “I appreciate you mean well, but I’d like you to stop talking about how many hours I work. I’ve always been careful about modeling proper work-life balance for my employees, and that’s why I keep to a standard work week even though my hours are flexible. When you keep commenting on how I work such long hours, it undermines me, especially since it’s not even true!”

          Sometimes it won’t even have occurred to them that it might be taken negatively, especially if they’ve come from an environment where it was a badge of honor.

    3. LQ*

      Yeah, I’ve been the sayer and the sayee in this. It’s “I am poor at this word talking thing with humans but understand it is important and I have only gotten 3 horrible ‘conversations’ of my required 4 today so I must engage this person who is easy to engage with because I’m too tired to try to manage a really big 4th one.”

      These days I lean on the weather a lot because it’s nice and easy and I don’t care how cliched it is, nearly everything else is fraught with something so forget it, I’m not able to figure out what the perfect human conversational engager is… so weather it is!

      1. Jasnah*

        This! “We are both standing around until the fire drill is over. I have observed this! Therefore, I like your sweater, or something??”

    4. henrietta*

      My first thought for this one is that the new hire is flirting. Not hardcore ‘hey baby’ flirting, but kind of a ‘I’m noticing you, notice me!” . I don’t know the gender or the orientation of the LW, but that was my thought.

      1. Dog in a bag*

        What a cute way to describe flirting! I’ve never thought of it like that but now it’s tickling me pink.

    5. MLB*

      I don’t think the “why” matters here though. I may be in the minority here, but if someone is constantly bringing up my hours, that means they’re watching the clock for me and passive aggressively trying to let me know that what I’m doing is not ok, when it’s none of their business. I don’t think she necessarily means it in that way, but OP needs to let her know that it’s how she’s coming across (if that’s the case in the OP’s mind).

      1. Jasnah*

        I would argue the “why” only matters because it might affect the tactic OP takes. If the coworker is genuinely trying to communicate disapproval about OP’s schedule, then of course OP should shut that down, and can distance herself from her coworker. But if the coworker is making an awkward attempt at connection, and OP shuts it down, she might be more successful acknowledging and redirecting it, but letting her know how she’s coming across as you say.

  18. Cassandra*

    1. My read on the chair problem is that OP might have been really kind and professional and that other people in the office don’t know that one employee is breaking the chairs. So the employee might feel that no one knows they’ve broken chairs, but coworkers would know about the heavy-duty chair.

    2. What I’ve found useful for refusing food is to tell colleagues I’m following a diet and that I’ve calculated my portions for the day already. That usually works, but I’ve also occasionally taken food “for later”. This sometimes means I gve it to someone else at home… or that it just doesn’t get eaten and I chuck it out.

    1. Jasnah*

      #1 is a really good point. I can see her genuine concern that once she gets an obviously heavy-duty chair, people are going to connect all the mysteriously broken chairs (and who knows what else) to her.

      Perhaps OP can assuage her fears by allowing her to pick out a sturdy chair that looks like all the others, or camouflaging it with other equipment upgrades or something.

    2. irene adler*

      RE #1: I looked on-line at a few of the heavy duty office chairs. They don’t look too much different from some high-end chairs an upper management person might have for their office. They might be wider than regular chairs-I cant’ tell. Personally, I would be jealous of someone who had a chair that was wider than average. More comfortable and more sturdy to sit in.

      And who’s to say why she has this chair? It could be one that was special ordered for a back issue. No one has to know it’s heavy duty to accommodate body weight.

      1. blackcat*

        Am I the only one who feels like a child if I’m in a wider chair? I’m super petite, and I already can’t use the armrests comfortable in my office chair (all are rated to 400lbs and are pretty wide, I think to avoid the need for multiple types of chairs).
        I get that buying different chairs just because someone is uncomfortable (as opposed to a medical need) isn’t feasible, but it would be really nice to have a chair that fit me. I also have to sit forward, since the seat is too long for me. So no back rest for me :(

        1. Marthooh*

          I think you can bring this up with your boss! An uncomfortable chair that doesn’t provide proper support can cause medical issues, so it’s perfectly feasible to get a chair that fits.

  19. FaintlyMacabre*

    For #2, although I am vegetarian I allow myself a certain leeway when I eat out, because I know there are often hidden meat products in food prepared elsewhere. But when I make food for myself, it is always vegetarian. I think you could just ask her if she cooks vegan or not.

    1. Kathleen_A*

      That ought to work – there is a very specific and well-known definition of “vegan,” after all – but I have known quite a few people who have, let us say, pretty individualized definitions of both “vegan” and “vegetarian.” I think the OP will either have to politely and discretely quiz the OP about the ingredients, or she will have to find a way to politely and cheerfully say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

      And that is a *fabulous* user name, BTW.

  20. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Definitely frame the chair as an OSHA issue because you could end up paying worker’s compensation if she breaks one and gets hurt! Which you shouldn’t have to do if she deliberately sits in a chair not rated for her, but I am not sure the law agrees with me.

    And, YMMV, but it seems like she is in denial or sensitive about her weight. I was for a while too, after gaining a few necessary pounds (and then many more) after being about fifteen pounds from anorexia at one point in my early twenties. (I am short). But, for my mental health, it’s better to just accept that I weigh X and to at least roughly count things so that I do not swing to either extreme in my eating. I think both can be disordered.

    Anyway, I don’t think this lady necessarily means badly, but it will be better for her health and the company if she stops ostrich-omg.

  21. Anancy*

    OP2 Honestly, I’d recommend going with the line that during this vegan challenge, you are also committing to preparing all your food yourself (or using a specific vegan restaurant.). That way you can turn down all snacks. (Which is a good idea anyway because plenty people mix up vegan). Incorporate you preparing food as part of the challenge and then you have a good reason to decline hers.

  22. Akcipitrokulo*

    On #4 … I’m wondering if there’s some insexurity there that new cowworker doesn’t know what’s expected and is awkwardly trying to bring it up? As well as wanting to form a social connection.

    Either way, dealing with it matter of factly that these are individually agreed hours and telling them it’s no longer a topic of conversation, and sticking to it firmly, will hopefully resolve it!

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, we have an office where pretty much everyone’s home is only reachable through one freeway, and if you live north, Jebus help you if you’re out of the office after 5:15. If you live south, on the other hand, getting to work on time is a pain because of all the school traffic, but leaving the office late is pretty traffic-free. Accordingly, half the staff shows up and leaves an hour later (or will happily stay late in exchange for showing up later the next day) and half the staff are on-the-dot leavers who come in early if there’s more work to be done.

      It works for everyone – but if you didn’t know that, you’d probably be very confused about what the expected hours were.

  23. pcake*

    I wouldn’t eat any snacks anyone at work or elsewhere brought. I’m currently a vegetarian with a serious wheat sensitivity, but I used to be vegan, and someone made split pea soup and “forgot” that I didn’t eat meat, so he didn’t “remember” that he flavored it with ham. He did, however, remember to remove all the ham so I wouldn’t see it. Later on, he admitted it. He said it tasted so good he wanted to share it with me. I told him that since I hadn’t eaten meat in more than a decade, he could have made me really sick. He didn’t seem to believe me, so to be safe – my wheat sensitivity can put me in the hospital – I didn’t eat anything he cooked or put together.

    And some people just don’t grasp what vegetarian and vegan diets are. A surprising number of people tell me that they’re vegetarian as they only eat fish. Like fish grow on stalks and have roots? Go figure!

    A surprising number of people when you’re vegetarian or vegan try to change you, and several said they felt like my being a vegetarian felt like a criticism of what they ate – despite the fact that I never said anything about what they ate and very little about what I ate. An old buddy of mine who said she, too, was vegan, said she “sneaked turkey” for Thanksgiving and tried to convince me to have some, too. I always wondered who she felt was sneaking the turkey around, as her being vegan was 100% her own decision.

    1. MsSolo*

      I think the pescetarian version of vegetarianism has its roots in the old fashioned observance of lent, when you didn’t eat meat but fish was okay? It’s much more common for older vegetarians (or people who are vegetarian in certain kinds of Christian community) to still eat fish, because historically they’re not seen as animals and incapable of the kind of intelligence/emotions that make people uncomfortable eating mammals. Obviously, we now know a lot of fish, and sealife in general, are smarter than land based animals, but the idea does stick because it depends on where your ethical framework is initially rooted.

      1. londonedit*

        I don’t eat meat because I don’t like the taste and texture. Never have done – as a child, my parents encouraged me to eat meat because they were concerned about me getting enough protein and iron and whatnot, but as soon as I was a teenager I asked if I could stop eating it, because at that point I was only really eating chicken and not particularly enjoying that. So for me, it doesn’t come from an ethical standpoint – it’s just the same as someone who doesn’t like blue cheese, or doesn’t like mushrooms, or whatever. However, there are certain types of fish that I do like the taste of and enjoy eating, so I’m happy to eat those. Personally, I don’t tend to cook fish at home, but I will often eat fish if I’m out and there’s a nice-sounding fish dish on a menu.

        Because of this, I’m very careful not to say that I’m vegetarian – because I’m not! There is enough confusion around what vegetarians do and don’t eat, and I really don’t need to add to that or perpetuate the ‘she’s a vegetarian but she eats fish’ myth. I tend to say ‘I don’t eat meat’. But people are often extremely confused by this, and want to label me as vegetarian – I guess because it’s easier for them to understand ‘vegetarian’ than ‘someone who doesn’t usually eat meat or fish but does occasionally eat fish and isn’t coming at it from a “meat is murder” point of view’.

          1. londonedit*

            It is pescetarian, but in my experience a lot of people either aren’t sure what that means, think it’s another example of ‘those weird food fads’, or take the ‘-tarian’ and conflate it with vegetarian anyway. Personally, I’m more comfortable saying ‘I don’t eat meat’ and then if someone asks if that includes fish, clarifying that in my case yes it does, rather than giving myself a ‘pescetarian’ label that I then end up having to go into detail explaining. Most people seem happy enough with ‘I don’t eat meat’.

