my boss blames me for getting sick, will piercings harm my career, and more

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

1. My boss blames me for getting sick and disrupting his vacation

I’m the only employee at my job who works full-time and knows all the ropes. My boss and his wife tend to hire less than par workers who have attitudes and don’t do the job properly, so a lot of the responsibilities fall on me, especially if they travel. They need someone to take charge and they can’t trust anyone but me. It is really difficult being told that they have no one else to rely on but me.

Last week I had a really bad case of what I thought was a cold. I asked if I should go home, but since they had planned a three-day holiday away the next week, they said they needed me to help get organized. I just kept getting worse and worse. I had my usual two days off work and felt reasonably okay, but the night before they were going away I got a lot worse. I forced myself to go into work so they could go away. I got there and looked like death warmed up. They seemed upset with me but said they had no choice but to cancel their holiday and send me home. I tried to argue that I would stay because I really wanted them to go, but they insisted.

After tests and X-rays, it turns out I had strep throat and it has also turned into a case of pneumonia. I was put on really strong antibiotics and told I wasn’t allowed back at work until I felt better. So I took the next day off too.

The following day, I went back to work the day still feeling like death. My boss and his wife wouldn’t even talk to me. They would make passing comments on what they needed to do but were obviously hostile towards me. It’s not something I can avoid since we work in a tiny area and you can’t be anywhere without seeing everyone. I still felt sick and ended up vomiting into a bin, so again they sent me home. Honestly I wonder if they think I was faking it? Even though for the whole week prior they saw me struggle hard! Am I the bad person who ruined their holiday? Do they have a good reason to be acting hostile towards me?

What. No! You didn’t ruin their holiday. People get sick! They run a small business and have only a single reliable employee, so they should be aware that if something happens to you, they’ll need to step in. That’s part of the deal with their set-up. That was part of the risk they took in planning their vacation, and it’s part of the risk they’re taking in not having additional reliable back-up.

It’s understandable that they’re disappointed they had to cancel their plans, but it’s incredibly crappy and unfair of them to put this on you when you did literally nothing wrong. If this is on anyone, it’s on them — and taking out their frustration on you is so wrong that I’d take this as a nudge to consider whether there are other serious problems with them as well.

2. Will my piercings prevent me from moving up?

I work in the marketing field and am in my mid 20s, so I have 4+ years of marketing experience under my belt. Last week I was casually chatting with my boss about tattoos and piercings and she told me that I eventually will have to end up taking out my piercings in order to move up in my career. I don’t even really have that many piercings — nostril (I switch it between a small stud and a small hoop often), rook on one ear, and tragus and two cartilages on the other ear. I don’t have any tattoos (yet).

I know body modification used to be extremely taboo, but it has been my understanding that this has changed over recent years. I’m not really a fan of being told I won’t be able to get far in life because of a few piercings when I’m told often by the same boss that she would be lost without me. Do you agree with her? Is this something I should really be worried about?

Maybe at your current company (and that might be what your boss is telling you), but there are plenty of workplaces where it won’t be an issue. If you worked in a very conservative, traditional field like some types of finance work, it’s true that you might be seriously limiting your options. But in an increasing number of fields, piercings are increasingly just not a big deal. That doesn’t mean you’ll never find someone like your boss who thinks they are, but her viewpoint is pretty outdated and getting more so every year.

3. My coworker doesn’t want us standing in front of microwaves

I have a large office floor in IT (150 or so people) but only one very small kitchen. Because of that, I run into the same people occasionally while heating up lunch. One of my colleagues is a woman who has issues with … microwaves. Every time anyone is heating up lunch and she is there, she launches into a lecture about the danger of standing in front of an active microwave. You can see the panic on her face as she asks you to move aside. She’s not rude about it, but really sincerely asks you to get out of the way. Something like, “I’m sorry, it’s just my thing, but you really shouldn’t stand in front of microwaves. They can do a lot of damage.”

I don’t personally believe microwaves are dangerous based on what I’ve read, and I assume many folks at my organization probably wouldn’t either. Regardless, it’s kind of an odd situation.

The past few times it has happened, I just sort of laughed it off. I’m curious what you would do? Make a joke? Explain your point of view? Ignore it? In a way I genuinely feel bad, because I can see she sincerely believes it is dangerous and it sends her into a panic. But I also don’t want to feed into it either, and it is very difficult to find room in our tiny kitchen anyway. Thoughts?

I think you could go with, “Oh, I’m fine!” and if she pushes, “I’ve looked into it, and it’s not something I’m worried about, but thank you” or “I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine here.”

