I can’t keep helping friends with their writing, office butter bonanza, and more

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

1. How do I tell friends and family I can’t keep helping with their writing?

I’m an English teacher and over the years many of my friends and family have asked me for feedback on their writing. Now that I have a family, the demands on my time are greater and frankly, I am less interested in helping like this. How do I transition my friends out of this? I would feel weird charging them but I guess I should? I really don’t know how to broach this with people without sounding awkward and weird; I think I am too emotionally invested.

Would you want to do if they were paying? If not, don’t offer that as an option just to decrease the requests because some people may take you up on it! If you just don’t want to do it regardless of pay, it’s totally okay to just explain your schedule doesn’t allow it anymore. Anything like this works, depending on the tone you want with the particular asker:

* “My schedule is so swamped these days that I wouldn’t be able to do it justice.”
* “Ah, I’m sorry. I don’t have enough free time these days to be able to say yes.”
* “I wish I could help! My schedule is crazed right now though. Sorry I can’t look at it!”
* “If I say yes, it will sit for weeks while I feel guilty for not having enough time to look at it, so I’m going to preempt that by doing the right thing and telling you now I can’t.”
* “I’m trying not to say yes to that anymore, since my schedule has gotten so packed.”

If you make it a big thing where you feel terrible and like you’re letting them down, it’s likely to be weird on their side too. If you’re matter-of-fact about it and then change the subject to something else, it’ll go fine with reasonable people. (And if they’re unreasonable, there’s nothing to feel bad about anyway.)

But if you’d do a few of these requests for the right price, you can say: “I’ve gotten so many of these requests from family and friends, and my schedule is so busy now, that I’ve actually started charging a fee for it. I totally understand if that’s not what you’re interested in, but if you are, the fee people are paying is $X.” (I like “the fee people are paying” rather than “the fee I’m charging,” because it emphasizes that other people find this worth money, which makes it harder for them to complain they shouldn’t have to pay.)

2. Drug testing for nicotine

My husband has been trying to quit smoking, and he is in the process of applying for jobs. As part of the application process, they’re asking for drug screening, not only for illegal drugs but also for nicotine. In some cases (bank teller positions), it was made clear ahead of time that they were testing for nicotine and that its presence would take him out of the running; in other cases, it was a total surprise, after he had done the test, that they were even testing for that.

I understand wanting to have a nonsmoking work environment, but even using the patches, he was disqualified. These are not jobs in the healthcare field — we’re talking bank teller, security guard, guest attendant. It seems so invasive and so illogical that I have to ask, where is this coming from? What even is the logic, that smokers are not to be trusted to hold down a job? Is anyone else experiencing this? And he’s working hard on quitting, but in the meantime, what recourse do we have, to stop burning through our savings?

Yep, some employers are doing this. You mostly see it in the health care field, but where it’s popping up in other places, it’s driven by insurance costs. It’s cheaper for employers to insure non-smokers. (There are sometimes secondary concerns too, like client complaints about employees who smell like smoke … but mostly this is about health care costs.)

Some states do have laws that prohibit employers from discriminating against smokers. To see if you’re in one of those states, check the list here. But if you’re not, there’s not much recourse on this. He could certainly try explaining that he’s not smoking but instead is using nicotine patches — but my hunch is employers are likely to be pretty rigid about the policy (both because people using patches often go back to cigarettes, and because often insurance discounts are based on them having an across-the-board rule).

3. Tubs of butter are taking up all the room in our tiny fridge

I had no idea this would be the hill I wanted to die on, but here we are. In our office, on our floor we have a kitchen area with a small dorm-sized fridge. There are 13 of us in our little area although with part-time and working from home, six to 10 is more normal most days.

The bottom of the fridge is taken up by the office milk leaving two rather small shelves. Often people pop out at lunch and get some shopping and fill the fridge after lunch but at that point everyone has taken out their lunch and its mostly ok, although sometimes very difficult to shut.

The problem is the six full sizes tubs of margarine/butter. Seriously. Of 13 people, there are six of these. Sometimes five, but usually six. I first brought this up jokingly that this was ridiculous and a couple people defensively said they were sharing. This is a tiny fridge. With their six tubs and if I am not first in, I cannot put my lunch in the fridge. I have started bringing a cold bag or something that doesn’t need refrigeration. I mentioned that each tub is bigger than 1/13th of their share of the fridge and I just get “but I have toast in the morning.”

Sigh. I just think it’s so selfish and I’ve been as up front about it as I can think and people just do not see that a full sized tub is too big for a teeny shared fridge. I’m annoyed but not insane, this isn’t a management thing, but I would like to understand why their big tubs of margarine trump my lunch. You may just advise I take up meditation or up the martial arts training to channel my aggression but maybe you or the readers have a brilliant suggestion here to transform coworkers into sensitive space sharers? I really really like a cold diet coke.

Convince your office to buy a full-sized fridge (a dorm fridge for 13 people is way too small). Failing that, you could propose a butter club, where all the butter eaters chip in for a single tub of butter to share. (Or perhaps a butter club and a margarine club.)

But perhaps the best solution of all — butter keepers! They don’t go in in the refrigerator at all.

4. My boyfriend and I are interviewing for the same job

My boyfriend and I recently applied for the same marketing position. We come from a similar professional background, so it makes sense that every once in a while we may be interested in the same company. To our surprise, we both passed the first round of interviews and have been selected for the next round. We never imagined we would both get this far! Is it unethical for both of us to be in consideration? Should one of us drop out?

We are both extremely happy for each other and find the situation to be amusing. We love each other and both have many great career opportunities, so at this point either one of us getting this job would be an exciting moment as a couple.

The concern is less the impact on our relationship if one of us gets it over the other, and rather if it would look unprofessional or unethical for the hired party if the company found out that the other candidate was a romantic partner? Are we already in too deep here? Should couples avoid competing professionally (even if we are okay with it in our own relationship)?

It’s not unethical, but the company might feel a little odd if they find out later and realize you never said anything. It’s hard to articulate exactly why. A little of it is the worry that it could give one of you an unfair advantage or create an information imbalance they weren’t expecting. (Frankly, I don’t think that gives you a huge advantage; interviews aren’t like tests where knowing the questions would mean you could look up the answers ahead of time. But I could see someone feeling uneasy if they found out later that they hadn’t known.) More of it, though, is that some employers will feel it’s an odd thing not to mention.

And they might be more cognizant of what they to each of you if they know it may get back to the other. For example, I might tell a candidate they’re our front runner, but I wouldn’t say that if I knew their partner was still in the process with us.

I don’t think you have an obligation to disclose it, but I do think it’s smart to disclose it to avoid that potential weirdness. One of you could simply say, “By the way, I want to mention that my partner, Tangerina Stewpot, is also applying for this position. It’s not a problem for either of us, but I wanted to mention it.” That’ll also make it less awkward if one of you gets hired and the other one shows up a few months later as their date to the office Memorial Day barbecue or whatever.

5. Am I sabotaging my future career by volunteering too much?

I recently moved to a new (very small) city for my partner’s work. It’s a great place to live and we have friends here, so it has actually been a good transition. My problem is that I didn’t have a job lined up when we moved, and now that we’re here, I’m struggling to find one in my field. I have a long gap in employment – last year I was finishing my grad degree and not working at all. It’s been a while since I was actively job seeking, and I’m a bit intimidated, but trying my best.

Before we moved, I made a list of organizations in my new city that I’d love to work for. When I arrived, I leaned on my local network and met someone from each of those organizations for coffee. They were all friendly and open, but none of them are hiring (they’re local nonprofits with small budgets, and all of them led me to believe that they wouldn’t be hiring anytime soon).

I decided to volunteer for three of them — one weekly, and two on an as-needed basis. My reasoning was: get to know the people I want to work with, learn more about my field here, and just give back to my new community in a way I care about. It’s been rewarding, but I sometimes worry that I’m giving away free labor and there will never be a reason for any of these places to hire me.

At what point is volunteering no longer a good idea? The volunteer work I do is mostly below my skills/education level, but some of it involves more extensive knowledge/experience and I worry that I shouldn’t be doing this for free. On the other hand, volunteering is a good thing to do, and maybe this is my only way to be involved in my field here for the foreseeable future. Maybe I should be content just volunteering at these organizations, and start looking for paid work outside of my (fairly niche) field. I’ve been job searching continually, but the pickings are slim around here.

If it helps, I’m not in financial difficulty – no kids, low rent, and my partner makes good money, so I’m not desperate for a salary yet. But – I really want to work! I’ve been here three months and I’m ready for gainful employment. What do you think I should do? Keep volunteering or let them know I can’t continue for free?

Well, on one hand you’re saying that your reasons for volunteering are to “get to know the people I want to work with, learn more about my field here, and just give back to my new community in a way I care about.” But it also sounds like you’re hoping one of these organizations will hire you. That can be a really risky approach, because there’s no guarantee it will happen — and especially not with small organizations with limited budgets and limited staff. If they don’t currently have a paid employee who doing the type of work you’re doing, chances are relatively low that they’’ll create a full-time paid role for it. Not impossible, but low — unless they’ve specifically told you it’s a top item on their priority list once their budget allows it. That doesn’t mean they don’t value the work, just that there are usually going to be a bunch of higher priorities.

Because of that, if you tell them you can’t continue for free, the most likely outcome is that they’ll  thank you for the work you’ve done and wish you well. So you’ve got to decide if you want to do the work for other reasons or not. If you’re going to feel resentful or like you wasted your time if they never hire you, definitely stop volunteering since there’s a good chance that will never happen. But if you like the work you’re doing and won’t be upset if it doesn’t lead to anything more, keep doing it … just look at it as a way to expand your network and do good, rather than as a direct line to paying work.

{ 671 comments… read them below }

  1. Maya Elena*

    I don’t think it’s anyone’s business to know whether you do or don’t know the other candidates. Would you disclose if the other candidate were your cousin, friend, roommate – i.e., other relationships where you get an “unfair advantage”? If you were both hired for some reason (unlikely), sure. But I think telling them will just make it seem weird for all involved.

    1. AnnaB*

      Hiring manager here. I just had 2 candidates give a headsup about a similar situation recently. I appreciated it. As Alison said, it would have seemed bizarre if it come out later and neither had said anything and I’d wonder why they hadn’t.

      1. Quake Johnson*

        Genuine Question: Why would you care?

        Not intending to be snarky at all, but if it were me and this came out later I’d just go “huh, that’s funny,” and move on with my day. I genuinely don’t get why this would color your feelings about the candidates or the process at all.

      2. Wing Leader*

        I don’t really get it, either. It doesn’t seem like it would matter to me. I can totally understand if there were multiple positions and they may end up working together, but since there’s only one I don’t see it as a big deal. (Unless, OP, you both get your interview on the same day and you show up together and give each other good luck smoochies in the lobby. That would be, uh, weird. But as long as you keep it totally professional, I don’t see any issue).

        1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

          I would worry that if I disclosed it they wouldn’t hire either of us because they would think it would cause problems between us to hire one and not the other.

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            Same. I wouldn’t tell them. If the partner showed up at a work event later it’d just be an amusing anecdote that surprise! both people applied!

      3. Public Sector Manager*

        As a lawyer in the public sector, I’d find it weird.

        With public employment and civil service rules, you generally have to ask everyone the same questions. They don’t have to be identical questions, but you have to cover generally the same information with each applicant. It’s done to prevent discrimination in hiring for public employment. Also, sometimes we have a short writing test (no more than 20 minutes) based on a set of facts that raise particular legal issues where knowledge of the questions will give someone an advantage.

        If whoever goes first does better, then no red flags are raised because the second candidate obviously didn’t benefit by potentially having insider information. But if the second one does better, is it because they were that awesome or is it because of knowledge of the questions?

        It may not matter in all industries, but in some industries, it definitely does matter and the OP may lose out on jobs because of a failure to disclose.

    2. Beth*

      The thing is, I think it’s got potential to be weird either way? It’s weird to mention it. But it would also be weird to show up to your partner’s office holiday party six months down the line and be like “Hi hiring manager who didn’t hire me, I’m actually dating the person you did hire, so nice to see you again!” Neither is really wrong, but both are kind of awkward and definitely unusual and therefore are likely to get read as a little bit weird.

      I think OP could go either way on disclosing it–it’s not a scenario where it’s an ethical obligation, so it’s up to them which potential weirdness they’d rather avoid.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Things that are not really wrong, but kind of awkward and unusual, are exactly the sorts of things that it’s helpful to explain to other people. Not that you legally or morally have to, but in the spirit of apes managing to cooperate in large groups.

      2. Kris*

        I experienced this when I was hiring for a one-year legal fellowship position. I interviewed several candidates who were recent graduates from a local law school. We selected one candidate, and a few weeks after he began work the topic of his girlfriend came up in casual lunch conversation. At that point he volunteered that his girlfriend had been one of the other candidates we interviewed. It was not a weird or awkward conversation.

        1. JessaBee*

          Which I think is exactly how to handle it. It only matters IF you hire one of them, at which point you handle it exactly as Kris’s fellow did by casually mentioning it in a conversation. Until that point it doesn’t matter and, I would argue, raises a possibility of unintentional bias and/or unfairly comparing the two in the relationship to each other but not other candidates.

          Tl;dr: I wouldn’t mention it. And as a hiring manger, throw me firmly in the I don’t want/need to know. Especially if we’re only hiring for one position.

      3. TootsNYC*

        There’s also the idea of telling them after you’ve accepted, which avoids the whole “Hi, Hiring Manager Who Didn’t Hire Me” problem.

        There’s also the idea of saying, “I do know one of your other candidates.” That opens the door to them asking for the name, but I think you could say, “I’d really rather not say so as not to influence your decisions about them. I just felt you should know, in case you might be concerned about us comparing notes.”

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I have two candidates right now who are coworkers and flagged for us that they each know the other is applying because they didn’t want us to worry about there being any potentially weird dynamics. It didn’t seem weird that they told us — it seemed like they knew how to navigate a slightly unusual situation with finesse.

      I’ve also had applicants in the past who were married and made sure that I knew, and it wasn’t weird. I mean, it was a little weird to know we had spouses going through our process at the same time, but it wasn’t at all weird that they disclosed it. I appreciated knowing.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Okay, for married couples, maybe. For dating or other types of relationships…if they’re going for the same position, why? For what reason is it the employer’s right to know? Any weirdness felt by the employer is the employer’s problem. I’m not responsible for the employer’s emotions.

        1. Emily S*

          Nobody is saying it’s their “right to know.” Nor that you have to be responsible for the employer’s emotions. But you are affected by their emotions, so it benefits you to smooth over any potentially awkward situations preemptively. You are free to disregard that suggestion and it will probably be fine aside from a potentially awkward thing if it comes up later.

          Some people don’t mind awkward situations. But a lot of people actually place a lot of value on harmonious relationships and they want to smooth over/avoid any potentially awkward situations if they can, within reason. Often an awkward moment or relationship is the result of someone being surprised by information that others had all along, and then feeling vaguely embarrassed about not knowing or having been kept in the dark, wondering if they did or said something embarrassing during the time they were operating with faulty assumptions, wondering if there was a reason they weren’t trusted with the information. So if you’re a person who would rather avoid creating a situation where your maybe future boss is going to feel embarrassed and insecure, because you value harmonious relationships, then you’re not thinking of it in terms of “do they have a right to know?” It’s more, “would it cost me anything to tell them?”

          1. Database Developer Dude*

            What would it *gain* to tell? There’s a greater chance of the employer just not hiring either of them because they’re thinking about potential drama.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That has never once been the reaction of anyone I’ve seen in this situation. It’s really not some huge uncomfortable thing for employers to hear. They appreciate hearing it and move on.

              1. Anna*

                But why? Nobody seems to be really addressing why they appreciate hearing/knowing about it, just that is has been appreciated, etc.

                1. Justin*

                  There’s an implication here that they just want to know every possible bit of information that they can, useful or not. It feels very invasive to me.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Anna: For the reasons I wrote in the original post.

                  Justin: I think I have a pretty transparent track record of here of being on candidates’ side and not excusing abuses of power, and I still appreciate knowing — again, for the reasons in the post, not because I want to know every possible bit of information I can (I don’t).

                3. Close Bracket*

                  @AskAManager

                  You do give concrete reasons that an employer might want to know, but those reasons really apply to any two candidates who know each other. Are you saying you always want to know when two candidates know each other?

                  You also give the reason that it would just seem a little odd not to disclose. Why? Why would it seem odd? If they are introduced to you later at the company picnic and you feel awkward, why? Why can’t you just say, “Oh Addison, I remember you from when we interviewed to fill Sam’s position. How nice to see you again.” It doesn’t have to be odd or awkward, and if it is, isn’t that a you problem?

                4. Justin*

                  I know that you don’t excuse abuses of power, and you’re very good at navigating different situations with personal info or potential awkwardness, but many managers are not as good at that, and sometimes other people are involved in the interview process who aren’t managers or even particularly seasoned. They might react differently to that kind of information. People aren’t always rational.

                  “A little of it is the worry that it could give one of you an unfair advantage or create an information imbalance they weren’t expecting.”

                  I think that could cross their minds if I *did* mention up front that my spouse/partner is also interviewing for the job. When I’m interviewing, the last thing I want to do is introduce another factor that they have to worry about. They’re already assessing my experience, professionalism, personality, skills, and demeanor, I don’t want them to also try to figure out if I’m getting interview questions ahead of time or anything like that. And not only would that be a worry for me, it’d be a worry for my partner, and could affect both of our chances at getting the job. It’s just a weird thing to have to navigate around.

                  “And they might be more cognizant of what they say to each of you if they know it may get back to the other. For example, I might tell a candidate they’re our front runner, but I wouldn’t say that if I knew their partner was still in the process with us.”

                  Again, it seems like another factor to try to work around on both sides that just complicates things more than is necessary. And I think that could alter the interviewing process, if they know that two of the candidates are romantically involved.

            2. Emily K*

              I outlined above what is to be gained. If that person becomes your boss, and later is surprised to learn, they may react negatively to feeling like they were “kept in the dark,”and might start worrying about whether they said anything negative about your partner to you during the time they didn’t know you were connected, or start to have a vague paranoia of “what else isn’t she telling me?”all of which it could create awkwardness in your relationship with your boss, which some people–clearly not everyone–would see value in avoiding.

              Also worth pointing out that not everyone approaches a situation from the perspective of wanting to disclose as little as possible and needing there to be a high ROI on disclosure for it to be worthwhile. There’s a spectrum there, ranging from the coworker who gives you TMI about their medical problems/love life without ever considering that they might want to keep it private it, up to the guy whose coworkers are stunned to realize is even married at all when they meet his wife after five years of having no idea she existed. For a lot of people, mentioning their connection to another candidate would be a fairly trivial thing they wouldn’t spend a lot of time weighing whether or not to disclose and whether the benefits overcome any desire not to share.

              1. MCMonkeyBean*

                Why would they say something negative about other candidates to a new hire? That seems like it would be pretty unprofessional regardless of any relationships between candidates.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  “You have amazing skills that are really hard to find! No one else we talked to even came close to being the right fit, but you have everything we were hoping for.”

                  Etc.

                2. PB*

                  I have a real life example. A friend and I competed for a job once, without disclosing that we knew each other. I was hired. My manager told me over and over again how I was “the best applicant by far!” and how “it wasn’t even a discussion” because “we knew we wanted you!!!” It’s not that she was saying something negative about the other candidates, per se, but likely wouldn’t have put it that way had she known that another candidate was a friend.

              2. Close Bracket*

                > might start worrying about whether they said anything negative about your partner to you

                Well, if a manager is discussing candidates with each other, that’s the reason for the awkwardness, not any connection between two candidates.

                > For a lot of people, mentioning their connection to another candidate would be a fairly trivial thing they wouldn’t spend a lot of time weighing whether or not to disclose and whether the benefits overcome any desire not to share.

                And for a lot of those, it’s trivial enough not to bring up.

            1. Justin*

              But why is it a smart idea? What does the applicant have to gain? What do they have to lose if they don’t disclose their relationship with another applicant? As an applicant, I would feel weird mentioning it.

        2. Matilda Jefferies*

          I just want to flag that “boyfriend” doesn’t necessarily mean “dating,” or a less committed relationship than “married.” My boyfriend and I have been together for six years – we’re in our late forties, raising kids together, sharing expenses, and the whole deal. As far as we’re concerned, the only difference between us and a “married” couple is that we haven’t had a wedding.

          I know that’s not quite the point of what you’re saying, but I wanted to caution against making different evaluations of a relationship based on the words “boyfriend” vs “husband” vs “partner” or whatever. In the OP’s case, I think we should assume it’s something more than a dating relationship, otherwise s/he wouldn’t likely be so concerned about how it looks to employers.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I assumed it meant serious partners. (Actually, in my head I think I converted it to married.) If they’re casually dating, I understand why people are disagreeing.

            1. Matilda Jefferies*

              I actually meant to reply to Database Developer Dude, and also MM55 below. And I should also say that casually dating is definitely a different thing from being married! Just that the word “boyfriend” doesn’t necessarily indicate whether they’re on one end of the spectrum vs the other.

              1. Database Developer Dude*

                I didn’t mean, Matilda Jefferies, to imply that ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ can’t be as serious as married couples.. and in fact I did get annoyed at one aunt, who, when my cousin got married, said “No +1 without the ring/piece of paper”. All I was saying was that being married to another applicant MIGHT create a perception there, if they didn’t mention it, and both got hired…that’s all.

            2. TechWorker*

              That assumption seems completely reasonable from the post – they’ve been together long enough to have had multiple career opportunities where they considered applying to the same thing, and if one of them got the job it would be good for them ‘as a couple’ – that doesn’t sound like casual dating to me.

            3. JenRN*

              More importantly if his Valentine’s Day cars doesn’t address her as “Tangerina Stewpot” then they really have bigger issues.

      2. MM55*

        I have not heard anyone voice any concern that both of these candidates might be treated unfairly. I think that could be a potential outcome. And they are dating, so the relationship might not last. This seems far too much like prying into an area that has no meaning. I am open to hearing something to have me believe otherwise.

    4. the chancellor*

      are the commenters saying not to disclose it people in charge of hiring? it would help to know for this one.

      1. snowglobe*

        I’m a hiring manager, and I don’t think it’s necessary to disclose. I’d think it was weird if someone brought it up, like, why would they think I would need to know about that? I guess some managers might look at it differently, but I really would not be worried about anyone sharing the questions we ask, and if I hired one person and found out later they were married to another candidate, I’d just think that’s interesting and move on.

      2. Avis*

        I don’t think it’s necessary but I think I’d like to know. Not sure I would do anything differently, but I would certainly try to be considerate of that in terms of letting people know the results of the interview process.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Maybe you should set your bar to letting people know results as though they will discuss it amongst themselves.

      3. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I’m in corporate staffing, and I can’t think of a defensible reason why I would need to know that two candidates vying for the same role happen to be in a relationship/share a home/are related. If I’m only going to hire one of them, I wouldn’t need to worry about potential relationship woes or such at work.

        I think employers do need to consider possible breaches of policy – a relative reporting to a close relative, or a spouse reporting to their spouse at work – but the OP’s situation doesn’t seem to rise to this level.

        If I’m missing something, I’d love to hear about it!