            1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

              Thank you – someone asked me a similar question and I wasn’t sure if I was getting it right.

            2. sange*

              I haven’t eaten meat in nearly 15 years, and I absolutely agree that this is the best way to bring it up. “I’m a vegetarian” tends to invite conversation, and pescatarian usually leads to an explanation. Like most non-meat eaters, I almost never want to talk to people about their personal food choices…

            3. The New Wanderer*

              I think someone who follows a pescaterian diet avoids (land) meat in all forms, including flavoring, just as a vegetarian typically does. Someone who doesn’t eat meat but for taste/texture reasons might not be as strict. So saying “I don’t eat meat, but fish sometimes” is probably as much info as anyone needs for meal planning purposes.

              I don’t eat cheese and I’ve had people ask if I’m lactose intolerant if I turn down something because of cheese – nope, just really don’t like the taste of 99% of cheeses out there. I have exceptions, so it’s almost always easier to just say I don’t eat cheese at all, except pizza and cheesecake.

    2. Les G*

      If they’re not feeding you the fish, why do you care even a bit if a pescatarian calls himself vegetarian?

      1. londonedit*

        I can understand why vegetarians have a problem with it. There does seem to be a lot of confusion around what vegetarians and vegans do or don’t eat – I’ve encountered people who think vegetarians still eat chicken (because meat=beef), people who don’t think about whether a ‘vegetarian’ dish contains chicken stock, people who think vegetarians don’t eat eggs, people who don’t realise honey isn’t vegan, etc etc. I can totally understand why having a load of people saying ‘I’m vegetarian, but I do eat fish’, or ‘I’m vegetarian but that chicken looks really nice, so I’ll have some of that’ really doesn’t help actual vegetarians who are trying to make people understand what their diet means. Because then they’re going to come up against situations where they say they’re vegetarian, and they get ‘Oh! But this is tuna pasta, it’s fine!’ and they’re going to have to explain all over again that no, actually, vegetarians don’t eat fish.

        1. Joielle*

          Yep, this. My sister in law calls herself vegetarian but then will eat a bit of bacon off her husband’s plate or order a salad with chicken in it, and it bothers me so much. As a former vegetarian, it was enough of a battle to be vigilant about things like chicken stock in soup or lard in pie crust, and then for family members to see this “vegetarian” literally eating meat… it really, really did not help.

          1. Les G*

            For people with even a small amount of common sense, the difference between “I can see that this is meat but will choose to eat it” and “I just unknowingly consumed a food I choose not to eat” is obvious. You’re blaming your sister for others’ foolishness.

            1. Joielle*

              Yeah, and the obviousness of the choice is exactly what’s confusing. If one “vegetarian” is choosing to eat meat, and another “vegetarian” is choosing not to, that’s confusing for people who are trying to work out what “vegetarian” actually means. My sister in law is simply using the word incorrectly.

              Perhaps my other family members are simply foolish! But the fact remains, if you’re not vegetarian and you call yourself vegetarian, it complicates things for people who actually are vegetarian. Words mean things.

              1. londonedit*

                I agree. Maybe the people I’ve met are just foolish, too, but as I said I’ve seen confusion from meat-eaters about why Jenny wants a special meal and won’t just eat the chicken, because their cousin Sue is vegetarian but ate chicken at the family barbecue, or why Jane is making a fuss about the soup having bacon in it, because Anne at work is vegetarian but she always wants to be included in the bacon sandwich run.

            2. Jasnah*

              I don’t think it’s so obvious. We don’t know what calculations occur in people’s heads, and if I were at a party with Joielle’s sister in law, I wouldn’t know if she’s a lax vegetarian, a picky eater who’s latched onto a convenient word, a militant vegetarian doing the best she can in an unaccommodating environment, a fledgling vegetarian who doesn’t know how to discern meat…

              And as someone who does not choose to be vegetarian, I don’t know or really care about the difference between those reasons. But if I’m tasked with serving food, I’d like to know if I can serve pork, fish, potatoes, etc. and that’s why accurate labels are helpful.

          2. Green Great Dragon*

            But there’s only so many words! I avoid meat for environmental rather than moral reasons and I’m fine with meat stock (byproducts) or eating my kid’s meat-containing leftovers (better than binning it to me), and I might indeed go with the chicken salad for once if the veggie alternatives were bad enough. But if someone’s asking about dietary requirements, I’ll say vegetarian rather than a lengthy narrative about exactly how much meat/CO2 production per meal I think is appropriate.

            I wouldn’t say a food was veggie or vegan unless it actually was, though.

            1. Green Great Dragon*

              To be clear, I say I’m ‘mostly vegetarian’ if asked to describe myself, but often the question is ‘do you want the vegetarian option’, to which the answer is yes.

      2. Oenone*

        I’m a vegetarian, and I work in a smallish office where another “vegetarian” has worked for years. This coworker eats fish, especially when eating out, to the point where everyone in the office thinks that’s standard for vegetarians. The first few times we had food ordered for work parties, I was assured that there would be veggie options, but I think years of ordering fish for the “vegetarian” person have been hard to get past — one particularly memorable time, I showed up to a catered work function to find that the vegetarian option was a (fish-only) sushi bar.

        Since then I’ve learned to ask in advance for a menu and pick a specific item to be ordered for me (which I’m happy to do! I choose to eat this way), but I’m still repeatedly told they ordered a bunch of fish-containing appetizers for the party so I’ll have something to eat, no matter how many time I say I don’t eat fish.

        It can create confusion for people, basically!

    3. SigneL*

      Yes, I have a life-threatening allergy. I no longer eat anything unless I prepared it myself – people have no idea that “vegetable oil” may contain peanut oil, for example. If you turn down everything, no one will be offended!

  24. Indie*

    OP4: “Hey I know you’re just joking about my ‘sleep at the office’ hours but I dont want new or junior people to accidentally take it seriously and think it is required. Thanks for understanding” Once a joke has been explained or spelled out it is usually dead forever.

  25. Sami*

    Is OP # 1 planning to buy her employee not only an appropriate chair for her desk AND one (or more) for conference rooms? Or is she expected to bring her chair to the conference room? I could see being really ashamed of that.

  26. Rez123*

    #4 this sounds like awkward small talk to me. People tend to bring up things that are out of the normal. It’s annoying but I don’t think they mean anything by it. This is not exactly the same but I usually work from 10-18. On some days when I have to leave early I might come in at 8. This will automatically lead to some people commenting on it and making stupid jokes. I think in their mind they are participating in banter. I usually either joke back about “changing to the morning sift” if I’m in a good mood. If I’m not feeling too happy then I will just give a semi sarcastic “here I am” smile.

  27. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    I know Boss in #1 is framing this as a budget issue, which I get, but really it’s a health and safety issue. By sitting on a chair that’s not suitable for her she could injure herself. Worse, she could injure herself very badly – we’re talking broken bones or a broken back and paralysis here if a chair collapses catastrophically. Her employer would be liable for that even if it was her own doing. Equally, she could damage a chair which is then used by someone else, breaks, and injures them. Again, the employer would be liable. It’s not on.

    I think OP has a stronger case with her employee to say that if she doesn’t use the office equipment provided for her which she is required to do, she’s in breach of the company’s health and safety policy (rather like someone not using protective equipment correctly) and can be fired due to that, rather than ‘you’re blowing our furniture budget’.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This reminds me of the LW who leaned against a desk, it collapsed, and her coworker broke his femur. Facilities claimed the desk was only rated for 100 lbs and were blaming her for leaning against it, but the consensus in the comments was that it didn’t sound like the desk was appropriate for an office setting.

      In fact, LW #1, I’d consider mentioning that incident and telling your employee that you’re trying to avoid something similar happening.

    2. Observer*

      At this point, the OP doesn’t need to frame it as much of anything but “this is the appropriate chair for you and you NEED to use it.”

      Of course, a reasonable boss (as this one seems to be) is going to be concerned about safety (and according to the OP, he is). But it’s perfectly fine for a boss to be concerned solely about the budget, as long as it doesn’t put someone at risk. She’s already broken at least $1,000 worth of office furniture because she’s refusing reasonable measures to avoid it. It’s perfectly reasonable to push back on that alone.

  28. cncx*

    I broke a conference room chair when i was around 260 pounds, i literally wanted to die of shame so i know how horrible OP+’s coworker must feel. I think AAM’s script is fine under the circumstances, and maybe use NewHerePleaseBeNice’s comment as part of pushback, like it could become an insurance issue.

    i also agree with what Sami said, there needs to be a solution for the conference room, like putting a couple of weight rated chairs in there so she’s not doing the walk of shame wheeling her special chair.

    If the coworker is on the smaller size of big, i know that there are some “regular” chairs that are weight rated for 300 pounds that don’t obviously look like fat people chairs, my office chair is one of those. I’m 80 pounds lighter now and still use it.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      260 seems… low for “chair-smashing fatness”. For perspective, my ex weighs around 360 and he’s never broken a chair nor needed a “special” chair at any of his office jobs (mind you, he’d probably *benefit* from an ergo chair rated for his size, but he’s never suffered for using the standard chairs, nor has he ever broken one). I’d wonder if that conference chair you broke wasn’t rather flimsy or already damaged in the first place. At my heaviest, I was 230 and never felt close to breaking a chair unless it was already damaged somehow and basically no one should have been sitting in it.

      Congratulations on the weight loss tho! You must feel great!

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        It depends on how you sit! I’m thin but I have a tendency to flop/drop when I sit, instead of gradually lowering myself down. If you land wrong while dropping all your weight down at once, if something’s flimsy, it will break. Just like a bed might be able to support an adult sleeping in it but break when a kid jumps up and down on it.