4. My boss canceled a meeting after I hired a babysitter so I could attend

I am a part-time employee because I have four children. I have worked out a schedule with my employer that I come in at 9:30 and work until 12:30 so I can take my kids to school and pick them up; I work while my kids are in school. My boss scheduled a 7:30 am meeting that I moved heaven and earth to be able to attend. I had to get a sitter to get my kids off to school. When I get to work at 7:30, he sends a message saying he forgot about the meeting and the time didn’t work for him. How do I handle this? I want to be a good employee and be flexible, but this feels like a serious disrespect of my time.

Did he know how difficult that meeting time was for you ahead of time — had you tried to push back or anything? If he knew it was a hardship but was cavalier about it anyway, that’s worth saying something about. For example: “I think you might have forgotten, but it’s hard for me to attend 7:30 am meetings because of my kids’ schedules. I had arranged for a sitter to come and get them off to school. For rescheduling, could we aim for my normal office hours?” Note you’re just giving facts there (this was hard to do, you had to make special arrangements) and stating what you want to do now (a meeting during your regular hours), not chastising him — but if he’s a decent person he’ll hear your point and apologize.

But if he didn’t realize what an imposition it was — if he’d just suggested that meeting time and you accepted it without giving him any context — then you’re better off just asking that the next meeting be during hours that work for you. If he seems hesitant about those times, you can say, “I’m asking because for that 7:30 meeting, I had to really work to be there, including getting a sitter, so it was tough when you missed it. So I’m hoping this time we can do a time within my normal hours.”

Also, if this is a pattern with him, not a one-time fluke, then address the pattern too. But if it was just one-time, state the facts as plainly as you can without venting your aggravation, and see if he gets the message.

5. My employer said they’d help me find a new job after firing me — but they haven’t

Over two months ago, I was let go from my job. About six months after being promoted, I was let go with the reason being that I did not have the experience for the position. There was no chance for improvement or anything, just hearing “good job on this project” one day and “you no longer have a job here” the next day. With at-will employment and whatnot, I have no legal recourse. However, during my firing, my employer said they would assist me in finding a new position. This was stated verbally and nothing was written, and the only assistance I have received were links to three job applications. Should I try to hold my former employer to their word or just let it go?

It’s pretty likely that they aren’t offering real help; sometimes people say things like that because it makes the firing conversation feel easier, or they really do mean it in the moment but then realize later they have nothing concrete to offer. If they were really offering concrete help, like outplacement services or connecting you with contacts, it likely would have happened by now. Since all they’ve done are send a few links to job applications, I suspect their intentions have sort of fizzled.

That said, if the person seemed sincere and you’re surprised by their lack of action, have you tried contacting them? If you’ve just been waiting for them to contact you, you could email them and say something like, “You’d mentioned you’d be willing to help me find a new position. I’d be grateful for any assistance you can provide. Is there anyone in particular you’d suggest I get in touch with, or is there another form of help I could be asking for?” But unfortunately I think their relative silence here is probably your answer.

{ 670 comments… read them below }

  1. MissGirl*

    I’m curious what others’ thoughts are on the piercings in their particular area. I could actually see this holding them back in a lot of industries in my area. I don’t think it would be a conscious decision by any means, but unconscious bias may favor a different candidate. In my experience, marketing people are held at a different standard because it’s a more forward facing role.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think there are two additional factors beyond role/position, industry, geographic region, and the employer’s office culture: An individual’s culture/ethnicity and the type of jewelry worn.

      I have nearly all the same piercings as OP#2, but when I switched to a more conservative field, I changed my jewelry for those piercings. I still had obvious piercings, but they were a little more low-profile and minimalist, and consequently, more subtle (i.e., not plugs or industrials, etc.). I haven’t seen this impede my advancement, but I may have the benefit of stereotypes about “people from the Bay Area” weighing in my favor. (I still wear dangly earrings for my lobe piercings, sometimes, but I like to think of this as a low-key act of cultural resistance.)

      I’m sure my experience would be much different if I had less “mainstream” piercings, however, like a Monroe, labret, eyebrow or bridge piercing.

      1. voyager1*

        But you work in academia, that is a whole different kettle of fish then a marketing firm… Bay area or not.

        The reality is marketing isn’t homogenous as a field. A marketing firm targeting fortune 500 companies is going to have a much more conservative atmosphere then one that say targets the music industry.

        Regarding the ethnic/cultural angle people who are going to discriminate probably are going to do it no matter what piercings one has.

        1. Roverandom*

          I’m genuinely baffled at the idea that culture/ethnicity would play a role in someone’s perception of whether piercings are OK.