    5. Myrin*

      “Would you disclose if the other candidate were your cousin, friend, roommate”
      I think so, yes – I’d feel strange not mentioning it.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think these are good examples. It’s a connection that isn’t wrong or unethical in any way, but it’s there and if someone stumbles over it at some point, it’s kind of weird and awkward to realize the connection.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Why? What makes it weird or awkward? So what? This is too much of an employer abusing their power imbalance to dip into the private lives of candidates.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            As a humans-relating-to-humans thing, learning about an unsuspected connection between two people you know can land as normal or awkward, depending on whether it feels like the natural time to mention the connection. Which varies according to the type and closeness of the relationships.

            This is a “how humans relate to each other in combinations of varying degrees of closeness” thing. I don’t know how realizing that I have met your roommate at some point would constitute an abuse of power on either of our parts.

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              No, that’s not the abuse of power. Holding it against me because you found out later, and I had not disclosed it, THAT is the abuse of power.

            2. AvonLady Barksdale*

              I’m with you. It’s not a “why does it matter” question, it’s a, “this is simply a thing” statement that may mitigate some awkwardness down the road. For what it’s worth, I would never expect that anyone would do anything with that information other than say, “Oh, ok, cool,” and we all move forward. But it would be kind of weird to show up to an event with a former candidate. Not earth-shattering, end-of-world weird, just socially awkwardly weird.

              1. Database Developer Dude*

                And again, Not. The. Prospective. Employee’s. Problem. Any prospective employer for whom this would be an issue needs to Grow Up ™.

                1. AvonLady Barksdale*

                  It’s not anyone’s “issue”, that’s what we’re saying. Just something that, if addressed, eases potential awkwardness. Seriously, it’s not a giant deal.

                2. VelociraptorAttack*

                  I am so confused as to why you keep digging in on this. Multiple people have told you that it’s not an issue, no one has a problem. In their opinion, it’s something they appreciate hearing, the end, no big deal.

          2. Joielle*

            What? This isn’t about an employer demanding information about a candidate’s private life, this is about whether it’s smart for the candidate to voluntarily disclose some minor personal information in the spirit of reducing future awkwardness. If you were in this position and didn’t want to disclose the info, then don’t! It’s not imperative either way.

            Nobody’s revealing deep, dark secrets here, it’s just that there’s a reasonable chance it’ll come up later on (like Alison says, if one of you gets hired, your coworkers may meet your partner and realize they’ve met before) and it doesn’t hurt to be like “hey, FYI – my partner, John Smith, is also in the running for this position and you’re interviewing him on Tuesday. No awkwardness on our end, just wanted you to know in case it happens to come up!”

            Worst case scenario, the interviewer doesn’t care and you both move on. Best case scenario, you head off a situation where it does come up and the interviewer thinks it’s odd or you were trying to hide it. To me, it would be worth it. To you, maybe not. But that’s the consideration here, not some nefarious plot to wield a power imbalance to learn personal information.

            1. Anna*

              Awkward for whom? So what if they met before? It’s not like they had a deep meaningful connection during an interview and now they’ll be showing up at company parties and there will be so much side-eye.

            2. ket*

              Worst case scenario, they unconsciously view one of the candidates differently because of the relationship status and don’t give them a fair shake. Or they end up talking in the candidate evaluation about the relationship rather than the candidates. “Oh, did you hear Susan say that she and Rasheed are dating? Why didn’t Rasheed say so? Do you think they’re serious? Do you think they’re going to have kids soon? Yeah, she seems like the motherly type, I don’t know… those would be cute kids, but maternity would be a real pain to cover… oh right it’s not legal to think about that, didn’t mean to get into it, anyhow — if we give Rasheed the job, what do you think Susan will do? Do you think RivalCorp would hire her? Well, that would be awkward! don’t really want that! Hey, do you think there’s any chance they’d talk about work over dinner and we’d have a problem? Oh, never thought of that — maybe we should look at Doris, she’s dating a playwright…”

      2. Blunt Bunny*

        Me and my 2 other roommates were invited for interview but that was obvious we were roommates as we had the same address on our CV. They brought it up and acknowledged that my roommate is interviewing after this or we just had your roommate and I said yes we all live together. This was for an internship and we applied through university so it was more likely we would know the other candidates we all got the job and we went to work together each day it was good. So with married couples I think it would be obvious from last names and address it’s not really a secret, I guess they may be wondering why you both are applying for jobs at the same time like have you just moved to the city or graduated.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          My husband and I have different last names. We showed up at our Peace Corps assignment and they were surprised that two of the volunteers (in the same specialty, so out of about 5 of us) were married–even though our address, emergency contacts, and so on were the same.

    6. Traffic_Spiral*

      How’s about you don’t tell, but if one of you gets the job, just don’t say anything about the S.O., then when it finally comes up months later, make up a story about having a meet-cute in a coffeeshop round the corner from the office when you were both applying?

    7. Sam.*

      To be honest, I think I’d find it odd if someone went out of their way to tell us about their connection to another candidate. Granted, I’ve never been a hiring manager, but I’ve been highly involved in a fair amount of hiring at this point and I’m pretty confident my internal response to this would be, “…ok? So?” The problem is that the employer may find it weird either way, and it’d be hard to guess which direction they’d lean. I think it’s probably best to go with whatever makes you most comfortable.

      1. OhNo*

        Having been on hiring committees (though never a hiring manager), I feel the same way, If someone mentioned that they knew another candidate, my response would just be “…Okay, and what do you want me to do with that information?”

        The only reason I can think of that hiring manager might legitimately want to know is if they wanted to hire one one of the related candidates, and needed to ensure they wouldn’t be a jerk to the other and possibly soil the candidate’s opinion of the company. But if you treat all your candidates well, like you should anyway, getting that kind of head’s up seems like it would just be superfluous.

      2. Emily K*

        As someone who has hired for a few roles, I might be more careful about not saying something blunt like when they accept the offer like, “I’m so glad we finally found you, this position has been vacant and reposted three times over the past 1.5 years because all the other candidates were just terrible!” if I knew that one of the other candidates was connected to the person I was talking to.

        There’s also the point Alison made about how you might normally tell someone they’re the front-runner, but not want to if they might tell someone else who is still under consideration.

        This is minor stuff – petits faux pas – not the end of the world if it happens either way, and if people want to be ultra-private about their personal life I don’t hold it against them – I err on the side of privacy myself although not to this extent – but there’s definitely a distinctly uncomfortable feeling associated with realizing that you were lacking information that could have helped you navigate a social situation more gracefully and being worried that you might have done something graceless as a result of the missing information. I would prefer not to be hit with that feeling and I would prefer not to hit my boss with that feeling, because I think embarrassment and insecurity are at the root of a lot of workplace conflicts (because people: flawed). I suppose here my tendency to err on the side of avoiding conflict trumps my tendency to err on the side of being private. Just personal preferences.

        1. Anna*

          So…tell them so they don’t say something unprofessional they shouldn’t have said in the first place?

          Still not convinced. I think there are enough dangers in revealing it (they don’t actually care and you’ve made it awkward by bringing it up, introducing yet another implicit bias opportunity into the process) that it’s worth not mentioning it.

          1. Emily K*

            I wouldn’t consider telling someone they’re the current frontrunner, or telling a new employee that the other candidates for her role were terrible candidates, to be unprofessional.

            1. Justin*

              Badmouthing other candidates isn’t any better of an idea than an applicant badmouthing other places they’ve interviewed at.

        2. Close Bracket*

          > “I’m so glad we finally found you, this position has been vacant and reposted three times over the past 1.5 years because all the other candidates were just terrible!” if I knew that one of the other candidates was connected to the person I was talking to.

          You shouldn’t say something like that EVER.

        3. Justin*

          I don’t know why you would say something like that to someone you just extended an employment offer to. I’ve never had a hiring manager say anything like that to me before. Personally I’d be a little spooked by that, it comes off as unprofessional and makes me wonder why they weren’t getting good candidates. Did I miss a red flag, does this place have a bad reputation, do they scare away good employees, etc.

    8. MLB*

      I can understand wanting to disclose it, but I would also worry that putting that in their head would make them think twice about hiring either one of us, for fear of causing tension in the relationship if one of us were to get hired, whether they tell me they’re ok with it or not.

      1. Elizabeth Proctor*

        ^^ Agree. I know they shouldn’t, but people do lots of things they shouldn’t. I wouldn’t disclose.

      2. Persephone Mulberry*

        Yup, this. I would rather deal with the potential, momentary social awkward of my date to the office picnic being recognized as a former interviewee for my job, than the take the chance that the hiring team decides that a couple vying for the same job is Too Much Drama.

        1. TootsNYC*

          especially because you can head off that awkwardness by telling people about your relationship after you’ve started at the job.

          1. Justin*

            Yeah this is way better. “Hey you know what’s funny, my spouse/partner also interviewed for the job! Yeah, yeah, they’re great, anyways, about the upcoming _____ project that I’ll be starting on this month….”

      3. Rumbakalao*

        Agreed. There are several different ways that could play out- many of which are negative for the applicant and only one of which is really only vaguely negative for the employer. It seems like there’s enough dissent on this particular advice that I feel better about trusting my gut reaction of thinking disclosing really isn’t necessary.

        The only thing I’d add is that the OP and her partner need to be certain that they’re both actually okay with one getting the job over the other. This isn’t to say I don’t believe them, but they say so now and I’ve seen things get unexpectedly tense with friends and family members competing for the same job/promotion/award/etc. There’s a plethora of letters on this site alone about this, so make sure you’re communicating as the process (hopefully) moves forward!

      4. Bostonian*

        The other potential subconscious downside is now they think of you as “the one who’s in a relationship with Jon” rather than “the one who interviewed well and has the experience we want”.

      5. My Cabbages!!*

        This is where I fall as well. If it comes down to me and someone else, I wouldn’t want “well, if we hire Cabbages it might cause an argument and she’d be distracted, so let’s go with the other one.”

      6. Jasnah*

        This is my concern. Once I was asked to help with hiring for a number of positions where successful applicants would relocate overseas. We got two candidates who were in a relationship. We were torn whether to pick one or both or neither: what if we just picked one, would that person accept or choose not to relocate without their S.O.? Would they try to have a trailing spouse, whose visa and relocation we couldn’t cover since they weren’t married? If we accepted both, what if they were assigned to stations far from each other? Would they want to live together?

        Usually these are not concerns for a company, and I wish the process had allowed us to discuss the issue with them more transparently. In the end neither made the cut. I don’t like that we didn’t consider them wholly on individuals, and their relationship status played a larger role in the decision than it should have–I’m not proud of this and would do it differently today. But this is why I would be very nervous about disclosing, especially as a woman, because in my country there is a lot of discrimination against married working women. I think the risk is lower for the average company in America, but my risk-reward calculations would go differently.

    9. MCMonkeyBean*

      I would be worried that if I told them, it would run the risk that, even if we said it wouldn’t, some subconscious part of their brain would believe that choosing one of us over the other would cause issues for our relationship. And then if their top two candidates are one half of a couple and another separate person and both candidates seem pretty much equal… they might lean toward the one without potential drama.

      1. Justin*

        Yes, in the interview stage, any potential weirdness/awkwardness/etc. can cost you an offer, even if it’s unreasonable or trivial, but that’s just how it is. And in this case, it could cost both of you an offer! After you’re hired….I mean what’s the big deal? They liked you, they chose you, they’re excited to have you on board, that’s a good time to tell them.

    10. Gumby*

      I once interviewed half of a dating couple in this situation. They told us as soon as we called to arrange the second interview (“hey, you just called to arrange an interview with my girlfriend – can we do them near the same time so we can carpool?”). It was absolutely not a problem for us as the employer.

      What *was* a problem is that they came in to the interview clearly high. And this was years ago so it was illegal. Most frustrating interview of my life – the answers were only tangentially related to the questions I asked. First time I had encountered someone who was high too. (I was maybe a bit sheltered? I didn’t do drugs and I hung out with like-minded friends so…) But at least the person who interviewed the other half of the couple recognized it and we cut the process short rather than wasting another 2 hours on each of them. And we hadn’t told them beforehand that the first round interviews would be a series of half-hour peer interviews so they were none the wiser.

  2. Chelle*

    #3 – I too love a cold diet Coke, so I bought a tiny desk fridge ($35 on Amazon). It fits about six diet Cokes, and sometimes I have rearranged it carefully to fit a lunch item or two. It has the added benefit of no one being able to steal from my stash!

    1. SamIAm*

      Dorm fridges are all over craigslist at the end of semester near colleges and universities. Maybe another one for your cubicle, or even just another general one would help.

      1. Snark*

        And a full-size kitchen fridge can be had all day long on Craigslist for $100-150, if they want to go that route.

    2. Ruth (UK)*

      This would never be allowed anywhere I’ve worked in the UK. Electrical things that are plugged in are normally required to be company approved (and PAT tested). I can’t see people being allowed their own fridge except for medical reasons (eg. Insulin for diabetes). (On a semi related note both the uni I attended and the one I work at now does not allow students to have mini fridges in students dorms except for medical reasons. The shared kitchen one already provided is it).

      Ps. Plugging I for charging mobile phones… Uhh so my last company officially did not allow you do to this but overlooked it in practice. My current one doesn’t seem to address it and people do charge their phones at work. Someone did recently get an electric kettle confiscated from their office in a health and safety check though…

      1. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

        That’s unusual – in all my workplaces items people bring in just get PAT tested and approved. They get a little sticker! I can see someone being allowed a fridge as long as it wasn’t overloading the electrics.

        Some things that might be more of a fire risk (toasters, heaters, kettles) are definitely checked and might be disallowed. But mobile phone charges are 100% ok. I’d be shocked if anyone stopped me plugging in a phone.

        1. Flash Bristow*

          Also, when my dad needed a fan in hospital, even though it was brand new in box, it has to be pat tested… Which was going to take weeks for the hosp to get round to it and he was burning up right now. (The ward’s own fans had been borrowed by another ward which then tested positive norovirus so couldn’t be moved back.)

          …so I just bought a roll of stickers. You can do your own pat test you know ;) just check it looks to work safely, sticker, initial and date.

          Ahem. Well it solved the issue. And at my dad’s funeral we took a collection for fans for his ward.

              1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

                PAT testing is used by Ireland, UK, New Zealand, and Australia.

                Sounds like us Americans need to check our privilege re: hospital HVAC.

                1. Michaela Westen*

                  I know, right? It’s not just hospitals. I read an article about how it started as showing off money, when AC first came in – a business that could make you cold in the summer was rich!
                  We’re over it. Turn down the damn AC!!!
                  It wastes money and energy and makes employees and customers uncomfortable. Lose-lose-lose.

                2. Burned Out Supervisor*

                  Hospitals are normally colder and less humidified to inhibit bacterial/viral growth. If someone is constantly hot while they are admitted, it’s probably a part of the reason they’re in the hospital.

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              When I was in the hospital, not only did I need them to bring in a fan, they had to send in maintenance to lower the thermostat in my room, as I simply could not stop sweating.

        2. media monkey*

          i have 2 mobile phones charging on the desk in front of me at the moment. they are plugged into USB charging points so can’t think why else they would be there if not for charging devices. i can see the point of toasters etc (everywhere i have worked, toasters seem to set off fire alarms if the alarms aren’t calibrated for them!) but phone chargers seem pretty innocuous!

          1. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

            IT would lose their shiznit if we plugged phones into our USBs. It’s a security issue (healthcare). They were supposed to disable the USB on computers unless you had special permissions to use it, but I don’t know if they did.

            1. pentamom*

              I think media monkey is talking about USB charging points connected to the building electrical system, not USBs on computers. I can’t see any security issue with that.

            2. BananaPants*

              For security reasons some employees in our company have USB ports for charging only; data transfer is shut off on those ports.

          2. blackcat*

            Due to a failing battery, I have seen exactly one phone burst into flames while plugged into a wall charging. It was far more… dramatic than the toaster fires I have witnessed. But also far more rare.

            1. Observer*

              Well, those fires don’t only happen while the phone is plugged in.

              One of the reasons why many airlines want certain electronics in your carry-on luggage rather than checked is worry about this. If a phone catches fire in the passenger cabin, the crew will know about it and can take action before things get out of hand. In the luggage hold, it may take too long before it triggers fire alarms.

              1. TootsNYC*

                when my power pack started bulging, I couldn’t get it to Best Buy to drop it off right away.

                So I left it on the floor of my office instead of taking it home overnight. I figured that at work, there was a fancy sprinkler system, and if it burst into flames, the sprinkler system would put it out.

                But at home, the apartment building could burn down!

                I set it up far away from any fuel like desks or filing cabinets.

                And at lunch the next day, I took it to Best Buy.

            2. media monkey*

              my husband’s friend had a house fire as a result of leaving a phone plugged in overnight. so we never do this in our house. (and clearly i don’t leave phones plugged in overnight in the office either!)

              1. Michaela Westen*

                I always charge my phone at night and I know of one other person who does. I never heard of phones bursting into flames until now.
                Never saw a toaster fire either, but I do unplug mine when I’m not using it.

      2. Magenta*

        I can see fridges being an issue, and I once told someone that they had to take a halogen heater home as it was a fire risk but I have never heard of phone chargers being an issue.
        PAT testing is best practice but not actually a legal requirement.

        1. Cat Wrangler*

          I had a job where toasters and kettles were banned in the office. We had those hot water points on the sink for making drinks and there was a kitchen downstairs where you could buy toast. Phones were charged at our risk via the USB ports on our pcs – if they blew, no liability to the organisation. When the office was reconfigured, we were given proper plugs at our desks. We still had microwaves in the office though!

        2. Mongrel*

          While it may only be ‘best practice’ it’s best practice that the office says it’s complying with, the individual doesn’t get to change policy just because…
          It may also be that they’re getting better insurance rates if they they can show they’re complying with PAT standards to the best of their ability.

        3. ssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          In chillier climes, there are staff who like heaters at or under their desks and that’s usually a huge no-no due to the risk. I let one employee do it as she was most conscientious about turning it off.

          Compared to the risk a space heater poses, a fridge is quite safe.

          1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            I’ve worked places where they banned space heaters – not because of the dangers but because they didn’t want to run the electricity for 12 separate people to be running them. They wouldn’t want anything to do with mini fridges. Of course if they would just keep the office a decent temperature or have a normal size fridge… but I don’t work there anymore so not worth getting angry about (spoiler alert – I am still angry at them. And at Fox for cancelling Firefly. I hold onto things).

          2. Turquoisecow*

            My current office is freezing all the time, so they look the other way when it comes to space heaters. But they also warn us when the fire department is coming to do an inspection and tell us the heaters have to be unplugged and put away or the fire department will complain and order them removed.

            1. OhNo*

              Same here – all of the offices in our building are constantly freezing. There are some folks who have had their space heaters confiscated (by maintenance folks) during an inspection, but I’ve never even heard of them objecting to things like mini-fridges, toasters, microwaves, or personal lamps, even though I know a lot of people here have them.

          3. kittymommy*

            I’m currently running a heater under my desk. Technically it’s against the rules but I don’t particularly care. When they let me have temperature control of my own office I’ll give it up. I did buy a nice one though. It’s controlled by temp. so if it goes above the one I set it shuts off. Also if it even tilts a little the entire thing completely shuts down (the electricity stops vs it just turning off).

            1. VictorianCowgirl*

              I always had a heater or a heated blanket in the cold offices also, whether they allowed one or not. They could KMA. I worked in one where the temperature never rose above 63 degrees, and was more likely to be around 60. It was pure torture everyday, I would wear gloves, a beanie, the whole works, and try not to murder people when they asked why I was covered up when it was 75 degrees outside.

            2. Kittyfish 76*

              I also have a space heater at my desk. We have them all over the place here, no one cares. I’m a freezebaby and they keep the AC here blasting in the summer, that’s another issue. I’d run it all year if I could.

          4. Emily K*

            I have an illicit mini-fridge in my personal office. Unofficially I’m aware that had I asked whether I could bring it in, I’d have been told no, because we’re a LEED-certified building and if everyone brought in their own fridge we would most certainly no longer qualify, so they have to say no to everyone across the board…which is why I didn’t ask and just quietly brought one in and plugged it in under my desk one day. I have a private office and we’re a large enough organization that nobody who would actually care ever has reason to be in my particular office, so I’ve “gotten away” with it for about five years running now.

      3. Asenath*

        I had to google PAT testing, which says something about whether it’s required in my workplace. We do have a little fridge, and there wouldn’t be a problem with having a personal one if you had space. Some people do have their own. Most personal things, like phone charging and fans, are just fine. Anything that pulls a lot of power – toasters, kettles etc – aren’t allowed and will be confiscated by Health and Safety, if they find them. Some people have them secretly (I don’t). I don’t know what the person with the small kettle that blew the fuse on the circuit which also controlled the big shared printer/scanner/fax machine did with her gadget. It vanished, and I suspect it’s still around, in hiding, but plugged into another circuit when in use.

        Perhaps due to the dearth of toasters, we don’t have butter problem in our fridge. I’d say get a communal butter container, if you can only agree on what butter or butter-like substance to buy. We must have half a dozen or so using our communal dorm-sized fridge, and without excess butter, we have space for everything. Especially after I tried to identify the owner of a couple large-sized originally frozen but now thawed dinners, and we eventually concluded that they must belong to someone who had retired quite some time earlier, and so could be discarded.

      4. Allison*

        Right. We don’t have restrictions on ALL the things one might want to plug in, but for example, space heaters aren’t allowed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if mini fridges aren’t allowed either. It’s a big office with lots of people, and if everyone had a space heater or mini fridge in their cube, we’d start having some issues with the electricity.

      5. Joielle*

        Your company would hate my office! I have an electric kettle, a space heater, a mug warmer, and a small humidifier. All my coworkers have space heaters (old, drafty building) and most also have keurigs, lamps, fans, phones plugged in… surprisingly, we’ve only tripped a breaker once in the five years I’ve been here.

      6. Artemesia*

        In the US it is extremely common for people to have a dorm fridge/microwave; lots of colleges make a vendor available to rent one or buy one. Offices differ but I would thing it would pose electrical issues if everyone in a cube farm started bringing in appliances.

        I would get a cold pack lunch bag and just forget about the common refrigerator.

    3. MLB*

      I was going to say the same thing. Whether you work in a large office or a small office, you’re always going to have people who only think of themselves and their needs, and do nothing but frustrate you. I got tired of my food (with my name on it) being stolen out of the communal fridge so I bought my own small one and put it under my desk. Unless there’s a restriction on what can be plugged in at your company, there shouldn’t be a problem. Plus it allows you to bring things in that you can leave in there and not have to bring every single item of your lunch with you every day.

    4. Sam.*

      I have one of these, too. I keep my lunch in it (including a coke) and it works well. I got it when I started my current job, because we also had not enough fridge for the number of people using it. It has made my life easier, no doubt. I was a bit nervous when I first got it since I was new and didn’t know what was acceptable, but I’ve never been given reason to think that it violates office policy.

    5. Pink Diamond*

      Omg those little desk fridges are so cute! I saw someone using it for their beauty products. It’s just the size of my head about and they’re truly adorable and convenient!

    6. Elle*

      It sounds like you have communal milk. If you can’t get your office to pay for another fridge, can you ask them to pay for butter all the time? (My office pays for ketchup and salt and pepper–maybe it’s not that different).