      2. Jasnah*

        A coworker at OldJob broke a chair somehow, I just saw him sprawled on the floor. Poor guy didn’t look that big (just a little round, I can’t imagine he was more than 200 lbs) but he was constantly having stereotypical “fat people problems” like breaking his belt. It made me think that those problems are not caused by the number on the scale, but how the thing is made and how you use it.

    2. J Kate*

      I’ve broken a chair and I’m actually pretty small. I think some chairs are faulty and it can happen to anyone. However, breaking 6 chairs, one after swapping out a stronger chair that would be less likely to break, is not reasonable. Either said individual is very rough on the chairs (I have seen this) or the chair is not able to accommodate their weight.
      We have people in our office who have special “executive” chairs and there’s no stigma. Everyone just knows it’s “so and so’s” chair, but there are other people with special chairs for other reasons too.

  29. Agent Diane*

    We hot desk. Having a dedicated chair due to an OH assessment is considered enviable to those of us who have to adjust chairs depending on who last sat in it.

    I do think explaining that it is no different to getting Fergus a chair because of his back, or Ramona an adjustable desk because of her height, may indicate this is not about the specifics of why your person needs the chair. You could say something like “I ordered one once and you swapped it: when I order you one again you do need to use it. Swapping it again would be a disciplinary issue because you’re risking yourself and others”.

  30. Namey McNameface*

    #1: If an employee repeatedly damages company property through careless disregard of reasonable instructions, termination should absolutely be a possible consequence.

    With obesity becoming such an issue I’m sure many people can sympathise with the OP’s coworker’s embarrassment. But that doesn’t make it okay for her to ignore instructions (and create possible health and safety issues) and incur significant costs to the organisation that she expects the company to just absorb.

  31. LGC*

    So I scanned the comments and…I think everyone is on point that the coworker is embarrassed and that she’s behaving in a destructive way because of it. But is there another way to get around her shame? Because I feel like even getting chairs that “blend in” wouldn’t work on their own. She’d still know the chair was larger, and would be resistant to using it.

    This is definitely a situation where she’s not behaving rationally, for reasons I can sympathize with (being very overweight is stigmatized in much of the world). So I think that any solution needs to acknowledge how awkward this will be for her.

    1. Namey McNameface*

      I’m going to assume these chairs are otherwise normal looking chairs, and not, like, marked with “SPECIAL SEAT FOR FAT PEOPLE” in bold. What else can the company do to make it easier?

      Pretty much all of us struggle with our own issues at some point. This whole website is about people behaving irrationally because of some internal struggle/fears/trauma. I feel like the onus is more on the LW’s coworker to address her personal issues regarding the seat, rather than requiring her company and other coworkers to hand hold her into acceptance.

      1. LGC*

        Like…I get that it’s not the LW’s job to handhold the employee into accepting her size (or at least accepting that she is her current size). What I was trying to ask was that – is there a way to present it where she doesn’t feel attacked?

        I mean, yeah, it’s “managing her emotions” to a degree, but my read on it was that the employee was resisting because of her internal shame. Even though no one else would probably notice or care, SHE would know that she has the Fatty Chair. And while that’s honestly not something the LW should be working out, I think it should affect the framing.

        Basically, this is kind of like if the employee had hygiene issues or their clothes were visibly damaged, imo.

        1. Susie Q*

          As adults, you can decide if you feel attacked or not. You can control how you react to things being said to you especially in this instance. This is something I learned repeatedly in therapy. You can’t control others but you can control how you respond and react to others.
          The employee is an adult. She needs to learn how to take responsibility for her behavior and emotional responses. The world doesn’t cater to our emotional needs and wants. She has to do that for herself.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Employee is correct about fat shaming in the culture. Rest of office is correct that breaking a regular chair is not fooling anyone about her size. It takes a change in mindset from the employee, which is not something other people are going to be able to do for her.

        3. LGC*

          Combo reply:

          You’re right in that 1) she’s responsible for her own feelings, 2) her size is nowhere near a secret, and 3) she’s handling this very poorly. There’s a reason why I compared it to hygiene though – I think it IS really similar! An employee who smells bad or has soiled clothing should be responsible for their own feelings about that, and other people are definitely going to notice. But also, it’s not going to be any less embarrassing for them.

          I don’t think the employee’s shame over being so fat she needs a special office chair excuses her behavior, for the record. I do think it’s an explanation for why she’s behaving so unreasonably, and that should definitely govern the approach. (I read more of the comments and I’d say to frame it as concern about her safety, first and foremost. Such as, “We’re really concerned for your safety, given what’s happened recently, so that’s why we need you to take these specific chairs.” This might not be the best phrasing since I’m thinking of it on the fly, but it’s a start.)

          1. Allison*

            Right. There’s a bunch of ways you can talk to someone about weight related issues. You can choose to be sensitive, you can choose to be matter-of-fact about the whole thing, or you can choose to be harsh and use tough love. Having an understanding of that person, and how they feel about their own weight, can and should absolutely guide your approach.

    2. Chriama*

      > But is there another way to get around her shame?

      I question whether that’s something OP can or should focus on. I think OP can emphasize the safety and budget issue, and of course get a chair that blends in if that’s at all possible. But I feel like emphasizing how awkward this is for the employee will just reinforce her feelings of embarrassment.

      1. LGC*

        Not a direct, “I know this is embarrassing for you,” but at least going into it with the mindset that…um, this IS very embarrassing for her, and that’s probably a huge reason for her refusal to comply so far. (And maybe I shouldn’t have said “around.” “Through” would have been better.)

        Anyway. The end goal is to get her to use an appropriate chair so she doesn’t break any more office chairs, and possibly her own behind. In the past, when it’s been brought up, the employee has stated that she doesn’t want to because she finds it degrading (from the letter: “She burst into tears and said she didn’t want a “fat lady chair” because it was stigmatizing.”). Unfortunately, OP1 is not dealing with a person who’s reasonable about this (you would think after SIX chairs in one year – OP1 didn’t include the conference room chairs in this – you would get tired of breaking the office chairs and just accept the “fat lady chair”), but fortunately OP1 already has information on why she’s being unreasonable (she feels like she’s being treated differently because she’s very overweight). With a reasonable adult one can be direct about the issues, but I think the wrong approach here would just trigger more tears and noncompliance.

        That said, I’d leave out the budget part because she’s unreasonable and I think it’d backfire.

  32. NR*

    I feel like Alison’s advice for #1 is spot on and there’s no reason for anyone in her workplace to really get into the why behind this pattern. It’s a safety issue for this employee (and other employees for reasons others have mentioned) and it’s a work requirement for this employee. That needs to be clearly communicated and that’s it.

    That said, if I do go down the rabbit hole of speculation… something that came to mind is perhaps the count is so high because the employee has been telling herself “I’m going to lose the weight and not need the bigger chair” or something like that each time a chair breaks.

    I know I’ve gotten into that mindset myself about clothing – “Well, yes, I’ve gotten 2 sizes bigger but I don’t need to buy a WHOLE new wardrobe because I’m going to eat clean and exercise and lose the weight soon! I can make do with these 1 pair of extra-loose pants and my 2 loosest tops as I lose weight every week until I am back to my old weight/clothes. Which will be soon.” Cue to 2 years and another dress size later… “nope, I need to have to have enough to properly clothe myself while I’m at this size and that’s changing soon. That’s unfortunate but I’m going to remind myself to be kind to myself and focus on getting healthy even if I’m wearing this larger size every day.”

    In this case, given that she swapped chairs when given one, she’s not really letting herself have even that 1 pair of extra-loose pants.

    I hope the employee can find some peace around this issue going forward.

    Again, I’m speculating, but this is one thing that came to mind that I hadn’t seen mentioned yet.

    1. NR*

      Argh fixing multiple typos:

      *”nope, I need to have enough to properly clothe myself while I’m at this size and that size is NOT changing soon”

  33. Rayne*

    OP 2 – I’m vegan and I don’t eat any homemade goods unless I either know them really well or I was able to watch/help make them. Unfortunately, people often don’t know just how many things aren’t vegan and even when they are trying to be accommodating they can inadvertently add something that isn’t okay. Then there are other horrible people that knowingly feed vegans/other dietary restrictive people non-compliant food just because they want to.
    I would honestly stay away from anything your coworkers bring in that doesn’t have a label. If asked, just say that for the month you’re keeping track of everything you eat so you can’t eat homemade treats, but they look delicious and you hope everyone else enjoys them.

    1. Sled dog mama*

      Yes, it’s so hard to know what is/is not vegan and what meets any one person’s standards.
      I once worked at a location with a single vegan coworker and we were throwing a party because she got married so we all asked her loads of questions, got recipes and approved brands from her, in short went to a lot of trouble to make sure she could eat and would like everything there. I bake a lot of desserts so I baked cupcakes for the party and I was explaining to her that I had even made sure the sugar was vegan (don’t ask how cane sugar can be non vegan, let’s just say I still buy vegan sugar four years later) and her response was “Sugar can be non vegan?”

      1. Rayne*

        Oh man, it can get crazy. Like I’d been a vegetarian for 12 years before going vegan so I had assumed it would be pretty similar and easy enough to know what I can/cannot eat, but it’s far more involved than people think. The first like 4 months I just had to google “is this vegan?” for literally everything I bought.
        I think it is so so kind of your office to go through all the trouble to accommodate your coworker’s lifestyle preferences. That is the sweetest thing in the world

  34. Carlie*

    What OP1’s company should have done when they were first ordering furniture for their office when they first opened was to buy several chairs that were heavier-rated and had them available in all the rooms that people meet in. Because seriously, what do they do if they have big visitors? New potential client coming in? Inspectors? Grandboss from another office? Every business has outsiders coming in from time to time for some reason. Heck, if a regular employee on the verge of being too heavy for the regular chairs gets pregnant, there’s that same issue. Having the entire building have only standard chairs is an accessibility issue (even though that’s the norm). If it was commonplace to see a variety of chair types, people probably wouldn’t feel so stigmatized about using them. And it’s just good business sense – if you get an important and large visitor in, it looks really bad to either have to a) borrow Karen’s chair for an hour and wheel it across the building for them to use or b) have them use the cheapo chairs you bought that will probably break during the meeting.