          If we’re talking about some kind of cultural heritage thing along the lines of traditional tattoos for Maori people, etc. that’s one thing. But people I know who are uncomfortable with piercings are not suddenly cool with it because the person is white/black/brown.

          Personally I don’t like piercings because I’m squeamish about needles, so culture/ethnicity wouldn’t affect my assessment either. My opinion goes:
          Studs, small rings and other delicate-looking jewelry on various parts of the ear: cool
          Similar jewelry on the nose/eyebrows: hnnng ok
          Gauges in the ears, anything on the lips/tongue: I’m uncomfortable looking at you, sorry
          Anything beyond that: oh god

          OP’s piercings wouldn’t be a problem for me, I think if they could change to delicate-looking jewelry it might pass in many fields.

          1. Zombeyonce*

            Many Indian women have nose piercings, so a lot of people would likely see those differently.

            1. JSPA*

              Indian subcontinent comes to mind for me as well. Combination of “it registers as culturally appropriate from a different culture, rather than transgressive” and “most pieces are not massive or extreme” and “cultures that have traditionally been accorded some respect / accompanying stereotype suggests competence, not incompetence.”

              There’s obviously a WHOLE lot to unpack. (Is someone with a culturally-relevant sudanese-tribal lip plate fairly presumed to probably have less education than someone with a culturally-relevant south-indian nose ring? Why the visceral response that many people have, to more extreme body modifications, regardless of tradition? Why would “traditional” in any tradition be given a pass, while self-expression outside of a traditional framework, would be more suspect? etc.)

            2. Liz*

              Yes, when I was a child in the ’80s and early ’90s, the only time I ever saw nose piercings was on punks, or the Indian mother who helped out in our school canteen. (Who I assumed was some kind of extra-glamorous punk until my parents explained the cultural connection.)

          2. Mookie*

            I’m not baffled. There are often double standards that operate differently when applied to a representative of the dominant culture, that culture’s default human, compared to a marginalized person, and the latter don’t always get away with what the former can.

            One person’s natural hair, for example, is acceptable to the public, unremarkable or an expression of personal style, while another’s is unsightly and “confirms” for the wrong observer a negative stereotype. Ditto other body modifications. Men don’t risk their professional reputations when wearing “casual” clothing that women often do in similar attire. Some people are “permitted” to smoke weed during non-business hours because it’s an unconventional but unthreatening quirk and it is their right to do so, while others are suddenly regarded as criminals, and their credibility is now threatened.

            People who unconsciously judge and punish people accordingly say the same thing you do, but that doesn’t make it so, at least on a macro-scale.

            1. Roverandom*

              Oh I see, so not “fine I guess it’s OK because it’s your culture” but “your ethnicity is just not professional for some reason”?

              That’s definitely a thing, I guess I was mentally categorizing that as “ways racism plays out” not “ways piercings are perceived” but I guess those are functionally the same here.

          3. I heart Paul Buchman*

            I’m not sure I agree. I think one of the many barriers faced by oppressed groups is that they have less capital to spend than others. So a person with black skin + nose ring is out of touch with work norms but a person with white skin + same piercing is seen as edgy and modern.
            To be clear that isn’t my view – I’m stating a cultural problem.

            1. Caliente*

              Spot on – very old comparison but think Bo Derek in 10. Oh so faaaabulous, unique and sexy that some white woman is wearing cornrows but black women who have been wearing them forever – unacceptable!

            2. Anon for discussion of my body*

              Totally agree with you. I have two nose piercings, one in each nostril. I wear studs. Otherwise, I present like an extremely conventional white lady: I dress conservatively, I have long, straight, undyed hair that I style conservatively, I work a white-collar job, I am a married parent. People I’ve worked with for months or sometimes years come up to me all the time and say “You got your nose pierced! I love it!” No, I’ve had both these piercings since I was a teenager, you just didn’t notice them because in your mind piercings are “alternative” and I’m “normal.”

              The way a person is perceived overall influences the way others see every aspect of their presentation. My piercings are “so cute” and “fun” in large part because I’m the human equivalent of Cream of Wheat cereal. They feel so normal as to be almost invisible, because, frankly, the rest of me does, too. People who don’t enjoy my level of social malleability don’t get that advantage.

              1. Rainy*

                This happens with my tongue piercing all the time; I’ve had it for longer than anyone I currently see in person has known me (except my husband), and I’d say a few times a year someone I’ve been working with for 4 years says “Oh you got your tongue pierced!”

          4. TootsNYC*

            “culture” can be pretty microcosmic. Like, if you grew up in my small Iowa hometown, I’d say that’s a different culture than if you grew up in Des Moines.