  3. Lilith*

    Butter comes in tubs? Leave the stick out. It’s fine. It doesn’t need refrigeration for a few days. If course this doesn’t help with the remaining sticks.
    Two of my kids swear by Chantix for quitting smoking in under two weeks.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes it comes in tubs, you haven’t seen the large variety of packaging for butter when you buy it, that’s so odd. It’s like a tub of cream cheese. It’s easier to get a knife in there to use it as a spread. Sticks are more geared towards baking because it’s easier to measure.

      1. Electric Pangolin*

        Yeah that depends on the country. Anywhere I’ve lived would be horrified to consider anything that came in a tub “butter”. (If it’s spreadable coming out of the fridge it’s usually at least 25% oil.)

        1. Observer*

          That’s actually not entirely true. One of the reasons that butter in a tub takes up so much more space than a stick is because the same amount of actual butter takes up more volume due to the fact that it tends to be whipped. That’s why it’s more spreadable than sticks.

          In any case, the OP notes that it’s butter and margarine.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Can you now type something like that with a totally straight face, no second thoughts or do you still laugh to yourself that this is your life?

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I’ve watched too many cooking and baking competition shows – this doesn’t seem odd to me at all.
            I can’t even eat butter or margarine.
            I finally watched the Great British Baking Show! It is as great as everyone says. :)

        2. WakeUp!*

          Can’t believe you’re preemptively heading off a debate on freakin’ butter when the OBVIOUSLY way more contentious topic (smoking) has people flinging wild accusations and smearing people’s character. Are you not intervening there because you privately agree?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            No, because I sleep and the comment above was written at 3:45 a.m., as you can see by the timestamp, and I have not been here since.

            From the commenting rules: I do not read and approve every single comment. The volume is far too high. I also sleep and work and do things that are not near a computer. So if you see a comment that seems problematic, please don’t do this: “I can’t believe this comment is allowed! Why has Alison approved this?!” Instead, assume I haven’t seen it and feel free to flag it and I’ll take a look (if you include a link in your comment, it’ll go to moderation so I’ll see it).

            1. WakeUp!*

              Not what I’m saying. You pre-empted a debate about butter *before it happened* because you apparently foresaw that it would become problematic. Why on earth would it not have occured to you to do that with smoking? I’ve been reading the site casually for years and knew what I would find in the comments as soon as I saw the question.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Because the butter one was unfolding and the smoking one wasn’t, and because the comment section is not my top priority such that I will consider every possible debate that could develop and head them off preemptively. The comment section is a bonus, not the point of the site, and it’s not where I’m going to put the majority of my attention in any given day. Please move on.

          2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

            I thought your comment was going to to lead to “I can’t believe it’s not butter that has the office all upset. Oh wait, I can!”

    2. Op*

      Also country thing, the spreadable stuff here is in tubs and the hard baking stuff is in sticks or blocks. Cold Diet Coke is very important.

      1. Magenta*

        I got so fed up of this that I bought a huge tub of communal spreadable Lurpak, it was the one that most people liked, I asked people to use up their own butter then not replace it.

        It really reduced the number of tubs in the fridge and people were happy because that stuff is about 7 quid a tub.

        But I’m in charge of the office budget so can unilaterally make those decisions.

        1. OP*

          Pleased to hear someone else had this and there was a solution. I would be up for purchasing the Costco sized Lurpak as needed but fear people who wanted sunflower oil based/vegan/lite varieties would bring their own still and I would be out £7 and still no room for the coke.

          1. Lucy*

            You said some people were already sharing – how many duplicates are there?

            I would imagine that a 13-person office could sustain maintaining a 500g tub of “normal” butter which is run down every week or so, rather than a 2kg tub, given that the main problem is fridge space rather than starvation.

            I don’t know if that even makes sense outside my head.

            1. Lucy*

              Like, how much toast are they even eating? If it’s a couple of slices first thing instead of dropping by Costa, fair enough, but if they’re scoffing it all day long it becomes Another Thing Entirely.

          2. Foreign Octopus*

            I love the fact that you’re focused on your cold diet coke because I 100% have been this person before where there’s no room in the fridge and I’m left holding a can of room temperature coke and it’s just not the same.

            Do what you must, OP.

          3. Magenta*

            I bought a under counter fridge for the cans of soft drinks, it is kept full of Irn bru, Sprite Zero, Pepsi and Pepsi Max (Pepsi was more popular, than Coke). There is also beer, cider and G&Ts in there but they are just for Friday afternoons.
            It is amazing how happy a big tub of butter and a few crates of drinks can make people.

          4. Another Allison*

            I think the best solution would be this https://www.landolakes.com/products/butter-spreads/land-o-lakes-soft-squeeze-spread/ its in a squeeze bottle so people that might be like oh i only want to share with my friend cause germs would be happy that not everyones knife is dipping in and it wouldnt take up tons of fridge space the company or all the co-workers would just have to replace on bottle every couple of weeks! plus it cuts down on butter messes.

      2. kittymommy*

        I’m going to be honest OP, this is something I would probably get petty AF about. Everyday those tubs would be placed on top of the fridge so I, and others, could put lunches (or whatever) in. And I would have zero problem explaining why I’m doing this. Yep, I would definitely die on this hill.

        1. Mr Shark*

          That’s what I was thinking. I would just take out all but the fullest butter bucket and sat them on top of the fridge, so that people could put their lunches in it.

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Alright, could you get each of them a very small Tupperware container, like the tiny ones that are two inches by two inches (they make them for single serving salad dressing and the like) and ask them to transport the butter in them so they don’t take up so much room? That way they can each have their own variety of butter but only what they would need for the current week. They can suck it up and refill it each week and you would have room for your coke.

    4. Bibliovore*

      Butter’s fine on the counter for far more than a few days; salted butter can be good for well over a month. A high-school friend of mine’s family had a raw-milk dairy farm and routinely kept a big slab of homemade butter on the counter, which never went bad. I’ve thus always kept a stick on the counter in a covered butter dish. It’s always soft enough to spread easily and not tear bread apart, and it avoids a butter keeper’s risk of mold from the water in it (though you can also use those dry).

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I wondered about the mold and why the water is necessary. I have known allergies to 4 different molds and I’m vigilant about keeping things dry and mold-free!
        When I was a child my babysitter kept a stick of butter in a covered dish and it was fine.
        Like these, in case anyone hasn’t seen them
        https://www.google.com/search?q=photos+of+Covered+butter+dishes&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjKqvub27vgAhUSIKwKHbzHBYYQsAR6BAgFEAE&biw=1280&bih=878

        1. Zelda*

          The water in butter-keepers is just a low-tech seal. (Kinda like the water in the trap of a sink that keeps sewer gas from escaping into your kitchen.) Obviously, it’s not proof against everything, but it does keep out most critters, whether microbial or insectoid. Long-term it can end up harboring microbes, so regular cleaning is in order, but before the invention of silicone seals it was pretty darn ingenious.

      2. Artemesia*

        We never refrigerate the butter we are currently eating and it is fine in the cupboard for as long as it lasts. Our place tends to be on the cold side but still, butter is not highly perishable and spreads better when left out.

      3. Ellen N.*

        Whether butter can be left out depends on the climate you’re in. I live in Los Angeles, CA. Except for a month or two of the year I can’t leave butter out or it will melt. I tried the butter bells. The butter got moldy. I wouldn’t want to use a communal tub of butter as I’ve seen many people lick knives then put them back in the communal food. For the record, I’m immuno-supressed, not kooky about germs.

        I see two solutions:

        The management can buy a bigger refrigerator. This might not work because people will bring in even bigger items. I used to work in an office with a regular sized refrigerator for 30 employees. Several employees stored gallons of orange juice in it.

        The original poster can bring her soda in a thermal container with ice packs in it. I did this at my old office as I didn’t want to have to clean the refrigerator. My food was cold all day.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I’m not immuno-suppressed and I think licking a knife and putting it back in the tub is disgusting!
          I live alone and don’t do it. What if I’m coming down with something? The germs will sit in the jar of nut butter and grow, and poison me. :p

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Switch to e-cig, then taper off? Have to taper off because e-cigs aren’t regulated and may contain nicotine even if they’re labeled as nicotine-free.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          To expand on my thought, switching to e-cigs would probably make him feel better and stronger because he’s not getting the bad effects of the tobacco (congestion, fatigue, etc.). Then feeling stronger will make it easier to taper off the e-cigs and quit for good.

          1. Someone On-Line*

            A lot of research in adults in U.S. show dual use of e-cigs and cigarettes. Data may be different in the UK because the products are different in the UK. And e-cigs still have nicotine, which doesn’t address OP’s husband’s original problem.

    5. Anony*

      A friend of a friend with no known prior suicidal ideation or behavior committed suicide while taking Chantix.

      1. Anna*

        As far as you know they had no suicidal ideation, but more importantly, this is not common and is noted as a side effect. And is something the person can discuss with their doctor to see if it’s appropriate, not a bunch of commenters on a blog.

  4. Friday afternoon fever*

    FWIW I am anti-butter-keeper and pro-fridge-butter because it tends to go sour faster at room temp. But I’m very pro-your-butter-and-fridge-situation-is-absurd.

    If your company won’t spring for a new full size fridge, maybe they’d spring for a second dorm fridge?

    1. ultimate peach*

      The future potential of a mini fridge labelled “Butter Fridge” is really entertaining me right now.

      1. Op*

        I am up for buying a second butter fridge next to the first. That might be very silly but very satisfying.

        1. valentine*

          This would be amazing.

          Would they find pat-sized packets acceptable? What about replacing the office milk with Mini-Moo’s?

          1. Parenthetically*

            OP appears to be in Britain, so Milk In One’s Tea is probably not going to be substitutable with UHT half-and-half, is my guess.

            And yes, OP, please buy a butter fridge. And tell us all about it in great detail tomorrow in FOT!

    2. Tin Cormorant*

      Butter goes sour? I’ve been keeping salted butter in a sealed container in my cupboard for years and it’s always tasted the same as the day I bought it. A lot easier to spread when it’s room temp too. (Obviously not the same butter for years, but it can take me a couple weeks to go through a stick.)

      1. WS*

        It really depends on your local weather conditions. I can keep mine out of the fridge except for about 10 weeks of summer, because it goes off quickly in the heat. Hot and wet weather is even faster. And of course salt is a preservative, so the less salty your butter is, the more easily it goes off.

      2. Clementine*

        Maybe you have to be a true butter-obsessive like me, but I certainly notice the flavor change even if butter is left out for only overnight at room temperature. There’s no way I’d want to eat butter that had been left out for days.

        1. DriveByCommenterWhoUsuallyLurks*

          Aha! I figured out the trick for butter keepers in hot weather, but it involves a bit of an easy routine. Every day empty the water, drop a single ice cube in the bottom and refill the water to half. Works like a charm. I use unsalted butter, so need to do this to keep it fresh.

      3. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

        It’s a rancid taste. I ate cookies made with rancid butter once and you could definitely taste it before I threw them out!

        Also salt is a preservative so perhaps your butter’s keeping better for that reason?

      4. I heart Paul Buchman.*

        Really this depends where you live.. Here you have about 30mins before it is a separated pool of mess. But it was also 40 degrees Celsius today so YMMV.

        I don’t think that lunch trumps butter as you are both using the fridge to store a meal (toast is a meal). I would go with an insulated container and ice pack. Keeps coke nice and cold.

      5. The Other Dawn*

        I keep mine in a butter dish (salted butter; not a butter keeper) on the counter for a couple weeks and it’s fine, even in the summer. I hate putting stick butter in the fridge because it’s not spreadable. I visit a cousin each year that’s pro-butter-in-the-fridge and it drives me nuts. I buy my own while I’m there and keep it on the counter.

        1. Ophelia*

          Same, but TBH even in summer, my apt is rarely hotter than about 78-80F, so if you’re someplace truly tropical I can see it going off faster. It’s also possible that I go through butter faster than your average bear, since I do use it for some cooking in addition to toast and whathaveyou, and we’re a family of 4.

      6. Allison*

        I keep my salted butter out, so it’s spreadable. But I keep it in a covered dish, and I don’t know exactly how long each stick lasts but probably no longer than a week or so, so it’s unlikely the butter would have time to go bad. But I live in New England, where most of the year my kitchen probably isn’t hot enough to turn butter sour in a matter of a few days, perhaps it’s different further south.

        Unsalted butter I usually keep in the fridge, since it’s mostly for baking, and it baking butter should usually be cold anyway.

        1. Friday afternoon fever*

          I too live in the northeast :) my roommate uses a covered butter dish and I keep mine in the fridge. I am also pro-cold-butter-on-cold-bread though and I know everyone’s mileage varies.
          however I didn’t know there were butter keepers with a layer you could put ice/water in!

      7. Loux in Canada*

        I’ve seen it go moldy, but not sour. A few times I took it out of the metallic packaging (no idea what that’s called), and put it on its own into a Tupperware. It would often start molding after a few weeks, so after that I started just leaving it out and lightly folding the packaging back over the butter in the fridge.

        It probably takes me months to go through a thing of butter. I just finished mine recently and I don’t even remember when I bought it. Sometime after I moved into my place in October, probably before the end of November?

    3. stump*

      I’ve had good luck with the butter bell. The butter keeps well if you use it in time and if you change the water in the butter bell frequently (and we use those half sticks, so less in the bell at once, anyway). We keep our house pretty cold too, so that probably helps. The only issues we’ve had is when we were New to the world of the butter bell and didn’t change the water often enough, so the butter got moldy.

      Buuuuuut these are things that would probably end up sliding to the wayside in an office. Who’s going to make sure that the water gets changed on the regular? Are people actually going to make an effort to soften a new stick of butter (because any margarine or whatever in a tub is going to be too soft to work for this) and cram it in the bell when they empty out the bell? What if everybody just keeps forgetting it on the counter? Will there be rotating assigned butter bell duty? I like my office mates just fine, but just looking at the scrungus they leave in the kitchen sink makes me not trust them with a Anti Food Spoilage Task more complex than “put it back in the fridge”.

  5. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

    LW #5, I agree with Alison here. Volunteering is a good way to give back, have something to talk about when it comes to your employment gap, and even develop your professional skills, but it’s really not the same as a temp job or internship that better lays down the route for a permanent job (and even then, those still aren’t guaranteed). Volunteering sounds like a good way to network in the area and it sounds like you get some others things out of it, so I’d say keep going, but set your sights somewhere else for job hunting.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Yeah, I think as a networking thing it could be good–but OP should view that aspect as a way to learn about what local careers adjacent to these non-profitswould use her skills. Not as a way to surely get hired one distant day when the small non-profit has the budget to hire someone new, and for OP’s specialized skill set.

    2. Smithy*

      Completely agree – especially if they’re small local nonprofits.

      I will also add that unlike unpaid internships at companies where there are real concerns about labor abuse – that consideration really is not applicable in the nonprofit sector where volunteerism at all levels of skill are common. While it can be at the skill level of copies and filing, it can be as highly skilled as legal work or accounting. Lots of museums have unpaid docent programs for tours of the museum vs paying for that skill in both community relations and art.

      Now whether or not those skills *should* be paid for or not is something else – but it’s not truly comparable to abuses seen with unpaid corporate internships or asking interview candidates to produce work products for free.

      To use a dating metaphor, when a date says they’re not ready to commit – you have to take their word for it. That job may always be volunteer, it might one day be paid, but don’t put your on plans on hold.

    3. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes I think this OP may have misunderstood the traditional advice of volunteering if you’re looking for work. Being from the non profit field I agree there’s a very small chance that the place you’re volunteering for will end up creating a full time position for you. (They may hire you for another role that comes open, but even that is not terribly common). I think the purpose of the volunteering while job searching is that it gives you some hopefully relevant experience you can talk about in interviewing, maybe even a reference, and the opportunity to network. It should leave a good impression to a future employer that you’re passionate about the org. Especially if your resume isn’t strong for the field you’re trying to enter, this is definitely better than nothing.

    4. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      I’ve sat on the Board of several nonprofits and it is rare that they hire one of their volunteers. Usually, they hire employees from other nonprofits who have relevant experience, (e.g., fundraising). I have seen a couple of instances where the nonprofit hired a current volunteer, but it is usually when there is a specific need, such as when one needed a writer and a volunteer had extensive writing experience in that subject matter.

      There are good governance reasons not to hire volunteers–especially if the volunteer has been a financial contributor to the nonprofit. There can also be uncomfortable power dynamics–volunteers have the capability to decline “work” for a nonprofit that an employee cannot. The change in status has not always worked well.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah, I’ve seen a beloved volunteer promoted to front desk lady, but I think that’s about it.

      2. OP#5*

        OP#5 here! I think this is what I was afraid of. Rereading my letter, I sound pretty naive about the point of volunteering. As others have quite rightly pointed out, volunteering isn’t necessarily a track to a career — I should be doing it because I want to and because it’s helpful to the community, not as a sneaky fast-track to employment. I realize that’s how I phrased it in my question, and I know that’s not the right way to look at it.

        I am worried, though, about the things you mention above. I plan to live here long-term and if something opens up in one of these places one day, I don’t want to be passed over because of the various dynamics you mentioned. It seems I’d have a better chance of being hired at some point in the future if I work on cultivating professional experience in a nonprofit in an unrelated field.

        I have been feeling generally quite stuck in my job search and panicky that my unemployment will stretch on indefinitely. So maybe it’s more a question of whether I’m spending my time and energy on the right things. If I want to built a good professional reputation to eventually get hired to a position where I’d be able to do the most long-term good in my city, maybe I should be focused on looking for other paid jobs outside my field, and scale back volunteering to just the place with the most ongoing need.

        Thank you everyone for your comments setting me straight about how to look at this. Unemployment is always a bit scary, but I don’t want to present myself (here or in real life) as so desperate for a job that I forget what volunteering is about.

      3. Artemesia*

        This. I would bet that volunteering at these places literally reduced the likelihood that the OP would ever be seriously considered for a job there. They aren’t going to want to start having lots of nagging volunteers hinting for employment and may fear the precedent. Non-profits hire other people’s volunteers who have developed a great reputation but their own are likely to be off limits.

    5. Dagny*

      This is a situation very much akin to yesterday’s letter-writer in academia, in that one should be realistic about the chances are of real, full-time employment following these gigs. That doesn’t mean to not do them; rather, just know what you are willing to put in, what you want to get out of it, and know when this is no longer advancing your career.

      My practical suggestion is to put these volunteer experiences on a resume (perhaps right at the top, as the most recent work), and list the relevant job duties, accomplishments, and skills. That shows that the LW is doing something, is in the city, and is well-liked enough that people keep her around.

      1. Artemesia*

        Even truer in Academia — adjuncts don’t increase their chance of being hired at the particular institution, they reduce it as they are not seen as desirable hires. Why pay a full time salary and benefits for someone who is apparently willing to be exploited for far far less. So hire a strong candidate for the full time job and continue to exploit that person willing to work for pennies with their PhD.

    6. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      I worked at nonprofits where we often hired volunteers. But they were people who started out as direct-service volunteers transitioning to part-time roles, ex: someone teaching a fitness class or assisting with swim lessons, who transitioned into being a paid group ex instructor or lifeguard/swim instructor. Some of those people could then transition into full time if a position opened up and they applied for it, but full-time opportunities were far and few between such that many part-timers had to leave the field entirely to advance in their career.

  6. US MD*

    #2 – is your husband’s employer aware that there are other blood/urine markers that help differentiate tobacco use from nicotine replacement therapy (NRT; i.e. patches, e-cigarettes, etc.)? For instance, anabasine is a metabolite found in tobacco leaves that, if detected, is about 80% sensitive for active tobacco use, and shouldn’t be detectable in folks who are using NRT.

      1. n*

        But that intent feels very misguided. The overwhelming majority of the negative health effects of smoking are due to the *smoke* part of things, not nicotine itself. So, if the aim is to lower health insurance costs, health insurance companies should take that into consideration. It feels really unfair to penalize people who are trying to *improve* their health by using harm-reduction methods such as nicotine replacement therapy and e-cigarettes.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          There’s misguided unfairness all around this issue.
          E-cigs were demonized with no evidence and against all evidence when they came out. Legislators rushed to make laws against them and include them as “tobacco products” even though they don’t contain tobacco.

          States that have laws against discriminating against smokers are ignoring that smokers do cost a lot more in health care and public health bills.

          It sounds like insurance companies are following the misguided legislation that says e-cigs are tobacco products, without considering the things you mention, which are obvious to anyone who looks at the evidence. Sigh.

        2. AnnaBananna*

          I don’t disagree either. I remember a handful of years ago I wanted to increase my life insurance when it wasn’t open enrollment. Then I learned that they test for nicotine, full stop. I was quitting at the time, so imagine my frustration that I was doing the RIGHT THING for my health and longevity but still being penalized for it. I didn’t end up changing the policy.

    1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Bank Teller and Security Guard both strike me as jobs where you need to be present in a certain location for most of the time – so I can see additional rationalization that frequent smoke breaks would be discouraged. Plus banks are usually stand alone buildings with parking all around them, and it’s never a great look to have a group of employees visable outside the building smoking.

      1. Antilles*

        Bank Teller and Security Guard both strike me as jobs where you need to be present in a certain location for most of the time – so I can see additional rationalization that frequent smoke breaks would be discouraged.
        That’s true, but that’s not really the way these are framed though.
        First off, even security guards and bank tellers usually get breaks for lunch or the bathroom or etc. Secondly, if it was a legitimate business need to minimize breaks, then they should be focusing on *that* business impact – “our standard here is a 15-minute break in the morning, a 30-minute lunch, then a 10-minutes break in the afternoon, is that an issue for you?” It doesn’t matter if the employee’s need for frequent breaks is due to smoking, digestive issues, or something else, it’s purely a question of whether they can meet the required schedule or not.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Yes – everyone takes breaks for bathrooms and lunch, but then smokers take breaks for bathrooms and lunch and smoking. Overall, in my experience, smokers tend to be gone more and tend to all be gone at the same time. And yes, you could try to focus on people not taking too much break time as a general thing, but then someone has to play hall monitor and keep tabs on everyone and not treating people like adults that can manage their own schedule and it will bring down moral. I’m not saying it is the right choice to disqualify anyone who smokes, I am saying I can see the logic train and feel sympathy for it. If you’ve had problems with smokers in the past hiring a non-smoker might feel like the easier route.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            I have a funny story about when my dad still smoked (he started vaping a loooong time ago, before it was so popular). He worked at a university (I think this was in the 90’s maybe?) and was pretty pivotal in his role, though he wasn’t in leadership. He was able to leverage his expertise into getting to have one smoke break PER HOUR because he said it was imperative to his health. I don’t know the details of how this argument was built, though I do remember him being a total bear when he was in a ‘nic fit’ so maybe that was the health part: mental health.

            Oh, the 90’s. When everybody smoked absolutely everywhere. (*gag* I say this as an ex smoker myself. I can’t stand the stuff now.)

        2. Someone Else*

          This is true in theory, but my experience suggests it is extremely common in all sorts of industries and with all types of roles that regardless of what the official break policy is, smokers take smoke breaks. On top of their normally entitled actual breaks. It’s a runaway thing. Maybe these jobs would be more on top of it and then discipline people right away who do that, or maybe they just screen them out at the start so they don’t have to invest the time in hiring and training a person who then does not comply. I do think it probably mostly has to do with healthcare costs as Alison suggests. But also, while the idea of setting the standard that people cannot take extra smoke breaks and will be held to it is entirely reasonable, in practice what I’ve seen is smokers take smoke breaks and rarely are held to the standard that everyone else is regarding breaks.
          None of this applies to OP’s husband who is quitting, but the reality of it may be he’ll have better luck once has quit and may be stuck while he’s still in-progress if he’s applying to these types of jobs.