    That said, this business in particular is what it is. I think the employee would acquiesce if she knew her job was on the line because of it. But I think it should be on OP to make sure that they can get a chair that is as close to all the others as possible (and if they can’t, then they’ve got a vendor problem and that points to needing to be careful about picking vendors who think about accessibility needs rather than the cheapest place they can find). Or maybe she can be responsible for replacement costs if the chair she chooses to use breaks? Although that would be difficult to enforce. I really feel for this woman. A lot of fat people wouldn’t mind, but a lot do, and she sounds like someone who hasn’t come to terms with it yet. I would urge the OP to be as kind as they can.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      But if the chairs look like the regular chairs, which is standard, then figuring out which chair the heavier people should sit in in each room is going to be a cringeworthy “Does it say underneath? Wait, I’ll get down and look” exercise.

      1. londonedit*

        I was also imagining a ‘No, YOU can’t sit in that chair – that one’s for Karen!’ situation in every meeting, which would also be cringeworthy. But it doesn’t seem like there’s a good solution, unless the company just makes all the chairs in the conference room suitable for heavier people.

    2. Doodle*

      Universal design! This is really smart, Carlie!

      Now, if we can get only get meeting agendas set and available before the meeting, so that people with certain neuro or cognitive disabilities can read it ahead of time, or people with visual disabilities can print it out in larger font; or if we can get able-bodied people in the habit of taking the hard to squeeze into corner seat so that the easy to reach spots are free for folks with mobility problems…

        1. Joielle*

          I… don’t think that was sarcasm? Those are all legitimately useful things that everyone should do to meetings more accessible!

    3. Temperance*

      My office has larger chairs (not sure of the correct/appropriate term here, apologies if I offend anyone) in our conference rooms, so no one will ever have to bring a bigger chair if we have a meeting with a larger guest. I think this is the politest way to handle, if funds are available.

      We also have a bunch of different types and sizes of chairs, so no one is stigmatized for special needs. That seems like the best way to handle. I work in a huge building, though, so YMMV.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      Eh, the strategy of buying a few higher capacity chairs only works if the heavier people are willing to sit in them. Which Bessy has obstinately refused to do.

      My company went through a similar issue with an obese employee who broke several standard chairs and a toilet, even though there were higher capacity options available.

        1. atalanta0jess*

          I thought that too Bookartist, and then I realized one of the other pseudonyms above was “Bessy” so now I think it was just a matter of confusion.

  35. Jody*

    Thinking of the broken chairs and the need for one that can truly support weight long term, you can also present it as a safety issue. The employee’s safety is at stake and the company cannot afford to risk the safety of any employee for any reason. Perhaps following that as an avenue in addition to cost may bring in the shadow of legality of letting her sit in chairs that are clearly unsafe for her?

  36. Even Steven*

    It’s not often that I disagree with Alison, but for OP#2, I do. I think, ‘Thanks, I’m not hungry” or “I already ate” is sufficient here. I think the trend of earnest explaining ourselves opens up debates. Is the sorta-vegan monitoring her offerings and taking notes on who partakes or not? Is OP#2 under any obligation to always take some of sorta-vegan’s offerings? A polite no thank you would do it, no?

    1. JustAClarifier*

      +1 Wholeheartedly concur. I’ve made similar comments on other letters. There is no need to overly justify yourself when a straightforward response will do.

  37. Tobias Funke*

    As a super fat person, I totally understand why she’s doing this. Not that it makes sense – it doesn’t. But it makes sense to me. As I was getting fatter I would cling to these tiny bits of normalcy and as I said goodbye to each one there was immense shame and immense anger with myself. She’s likely highly invested in “passing” and having to order a chair is doing to feel like it’s got a giant neon sign over it that says NOT NORMAL FATTYFAT. That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t do it – we all deserve to be safe and comfortable – but I can totally see being more invested in passing than in safety and comfort. Besides, what are safety and comfort when you’re fat and the entire world tells you that you don’t deserve those things?

    This was far more vulnerability than the internet deserves so I’ll probably change my name now.

    1. Robot Cowboy*

      Is there anything OP#1 could do to help her employee make this change that’s not threatening to fire her? I was thinking along the lines of offering support if there are any negative comments around the office, etc. Like, if her concern is that she’ll be stigmatized in the office, OP#1 can tell her that she can come to her with any problems she might have with co-workers about this issue and they’ll be dealt with. Which typing it out makes me think about all the problems with calling out co-workers for bad behavior, but still. I would like to think there’s something OP#1 can do to make it easier for the employee to do this, rather than make it harder for her to NOT do it.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Besides, what are safety and comfort when you’re fat and the entire world tells you that you don’t deserve those things?

      This is the 100% realest comment I have seen on The Experience Of Being Fat. Thank you for saying it.

    3. Ceiswyn*

      “Besides, what are safety and comfort when you’re fat and the entire world tells you that you don’t deserve those things?”

      This needs to be put on a billboard somewhere. I did not realise how much I’d internalised the idea that, as a fat person, I didn’t deserve nice things, until I lost 60% of my bodyweight and suddenly stopped feeling like I ‘had to’ be obliging, let others go first, not make a fuss about anything, etc etc.

    4. FFHP*

      I am also a big person. I totally get your thoughts on her trying to pass. This makes perfect sense.
      But how about the embarrassment of breaking chairs? How is the employee coping with this? I would literally die if others observed a chair breaking due to my weight. I would do anything – even use a “different” chair – to avoid this happening again. That’s the part of the story that I don’t understand.

    5. The Other Dawn*

      I totally get it. When I was at my biggest I could no longer buckle my seatbelt on airplanes. Rather than suffer the embarrassment of asking for a seatbelt extender and looking/feeling like a freak but being safe, I chose to lay the belt over my lap, pretending it was buckled when the flight attendant checked and that I could pass for being “normal.”

      1. Tobias Funke*

        The way I’ve learned to deal with such things over the years is as follows:

        1. Generally getting healthier mentally and emotionally and learning that my body size does not make me an inferior human. I did this through fat acceptance, HAES, and therapy. YMMV.
        2. As a result of the above, I learned that accommodations to be able to exist in society (like by getting on a plane and getting an extender, or telling a host in a restaurant I need a table instead of a booth) are not shameful.
        3. Leaning hard into my intense respect for justice and channeling it into getting justice for other fats. If other fats see me flying and getting extenders and generally living my fat life, it will at least plant the seed that they are human. I remember being a fat 13 year old looking at bras at Lane Bryant all by myself (I would go there in secret so nobody saw me – like they didn’t already know I was fat) and being so so so impressed by this one woman who was tall and fat like me. I didn’t talk to her or anything but I had never seen a fat woman not hate herself before and if I can be that person to another fat, I have done my job. I also see my job as a social worker as an extension of this – modeling a fat existence in a healthy and self loving way.

    6. Jennifer*

      I can totally relate. It reminds me of when you have to admit you’ve gone up a few sizes and your old clothes don’t fit you anymore. It’s really difficult and it’s more than just the number on the tag.

    7. Thursday Next*

      Thank you for your honesty and generosity. I feel like I’ve not only gotten a possible glimpse into Bessy’s thinking, but into my own (about not deserving X because of Y, which has not served as a good mechanism for coping with the effects of chronic mental and physical illness).

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I understand. My former GF had this mind set as well. She was infuriated when I bought her a shirt that fit comfortably on her. She declared she could wear a medium and therefore only bought mediums. They fit but cut into her and came just below the belly button. She was constantly fighting her clothes and grasping for that normalcy.

      I hadn’t even thought of it, it was early in in our relationship. And I wear an XL so I figured she did too. She was also ashamed that despite my large frame, she viewed me as physically fit. Lots of mental anguish involved.

      You are not alone.

  38. Moxie*

    I feel bad for the person in #4– it just reads to me like someone trying to make friendly conversation. In my organization, this sort of talk is a subtle compliment about your work ethic. Worst case scenario, this person is just self conscious about their own hours. I’d let this go, or at least remind them that you actually work the same total number hours, and move on. The suggested script to me just comes across as unnecessary, especially if the person is just trying to get to chat and doesn’t know how else to do it. Maybe engage this person some other way?

    1. Doodle*

      No, I’d let the person know, because why should I be constantly annoyed by such remarks when it’s so easy for the person to just cut it out already? (I’d nice about it the first time or two that I asked the person to stop, but for sure I would be testy or cold about it after that. Find another topic.)

  39. Phoenix Programmer*

    #1 Whenever I see one of these broken office equipment letters I am baffled. Not at people’s wait – I live in the US and don’t see many people out and about heavier than me which should give you an idea of my weight.

    I’ve never broken an office chair or desk. The only chairs I have ever broken are camping chairs that were flimsy AF.

    The answer is easy – buy better office equipment. Problems and stigma solved.

    1. Tobias Funke*

      Honestly, this thread is making me wonder if my chair is actually broken and I haven’t noticed because I’m just so used to my stuff being in tatters cause fat plus broke is not great. I always just assume if I’m not crashing onto the floor then I’m fine and I’m being a giant baby for wanting things that meet my needs.

    2. OlympiasEpiriot*

      I have been in a shocking amount of offices where there are chairs and other furniture that definitely looked slick when they were brand new, bu that are made poorly and show hard wear in a structural sense after not very long. There have been plenty of times I’ve been in a conference room and elected not to use particular chairs because they look dubious and I am not large at all.

    3. Temperance*

      I’m wondering if she’s the kind of person who is hard on furniture in general, like she sits down with a lot of force.