            I also think that if the person with the piercing was from some other culture or ethnicity or race, that a person might way, “oh, that’s how they do it in that group, so it’s not a huge deviation from the norm.” Whereas if the piercings person is from their own culture/background/ethnicity, it might be seen as more rebellious because of that.

            Dreads on someone from some parts of the world are not a big deviation from the norm. For my white cousin from Wisconsin, her dreadlocks were seen as a HUGE deviation, and therefore a major statement.

            The problem for most people is the deviation from the norm.
            The thing is, where is the norm set, and what determines it?

          5. Shrug*

            “I’m uncomfortable looking at you” is not really justification for not giving someone a job, though. I know many people still will avoid hiring, but it’s … not great.

            1. Roverandom*

              I hope I would be able to overcome it if I was ever hiring someone, but facial piercings/gauges and so on would be considered very unprofessional in my area/industry, so I would probably have to pass on that basis. It does affect my choices as a consumer though.

          6. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

            Heh — I had a tongue piercing for quite a few years, and most people had no idea — I have no idea how not, but then again, I didn’t spend time playing with it and poking it outside of my mouth, because that’s strange, and its presence was to help curb my thumbsucking tendencies (yes, I’m an adult who sucks her thumb) when I’m anxious, but I was pretty good about keeping the thing in my mouth so that folks who find the idea uncomfortable didn’t have to look at it. Do you know people who go around making it obvious that they have tongue rings? That kind of person is a bit annoying, like… why? Why does EVERYONE need to know?

        2. Indigo a la mode*

          As someone who works in marketing, I’d say we tend to get a pass for things like piercings because it’s part of what people assume come as part of the “creative” package. I recently got a nose stud and no one even noticed – and when I pointed it out, I mostly got comments that the nose ring fit the vibe so well they just thought I’d always had it. And I’m pretty normal-looking, hardly the Professor Trelawney or Penelope Garcia type.

          My team does work for everything from small IT and energy firms to Microsoft and Facebook, so I’d say overall it’s pretty common for marketers to be professional yet offbeat in their style. It’d be a pretty lame agency that removed personal expression from its creatives.

          1. CircleBack*

            But here you’re still talking about agency work. In-house marketing positions might have different standards and norms depending on the industry. I see lots of “creative personal expression” in marketing agencies even at the top, but the marketing directors I’ve seen in non-marketing companies tend to be a lot more conservative, depending on the field.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes, but before I joined the academy (which is way more conservative than law practice), I worked in a lot of different fields and had visible piercings. From what I can tell, those piercings did not affect my advancement. I get that marketing is different and that it’s not a one-to-one comparison, but in light of the comment OP received, I’m trying to suggest compromises that may make it easier for OP to keep their piercings without foregoing advancement.

    2. B*

      Public administration, Eastern Europe – multiple cartilage piercings aren’t worth comment, I’ve seen traguses, nose piercing might get more comment, but I’ve seen them. All on women on either side of forty, with tasteful silver jewelry, various levels of management. It would definitely be much more of a barrier for men – I’ve only seen guys with piercings in retail, advertising and fashion jobs.

    3. Hawk*

      I’m a queer woman in engineering, and I think the mods I have (many ear piercings including a scaffold, a nose stud, and a small neck tattoo) are actually beneficial.

      YMMV and we’re in Western Europe, but there’s an active drive to be more diverse in our company as our discipline is the most old fashioned culturally, even among engineering disciplines. Being so visibly non-“standard” has helped me stand out and publicise my success effectively. I’ve had the usual issues with having to get out of the shadow of male peers, but now I’m out of it, I’m very immediately recognisable even among the few women we have. The downside is getting wheeled out to every PR event as The Proof that we aren’t homogenous and that we are modernising.

      In a few years it will be neutral and a few years ago it would have been horrific. I would have struggled if I’d had more facial piercings or spacers or something. I was fully expecting to be told to take all of these out once I got to white collar (or to not get the job as I was growing out a magenta undercut at the interview… Shudder), but now I’m here I don’t think I ever will. Just a beautiful accident of timing and circumstances on my part had allowed me to utilise my identity to be more visible, with all the networking benefits that brings.

      Not an experience I expect many to share… But there it is!

      1. midlevel mgr*

        Hawk, yours is the the first comment I can remember seeing about tattoos and/or piercings boosting your career (visibility, networking). I read AAM quite a bit and it’s always about tattoos or piercings hurting my career, will it hold me back? Nobody ever says “I can’t get a promotion, should I get a tattoo and see if that helps?”

