my boss keeps suggesting I move, does “let me check” make me look incompetent, and more

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

1. My new job said I wouldn’t have to move — but my boss keeps bringing it up

I recently started a new job (less than a month ago) and my manager has already asked me three times if I’d be willing to relocate. The job posting I applied for was based in city A but I asked during the interview process if I would be able to remain in my current location (city B, about a three-hour train ride from city A). The hiring manager said it was completely fine to remain in city B. The company also has a small satellite office here. All throughout the interview process and negotiations, it was made clear that I would be based in city B if I got the job and that I was willing to travel to city A as much as necessary. The offer confirmed in writing that my location would be in city B.

In my first meeting with my new manager (before my official start date), he asked if I was still “set on city B.” Shocked, but wanting to be a team player and seem flexible, I said that I would think about it. The more I think about it, the more I feel I’m not ready to relocate, but might be willing to do so in a year. I’d like to see how I perform in the new job before moving my life. Since then, and now that I’ve started at the job, he has hinted towards the relocation topic two more times, saying “no pressure at all, but you should start considering moving here.”

I should also mention that my team is equally split in various locations across the country and there is even another person on my team that is completely remote (working from home, not even in a satellite office).

Do you have advice about how I can approach the topic with my manager, explaining that I’m not ready to move but I still want to seem flexible and willing to make it work in my current location?

The problem might be that you’re trying to seem flexible when you actually want to stick to the agreement you negotiated. You might be undermining your position by trying to seem open to moving, when you’d rather not be. If we could go back in time, I’d tell you not to tell your boss in that first meeting that you’d “think about” moving. You don’t want to move! You negotiated not moving! Everyone agreed to you not moving! You don’t need to pretend that’s not the case, and you’re likely muddying the waters when you do.

Go back to your boss and say this: “You’ve raised the question of me moving a few times since I started. I was careful to make sure before accepting the job that it would be fine for me to stay in (city), and I do want to stay here. We’d talked about this a lot before I took the job, and I want to make sure that continues to be fine with you.” The point of this language is to say “we agreed to this, remember?” and “I made a real point of ensuring it was okay, remember?” But it’s also to find out if he’s going to be okay with that going forward, because if he’s not, you need to get that out in the open so you can figure out what to do about it.

But stop trying to seem open to something you don’t want to be open to. By doing that, you’re misleading him about where you stand, and potentially making things harder on yourself.

2. Does “let me check” make me look incompetent?

I am a new grad and recently got a job interning in a teapot development company. I work closely with my boss since we’re a two-person team, and I do a pretty good job (my boss has given me positive feedback), but there is one thing that I sometimes stumble upon. When my boss asks a question that I’m like 70% sure of, which is often, is it better to say “I think it’s ____, but let me check,” or say whatever I think the answer is confidently and then maybe check later and revise if I’m wrong? I usually go the “Let me check” route, but I feel like it might be making me look incompetent. Am I overthinking this?

You should absolutely always go with “let me check” if you’re unsure. If you give an answer confidently when you’re really unsure, your boss (or whoever you’re talking to) may then act on wrong information before you have a chance to come back with a correction. So always flag it if you’re unsure! And doing that doesn’t make you look incompetent at all — it actually makes you look more reliable, since your boss knows you’re not just winging it and that you care about making sure you’re accurate. (I used to work with someone who would frame answers as certainties when he was really just guessing, and I cannot tell you how irritating it was, and how much it made him impossible to rely on — even when he was sure, since I had no way of telling those times apart from the others.)

One caveat though: If you say “let me check,” make sure that you always circle back afterwards, either to correct the info or to confirm that it was right, so that your boss doesn’t think it fell through the cracks. (And doing that will further reinforce that you’re on top of this stuff and can be relied upon.)

3. Dealing with contractions in a meeting

I am currently seven months pregnant, and I have recently started having Braxton Hicks contractions. These are so-called “practice” contractions. They are generally fairly mild, they start and end randomly, and they are not an indication of you going into labor any time soon. However, they can be quite uncomfortable, and the one way to get them to stop is to change what you were doing when they started. For example, if you were sitting down, get up and take a short walk. If you were walking, then sit or lay down and try to rest for a few minutes.

The problem I’ve recently started running into is Braxton Hicks starting in the middle of a long meeting, like a two-hour department meeting or all-day software training seminar. I’ve had similar issues in the past with needing to get up and stand in the middle of the meeting to alleviate back pain or restless legs. I would typically approach the meeting organizer before the start of the meeting and let them know that I might need to stretch my legs to alleviate minor discomfort during the meeting so that they would know what was going on. And then I would try to sit in a corner and get up discreetly as needed and lean against the wall.

Unfortunately, Braxton Hicks can be quite a bit more painful than sore back or restless legs, so just casually leaning against the wall becomes hard. I catch myself wincing and rubbing my stomach. Then inevitably someone will ask if I am okay, and the entire room is staring at me like I’m about to give birth right there on the conference room table.

Is there a graceful way of letting people know not to worry about me when I’m in obvious physical discomfort? Or do I need to leave the room and wait until the contractions pass before going back? That can take quite a bit of time, which is problematic when you are trying to follow a highly technical presentation. What makes it worse is that these meetings are frequently run by consultants who don’t know me and have no idea how far along I am. So, it’s not like I can explain it to people once that I am not actually going into labor yet and they will know not to worry next time – it’s always different people. I totally appreciate everyone’s concern, but it’s truly mortifying to have all this attention on me. Any suggestions for how to handle this?

You’re probably better off briefly explaining the situation to the person leading the meeting before the meeting starts, annoying as that might feel. Otherwise it’s understandable that they’re going to be distracted and worried (because, rightly or wrongly, that’s human nature when a visibly pregnant woman looks like she’s in distress).

As for meeting attendees though … if it’s a small meeting, it might be worth saying something to the whole group at the start too (like “you might see X and Y, but it’s not cause for any alarm, just me keeping comfortable”). Alternately, if you’d rather not to do that — or with larger meetings — you can say something in the moment when you see people looking alarmed, like “I’m totally fine, just need to move to stay comfortable right now. The most helpful thing you can do is ignore it!”

4. Asking my interviewer why they’re leaving the job I’m applying for

So, I know that a good question to ask at the end of an interview is why the person who previously held the position left. But is it appropriate to do that if the person you’re interviewing with is the person who is leaving? I can’t help but think it feels maybe a little too personal to do that or just, I don’t know, weird, etiquette-wise.

No, you can totally do that! I’d phrase it this way: “Can I ask what made you decide to move on from the role?”

If they’re interviewing people, they’re aware that they might get asked about that, and they’re not going to think it’s out of line. (And if it’s an awkward or private reason that they’d rather not get into, they can say something vague like “had another opportunity I couldn’t turn down” or “some family issues I need to focus on” or so forth.)

All that said, though, I’m not convinced the question belongs on any list of the most important questions to ask your interviewer. Sometimes it reveals something useful, but most of the time it’s going to get you pretty bland and unsurprising answers, and so I’m surprised to see how frequently it’s recommended as a question to ask. I think you’ll get better info from asking about what turnover has been like in the job in the last few years or what type of work people generally move onto afterwards (if that’s what you’re getting at).

5. Talking about health-related performance issues in an interview

I recently encountered something that happened between a peer, Sansa, and our shared former manager, Fergus, and I wanted to get your take on how it could’ve been handled differently.

Sansa has chronic health issues that affect her attendance and overall performance at work, though she is an effective employee when she’s healthy. She received several mediocre-to-bad performance reviews from Fergus over the course of several years, before he left to work at another location.

It’s well-known that Sansa’s long and stressful commute exacerbates her health problems. When a position opened up in Fergus’s new location, she excitedly applied as it would cut hours of daily driving from her life. Fergus invited her for an interview, and later followed up to point-blank ask if her health had improved at all since the last time they had worked together.

That question, phrased the way it was, sets off ADA alarm bells in my head. At the same time, it’s fair of Fergus to ask that question as Sansa’s health has impacted her past performance in very obvious ways. Is there a more tactful (and legal!) way to ask a job candidate if their personal problems have been resolved and are no longer affecting work performance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t allow employers to inquire into specific health conditions, but it allows you to explain the essential requirements of the role and ask candidates if they will be able to meet those requirements, with or without accommodation. So the ADA-compliant advice would be to frame it as, “This position requires reliable attendance, meaning (specific info about hours, etc. here). Can you meet those requirements?”

But even though the ADA says employers can’t refuse to hire someone based on speculation about how a health condition might play out in the future, the reality is that past experience with someone understandably carries a significant amount of weight, even if only unconsciously. And so it might be in Sansa’s own interests to talk about this more explicitly, if she’s willing to volunteer information that might assuage Fergus’s concerns.

{ 331 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Op#2, although it sounds counterintuitive, saying that you’d like to check (and then following up with the answer, as Alison notes) actually builds people’s faith in your abilities. I’ve been in my current field for over a decade, and I still have to say that I’ll check and follow up more often than folks expect.

    Especially as an intern (or when you’re new to a position/role), leading with “let me check” makes you look thoughtful and thorough, not incompetent. I’d fully drop the “I think it’s X, but let me check,” and instead say, “May I follow up with you [by deadline]? I’d like to double-check [my notes/ Y resource / wherever you’re planning to find the information].”

    1. Elvis Needs Boats*

      Same. I work on one project at a time, and start a new one every 8-12 months, so things often change out from under me even though in a broad sense I’m doing the same process over and over. Between simple passage of time (it could be a year or more since I’d last done that particular part of a project) and changes to systems and procedures, I find myself answering, “Hmm. I’ll have to check on that,” more often than I like. Two or three times in the course of a two-hour meeting today, in fact. As far as I know, no one has ever questioned my knowledge and competence though. I have to check on things sometimes, but I’m really good at my job!

      I do sometimes say something like, “I think it’s…” but only when I have a high level of confidence in my answer, and just want to double-check. And I make it clear that I’m going to check, and I follow up once I have.

      1. KHB*

        Yes, I like the “I think it’s X, but let me check” phrasing for when your confidence level is high but not 100%. If you can establish a pattern of your initial answers X being correct, that will reflect well on you – especially if these are the types of questions where you’ll eventually be expected to know the answers off the top of your head most of the time (which sounds like it may be the case for the OP, given that she wrote in about this in the first place).

        1. Mimmy*

          This might not be the same, but worrying about thinking off the top of my head was something I struggled with when I worked as an information & resources specialist at a nonprofit. It’s hard to memorize every last resource that I could be asked about and all the information I had at hand were spread out over numerous documents, fact sheets, etc. For the less common questions, I felt bad whenever I had to tell a caller that I’d have to get back to them. The job itself was really interesting, so I twisted myself in knots to not always have to say “let me check…”.

        2. TootsNYC*

          “If you can establish a pattern of your initial answers X being correct, that will reflect well on you”

          an excellent reason to reserve “I think it’s X” for only those times when you feel very confident.

          Your most important work attribute is to be trustworthy. Bullshitters aren’t trustworthy.
          So your instinct to say “let me check” is a good one.

          1. boo bot*

            I also think that it can be context-dependent. “I think it’s X” has its place in situations where giving an estimate will help, or where the unconfirmed information is still worth heeding:

            “I think the initial phase of llama grooming should take about two weeks.”
            “That chocolate is either delicious or radioactive, I’ll have to check.”

            If it’s something like, “Who’s our radioactive chocolate vendor?” or “Is the initial llama grooming phase necessary if we plan to shave them all?” then your best guess doesn’t really give the questioner any useful information.

      2. BetsyTacy*

        I use a slight variation on ‘I think I know but let me check’ which is ‘I seem to recall it’s X, but I’d like to just confirm that answer.’ Either that or just say, “I have the (reference document) right at my desk. Let me go follow up on that answer for you.”

        Same point as ‘let me check’ but just some variations in wording.

        1. MM*

          Yes, I prefer “confirm” to “check” because it implies that I have a bit more certainty–but of course that’s assuming I actually have that. If I genuinely don’t know I’d probably go back to “I’ll have to check on that” or “Let me get back to you.” This is all assuming in-the-moment communication, of course; if it’s, say, an email or even an IM I’m responding to, then of course the thing to do is just check first and then respond with a firm answer, so long as it can be done reasonably quickly.

    2. Renamis*

      Agreed! I work in a training roll, and things change all the time in my work. Half the time we aren’t directly told, just finding out once we roll up to a new location. I always tell people the answer I know, but then mention I’ll double check to make sure I have current information. It’s one of the reasons people come to me after they’re done with training with questions, they know I won’t make stuff up!

    3. londonedit*

      I learned this a couple of years into my career, and it’s invaluable. I think there’s a perception when you’re new to the working world that everyone will expect you to know all the answers – probably a hangover from school, where if you’re called upon to answer a question, the teacher expects you to have the correct answer. But work isn’t like that, and people will respect you far more if you have the confidence to say ‘Actually, I’m not sure on that. Let me check and get back to you’. They won’t respect people who fumble and make something up, or who promise things they can’t deliver just so they can look like they know what they’re doing. Knowing what you’re doing also means having a handle on the limits of your knowledge, and understanding when it’s important to check something before committing to an answer.

    4. Sally*

      Make sure you actually do follow up. If I didn’t write something down in the moment, I’d realize weeks later that I never got back to the person, and then I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to check. So now I always write it down when there’s something I have to check on.

    5. RJ the Newbie*

      I completely agree with this. I’ve been a project accountant for more years than I’d like to remember and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been stopped in the hall (not to mention the ladies room) and asked specifics on a project profit/loss margin on the fly. Unless I have the data memorized, which is rarely the case, I respond with “I need to confirm the numbers/let me check/I’ll let you know by X”. It’s better to pause and check then respond and regret.

    6. LQ*

      I’ve got to strongly disagree about dropping the “I think it’s X” part. I work with a couple people who want to check and be 100% sure on every detail, I don’t need that before I need that. Sometimes all I need is 70% sure. When I need 100% then yeah I need it, but before then I don’t want someone wasting time if they can give me 70%.

      Keep saying, “I think it’s X, but I’ll follow up and get back to you for sure by Y.” Give a time when you’ll actually follow up, and follow up regardless if it’s X or Not X, don’t just go, assume I’m right unless I tell you otherwise. But please don’t stop saying what that initial assumption is unless people you work with are telling you not to say it.

      Your 70% plus my 70% is enough to start down a path we can turn around from if we are wrong, but gets us actually moving on something rather than waiting for 100% which is impossible.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Absolutely! I think Elvis Needs Boats’ advice that “I do sometimes say something like, ‘I think it’s…’ but only when I have a high level of confidence in my answer, and just want to double-check” is a great amendment to my original advice.

        Generally, if someone is 55% or less sure, I’d prefer they not say “I think it’s X.” But as you note, if their confidence level is high (65%+ sure), then it’s helpful/fine to lead with “I think it’s X.”

        1. LQ*

          That’s sort of where I’m at with this. If your in the 65-75% range. It’s the even if I’m just asking for your best guess and you insist on going back and spending 10 hours researching it to get to 95%? No! I didn’t want 10 hours spent on that. I wanted your best guess so I could decide if I wanted to spend those next 10 hours or not.
          (I love when people give a general percent confidence rating for me, I used to do it but I realized how uncomfortable it makes a lot of people and cut way back on it for most people. But I’m happy to give someone a rough % on what I’m saying. It’ll never be 100% because you never know, a bowl of petunias might be conjured into existence.)