      2. BananaPants*

        Smoking and vaping in the open is banned on our corporate campus, including in personal vehicles parked on company property – the few smokers remaining have to drive or walk off company property to use their cancer sticks. Free smoking cessation programs were offered and a lot of people found a way to quit when this went into place because they couldn’t just step outside a door every hour or two, they had to actually travel.

        1. caryatis*

          Wow, that’s really unjust. Businesses should not be getting involved in what people do in their personal vehicles.

          BTW–there’s no evidence vaping causes cancer.

          1. MagicUnicorn*

            It was also really unjust that non-smokers could not avoid second hand smoke in public for decades.

              1. Rumbakalao*

                Smoking is an addiction. Common as it may be, employers would (and clearly do) treat meth addicts, alcoholics, and even people with disabilities that make it impossible to perform your job duties that same way. There is no legal protection that says people who cannot reliably do their jobs are entitled to them. In practice, employers can choose not to hire anyone so long as they aren’t breaking any laws. Not hiring someone because they’re Latina? Not okay. Not hiring someone because they smoke and that’s against their policy? That’s fine.

                1. n*

                  Apparently, 29 states disagree with you, as they make it illegal to not hire someone due to smoking status. And the difference between meth and nicotine is that nicotine is legal. It is possible to use nicotine and not have it interfere with your work duties. An employer would only step in with an alcohol issue if alcohol was interfering with your ability to perform your job. But would it be fair to just not hire someone who has a few drinks on the weekend with friends, even though weekend drinks has no impact on their ability to perform their job?

                2. Rumbakalao*

                  Several other commenters have mentioned that they work or go to school at places with no smoking policies. This is not illegal. I’ve also worked for an employer that did not drug test but did have a no smoking policy as business was conducted on a non smoking campus and employees had contact with minors.

                  Personally I don’t think smoking should be something you lose out on a job for, but it is a reality that employers are free to make hiring decisions based on what is most beneficial for them. It’s complicated and it sucks for some people but it makes sense. What happens when you knowingly hire a smoker that then becomes an issue not because of job performance, but because secondhand smoke irritates coworkers? When the employee is regularly violating a workplace no smoking policy? When s/he loses time because they have to travel a distance away from the non-smoking zone? Other commenters have already shared the statistics of the money this costs as well. This is not the case with someone who has a glass of wine after work 3 times a week. Those 29 states have varying versions of “you can’t not hire a smoker,” some of which have exceptions that touch on these points. So no, they don’t exactly disagree.

          2. Kathleen_A*

            My workplace is the same – no smoking anywhere on the campus, and that includes one’s own car. The reason for that restriction is that it’s impossible to keep the smoke confined to the car. I am not a smoker, but this restriction seemed unfair to me at first, until I realized that even if the windows are all closed…well, the second you open the door to go back to work, all that smoke gushes out, so the rest of us would still have to cope with smoke. Therefore, are the smokers truly smoking “in their personal vehicles”? The action may be in the vehicles, but the smoke is not.

            Anyway, my company also offered smoking cessation classes and so on when it went all smoke free, all the time.

            But to drag myself back on topic, I’ve never heard of being tested for nicotine prior to employment – but if it must be done, the company should definitely disclose that ahead of time.

            1. LCL*

              Testing for nicotine was a thing here for awhile, at least for shop/production/machinist types of jobs. My state doesn’t forbid it legally, unfortunately. I haven’t heard much about it lately, because our economy is good and places are looking for people.

            2. Bunny Girl*

              Possibly it could also be that if you sit in an enclosed area and smoke, you’re going to come back and absolutely reek of cigarette smoke. I mean people could also drive off the property and smoke in their cars but I think the companies are trying to force people to either quit or walk off the property.

          3. Someone Else*

            In our city it is illegal to smoke or vape in any public parks. Or within 75 feet of any school (and on university campuses that means anywhere on campus). It’s poorly enforced, but what those businesses are doing sounds the same as it would be for anyone who worked in a park or school, so I have a hard time thinking of it as “unjust”. The business is choosing to be as restrictive as some public spaces already are.

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              I was really gad that my university campus was smoke-free, and it incensed me when someone flouted that rule, smoked as they walked, and (of course) littered the butt. I’m pretty live-and-let-live about things, but that policy ends where my health begins, and I’m glad some companies are in agreement. Coworkers shouldn’t be put at risk because of a coworker’s addiction.

    2. Turquoisecow*

      My old job made everyone take a blood test before insurance enrollment to prove they weren’t smokers. If you passed, you got a $100 discount on your insurance premiums. (You also got a $100 discount if you saw a GP for a physical every year.) A few years in a row we just had to sign a paper, but then they realized people were lying so we all had to go to a medical blood testing place to have only that one test done. I thought it was silly to make the non smokers retest every year, since it seemed unlikely a non smoker would start late in life, but I suppose they were just looking for data and people who relapses.

      I remember one year a woman who was quitting with the patch (who did eventually stop smoking entirely, though I don’t know if she relapsed later since we stopped working together) had her test come back positive. I forget if she had to get a doctors note to prove she was quitting or she was out of luck.

      1. Canarian*

        Yup, my workplace covers our full insurance premium UNLESS you are a tobacco/nicotine user, in which case you have to pay a surcharge of some amount per month. We also started with the honors system, which led to a lot of lying, which led to testing.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        Mine gives a discount on the premium for non-smokers.
        This may not seem fair but it is, because smokers cost a lot more in health care than non-smokers.
        When legislators were demonizing and banning e-cigs I sent emails asking them to make laws that encourage smokers to switch to e-cigs. This would cut way down on the public health cost. They ignored my suggestion.

  7. Beth*

    LW5 – I think this is less a situation where you need to adjust your behavior, and more a situation where you need to adjust your expectations. Your contacts at these organizations were up-front with you that they’re not hiring right now and not looking to hire in the near future (likely because they run on a tight budget and don’t have room for new hires, though maybe I’m reading too much into what you said with this). So you shouldn’t expect anything you do to lead to a job with them in the near future; they’re not hiring right now, so they’re not going to hire you right now.

    It’s possible that volunteering with them might give you an edge in the future when a position opens up. You’d be a known quantity, after all–if you’re consistently reliable and do good work, that’s definitely something. But it’s not going to convince them to create a position out of thin air, especially if their current ‘not hiring’ thing is for budgetary reasons. Depending on their turnover, it might be years before they’re hiring for the kind of position you’re looking for. So if you look at volunteering primarily as a ‘get a job’ tool, I think you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

    I suggest saving your volunteering for things that you want to be a part of simply for the sake of being part of it, and starting a job hunt with places that are currently hiring if you want to be employed soon.

    1. Tyche*

      I agree!
      For little non-profit organizations, budget is often the main problem in hiring and/or maintaining good employees. If so, it could be years before they’ll need to hire someone new.

    2. Lena Clare*

      Agree.
      OP as suggested – volunteer if you want the skills and believe in the mission, otherwise don’t!

      In the non profit organisation I work for, experience volunteering for them gives a definite advantage if they advertise for a post over someone who hasn’t volunteered because a large part of the desirable personal specifications is knowledge of the particular medical condition the charity specialises in. But it’s not a guarantee, and the volunteers still have to apply like any other candidate of course.

      The contacts can help by letting you know when an opening is available, and they might be a good referee too.

      1. Clementine*

        Another way volunteering can help is if your contacts know you are looking for a job, and they tell you about jobs in other places. But that is just part of general networking.

    3. media monkey*

      also i guess that volunteering would look good on your CV for other roles even if nothing ever opens up at the specific places you are volunteering, and the more senior level stuff would look good on there?

    4. Rainy days*

      The small nonprofit I woke for has preciously created positions for volunteers, but that was when the person came with a specialized skill set we needed, and after a looooong time waiting for there to be room in the budget. Eg part of our core mission was charitable teapot export, but we didn’t have anyone specialized in that and the rest of the small staff was pitching in when they good. A volunteer with expertise in this area had a position created for her. While this is rare, how specialized your skills are and how well they match the mission is something you should look hard at, as it will play a big role if a position does open up—if you are doing general grunt work, that is much less likely to translate into a volunteer being hired in my experience.

      The other approach to take with nonprofits is to see if you can be written into a grant they’re applying for. You can offer to play a big role in researching and crafting the grant, which is time-consuming. However, you need skills that make you a match for the grant implementation in order to make this work.

  8. GermanGirl*

    #5 also, if you haven’t done that, yet, let absolutely everybody in your network know that you’re job hunting. They might know of an opportunity that would fit you well but is not at their org.

  9. MangoFan*

    #4 reminds me of the time I and my then-girlfriend were awaiting a final decision from a small consulting company we’d both applied to. They were only extending one offer that year, and she was their first choice, so it was obvious to us that they were stalling on getting back to me till she gave them an answer either way. Amusing situation to be in. (Both of us ended up declining the offer for a variety of reasons.)

    1. MangoFan*

      (FWIW, neither of us told them about the situation, because we were both graduating from the same college and applying through On-Campus Recruiting, so it wasn’t as random for us to know each other as in the OP’s situation, and we didn’t really think there was any reason to inform them. Doesn’t really apply to OP’s situation though. Had we been angling to both get offers, we’d have raised it, but we ended up deciding other opportunities were better fits for both of us, if I recall correctly.)

  10. 2 Cents*

    I’m finding it pretty abhorrent that people might be disqualified from a position if they have nicotine in their system. It’s a legal substance. And not only that, but it’s a slippery slope. Smokers may be more expensive to insure, but so are people with chronic illnesses. What’s to stop a company from hiring a diabetic or someone with lupus or someone with a mental health condition? A blood test could potentially uncover medications that such people take.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The answer to what’s stopping them from hiring people with chronic health conditions: the law. That would be illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

      1. 2 Cents*

        I understand. I suppose my point is that it can be difficult to prove discrimination. If an employer is looking for nicotine and stumbles upon other medical conditions… But perhaps a better example would be someone who is overweight. I imagine that those who struggle with their weight also have the potential to cost more to insure.

          1. Crivens!*

            But it isn’t a fallacy in this case. Employers are increasingly interested in decreasing their insurance rates at any cost, and have and will refuse to hire people they deem “risky” because of it. This is actually happening.

          2. 2 Cents*

            How is it a fallacy for me to believe that it’s possible for companies to take advantage of opportunities to discriminate against people for other issues that are outside the realm of work?

            1. Karen from Finance*

              It’s always a fallacy to be against X because next they’ll do Y, which is the slippery slope argument.

              Saying “I’m concerned about the increasing loopholes companies are finding to discriminate at present” is a statement which is not fallacious per se.

              But the statement “I’m against employers discriminating against smokers because it’s a slippery slope, they’ll be discriminating against people with disabilities or obese people next”, while not verbatim what you said, is a fallacious. And this is because it is not necessarily the case: other types of protections exist and/or may exist against other groups, and therefore B does not necessarily follow from A.

              1. 2 cents*

                Ahhh, I see, thank you. So, it’s a matter of phrasing. The intention behind what I said remains the same. But, if Snark wants to have fun parsing out the words, feel free.

                1. Snark*

                  I don’t care to parse out the words, but yes, when using a language, phrasing and semantics do matter. Karen nailed the distinction, and it’s a real one.

                2. 2 cents*

                  Good on ya. But, yes you are parsing out words. Rather than engaging in a discussion about what I believe, you choose to critique the way I said it. I do believe that companies are extraordinarily capable of discriminating against others in passive and legal ways and if they stand unopposed, they are also fully capable of introducing that discrimination and judgment to others who face similar situations. Slippery slope. Opportunity. Intention. What have you. But, again… if you’d rather focus on the semantics — feel free.

                3. WakeUp!*

                  You’re totally right 2 cents. These ppl don’t know enough about philosophy or logic to try to browbeat with it but that won’t stop them!

              2. Wendie*

                Haha! I’ve gotten into the funniest debates with my oldest about this, ever since he decided on a philosophy major (not what we were gunning for but there’s time for him to change still). Sometimes I think this logic stuff creates a lot of drama when we all knew what me and my husband meant but I’m glad he is learning something for all that tuition!

              3. n*

                It is not *always* a fallacy to be against X because next they’ll do Y. The slippery slope fallacy applies when Y is extreme or ludicrous.

                It’s the difference between saying: “if we don’t pass environmental legislation, global climate change will continue” (not fallacious) and “if we don’t pass environmental legislation, it’ll be ‘The Day After Tomorrow'” (fallacious, because those are extreme, ludicrous consequences).

                I don’t think that saying that allowing companies to discriminate based on one health issue (smoking) sets precedent to allow them to discriminate based on other health issues (such as obesity) is particularly outrageous or unreasonable. Obesity wouldn’t necessarily be covered by the ADA, unless an individual experienced physical impairment. So it wouldn’t be impossible for employers to deny employment to obese individuals due to increased insurance costs. Some companies are already charging higher premiums to these individuals.

        1. Someone Else*

          “A blood test” doesn’t just test for everything under the sun. They’d need to be testing for a specific thing. So in this case they’re testing for drugs and nicotine. If you consent to being tested for that, fine. If you consent to being tested for that and they also test you for HIV, very not fine. While blood tests can be used to uncover all manner of medical conditions, unless the sample is submitted for a test that uncovers that, they will find those things. They can’t “stumble” on something they were not testing for.

        2. Indigo a la mode*

          People who are overweight or obese often *do* pay more for things like life insurance, which is reasonable because regardless of what causes the excess weight (medical reasons or otherwise), being overweight does raise the risk for a medley of other health issues. Same thing for smokers, except that virtually every smoker has made the conscious choice to partake in an unhealthy habit (whereas not all obese people have). It seems fair to charge more to insure people who are choosing to engage in a habit that is likely to result in costly health problems.

      2. banarama*

        While smoking itself is not considered a legal “disability”, smoking IS an excellent proxy for actual disabilities that are expensive (mostly mental health ones) and, to a lesser degree, things like race, class, veteran status, etc. Years ago I joked (in bad attorney taste) that if HR departments wanted to discriminate against high-cost employees without actually/legally discriminating they should just target smokers. I’m horrified to see that HR departments in some states are now adopting just that policy! In America 44% of all cigarettes are bought by someone with a mental illness. (https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Public-Policy/Tobacco-and-Smoking). There are several reasons why MI patients smoke: nicotine actually alleviates the symptoms of some mental illnesses, people with MI have been targeted by tobacco companies, and it’s hard for people with MI to quit because some quitting options such as certain meds are contraindicated with their treatment. A few years ago I pointed all of this out to one attorney who was backing one of these no-nicotine policies and she changed course. She now promotes wellness programs that offer free quitting resources but no longer promotes nicotine testing as part of a drug screen.

        1. Jasnah*

          This! Often smoking is more common among different social classes/physical locations as well. I’m really surprised that people are cool with discriminating against people’s personal choices just because it raises insurance rates for the company. Why not screen for alcohol? Marijuana? Caffeine? Obesity? High blood pressure? I understand why these might cost the insurance companies more, but I don’t think companies should be eliminating applicants based on how expensive they are to insure.

    2. Mrs. Wednesday*

      Actually, you raise an interesting point, because smokers are generally understood to be either in the active or recovery stage of an addiction to nicotine. I’m not a legal expert but I’m pretty clear that while ADA employment protections (and state-level ones, in some cases) don’t cover the active stage of addiction, they do cover addictions in their treatment and recovery stages. I’d think of patches, etc. as treatment/recovery. But…this would probably wouldn’t help in the pre-employment phase, anyway.

      1. boo bot*

        I was wondering about this, too – if the ADA prohibits discriminating against someone for being in recovery for alcoholism, then why is it okay to refuse to hire someone in treatment for addiction to another legal substance? If the answer is, “they might start smoking again” or “how do you know they’re not secretly still smoking” then… the same could be said for any other addiction?

        A cursory search of the internet suggests that the EEOC does pursue legal action against companies that screen out candidates who test positive for methadone and suboxone (i.e. the nicotine patches of heroin and other opiate abuse). So, this all seems pretty fishy to me.

        I understand that it’s about wanting to reduce health insurance costs, but that doesn’t strike me as an “undue burden” under the law.

        1. Queen of Alpha*

          Exactly. I think I would have choice words for an employer that tries to drug test me for nicotine. Let’s start weighting everyone to cut costs for their obesity. Next is making sure people attend meditation classes so they don’t incur extra costs for psych treatments that they failed to manage.

          What else can we do to completely invade the private lives of working class citizens? Why stop at drug tests?

    3. JKP*

      I think the difference is that people look at smoking as a choice, whereas chronic illnesses are not.

      I actually had to do research on this for a proposal once. The studies showed that the average smoker costs their employer between $2,500 to $4,600 more per year than the average nonsmoker. It counted not just the increase in insurance costs, but also other costs such as needing more sick days and lost productivity for smoke breaks.

      Citations (I know this is all really old data, but this proposal was also created a long time ago, so I’m sure the cost has gone up, not down):
      Center for Health Promotion and Publications. The Dollar (and sense) Benefits of Having a Smoke-Free Workplace. Lansing, Michigan: Michigan Tobacco Control Program; 2000.
      Kluger, R. (1996) Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris.
      Facts and Figures – 1994, American Cancer Society 5008.93 Copyright 1993, American Cancer Society; Economic Impact of Smoking In the Workplace.

        1. MJ*

          It takes a lot of determination to become a smoker. It takes time to learn to smoke, to become accustomed to taking down the smoke into your lungs. That first cigarette will have you coughing and hacking, possibly puking. But if that’s not enough to stop you, you decide to try again. Perhaps, you think, the next cigarette will be easier. After a few packs you’ll have it down pat, but you’re not going to be addicted after one stick. You have to choose to be a smoker.

          Yup. It takes a lot of effort to become a smoker.

          Fortunately though, it’s pretty easy to stop because the nicotine is short acting, so withdrawal only lasts up to 72 hours.

          1. Scarlet2*

            Oh yes, it’s that simple. People just choose to become addicts. There’s no other factor at all.
            /s

            You’re pretty much the only person I’ve ever seen argue that giving up smoking was “easy”. And I say that as a non-smoker.

            1. Airy*

              The nicotine withdrawal may be relatively brief but the psychological and social habit element is what’s so hard to change; looking at it only in terms of nicotine misses a lot of the picture. People choose to start smoking; that’s not the same as choosing to become addicted, any more than people who made choices or mistakes that led to their becoming homeless were directly choosing homelessness.

            2. Karen from Finance*

              I quit smoking nearly 2 years ago and I still phisically crave it daily. It’s not that easy. Take a look at how many “quit smoking” apps there are out there, and look at people’s success rates. It’s not just the nicotine dependency that gets you, it’s that it gives you a small rush that you can become dependent on.

            3. Grey*

              I know this isn’t largely relevant to your point, but I quit 3 months ago after smoking for 30 years and it’s been pretty easy so far. I’m sure there’s plenty more like me.

          2. Slartibartfast*

            The decision to become a smoker is often in the teenage years, when we’re young, inexperienced, and invincible. To judge someone by their teenage decisions is pretty unkind.

            1. Scarlet2*

              Unfortunately, it seems that being bigoted against smokers (and obese people, see below) is still seen as acceptable for too many people.

            2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

              Yes, and is seen as rite of passage, a test you must pass to be seen as an adult. Same with alcohol and drugs.

            3. Indigo a la mode*

              @Scarlet2, come on. It’s not bigoted to be very annoyed at people who place their addiction over the health of everyone around them. If someone has made the choice to abstain from an addictive substance known to cause all kind of terrible health problems, they should not have to put up with someone forcing it (and by that, I mean secondhand smoke) upon them. I feel sick when I breathe in cigarette smoke, and even more sick when I see people smoking around their kids, who can’t get away and who are seeing a destructive habit normalized.

              We were all teenagers once. Many of us did not smoke or were at all interested in trying it. Personally, I don’t understand how *anyone* starts smoking these days, now that we know the consequences of it.

          3. ssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

            Do you drink coffee? What happens when you stop drinking coffee? I get a headache for a day or two. But then I miss coffee as part of my routine in the morning, or after lunch or you feel as if something is missing. You like the smell, the flavour, how it goes with chocolate cake. So, you go for a cup (and then regret it for a day as your heart races for hours).

            I’m not addicted to coffee. But man I still miss it. Alas, it makes my heart race and I feel gross so I can’t anymore.

            It’s not so easy to quit smoking and I don’t smoke! But I’ve watched other try and try and try…

            Cigarette smokers smoke for the nicotine hit but also for the mental break it provides, the curbing of appetite, the stress relief (for some), the social break. You miss that too.

            My dad quit smoking over 30 years ago. When he smells it, he still misses smoking.

              1. JKP*

                Please cite the research, because it’s no where near as addictive as heroin. Nicotine is actually LESS addictive than caffeine.

                1. Indigo a la mode*

                  That fact is in the report entitled The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction: A Report of the Surgeon General, May 17, 1988. It’s available online but would cause the comment to go to moderation if I posted a link. Apparently Canada’s cigarette packs also say that nicotine can be harder to quit than heroin or cocaine, but as an American I can’t substantiate that.

                  I’m not saying I agree with sensationalist sentences like that–addiction is addiction, whether the drug is legal or not, and it’s almost never easy to quit–just thought I’d look it up myself to see if the claim was backed up.

            1. The Other Dawn*

              I’ve never been a smoker, either, and I agree that it’s very difficult to stop smoking. My husband quit cold-turkey years ago and it was easy for him, but that’s definitely not common. And he still misses it every once in awhile. Everyone in my family is or was a smoker had a really tough time. Only my parents and one sister successfully quit after a few tries. My late brother and my two other sisters stopped and restarted multiple times without lasting success. It’s not just the nicotine hit, it’s the ingrained habit, and the habit is much harder to break.

            2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

              A day or two? I get headaches for a week when I give up caffeine. But I drink pop and not coffee, so maybe the sugar makes a difference? Don’t know. I do know I go back to it because it is the delicious delicious elixir of the gods.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                My caffeine withdrawal is just a day or two, and that’s true whether the caffeine delivery system is soda or chocolate. So either you’re more sensitive to the blood vessel constrictions that drive the headaches, or maybe you’ve got a secondary intermittent source of caffeine? I only get my caffeine through chocolate now, but when I drank sodas, I never considered chocolate as a caffeine delivery method.

                Things I hate about it: no pain relievers really do much of anything to relieve those headaches, and I can’t eat chocolate after 2pm without being AWAKE well after midnight.

          4. Crivens!*

            I chose to start drinking as well, and it took a fair amount of determination to learn to like the taste. Doesn’t make my alcoholism later a choice. (I’m okay folks, over three years sober)

          5. Marthooh*

            It’s easy to quit smoking; I’ve done it hundreds of times myself.

            NB — I think this might be something Mark Twain actually said.

          6. Liane*

            Not all smokers would agree. My dad tried quitting 2 or 3 times before succeeding when I was a kid. Years later, a good friend died from cardiac disease in his early 40s. He quit tobacco smoking when he was diagnosed and confided to me that for him it was much harder than when he’d gotten off hard illicit drugs (heroin, etc.) a decade before.