  40. Placeholder Pseudonym*

    OP1, there’s one aspect of Alison’s advice that has not generated many comments yet: your communications with your manager. It appears that your manager gave a clear directive that your employee use a special chair and that you, in an effort to be kind, did not communicate the directive with the firmness your manager expected. You cannot undo this now, but going forward, it’s your responsibility to inform your manager if you do not carry out a directive. Part of the reason why your manager is being so firm about this employee is that they assume you have been firm with your employee. It’s up to you to take responsibility for that not having occurred. You did this trying to be kind, but part of being a manager is (1) having to deliver bad news to your employees, and (2) letting your own manager know if you did not.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yes, I got the impression she is very close to losing her job if she doesn’t comply. She will be blindsided if that happens and it’s partially OP1’s fault. I do understand she wanted to be kind. Lord knows I wouldn’t want to have this conversation with anyone. I think this employee will be especially motivated to cooperate if she realizes her job depends on it.

  41. DaisyC*

    #2!!! Saying “no thank you” to an offer of a snack that she’s made is easy. The end. Problem solved.

    1. Jennifer*

      I agree. I am confused by the letter. I didn’t see where Becky was forcing her to eat the snacks or where she felt not accepting them would affect her job somehow. Just say no. It comes across almost like she wrote in to judge her for not being a perfect vegan. I can totally relate to not being the perfect vegan, so it did the opposite for me.

      If you have dietary restrictions, it’s your responsibility to figure out what’s in the food.

      1. Mara*

        The only other thing I can think of is that she doesn’t want to forgo snacks from other coworkers in their “snacky office” during this time and is afraid of getting called out on eating some snacks and not Bessy’s? And I mean if that’s the case just bring your own snacks and say no thank you to everything for the vegan month…

        1. Jennifer*

          Exactly, it’s just one month and you already have a built-in excuse for bringing your own snacks.

      2. Name Required*

        For absolute real, Jennifer. The irony of reading someone talk about what it means to be a “real vegan” when they only eat plant-based 1 month out of the year …

        OP#2, you can never trust anyone else’s food, ever. Not at restaurants, not at work gatherings, not if every meal you see them eat is 100% vegan. If you opt out of her snacks, you need to opt out of everyone else’s snacks because the logic follows that their snacks may also be contaminated.

        1. Jennifer*

          Exactly. You never really know what’s in anyone’s cooking. If you’re a strict vegan (for a month) make your own food or only eat food that’s packaged so you can see the ingredients. I don’t see the point in calling this one person out for eating non-vegan pizza when we don’t know what ingredients are really in anyone’s cooking.

  42. Jennifer*

    I feel terrible for OP1 and this employee. I hope the script works for her and she can keep her job. I don’t know if she understands she’s close to getting fired. It’s not a discriminatory issue. She is costing the company unnecessary money.

  43. Mara*

    OP#2, if you’re the only person with a flexible schedule in the office, if it’s not “common knowledge”, and if she’s new, it might be that she feels she’s not working hard enough because she always gets in after you and leaves before you.

    When I started my first job, my immediate coworker was constantly in the office before and after me, and I felt like I wasn’t pulling my weight, or like I was obligated to stay if she was staying. Even if there wasn’t work I needed to do. Turns out, colleague has a chronic illness and prefers to get more done when she feels well because she has long absences. But until I clued in, I felt like I was violating the office code by leaving first if I wasn’t first in.

    If it doesn’t come across as a joke or awkward small talk, a simply reassurance that you have a different arrangement about your work day with Management might go a long way to curbing the annoying comments.

  44. Scott M.*

    #4 : I had a quick question on terminology, unrelated to the actual issue… To me, an 8-hour work day doesn’t include lunch. For example, I work 8-5, with a one hour lunch, which is 8 hours of work time. Do other people consider lunch to be part of their work time? The OP, for example, mentioned a 9 hr work day when actually it’s only 8.5. Am I thinking of a workday incorrectly?

    1. Badmath*

      I’m also confused. 9 hour work days 9 days every 2 weeks earns and exta 9 hours, way more than a half day

      1. Annie Moose*

        LW has a 30 minute lunch break, so her actual worktime each day is 8.5 hours. Over 9 days, that adds up to 4.5 hours. However, if LW’s schedule works like how mine did at my old job, she likely does it like this:

        Week 1:
        Monday – Thursday: 8.5 hours
        Friday: 8 hours

        Week 2:
        Monday – Thursday: 8.5 hours
        Friday: 4 hours

    2. Rez123*

      In my current job lunch break is “own time” so not included in the hours. So I work 37,5h/week. In my previous job the lunch break was work time and there I worked 40h/week. But I went and left the work at the same time. So I’d say the way the day is calculated depends on the job.

    3. OP #4*

      LW here: I use it more to describe the time I’m in the office rather than the hours I’m actually working, if that helps clarify.

  45. MCMonkeyBean*

    #2 – I know this doesn’t really matter because if you don’t feel comfortable eating the food then you shouldn’t… but for what it’s worth I think it’s not likely that she would bring in snacks and claim they are vegan when they aren’t. I have known a few people that eat vegan at home but don’t really bother when they are out in the world. So the fact that she eats cheese or milk sometimes when out with her coworkers doesn’t mean she’s secretly sneaking it into all of her baked treats or whatever.

    #3 – If your boss calling and texting at all hours was a problem before, I would think it would be even MORE of a problem if you were working remotely.

    1. boo bot*

      I kind of disagree on #2 – I think it’s possible that she is as you suggest, but I think it’s more a question of how scrupulous she is being in her own mind? Things like, “I’m a tablespoon short on Earth Balance, I’ll make up the difference with butter, it’s just a little,” or “There’s only a drop of milk in this,” where she can rationalize, it’s just a tiny bit, they won’t notice, it doesn’t even make a difference.

      I think that’s doubly likely when she knows she’s cooking for people who are eating vegan temporarily, rather than people for whom it’s their regular way of eating. That said, I do agree that it’s unlikely that she’s sneaking non-vegan stuff into her treats in a deliberate fashion.

  46. Supercalifragilistic*

    OP#1: I am a heavier person, so I do understand these hurdles in general and the stigma and the discrimination, but it is hard for me to understand why the woman would rather break multiple chairs than use a weight-rated chair. I guess there is a strong element of denial at play. It would be very embarrassing to me to break a chair (just one chair) and I would really appreciate the opportunity to get the weight-rated chair. I hope that, after a direct conversation with the employee, things work out. Good luck.

  47. LaDeeDa*

    My heart goes out to the overweight employee. I just looked up higher weight-rated chairs, and they do not look any different from any other office chair. I am looking at one weighted to 500 lbs, and it looks like your standard “executive” office chair, high back, black faux leather, people may notice that the chair is bigger (wider) but honestly I can’t see how anyone would even think twice about it.
    The conversation is one of the most difficult ones I can imagine, good luck OP- please let us know how it goes and what you said!!

    1. Rainbow Roses*

      I’m looking around my office right now and never noticed how many styles of chairs we are using.

      It’s human nature to think everyone is noticing and judging you but this lady should seek help or it will cost her a job. She’s kidding herself if she doesn’t think others noticed that she traded her chair and why. The OP didn’t mention that others in the office are making comments or making fun so they probably just think professional thoughts about her. For now. However keep breaking chairs and that’s all they will associate her with.

  48. fromscratch*

    OP #3 I worked remotely for 3 years with boundary-challenged coworkers, managers, and customers and finally landed on a solution that solved a lot of my problems. I got a google voice number, did not forward it to my cell phone, and then told everyone that was my contact method. So, I did not get the calls or texts unless I was sitting at my computer with gmail open. It was fantastic for me and they were none the wiser.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      Yes! My husband did something similar. He isn’t required to be on call on his days off, his phone is his personal cell phone, but his manager and colleagues would call or text him on his days off. So he downloaded some app that gave him a different number, he has it set so it won’t give him notifications, he has to open the app to see messages. He has been very clear with his colleagues and manager that he is not available on his days off.

    2. Organized Curiosity*

      I was going to say something similar. Also, OP#3 could take this opportunity to say to employer/friend that in order to return and be successful at job, she would have to establish firm boundaries between work and not work (framed this way, it makes it more about what the OP needs and less about the boundary-violating employer).

  49. T*

    This could be really embarrassing for the woman in OP#1’s letter, but I get she’s broken multiple chairs and is costing the company money. Thyroid issues run in my family and I’ve watched healthy relatives rapidly gain weight to a morbidly obese level, so I understand the embarrassment she may be feeling. I think it’s all in the way it’s framed when she’s told she’s getting a new chair. It really is a safety issue though since she continues to break chairs and could hurt herself doing so again.

  50. StressedButOkay*

    OP4, I’d follow Alison’s advice not only to give you some peace of mind but also to potentially nip in the bud any jealousy your coworker might be feeling. You mention that you’re the only one with a flexible schedule in your office, so there’s a very good chance that she’s using jokes to cover up feeling some jealousy – or that it could turn that way.

    I speak from experience! I was once one of the few people in my office that had a flexible schedule, thanks to the nature of my job, and I discovered about a year into this schedule that coworkers were incredibly upset that I got special treatment! They never came right out and told me, only joked about when I was/wasn’t there, which was annoying but I thought was lighthearted.

    It wasn’t, sadly.

  51. Didi*

    To OP#2 and in general to deal with food pushers in the office. A handy phrase I use is “maybe later.” As in, “I’m not hungry right now, maybe later,” or “I had a big lunch, so maybe later.”
    This was you never openly refuse anything, but you don’t commit to eating it either.

    1. WellRed*

      I think it’s better to just say, “no thanks.” Or some variation. Never give room for argument, in food or other issues (Like the boss soliciting donations yesterday).

  52. MCMonkeyBean*

    I’ve thought a little bit more about #3 and I think if you decide the paycheck is worth the risk, I would have a talk with your future boss before accepting the offer and frame the discussion as being about a change you are making with yourself. Something like: “I’ve been working lately on doing a better job maintaining a better work/life balance so it’s really important to me to be able to disconnect from work outside of working hours. This means I would be unavailable for calls and texts unless something really important pops up. Would that be workable with this new position?”