      2. M. Albertine*

        I think it highly depends on context. If it is important to manage people’s expectations, then you don’t peg yourself with an answer you are not sure of. For example, I worked for a long time in tax, and one of the first things I had to train myself out of was giving answers that hadn’t been thoroughly researched or finalized. Nothing worse than telling a client they’re getting a refund, and subsequent information has them paying in. Sales is also an example of a field where it’s really important to be accurate.

        1. Lyman Zerga*

          This is where I come down too–there are situations in my job where it’s okay that I’m 70%-90% sure, but sometimes I need to answer with 100% accuracy, and my response will vary depending on the subject. For questions like, “Hey, do you know how many guests attended our Teapot Expo in 2017?,” I feel good enough saying “I’m pretty confident it was in the 90-110 headcount range. Did you need something more precise than that? I’m glad to check.” If the question is, “Did we pay the Hot Water vendor in March?”, I’m not even going to guess on that one unless I know the answer with total certainty.

          I think as long as you are transparent with the question-asker about how much you know, you’re good.

        2. LQ*

          Part of it might also be who you are giving the answer to.

          Though for sales I’ve had people hedge on stuff that was incredibly frustrating. I don’t need to know the exact cost. I need to know the number of zeros. It’s a different kind of conversation if this is a $100 thing vs a $1,000,000 thing. Sometimes I’ve said to people in sales, “I don’t CARE about the exact number. Just tell me the number of zeros we are talking about.” At which point if they keep hedging and refusing to even get me in the right ballpark then they likely aren’t going to be the people I need to work with.

          1. Emily K*

            The caginesss salespeople have around costs drives me batty. I’m in marketing myself, I fully understand why they want to force you to start down a process, let them show you how good their sh*t is, and commit to an in person or phone call to go over pricing, instead of just listing prices on their website. I get that it’s easier to make a sale that way, and I get that the price is usually highly negotiable and they want to customize the price to the highest number they can without scaring you off. I get all that.

            What I don’t get is why it’s become so culturally acceptable for salespeople to behave this way. There are lots of things that make my job easier and make it easier for me to be successful, but many of them would inconvenience others and are not acceptable for me to insist on just because they work better for my own purposes. Why do we let salespeople get away with this coyness simply because it benefits them? That shouldn’t be a sufficient reason in my mind, but it’s like pulling teeth to get some of these folks to just throw out a ballpark number.

            All of the above also applies to employers who won’t give a salary figure or range until a candidate has already invested hours of time in an application and interviews. Withholding information that is a potential deal breaker for a candidate or customer purely to maintain the upper hand of information asymmetry in a deal should not be so commonplace and acceptable as it is.

      3. Joielle*

        I have to check on things all the time at work, but sometimes I’ll literally tell the person a percentage to estimate how sure I am of the answer. e.g. “What’s the most recent teapot painting protocol?” “I’m 90% sure it’s XYZ, but I can check and get back to you.” Then, the person can either say “No, that’s ok, that’s what I thought too” or “Yeah, that would be great” depending on whether they need more specific information or not based on my level of confidence.

    7. The Original K.*

      I completely agree. I say some variation of “Let me confirm” all the time and then confirm when I’m certain. You really aren’t expected to know everything, and it’s better to take some time to be sure than to fire off an uncertain answer that turns out to be wrong.

    8. OP2*

      Hi! OP #2 here. I am happy to learn that checking before answering is the right way to go. Like a few of the replies, my work often changes every few months and then might come back around again in 8 months or a year, so I am constantly re-familiarizing myself and keeping track of changes and updates. I will definitely be utilizing a few of the phrases suggested without worrying that people are wondering whether I know anything about the project!

    9. EasyCheesy*

      I once had a boss who (among his MANY unpleasant qualities) would rather give any answer at all, even one he pulled right out of his butt, than tell someone he didn’t know something. It was inevitably me who would have to clean up the mess and deal with the angry client. This has made me perhaps overly paranoid about giving wrong answers, and I use the “let me check” thing a lot, if I have even the slightest bit of doubt. Most of the time the response is “thanks so much for checking.”

    10. Dr. Pepper*

      At a previous position, I was explicitly instructed to say variations of “let me check/look into this and get back to you by X date/time” unless it was a minor thing that I was 100% sure about. My supervisor operated on this model as well, and in fact made it a policy never to give clients immediate answers. (FYI- This is not a field where immediate answers are necessary.) When they contacted us, she would immediately respond with something along the lines of “we have received your request, we will be in touch by X date”. It felt weird at first, but once I got used to it, it was really nice. Clients expected full, complete, and accurate information, and even if you could rattle it off the top of your head, having time to double check and compose a well worded response was really nice. Clients seemed to appreciate it and it made me much less flustered about not knowing something right away. Just be sure you DO get back to people.

    11. Wintermute*

      I would agree about 90% of the time but I feel that a lot of people are missing something important here. If it’s something you REALLY should know, then it will look really bad if you’re not sure.

      As an example, ALL of our servers here indicate where they are, if they’re serving live customers and what kind of OS they run by the first five letters of the name. For instance W500PD means Windows Server, location 500 (Chicago, IL), production environment. L200Px means Linux server, location 200 (Santa Clara, CA), testing server.

      If you’re not in your first week and someone asks you what server W900PDSQLDB02a is and what it does, you would look like you’re having real trouble in your role if you had to say “I think that’s a SQL server of some kind let me check on that for you.” But on the other hand, if you said “well that’s a windows server, customer-facing, and it appears that it should be a SQL database. Based on the 02a it’s probably part of a cluster as the a-side and it’s probably part of a server group as well, but I will have to check on exactly where it is and if that’s accurate” well that’s way more understandable you don’t know all the three-digit location codes or whether your educated guess that SQLDB means SQL database and that 02a means group 2 cluster member a is accurate.

      In other words, it’s best to hedge your bets but that won’t save you if you’re not remembering basic essential facts of your new job, and it’s always better to give more data than less and explain your reasoning. There’s a world of difference between “I don’t know let me get back to you” and “Well normally on holidays we don’t get a lot of files, and based but I’m not sure if that, in specific, is a file transfer we wouldn’t expect to get on New Years day, so let me look into it”.

  2. chi type*

    OP #1: Yeah she needs to make it clear she doesn’t want to move but…the manager bringing it up three times in one month? That’s kinda weird. I hope you successfully get him to back off it!

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      I hate the “yes I know we agreed to X, in writing, yesterday…but I never really wanted that so I will just keep harassing you until you get fed up enough to just give in and let me have it my way” thing.

      OP needs to make it clear that she doesn’t want to move as she pointed out, and negotiated when accepting the offer. I know OP wants to look like a “team player” but the manager is really not operating in good faith IMO particularly if he was the one who actually hired her.

    2. MLB*

      At my last job, my team had a few people who worked remotely 1-2 days a week, and 1 person who was full time remote. When we interviewed the woman who ended being our manager, we asked her how she felt about remote employees and she said she was totally fine with it. We found out later that she was NOT fine with it. People will tell you what you want to hear in an interview sometimes, so her boss asking her a few times is not all that unusual. In addition, LW is making it seem like she’s open to relocating, when clearly she’s not. She needs to follow Alison’s advice, and make it clear that at this time, she’s not interested in relocating, and remind her manager that it was agreed upon during the hiring process.

      1. chi_type*

        I agree that she needs to be firmer with her boss but it was a little more telling her what she wanted to hear in an interview. It was confirmed all throughout the process and written into the offer letter. It’s pretty disingenuous to act like it wasn’t a big factor all of sudden now. Seems like he’s just trying to pressure her into relocating now that he’s got her on the hook.

        1. LawBee*

          It doesn’t sound like her manager was the one interviewing or hiring her. She references a “hiring manager” and then later a “new manager”. I can see a lot of possibilities here where communication just didn’t happen – Hiring Manager didn’t know or think that the remote work was a problem, for example.

          1. chi type*

            I was under the impression that Hiring Manager meant the manager looking to add someone to their team but I have always found the term somewhat confusing…

          2. Someone Else*

            She might’ve used those terms in a such a way that the hiring manager and “new” manager are different people, but I normally wouldn’t expect them to be. The hiring manager is the manager who is hiring (and thus probably is her manager after she’s hired). The exception to that may be if there are some managers in between and the one referred to as “new” is her direct supervisor but for one reason or another was not the person who actually had hiring authority, who might’ve been one level up?

            One of my favourite things was when Alison defined a bunch of terms:

    3. Kes*

      Yeah, between bringing it up multiple times and the “no pressure but you should consider moving here” which… totally is pressure, I’m definitely side-eyeing the boss here. However, I don’t think OP can do much besides just making it clear she agreed to the job based on the negotiation of staying where she is and doesn’t have plans to move.

    4. beth*

      That strikes me, too. OP should follow Alison’s advice, because they can’t control whether their manager is being weird…but if it were the manager writing in, I’d have some choice words. OP could’ve been clearer from the start, but their manager is also being pushy, and asking in the first place when it was already specifically negotiated as part of the offer is kind of a jerk move.

      1. Someone Else*

        I don’t think OP was unclear at the start. At the start she negotiated specifically not moving. She only made things muddy after she started and the boss inexplicably tried to change her mind and power dynamics were in play. But that was way late in the game after she already started. So OP could’ve held her ground better along the way, but boss is the one who made this whole thing weird, possibly being intentionally manipulative about it by continuing to bring it up, even with the weird, plausible deniability, “no pressure but….”. When someone says something three times prefaced with that, they’re putting pressure on and they know it.

  3. Anon for this*

    I actually disagree with the advice for OP1. OP says that they might consider moving in a year, why not just be more explicit about that with their manager? “For now, I think I want to stay here in city B, as I made clear when I accepted the job offer. But, I might be willing to consider it in the future, perhaps in a year or so.” You could even add, “If you forsee any problems with me wanting to stay in city B, I hope you’ll tell me” if you wanted to, but if you want to stay in this position for a year and leave or stay (in both city B and the company) on your own timetable, that might work better for you than taking a hard line right now as to what you negotiated, when you say it’s possible you could be persuaded to move in a year or so, and you could still take that hard line in a year; it’s what you negotiated, after all.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The OP doesn’t want to move. She negotiated not moving. The boss keeps bringing it up anyway. I think by introducing the possibility that she’ll consider it in a year, she just keeps this weird thing going. She’s better off being clear and firm. If she does decide she’s open to it in a year, she can bring it up then, but I don’t think she has much to gain by floating that now.

      1. Anon for this*

        She says she’s maybe open to moving in the future and wants to see how she likes/works out in the job. What if she takes a hard line now and the boss says, “Now that I think about it, basing this job in City B won’t work for me”? That puts her out of a job pretty fast! In a year, she could have completed a job search if she knows she wants to stay in City B and gets the sense her boss isn’t open to that, or she could actually be open to City A. To me, it sounds like she wants to keep her options open and if that’s the case, I think she should be more strategic about handling this, rather than just shutting down the moving talk.

        1. Psyche*

          Considering her team is split between locations and there is a completely remote worker, it sounds unlikely that she will lose her job if she isn’t willing to move. And if it does come to that point, it is likely that her boss will tell her that staying at location B is not an option and she can decide then if the job is worth moving for. Considering how much her boss is pushing, it seems like if she decides she wants to move to city A, she can reopen that discussion at any time. I don’t think she has much to gain by not taking a firm stance now.

        2. Important Moi*

          There is no indication that LW will be limiting her future job options by by remaining in her current city. I don’t think that LW has to present herself as saying yes to every possible future option at her current company without knowing what all the future options are either. A year from now moving to the other city may not even be an option because of something like the company closing that office or something else that hasn’t even been thought of. There’s no reason for LW to commit .

        3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          She can do both though.

          I agree with Alison that the OP is allowing the draft in, so to speak, for the manager to continue to bring this up, by giving the answer ‘I’m open to it’. She should be a little strategic here in how she approaches this to your point. But the way to do that is to set a clear time frame.

          OP Boss: Hey OP, how about that move? Ready to go yet?
          OP: I’ve been thinking about that. I’d like to focus this year on really learning the organization and focusing on my projects. Throwing a relocation into the mix will definitely take some energy that I’d rather spend on my team/job/clients/whatever. How about we revisit the topic at my 1 year mark and we can see where we both are at that point. (and throw in some of the verbiage that Alison suggested)

          This way the manager isn’t left hanging by the ‘possibility’ (some people are just not great with maybes) yet it still leaves the door open in case things do change.

          1. Yvette*

            Exactly, in her letter she states “… explaining that I’m not ready to move but I still want to seem flexible and willing to make it work in my current location?” as well as “The more I think about it, the more I feel I’m not ready to relocate, but might be willing to do so in a year. ” and “I asked during the interview process if I would be able to remain in my current location. … The offer confirmed in writing that my location would be in city B.”

            As Alison pointed out she is contradicting herself and sending mixed messages.

            1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

              I think that’s the biggest problem the OP has vs. the one with the manager. They need to figure it out first then communicate it with the manager.

            2. RUKiddingMe*

              I think she doesn’t want to move. I think she’s feeling pressure to be “flexible” and a “team player” because that is the be all end all of working life…apparently.

              Pivot on a moment’s notice…constantly! Dance puppet! Your personal life does not matter…at…all. All that matters is the work. Company is everything!

              Can anyone tell I still have …issues… even after all these tears away from Toxic Corporation From Hell™️?

          2. CM*

            I wouldn’t do this because this manager is already so pushy that she might respond, “That’s OK, I’d prefer that you direct your energies to moving, and I understand if that takes some of your focus away from your projects for a while.”

        4. MommyMD*

          Excellent answer Anon! It takes into account the entire situation and gives OP time to contemplate her options. It sounds like Boss wants her in the other city no matter what she was promised which is unfortunate. She states in her letter that she agreed to “travel to City A as much as necessary” which Boss may deem to be a lot of the time. I think that’s problematic because she does agree to work in City A if I’m reading it correctly which is different than a hard-line “I was hired for City B”.

        5. Ben H*

          Your stance is too passive, it leaves a lot of room for manipulation. It is best that OP1 maintain a firm line.

      2. Celaena Sardothien*

        I don’t believe that OP should mention she’d be “open to moving in a year” to her boss at all, because he’s going to take it as “Okay, she’s for sure moving in exactly one year.” And that’s such shaky ground to make that statement. What if OP realizes, within the next year, that this job isn’t for her? What if she decides she actually doesn’t want to move? What if she gets into a serious relationship and doesn’t want to leave her partner? I know that’s a lot of “what-ifs”, but that’s how life works. I think she should make it clear to her boss that she doesn’t want to move and that her staying was agreed upon when she was hired. If she does decide to move in the future, then great. But her manager needs to drop that conversation for now so she can figure it out on her own.