          7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I was 19 and studying for the finals. I took one hit of my first cigarette and was, “where has this wonderful substance been all my life?” And then it took me 20 years and multiple attempts to quit to break the habit. Maybe some people had to work hard at becoming a smoker, but I haven’t personally met any.

            As for it being easy to stop… I have two chidren that I breastfed for 5 months and 21 months, respectively. I stopped smoking for the entire duration of pregnancy/breastfeeding with both. And each time, I counted days to when I could finally have my cigarette again. 72 hours and over it would’ve been amazing. Every smoker and former smoker that I know has had similar experiences, are you sure you are talking about smoking nicotine and not something else?

          8. Parenthetically*

            “Fortunately though, it’s pretty easy to stop”

            hahahahahahahahahahaha

            You don’t know… ANY smokers, do you?

          9. n*

            I once quit smoking cold turkey, and it triggered extreme suicidal ideation for *months* afterward. Talk about loss productivity at work… I couldn’t do anything because all my brain would let me think about was wanting to die. So, no, it’s not easy to just stop.

          10. LCL*

            This…is not always true. My experience, and that of others in my age group was much different. If your mother smoked when she was pregnant with you, as so many did in the days before all of the deleterious effects of tobacco were known, you may end up really liking nicotine. That first cigarette was a rush the likes of I had never felt before. I remember thinking ‘wow, this is for me!’ No nausea, no forcing myself to get through a few packs until I adjusted. Yeah, this is anecdotal, but it’s not just my experience. And I’m not trying to justify picking up the habit. I am so worried about the people who wouldn’t have touched a tobacco product, but start vaping because they believe no tobacco leaf equals a safe product.

          11. Coldbrewinacup*

            Lol
            You’re actually arguing that it’s just THAT SIMPLE to quit?!
            This kind of nonsense just kills me. People who have no clue what it’s like to be addicted to something try to tell addicts “it’s so easy, you can stop whenever you want!”
            Just stop.

        2. MLB*

          Nobody is forcing people to smoke. There are a lot of factors at play when someone starts smoking, but all of them involve CHOICE.

          1. Marthooh*

            This is true of nearly all addictive substances, though. Saying “It involves choice!” doesn’t make it not an addiction.

              1. 2 Cents*

                But what’s your point? If someone starts smoking by choice at 16 and develops an addiction, does that make it less valid? Or are you saying that because they have the potential to quit doing something that’s bad for them, they should be punished for not quitting?

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            Should we also ask people with disabilities whether their condition is the result of a genetic condition, illness, or a choice (sports injury, etc.)? This seems like a slippery slope to go down, starting from a place of petty judgementalness.

            And I say that as someone who’s really sensitive to tobacco smoke and would be elated if everyone stopped smoking tomorrow.

            1. MLB*

              You are taking my comment out of context. Comparing being a smoker with having a disability is apples and oranges. I was responding to a specific comment but you (and the 2 above you) are completely missing my point.

        3. 2 Cents*

          Whether it’s a choice or an addiction is kind of irrelevant to me. It’s basing hiring practices on someone’s lifestyle rather than their ability to do the job. I’m not naive to think that money plays a strong role in the day-to-day operations of any organization. It opens the door for a whole host of other situations that have no bearing on whether someone is capable and perhaps more noxious is the loss of opportunity, not to mention that a corporate entity is now entering into areas that are not work related.

          1. JKP*

            But if an employer has enough other good candidates who can do the job, why wouldn’t they choose someone who is a nonsmoker and thus will cost them thousands less per year to do the same job?

              1. JKP*

                But it’s not just healthcare costs. There are many other factors that make smokers more expensive employees. Another study showed that the average smoker takes enough smoking breaks that they work 1 month less per year than the average nonsmoker (citation in my earlier comment). Obviously, the solution to that is to limit breaks, which a lot of companies have become more strict about.

                Personally, I don’t think companies should police employees outside lifestyle choices. I’m just saying that when it’s legal for them save money by only hiring nonsmokers, then it’s not surprising that they do.

                I work with a lot of smokers helping them to quit, and I’ve heard this story more and more, where companies are testing for nicotine and they have to quit smoking in order to work. Or where the companies still employ smokers, but have no smoking on their campus including parking lots, so smokers have to drive off site to have a cigarette. It’s just becoming more and more inconvenient to be a smoker, which the motivation for a lot of people I see who want to quit smoking.

                1. Jasnah*

                  So don’t hire people with smart phones either, I’m sure their bathroom breaks are longer than people without.

                  Sure it’s legal to discriminate based on lifestyle choices, but that doesn’t mean we should agree with it. It’s a company’s natural instinct to squeeze workers, doesn’t mean we should let it happen.

              2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                Yup. That was my first thought while reading OP’s letter. Reason 57123574 why our healthcare should not be tied to our place of employment.

              3. Queen of Alpha*

                THANK YOU. I have no interest in living in a society where my employers get to dictate my lifestyle and access to health care while underpaying me.

            1. 2 Cents*

              But by that logic, why wouldn’t they choose someone who is thin or who doesn’t have children. My point is that by excluding candidates based on their (non-protected legally) lifestyle, it opens the door to excluding candidates for other reasons based on a value judgment that has nothing to do with their ability to do the work well.

          2. Indigo a la mode*

            Hiring managers also weigh things like whether you’ll actually want to do the two-hour commute or whether a person with a Master’s will really stay long in a receptionist role. Maybe they don’t know best every time, but educated guesses about candidates’ lifestyles could make a significant business impact. No one’s work is immune to their life outside work.

      1. WS*

        Smoking is also much more common among people with a mental illness and people who grew up in or live in poverty, so it’s a nasty little work-around exclusion for those people, too. (And I say this as a lifelong non-smoker.)

            1. Washi*

              And people from certain parts of the world! (thinking of Eastern Europe)

              I’ve read that something like 80% of smokers started before age 18, which to me means that when you punish smokers, you’re punishing someone for a confluence of environmental factors and choices they made before they were even a legal adult.

              OP, I hope your husband gets a job! And I hope employers rethink this trend :(

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                Eastern Europe here, can confirm. My ex-husband started smoking when he was 5 (FIVE YEARS OLD). I know he didn’t make it up, because a guy I grew up with started at seven and I was 8 and had front-row seats to the show. Quite a few people started in middle school or earlier.

                1. SignalLost*

                  I think my mother said once she started at 7. She grew up in America. (Granted, in the 1940s, but still.)

      1. TL -*

        There are a number of risks people can choose to partake in, but smoking is by far one of the most costly (legal) ones with high risk for inducing chronic illnesses, which are usually the biggest cost to an insurance company. In fact, amateur athletes are lowering their risk of the most common long term illnesses and most common injuries of amateur athletes are cheaper to treat and will be resolved with one round of treatment. And the cost of treating lung cancer can be astronomical, with the majority of patients only getting a few months to a few years extra time.

        Which isn’t to say discriminating against smokers is okay -it’s not – but the cost of an average smoker to a healthcare system is far larger that than that of average runners or powerlifters and it’s disingenuous to pretend you can replicate that risk through most other normal habits and pastimes.

        1. MJ*

          It’s not just the cost of treating lung cancer. Smoking is also associated with heart disease and stroke – both very costly to treatment. And sometimes patients have multiple diseases caused by smoking. The tax on them covers very little of the financial burden smokers ultimately cost.

          1. ssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

            Or are just chronically sick. Worked with two smokers. One was never sick (had migraines instead). The other catches every cold out there and whatever she catches, she’s SICK. And misses a ton of work. Bronchitis repeatedly. She blew threw our 18 (!!) sick days two years ago and then some.

          2. TL -*

            Yes to all of this – chronic diseases associated with smoking are expensive; on top of that, treating cancer can be astronomically expensive.

            If you’re sick, your insurance should cover your treatment no matter the cause. But from a public health perspective, it does no good to minimize the effects of smoking on a population.

            1. Ice Storm*

              No everyone who smokes gets lung cancer, COPD, or any other dread disease. My mom died at 91 after being a lifelong chain smoker. She didn’t have cancer of any type, emphysema, COPD, none of that.

              I’m a nonsmoker who hates smoke, but there are lots of bad habits with health impact. Sleep too little? Eat red meat? Fat? What about mental illnesses with no physical manifestation? This is a very slippery slope. Smokers need to earn a living too. Just state up front “No smokers/fat people/meat eaters, etc. need apply”, and wait for all the perfect people to apply.

              1. TL -*

                Yes, that’s why I said average in my original comment. The average smoker is quite expensive. Of course there are exceptions – my grandmother smoked for thirty or forty years, quit for her grandkids, lived a healthy 91 years.
                Her sister also smoked and spent the last two decades of her life attached to an oxygen bottle with very restricted mobility. Died in her 70s.

                There are lots of bad habits with health impacts. There are very few with health impacts equal to the size of smoking.

          3. boop the first*

            Alcohol is significantly worse, yet binge drinking is still cool, bar hopping is still a social activity in the workplace, and nevermind this weird moms+wine merchandise that’s inexplicably popular at the moment. I imagine we’ll be having this same conversation a decade from now about craft beer.

          4. ket*

            Actually, I’ve heard that one of the quickest things we could do to lower health-care costs in America would be have everyone start smoking again. That stroke, that lung cancer — they’re expensive ’til they kill you. Nothing compared to the cost of housing and caring for someone with Alzheimer’s for ten+ years!

    4. Pomona Sprout*

      “Smokers may be more expensive to insure, but so are people with chronic illnesses,”

      This is really not a valid analogy, because nobody chooses to have a chronic illness. Addiction or no addiction, there is an element of choice involved in smoking. Not so with (to name just a few examples) ms, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, lupus, etc., etc.

      Smoking causes a myriad of diseases and a great many deaths AND it’s something a person can choose not do (with effort). Not at all the same thing!

      1. Asenath*

        Nevertheless, I don’t think people should be screening out legal activities done on one’s own time, as would happen with nicotine testing. Companies that do this may be saving money – but they’re doing it by eliminating job candidates on the basis of something that has absolutely nothing to do with how well they can do the job.

        Unfortunately, probably all OP’s husband can do is try to find an employer that is more interested in his skills than in whether or not he smokes when he’s off the job.

        1. CTT*

          But two of the three job’s OP mentioned are front-facing/involve heavy customer interaction, which leads me to think the employers are concerned about the lingering smell of cigarette smoke, which cancels out the “on one’s own time” factor.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            This is especially an issue in healthcare, where Alison notes this is a pretty common thing. Third hand smoke is a thing that causes health issues, so if you’re working in a place where you’re around people who are ill, it makes perfect sense not to want to risk that.

            I work for a healthcare organization. We’re banned from smoking during our shift, even if you go off site for a break or lunch.

            1. Asenath*

              The evidence for health damage from “third hand smoke” is pretty shaky, from what I’ve read. It’s often based on the “discovery” of extremely small amounts of contaminants, ignore the dosage effect, and lack any connection to illness at those levels.

              And if the smell of smoke is noticeable in a front-facing worker, it should surely be dealt with like any other similar issue – bad breath, fish, etc. Eliminating anyone who has nicotine in their blood from a job because they might smell bad is like using an elephant gun to kill a mouse.

              Lots of places bar smoking on the job; that’s generally their right, and as a lifetime non-smoker, I’m glad that people no longer smoke in many places, particularly places that food is served. I’m satisfied with that. I don’t want and won’t gain any benefit from workplaces eliminating any worker who has had nicotine in his bloodstream.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                If you smoke, the smell is noticeable. It’s not like blowing the smoke away, or popping a mint, is going to remove that smell.

                Sure, if you rub fish on yourself, and it’s in your hair and clothes and skin and possibly being extruded from your pores as well, that’s undesirable–and so why people who rub fish on themselves would not be considered for those positions.

                1. Scribbles*

                  Yeah, if you had an offensive smell because you only showered once a month or were applying cologne very heavily, you might not get hired after an interview or your current employer would presumably talk to you about it and fire you eventually if you refused to change your habits.

                  I think of smoking as the same thing. It’s a voluntary habit that causes a smell that affects other people around you, so it’s fine to make hiring/firing decisions based on it.

                  It sucks that people on nicotine patches who are trying to quit may have a harder time finding a job, but job hunting isn’t always fair to everyone. Hopefully it makes them more determined to quit. :/

              2. blackcat*

                You also have people like me who are deathly allergic to tobacco. I can’t be in the same room as a smoker, even if it’s been a while since they smoked. My throat closes, I have asthma attacks. Can’t even touch the plant. Family lore says I had a great aunt with the same condition. She died of asthma as a child, because everyone smoked then.

                1. Indigo a la mode*

                  I’m so sorry to hear that. I can’t stand cigarette smoke, but at least it’s not an actual medical problem. It makes me so angry to read about people who developed childhood asthma, allergies, cancer, etc. because adults chose to smoke around them. I was trapped in a car ONCE with a chain smoker as a teenager. I never got in a smoker’s car again.

              3. That Dude with the Hair*

                I’m an asthmatic and sensitive to cigarette smoke (including 3rd hand smoke) and so will never personally be affected by this kind of ban. Even with that, I’m still not sure I’m ok with an employer screening out smokers.

                Last year I saw a job post where they specifically said that the campus was tobacco free and that smokers/tobacco users were not eligible for employment with the organization. I still didn’t apply because I thought it was employer over reach into my personal life (this was NOT a religious, healthcare, or other type of place where it would make sense). I was concerned about what other personal choices might come up for inspection later. No drinking in public? (We’ve seen that on this site) No protesting? Inspections to make sure your car is safe for a position that doesn’t require driving? No eating meat for lunch? No caffeine?

                Slippery slope? Maybe, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. One could even argue this would be a good example. It’s starts with companies banning smoking at work, then charging them more for insurance, now they’re banning smokers entirely. Yes smoking is a choice, yes it’s unhealthy and yes, while difficult quitting is totally possible. But it’s still legal, doesn’t cause impairment (like drinking or weed), and for most fields isn’t going to be a problem (other than turning off customers with the smell).

                I’m 100% OK with employers banning smoking from places of employment. And I totally understand the impulse and the arguments for banning smokers entirely…. I just can’t bring myself to be ok with that level of intrusion into my personal life and choices unless there is a DAMN good reason for it.

            2. ScienceTeacher*

              I have asthma, and I get chest pains and migraines from smelling smoke on a person, or an object from their smoky house/car. I’ll tolerate it from a brief interaction at a store, but I would switch doctors if I found out they employed people who would make me sick.
              I’d go out of my way to patronize a business that had a policy that ensured my health and safety by keeping cigarette smoke away from me.

              1. NLMC*

                Same with me. Smelling cigarette smoke leads to asthma attacks and migraines.
                We moved buildings last year and the new property manager doesn’t allow smoking anywhere on campus including cars. It’s so nice not smelling it throughout the parking garage and outside the front door. So it might make smokers upset they have to go across the street it make my daily life much better.
                We do test for nicotine around open enrollment. If you don’t have it in your system or if you complete a free cessation program you get an insurance discount.

          2. Tyche*

            Yeah, that’s possibly a problem.

            I have to say that in three different occasions I changed my shopping habits to avoid a bookshop, a coffee shop and a beautician where the owner or an employee smoke frequently.

            Especially with the beautician, it was impossible for me to visit their shop without feeling somewhat ill from the heavy tobacco odour.

            That said I’m particularly sensitive to the odour an I tend to avoid people who smokes.

            1. Ice Storm*

              I hate the smell of cigarette smoke and folks actively smoking around me makes my chest constrict (I have a heart condition). I note that some businesses, particularly health care related, are becoming smoke free campuses, no smoking onside or outside the facility. I welcome this. But I do not think it is right to exclude someone because of nicotine in their system that was ingested far away from the job.

              1. Ophelia*

                Not to mention that–if someone is using nicotine patches–the issues of second- or third-hand smoke are negated, so it’s no longer an issue for client-facing jobs. (I’m also allergic to cigarette smoke, but for me it’s a relatively minor allergy – I have to be around secondhand smoke to really feel the breathing effects. I don’t *like* thirdhand smoke, but I don’t have an immediate reaction to it.)

        2. I coulda been a lawyer*

          As a former smoker in customer service I can’t begin to tell you how annoyed I get daily that my smoking colleagues are never there when you need them. We have hours of relative boredom broken up by moments of terror and the smokers are always off smoking. Always.

          1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

            This was my thought. If the bank tellers are always dashing off for a quick smoke leaving the one non-smoker to cover all the lines (they do like to smoke in packs) or the security guard is disappearing from the area he should be watching for a quick smoke, then in the future the hiring managers would probably prefer to hire someone where that won’t be an issue. Some of this may be them just wanting to avoid problems they’ve had before.

            1. Roy G. Biv*

              This — “they do like to smoke in packs” — very much this! It seems the social aspect of smoking is even more ingrained than the nicotine hit. I have worked with exactly one smoker who would go smoke and hustle right back into the office. The rest make the rounds, gathering up their fellow smokers, and then all go smoke together. It’s like watching a random social club have a mutual 20 minute break every hour.

              1. Indigo a la mode*

                I *wish* more businesses would do this. I have to try hard to ignore the fact that soooo many restaurant workers smoke. Obviously they aren’t doing it while they’re cooking, but my food is still in awfully close proximity…and I’ve worked in a kitchen, I know how generally unsanitary they can be.

            2. Just Elle*

              I mean, I think its really unfair to punish the group as a whole because individuals don’t respect break times. The root cause is the excessive break time, not the smoking.

              But ‘security guard wanders off for a smoke’ just struck me as the beginning to virtually every bad 80s heist movie ever, lol, so there’s that.

          2. Ice Storm*

            This was a pet peeve of mine when I worked in the office. Smokers got way more than the allotted time for breaks. I used to joke that I was going to chew on a straw and take breaks for that whenever I felt like it. I don’t understand why cigarettes are still legal.

            1. Linda*

              I know several people who were laid off for taking too many smoke breaks. At my first job out of school, the people who were generally laid off first were the smokers. In one instance, the CEO fired one employee because he was irritated that every time he saw the employee, the employee was outside smoking a cigarette.

          3. BananaPants*

            Prior to our corporate campus banning smoking/vaping on company property, our smokers went right outside the doors to smoke. The relative inconvenience of having to walk or drive off company property was what prompted most of the few remaining smokers in my building to quit. Instead of popping right outside the side door for “just 5 minutes” (yeah, right), taking a smoke break was a lot more time consuming and IMO made those breaks more obvious to managers and coworkers.

        3. Lanon*

          I mean, employers are also screening out candidates who haven’t been keeping up with their qualifications privately. Not doing that is perfectly legal and ethical in your own time, yet employers screen out for it.

          If it’s a business advantage to screen for, and legal to screen for, go for it.

          1. Parenthetically*

            Not keeping up qualifications has a direct impact on the job.

            If smoking (or immoderate weekend drinking, or rock-climbing, or doing sprint-sets on uneven ground in ill-fitting shoes, or any other legal but possibly-health-impacting activity) doesn’t DIRECTLY AFFECT THE PERFORMANCE OF JOB DUTIES, then employers should butt the hell out.

            I’m asthmatic, terribly sensitive to smoke, think smoking is a filthy habit and had THREE grandparents die of smoking-related illness. I still think this policy is BS.

      2. Someone On-Line*

        The ACA was wonderful in many respects, but it does specifically allow different insurance premiums for smokers vs. non-smokers.

        I do want to say, as someone who works in the tobacco prevention and cessation field, that saying smoking is a choice is a gross oversimplification. I am also opposed to hiring discrimination based on smoking status and charging different insurance rates for smokers vs. non-smokers. We should punish companies that made a deliberate choice to addict teenagers to a substance that will kill them rather than punishing individuals who will probably suffer greatly from their addiction.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          This, times a thousand.

          Punishing the people suffering from addiction does not make it easier to quit. Making their lives harder, more expensive, and more stressful will if anything reinforce the dependence.

          1. Indigo a la mode*

            I’m trying to think of the nicest possible way to say this, because I really am mindful of disabilities, addiction being a disease, etc., etc. But the fact is that we are not responsible for making it easier for people to nurse their addictions, and if they’re *suffering* from addiction, they should be taking steps to rehabilitate. I’m sympathetic to the difficulties of quitting and so supportive of anyone taking those steps. But I don’t think we should go out of our way to make things easier for addicts, either, especially it that involves creating a more hazardous environment for everyone around them (which secondhand smoke does).

            As far as making things expensive goes, everyone I know who smokes/smoked laments the enormous expense of their addiction. (Same thing for drinkers.) And frankly, it is reasonable to charge addicts higher insurance premiums because no matter how you slice it, they are generally more likely to have higher health costs than people who don’t partake. I don’t mean to be reductive, but between these two factors, it seems like quitting is the simplest (if not the easiest) path to making life less expensive.

        2. Parenthetically*

          A-freaking-men to all of this.

          Punitive measures do not help people quit. They entrench people in their addictions.

        3. JKP*

          I also work in the smoking cessation field and have helped 30-40 smokers a week quit with close to 80% success rate and I come down on the side of smoking being a choice.

          Smoking is definitely strongly HABIT forming, but only mildly addicitive – less physically addictive than caffeine. Personally, I have a habit of locking my door when I leave the house, but I’m not addicted to it, even though it make take some practice to change that habit. Quit smoking methods that focus on the habit part of smoking have a much higher success rate than those that focus on the nicotine.

          Lumping smokers together with other drug addicts, believing that smoking is more addictive than heroin (has anyone who says that ever seen someone in a detox center coming off of heroin?), these are beliefs being cultivated by the tobacco industry to keep people smoking.

          When the tobacco industry lost all those lawsuits to the states and were forced to pay money for stop smoking PSA’s, those first PSA’s were made by outside design firms. They were targeted at teens to prevent them from smoking, they focused on smoking being gross and the social stigma of smoking (remember “kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray”?) and they were more effective at preventing kids from starting smoking. The tobacco industry was able to wrest control of those ads and have in-house design teams creating those PSA’s now. On the surface, they look like stop smoking ads that fulfill their legal obligation. But they are actually covert smoking ads targeting current smokers, convincing them that it’s impossible for them to quit. Notice the next time you watch a stop smoking ad, it’s always the health effects of smoking (which has a much lower likelihood of motivating someone to quit) plus lots of stats about how hard it is to quit with a short tagline advising not to start smoking. But the placement of the ad means the demographic it’s reaching is likely current smokers, not younger nonsmokers. And the purpose of those “stop smoking” ads is to convince current smokers that it’s impossible for them to quit.

            1. JKP*

              It depends on what research you look at. I’m not saying that there are zero addictive properties to nicotine, I’m just saying that the habit part is far greater than any physical addiction. Caffeine is addictive too, but people don’t think they’re so addicted to caffeine that they can’t stop.

              https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100713144920.htm
              Smoking mind over smoking matter: Surprising new study shows cigarette cravings result from habit, not addiction

              1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

                I notice that this isn’t a peer reviewed journal and it only cites a single researchers work, so paint me skeptical at best given the number of citations in the article I linked

                1. JKP*

                  I’m just trying to reply quickly during breaks at work. I have more research I can link to when I get home and can go through all of my materials and pull out all those citations for you. I read through your link, which I was already familiar with, which again only shows that nicotine does have some addictive properties, but not to what degree. My comment was about the degree to which it is addictive vs how much of smoking is simply habit.