    1. As Close As Breakfast*

      Maybe you could even connect it to your current job? Something like “one part of my current job that I’ve found I really enjoy is that I am truly able to disconnect when I am away from work. Given that this new position would be 100% remote, I’m particularly concerned with being able to keep my work and home life separated.” And then use this to have a frank discussion about communication and expectations. Those 2 points can be used as a fall back for why you really want to establish boundaries.

  53. JustAClarifier*

    LW 1: I agree with Alison’s advice but I have to admit that I’m not surprised at all that the boss is thinking about firing her over this issue. While it isn’t deliberate (as far as we know), there is definitely a degree of willful ignorance that has gone as far as actually swapping chairs with another person.

    I can’t imagine that it would be any different if she was making major mistakes on projects or tasks – or losing clients – to the tune of potentially thousands of dollars. If a person did that and refused to learn from their mistakes, even if it is out of embarrassment at making them (as is the situation here), a boss would be well within their right to let this person go for damaging the company.

    Another thought – if people are swapping equipment that was ordered for them, I imagine it might be a common practice around that office. Would it be too much or too identifying to also issue a little notice to the rest of the team to the effect of, “If we purchase you ergonomic equipment, it was purchased with your personal workspace and ergonomics in mind. Please do not swap”?

      1. JustAClarifier*

        You’re right, but I’m trying to look at it from the point of view of the boss – in each situation, she’s costing the company a lot of money, and at what point does that become unconscionable? Though, to be fair – as pointed out above by @Placeholder Pseudonym – this could also largely be due to the fact that the manager writing in is not communicating to the level at which they should be with either the employee OR grand boss.

        1. a1*

          I don’t know. If I’m continually breaking office equipment, whether it be chairs or printers or desks or whatever, and I don’t do anything to rectify the situation, especially after I’ve been given a way to keep that from happening, I can hardly be surprised to be disciplined or let go over it.

      2. Pomona Sprout*

        The “mistakes on projects or tasks” may not apply exactly, but neither does your point about buying chairs that break under her weight. The company bought her a chair designed to NOT break under her weight, which she REFUSED to use.

        1. JustAClarifier*

          To which point are you referring? I re-read what I wrote and don’t see a point about them buying chairs that break under her weight – I did call out that she swapped the one that was bought for heavier accommodation. I might be misunderstanding your point?

  54. Jaybeetee*

    Storytime: I had an ergo assessment done last year for other reasons, and it was discovered that I needed a “plus-size seat”. Which was mortifying, but also a bit irritating when given the actual numbers – my optimal seat width? Or arm-width? Or something? was one-inch over what standard chairs offered, or half an inch on each side. Or the very bottom-point of plus-size. On top of that, the ergo chair that best suited for my needs didn’t typically come with a plus-size option, so needed to be custom-made. Cue many emails back-and-forth between my office’s EA and the chair people, me CC’d to all of them, where the words “plus-size” were thrown around far more than I was comfortable with.

    So today I have my special chair, which has always felt a bit wide to me, and I have since lost some weight as well, so I do feel a bit like I’m a child sitting in a grown-up’s chair. At the same time, I doubt anyone’s *noticed* it’s a “plus-size” chair, or if they have, no one has ever commented, and I doubt anyone has given Jaybeetee’s Chair much thought. I haven’t found it at all stigmatizing. (OTOH, I have a second work-station I use as well, where the chair provided *did* feel like a child’s chair I had to cram into when I was 25 pounds heavier, and I’ve never had that feeling with any other office chair, so idek at this point. Chairs are weird).

    That said, for this poor lady in the first letter, the truth is she needs the heavier-rated chair. The truth is, unless she works with a bunch of high-school-style meanies with way too much time on their hands, no one is going to notice or care what she sits in. And if she’s large/heavy enough to be breaking chairs (assuming, as others mentioned, these aren’t weirdly flimsy chairs to start with – as I mentioned above, my ex is over 350 pounds and never broke a chair that I know of, at multiple different offices, so either this woman is quite large or perhaps the standard chairs being used at this company aren’t great quality), frankly she’s probably not very comfortable squeezing into standard-sized chairs, with arms that likely cut into her sides and the seat potentially digging into her in an uncomfortable way. If she can get over the mental hurdle, she’d probably find a larger chair much more comfortable, and she’d no longer have to worry about breakage either. I agree with the other comments that suggest making this a health-and-safety issue, and a liability issue if she were to injure herself, as that should make it clear that she can’t work around this and she has to accept it. Just as with wearing clothing that fits properly, once she can get her head around it, she’ll probably realizes it feels better using stuff actually designed for her, and not constantly trying to cram herself into things that are too small.

  55. Ladylike*

    #1 – I don’t understand how breaking 4 chairs is less embarrassing than using one that won’t break.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      You know that thing where you just know that you’re walking around with a big neon arrow over your head? She’s got one of those, but the arrow points to the chair. Nobody else notices the chair, and she notices nothing BUT the chair. The giant chair, with the blinking neon sign that says “Fat Person Here”.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      Because if you are in a certain mindset about your body, you can explain away breakages. It’s a stupid flimsy chair, or it never worked right in the first place, or someone else must have borrowed it and broken it, or whatever. You’re not a fat person, you’re just a person who’s had a string of bad luck with chairs. Once your office has spent $500 on a special non-breaking chair especially for you, though? That’s harder to explain away. That’s a fat lady chair that your office has had to go out and buy because they all know how fat you are.

  56. LaDeeDa*

    Boundary issues- my manager and I both work remotely on opposite ends of the country, and all my direct reports are sprinkled all over the US, Canada, and South America. I tend to work my time zone’s standard business hours, but they all know if I am not showing online through our network, they can text me or call me for something really important, and I will be available to them if I can. I think this is one of the adjustments we now have to make when we work and manage remotely.
    I think you can manage this if you are willing to be clear. Establish what hours you will be available for work, and what your manager expects outside of those hours. If you are in different time zones, it isn’t unreasonable that you are available for important things outside your normal working hours. If it is after 5:00 where you are, 3:00 where your manager is and he is walking into a meeting and needs some data for that meeting, then ok. If it is a constant request/issue, then better communication needs to happen.

  57. WhoKnows*

    As a big lady, #1 absolutely breaks my heart. I feel really bad for that woman. Does the heavy duty chair look that different though, than the other chairs? TBH, if I was her (and honestly, I can imagine that easily), I would be so embarrassed that I would be begging for the heavy duty chair.

    Ugh, crappy situation all around. I feel for everyone.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I have broken a work chair and it was the most mortifying moment of my life, on par with the time I accidentally got locked in the building and set off the alarms. And it wasn’t even totally my fault, it was an old chair that was already giving out.

      Thing is, I don’t need a special chair. But as a bigger lady, I was very aware when I broke that chair that everyone looking at me was thinking the same thing.

  58. Sled dog mama*

    Something I haven’t seen mentioned in the comments (I haven’t read them all) about the chair is that if this person is heavy but short the weight appropriate chair may be really uncomfortable for her.
    My department switched chairs about 3 weeks ago and the new chairs are fantastic for most. I however have short legs and the seats are just a smidge deeper than our old chairs, this means that I cannot have my back against the chair and supported and my feet on the floor at the same time, this means my chronic low back pain has returned. I could fix this easily with either a lumbar support or a foot rest, both of which I’m not allowed to bring in and the company will not purchase for me.
    If the OP’s employee needs a tiny modification to make the chair really work please consider it. I know that the letter focused on the not wanting a different chair but having my office change chairs wholesale (and the whining that accompanied it) made me realize that sometimes it’s easier to give lots of excuses besides the real reason of that chair really doesn’t work for me as is.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I had a mis-sized chair situation once, too. I didn’t ask for a footrest (I think I didn’t know that was a thing) but I did put my feet on some books and an overturned wastebasket. Could you fashion something like that?

      Also, please document with HR that you have these problems and pain. That way if you ever need to make a workers comp claim there’s record of your having raised the issue and the company ignoring it.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      This is a good point.

      I have a “big & tall” desk chair at home, and it is my throne that I love — but the seat is quite deep and it also goes higher off the ground than standard chairs. The “tall” part of the description is quite as applicable as the “big.” It’s comfortable for me, since I’m tall with a lot of height in my legs, but when my shorter friends have come over they’ve found it a quite uncomfortable chair to sit in.

    3. Brett*

      I’m not heavy, but I am really short, and it is impossible for me to sit in a “heavy duty” chair without my legs going numb and my back hurting. The extra chair height and chair depth really cause huge problems.
      (Regular chairs do too. For my ergonomic evaluation, I needed a chair height 2 inches shorter than the shortest adjustable height and a chair depth that just does not really exist.)

    4. Observer*

      This is a good point. But when you get to this point, it really is the employee’s responsibility to bring it up. Especially since the OP and her boss seem to be quit reasonable about this. Also, she was originally told to choose her own chair! That would have given her the opportunity to deal with these issues. But she refused. So, I really don’t think that this is about the OP substituting one inappropriate chair for another.

      That said, OP, if there is an issue you obviously should accommodate it.

    5. emmelemm*

      I’m completely and totally baffled by “not allowed to bring in” things that would help you sit comfortably. I get a company refusing to spend money on extra stuff for one person, even though that’s completely short-sighted and just generally stupid.

      I’ve definitely bought things in the past to make me more comfortable in a variety of ways. Do I wish I hadn’t had to spend my own money? Sure. But worth it in the end. If I’d been told I couldn’t buy and use something I felt I needed, I would be PISSED.

      1. Sled dog mama*

        It’s complicated because I work in health care and having unapproved equipment (like a coffee pot) can be a problem, my employer has taken this a little overboard with the no bringing in personal equipment period thing.