        1. MrsCHX*

          Same. Since location A is the main location, it seems like moving there may “always” (you know what I mean) be an option. She should figure out internally if she wants to make the move and THEN approach her manager. S

    2. MommyMD*

      I agree. She says she’s open to the idea in a year if things go well. Personally, that’s what I’d tell Boss.

    3. Mystery Bookworm*

      If boss had only inquired once, I would agree with you. But given that he keeps bringing it up and making OP nervous, I think she should trust her instincts and try to draw a firm line. Some people are very good at hearing what they want to hear (and it sounds like boss has already disregarded a lot of the negociations).

      So my worry would be that OP says: “I will THINK about moving in a year IF everything goes well.”

      And boss hears: “I definitely plan to move in a year, count on it, make plans accordingly, and be dissapointed and blindsided if I eventually decide against it.”

      1. Gen*

        There’s also a tendency for people who hear what they want to think that six months and one day is ‘almost a year’. I wouldn’t trust that boss will wait a year before asking again, it might turn into ‘since you’re GOING to move next year let’s get everything in place for moving now… since you’re going to move in 11 months why not just move now? Etc etc’ and then the problem isn’t solved

        1. MommyMD*

          Definitely a possibility. But if I’m reading correctly she did agree to work in City A “as necessary ” so I think that’s inherently a problem. It’s too general. It would be better to agree to work in City A a defined amount of time such as “two days a month”. Boss can come back with “you agreed to work in City A as much as necessary” and I deem it necessary you be there fifty percent of the time. The six month or one year thing gives her time to show off her skills and job search.

          1. Zillah*

            That seems really alarmist to me – there’s absolutely no evidence that the boss is planning to screw with her by making her come to City A every other day. Saying that 6-12 months gives her time to come up with a new plan is putting the cart ahead of the horse, IMO.

      2. Antilles*

        Agreed, especially given how he’s acted thus far. Let’s take some quotes:
        “In my first meeting with my new manager (before my official start date), he asked if I was still “set on city B.” […] Since then, and now that I’ve started at the job, he has hinted towards the relocation topic two more times, saying “no pressure at all, but you should start considering moving here.””
        This is not a guy who’s going to hear “maybe I’ll possibly consider it in a year” as anything other than “I will definitely move in a maximum of twelve months”.

      3. Dr. Pepper*

        Yes. I’ve run into this myself. Not with employment, but in another sphere of my life. I told the other person that I might possibly be moving out of state in 9 months depending on a lot of factors I couldn’t calculate at that time, and she took it to mean “I am DEFINITELY moving far away and leaving forever and you should make plans accordingly”. Which she did. And I did not end up moving. It sucked. Lesson learned. Only tell people things when there is something to tell- NOT when things are only a possibility and certainly not to hedge your bets.

    4. Nopetopus*

      That just waffles, and postpones the issue. OP negotiated working from a specific location when they took the job. There is absolutely no reason not to reaffirm that clearly.

      Bringing up the possibility that they might move in a year will just encourage the manager to keep thinking about them moving. The goal here should be to get the manager to back off, accept that the OP negotiated this location arrangement, and that will allow any future decisions to happen without their input.

      1. KHB*

        Agreed. Either it’s workable for OP to remain in her current city long-term (as she was told it was when she took the job) or else it actually isn’t. The goal of the conversation should be to figure out which of those is really the case, without deferring, deflecting, or hedging. If OP decides at a later date that she’d like to relocate after all, she can reopen the issue at that time.

    5. londonedit*

      It sounds to me like OP said ‘Maybe I’d be willing to consider moving in a year’s time’ more as a way to get the boss off her back. The fact that she was set on staying put until the boss started hassling her, and the fact that she’s only saying she ‘might be willing to relocate in a year’, makes it feel to me like it’s coming from a place of ‘Oh heck, if the boss is putting this much pressure on me, maybe I should think about relocating’ rather than a place of actually wanting to relocate.

      If that’s the case, then I definitely think OP should be clear with the boss and tell them that although she might have indicated that she’d consider moving, having thought about it some more, she actually wants to stay in her current location. Otherwise she risks having the boss think she’s definitely going to relocate, which may cause more problems down the line if in a year’s time she decides it’s not what she wants.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, I think it was meant to be a soft no, like when you tell your mom “I’ll think about it” when she tells you to do something weird and gumptiony.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Some people, particularly male people (OP calls manager “he”) hear a soft no as a yes.

      2. Dr. Pepper*

        I agree. But it’s having the opposite effect. There’s some people you can put off with “I’ll think about it” and some people who just take that to mean “I’ve almost decided to go along with your plan and just need some more convincing to make up my mind”. Since it’s apparent that the boss is going with the latter assumption, it’s time to be firm.

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

      I sort of agree here. I think it’s key that the manager asked, after hire, if she was still set on City A (which is reasonable to ask! We’re reading something that, in short version, sounds like this was the topic of every interview and conversation, when really OP is saying that she confirmed that City A was OK at multiple points in the process, probably with different people. It is so not out-of-bounds for the manager to confirm, at the initial post-hire meeting, that that detail is still the case) and she basically said “nah, I’m more flexible than I indicated I was during the hiring process.” She didn’t say she’d consider it in a year, she said she’d think about it now, so it’s perfectly natural for her boss to ask about it again at this point, and to continue doing so if OP continues to give a vague indication that she’s “thinking about it”.

      I don’t know that OP loses much by taking a hard line, but saying “I definitely don’t want to move for at least a year, but we can talk in a year about it again” gives the manager clarity on what’s actually happening, which he doesn’t have right now. He might be asking insistently because there’s planning he needs to do for a project that will be easier if OP is in City A, which he hadn’t previously thought was an option, but which OP made an option all of a sudden, and he’s seeking clarity on exactly what that means. None of that sounds unreasonable from a management perspective, to me. I don’t see any reason to believe that, if OP says “Let’s talk in a year” that the next conversation wouldn’t just happen, in fact, a year later.

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

        also, I could absolutely see this question coming up in the first meeting post-hire as the manager jovially asking “So, you still got your heart set on City A?” just as a way of re-establishing the facts that he knew from the interview and maybe trying to throw in a jokey “dang, I sure wish you’d move to City A! But you’re not, so let’s move on” vibe, and that might have felt like an additional level of unintended pressure to change her mind that OP didn’t expect or know how to interpret (from a person that she doesn’t know very well yet).

        It might well have been clumsy on the manager’s part, it might have been an off-base interpretation of pressure on OP’s part, it might have been both. The manager might be asking a lot because they’re really confused that this employee who asked over and over that they be allowed to stay in City B said she’d think about moving to City A, which would be weird, and could easily create the impression that OP hadn’t actually thought about relocating during the hiring process at all, if she needs to think about it now?

        Ultimately, this could easily be confusion that started during a singular event of two people who don’t know each other well having a clumsy conversation. I just don’t see why anyone would make big assumptions about this manager being pushy or having a problem with OP working remotely. That could certainly be the case, but there’s not a lot of evidence here to support that. I think OP’s shock at the original question was misplaced, and she gave an answer that, in retrospect, probably wasn’t the right one. It’s a recoverable situation.

    7. TootsNYC*

      also, this is a boss who is already badgering her. If she says, “I might consider it, in a year or so,” that’s only going to encourage the boss to KEEP bringing it up.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Yep. Just like the guy who hears “I have a boyfriend” will keep hanging out waiting and asking if you broke up yet because he doesn’t clearly hear “no.”

    8. Zillah*

      I could be reading more into this than I should be, but OP1’s letter kind of makes me feel like her focus on wanting to seem flexible and accommodating might expand past just softening “I don’t want to move” to her boss. It’s not clear to me that the OP really wants to move – just that she thinks it might be necessary. It could be really good for her to internalize that she’s not obligated to move just because someone asks her if she is.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Definitely I see a soft no being said. I see the manager not getting that it’s a no. I see OP feeling obligated to projecting a “team player” persona.

  4. Agent J*

    OP #5 — I agree with Alison. If Sansa is willing, she should explain that moving to the new location will improve her conditiom due to the shorter commute, thereby helping her to improve her performance. It might also be helpful to offer specific performance goals in the first 3-6 months that she can use to show her capabilities once her health condition improves.

    I feel for Sansa; I would be frustrated knowing that I’m a good employee but a health condition prevents Fergus from seeing me that way. I hope Sansa gets to relocate.

    1. WellRed*

      Well, it’s also her attendance issues and poor overall job performance that impact how Fergus sees her. Hopefully, he’ll give her the opportunity.

      1. BlueWolf*

        Perhaps the shorter commute will help the attendance and job performance issues somewhat. I imagine if I had a health issue, that a significantly shorter commute would mean less stress on the body, more sleep, etc. which would make it easier to go to work. Obviously it depends on the health issue, but Sansa is really the only one who would be able to evaluate that.

        1. soon tob former fed*

          Eliminating the long commute was the cornerstone of my formal reasonable accommodation under the ADA in the USA. Any performance issues, including attendance, that could possibly be ameliorated by instituting reasonable accommodations should be considered before writing off a person with a disability.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Yes! Even an hour on the express bus, me not driving, not dealing with the traffic, etc. had me worn out before the day even began.

      2. MommyMD*

        I agree. Showing up for work consistently is a general job expectation and if she can’t fulfill the role maybe she needs a job with more flexibility. The laws don’t protect an employee who cannot fulfill job duties. Attendance issues are serious. As the saying goes ninety percent of life is just showing up.

        1. DreamingInPurple*

          It sounds like that’s the point, though – that the shorter commute would ameliorate the attendance problems, which is part of why she’s interested in the job with Fergus. I don’t think it’s fair to say that she should just look for something more flexible (which assumes that the new role would be the same as the old, which it may or may not be) if this accommodation is what she’d need in order to be successful…

    2. Someone On-Line*

      I’m following these replies with interest. Last year we had a boss who was great. But she was also very sick, to the point where she would sometimes only be in the office 4-5 times in one month, and had to have surgery twice and was out for six weeks straight after each of those. When she was healthy, she was fantastic. But overall she wasn’t effective because she wasn’t able to be in the office.
      We all felt awful for her. Her boss nit-picked her time records to the point she got frustrated and quit. I’m hoping she’s able to get her health under control (and I suspect not being in the mold-infested building we’re in will help), but I’m wondering what’s realistic when someone’s health is getting in the way of their performance? How much time do you give someone?

      1. WellRed*

        That is the tricky part, finding a balance that allows her to get healthy while not making business suffer. Although I think nitpicking someone’s time records is awful.

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        For certain positions if direct attendance is required (such as front line receptionist) and attendance is impacted by a medical issue, being allowed to call out 3/4 days out of the week would not be reasonable. Even when it is not a front line position, most jobs have a minimum production output needed, and if a person can’t meet those criteria it would not be reasonable to keep them in the job.

        1. MommyMD*

          This. Of course there may be rare times when extended absences happen, but if it is an ongoing thing, it’s not reasonable to the employer and doesn’t have to be accommodated if the basis of the position is not getting done.

      3. Jennifer*

        Oh, we used to have someone who was (a) out sick every single Monday or whatever the first day of the week was, and (b) after she took a vacation she would be sick for just as long as she was out on vacation. If you’re that sick all the time, can you really work?

  5. Anonymouse*

    I’m years past graduation and have been at my current employer for 5+ years and am a Senior Analyst and I still will use “let me check” if I am at all unsure. I’ve never had any negative repercussions from it.

    On the other side of the equation, a few weeks ago I was working with a customer service department where I had made a mistake in an order and wanted to know if I could change the order. I knew there was a chance I was too late and couldn’t change the order by that time, so I explained the situation up front and asked if there was anything that could be done. I got a very definitive “Yes, we can do that” only to find, after an hour, the answer is “actually, no”. The “No” didn’t piss me off nearly as much as the absolute assurance that it could be done that turned out not to be true. I would have been MUCH happier with a “It might not be possible, but we can try” or “I’m not sure, let me check on that for you”.

  6. nnn*

    For #3, if you’re comfortable with a white lie, an option could be to suggest that your discomfort is caused by the baby kicking you. Something along the lines of “The baby’s just pummelling my stomach again [or whatever is anatomically plausible]. Standing up usually calms her down.” Or perhaps a more vague “The baby just wants me to move around a bit. Please, don’t mind me!”

    The reasoning here is Braxton Hicks contractions sound scary to the uninitiated (They have “contractions” in the name! Surely that means birth is imminent!) and a pregnant lady in unexplained distress also seems like a problem (If this were a movie, she’d totally be about to give birth!). But, even to the uninitiated, a baby kicking is totally a thing that happens and no cause for alarm, while also being a thing that would cause a pregnant lady visible discomfort.

    1. Stinky Socks*

      This. “Baby has wedged foot in *just* the wrong place!” You can send an uninitiated bystander through the roof by mentioning contractions.

      I’m sure you already know this, but keeping very well-hydrated can dial back the number of B-H. (Of course, it also increases the number of bathroom trips, so maybe this isn’t a win.)

      1. Sara M*

        I haven’t had a kid and this is all news to me. I agree, just say “baby is kicking me” and do what you do. People will worry less than if they hear “contractions”.

      2. ket*

        Yes — as Lilo mentions below commenting about a water jug and bathroom breaks and B-H contractions. I knew that dehydration could cause B-H, but I didn’t realize that during late pregnancy, for me, ‘dehydration’ was any condition other than ‘absolutely drowning in internal water supplies’. I had to drink *s0* *much* water to avoid B-H, but drinking water really did help, for me!

        I taught a 2.5-hr/session class that was videotaped throughout my pregnancy (which is weird to look back on) but found that because I was standing through the entire class, I had fewer problems there than in for instance long meetings.

          1. HydratedMama*

            Since the 2nd trimester, I have consumed *a gallon* of water a day. Or more. I had terrible prodromal labor for weeks and hydration did take the edge off.

            I have a 10 month old I’m breastfeeding and I still drink craptons of water. So. Much. Water.

      3. Ginger*

        I came to comment the same thing. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

        I see the extra bathroom breaks as a little win for BH as well. It gives you an easy excuse to get up and move.

        OP 3 – I gave birth to #2 a few months ago. I totally get the coworkers looking at you like you’re going to pop any minute feeling. Just avoid the word “contractions” (there are lots of great ideas here for what else to say).

        1. Peanut*

          I also gave birth to #2 a couple of months ago. BHs were terrible. One thing that helped besides water was having an electrolyte drink once or twice a day (I did Recharge, sort of like hippie Gatorade). My OB said that I was drinking so much water I was actually dehydrating myself by flushing out electrolytes.

      4. Database Developer Dude*

        Drink the water. Anyone in an office who complains about a pregnant woman going to the bathroom too much is stupid and deserves to be mocked.

    2. A.N. O'Nyme*

      This. I know what Braxton Hicks contractions are, but I’d still be concerned if a pregnant woman mentioned contractions. Also, TV and movies occasionally give a skewed image of pregnancy: anytime contractions start the baby is READY TO POP OUT ERMAHGERD THERE’S NOT EVEN ENOUGH TIME TO GET HER TO THE HOSPITAL SHE NEEDS TO GIVE BIRTH RIGHT NOW RIGHT HERE, women tend to have surprisingly small bellies for how far along they’re supposed to be (which can of course happen depending on a multitude of factors, but it seems to be the rule rather than the exception on TV) leading to people not really being good judges of how far along a woman is, etc. Saying the baby is kicking will just get some sympathy and a few “future football (soccer) player maybe?” jokes.