                2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                  With respect, the article you linked is only looking at nicotine addiction. As everyone agrees that nicotine is addictive, it doesn’t really prove anything in the debate about whether it’s easier to break a habit or a chemical addiction. The paper even says that habits make the nicotine addiction worse.

          1. Someone On-Line*

            Smoking may be a choice, but addiction is not. And I only say smoking is a choice, because I do believe people can and do quit. But I don’t say that to minimize the struggle. If it were easy, cold turkey wouldn’t have a 7% success rate.

            I’m also curious as to which PSAs you are referring to? The Tips campaign is from the CDC and the Real Cost ads are from the FDA – I’m not aware of tobacco industry input on either of those campaigns.

            Finally, which program are you using for cessation? Is 80% quit rate at end of program, six months or a year? I ask because I’m always looking for new ideas!

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              But…….addiction only happens if you first make the choice to partake. I recognize that addiction is a disease, and that there’s genetic predisposition, but let’s not act like addiction strikes you down out of nowhere like MS or leukemia might.

              (Outside of exceptionally extreme circumstances that I’m sure we could conjure up, such as an abusive partner sticking someone with a heroin needle as they sleep, or something.)

              1. Jasnah*

                All along this thread you are pushing this idea that addiction happens in a vacuum, with no social or other factors influencing one’s desire to start and continue to smoke.

                You are so forgiving on other topics where someone made a wrong choice once, or they didn’t have all the information, or they were misled and are now paying for that choice. Why should employers be allowed to punish them as well?

                What about diseases that also can be triggered or affected by lifestyle choices, like diabetes or HIV? Absent the ADA, should companies be allowed to discriminate because “they made their choice, and besides they’re more expensive to insure”? I don’t think that’s right.

      3. Scarlet2*

        “This is really not a valid analogy, because nobody chooses to have a chronic illness. ”

        The distinction is largely moral though, and I don’t think employers (or insurers) should act like moral authorities.

      4. 2 cents*

        Ok, let’s go with fat people instead. The analogy is sound. Whether it’s a choice or not is irrelevant. People make choices every day that impact their health and wellness. I would argue if you agree it’s fine for companies to discriminate based on smoking, then you’re also validating the opportunity to punish people for other reasons that have no basis on their character or ability to do the job.

        1. WoolAnon*

          Unlike obesity or most different other conditions, smoking doesn’t just affect the smoker. Given the well-known effects of second-hand smoke, a smoker is pretty much poisoning other people.

          I’m so, so glad smoking isn’t allowed inside office buildings, as that would really restrict where I and other non-smokers could work. That would be unbearably nasty.

          Slightly back on topic: Op#2 – congratulations to your husband for working on quitting! And I wish him luck; I have no first-hand knowledge on the topic of addictions, but I’ve seen others struggle with similar things.

        2. Sunflower*

          The difference is that someone being overweight near me doesn’t bother or affect me in any way.

          Smokers? I have to deal with getting dizzy and nauseous from their smoking. The smell drags everywhere they go, and if they think that popping a mint makes all the difference in the world, they’re delusional.

          I’m completely in favour of not hiring smokers. Completely.

            1. Sunflower*

              I am, actually. I’m not a hiring manager but I’ve interviewed people for my team. If two people are equally qualified and one’s a smoker, of course I won’t hire the smoker. Why would I?

          1. Catleesi*

            The issue then is the smell and not the smoking. If you have an employee that is smoking and is bringing that scent into the workplace, you address the scent issue. They need to find a way to deal with it, just as someone would if they had body odor issues.

            1. Sunflower*

              I do deal. I deal by not hiring them in the first place, just like I wouldn’t hire someone who waltzes into an interview stinking of BO.

            2. Indigo a la mode*

              It’s not just the scent. If I have to walk by people smoking when I leave the building, that’s a hazard to my heath completely outside my control, and I shouldn’t have to deal with it.

              Besides, from my experience, smokers have no idea how bad it smells. As one example, my aunt said that it took two months after she quit to get her nose back and start smelling how much her house reeked of cigarettes. She had to pretty much fumigate the place to make it bearable for herself once she was able to smell it.

      5. Just Elle*

        But some chronic illnesses are lifestyle driven choices: for example, type 2 diabetes is thought to be entirely preventable.
        And, as others have pointed out, what about the myriad health complications that arise from being morbidly obese? It would be hard to argue obesity doesn’t contribute to healthcare costs. Plus it can sometimes even require special accommodations like larger chairs.
        So since being obese is a “choice” just as much as nicotine addiction is, why aren’t we allowed to screen out candidates based on BMI? Why don’t we do a big annual weigh in and fire anyone who’s gotten too fat?
        Heck, even if they’re skinny we can hook them up to a lie detector and force them to divulge every time they’ve ever eaten donuts in their life, since that’s a choice and its pretty unhealthy.
        While we’re at it, if they have migraines why don’t we force them to prove they’ve never eaten a migraine trigger food in a moment of weakness?? Same goes for gluten intolerant people eating bread or lactose intolerant people eating cheese.

        Smoking is gross, sure, but no one deserves to be treated like a second class citizen because they make a completely legal choice on their own time.

        1. Just Elle*

          To be clear – I am absolutely not saying that being overweight is a ‘choice’. But I certainly don’t believe its any less a choice than becoming addicted to nicotine.
          Both can technically be overcome, but there are so many factors including genetics, upbringing, education, access to medical care, stress level, etc… that make it enormously difficult to do so.

        2. Jasnah*

          I totally agree with this. I hate tobacco but I hate that smokers are treated as “they got what they deserved”.

    5. Crivens!*

      It is completely abhorrent, and it’s because our health insurance system is, too. It should never be my employer’s or anyone else’s business how “expensive” I might be to insure.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Lets be real. If employees could legally refuse to hire you because you had a chronic health condition, they would. The law is the only thing keeping that from happening. And I would still bet some employers still play guessing games about people’s health before they hire them. Smoking is free game because it isn’t currently politically popular to be pro-smoking, so no one is gonna go to bat for them.

        1. Just Elle*

          Agreed. Just because its legal, doesn’t mean its right. All the discrimination laws came to be because people were being discriminated against and had to be added to the protected list. Because there’s no way to legislate “just be fair to everyone” the law will always be behind on adding people who deserve protection to the list.

      2. 2nd Coffee today*

        Yes but on the other hand I would rather not be hired for a job, than to hired and then be laid off because I ran the Health Insurance up too much.

        1. JanMA*

          Plus how do insurance companies know which employees smoke? I’ve never been asked (upon hire) whether I smoked or not. And I can’t see my HR rep reporting smokers to the insurance company??

          1. 2nd Coffee today*

            Really it is apart of our yearly insurance questionnaire, but now large insurance companies are offering health programs or vitality programs under the guise of offering employees prizes (apples watches, etc) for getting screenings and getting healthy and lowering costs for employers. To get started you have a yearly evaluation with a nurse and when you give your blood to check for diabetes, Cholesterol, Triglycerides, etc they are also testing for smoking.

            1. Just Elle*

              Ugh yes, those ick me out and I refuse. I don’t think its any of my employer’s (or their business partners’) business what my weight, cholesterol, or blood sugar looks like.

    6. Crivens!*

      Oh and it also allows people to avoid hiring anyone outside of the approved of weight range, assuming they will be more pricey to insure. There’s not a legal protection against that. And sure, the ADA applies, but it would be hard to have enforced with plenty of illnesses, and employers know that. “Sorry, we don’t feel you’re a culture fit!”

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Lanon, speaking as someone who is fit, and not obese, I find your automatic assumption that being obese is indicative of other character flaws absolutely abhorrent. Some people have a hard time losing weight, some were always big, and some have genetic conditions. Being obese is not a factor of anything other than being obese. I certainly hope you’re not a hiring manager.

          1. Frozen Ginger*

            *You* could beat it handily. But not everyone can.

            There are certain factors to weight that are basically out of your control. For example, if you’re mobility-impaired, it’s gonna be harder to exercise. Certain medications can cause you to gain and keep a significant amount of weight.

          2. Jules the 3rd*

            Well, let’s see what happened to me, going from a ‘healthy’ weight to 50lbs over, in the course of one decade:
            Kid: +5 lbs
            Hypothyroidism, fully medicated: +25 lbs
            Other required medication: +15 lbs
            Diet / exercise: consistent for 8+ years; less the last 2: +5 lbs
            (all weights gained within 3mo of diagnosis / prescription, except the kid weight. That took nine.)

            The medical evidence is piling up that our bodies ‘set’ a weight, and getting below it is really hard. The ‘set’ weight is impacted by illness, medication, age for sure, probably other factors. It’s *complicated*, not as easy as ‘self control’. I have tons of self control.

            Source: NIH, google ” PMC2990627 “

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Agree, this is just protestant ethic gone wild. I thought I’d heard everything in my life, but “being obese is indicative of other character flaws, like lack of self control or sufficient attention to detail” is a new one to me. Disclaimer, I’ve been at a healthy weight my whole life, as have most of my family members, because we won the genetic lottery. Not because of our upstanding moral character.

            1. Thursday Next*

              And chances are, your family had an environmental impact as well—you ate what they ate. Young children rarely have independent access to foods their families don’t eat or have at home.

              1. Thursday Next*

                What I mean to say, is that the die for obesity can be cast when a child is very young, before they’ve had the opportunity to make their own choices about food.

              2. Just Elle*

                But isn’t the same true for smoking? Many people grew up in smoking households and that laid the ground work for their future addiction.

                I’m not trying to argue that obesity is a choice – I’m saying its absolutely no less a choice than being addicted to nicotine is.

                1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  I do think there is a difference because you can quit smoking completely, but you always need to eat.

                  Smoking is more comparable to alcohol or illegal drugs in terms of addiction. And somehow, all of those are generally treated as more societially acceptable than an eating disorder/obesity.

        2. Lanon*

          I’m overweight myself and have to acknowledge that it is a character flaw of mine, that I have nothing to blame for but myself. Sure on a broader societal level you could say health education sucks, and companies stuffing empty calories into everything are also culpable, but eating too much is ultimately my choice. Most overweight people are like me in that regard. I already said I recognize not everyone is.

          1. SongbirdT*

            It sounds like your weight really bothers you. Please be kind to yourself though. It isn’t a character flaw. You are not a flawed person because of your size. You are defined by so much more than that.

          2. Meredith Brooks*

            Sorry bud. Not most overweight people are like you. Your experience is yours alone. I’m sure it makes you feel better and less lonely to assume that everyone is going through what you are. But the reasons someone may be fat or skinny or anxious or happy are due to a myriad of factors. So, paint with your own brush.

          3. SemiRetired*

            Sorry, I didn’t realize your judgment was coming from your assessment of your personal situation. You could be wrong about yourself having a character flaw that causes obesity. What is the flaw? Gluttony? Lack of will power? An inability to find and apply information about diet, nutrition, and exercise? An addiction to childhood comfort foods? An inability to shop for groceries?
            Even if you assume some obesity is caused by some character flaw, you have no way of knowing which flaw it is, and whether or not it would matter in a job setting.
            You really can’t assume “most” overweight people have a character flaw. At most, you might be able to infer that “some” overweight people are flawed, and that some subset of those might be flawed in the same way you are.
            But then, most people of all sizes have some character flaw. It serves no purpose to extrapolate that someone your size shares exactly your flaws.
            That’s what I meant by “examine your bias.” If you do, you’ll find it doesn’t hold up logically, statistically, or realistically.

        3. Lanon*

          Didn’t mean for it to be offensive – I’m overweight myself and fully aware that it’s something that stems from my lack of enough self control. It’s very true that there are a lot of people whose fault it isn’t, and legal protections should extend to them, but for people like me, it’s not employers fault and the increased rates of illness and cost should not be theirs to bear.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Okay, but how is an employer to know simply by looking at a person what the reason is for their obesity? Mine is courtesy of my mental illness. Do I deserve protection for that? Am I obligated to disclose my mental illness so you don’t think I “lack self control”?

        4. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Alison doesn’t read all the comments. If you want her to see something, you need to include a link to send it to moderation.

          I’ve already flagged this comment for her.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Oh, that’s one way to do it! I always just drop a link to google when I want to flag something.

        5. Meredith Brooks*

          Which one could say is due to companies not contributing to a healthy lifestyle. Ironic, dontchathink? :)

        6. Parenthetically*

          And indicative of an evolutionary survival response from constant restriction, compounded by poor medical care, the stress of being constantly bombarded with shame messages, internalized self-loathing, and having strangers call you a morally flawed person because of the size of your body.

    7. Just Elle*

      I was utterly flabbergasted by this as well. What’s next, testing peoples blood glucose to make sure they aren’t diabetic? And why is type 2 diabetes a protected disability but not a nicotine addiction? (To be clear, I think they both should be protected by law).

      Both are (currently thought to be) 100% preventable lifestyle decisions. But because someone with diabetes is (or was at one point) addicted to sugar instead of nicotine, that makes it somehow different? I’m not buying it.

      Making hiring decisions based on cost to insure is an abhorrent practice and part of the reason I always feel so icky about the interplay between healthcare and jobs.

  11. Ponytail*

    I’m really stunned at the advice to letter 4. I’m assuming this is one of those trans-Atlantic differences, because discussing another candidate in your interview would be a huge faux pas in the UK. I had an interview recently where one of the other candidates had the same job I’d had previously – we’re actually friends now – and we didn’t mention it at all. In fact, if the interview panel had asked me about our connection, I would have been really shocked, and they possibly could have broken employment law by asking me something they weren’t asking other candidates. There is no way I would have volunteered information that allowed them to do that.
    I have once mentioned another candidate in an interview and although I got the job (as did she – my question was about the two roles working together and I’d hoped she’d got the other role) the panel were quite thrown by my mentioning her.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep, cultural difference. It’s not illegal here to ask different candidates different questions (and frankly it would be bad interviewing not to customize your questions in any way), and while it would be odd for the interviewer to bring up whether a candidate was married to another candidate (or otherwise knew them), it wouldn’t be odd for the candidate themselves to flag it.

      1. Green Great Dragon*

        Also UK and it’s definitely not illegal to tailor questions. I think Ponytail was getting at the potential for someone to argue they’d been treated unfairly if they were asked extra questions that were then used as grounds to reject them (an obvious example would be asking a woman how she would handle frequent travel but not asking men).

        For what it’s worth, I would find it a little odd but not a problem if someone mentioned their spouse was also applying to a role. I’d wonder what I was meant to do with the info.

        1. Name of Requirement*

          I think that’s the key. What does that information do for the interviewer? Especially as the standard when employing spouses is to act like they’re not.

      2. Ponytail*

        Having been at the receiving end of at least one question that I know the other candidates weren’t asked (and I’m pretty sure my reluctance to answer such an obviously directed question was a reason for not getting the job – think “what do you think of our local politician and did you vote for him” level of unnecessary and targeted questioning) I think customised questioning could result in a huge problem in the UK.
        It does make for quite boring interviews though ! One interview panel refused to ask me questions about anything on my cv because ‘then they’d have to ask all the other candidates the same question’ – I may have rolled my eyes at that point. Surprise – I didn’t get the job!
        (I love reading about the differences between US and UK job situations – it would be cool if you had a UK equivalent!)

        1. hbc*

          The problem there is with the question (and what they do with the answer), not the fact that it was customized. I mean, if you only ask women if they’re married and have kids, you’re begging for a lawsuit, but you’re still leading with your chin if you ask everyone that.

        2. media monkey*

          weird – i hire in the UK on a fairly regular basis and i don’t have a preset list of questions – i ask different questions all the time depending on the person’s CV/ background/ level of experience/ interests/ internships/ answers to other questions. never heard of anyone who didn’t tailor interview questions!

          1. londonedit*

            I’ve never interviewed someone, but I’ve been to my fair share of interviews and I’ve never had the feeling that the interviewers have been reading from a standard list of questions. I’m sure they broadly ask the same things for each person they interview, but in my experience interviews are more of an organic discussion, and different subjects come up based on the areas of my work experience that the interviewers end up being particularly interested in. As others have said, in the UK it’s not illegal to ask certain questions in interviews, or to ask different candidates different questions. It’s only illegal if you use their answers to discriminate against them – i.e. asking a woman if they’re married and then specifically not hiring them because they might go off and have babies (or at least that’s how I understand it).

    2. Cat Wrangler*

      I had a job interview years ago where they asked me in great detail what my siblings did for work. Presumably to guess where my inclinations might lie as to work ethics, aspirations or academic achievements. Still wish that I’d pushed back but I was fresh out of high school (16) and it wasn’t illegal then. I’d have fun with that question now. Another interviewer for a govt office had seen my brother a couple of weeks prior and mentioned this towards the end. We must have impressed as we both got offers. Still wouldn’t be allowed now but the second one was a nice aside.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        I wish I had been asked this question in interviews. I’d definitely have been ‘creative’ in my responses. That would be the point at which I decided I didn’t want that job anyway, so I’d have fun with it.

    3. Mae Fuller*

      Also UK, and there’s nothing remotely illegal about asking different questions of different candidates here. Some employers (particularly government and charities, in my experience) use standard questions as one way of demonstrating that they’re judging everyone equally, but that’s not a requirement. I wouldn’t find it at all odd if someone mentioned that they knew another candidate.

      1. Ponytail*

        I’ve been on two different courses for ensuring equality and diversity in interviews, and we are not allowed to note answers to questions that were not on the official question sheet prepared beforehand – and this is for different employers. So, while the questions themselves aren’t illegal, noting the answers, and by extension, using them to make a decision, opens the employer to all sorts of discrimination actions.
        What you can do is ask follow up questions based on how a candidate answers a set question. But asking different questions of different candidates just isn’t an option with all the employers I’ve ever interviewed for.

        1. magic dave*

          this makes no sense though? Surely you need to ask different candidates different questions because they have different skills and experience etc? Do you not go through the CV and say “ah, it says you have 3 years using technology X, can you tell us this?”. How do you follow up if they don’t quite say what you expect?

          I know public sector jobs have weird rules about fairness and recruitment but often that just makes their interviews a weird guessing game for the candidates

        2. Mae Fuller*

          That’s an example of what I said though, about employers demonstrating that they’re not using illegal discrimination. The bit about asking additional questions but not writing the answers down can only be about the employers covering their backs. It doesn’t mean that you’re not legally allowed to ask different questions, just that it might make it more difficult to answer a discrimination claim if you do.

        3. media monkey*

          i have also been on diversity courses (in the UK) and have been told to avoid questions relating to sexuality, race, gender, marital status, family plans. just so that you can’t be accused of using those answers to make a decision. never heard of having to ask a preset list of questions with no deviation!

        4. Just Elle*

          To me this sounds like “a company’s method for ensuring they don’t wind up in a legal bind” vs “actual law”.

    4. Asenath*

      I don’t think it’s common to ask or comment on other applicants in interviews, but I wouldn’t be suprised to have it brought up in a special situation like the one described. In my area, it’s recommended but not required to have exactly the same interview questions for each applicant (although i think that would allow for different follow-up questions if they had different experiences). The things people are very strict about are (1) Don’t ask illegal questions (there’s a list, stuff like “Are you planning to have a baby soon?”) and (2) all applicants must follow the same general process – have their applications reviewed the same way, get the same number and type of interviews as the others at the same stage of the hiring process.

    5. Indisch blau*

      Two friends of mine, doctors in training, applied in a department in a hospital where two positions were open. I don’t know how it came up but one of them mentioned the friendship with the other. The interviewer asked something along the lines of whether the friendship would survive if one was hired and the other wasn’t. My friend said, “If that were the case, it wouldn’t be much of a friendship.” The two of them were hired. (This was in Germany.)

    6. Bagpuss*

      Also in the U, and I disagree.

      There is nothing illegal in asking different candidates different questions.
      The only time you would be likely to have issues with employment law is if you ask questions relating to protected characteristics and then base your decision on the answers – e.g. if you ask about someone’s sexuality and then only pick people who are straight.
      Even then, the issue is not asking the question, it is discriminating based on the answers that’s the issue. And since it is very hard to prove a negative, the best practice is not to ask those questions, because that way, you are far less likely to be accused of discriminating based on the answers. Plus, of course, in 99.99% of situations the questions are irrelevant and inappropriate anyway!

      I’d also disagree slightly that it would be weird to mention another candidate. I think the only situation I would think it *ought* to be mentioned would be if you had a spouse, partner or family member who already worked for the company as many organisations have rules about whether family members can work together, or have extra rules about how closely they can do so. So if a couple were both applying in a situation where there was more than one job opening, I can see it being relevant to bring up, but otherwise I would not expect it or think less of a candidate who did not mention it, and would see it as being of only minor interest if they happened to mention it. (and that part may be different in the US) . I wouldn’t see it as weird or uncomfortable if they did, just that mostly, it wouldn’t be relevant.

    7. Val Zephyr*

      Why do you assume that it’s a trans-Atlantic difference rather than just a very uncommon situation that could happen anywhere?

      Discussing another candidate in your interview would be a huge faux pas in the US too… unless it’s an exceptional situation such as a couple interviewing for the same job and the employer could possibly find out and wonder why neither of them mentioned it.

    8. CoveredInBees*

      Honestly, I was surprised by it too. Bring it up after you have the job, sure, but not during the interview process. It just seems like something that would go against your application if they want to look at the top 3 candidates and you could be 3 or 4. The employers might want to avoid the drama of hiring one person over their partner.

      1. Justin*

        Employers can be kind of skittish. Any little odd thing could turn them off, especially if there are other candidates. It *might* be fine but it might not be. Why take the risk?

  12. Lena Clare*

    Oh god, the butter/ margarine one is so weird 0_o. Whyyyyy that many tho?!
    Also – I would object to the grossness of toast crumbs in the tubs (I bet they’re ‘contaminated’!) which is just…ew.

    People are most definitely strange.

    I remember our grand boss went through a phase and threw everything out of the fridge on a Friday. Nobody knows why – were pretty good at keeping just our lunches in the fridge and throwing away anything an out of date (rare). At the time, I had Fridays off and I was leaving something in the there for my lunch on Monday (it was in date) and she threw it away!

    1. Op*

      I too have had in date food thrown away once which was weird. Crumbs in the butter is also ick but if my own crumbs less so? Maybe that’s why they each want their own? You might have something here.

      1. MLB*

        Regardless, it’s common courtesy. If you have a smaller fridge, people should know that everyone can’t bring stuff in that has to be kept in there 24/7. They have a space for their daily lunch and that’s it.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          We have two massive, convenience store size fridges at my work, and people bringing in food to have 24/7 is still a huge problem. People will bring in giant tote bags full of groceries on Monday to make their lunch for the whole week and it ends up taking up all the room. I am one of the first people in the office each day, but Tuesday through Friday I have a horrible time squeezing my lunch in between all the giant bags. People – you need to bring what you are gonna eat that day. If you don’t have your lunch because a thing came up and you decide to have it tomorrow that is fine. Just don’t bring your Friday lunch on Monday.

            1. Just Elle*

              Yep. Long ago I started just bringing my food in a cooler lunchbox (the packit kind you leave in the freezer overnight) and leaving it at my desk. My quality of life has improved 1000%. I no longer have to walk to the fridge, open it, stand back as the stench wafts over me, fish my lunchbox out from under other people’s leaking takeout containers, etc.
              I just turn around and pull it from the drawer. Its lovely.