  59. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I’m ordinary-sized and I broke a conference room chair. Sat down, and bango, Delta was on the floor. Turns out there was pre-existing breakage to the chair. I was embarrassed, but I laughed it off, because I didn’t get hurt (or spill my coffee!). But I was a little miffed the organization had a broken chair in their conference room and didn’t tell me about it or replace it or steer me to a different chair. Seems like this could happen in Scenario #1 and there could be a broader range of problems than previously thought.

    Also, and here’s a thought. If they get a special conference room chair for the coworker, it seems like the company would have to tell everyone they’re not allowed to sit in it because it’s specifically for Jane. That also feels like it singles her out. This one’s kind of hard.

    1. WellRed*

      Agreed about the conference chair, there’s no un-awkward way to do that. Do we even know if she participates in any meetings?

    2. londonedit*

      I thought the same, but I saw a comment further up from the OP where they said the company had actually replaced all of the conference room chairs with heavy-duty ones. So that’s one part of the problem solved!

  60. Persephone*

    I can certainly sympathize with the chubby employee, but wouldn’t she rather be known as someone sitting in a different looking chair than as a serial chair destroyer? Some judicious shopping could result in a piece of furniture with upholstery and appearance quite similar to the existing chairs, to the extent that it isn’t immediately identifiable as a heavy-duty variety. Most people probably won’t even notice.

  61. Observer*

    #5 – I t could just be rigidity on the part of the Board, but it may also be due to other issues not in their complete control or misunderstanding of applicable rules.

    For instance, sometimes funders have some really difficult rules or are way too micro-managey which created problems like this. I’ve also seen situations where an organization won’t give someone X benefit because they can’t do it across the board and they think that it needs to be an all or nothing proposition, when it really doesn’t have to be.

    Which is to say that even with the experience hey are having with difficulty filling the role, they might not have a lot of room to make changes.

    1. LW#5*

      Hi – LW#5 here. Thanks for your feedback. What’s interesting is that this position is one of the few that DOESN’T have extra time off. It’s with a school so the majority of employees follow a teacher’s schedule. This position is one of the few (along with the ED, maybe the admin) who wouldn’t have summers off, the week between Christmas and New Years, etc.

      But I think your overall point still stands. There might be other outside factors I don’t know about keeping them from being able to make those changes.

  62. LawBee*

    OP1 – it may help if you equate the chair breakage to something like a printer. If you had an employee who consistently and irreparably broke the complicated office printer and refused to use the more basic one – including going out of her way not to use it, and recruiting coworkers to help her disobey directions – you’d be a lot less worried about consequences, right? This isn’t about the employee’s weight, it’s about a pattern of breaking expensive company property, and it needs to stop.

    1. Jennifer*

      I understand the comparison. I just think weight is such a sensitive issue, it’s not really the same. It’s a lot easier to say, “stop breaking the printer or face disciplinary action,” than tell someone they need to sit in a special chair because of their size, especially for a woman.

      1. LawBee*

        It is, and I’m not unsympathetic to that – and it can be framed nicely. But if this woman is fired, it won’t be because of her weight but because she refused to follow directions. OP1 can only do so much – it’s going to be an awful awkward conversation, and probably emotional, but maybe framing it as office equipment will give them something to hide behind. One of those things where they both know the WHY behind the situation, but it goes unspoken.

        To be clear, I don’t want her to lose her job. But she has to stop breaking company equipment.

  63. squirreltooth*

    #1 is very interesting to me. As a fat lady myself, it’d take just one broken office chair chair for me to be absolutely embarrassed beyond belief and eager to do anything to keep it from happening again. So I’m kind of looking at this sideways.

    1. Rainbow Roses*

      It sounds like she’s in denial. Like a kid who hides their face and think if they can’t see you, you can’t see them.

    2. Grapey*

      Same. A commenter upthread made an analogy to feeling like using a special chair was a neon sign saying “fat lady sits here”, but as a fat lady…just being fat has always been the neon sign.

  64. Jennifer*

    #4 I think she may just want to be friendly. I prefer to come in late and work late, so I get jokes about “burning the midnight oil,” etc. I understand it’s annoying but it may be one of those things you have to learn to let roll off your back. You have my sympathy.

  65. Susan*

    I have to question the quality of chair this company is buying. There are many many overweight people in the workplace. That should be considered when purchasing office equipment. I don’t like that this woman has to be singled out for a special type of chair. How about gradually replacing broken chairs with a better quality that can accommodate more weight? Just make that a policy – as chairs wear out or break, they are replaced with better chairs.

    1. J Kate*

      I think it would be wise to have a variety of chairs available or let each individual pick one suited for them if possible. But having all chairs for larger individuals makes it difficult for smaller people as well.

    2. Rainbow Roses*

      Well, there’s at least one other employee using one of those bigger chairs since she traded. So if she gets a new chair, she doesn’t have an excuse that she’s being singled out now.

    3. Green Great Dragon*

      Well, that could be a lot of money for chairs that isn’t really necessary, since only one person in the office needs one.

  66. AnonyMouse*

    I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around what the problem is in #2. The OP doesn’t say that Bessey is pushing the snacks on her. The way it was written it sounds like Bessey just frequently brings in food for the office and it’s open for anyone who wants it. There’s no reference to Bessey getting upset that the OP isn’t eating the snacks. It sounds like the OP is trying to figure out how to address the situation should it come up. If it never comes up, I would worry about it. But if she happens to ask you if you tried her snacks, maybe stick with one of these suggestions:
    1) If you know of a neutral ingredient in the recipe that you do not like and can use as an excuse, you could say something like “Oh those looked so good, but I’m not a fan of coconut.” You run the risk of her then intentionally avoiding that ingredient to try to accommodate you, and you’ll probably only be able to use this once.
    2) As others have mentioned, stick to neutral reasons why you’re not partaking. “Thanks, but I’m not hungry,” “I had a late lunch,” “Maybe later,” etc

  67. Susana*

    LW1 – I feel for you, and for your heavy employee. What if you addressed the issue more directly (since she’s the one who called it a “fat lady chair”)? Maybe say, look, people come in all shapes and sizes. Everyone here deserves equipment that’s suited for them. We wouldn’t ask a 4ft-10 inch employee to sit in a seat where she could not see the computer screen. We just want you to have the equipment that suits you, without judgment. The problem is that by asking for the unsuitable chair, they’re breaking – and we cant afford to keep buying new ones. To be clear, we’re not saying YOU should change – just that your chair should change.

    I really do feel bad for both of you. Hopefully, she’ll see is less mortifying to sit in a fortified chair than to keep breaking them.

  68. LinesInTheSand*

    For OP#1, is it possible to let the employee pick her own chair within reasonable constraints? Give her a budget and a requirement that the chair not break. There’s a world of difference between “get a chair that works” and “use this specific chair”. I look at this as a “right tool for the job” situation, and I’m picky about my tools. She might be too.

    1. Observer*

      The OP writes that they gave this woman a catalogue, but she refused to pick a chair. Offering her a catalogue again is a good idea, but fundamentally, the OP just needs to lay this out 100% clearly and without any softening.

  69. Observer*

    #1 – I’ve read a good chunk of the comments, but not all. One thing I have not noticed, that I think is important.

    Morbid obesity may be covered under the ADA. That doesn’t meant that you can’t fire her for this behavior. But you DO need to document what’s been going on. Especially that you’ve offered her an appropriate chair which she refused, that she then refused to use the chair that you actually bought for her and (assuming she refuses to use the right chair again) that she AGAIN refused to use the correct chair. Also document the number of chairs she’s broken and the fact that you’ve made it your business to buy such chairs for your conference room.

    The ADA requires REASONABLE accommodation. Buying an appropriate chair counts. Allowing her to break multiple chairs does NOT fall under that heading.

  70. CS*

    OP#4: Is your coworker concerned that you make her look bad by — from her perspective — spending a lot more time than her in the office? I would try “I don’t want you to think you look bad by working fewer hours than me, and this is how my schedule is like…” or even “Is there a reason you are concerned with my hours?”

    Maybe your coworker is hoping you would open up on how you managed to get a schedule like that, because she wants it too, but is too shy to ask directly?

    1. hello*

      I agree that the person probably feels like they are slacking by getting there when LW is already their and leaving before they do — explaining about the Fridays should hopefully help.

  71. monica*

    Re: the chair issue, the way to avoid this in the future is to make sure all/many of your office chairs are rated at a higher weight. Fat* employees should not be a surprise – workplaces should expect that they will be hiring people with a range of body types and make sure all of them are able to be accommodated prospectively. This would not be a stigmatizing situation if your office weren’t configured for a thin default worker to begin with.

    *I’m also fat; this is a word I use politically as a neutral descriptor, which you can find more info on by Googling.

    1. Observer*

      That’s just not true. It’s not reasonable to expect that a company purchase all chairs rated for someone who is extremely heavy. Those chairs tend to be a lot more expensive, and to be clear, they are also not comfortable for a lot of people who are not that heavy.

      The issue here is not stigma but someone who has not come to terms with their issue. The chair the OP suggested is hardly something that would stand out and make everyone immediately think “oohh, fatty here!” It’s a pretty ordinary looking chair.

  72. Fiddlesticks*

    I don’t get the “fat lady stigma” about having a heavy-duty chair. If someone is overweight, we know this by looking at them – not at their chair. If an overweight person sits in a regular-duty chair, that does not make them appear thinner, nor does sitting in a heavy-duty chair make them appear heavier. Most heavy-duty chairs are indistinguishable from any other well-made and sturdy office chair.

    So, I can’t understand why the employee won’t accept a heavy-duty chair. Personally – as someone who is not exactly skinny herself – I’d think it would be a lot more stigmatizing and shaming to be known around the office as the person who can’t accept that she is overweight and keeps breaking the office chairs out of denial. However, if she has good reason to believe that other employees will make fun of and demean her if she gets a heavy-duty chair, then that is a separate issue that OP#1 will need to deal with as a manager.