      1. DArcy*

        LOL, yes. “GOTTA DELIVER RIGHT HERE!” does happen (it’s why even basic EMTs are trained to handle a field delivery), but it’s extremely rare.

        1. media monkey*

          i have a friend who has had a baby in a layby by the side of the road and was told to get to hospital straight away with the second as soon as she felt a contraction. she had her second in the hospital car park!

          whereas for me, i had the lovely experience of being in labour for 3 days…

          1. The Original K.*

            My friend’s second child was born in the elevator of her building as she was leaving for the hospital – her husband ended up delivering her!

          2. Peanut*

            I barely made it to the hospital with my first. With my second, I was in labor for over 48 hours… sigh.

          3. Paquita*

            I had a friend from church years ago who was told with #2 DO NOT WAIT GO TO HOSPITAL NOW when your water breaks. What she did was take a shower, put a load of laundry in, then tell her DH it was time to go. She barely made it. #3 and #4 she wasted no time!

        2. HydratedMama*

          Yeah, I was one of the rare birds who had this happen with my first baby. I had bad prodromal labor–which is different than BH contractions since they do come in a pattern and often escalate in the pattern of normal labor before eventually tapering off (to a lower level. I had 5 days were I never got more than a 15 minute gap between contractions. I got admitted at that point and given Ambien and slept for a day before going home). This can happen with prodromal labor.

          I worked from home a ton in those final weeks, but I definitely was speaking to my boss on the phone at 6pm the day I delivered. And I ended the conversation with, “You know, I think I might actually be having this baby soon!” Had baby 2 hours later.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        So very true. I am seven months along right now, and struggling to get my husband to overcome all the information that tv has brainwashed in with over the years. He thinks we need to make a delivery plan for a hospital near anywhere I could possibly be because he seems to think we will have about five minutes to get there before the baby comes. The reality is that every single person I have talked to said they had to hang around a home for awhile before the contractions got close enough together to go to the hospital – and that you can get turned away if they aren’t close enough.

        This question is particularly well timed for me because (I think?) I got my first Braxton Hicks contractions last night. They weren’t super painful – but I had not thought about what I would do if they happened at work. I’m hoping they don’t become a thing that happens a lot – I am still dealing with morning sickness.

        1. Catsaber*

          I had BH contractions so strong with my first daughter – on my due date – that I went to the hospital, got all undressed and hooked up – and sat for several hours and never progressed. So I got sent home, waited a week, and then my water broke and I finally went in. Even after my water broke, I still didn’t have strong, regular contractions or progression, and had to be induced.

          So just let your husband know – even if your water breaks, sometimes that baby still doesn’t want to come! :) Definitely not like TV where water breaking = baby will arrive within seconds.

        2. agmat*

          My sister’s two boys came early so I convinced myself mine would, too.

          Nope, made it to 41 weeks and was so tired of being pregnant I went in for an induction. Most often the first babies like to hang around.

        3. ket*

          We had our backup plan, sort of, but I actually planned to give birth at a hospital 40 miles away. (Despite living in a major metro area with academic hospitals etc, no one here would try a vaginal delivery of a breech baby at the time, so we planned to go out into the rural wilderness and get delivered by an amazing & mellow doc with experience in that.) I had a “very fast labor” by most standards, but I still had time to do a 40 minute drive and spend a few hours laboring there!

          1. Ophelia*

            Hah, yep. I had “precipitous” deliveries with both kids, but that just meant they clocked in in just a few hours, not that I was literally running to the hospital (I did have a backup plan, but thankfully didn’t need it).

        4. Artemesia*

          My first took 36 hours from first contractions; my second 14 and we almost didn’t make it to the hospital because my husband kept delaying because ‘we don’t want to be there for hours before it is time’. She was born 20 minutes after we arrived. I know some people deliver quickly but even then it is fairly rare for there to be less than a couple of hours of labor. The TV thing of it being an immediate emergency the moment contractions begin is entirely unrealistic.

        5. aebhel*

          The misinformation is such a thing. With my second kid, I had time to lay around for an hour to see if the contractions would stop, call the doctor, call my mother, wait 45 minutes for her to get to my house to watch my daughter, drive to the hospital, get through the intake exam, and it still took another two hours for the baby to make an appearance. And that is, statistically speaking, a pretty quick labor, at just over four hours from the start of regular contractions to the birth itself. Going into labor and needing to have the baby NOW NOW NOW does happen… but not nearly as often as TV says.

          (I did have BH contractions, but they never actually hurt for me so they were pretty easy to tune out. I didn’t realize they could be so painful!)

        6. HydratedMama*

          hahaha my husband took everything from the birth class and was totally prepared for labor to take like a day.
          “I think I’m actually in labor this time” to baby in arms was under 3 hours. I waited at home for quite a while. After being in triage for 5 minutes, I yelled that I needed a room. They were so skeptical! Said I was only 6cm and as a first time mom it would be a while.
          Yeah, I damn near had the baby in the hallway.
          So, yes, labor *can* take a very long time particularly for first time moms.
          Or you can actually be the mom yelling “I’M HAVING THIS BABY NOW.”
          Because of that, I highly recommend every expectant mom do some prep on doing a natural delivery. Even if I had wanted drugs, they would not have been an option.

      3. That girl from Quinn's house*

        I used to lifeguard at a pool where we had this badass woman who swam laps (with perfect form!) up until right before her due date…with twins. She came in at the same time as a lot of the senior men, and they all would walk up to me ashen-face, like “Is it safe for her to be here? What will you do if she goes into labor in the pool?”

        And I’d point out that we were 5 minutes from the hospital and babies usually take hours to arrive, so if she went into labor in the pool, she would go to the locker room, shower, change, and head to the hospital like anyone else, or worst-case scenario we’d call her an ambulance which would arrive in 5 minutes.

        They still didn’t entirely believe me.

        1. Peanut*

          Ugh, yes. When I was pregnant with #2 I also used to swim laps at the same time as the senior men (while older kid was in preschool) and was asked if I was going to go into labor in the pool. It majorly ticked me off but I think I just rolled my eyes at him.

        2. Anonandon*

          When I was pregnant with #1, he was 2 weeks late (!!!) and I was home on leave, so I’d go walk around the mall or something just for something to do. I remember this one guy asking me when my baby was due and I said “Oh he was due last week, he’s just taking his sweet time!” and the guy looking at me like I was a bomb about to explode. Sheesh.

      1. MommyMD*

        Yes because contractions of any kind can certainly be alarming to a guest speaker and those in the audience. Better just to keep it simple.

    3. Dizzy*

      Yes x1000. Unless your co-workers have experienced Braxton Hicks, they’ll be distractingly worried about anything involving the word “contractions.” Even people who have had pregnant partners and “been through it all” get alarmed. It’s instinct for a lot of people to pay extra attention to a pregnant woman’s discomfort.

      You’ll save yourself a lot of grief by flashing a pained smile and throwing out a casual “Sorry, got a foot wedged in my lung!” Or “Kid’s playing xylophone on my ribs today!”

      See also:
      “Playing teather ball with my liver”
      “Practicing rugby”
      “Experimenting with interpretive dance”
      “Throwing a rave”
      “Trying to juggle my kidneys”
      “Auditioning for riverdance”
      “Making my organs into bagpipes”
      “Knitting with my intestines”

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        Not to mention that that the availablity bias will come into play here. I know a couple women who delayed going to the hospital becuase they *thought* they were having Braxton-Hicks contractions, but instead they were going into labor. I also know a woman who ended up giving a surprisingly quick birth on her bathroom floor while her husband had 911 on speaker. (Although fwiw, all those women were much further along than OP!)

        Statistically, these events are unlikely. But they’re also the dramatic stories that will the first thing that pop into people’s heads when they hear the word “contraction”.

        1. Lilo*

          I believe that is why you are supposed to try to relieve them (other than thr pain) because BH can be lessened but real ones cannot. I also think the San stressors than can cause BH (like dehydration) can trigger actual preterm labor so you shouldn’t ignore them.

          1. HydratedMama*

            Yes, being able to stop BH with stuff like water, resting, etc is one of the distinctions between prodromal labor and BH. BH also tend to be random, prodromal labor and real labor follow timeable patterns.

        2. Susan*

          My cousin had her third baby in their master bathroom. Luckily she lives next door to her in-laws, and her mother-in-law happens to be a nurse. MIL got there just in time to catch the baby.

        3. Catsaber*

          When I was about 8 months pregnant with most recent kiddo, this kind of dramatic delivery happened at a Chick Fil A in my state, so everyone I knew kept asking me if I was about to go into labor, and if they could drive me anywhere so we could score some free food.

        4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I barely made it to the hospital with my second, because my Dr, whom I had specifically gone to see that afternoon to make sure I was not in labor, and who had given me an ultrasound when I came in, said not to worry, it was false labor. The difference between me and OP though was that, as I walked home from the doctor’s, the pain kept getting worse. After I got home, I saw blood (as in spotting). My husband said I was probably having the baby after all, and an hour later, the baby was born, three weeks early. Granted, I had the worst OB-GYN in our small town at that time.

    4. Yvette*

      I would go with a white lie, but I would go with leg cramps and needing to shift your position/move around as a reason. Just leave the baby out of it as much as possible, I think it might invite less intrusive questions, (How far along are you? Do you know how big the baby is? and the dreaded “Oh! Can I feel it kick? (yes, that one does come up, it is amazing how a pregnancy totally erases boundaries for some people.))

      1. OP3*

        Leg cramps was my usual thing to blame, but it’s not very believable when I keep rubbing my stomach and lower back subconsciously. Totally agree though that every mentioning of the baby will derail the meeting at least by a few minutes.

        1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

          You could always say back cramps or sciatica without getting into it. Those are pretty common during pregnancy and leave the baby out of it.

    5. OP3*

      I think that’s a good point. People do have a skewed idea of what “contractions” mean and how fast a birth can happen. I’ll probably just blame it on the baby kicking. Especially since that has become another embarrassing problem in itself. This kid kicks so hard that my stomach jumps and moves a lot. If I’m sitting down and resting my hands on it, it will kick my hands off. If I’m presenting, I feel like everyone can see him move. I keep telling myself that it’s all in my head and that other people pay a lot less attention to my body than I imagine they do.

      1. Catsaber*

        I had some pretty strong BH contractions during my most recent pregnancy and had to do breathing exercises while they occurred – and they were popping up daily. My boss was always really concerned, even if I could still hold a conversation while I was contracting and deep breathing. I think the suggestions here are good ones, and just try to avoid using the word “contractions” as much as possible. I blamed a lot of stuff on just general back pain (which was the truth!) and that satisfied most people.

      2. MommyMD*

        Baby kicking or moving around is a great answer that doesn’t alarm everyone and just lets the meeting move on. Congrats on your little nugget!

      3. A Nonnus Mousicus*

        I gave birth about a month ago and had this exact thing come up. I would have BH contractions at my desk or in meetings and would always just blame them on sciatica or baby kicks. Easier to explain away and far less likely to cause anyone to panic.

      4. Anonandon*

        Yep, that happens. My son used to make my belly ripple to the point where people would ask me if I was about to re-enact that scene from “Alien.” Yikes.

    6. LQ*

      Totally agree. A casual, baby needs me to walk around a bit with a shrug. Even a “The baby needs to move around, but I’m really interested so what about the TPS reports.” kind of thing that loops it right back to work would be good and show everyone you’re not really interested in talking about the baby thing.

      1. aebhel*

        Ooh, yeah, this is a good point. If you redirect everyone’s attention back to the topic at hand that will probably help prevent the meeting from getting completely derailed.

  7. Marie*

    #1 I had to reiterate “no I’m not relocating” dozens of times during the hiring process. When the offer letter had a vague mention of future relo, I pushed back. I was nervous about it when I was on-boarding. At this point I’ve proven myself in the role, they don’t want me to leave, and my manager hasn’t brought it up.

    I was certainly vulnerable to not getting the offer over this, but having stuck to my guns, a year later it’s a non-issue. Kick ass in the role and you’ll win this game of chicken.

    #2 In person, go ahead and use that script. Over email, practice not replying immediately. It took me time to learn that for most queries, it is better to send the final answer than to send preliminary info. Especially so if you’re a technical person communicating with finance or sales people.

    #3 I had my first BH on a United cross country flight. It was both much worse than my average United flight and yet somehow within expected bounds. You have my sympathy. Sitting still can be surprisingly painful.

    1. SherSher*

      Yes! If a question is via email, take your time (if it all possible) with the response. I get soooo many emails that say, “Let me check.” “I’ll find out and let you know.” NO! Just respond when you have the answer. Unless there is a significant amount of time lapsed, in which case, shoot me a note that says something like, “I am working on this for you, but it’s taking longer than expected. I should have an answer by [whenever].”

      1. MLB*

        It really depends on the situation. I work for a government subcontractor, and when our client emails us with a potential issue, we have to acknowledge that we’ve received the email and are looking into it, whether it takes 5 minutes or 5 hours to investigate. If we don’t reply, it looks like we’re ignoring the email.

  8. Tertia*

    For #5, it seems to me like the more tactful/legal way to handle it is to refer to the previous negative performance reviews and to ask her why she’s confident that she won’t have similar problems in the new location. That gives her the opening to talk about her health but keeps the focus on job performance, which is ultimately the issue.

  9. Lilo*

    For OP3, I would also recommend bringing a water jug to meetings and taking them as bathroom breaks. One, for me at least, BH happened less when I was well hydrated and water helped relieve them. Second, people understand the “pregnant women need to use the bathroom” stuff. Third trimester sitting for long periods will be very tough on your back and pelvis outside of BH, so you can reasonably ask to move around too. If I sat for too long sometimes I would have trouble walking when I got up from sciatica.

    1. BetsyTacy*

      Another suggestion is to consider calling in to meetings if possible. Just cheerfully say, ‘Oh, I’m more comfortable when I can stand up from time to time and don’t want to distract anyone.’

      I had a boss who recently did this because of back issues. He found he was in agony when he had to sit for longer than 20-30 minutes and switching to calling in to meetings was a real game changer for him.

  10. SaraV*

    So I read the title of #3, and initially thought the OP had problems with herself or other people using the words “can’t”, “don’t”, “I’m”, or “shouldn’t” in meetings.
    I really should go back to bed. :)

    1. Airy*

      Or one of her coworkers is Lieutenant Commander Data who never uses contractions but during yesterday’s staff meeting he said “can’t” and she’s pretty sure he’s been replaced by his evil twin Lore… again.

      1. Fact & Fiction*

        Hahaha I’m going to have to go back and re-watch that. I’m working on a book with androids who use more formal speech patterns and that’s one slip-up if a human is trying to impersonate an android that can get them caught (it’s illegal to impersonate androids, who are the ones in power in this book). I am so paranoid that I’m going to screw up which characters do/don’t use contractions!