              If the work fridge had become my hill to die on I would have died at every company ever.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            ^^THIS

            We’d have people bring in an entire deli counter, practically, or bags of fruit and veggies – which would then sit in the fridge in the carrier bags until they were veggie mush. It’s shared space, it’s not your fridge at home.

            When the smell of rotting food got so bad, we instituted the throw-everything-away rule on Friday.

    2. Rebecca*

      If I need butter for something, I bring a small amount and toss it in my lunch bag, and we have a full size fridge. I don’t mind sharing things that people don’t need to actually touch to use, like ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, but I don’t want someone using my butter or cream cheese. I don’t know if their knife is clean, if they lick their fingers and touch things – just, no, gross. And I don’t want random crumbs in there, either. So I can see why people have their own.

    3. Marion Ravenwood*

      We used to have this in my old job – every Friday at 4pm the office fridge was emptied and if you didn’t come get your stuff by the end of the day then it got thrown out or someone else could take it home. (Tupperware etc went to lost property, but any food inside was tossed.) Cue the email going round and a mad scramble across the office to rescue your things, or emails from colleagues saying ‘I’m WFH, can someone get my sandwich box/cake tin please?’. That said, the amount of stuff people left in there was absolutely appalling, so I’m not entirely surprised the rule was brought in…

      Ironically, in light of OP #3’s question, the only exception to this Friday throw-away rule was butter (provided it was in a labelled tub).

      1. Just Elle*

        We had a sharpie rule – you had to write on everything your name and the date it was throw-away-able, else it went in the trash on Friday. So that way I could actually leave my salad dressing etc in there for more than one week, but people felt ok throwing away 3 month old moldy dressing.

    4. Marthooh*

      I assume it’s work-sibling rivalry: “If Fergus gets to put a whole big tub of butter in the minifridge, then so do I!

  13. Ciara*

    I was stunned to find out that more states have laws protecting smokers from discrimination than LGBT+ discrimination.

    Not that I think either is right. But whoa.

  14. SamIAm*

    Butter issue… Could you maybe purchase a bunch of small cheap lunch sized Tupperware-like containers, and give each butter person a couple. Maybe add tape, Sharpie nanes, or stickers to note whose are whose. They can take the big tubes home, and refill as needed. Giving them a few provides that they don’t have an excuse if they keep forgetting theirs at work to refill, or lose it.

    1. Rebecca*

      Was going to say exactly this! Small containers, just bring enough for a few days, problem solved. I know Rubbermaid had nice little 1/2 cup containers that stack, that would absolutely solve this issue!

      1. OP*

        I have suggested this by pointing out when I bring a salad I bring a little pot of dressing, not the entire bottle. they just maintained ‘But I have toast everyday.’ You and I could work together quite happily, we must find a way to work with these non-little-pot-users.

        1. MLB*

          The fact that you’ve made suggestions and they’re still being rude means they’re never going to change. I bought my own fridge and put it under my desk. Kept me sane.

        2. Rebecca*

          I think this might come down to just telling them they’re being inconsiderate of others – as in, they are taking up all the space in the fridge and could easily bring just enough for a few days at a time in a much smaller container, still have toast every day, and allow others to share the space. Please let us all know how this turns out!!

        3. Bagpuss*

          I think at this point you probably need to be blunter.

          Tell them that by all of them bringing such large tubs, they have created a situation where others can’t use the fridge. Ask them to be more considerate and repeat some of the suggestions you’ve made – e.g. that they arrange to share so that there are no more than 2 tubs total (1 butter, one margarine, or whatever) or that they bring in smaller containers which fit in the fridge and leave space for others.

        4. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Could you argue that if they are gonna take up all their space with butter they aren’t allowed to put anything else in the fridge?

        5. Koala dreams*

          That’s rude. As if you wouldn’t want to have lunch every day. Try a more direct script, and if that doesn’t work, try to get your company to buy another fridge or buy one just for you.

        6. Kvothe*

          Not really helpful but I would just take out all the tubs and lay them on the counter…but like that’s super passive aggressive. But then again I can’t imagine working with people who make this big a deal about butter.

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            I would be so aggressively checking the “best by” dates!

            (I once emptied about a third of an over-full work fridge just by putting all the condiments together in a box with a sign saying “claim your condiment and label it – everything left in this box after friday will be thrown out”. Very few bottles got claimed — most were left behind by people who hadn’t worked there for ages.)

  15. PepperVL*

    I read the title as Office Butler Bonanza and was wondering what sort of office had a butler! Butter makes SO much more sense. That does seem frustrating, though I’m not sure how 5 full sized containers fit in a dorm fridge. It must be bigger than the one I had in college. I’d go with a communal tub or a butter keeper, personally. The advantage to the butter keeper is that it keeps the sticks soft, so they’re far more spreadable than sticks of butter usually are!

    1. CM*

      If it’s a butler bonanza, then there might be enough butlers to have one per person. Part of their job could be standing next to each person holding a tray with that person’s preferred butter or margarine, in case they need toast. If you didn’t have a butler bonanza, and only had one butler, he could stay by the toaster with a larger tray holding everyone’s butter. Or alternatively, everyone could still keep their butter tubs in the fridge and the butler could hold the OP’s lunch in front of an air conditioning unit.

  16. Apollo Warbucks*

    #5

    Something Alison didn’t touch on. You’re volunteering could also provide useful references for paid work at other organisations, which is something you might find helpful if you’ve not been working recently.

  17. Indie*

    Butter goes in a butter dish, not the fridge? What madness; it not only hogs the fridge but makes the butter unspreadable. Possibly you might want to put it in overnight if it is a very hot building but that wouldnt affect lunch storage.

    1. Myrin*

      I absolutely loathe the taste and texture of room-temperature butter so ours is always in the fridge and definitely isn’t unspreadable – you just have to scrape it, not cut off a big piece you then try to spread, but that’s how basically everyone here uses butter anyway so it really doesn’t make much of a difference unless you have bread which tears at the slightest pressure.

  18. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    If you went for the butter club, you’d end up needing a butter club, a margarine club, a spreadable “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”-esque club, a low fat margarine club, a sunflower spread club….well, you get the idea!!

    1. scmill*

      Not if they ever tasted room temperature salted KerryGold butter! I could just eat it with a spoon. It keeps fine in a small Pyrex bowl with a lid. No water and upside-down crock needed!

    2. Flash Bristow*

      Organic, unsalted… Etc.

      I’d provide one butter, one butter curler (and ban knives, so no crumb contamination) and That Would Be That.

      If you want a fancy butter, that’s for home. I make my own and very nice it is too. At work you really don’t need a selection. We all had to share the butter for our toast at 6th form. It’s fine with a bit of sense.

      1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        You probably need at least two. Vegan margarine like Earth Balance and regular butter. And many prefer salted or unsalted.

    3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Where is the spreadable cheese one? There was a time when I brought a former yogurt jar full of spreadable cheese to have with toast and tea. I miss those times :'(

  19. Turnip-face*

    OP1: I agree with Alison”s advice to be as matter of fact as possible, and (most) people will accept your refusal without any problems. In the past I worked as an ESL teacher, and I still get a lot of requests for private English lessons, translations and help with checking written English (projects, CVS, emails, etc.) as I live in a fairly small town where there are not many native English speakers. Most of the people asking are friends, or friends of friends, and I felt bad about not being able to find time for them. My experience about charging matches what Alison says: people were rarely put off, and instead started making more suggestions as to how I could accommodate their requests (like collecting their children early from school so the kids could have a private English lesson, or doing Skype lessons at 7am on Sundays).
    Saying no got easier with practice! What helped me was having a list of other teachers’ numbers which I could pass on: if the people making requests seem reasonable, it’s nice to be able to give them an alternative. I do make it clear that these other teachers may not have time either or might be expensive, and I only recommend teachers who I know and trust.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      At this year’s back to school night, one of my son’s teachers explained that when he started off teaching, he lived in an apartment with a bunch of other 20-somethings, and he told the kids and parents to call or email any time. A few years later, he had a wife, house, and baby, and that drop-everything unlimited availability didn’t work any more. People understood.

      OP1, if you haven’t said anything, they imagine it’s fine. Like it was when your life was less busy. Most people will understand.

    2. Cassandra*

      I largely concur, but speaking from experience… some family members can get Weirdly Insistent about this, especially if they’re older than you or (perceive themselves to) have more influence inside the family.

      My parents were the actual worst about demanding translations of me (including of scientific literature in a science I have no education or experience in!) into a language I am fairly fluent in but not a native speaker of. They would not hear my “actually this is very hard and error-prone because I don’t have a native speaker’s ear; you’ll do far better to hire a Real Translator for actual money, ‘k?”

      Finally I had to shut it firmly down and take the Bad Daughter hit. It was worth it. (I’m the Bad Daughter over so many other things anyway; what’s one more?) OP1, I just want you to know that “because family!” is not sufficient reason to impose on you, and you are not Bad Family Member for saying no.

      1. Tech Writer*

        Same! I majored in English, and my brother had to take writing-intensive courses for his major and for some humanities courses to fulfill general ed requirements and kept asking me to look over his stuff. I asked him to pay me and he refused – somehow he brought it up as “I do x,y,z for you, and you do this for me. It’s only two paragraphs a week” but that adds up.

        I brought this up to my parents and my mother was all “It’s family – you should help each other out.”

        I am working on saying “No” to things they ask of me to do, especially since I work in an industry that is 90% editing and 10% writing. The last thing when I come home is to look at documents and edit them again.

    3. OP #1*

      Thanks! Alison’s script suggestions are so helpful, too. I think so much of my weird emotional baggage is my own difficulty separating being a teacher and wanting to help from my personal identity. “I’m a person who helps people write” has been bleeding from my work to my life for as long as I have been teaching.

      Weirdly, I don’t have problems saying no to most requests…just this. And fortunately my family is great, but I do have a few friends who won’t take it well. Maybe that’s a sign I need to re-evaluate those friendships.

      I appreciate the support!

      1. Cassandra*

        Maybe “I’m a PROFESSIONAL who helps people write” would be a useful reframing for you?

        And yes, we all like to do what we’re good at. Nothing wrong with that! It’s just… exploitable by people with fewer scruples than they ought to have.

  20. Susan K*

    #3 – I’m guessing that part of the problem is the people have their own preferences on brand and type of butter/margarine, so they might not want to share one tub.

    In my department, it’s ranch dressing. Everybody has his or her own personal bottle of ranch dressing in the fridge. But we have a full-sized fridge, so even with all of this ranch dressing, there’s still plenty of space for other stuff.

  21. 867-5309*

    OP 3, I love your opening line, “I had no idea this would be the hill I wanted to die on, but here we are.” It made me lol. We’ve all been there – “This is the thing that’s going to do me in. I might as well say my goodbyes now.”

    You might give an exasperated, but somewhat humorous, “Guys! This is ridiculous! There are SIX butter containers in the fridge and my lunch doesn’t fit. We need a better butter solution: [list some of the ideas shared by.]” This could be done over an office messenger, if you use one.

    1. OP*

      currently the message is likely to be delivered strapped to a flaming arrow so I shall consider everyone’s suggestions for a little cool down period first. also, love the ‘butter solution’. unintentional typo for better or just clever?

    2. CookieWookiee*

      Wasn’t there a Dr. Seuss book called Butter Battle? I feel like a picture of the cover should be printed out and stuck on the butter-filled fridge.

      OP 3, I admire your restraint. Were it me I’d be thisclose to biffing your coworkers on the back of the head. Cold soda and lunches are way more important!

  22. ssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    One warning about getting a bigger fridge instead of two smaller ones: who will be responsible for cleaning it?

    1. MLB*

      Personally I would have no problem “cleaning” the fridge. So many times, there have been science experiments living in company fridges, and people hogging up the whole thing with a month’s supply of protein drinks. I would put a note on the front that said I was cleaning it out at a specific day/time/frequency, and that ANYTHING left in there would be thrown away. And then I would take pleasure in throwing it all away. People start losing tupperware and food they paid for, they’ll change their tune.

      1. Delta Delta*

        Also fun: sending company-wide emails photos of your fridge-cleaning progress. Like live-tweeting, but you’ll want to keep it in-house. 2 or 3 well-curated photos of furry English muffins or slimy carrots go a long way.

      2. Michelle*

        This is what we do where I work. I do an email and a couple of signs for the part-timers who do not have email, including a note taped to the inside of each fridge (we have 2). On the date if anything is left in there it goes in the trash bin (I usually give 48 to 72 hours notice).

        I had one person complain. I asked if they saw the note and/or email. They said yes. I said so what’s the problem? They sighed in frustration and went away.

  23. Gumption*

    Testing for nicotine and failure to get hired if positive. Wow. I am not a fan of smoking but hey, I don’t judge (compared to those who could now smoke pot instead and then be impaired). But it’s a bit much. Then again, insurance does cost a lot.

    In some industries, they would lose a lot of staff. In my office, we would lose easily a dozen staffers, including the President!

  24. whistle*

    OP3, I hope you find a good solution, but if you don’t, I wonder if you could put some sort of “space saver” in the fridge at night (empty lunch box, or better yet, empty butter tub!) and then take it out in the morning when you put in your lunch. That way you can at least get your lunch/coke in there. It might also create a situation where someone else can’t fit in their lunch, and then at least there would be another person to complain about the butter cartel. Good luck!

    1. OP*

      hrm, this has merit. what if I just swap out ‘overnight coke’ with ‘brought from home coke’ each day so that i have a cold fresh diet coke each day. doesn’t give me room for the sandwich but results in cold diet coke. bonus points if i hide overnight coke in an empty butter tub. this may be a reasonable compromise versus the illicit desk fridge. ta!

      1. Elemeno P.*

        Bringing your lunch in an enormous butter tub and insisting that you need it in the fridge because you eat lunch everyday would be very satisfying.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Oh yes! And if ever questioned you can say “I am going to eat everything in this butter tub today – can you say the same about yours?”.

          1. OP#3*

            Not my normal brand, and would require some effort to get through it all over the weekend, but challenge accepted.

      2. KayEss*

        I keep my cans of Diet Coke in the fridge at home and bring 2 to work every day (one for morning caffeine, one for lunch… I don’t drink coffee). The lunch Coke actually stays pretty cool just in my noninsulated purse with no cold pack or anything. It’s not fridge-cold, maybe, but certainly not undrinkable room temperature.

  25. Hate for the Shared Office Fridge*

    #3 we are in a larger office 30 people and we have a full size fridge and we have the row of 1/2 gallons of milks, why do you need a half gallon of milk at work??? and with the larger fridge we also have the full size bottles of salad dressings, we could be an advertisement for Hidden Valley Ranch. My point in all of this is there is no room for lunches, and so I have given up on complaining to everyone, leaving hate notes on the fridge, and forming protest emails about the refrigerator and have invested in a large pretty lunch bag and a few frozen thing’s to keep my lunch cool.

  26. Falling Diphthong*

    “I had no idea this would be the hill I wanted to die on.”

    AAM throw pillow right there.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Forgot to add that I concur with Alison, and then some–when visiting old timers in Maine I learned about the wonders of just leaving the butter on the counter, so it would be soft enough to spread. This is stick butter though–if the stuff in tubs is oil based butter substitute it might not hold up well at room temperature.

      1. wafflesfriendswork*

        At my parents’ house they always leave stick butter on the counter–it’s used quickly enough that it doesn’t go bad. My roommates however are kind of weird about that kind of thing, so my butter is never spreadable. :( I always try to set it out well in advance of spreading or microwave it for about ten seconds. (But it’s not the same!!)

    2. Marthooh*

      “The hill you’re willing to die on” + “Passive-aggressive notes” =

      UNDER the wide and starry sky
      Dig the grave and let me lie:
      Glad did I live and gladly die,
      And I laid me down with a will.

      This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
      Here he lies where he long’d to be;
      Now take all these butter tubs home.
      All of them. Right now. Rhymes and scansion are for people who don’t crowd out my diet Coke!

  27. Lanon*

    I feel it’s actually fine to test for nicotine. Unless you are in a jurisdiction specifically protecting addiction from being hiring criteria, you never want to hire addicts as a company. They cost more, are less reliable and less productive. Doesn’t matter if they’re alcoholics, smokers or addicted to harder drugs.

      1. Lanon*

        Just because you don’t want to hire them doesn’t mean you don’t have sympathy. But as business you’re maximizing your return. You want to hire employees who are productive, get sick as little as possible, and are available as much as possible. The reason disability protection laws exist is because from a business sense, it makes no sense to hire them usually. Otherwise we wouldn’t need these laws.

        I do have sympathy, especially because I have multiple addicts of different types in my family, but substance addiction, no matter how culpable corporations are for encouraging it (that is, very. Hello Pharma & Tobacco industry), are major destructive personality flaws.

        1. Elemeno P.*

          Comments like these make me glad for the laws preventing hiring people purely as productivity machines.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Srsly.

            Addiction is a medical situation, not a moral one. The ‘moral failure’ paradigm prevents people from seeking and getting effective medical treatment.

            I was going to say it’s so 20th century, but it’s really 19th / Victorian. We know better. We’ve known better about addiction for decades; weight’s only starting to get the studied support that addiction’s had, but the studies are pretty consistent. I thought Lanon was joking the first two times I saw them post ‘x is a moral failure’, but they appear to be serious?!

        2. Eirene*

          Alcohol and drug addictions are absolutely not personality flaws. It is not a matter of willpower. It is not a matter of being weak. It is a matter of the neurological pathways in the brain being permanently altered. And people without adequate access to mental health care often self-medicate with alcohol or tobacco or drugs.

          Please read some material about the subject before making pronouncements based on your own anecdotal experiences. I recommend SAMHSA.gov’s free publications on substance abuse and mental illness, as often the two intertwine.

        3. LQ*

          Business are made of humans who are not logical. So we shouldn’t pretend like businesses are perfect logic machines that always make the most maximizing your return decision. (Unless you happen to think that women and people of color are all dumber and worth less than their whiter more dudely compatriots whom businesses literally value higher.) Businesses, aka the humans who run them, make stupid, bad, not about productivity decisions all the time. And they are real, real bad at any kind of long term thinking. Someone might be looking at a single spreadsheet, but there is no actual calculation that is of any use going on here because humans are incapable of making those judgements without deep entrenched biases and fallacies.

          And that is a destructive personality flaw.

        4. Meredith Brooks*

          Oh Lanon, I saw your posts in the above comment. You certainly are hanging your hat on this notion of personality flaws. But, see — by accepting the status quo of a capitalist society that is intent on only hiring the perceived perfection of others based on health and wellness rather than ability and experience — you’re feeding into the very nature of why this is a harmful and judgmental and … yes, discriminatory.

          It actually appears as though due to your experience with addiction that you have a preconceived idea about what it looks like that is not representative of the population as a whole.

    1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

      They cost more, are less reliable and less productive.

      I disagree completely.

      It’s a slippery slope of use / addiction.

      Also, tests for alcohol are very flawed and easy to pass, so you wouldnt know if theyre alcoholics or wine with dinner types.

      There is a controversy rn in my police force – many / majority are active alcoholics…

      So yea , good luck keeping your idea of addicts or addicted folks from working for you.

    2. fposte*

      Don’t forget the coffee and tea drinkers–most common addiction of all. Definitely test for caffeine before hiring.

      (/s, in case it isn’t clear.)

    3. Southern Yankee*

      Wow, you are full of sympathy. Fat people are lazy and smokers are unproductive. Having worked with many people of both categories that are great employees, I find your arguments completely unconvincing. I will hence forth ignore any further comments from you.

    4. SJ*

      You have repeatedly shown your lack of compassion on multiple threads of this entire set of questions! Please stop…you are being rude and unproductive at this point.

  28. Lexi Kate*

    #3 Seriously what are you all buttering that you need that much at work?? Do you work next to a bakery? Have a lot of clients who bake fresh bread and send it over hot? Is there a bread maker in the break room making fresh yeast rolls, Otis Spunkmaker sent our office a cookie oven and 20lbs of cookie dough and we all got fatter because what is better than fresh baked cookies.

    1. OP*

      No, but thanks for making me hungry. If i understood the need for massive individual butter substitutes, I would not desperately seek advice. Send cookies.

    2. Ellen*

      You got sent a cookie Baker and cookie dough? I’m in the WRONG line of work. I work in a hospital kitchen and we get sent vegan sausage. Im sure there are good vegan sausages out there, but these are not them.

      1. 2nd Coffee today*

        Yes it was the best worst gift ever for an accounting office. They were a client and that was their Christmas gift to us. It was huge but the cookies were so good that we kept it for over a year (until they quit sending us quarterly cookie dough) and then had a drawing where anyone that wanted it entered their name and they got to take home the 40 lb cookie oven. It was great because hot cookies, but terrible because when someone made cookies the whole floor smelled like fresh cookies. I was starving all the time, and have never been that fat in my life, nor was I ever happier at work. Before the cookie oven I thought a margarita machine or wine dispenser would be great for work but the cookie oven was a hit for everyone.

        1. Mr. Tyzik*

          When I was buying a house, seems like every realtor has OS cookies in the kitchen for that fresh-baked smell. Supposed to be an attractor because the house smells nice and homey.

          I can only imagine what that smell would be like all day!

        2. Mr Shark*

          “and have never been that fat in my life, nor was I ever happier at work. ”

          haha, that’s funny. We have a bread baking company next door to our work. Luckily we can’t smell it from inside, but when we go outside after work, it immediately makes me hungry. A cookie baker would be extremely dangerous…

  29. Delta Delta*

    #3 – I suggest (if you can) getting your own fridge (which you can name “the No-Butter Zone”) or a very good cooler/cold pack. I have a Yeti that magically keeps cold stuff really cold. Like, polar cold. I think they make a small backpack-size cooler. The products are expensive but very durable.

    Yes, your coworkers are being jerks. Massive jerks. Massive, selfish, entitled jerks. But they aren’t going to change and apparently don’t care that they are inconveniencing everyone. You could choose to try to fight them but since they don’t care they won’t change. It seems your choice is to change.

    1. CheeryO*

      Yeah, our fridge isn’t big enough, so I bring my lunch in a freezer lunch box. I think it was $20 on Amazon, and it’s held up great for a few years now. If I have something that’s too big to fit, I’ll just bring it in a larger bag with a few ice packs.

      I agree that the coworkers aren’t likely to change. I’m sure they all have very important reasons for needing their own butter, and trying to die on that hill is only going to make them resent you.

    2. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      I was also thinking cooler. Then they could be responsible for rotating through ice packs, and a single ice pack takes up way less space than three tubs of butter. (Also butter will be totally fine at “cool” rather than “cold,” unlike a lot of food.)

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I just don’t feel like any kind of cooler is going to keep a pop the ideal level of cold. Of course my ideal level of pop cold is to put it in a freezer for 15-20 minutes so it is almost but not quite slush, so I’m operating from an extreme side of the spectrum. But it is the thing the OP is most fixated on. Also it is super unreasonable that everyone else gets to fill the fridge with butter, but there is not enough room for a single diet coke that will be consumed that day.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I suggest you invest in a Yeti cooler and some decent ice packs. My fridge died last summer (yay! dead refrigerator in July!) and I was able to keep all my food cold for several days and only needed to re-up the ice a couple times. I also do a thing in the summer that involves being outside all day with many cans of cold beverages. They’re often slush-cold when I take them out of the cooler.

        It also helps I’m friends with someone who has a doctorate in thermodynamics and was able to give tips on maximum coldness (use water! ice and water!).