    1. WellRed*

      It’s a mind thing: “If I don’t buy the next size up in jeans, then I haven’t really gained 10 pounds. I’ll just keep squeezing into the too-small ill fitting ones that aren’t fooling anyone.” Until the day I bend over and they rip wide open.

    2. Amber Rose*

      It’s not usually visually apparent when someone crosses the line from overweight to overweight enough to need special accommodations. “Fat” is actually a pretty broad range of sizes and shapes. But having everyone know you’re now fat enough that chairs can’t hold you, that’s just adding an extra layer to people’s scornful thoughts and your own low self esteem.

      Low self esteem does not always make people act rationally. Now that I’ve thought about it, I can see where this chair might feel more like Getting The Chair than just breaking some, since you can pass that off as the chairs being faulty.

  73. Rebecca*

    LW1: it sounds as though the coworker who swapped might like the higher-weight-rated chair for reasons of their own. If you ask them about it and they want to keep it, getting a second one for the employee who breaks chairs would mean she isn’t the only one with a higher-weight-rated chair. That could help with her psychological need to fit in.

  74. Not So Super-visor*

    #4: As a manager, I don’t have the luxury of set hours, so I am frequently in the building at all hours and here much longer than the employees that I manage. It’s a frequent joke around the office that they must keep a cot for me in the supply closet.

  75. Anon and on and on*

    As a heavier woman myself, I would be grateful for the heavy duty chair. I would be so embarrassed if I kept breaking chairs! And if this woman is worried about other people talking about her, well, they’re probably spending more time talking about her breaking chairs all the time. Talk about a heavy duty chair would only last one day if they even bothered about it at all.

  76. ModernHypatia*

    On the chairs – one thing that struck me as a human who is in the weight range to need one, but also quite short, is that they’re often designed for people who are larger in all dimensions. The angle of the back on them or arms if there are any can feel really awful if you’re also short.

    I end up using additional padded armrests, wrangling how wide they are, and doing a bunch of other adjustments to the seat and angle (sometimes with cushions or footrests) to get a chair to be reasonably comfortable for regular use.

    (I agree that having multiple heavy-duty chairs in the space and making sure people use their own chairs are optimal.)

  77. hello*

    #4 – I’d guess this new person feels like they aren’t working enough when they see you there all the time, and is insecure about that. If you tell them what their doing is fine, you are in a different department, and things are just different, that should settle their nerves

  78. furloughed fed*

    I’m fat and I loved my larger chair! Poor employee doesn’t understand that sitting in a too-small chair, and steadily breaking them, calls more attention to her size than just using an appropriate chair. Try having an ergonomic study done, and telling employee that you will order the appropriate chair based on the outcome of the study. Tell her the company does not want to be liable if she hurts herself by falling when a chair breaks. Good luck with using logic and reason, as employee is operating from pure emotion.

  79. Lalitah28*

    One thought on the obese employee: the Job Accommodation Network precisely covered the accommodations for obese employees and voila! it means having ladders, chairs, or extra plane seats to accommodate them: https://askjan.org/disabilities/Obesity.cfm

    I really thing the re-framing of it is the what needs to be done for that employee. She is ashamed of her weight, obviously and more than likely has suffered stigma because of her weight, so I think a compassionate response is to reason with her that having a chair that doesn’t break and accommodates her weight is a work requirement and not optional. If she refuses to use the chair, that is insubordination because it’s like not wanting to wear a hard hat in a construction site. And I would take the time to compassionately explain that breaking chairs is what is going to stigmatize her more than having a chair that accommodates her weight.

  80. Formerly Known As*

    As someone who also has a significant weight problem (though I’ve never broken a chair), I’m puzzled by the employee’s resistance to using a heavy duty chair. I’m sure this chair looks different than the other chairs, and that probably factors into it. But I would be more humiliated by repeatedly breaking chairs than I would be by using a chair designed to safely hold my weight–even with the chair looking different from the standard chairs.

    LW1–I’m glad you have compassion for this employee. We struggle enough with shame and embarrassment and feeling like we’re the last group left that it’s “okay” to make fun of. I can’t imagine what this employee is feeling like right now. I hope this can be resolved kindly and without the employee losing her job.

  81. MLB*

    #4 – I can see how the comments on OP’s schedule can be innocent and an attempt to make small talk, but I 100% understand why this is also obnoxious. In a large office environment, there will always be people who think appearance in the office = hours they’re working. There are so many permutations of a flexible schedule (when allowed) and comments like this often come across as passive aggressive because they think you’re a slacker, or they’re jealous of your schedule. I would definitely say something to make it stop.

  82. So long and thanks for all the fish*

    It sounds like the OP let the employee pick her own chair twice, and each time it broke.

  83. sange*

    I haven’t eaten meat in nearly 15 years, and I absolutely agree that this is the best way to bring it up. “I’m a vegetarian” tends to invite conversation, and pescatarian usually leads to an explanation. Like most non-meat eaters, I almost never want to talk to people about their personal food choices…

  84. MissDisplaced*

    I’m sorry but the woman in OP #1 knows very well what she’s doing. She knows darn well she is biger than average. She’s had multiple chances to order what she wanted AND then also willfully swapped what she was supplied. So unless the heavy duty chairs look radically different so as to stand out, which I get could be embarrassing, she’s being willful on purpose.

    1. Jasnah*

      Do you really think she is intentionally breaking the chairs?

      I suggest you read some other comments where people have laid out the shameful thinking that causes someone to think “as long as I don’t do X, no one will notice I’m fat.”

      The tone of your comment reads like you think the woman is intentionally breaking chairs maliciously, instead of accidentally breaking chairs and embarrassed about it. Why would you assume malicious intent?

  85. The Doctor*

    LW #1…

    While the employee in question may be in some form of denial, I must wonder if that demial is strategic. Perhaps she is trying to get “hurt” so that the company will be liable.

    1. fposte*

      If she was trying to fake an injury, she’s had four excellent openings to do so and hasn’t made a single claim.

    2. Jasnah*

      Why “must” you wonder if this is strategic? There are so many people up and down this post claiming this woman is intentionally breaking chairs. She burst into tears the first time it was brought up!

      This is a case of “if you hear hoofbeats, don’t assume it’s zebras.”

  86. Tyrion*

    Re: #2: I definitely see the conundrum–how indeed do you opt out of her food without implying you think she’s not a real vegan, when you’re not a real vegan either?

    1. LawBee*

      well, that’s quite the snide comment. LW2 is very upfront about not living a vegan lifestyle, but choosing to go vegan for a month now and then. She never claimed to be vegan, just that she temporarily follows a vegan diet. All she wants was to find a nice way not to eat food she wasn’t sure would fit her temporary restrictions.

  87. Autumnheart*

    As a long-term solution to the chair situation, I would allocate money to start replacing EVERYONE’S chair with a heavy-duty chair. They’ll last longer and, regardless how the situation with the chair-breaking employee turns out, chances are it won’t be the first time that an employee or client might be a similar weight. If the issue is that a person doesn’t want to be singled out with The Special Chair, it would be logistically simpler to make sure they’re not the only one using it.

    1. Autumnheart*

      And maybe replace them on a schedule tied to employee seniority or something. “This year we’re replacing Steve’s, Ted’s and Susan’s chairs, in order to clear out the oldest chairs first.”

      I say this while I sit in a chair that wasn’t new when I started…15 years ago.

  88. vegan kitty*

    “The thing is that when I go vegan I try very hard to stay completely plant based. Bessy brings in homemade “vegan” snacks and desserts routinely. I’ve tried them every time she brings them. However, when I’m vegan, I don’t want to take a chance that there are animal or dairy based ingredients in what I eat.”

    I had a roommate like this. I am very vegan and have been for the majority of my life (growing up in a family of farmers can be traumatizing, ya dig). My old roommate was like Bessy. Obviously I have no way of knowing for sure in Bessy’s case, but my old roomie, when presented with vegetarian (but not vegan) options while out, would often cave due to convenience and cravings. But at home, she’d only purchase and cook with vegan ingredients. She also claimed to be vegan… which like, whatever. It’s none of my biz. So maybe Bessy does the same? For me, as a rule of thumb, I trust no one and unless it’s from a vegan restaurant, is literally 1000% vegetables or I made it with my own bare hands… I don’t eat it. I know that’s extreme but… what can ya do, right?

  89. Chairy*

    #1 If only the hydraulic cylinder is broken on the chair (the height adjustment quit working), that can usually be fixed pretty easily with a replacement cylinder – there’s no need to get a whole new chair. Amazon sells standard replacements or the chair manufacturer likely does as well. It might permit you to salvage the broken chairs and then tell the coworker who swapped for the heavy-duty chair that they have to swap back to a regular model.

  90. chickaletta*

    #1 – Try phrasing it differently, as if the chair is a perk and a privilege. True story – my coworker next to me is a former linebacker in an office heavily dominated by medium to small framed women. His chair is well known by management and up through the VP to be the best one on the floor. It’s a lazy-boy amongst folding chairs in the world of office chairs. It is envied by many, owned by few.

    I get it that the stigma is different for heavy women than it is for football players, and that it’s not a reference you want to connect. My point is to frame the conversation differently. You guys are willing to purchase a nice chair for her, let her know that in a friendly way! And let her know that you’re on her side too. This isn’t a battle of you vs her.

  91. Its all good*

    My mom sat on a broken chair at work (she is not large, it was broke and she did not know). Fell backwards and hit her neck on the table behind her. She had to have a cervical fusion. This caused lupus, her health has not been the same since, it adversely affected her health. She had to quit work. Never found out of course if someone broke the chair and did not notify anyone and/or removed it.

  92. TardyTardis*

    To number 3. No. Just no. I once worked with a certain manager at ExJobPlace. We did not fit well together, and I was delighted to flee her, even though it was more work. Fast forward a few more years, and she wanted me to work with her again. We both thought, ‘oh, it will be better this time’. Nope. It wasn’t. And when I, once again, moved away it was a relief for both of us.

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