    2. OP3*

      Pregnant woman: “Can’t… Won’t… Don’t….!”
      Bystander : “Help! She’s having contractions!”
      Pregnant woman : “Shouldn’t’ve!”
      Bystander: “Oh no! Her contractions are getting worse!”

      1. Legal Beagle*

        This comment made me giggle on the train. Hang in there, OP3! Being visibly pregnant at work gets you into so many “interesting” situations.

      2. an infinite number of monkeys*


        I’m wishing this were reddit so I could upvote all y’all.

      3. Marthooh*

        I simply cannot… I mean, I am entirely unable… I find it quite, quite impossible…

        I just can’t even. You win the internet.

    3. Foreign Octopus*

      Honestly, this was my first thought as well. I thought “what a weird issue to have but it is AAM”.

    4. BadWolf*

      We have stuff that we translate and one of the style guides is no contractions. So depending on how often I’ve been working on that, I start getting paranoid about swapping out contractions.

      1. Airy*

        I’m a court reporter and we have different rules about contractions depending on whether it’s contemporaneous (evidence in the courtroom) or non-contemporaneous (dictations of things like minutes and oral judgments) – for C you transcribe verbatim, for NC you expand all contractions and correct the Judge’s grammar as much as you can (e.g. fixing up subject-verb agreement). The exception is if expanding the contraction would make the Judge sound pompous and weird (e.g. a Judge in the Youth Court often makes remarks directly to the young defendant while dictating, trying to keep them engaged and understanding, and in that context “You will abide by these bail conditions, won’t you?” is preferable to “will you not?”). When I was getting broken in to the job, switching mental gears between contractions and no contractions depending on the job type was one of the trickiest parts – but at least C and NC makes a handy mnemonic.

    5. Kathleen_A*

      LOL – I thought exactly the same thing, SaraV. Maybe this is because (1) I’m a grammar geek, but also because (2) I knew of an editor who forbade all contractions in her paper, saying they were “too casual.” Which was nuts, but editors have these quirks. I certainly do.

  11. LGC (not actually Fergus)*

    I’m rooting for Sansa, since it seems like this would be a much better work situation for her, but…like, I’m side-eyeing the Fergus-shaped roadblock in her way. (Mostly because I feel like he contradicted himself – why is he interviewing someone who he himself said is a poor performer? And the fact that he came at her so directly in the interview (although in fairness, LW is hearing this secondhand) is not impressing me either.)

    But also – I’m just curious, was what Fergus said actually a violation of ADA? On one hand, I think that what he might have meant was, “Has your health improved, because we need you to be able to at least work X hours per week?” But just leaving it as “Has your health improved?,” that could easily be read as, “Has your health improved, because I don’t like that you’re sick so often?” (And…I mean, I’ve made the same mistake! Look at last week’s open thread.) I read the answer, and it seems like the conclusion was that Fergus could have said it better, but not necessarily whether he said anything inappropriate.

    That said, would it have been fair for Sansa to volunteer at that point that she was looking to move locations because of her health issues? The location of the current office is literally making her sick, so that might be a major factor. And if her performance issues were mostly related to attendance, that might resolve them.

    1. Irina*

      That’s probably what any hiring manager would ask. That person was being firm. They should be to find answers and information about the person. It seems like some people feel for the applicant, but if she has consistent mental or physical health concerns that is going to be a major problem working anywhere. That’s why some people go on disability. Work requirements in the US are a lot. That last sentence was a little off topic, but it’s worth noting I suppose not that it hasn’t been mentioned many times here. Additionally, the manager has reason to wonder why the commute, not that commutes aren’t a problem for many people, to be the reason the applicant’s performance would drastically change. Stress? Sure but the commute specifically? Where is that information coming from you know.

      1. WellRed*

        Well, they may know what the health condition is and could get an idea of how a shorter commute could help.

      2. LGC*

        So I’ll work backwards.

        I got the information that the commute was making Sansa ill because LW5 wrote:

        It’s well-known that Sansa’s long and stressful commute exacerbates her health problems.

        It’s not too much of a stretch to assume that there’s something with her commute (sitting for over an hour each way with no easy way to get up, perhaps) that makes her health worse.

        Going a little further back, my concern wasn’t whether Fergus was entitled to ask at all. He’s completely justified, especially in this case! He and Sansa have a history (and it already seems like the LW took sides, just based off the pseudonyms), and Sansa’s health issues have already impacted her job performance. But when I read it over again, it seemed like what Fergus said could be read multiple ways. He could very well have meant to ask about how it would impact her job (which Alison noted is appropriate), but you could also reasonably assume he was trying to pry into her health (which is…not). It’s ambiguous enough to me that I couldn’t tell.

        Finally…okay, you’re right that Fergus was doing due diligence, as I noted above. I’m still a little Team Sansa because the way it’s presented, Fergus has consistently considered her a poor performer (Sansa got multiple middling to poor reviews), yet she still got considered for a new position working with him (or at least he’s involved in hiring). And then in the interview, from LW’s telling, he asked her about a very significant issue in what read as an accusatory manner.

        At the very least, Sansa is getting mixed signals (I know I am).

          1. LGC*

            Okay so I misread it, but I still feel the same way about it. I’ll reply to Artemesia with a little more detail about why I feel that way.

        1. Artemesia*

          I hate to put myself in Fergus’s shoes; I have relatives who need some grace in the workplace due to medical conditions and know how difficult it is to even get health care in the US without a job and medical coverage. But if we put ourselves in Fergus’s shoes, why would we bring on someone we KNOW will be a problem because we have worked with her before and know she is a weak performer and unreliable; it isn’t her fault that she is unreliable, but she is. It is one thing to accommodate someone on your staff who has medical issues, but why would you want to choose someone you already know is unlikely to deliver what you need when you have many other options?

          1. LGC*

            I mean, although I don’t hire, I deal a LOT with employees with disabilities that have erratic attendance. So I can COMPLETELY understand his reservations about Sansa.

            It’s just that…if Fergus had large enough issues with her performance that he wrote multiple negative performance reviews, why bring her in? And on top of that, he asked her about her health in a way that was…not great.

            Like, Fergus, my dude, don’t lead her on like that. Again, I don’t do hiring, but if you’re that concerned about her ability to do the job, ask before you bring her in for an interview, I’d think. (Correct me if I’m mistaken, but in this case disclosure isn’t an issue because Fergus is already aware of it.)

            1. Beth Jacobs*

              Fergus might be genuinely open to hiring Sansa if her answer is satisfactory (such as: “With the shorter commute, I expect my absences to be 50 percent less frequent.”) In such a case, it’s much fairer for him to give Sansa a chance to explain rather than make assumptions.

              Or he might simply be required to interview all internal candidates – I would argue that’s bad policy, but it’s not on Fergus.

      3. JSPA*

        There are many things in life that we naturally wonder about (“what on earth does she see in him?” “Why is he taking so long in the bathroom?” “How did they grow up with no manners at all?”) that we know we can’t actually ask, in so many words. Thanks to medical privacy laws, as well as general respect, demanding to know exactly how the commute makes a difference to somebody’s disease is one of these topics. It is a huge violation to demand details so that the manager–presumably not a doctor, and certainly not acting in the role of the employee’s doctor–can decide for the employee whether the shorter commute will indeed be medically beneficial.

        I’m not getting why the situation strikes you as unlikely, in any case. If the employee reports that she frequently shows up at the job already exhausted or otherwise worn – down from a long commute, and having to save energy for the commute home, surely it makes sense that not having such a commute will leave more energy for the job?

        Whether it’s a mental problem, a neurological problem, a neuromuscular problem, a muscular problem, a digestive problem, a blood sugar problem, a spinal problem, a perceptual / vision problem or any other problem, “the direct effects of the problem plus the effort or strain or planning involved in dealing with the problem are cumulative over time and activity” is… very broadly normal.

        1. Irina*

          Please read what I wrote. I agree about the commute. What I wrote was that the person doing the hiring would believe that’s true for anyone. Whether you believe it or not, a lot of people in the applicant’s position cannot easily find jobs. Demanding to know her detailed medical information? No. but maybe the person themselves should know what is realistic. YOU do not have to list every problem a person could have

    2. Just Me*

      I investigate complaints of employment discrimination, and will likely end up down a research rabbithole on this today…

      Asking about a disability prior to the offer stage is a no-no. I can think of logical reasons both why this would and would not be exactly the same for internal candidates and external candidates. I lean towards would and that the question as worded would be illegal. If it were a case before me, there’d be some serious side-eye and, depending on the end of the rabbithole and other facts, either a sternly worded decision that is intended to have the company’s attorney encourage training and a sitdown with Fergus, or a favorable determination for Sansa.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        In this case, I would think disabled internal candidates may find themselves at a disadvantage because their disability is already known. How would hiring managers make sure that they’re not discriminating against these candidates? And how could bias be proven? It seems like a very complicated, subjective area.

        1. Just Me*

          I think self-awareness is key. If you recognize it, you can catch it. But easier said than done.

          Proof is always the hard because it’s the reason for the action, not the action itself, that is what is prohibited. Sometimes there is evidence like a dumb comment here and there, but most of the time there isn’t. What it often comes down to is the employee trying to show that the reason provided by the employer can’t possibly be the actual reason. (“You said you didn’t hire Wakeen because he didn’t have a degree in Teapot Engineering, but the last 3 people you hired for the position didn’t have a degree in Teapot Engineering…”)

      2. LGC*

        Sorry for wrecking your productivity for today!

        For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t know the first thing about this. (Hence why I asked.)

  12. Czhorat*

    OP#2 – I’m an industry veteran with a fairly senior position and I still take time to check things before giving a final answer. Remember: the correct answer an hour from now is always better than the wrong answer right away.

    If I’m mostly sure, I’ll sometimes say, “I believe it to be X, but let me verify that” to give a better connotation of confidence.

    The important thing is to get correct answers to the people who need them in a timely fashion; if you’re pushing someone against their deadline to check on something that isn’t ok. So long as you really do check and get back to them you’re fine.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Same here, and this year it will be 30 years since I started working in the industry. I have people coming to me with questions all the time about random portions of our enormous codebase. I always say that I don’t have that information in my head, and need to look it up. Typically takes 5-10 minutes to do so. I use “I believe it to be X, but let me verify that” also.

      I also had the experience of a senior-level coworker giving me an answer right away, as if it was something she certainly knew; only to later find out that she had pulled the answer out of thin air and that it was incorrect. I needed the answer for something I was working on, and my work was affected by the incorrect information she’d given me. Never trusted her to give me accurate information again.

    2. Kyrielle*

      Yep! I spent over 15 years at my previous job and by the end of my time there, I was well-known as the go-to person for “have we ever done X” or “why on earth is Y the way it is” type questions. And some I could just answer, confidently, but a lot of times I *still* said either “Let me check and get back to you” or “I think because Z, but let me confirm that” or even “I…don’t know, but I think it’s come up before; I’ll look into that and get back to you.” (And I wouldn’t have been able to confirm in every case if I had stayed there, because as I was leaving, they were getting ready to roll out a new email archives policy that would have removed a lot of my references for those obscure questions! It had nothing to do with my departure, but I admit I’m not sad to have missed out on that.)

      Being able to give a definite answer and not hedge it feels so good, when you really can. But it’s not a requirement of being helpful, useful, or knowledgeable. Just don’t claim certainty when you don’t have it. :)

  13. Indigo64*

    I hear you, OP #3! I just had a baby a few months ago, and I had to start standing behind a chair during meetings because my belly would visibly move and while the other parents in the room were unfazed, all the young 20-something guys were freaked out (but too polite to say anything, so they just sat there looking horrified). I found standing behind the chair to be a good solution- standing was most comfortable for me and I could easily shift around, lean on the chair, etc.

    Dizzy’s suggestions above are hilarious- I usually went with “baby wants to move”.

    Another option if you are REALLY uncomfortable is to see if you can join by phone or video conference and be in a private space where you can move. I was put on modified bed rest at the end, so I was working from home and took many calls from the couch.

    1. Project Manager*

      Agreed on the parents vs younger adults – I took my first to a work celebration when he was 2-4 months old (totally OK in my office, yes I know not OK in every office). As I was sitting there holding him, he began making the telltale grunting sounds and red face that any parent recognizes. The young guys all thought he was about to die or something, while the parents laughed and helped me set up my travel changing pad.

      I personally wouldn’t think anything about a coworker experiencing Braxton Hicks, other than of course sympathy. In fact, I remember being the presenter in a large meeting and asking if the board minded if we took a short break (I had BH and also needed to pee, because pregnant), and they were all very sympathetic, even though I didn’t know all of them. (I was extremely, visibly pregnant at that point, which may have helped.) I hope your workplace is similarly understanding, OP! Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy and best wishes for a smooth delivery and healthy baby.

    2. Lilo*

      Oh yeah. My son liked to kick his feet out and you could see them poking out. I used to call this “aliening”.

      I wore a jacket or sweater a lot in my third trimester (which was in the winter) to avoid belly comments.

    3. OP3*

      OMG! This is so timely! My stomach moves a lot, and I’m mortified that other people might be seeing it too. I probably shouldn’t care, but I work with a bunch of men, and it just adds another layer of awkwardness. I like the idea of standing behind the chair.

      1. Catsaber*

        I work with mostly men as well, and I found that 99% of them did not care at all – because they were either fathers themselves or uncles or whatever.

        (Though there was this one guy who, upon learning that one of the vacant offices was being converted to a pumping/quiet room for me, loudly asked, “WHAT DOES SHE NEED THAT FOR??” Another guy told him it was for pumping, and he responded, “PUMPING WHAT????” And then it dawned on him and he got super embarrassed and never said anything since.)

        1. Allonge*

          Heh. A few months back some of my guy colleagues (fathers, even) remarked that although we have a “nursery room”, they never see any babies around and so perhaps the room is not used???
          After picking ourselves off the floor (shock/laughter), the women around explained the concept of pumping. Thoughtful facial expressions ensued. Room is still available.

          1. Indigo64*

            I’m fortunate enough to have a private office, so I block off my pumping time on my calendar. Boss needed to schedule a meeting during one session, and he asked if it would be okay if I called in. One of the younger guys on my team jumped in to say it was during my nap time. Bless him, he thought I was closing my door to take a nap a few times a day… never questioned it. He was very concerned about Boss encroaching on said nap time- obviously I need it!

        2. OP3*

          My company provides preferred parking for expectant mothers. We get a decal that we place on the dashboard that allows us to use “preferred” parking right next to the entrance which is otherwise reserved for VP’s and employees with 20+ years seniority. It’s actually a significant perk because without it I typically have to walk a quarter of a mile from my car to my office, which is not fun when you are dealing with morning sickness in the first trimester, or BH/sciatica in the third trimester. Well, one morning I was getting out of my car, and a coworker of mine saw me and went on a huge rant about how it’s discriminatory to have parking for “expectant mothers”, but not “expectant fathers”. I rolled my eyes and said “Bill, think of it as “pregnant people parking”. As long as you are gestating a baby, I’m sure they will issue you the same decal”.

          1. Holly*

            Yeah… that is not the same issue as having equal paternity and maternity leave, for example. It’s because of the *physical condition of pregnancy.* My goodness.