  30. BRR*

    #3 I know how frustrating this is. I know that I’m the losing side of this argument in most offices but in my dream world only office milk for coffee would be in the fridge for the long run. It takes up so much space and people often forget about their food (I’ve expanded my opinion from only butter). That being said, I know that I don’t have the power to change things. I just bring my lunch with an ice pack. If you can’t get a full-size fridge, what about another mini fridge?

    Not that I’m defending the six tubs of butter, but I can see not wanting to share a tub of butter. Alison would get multiple letters of people using dirty knives and contaminating the butter with other food.

    1. Loux in Canada*

      I just keep mine in an insulated lunch bag. Still not the most ideal, but honestly I hate putting things in the office fridge.

  31. Peggy*

    I’m imagining a future letter: Dear AAM, the break room in my office only has a tiny counter and now it is completely covered in butter keepers!

    1. Elemeno P.*

      My office has counter space issues. When I started, there was a microwave, a toaster, and a Keurig, and a standing dispenser for hot/cold water off to the side. A new group moved in and got rid of the standing dispenser (???) and added another coffee machine, another microwave, and an ice machine (since there’s no more cold water). There’s barely any empty space and we have to switch around plugs because there aren’t enough outlets.

  32. banarama*

    #2 – Screening for nicotine consumption is one way some companies are trying to whitewash the workforce of higher health-cost employees. On the surface, that may seem like it’s a company’s right. However, I’ve had some success pushing back on these policies because they disproportionately impact certain groups of people. The largest group of smokers in America are people with mental health conditions. For some conditions, like schizophrenia, around 80% of patients smoke. Also, patients with mental health issues have fewer quitting options because some of the drugs used to curtail cravings are contraindicated with psych medications. These nicotine bans, IMO, are extremely unfair to those people who have overcome a mental health disorder to get back into the workplace (or have managed it well enough to stay employed). And it’s patently ridiculous that some employers — like hospitals — used to give psych patients free cigarettes not that long ago and now wouldn’t hire one of those recovered patients if they sill use nicotine. I’m not sure if that’s your husband’s situation or not, but I’ve been successful at convincing one attorney promoting these policies to change her mind when I explained that a ban on the use of nicotine will, in effect, ban many if not most of applicants who have had serious mental health concerns. As long as workers don’t smoke on the job and come to work freshly showered (so they’re not transferring 3rd degree smoke onto people) it shouldn’t be a major issue. Companies can help employees quit by offering free resources for quitting, but actually discriminating against smokers is something that may be more problematic than current HR departments and lawyers realize, though I don’t know of anyone who has raised these issues directly with the EEOC or in court. As Allison pointed out, some states do protect smokers from this kind of treatment. I understand these policies are guided by some good intentions (less smoking) and some business intentions (lower healthcare costs), but IMO they are a problematic overreach – -I implore HR departments across America to stop spreading these policies!

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Well, ok, except for the part about ‘most people with serious mental health issues.’ While nicotine is a common form of self-medication, it’s not the only one, and in the US, probably not the most common one anymore.

    1. BananaPants*

      Frankly, those employees with serious mental health issues are also going to cost the employer more in insurance costs and lost time regardless of whether they smoke.

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Listen – I know that it’s awful and people are awful, but if you told a corporation super concerned with insurance costs that by banning smokers you would be banning most people with serious mental health issues most likely their internal response would be “Sweet – two birds with one stone!”. And no, I don’t have a lot of faith in humanity.

      1. banarama*

        Right … which is why smoking can be a sneaky proxy for employers to use to identify and avoid paying for people with those conditions (which could be legally problematic).

    3. Need a Beach*

      I have several relatives with severe adult ADHD. Nicotine and alcohol use is common in that demographic because it helps slow their brains down. But if they instead use “official” pharmaceutical treatment…well, I’ve seen how much methylphenidates cost. If it was strictly about outgoing dollars, the company should prefer the lower cost of cigarettes.

  33. pleaset*

    OP1 and Op3 – say what you want firmly.

    “Sorry, but I can’t help with that.”
    “There is not enough space for that much butter, please try to limit it to one or two tubs, otherwise the rest of us can’t put our lunch in.”

    Practice saying what you want explicitly in more or all aspects of your life. With time it’ll become easier.

    1. OP #1*

      Absolutely! I am usually great about saying no but have been weirdly blocked in this area. Now that I have some great suggestions for what to say, I feel so empowered!

  34. Jennifer*

    #5 I hope you keep at least one volunteer role. I think volunteering is important for the greater good. If money isn’t an issue, why not continue looking for work elsewhere and volunteering?

  35. Jennifer*

    You can never know how often someone will get sick. I look healthy but have a chronic health issue.

    1. Loux in Canada*

      Right? I am a perfectly healthy young woman on the outside… yet I’m out of the office a couple times a month because I get migraines.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes, and people assume because you’re young, you’re healthy. My grandma had a more active social life than me, lol. I’m always tired.

  36. Tigger*

    I am the only one that thought that #3’s issue is that people bring their lunch in the butter container? Having 6 tubs of butter is just insane. I have never been in an office where people need that much butter

    1. Black Diamond*

      That’s what I was thinking! That’s not abnormal down in the south (or… really any where depending on what community you’re a part of.) They need a bigger fridge.

      1. Tigger*

        This is so confusing to me. lol. Are they just slathering all food in butter? Putting it in their coffee?!?!?!

  37. StressedButOkay*

    OP3, I’m echoing lobbying your company for a second mini-fridge as I’d be willing to bet a full sized fridge – since they didn’t buy one in the first place – is probably out of the question. If they go for it, label one as the condiments fridge and the other one gets freed up for lunches. And be firm about regular clean outs!

    We very often run out of space in our full sized fridge thanks to condiments, leftovers, random water bottles, so I shudder to think about trying to fit everything into one mini fridge!

    OP2, I wonder if some of those companies are also trying to rule out people who could potentially be taking long smoke breaks? Especially for some of the jobs you’ve mentioned where breaks might be limited/tightly controlled?

    (Apologies if this gets posted twice…)

  38. caryatis*

    LW#2–I’m so sorry. That’s deeply unjust. No one should lose out on a job because of using a legal drug. Good luck with the job search, and I hope you can support the family while he looks.

    1. Snark*

      I mean, from a purely economic standpoint, in this insane system of employer provided healthcare, if it costs more to insure a smoker than a nonsmoker (and it does) – I can see the logic. It’s not all that surprising that it’s come to this. Obviously under a better system it would not be an issue, but assuming that we are actually on this timeline…

    2. Alton*

      I agree. I’m not a fan of companies policing people’s legal drug use outside of work, unless it’s a job where they’re on-call a lot or where even residual traces of substances could inhibit their ability to do their job.

  39. StressedButOkay*

    OP3, I’m echoing lobbying your company for a second mini-fridge as I’d be willing to bet a full sized fridge – since they didn’t buy one in the first place – is probably out of the question. If they go for it, label one as the condiments fridge and the other one gets freed up for lunches. And be firm about regular clean outs!

    We very often run out of space in our full sized fridge thanks to condiments, leftovers, random water bottles, so I shudder to think about trying to fit everything into one mini fridge!

    OP2, I wonder if some of those companies are also trying to rule out people who could potentially be taking long smoke breaks? Especially for some of the jobs you’ve mentioned where breaks might be limited/tightly controlled?

    (Apologies if this appears multiple times – I’m hitting submit but nothing is showing up…)

  40. Ellen*

    I looked for the thread that I feel must have started up about testing for nicotine. One place where I worked also tested blood sugars, so my potential employer found out that I had diabetes before I did! I’m a citizen of the United States, and, yeah, it caused some interesting issues with them wanting to make sure that I could do the job and have diabetes, rather than thinking about rational ways to make sure account for it. I phrased it poorly, but it was basically on me to make sure it didn’t inconvenience them rather than them (for instance) making sure I got the odd five minutes to test my blood sugar. Plus, it was out of my hands if I wanted to tell anyone or not. The pace has since folded, and good riddance.

    1. boo bot*

      Whoa, what? What was their justification? Was it a screening before hiring, or disguised as a wellness thingy? I’m just curious to know more, this seems bonkers (and I’m glad the place has since folded).

  41. boop the first*

    4. Oh sure, it’s smart to disclose, right up until they decide to take both of them out of the running because the company is afraid of becoming part of “drama” should one get the job over the other. Taking your partner to a later event as a guest? Who’s to say you didn’t meet in the lobby before one of the interviews? In a nearby coffee shop after? So if your partner is a later guest, it tanks your career path? I just don’t see the huge risk in keeping it to yourself. There’s a much bigger risk that they’ll drop you both because it’s easier to just wash their hands of the whole thing. But I guess the choice depends on how great your other prospects are, as you say.

  42. Eirene*

    OP1, I’m an editor who does it for my day job and also freelances to make a little extra on the side, and I’ve gotten these kinds of requests since I was in high school. It feels crappy to say no, especially to a good friend or a family member, but if you can’t do it and it would make your life that much more stressful, saying no is your best bet. Alison’s advice is great – very similar to phrasing that I’ve used in the past. I’m happy to report that nobody has ever taken it badly.

    1. OP #1*

      Thank you! I am already anticipating who *won’t* take it well, so I am also learning who isn’t a very good friend in addition to reducing my stress level.

  43. Observer*

    #5 As others have said, no one is going to create a position for you just because you’ve volunteered for them. If that’s why you are doing it, stop volunteering now.

    On the other hand, no one is going to NOT hire you for an open position just because you are volunteering. This is ESPECIALLY true if the position if different from what you are doing. OK, I’m sure there are outliers, but there are always badly managed organizations. Your volunteering there should give you a sense of whether these places are reasonably well managed or not.

  44. Spek*

    I can’t wait to tell my sister I need some of her clean pee because I had a cigar last weekend at a bachelor party…

  45. Why tell?*

    OP #4 – I wouldn’t disclose for reasons others mentioned above, nor would I be tempted to bring the SO around coworkers. Office holiday party? Oh, he’s/she’s out of town that week for work.

    Like someone else mentioned, if one of you gets hired, you can just come up with a “met at a coffee shop” story where this is all some strange coincidence. You could also act like you didn’t know the other was applying for the same job; not every couple discusses what jobs they apply to even if they are in the same industry.

  46. Kenneth*

    LW#2, this has been going on for a while. My previous employer drug tested for nicotine as part of their health insurance program. You basically had to test negative for it to keep a non-smoker’s discount. Though I’m sure by now they’ve turned it around to be a smoker’s premium.

    The downside is that such testing will catch people who have switched to vaping exclusively. Which isn’t 100% healthy, but doesn’t carry with it nearly the same health issues that go with smoking. But at the same time, long-term nicotine use has other health concerns going with it, but smoking throws many additional issues on top of it.

  47. BananaPants*

    I wouldn’t hire an active smoker or vaper if I was a business owner. Employees who smoke negatively affect the operations and profitability of businesses. The CDC estimates that every worker who uses tobacco costs their employer at least an extra $3400/year in lost productivity and higher medical expenses. Why voluntarily take that hit when there are qualified candidates who don’t smoke?

    1. Spek*

      And, along the same lines, why would you hire overweight people, when there are so many slender people with fewer health issues? And why would you hire redheads, who are more prone to skin cancer, when there are so many qualified brunette candidates?

      1. n*

        Following this… Why hire women, who could get pregnant which results in higher medical expenses? Why hire people who drink, even socially, since even moderate drinking can lead to negative health effects? Why hire people who drive, who are more likely to get into car accidents?

        Where do you draw the line? I’m appalled that this “in the name of profit” mentality? Employees are people, not robots. These are the costs associated with hiring *people.*

    2. Eirene*

      How do you know they aren’t trying to quit? I worked as a hotel night auditor when I was an active smoker, and I still managed to do my job and wash, dry, and fold six industrial-sized loads of laundry every shift.

    1. Snark*

      Whomever administers healthcare, I think it’s totally reasonable for healthcare to be more expensive for smokers.

      1. Arctic*

        And for people with diabetes? What if only for diabetes known to be caused by lifestyle choices? And for people with heart conditions? What if only for heart conditions related to lifestyle choices? For people with skin cancer when it’s shown they didn’t wear sunscreen?

        1. Karen from Finance*

          Agreed. That’s not how health care works.

          What about people with sports-related injuries?

          We could be here all day. Very few things are not at least SOMEWHAT, SOMEHOW, preventable.

          1. Arctic*

            Right people who play football in high school know the high risks of CTE. They should pay more.
            Not to mention a lot of these are backdoor ways to make healthcare inaccessible to the poorest group of people.

          1. LCL*

            I personally knew someone whose pregnancy wasn’t covered because of the preexisting conditions loophole, and heard of several others. This was years before the ACA, I hope this practice isn’t possible now.

          2. Unicorn*

            Just don’t hire women who can get pregnant! Demand a doctor’s note verifying she can’t get pregnant. And only men who have had a vasectomy…after all, they could father a child and then you have increased insurance costs and paternity leave. /s

      2. Crivens!*

        Healthcare is a moral right. No one should have decreased access because of their health, “choice” or not.

      3. Jennifer*

        I’m a non-smoker and wish no one smoked but I don’t agree with this practice. When does it end? What if my cholesterol is high? What about blood pressure? Is everyone that doesn’t have perfect health going to be shut out of the job market?

        1. Arctic*

          Agreed. And I’m not jut a non-smoker I **hate** smoking. I hate that the smell gets on my clothes when I’m around smokers. I couldn’t date a smoker due to the smell and the breath issues.

          But this one “acceptable” health care discrimination is just going to lead to a million others. Where only the most pure among us get access.

  48. Karen from Finance*

    For OP#2: As a former smoker, I sympathize. This sounds very stressful, which can’t be easy for his attempts to quit smoking. Like a cruel vicious cycle where it makes him smoke more, but smoking is the thing that complicates his search.

    Best of luck on his search, and hope he succeeds on quitting! It really is hard but worth it.

  49. LaDeeDa*

    Refrigerator drama. I just don’t use it. I stopped using an office ‘fridge so long ago. It was always kinda gross, or my stuff got stolen or thrown out. I invested in a good insulated lunch bag (it is large, like tote bag size so I can have my protein shakes, snacks, lunch, more snacks. LOL!) and a few hard cold packs. That combination keeps everything really cold.

  50. Lisa Babs*

    OP #3 – If there is office milk. Why not office butter? Half of the employees use butter and should be cheaper for the office to take on the expense of a tub of butter a week then a new fridge. BUT I do agree that a dorm fridge for the many people is not adequate… there is no way all of you can get lunches in there. The size of the fridge is the problem that your lunch won’t fit… not the butters fault.

    1. Jennifer*

      For some reason, the thought of using someone else’s butter grosses me out. I hate seeing those little crumbs in it. My question is why do they need toast every morning? I’m always intrigued by people that make a full breakfast for themselves in the office kitchen. I know a lot of people do it but it always struck me as weird. I think they just need a bigger fridge, or the OP needs to spend about $40 getting one of those mini fridges for themselves.

      1. Close Bracket*

        > My question is why do they need toast every morning?

        What would you prefer they ate? Lots of people eat breakfast at work. As long as they aren’t spending work time preparing it, why is it important whether it’s toast or an untoasted bagel? If they were breaking out pans and using a stove, well, actually as I type that, if the workplace provided pans and a stove, I wouldn’t find someone using it to be odd. If they brought their own toaster in to use, ok, I would raise my eyebrows. But an employee using an office provided toaster seems perfectly fine to me.

        People here care about so many things that don’t matter.

  51. Rainy days*

    LW4 – I work at a small nonprofit and we (unfortunately) mostly hire from our volunteers/interns. (I say unfortunately because I find this very unfair to people who don’t have the financial freedom to volunteer ). However, this is most likely to happen if the person has been doing very high level volunteer work—we have never hired someone who was addressing envelops for us, but we have hired people who were organizing events or evaluating programs—and stuck it out for the long haul. Because we’re so small positions rarely open up and volunteers/interns who get hired have usually been around for at least 6 months. Not sure what it’s like at other nonprofits but thought I’d share my two cents.

  52. Black Diamond*

    See, where I’m from, tubs of butter are reused and used for different food items. Are they bringing their lunch in old butter tubs?

    1. Just Elle*

      This is a ridiculous assumption to make. Someone upthread posted a similar statement about overweight people and it was promptly deleted, but this kind of sweeping moral judgement is acceptable?

      Treating people like second class citizens for making personal, legal, choices is gross.

      1. Eirene*

        So you’re saying you would honestly rather have people wind up losing their cars or their apartments because they can’t get a job because employers discriminate against smokers? Seriously? And you think they’re selfish?

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Sigh.

        From the commenting rules: I do not read and approve every single comment. The volume is far too high. I also sleep and work and do things that are not near a computer. So if you see a comment that seems problematic, please don’t do this: “I can’t believe this comment is allowed! Why has Alison approved this?!” Instead, assume I haven’t seen it and feel free to flag it and I’ll take a look (if you include a link in your comment, it’ll go to moderation so I’ll see it).

    2. Mary Dempster*

      I would prefer if employees discriminated against people like you – I don’t want to work with such ignorant and judgmental people.

      Obviously I’m being tongue in cheek, but I can tell you working with you would be 100x worse than working with a smoker.

  53. Justin*

    I think hiring managers wanting to know if you are at all acquainted with another applicant is kind of weird. I sort of get why they care, because they want to know as much as they can about their applicants, but I just don’t like the idea. It really isn’t any of their business.

    And like some other commentators have said, what are they supposed to do with that information? They’re worried about a weird dynamic? If my wife or serious partner applies for the same job as me, we have twice the chance of reaping the benefits of getting that job. I think if there was a chance of a weird dynamic, it would probably be within their relationship, not at work, and that would preclude a couple from even applying for the same job in the first place. What would the weird dynamic at work even look like? And yeah, it could be a little awkward later if you get hired and bring them to the company picnic, but so what?

    This combined with the nicotine thing, and some of the recent letters about forced nicknames and group therapy, makes me think that employers have really gone overboard with some of this personal stuff. Almost like they think they own the lives of employees and even potential employees. Your work life, your inner life, your personal life…your employer gets to be a part of all of it. Even potential employers. Just icky feeling to me.

  54. Allison*

    #1 – Are they asking you to judge their creative writing, or edit things for grammar and style? I’m a book editor and I find the first so awkward, because 95% of time, people are on completely the wrong track and I need to figure out how nicely I need to tell them that, which takes up even more of my time and energy. When I meet new people I try to joke about the frequency of the “my aunt wrote a book” requests in a “people are so crazy! this happens so often!” kind of way, which wards them off of doing it themselves somewhat. If the person doesn’t listen and hands me something, I try to say something like “I’m actually way behind on the stuff I do for my actual job, and I find I never get to these and then just feel so guilty about it” — that way, I’m not committing to anything.

    I also get the latter request, and lean more into lead time — I told the place I volunteer that I need X amount of turnaround time or I can’t commit to helping. I’ve thought about charging them, too. For friends, I need to remind myself that it’s ok to say no if it will stress me out. I don’t make a general policy because I don’t want my closest friends to think I’m not willing to eyeball something important for them, but typically the people who respect my time ask in a different way, anyway.

    1. OP #1*

      It’s both. However, it is the number of requests that are falling into the former category that have me feeling trapped. It’s so much more work and yes, the overall writing quality often requires much more work than I am prepared to give. Doubly frustrating is the people that act like because I am a public servant that I serve ALL of the public and I confess that I have bought into that mindset a bit myself.

      Thank you for the encouragement!

  55. Cheryl Blossom*

    TIL that there are places that will sell you a special dish to keep your butter room temperature in.

    I thought everyone who wanted their butter room temp did as my mom always did, and as I do: put a stick of butter on a saucer and stick it in the cupboard, where the cat can’t get to it.

  56. Ice Storm*

    Relative to discussion about small office electronics, PSA: My DD recently had a relatively new phone charger start smoking when she plugged it in. Thankfully, she did not fall asleep and was able to unplug it before it started a fire. I have one of the same chargers and it just quit working. It was fairly expensive, $25, Insignia brand. We reported it to the Consumer Product safety Commission and the manufacturer. Waiting for responses. Be aware, and stay safe out there.

  57. SongbirdT*

    Some general mythbusting about this whole nicotine use issue:

    Breaks – smokers are absolutely capable of only smoking on lunch breaks. Lengthy smoke breaks aren’t a given with smokers, so the productivity cost is not really any more of an issue than it is with employees who take coffee breaks, internet breaks, socializing breaks, etc. Besides, frequent breaks increase productivity.

    Odors – there’s no guarantee that hiring only non-smokers will eliminate smoke odors. Non-smokers who live with smokers will also smell like smoke. Or cats/dogs. Or patchouli. Or eucalyptus. Or spicy foods. You get the picture.

    Insurance costs – So charge smokers more. That happened at a few places I worked at and it was no big deal.

    Personal anecdote – I was fired for failing a company’s nicotine test. I wasn’t on their insurance and I never took smoke breaks. It was just a paternalistic policy. It ended up being the best thing that could have happened for my career – I am better paid (substantially) and overall happier now. And I switched to vaping because it smells nicer.

    1. fposte*

      There are some good studies that indicate smokers do lose more time, though; basically, they don’t take smoke breaks *instead* of the breaks nonsmokers take but on top of them. They also miss more days of work.

      That doesn’t mean that Smoker Jane is going to be less productive than nonsmoker Fergus, because that’s not how statistics work. But as an overall assessment the numbers seem to support the productivity difference.

  58. Noah*

    OP #4 — DO NOT TELL THEM! At least not if you care about getting the job. A huge percentage of companies will not hire you because of this. Even if you say it’s okay between the two of you, people don’t want to hire somebody if they believe that could create personal drama that could impact work. You’re DEFINITELY in that situation from a perception standpoint, even if that’s inaccurate.

  59. Database Developer Dude*

    For those saying both 1. “It’s not a big deal, so if you don’t want to disclose, then don’t” AND “It might be smart to disclose to reduce any future awkwardness”….If it’s not a big deal, why disclose at all? One of you even said “If I’d learned about it later, I’d wonder what else the candidate was hiding from me”.

    No. That implies that the interviewer has a right to know. Unless a family member already works at the place, the interviewer doesn’t have a right to know, and it says *NOTHING* about the candidate if they don’t disclose it. If you’re saying it’s smart to disclose, then I flat out do not believe you when you say “it’s not a big deal, why are you digging in?”

    If you, as the prospective employer, are talking about one candidate TO another candidate, and using this as a justification to say that candidates should disclose if they know each other, the problem is with you, not the candidate.

    1. Justin*

      Exactly, the advice is that the LW *should* mention it. But if you press a little then you get “OK fine, don’t do it, even though you still should.” It’s kind of maddening.

  60. Emily*

    I moved to a new city, with my husband, hoping to work in a specific field. I started volunteering at an nonprofit I hoped to work for, after several months got a first-round interview, and never heard about the position again.

    It’s been five years. I couldn’t find anyone willing to hire me in my desired field and ultimately found employment in a completely unrelated industry. I have been successful in this new field and am now paid much more than I would have made at the nonprofit.

    I still volunteer at the nonprofit. As a volunteer, I’ve outlasted multiple employees in the position I wanted. Sometimes I get wistful or jealous, but I really care about the work, and I am happy to be involved any way I can.

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