            1. Airy*

              People who think of an accommodation like a preferred or accessible parking space as a perk that they in their good health and physical ability are unfairly denied… well, Bill likely can’t experience the physical discomforts of pregnancy but it would be great if there were a really vengeful fairy godmother, maybe like the enchantress from Beauty and the Beast, who would swoop in at that moment and say, “Oh, you want that too? Your wish is granted!” and BOOM Bill is eight months pregnant out to here.
              (Well, at least it looks and feels that way, let’s assume the “baby” is a magical illusion for ethics’ sake.)
              (The ethics of fairy godmothers swooping down on jerks in office carparks.)
              (Actually I would like this to be done by the Jennifer Saunders-voiced Fairy Godmother from Shrek 2, it can be her reformatory community service.)
              (She will enjoy it too much.)

          2. Former Employee*

            This is why I find it annoying when men (or even women, for that matter say, “We are pregnant.”

            No, it’s “We are expecting.” While both people are expecting a baby, only one of them is actually pregnant!

  14. NJ Anon*

    #4 You can ask but you may not get the truth. First off, some people leave a toxic job but don’t give the real reason they are leaving. Second, you just might not get an honest answer if they are desperate to hire someone. When interviewing for my current position, I was told they moved and the commute was too far. Turns out, the long time person in that position was promoted and ran off 4, yes 4, people they hired to replace her before I came along.

    1. Liz*

      This!! I asked this question when I was interviewing for my current job, and my predecessor told me she wanted to try something new, etc., etc. Now that I’ve been here for a while, I know that the truth is she was underperforming and her manager didn’t have the guts to performance manage her out, so they “placed” her in a new role and placated her sad feelings about that by allowing her to interview her replacement. Very awkward once I learned the truth.

  15. SherSher*

    Allison, re: #5… does the same apply to religion? If an applicant follows a religion that, for instance, is unable to work on the 2nd Tuesday with a full moon, but the position requires that they be available for emergency management type stuff (so, potentially, at the drop of a hat… and never at a convenient time, it seems!)… should the question to the applicants be similar? That is, should we talk about the requirement to be available any day or night (potentially) if an emergency occurs (these are real emergencies, not boss-made), and then ask if they can meet those requirements?

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      Not Allison, but I think in a situation like that religion is a bit of a red herring — the question is whether the applicant can be available to work in emergencies, and it’s pretty standard to ask about that explicitly for positions that require it. It doesn’t really matter whether the possible constraints are religion, childcare, bus schedules, or community theater rehearsals.

      1. Antilles*

        Agreed. Your questions don’t even really need to mention the religion at all. Just explain it like any other job requirement.
        This position requires some on-call and weekend work. We rotate it around among employees, but in general, every employee will have at least one weekend a month where they’re on-call and need to be available to log on at a moment’s notice. Will that pose a problem for you?

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, exactly. “The job requires X — will you be able to do that?”

        However, if that kind of availability isn’t an essential core function of the job, you may be required to accommodate their religious practice, so keep that in mind as well.

        1. SherSher*

          It is an essential core function….. but I like someone else’s comment that if it could be covered by someone else (by this person just marking certain days as unavailable) then that might be a great way to handle it. I appreciate all the feedback.

          1. KHB*

            If it’s feasible for you to arrange backup on-call coverage for a certain number of days per year, that would be a great thing to offer, regardless of who you hire. Even if religious observances aren’t an issue, they may want to take the occasional trip to someplace without phone/wifi coverage, or schedule time with their family without having to worry about it being interrupted, etc.

    2. KHB*

      If a requirement of the job is being on call for emergencies 24/7/365, then yes, you absolutely need to be clear with the candidates about that. Even without any possible religious conflicts, that’s a major burden on anyone, because it makes it impossible for them ever to make any firm plans for personal activities outside of work.

    3. Just Me*

      I am also not Alison. Asking about religion during an interview isn’t expressly prohibited in the same way that asking about a disability is. It’s still a bad idea because considering a candidate’s religion in making your decision is illegal (exceptions aside…). You can’t consider what you don’t know about.

      For your example there could be a million other reasons an employee is not available to be on-call. It’s never a bad idea to make sure candidates have a clear idea of what the position is.

    4. SherSher*

      I should have been more clear… in the particular case I am aware of, the candidate was internal so we were very aware of his/her religious observances and any constraints that could put on his/her availability. The emergencies don’t come up all that often, think major international incident kind of thing (so, rare, thank goodness), but it would be on the successful candidate to be able to respond if that did happen. Knowing the person as we do, we believe she would put her religious observances over this. However, we don’t know for sure if we don’t ask…. right??

      1. Antilles*

        I agree you need to ask ahead of time, but I honestly don’t think you need to change how you ask the question. You can still just frame it as a specific critical requirement of the position, ask her if she can handle those requirements, then go from there – no reason for you to call it out with a “well, I know your religion prevents working during the full moon…”.

      2. No Tribble At All*

        I’ve worked ops jobs that had shift coverage & on-call. For shift coverage, you could put in a do-not-schedule request or take vacation time for days you could not call off. Our on-call people traded which week they were on call. So if you needed, say, the high holy days off, you could work it out with your team to not be on call that week. But the job wouldn’t work with someone who kept strict Sabbath — you can’t get the same day off every single week.

        Explain your on-call requirements. People who can’t or won’t meet those obligations for any reason will self select out of the job. For your candidate, emphasize that she could be called any day of the week.

      3. KHB*

        I’m no expert on this (or any other) aspect of employment law, but it sounds to me like this might be the sort of situation where you could be required to provide a “reasonable accommodation” (by making other arrangements for on-call coverage for the times of the employee’s religious observances) – in which case, it would be discriminatory to decline to hire this person on the basis of her religious needs. You should probably check in with a lawyer just to make sure everything is on the up and up.

      4. LawBee*

        Look at it this way: it’s the candidate’s religion, right? So how she honors or practices it is up to her, including whether she wants a job that may require her to be available on a day that her religion tells her she can’t work. THAT part isn’t your responsibility, even if you know her practices, because you can’t make that decision for her. What you can do is make it 100% clear that this was a requirement and because of the nature of the job, the likelihood of exceptions was little-to-none (gotta leave room for super sick or actively in labor or what have you). Leave religion out of it entirely and trust the candidate to make that evaluation and decision.

        And if down the line, the now-employee says she can’t work this mandatory required thing that you were super clear about in the interview, you have standing to say “we discussed this in your interview, you knew from the get that this was a required part of your job duties and that exceptions would not be made. This is not news to you, and you chose to take this position. We need you here, see you at 9am.” She’ll still complain and be angry, but that’s not your problem.

    5. JSPA*

      What’s dicey is creating a situation that will preferentially screen out observant members of a particular religion (without reasonable justification).

      1. Zillah*

        Sure, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the goal here – it sounds like there’s a real reason for it. Let’s just take SherSher’s word that the emergencies are real rather than getting into the weeds on whether it’s justifiable.

    6. Kyrielle*

      I worked in a job that needed this! When we were first developing the software, it was straight R&D with no on-call, and the managers didn’t think to raise the issue of future on-call.

      We had one guy who, because of religious reasons, could not work on a set day a week. And we were not able to put him on a week-long on-call stint, because he was hired without any mention of the requirement. (We had him cover split weeks with other people, though – so he was still on call, just not on the day he couldn’t be.)

      But every hire AFTER that, we said, hey, this role requires being on call for a week at a time, evenings and weekends, with an X minute response time; will you be able to do that?

      If they can’t do it, they can’t get the job. It’s a requirement for the role. But it doesn’t matter if they can’t do it because they have a medical issue, a religious barrier, or a second job. It just matters if they can or cannot do it. (But only if it’s really core to the job, not just something it’d be nice to have.)

        1. Kyrielle*

          They did not work well. They worked, but they worked poorly. In some ways it might have been easier to not have him on call at all, but that solution would increase the burden on other employees even more than the split shifts had.

      1. KHB*

        Is there an inherent need for the on-call schedule to be organized into week-long blocks, or do you just do it that way because it’s convenient for you (at least, when you don’t have anybody’s religious needs to accommodate)? If the latter, that sounds potentially illegal to me that you’re shutting people out of the job solely because you don’t want to draw up an on-call schedule that includes split weeks – especially since you were able to do split weeks to accommodate the first guy. But again, not a lawyer.

        1. Khakis for life*

          I am pretty sure that companies are allowed to run their businesses in a way that is convenient for them – that’s now 99.9999999999% of companies are run, I suspect!

        2. Kyrielle*

          I’m not a lawyer either. And I didn’t design the schedule – I was one of the people hired when the on-call portion wasn’t on the radar yet. But there were people on-call for other products in the company, the routine schedule was a week at a time, and the reasoning and requirements aren’t ones I know. I do know that splitting it up for him made for headaches for other personnel and for the on-call payment handling, which was week-based.

        3. LawBee*

          Also, from what I understand from my employment law buds, companies aren’t required to account FOR all possible religious etc contingencies when working out a job description – that’s impossible. If the job requires being available on Saturdays, that’s just what it is, and those whose religious practices don’t allow for work on Saturdays aren’t good candidates for that specific job. If the job didn’t require it but the managers crafted it that way on purpose to exclude certain religious practices, that’s a different story. It’s a fine distinction – upon which rests many an employment discrimination case, I suspect.

          1. Former Employee*

            In addition to members of the Jewish religion, people who are of the Seventh Day Adventist faith consider Saturday to be the Sabbath. I am not sure if there are other religions that follow the same practice.

            What always bothered me was people praising someone who would not do “X” on Sunday because they were religious while those same people would be annoyed/dismissive of someone who would not participate in “Y” on Saturday because it was that individual’s Sabbath.

            1. nonegiven*

              There are some Christians that are just as unavailable on Sundays, so it’s not like they are singling out one religion. More like any extremely religious people.

  16. Ally*

    #2: I agree that it should be, and often is, fine (or even better) to say “let me check” (and then check and get back to them ASAP) if asked a question where you aren’t sure of the answer. However, I have been berated at times for not knowing in the first place. And at other times, the person asking has been openly annoyed. It wasn’t that this was my answer a lot, it’s just that in my experience, when you do need to say “let me check” some people don’t want to hear it. Maybe I just worked with unreasonable people.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      I agree – I do strongly believe it is always better to check, but if it’s something that you have to do very frequently then some managers probably will perceive that as uncertainty or a lack of knowledge that you should have. However, people like that certainly will not respond any better to being given wrong information, so in the end the answer is the same – check.

    2. Arctic*

      Yep. It’s better to check even IF you are going to annoy someone with that answer. But, in reality, a lot of people don’t like that. It’s ridiculous and unfair. But it’s true. A lot of unreasonable bosses and co-workers ask and expect you to know.

    3. OP2*

      I think I have definitely picked up on some annoyance on my manager’s part when I don’t know right away, which might be the cause of my concern. She kind of gives an impatient look, but we juggle 20 projects that are constantly changing. She doesn’t even know the details of every project herself, so I don’t know why she would expect me to know them!

      1. KHB*

        Your manager’s job isn’t necessarily a superset of yours. There are definitely cases where the manager’s job is to deal with higher-level tasks, and the employee’s job is to keep track of the details so the manager doesn’t have to.

        Since it sounds like you’re not sure what your manager actually expects of you in this respect, can you just ask her about it? E.g., “Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but I’ve noticed you seem disappointed that I’ve had to check my notes for answers to questions like X, Y, and Z. Is this the kind of information that someone in my role is generally expected to know off the top of their head? If so, I’ll try to work on that.” Or something like that.

        1. OP2*

          In my case, we are more like a two-person team, rather than her dealing with the higher-level things while I deal with details. She is quite a character and has rubbed a few people the wrong way, so the annoyed look might be an unfortunate personality trait, haha. If I feel like her annoyance is becoming an issue, I’ll definitely say something similar to what you suggested. Thanks!

      2. Czhorat*

        Is this in response to informal, off the cuff questions or something in more formal project- or status-meetings? If the former, then you’re fine. If there is, say, the weekly project management meeting then you should come prepared with at least the basics which are expected to be covered. If you’ve agreed to a meeting to discuss a specific project you should prepare yourself by reviewing the project documentation beforehand.

        I’m fine telling people I need to check something or doing it myself; I’ll admit that I get irked if someone comes to a meeting unprepared.

        1. OP2*

          99% is an off the cuff question. Since she will call me over to her desk area and ask me the question, I don’t have the project in front of me and can’t reference it. In a meeting where I have my laptop, I can usually quickly reference projects and get the answer quickly. Now that you have made the contrast between planned meetings and off-the-cuff questions, I think I might be extra sensitive because I hate being unprepared!

      3. EventPlannerGal*

        Well, it’s hard to tell if her annoyance is legitimate – it could be stuff that you couldn’t possibly know because you’re so new or things you’ve heard mentioned but haven’t been trained on in detail, or it could be things that you really should be familiar with but for some reason aren’t recalling in the moment. (Again, it is always better to check things and admit it when you don’t know, but in some cases you might legitimately be expected to just know certain things without checking.) If this is happening often and you can see that it’s annoying her, it may help if you’re really proactive in *trying* to learn/recall the information, eg making cheat sheets for frequent questions, making use of any learning resources, prepping really really thoroughly before meetings and so on.

        1. OP2*

          I definitely would understand why my manager would be annoyed if it were an aspect I would need to be familiar with. However, most of the time, it’s a question about a project that I haven’t looked at in eight months, or about a feature that could have been updated without my knowledge since another team is in charge of it. Quite the tangled web of projects and updates, hence the difficulty keeping track of details!

      4. JSPA*

        She can be irked at not having the knowledge without being upset at you, though. It would be great to always have the answer at hand. It’s a minor let down when the information isn’t there. But that’s not automatically directed “at” somebody.

  17. Mary*

    >>So, I know that a good question to ask at the end of an interview is why the person who previously held the position left.

    OP, I’m wondering if you’re confusing this question with asking why the position has become available? It’s useful to know if it’s a newly-created role, you’re taking over from someone, “Jane left and this is about 80% her role but we’ve also moved some duties around” and so on. But I don’t think you’re really going to get useful information from asking why the previous incumbent left. 90% of the time it’s going to be something bland and uninformative like, “they’ve got another job”: people often don’t discuss their real reasons for leaving a job with their old boss, for obvious reasons! The more clear red flags there are, the less likely you are to get an honest answer. You might get, “well, Jane really wanted teapot design, and this is really teapot marketing”—but generally speaking, if the company is self-aware enough to realise they missold the job to Jane, hopefully they’ve corrected themselves!

    Asking what kind of roles the previous incumbents moved on to can be useful, especially if it’s an entry-level or developmental role. But I think “why did the leave” is a bit of red herring. Has anyone got any really useful information from that?

    1. AnonymousPenguin*

      I did at the place I interviewed before I landed this job! I thought it was going to be a bland “they moved,” but instead the office manager launched into a diatribe about how the former employee quit via text and then blocked everyone in the office’s phone number, and how this sort of thing keeps happening to them. She described multiple people walking out in the middle of the day and how she “had to go by their houses to make sure they were okay,” only finding out then they had actually quit with no notice after just a few weeks on the job. Then she started talking about how the boss was “loud”, “passionate”, “a perfectionist,” and “didn’t want us to ask questions, just get results.”

      I wrapped up the interview as quickly as possible and sent an email as soon as I got back home declining to move forward in the process.

      1. Lora*


        Sure, 95% of the time, you will get some anodyne comment about wanting new challenges. That 5% is what makes it worth asking though. Every once in a while, someone spills their guts and it’s totally worth it.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Yep! Or it can be reassuring. When I was hired into my current company, the hiring manager had three listings at different levels. This is kind of a red flag on its own. But checking with him and with my future teammates, I learned that what happened involved two retirements and someone switching to another group within the same company, to a position that was a step up. The timing was horrible, but the story was consistent and the boss was great to work for. :)

      2. irene adler*

        One dodged bullet:
        I asked if the job was a new position or a replacement. Answer: replacement
        I asked what the prior employee did that they liked. Answer: Couldn’t say. She was only here for a few months.
        I asked why prior employee left: Answer: she found another job
        (from the facial expression, I’m thinking that interviewer thought she was successful in hiding any indication of an issue)

        Let’s be fair: could be flaggy, could be a bad fit. I noted other flags during the interview and I opted to pass on their job offer.

        I see them rerunning the same job posting every 6-9 months.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I love it when people suddenly tell the truth about a place you’re interviewing at.

        Only happened to me once, and did not have to do with any departed employees. It was for a new position maybe? It’s been almost 20 years, so all I remember is interviewing with the manager first, and with a senior/lead dev after him, both 1:1.

        Manager: “we have strict hours. What does that mean? Well the start time is 8, try not to come in at 9 every day, but basically we’re flexible. We have a dress code. What is it? I dunno. Business casual maybe?”

        Dev: “We have strict hours. The start time is 8 AM. If you come in at 8:02, you get stares. We have a dress code. Not sure what it’s like for women, but it’s suit and a tie for men.”

        I came home and called the recruiter who’d sent me there, to tell him I wanted to keep looking. “That’s the response I get from everyone about that place,” he said. Apparently, the dev had managed to warn a lot of people.

        Bless you, dev, hope your career has been nothing but wonderful. You did god’s work.

        1. Iris Eyes*

          “Its a suit and tie but not required to be dark suit/light shirt/no print tie so we must be business causal.”

    2. That girl from Quinn's house*

      Asking this question doesn’t guarantee you’ll get an honest answer.

      I asked this question at a previous job interview, and got told, “Well, this is a new position! We had some (lower-level part-time) employees helping out with the managerial tasks as needed, but we really are getting to the point where we need a full-time manager in the role.” Sounds good.

      The actual answer was: There had been a previous person in the role, and the Hiring Manager had tortured him into quitting by endlessly harassing him. He only lasted in the role 6-8 months. The role had been unfilled for 6 months before that, because Hiring Manager tortured all the internal-to-the-branch candidates into quitting and word got around so internal-to-the-org candidates from other branches also would not apply. In that specialty, there are 25 part-timers for every full-time role, and they had 2 applicants. I had just relocated to the area and thus had no clue of the internal politics of the situation. I determined it wasn’t a match and left pretty quickly.

  18. pcake*

    LW3 – you might want to give a short explanation using the term “false labor” rather than BH. The word “false” explains instantly that you’re not in actual labor, and you can then tell them that shifting positions helps with the pain.

    1. gladfe*

      I wouldn’t use the term “false labor” with people you don’t know. In my experience, some people (idiots) think false labor means that the woman’s imagining contractions. I’d take the trouble to clarify that with coworkers, but it’s probably not worth it with people you see rarely.
      When I didn’t want to talk about BH contractions at work, I also used the “baby’s kicking” white lie suggested above, and it worked fine.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Some women also hate the term “false labor” because it sounds dismissive; the pain of BH contractions is quite real!

        1. JSPA*

          “Pressure spasms.” Or “sciatic jolts.” For those times when you’re in way too much pain for “she’s kicking a bit.”

        2. HydratedMama*

          As a victim of severe “false labor” (aka prodromal labor aka regular painful contractions FOR WEEEKS ON END), I hate the term.
          Also, all those contractions did something, since I ended up having a very very fast birth for a first time mom. That’s relatively common with prodromal labor. Prodromal/false labor is different from BH since it actually follows a set pattern like actual labor. BH are generally not timeable.

          Of course, there are exceptions–some women’s contractions are never timeable–but that’s the general difference.

    2. Thursday Next*

      I think words like “contractions” and “labor” are best avoided. “The baby is kicking” or “in an awkward position” are safer bets. Plus, most people are familiar with the idea that pregnancy= more frequent bathroom trips, so these could function as euphemisms for “I need to move around right now.”

  19. Random thought*

    #2 we are in the middle of hiring for an entry level position and we have a question designed to assess whether candidates are willing to say, let me research that and get back to you, because it is almost always more important to be right than to be fast. Your first answer is perfect. For your second option, I tend to go with “I’m 95% sure the answer is X. You can assume that’s correct for now, but I plan to follow up and will let you know if I’m wrong.” And as others have already said, DO follow up.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Are you hiring for senior positions? Because this is the first time I’ve seen this approach used at job interviews. Everyone wants a memorized answer to everything; something that everyone knows is not applicable to the workplace. This is nuts. This also creates situations like the one a coworker at OldJob told me about. He sat in interviews to fill the offshore and onshore contract positions. The candidates all came from the same one or two consulting companies. My coworker had a list of questions that he used to give them as a “tech screen”, which they all passed without any issues. One day on a whim, he switched the order of questions and asked question number 7 from his list after question 5. The candidate happily gave him the correct answer to question number 6, which had not even been asked yet.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        To summarize my (as I now see) rambling comment, I LOVE your approach to interviews, have never seen it before, and think it should be used in interviews at all levels. Otherwise we are screening candidates for rote memorization skills, instead of the skills listed in the job ad.

  20. CS Rep by Day, Writer by Night*

    “I used to work with someone who would frame answers as certainties when he was really just guessing, and I cannot tell you how irritating it was, and how much it made him impossible to rely on — even when he was sure, since I had no way of telling those times apart from the others.”

    THIS. So much this! I have a co-worker who does this and it makes me nuts – we work in a heavily regulated industry where giving people the wrong information can result in citations, fines, etc., and it burned me a couple of times when I was new and assumed that since she spoke so confidently she was giving me the correct information. I’ve heard her insist that something is a fact when I am 100% sure she’s wrong, and if I point out why she’s wrong she’ll backtrack and say “I said I *thought* the rule was ABC, I never said I was sure.” She came from a department where being seen as unsure or waffle-y is a bad thing, so I do get where it comes from, but I learned pretty quick to double check most of what she told me with my supervisor early on.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Yes to this. I’m in banking, which is heavily regulated. People can’t just give an answer as being THE answer if they’re not 100% sure. I learned very early on that compliance isn’t about knowing all the regs. It’s about knowing where to find the information to get to the right answer. And I also learned very early on that offering up an answer as being the correct one when I’m not sure can lead to disservice to customers, fines, exam violations, etc.

      “I think the answer is X, but let me double check that for you” is the way to go.

    2. Polymer Phil*

      I think this is a management consultant / MBA thing, where appearing certain and confident is encouraged and the appearance of uncertainty is to be avoided at all costs.

  21. Lexi Kate*

    LW3 I think if you say anything like I’m having Bh or false labor pains you are just asking for the entire room to pay close attention to you and bother you about going to the hospital. I’m sure being this pregnant you have already found out who in your office believes they should tell you everything about what you “should” be feeling and doing and at 7 months you want them to just ignore the extra human growing. But, yea they will see this as their opportunity to help you since “they know what real labor looks like” even if they are men. I had BH with both of mine, the best thing I found was when someone noticed to say OMG this has to be David Beckhams baby he/she is a kicker. On the other end we got so many soccer and kickboxing onesies from everyone I worked with.

    1. anothermom*

      I had bh as well, and found that it was often a lot more comfortable to stand for meetings, or to be able to switch between sitting and standing. Which I suppose was sometimes distracting (especially in smaller meetings) but really sitting still for 2 hours when you are that far into a pregnancy can be very uncomfortable!

  22. Nonsensical*

    So when I worked at Disney, we were told we weren’t allowed to say “I don’t know.” I have carried that to this day. I never say I don’t know. I work in IT these days, while I don’t know all the answers, I always tell people – “I don’t know the answer to this but give me a day and I will get back to you.”

    Then I go find a person that knows the answer. As a result, people do come to me about things I don’t know because they know I will find answers for them even if I am not the person with the answer. It is a valuable tool to have and not necessarily a bad thing to check things. You can become known as the person that finds things out. I like to joke that I am a Google ninja and it is one of my superpowers.

    1. londonedit*

      I do agree that just giving a flat ‘I don’t know’ is going to come across as unhelpful. But I think it’s absolutely fine, and in fact a good thing, to say ‘I don’t know, but I’ll check’ or ‘I’m not sure on that, but I’ll look into it and get back to you’. Just saying ‘I don’t know’ sounds rude, like you actively don’t want to help, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong (in most situations) with saying you’re not sure and offering to find out the answer or pass the question along to someone with the relevant knowledge.

      1. WellRed*

        I had a pharmacy tech shrug(!) and say “I don’t know” to me one time when I asked a question. That got a politely worded complaint to the district manager (and a training refresher, I was told).

      2. Catsaber*

        I think the same goes for “not my job” – because sometimes there are things that I literally cannot do because it’s not my job (I’m in IT and there’s stuff I don’t have access to or know how to do, even if I did have access). So I’ve said something along the lines of “I’m not able to because [brief reason], but I’ll get in touch with person/group who does that and let them know.” It’s really the spirit of helpfulness people are looking for, so even if you can’t do anything about it, they at least want to know you’ll get them to the right place.

    2. M&Ms fix lots of Problems*

      One place I worked taught the following: “I don’t know but will find out” or the cousin “I believe it’s blah, but will verify and get back to you.” Both let you confirm or check the answer, which this place felt was more important than just the first thing that you could remember off of the top of your head.

    3. OP2*

      I had some friends who worked at Disney who mentioned the “I don’t know” rule (also, no pointing with one finger, always two finger pointing, right?). In reading the comments, I am definitely gathering more courage to say different versions of “Let me check, and I’ll get back to you.” A lot of the questions are about how to do things in various programs (Microsfot Office Suite, Adobe Creative Cloud, etc.), so being a Google ninja would really come in handy when navigating various forums looking for my specific issue!

      1. rogue axolotl*

        Sometimes I think it depends on how you frame it to yourself and the person who’s asking. When I first started my job, I felt weird about not knowing anything, and so I’d get kind of flustered when I had to admit it. Now, if someone asks something I don’t know, I just say something like “I’ll have to check my files and get back to you” or “I’ll have to check with Vasavi on that” or whatever. Now that I know my job, I realize that if I don’t know something, it’s just because it’s been a while or it’s in someone else’s wheelhouse.

  23. CupcakeCounter*

    I have actually found this question helpful for me as it highlighted a trend at a company I was interviewing with. All of the previous position holders left at around the 2-year mark for a new opportunity OUTSIDE the company. It never seemed like anyone was promoted.
    At my NewJob they addressed the reason for the opening in the phone interview – the most recent person was relocating to a new state and the people in the position before her were still with the company at higher level positions. I’ve been here 6 years and while I could technically be considered in the same role as when I started since my #1 core duty is the same, the projects and other items I get to work on have changed and evolved and I ahve been given several promotions as part of that.

    I agree it isn’t one of the top questions to ask but it can tell you a little bit about company culture and give you an idea of what internal opportunities are like.

  24. Lora*

    OP2 – oh my goodness no, always say “I’m not sure but I can check” or “I’m not the right expert for that, let me put you in touch with the correct person to answer that question” if you aren’t 100% certain!

    I work in a HIGHLY regulated industry and we get special training on how to answer questions during high stakes audits, and we’re taught explicitly and repeatedly to
    1) answer exactly the question you are asked and only the question you are asked, without editorializing
    2) only answer the question if it is in your field. If it is not in your field, refer the questioner to the correct subject matter expert
    3) if the question is answered by a document (SOP, policy, training document etc) then go find the current, effective copy of the document and show the questioner the exact reference
    4) if you don’t know at all, say you don’t know and refer the questioner to the QA person/Legal group for help finding the correct person.

    Saying you don’t know is the correct way to handle any uncertainty. Always.

    1. Czhorat*

      Not all of this is universally applicable; in some cases it’s better to think about the spirit of the question and volunteer supporting or otherwise relevant information. I also will editorialize if it’s within my area of expertise; if asked how to implement a solution, I might say, “you’ll need a flux capacitor, but in my opinion it’s a suboptimal choice because they don’t even make the Delorian anymore and arriving at 88MPH is pretty dangerous and conspicuous. You might be better off with a time turner if you can find one that takes you far back enough”

      1. Lora*

        In my industry, you only do this if you are very specifically asked for an opinion AND it is dead center in the middle of your expertise *in your current role* – i.e. if you had a different role in a previous job, you don’t use that job’s experience to answer the question as your information may be different from the current employer’s or simply out of date. Additionally, you would only answer with an opinion if you have a lot of experience, and I think OP mentioned being pretty new to the job.

        That said, what tends to happen more often is like OP4’s question:
        Auditor: I see that Item A is stored in this portion of the warehouse, is that where you normally store it?
        Disgruntled Tech: Weeeeelllll if Fergus had put Item A where it’s SUPPOSED to go, it would be in cold storage BUT it’s normally here because Fergus sucks at life.
        Auditor: I see…interesting…let me make a note…
        Hence the ban on editorializing.

    2. LQ*

      It may be true in your industry. But when people do that to me it is endlessly frustrating. I don’t need a formal 20 page document for every single question, it’s going to feel like you’re trying to drown me in bs and not actually answer the questions.

      Sometimes you need to just get close and let people know it’s close but not exact and then follow up. I work with a few folks who do this and it makes getting actual work done nearly impossible because it will take a week to answer a question that is followed up by all these things and I’ve got 20 questions in one meeting. Suddenly a 1 week project blows up into something that takes a year.

      There is always always some uncertainty. You can’t extract it from human interactions. Even in highly regulated industries. Life is a matter of getting close enough, so you need to use judgement to decide what is close enough in your situation. In yours it’s scripted pretty closely, great. But that’s not the only situation, sometimes it’s not scripted that closely and someone wants something greater than 50% but is ok accepting less than 90% for now.

      1. LawBee*

        I think she was talking specifically about responding to audit questions, in which case you really don’t want uncertainty at all. Auditors would rather see the document that responds to the question because that’s proof that it’s documented (for lack of a better word).

        1. Lora*

          It isn’t only audit questions – if you’re a customer or a vendor to me, we are going to be talking in large part about contract requirements, what I bought from you, what you are buying from me, how much money you are paying up front, how much at milestones etc. I’m fine with saying if something is above / below a relatively arbitrary cutoff so we can line up approval signatures and stakeholders in advance, sort of thing – but everyone I know in many industries has been hosed more than once by lack of clarity and people BS’ing an answer instead of looking up the correct one, then having to be the bearer of bad news that the previous answer was crap.

          Weirdly, I notice it’s only for values of money $100,000 – about $100,000,000 where people are really super fussy about exact specifications and contract enforcement. It’s like, more than that and nobody pays a whole lot of attention unless there’s major fraud or dead bodies piling up, less than that and it’s hardly worth hiring a lawyer so they don’t bother.

          1. pleaset*

            @Lora – it seems you’re conflating doing things such as talking beyond “the question you are asked and only the question you are asked” and BSing answers.

            No one here is advocating BSing answers, but if a potential vendor or contractor or employee or even boss only talked to me that way in normal settings, it would be weird. And I certainly wouldn’t want to work with them.

            And it’s possible to speak clearly and accurately even in areas of uncertainty, as long as you clearly state that you are uncertain or that your statements are based on certain assumptions that might change.

            “Answering questions in a regulatory audit is not the same as answering questions from a boss or colleague, or even a customer.”


    3. ArtK*

      Answering questions in a regulatory audit is not the same as answering questions from a boss or colleague, or even a customer. A big part of our customer base is heavily audited and so we are, too. I stay far away from audit meetings because I won’t tiptoe around issues and that’s absolutely necessary when responding to an audit. “We didn’t get the process paperwork done because we’re severely understaffed” is not something an auditor wants to hear.

    4. pleaset*

      ” answer exactly the question you are asked and only the question you are asked”

      There are plenty of contexts in which this is not a good practice, and if people acted like this we’d be highly ineffective.

    5. OP2*

      The industry I work in is not as highly regulated as yours, Lora, but this is still helpful advice for ways to answer questions that I can slightly alter to fit my role. I do a lot of problem solving and collaboration and it is somewhat creative, so there is some encouragement to think outside my role/field and outside of the box. But it might be a good idea for me to have some people I could refer my manager to, as you said in list item 4, when I can’t find the answer myself.

      1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

        In some cases, you may be asked a question that is not your field of expertise, but you will be expected to get a competent answer from an expert and convey that answer to your boss. I actually think that this is a valued skill in many workplaces: being able to identify when you need to consult an expert, locate the expert and get the advice or answer, and then communicate that answer effectively and efficiently to your boss.

    6. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      OP#2: I had to get over my fear of appearing unknowledgeable–I used to feel like I should know all the answers immediately. But I got over it, especially because I am in a field where there are many specialized areas that require use of research and experts. I use a somewhat different script, which varies greatly depending on the situation. I think the appropriate way of answering is highly dependent on the context and the nature of the question. Here are some things I have said in the face of uncertainty…

      “Let me look into that and get back to you with an answer.”
      “I will need to research that and get back to you with a definitive answer.”
      “Off the top of my head, I’m not sure, so let me check the ___ and get back to you.”
      “Let me investigate this a bit and I will get back to you tomorrow with an answer/path forward/plan of action.”
      “I believe it’s ___, but let me confirm that and I will send you a follow-up email this afternoon.”
      “My initial thought is ___, but I need to dig a bit deeper into the issue. Let me get back to you tomorrow.”
      “I don’t know but I will find out. Can I get back to you tomorrow with my recommendation?”
      “I recommend that we consult with ___ since this is a specialized area. I will get ___’s guidance and get back to you with a proposed solution.”

      Some of these have the extra punch of the promised response time, which is sometimes important, and makes people feel reassured. Also, taking notes during the conversation can make people feel reassured that you will follow through. At the end of meetings with my boss, I like to do a brief re-cap of my action items that arose during the meeting, so that I know we are on the same page.

  25. Canadian Public Servant*

    Read the title of “contractions in meetings” and pictured Captain Holt writing in…

  26. Catsaber*

    OP #3 – Just want to say congratulations! I had my second kiddo this past August and your questions/comments are reminding me a lot of my own situation. I hope everything goes well for you!

  27. Kudzuuu*


    The only way this makes sense to me is if the manager has information about the future of the position or the organization that he isn’t free to share. Maybe there are plans to relocate the position or close the local office. I think that’s unlikely, but it could lead a reasonable manager to make hints in this direction.

  28. DCompliance*

    OP #3- Congrats! Drinking water helped me a lot when I had BH contractions. I don’t know if it will help you but sipping from a water cup shouldn’t bring much attention to you in meetings.

    1. OP3*

      Yes, water makes a huge difference. Although then I have to worry about a kid kicking me in the bladder, lol.

  29. Smarty Boots*

    OP #3, can you also talk to the meeting organizer about putting in a break every hour or so? That way you and everyone else will be getting up and moving around at the same time, which may help with some of the BH contractions.

    When I was pregnant, I was attending a weekly women in leadership training program — once a week, 3 hours after dinner. They had no breaks! There were three pregnant women, and several women with other health issues that required us to get up, go to the bathroom, etc. I spoke to the meeting lead, who at first said, well, you can just get up and go out, no one will mind. It hadn’t occurred to her that, you know, we might like to actually hear and participate! and that we might not like everyone noticing how often we had to get up/go out and why. Yeah, we got that changed. Break every hour, and virtually everyone attending the training was happy about it.

    1. OP3*

      Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to do that. The last meeting I attended lasted 4 hours (mandatory professional training course), and we actually had to be in meeting for 50 minutes every hour in order for the licensing board to give this course the proper number of credits. So, the instructor just said that he would skip all the breaks, so that we can get out 40 minutes earlier. Everyone else was on board with it, so I just had to go along.

      1. Jennifer*

        I have skimmed the comments so I apologize if this has been suggested already, is it possible to call into the meeting or attend by web conference? Do you have to physically be there? Can you listen to a recording after the fact so you can pause as needed?

        Congrats on the baby!

      2. pleaset*

        ” so that we can get out 40 minutes earlier”
        I’d vigorously say to that. It’s just stupid to go 4 hours without breaks.

  30. Dr. Pepper*

    #1: It sounds like you’re trying to hedge your bets- and that generally does not end well. I understand wanting to make everyone happy and your anxiety to “be a team player” and not flatly refuse your manager’s request, but this isn’t an issue you can compromise on. Either you stay in City B or you relocate to City A. There is no halfway point. Since staying in City B was a big part of your negotiations and a determining factor over whether you accepted this job or not- stick to your guns. This was agreed upon and now your manager is making moves to go back on that agreement. By not giving a firm answer and pretending to entertain the idea, you’re encouraging him to think that you’ll relocate if he just presses you harder to do so. He might be the type of person who assumes everything short of a firm “no” is a “yes” or at least a definite “maybe”. Not everyone operates on the “maybe means no but I’m trying really hard not to hurt your feelings or look like a jerk” model. So tell him “no”. Use Alison’s scripts, but make sure there’s no hedging and you don’t give in to the impulse to try and make everyone happy.

    1. MommyMD*

      I think the problem is she agreed to travel to A as much as “necessary” which is very ill-defined. Now he wants her there.

  31. Checkert*

    OP2, I will often leave myself a caveat for things even if I’m almost certain they are true (particularly for a piece of hard information such as a data point or exact specific answer). I will say something along the lines of “I’m almost certain it’s X but will get back to you ASAP when I can provide it in writing”. That gives them the foundation to start from if they are looking for a ‘soft’ answer right away as well as the exact ‘firm’ answer later so they can be sure in the answer. But, as mentioned before, keep track and follow up as soon as you can get a good answer (even if that answer is “I’m still not sure and I’ve exhausted my resources”). No one is supposed to know everything at all times.

    1. OP2*

      I like the idea of a soft versus firm answer, and I think the script you gave is great for when my boss asks me questions like, “Can I do ______ in Word/Excel/Something Adobe Related?” Sometimes I have an idea of how it might be done, but I’d much rather check first and find the most efficient way.

  32. Nonsensical*

    As for Op1, don’ t hedge on something you’re not willing to do. If you aren’t going to move, then make it clear you’re staying where you are. If your oss has decided they need someone in City A, then that is a discussion you need to have – and you need to make it clear you’re not moving.

  33. Amber Rose*

    If you say “I don’t know, let me check” then you’re doing your job properly, the way one who is not a computerized database does.
    If you say “I don’t know” and shrug, then you’re incompetent.

    There’s a significant difference in presentation there.

    1. OP2*

      Haha, honestly, when my manager gives me annoyed looks, I have had the urge to say, “I am not a computerized database.”

  34. LawBee*

    LW 2: my memory sucks. If I wasn’t allowed to say “let me check”, I wouldn’t be able to do my job! It’s totally fine. The only time I can think that it wouldn’t be is if the question is so very basic to your job that you SHOULD know it off the top of your head. (Example in the legal field: the statute of limitations in your state for what you’re filing. That should be engrained on your SOUL.)

  35. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    Fergus probably should have phrased his question better (along the lines of Alison’s scripts), but I don’t necessarily think Fergus was out of line. Presumably they had some very open and blunt conversations during the time they were manager and employee. Internal interviews are, generally speaking, less formal and more open than an external interview. This is especially true when participants have worked closely together previously such as Sansa and Fergus had.

    1. CaptainLaura*

      Op#5 here: I tend to agree with you on this. I don’t think it’s out of line to ask the question, particularly because Sansa is a strong candidate in other ways. He just could’ve phrased it differently, I think.

  36. Armchair Analyst*

    For #2 When I was working & pregnant, I just made it clear that I had to sit by the door and frequently change positions to stretch my legs or be more comfortable. My Braxton-Hicks was not *so* bad, but sometimes I’d just need to stand in the back by the wall or door and stretch my legs or bend over and stretch my sides or even my arms – I just needed to MOVE and wanted to do it in a place where I was not in the way for the meeting attendees, the speaker, or ME. Hope this helps.

  37. Agent Diane*

    OP1 ~ it may be your new manager dislikes managing remote team members, so is angling to get you where he physically wants you to be. It might be worth sounding out other remote direct reports of your manager to see if he also does it with them. In the meantime, excel at being a remote direct report, so he gets some reassurance that it can work.

  38. AKchic*

    Letter 3: I have worked during all four of my pregnancies, and with one exception, I worked up until the day of my delivery (my first, I was put on bedrest at 8 months).

    With Braxton Hicks, any visible pain can easily be explained away as “sorry, baby is kicking hard today, please continue and don’t mind me.” Or even blame it on baby stretching or rolling. People really don’t question those things. If you have to excuse yourself, do so. Maybe even ask the facilitator ahead of time for a mid-way break to ensure you get a good chance to move around during the longer meetings.
    I would recommend following Alison’s advice though. Letting the meeting facilitator know is always a good idea, just in case.

    Congrats on the pregnancy, and I wish you well in the coming weeks. The end is coming and soon, the pregnancy will be done and you’ll have a baby (and the ability to lay on your stomach again – I swear that was the first thing I did when I got home).

  39. Jennifer*

    #3 I have run into a similar issue during my period. Long meetings need to have breaks every hour or so. People have bodies that hurt and have functions that make it difficult to sit in a meeting all day with limited breaks. I really don’t want to have to announce to the room, or even the organizer, that I have my period and will need a break every hour or two. Alison’s advice is great. I just wish people would be more understanding when organizing meetings like this.

  40. MommyMD*

    I had a month to go before delivery. I felt a little funny at work but pretty much consistent with past episodes. I left work and decided to drive myself to the hospital just to check and had a baby by myself in less than an hour lol. It happens.

  41. Nancy*

    I don’t know if the OP was exactly quoting the boss on this line, “no pressure at all, but you should start considering moving here.” , but the phrasing here makes me think that there might be a “company” reason (maybe not now, but policy changes coming that the boss is aware of) that they should consider moving? I tend to over think, so I’m probably way off base here.

  42. Barney Stinson*

    AAM, regarding #4: Yes, you might get a bland answer to ‘why is the job vacant’ or ‘why are you leaving the job.’ However, one should always ask because every so often people forget to be careful and blurt out real answers. Or they’re not as careful as they think they are, and real information is given.

    Ask the other questions about turnover, too, but definitely ask that question.

  43. Cori Smelker*

    Regarding the BH contractions. I have had 12 kids and from baby #8 onwards my BH contractions were insane. I would have ones that would last 45 minutes -and I wish I was kidding. My OB recommended that I buy OTC magnesium tablets to help ease the contractions. If you go into pre-term labor and are admitted to the hospital, the most common IV med you are given to stop labor is magnesium. Now the OTC stuff is not nearly as strong as the hospital stuff, but it really does help. I went from being unable to do anything but lie on the couch for 45 minutes begging the baby to stop moving, to being able to work confidently, knowing that when a BH hit, it would be far less severe, and often much shorter than before I took the meds. BTW – all women have BH contractions from about 9 weeks of pregnancy, you just generally don’t feel them until later in the pregnancy. By baby #9 thoughI was feeling them at 13-15 weeks gestation.

  44. CaptainLaura*

    OP#5 here!
    To answer the questions regarding why Fergus would consider hiring Sansa – she really is quite skilled, has deep experience in the specific area Fergus was hiring for, and has been a solid performer in the past. The performance issues were mainly related to missing deadlines and not being engaged in her work, which are understandable (if not excusable) considering her ongoing health concerns.

    Sansa’s commute is not only long, but stressful as well – basically driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic for up to 90 minutes each way. Working at this location long-term was never Sansa’s intention, but due to a lot of factors she’s been here a couple of years longer than she planned. The transit options for this particular route aren’t very well developed and driving is much more time-efficient. The new commute would be 15 minutes on back roads. Fergus is aware of both the time and subsequent health benefits that Sansa would gain by moving to the new location.

    Finally, in the interest of instant gratification, Sansa did end up getting hired for the job, and is working for Fergus in the new location. I’m looking forward to seeing whether this was the right decision or not; so far things seem to be going ok. To be continued…

    1. Former Employee*

      Good for Fergus, too.

      It’s nice that he was willing to take a chance on her attendance/performance improving due to the significant change in her commute.

  45. Avid reader infrequent commenter*

    OP 2 — You should absolutely say you’re not sure/let me check if you don’t know, and I appreciate those who do this (as long as you’re also making an effort to find out or pointing me in the right direction to someone who does know). For nearly 2 years, we dealt with employees not receiving or not being able to use a certain privilege because the front line employees of a separate company who were processing it simply didn’t know how to do it. The problem was, that was never the reason presented. Instead, our employees were constantly being told “NO. You’re not eligible for that. You can’t do that. I’m not doing it for you, your company told you the wrong thing.” (The request was met with vitriol more than once, in the tone of “absolutely not and how dare you even ask.”)

    FINALLY, we discovered that it was an issue of the front line employees running into a technical error and interpreting that as “not eligible” rather than turning to another more experienced employee, their supervisor or manager, or to the 24/7 help line that they’re encouraged to use to solve issues like this. It was absolutely maddening, on all fronts, especially because this benefit is something used only when our employees are in distress, and this benefit is our way of helping them however we can. A solution was finally able to be put into place, but if more people had simply said “Wait, I don’t know how to do this, how can I find out how to solve this?” or even “I’m sorry, the system isn’t allowing me, I don’t know what to do” rather than jumping straight to “NO. You CAN’T have this benefit.” then so many frustrations and headaches could have been avoided.

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