        I’ve never seen anyone at my place of employment held back due to lack of individuality or visibility. If it’s career advice people are coming here to ready, I guess it would have to be: In most cases, Hawk’s experience notwithstanding, blend in to get ahead. If you want to stand out, make it about your job performance, not about your tattoos and piercings.

        1. Joielle*

          FWIW, I’ve had the same experience as Hawk. For me it’s unusually-colored short hair rather than piercings, but it means that nobody ever forgets my name. I’ve always been on a first name basis with the execs at every job I’ve had, in part because I look a bit memorable. Of course that in itself doesn’t get me promotions, but I have to think it doesn’t hurt that people know who I am, combined with being very good at my job. Just another perspective.

          1. Loose Seal*

            I know a woman who is an advisor to the Governor in our conservative government. She always has a different, vibrant colored hair. It’s the first thing you notice about her. It hasn’t held her career back in the slightest.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I had a person who went out of their way to hire a “punk rocker” because of the attitude associated with the subculture. That punk rocker was me.

          There’s enough of an alternative business practice these days that it seriously will always depend on where you want to find yourself in the end.

      2. Ophelia*

        Likewise, I can’t say whether it’s actively boosted her career, or just not held her back, but a very senior executive at the company I work for has multiple, visible tattoos, and it’s just seen as her personal style (I work for a government contractor in the US).

        1. toodle lou*

          Reinstatement-eligible fed who has done a few details and been hired into a few agencies here, 5+ ear piercings and a nose stud; have had coworkers whose wardrobes regularly showed visible tattoos and others wear hoops in their nose piercings.

          All this to say the US government is not particularly stuffy on this issue!

      3. Gaia*

        While my tattoos haven’t necessarily boosted my career, they have started conversations that otherwise might not have happened.

        I manage and analyze data. I’m forever glad to be at a point in my career where I can be picky where I work because if someone thinks tattoos or piercings limit my ability to analyze and manage data…I have serious concerns about where they stand on their data journey. Hard pass.

      4. Unacademic*

        So this is literally my PhD topic. I’m looking at the ways that tattoos, piercings, unnatural coloured hair etc etc can actually boost careers. All the research out there used to say that these things were Terrible for Your Career, now it’s shifting a bit.

        I’ve also personally had a similar-ish experience (blue hair, facial piercing, business casual goth wardrobe). Working at a university I get a lot of leeway, but I’m the only one in my faculty and my broader university-wide team with blue hair. It comes in handy. Meeting a student or faculty I’ve never met before? ‘I’m the one with the blue hair’. Promoting myself and my work? Instantly memorable! The only downside is that I’m terrible with names, so while people remember me after a 10 second interaction, I can’t say the same…

    4. Bowserkitty*

      I’ve got a friend in academia who tried to wear her septum piercing at her new school and was told not to, subsequently. She was pretty upset because it is a smaller one, but I tried to tell her sometimes the size doesn’t matter as much as the placement. Is this still the case? I’ve worked in fairly conservative buildings all my life (save for my last job) it turns out so I’m not super sure.

      1. JSPA*

        I think it depends on what it “reads as,” both regionally and specifically to the rest of your presentation. If your students will read you as a Goth, a Juggalo, someone doing inappropriate cultural appropriation, a statement about gender, a statement about political leaning, that’s on top of (and often more relevant then) “there is a little hole in my body with a small decoration.” Semiotics in action.

        1. Birch*

          It really depends on the field though, too, in academia, and how that interacts with the local culture. I’m in psychology and no one could care less what we look like as long as we’re dressed appropriately and get the job done. In fact, a lot of the students prefer someone with a hint of “transgression” in appearance because it makes them feel safer than having all the academics look like professors from the ivory tower.

          1. Academic*

            I’m in academia in a conservative part of the country, in an institution with fairly conservative self-presentation dominating, and body modification seems to be readily accepted.

          2. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

            This! I always tell the story of how much less uncomfortable I felt when I met my new Gyne: Undercut purple and pink hair, tattoos (one was birds and bees! I loled), and many piercings. Yes, the appointment was still uncomfy — I mean, digging in your bidness is always uncomfortable! — but at least I didn’t feel like she was some kind of Judgy McJudgersons who would lecture me about not wanting kids, and wanting a hysterectomy to get rid of fibroids. It’s a worry of mine, since I’m 43, and childfree — too many doctors do not want to remove uteri, but somehow I knew she wouldn’t be like BUT KIDS! She’s a bit worried about my ability to survive the surgery, since my health is a bit precarious, but she’s not at all concerned about my lack of interest in kids. She thinks there is a minimally invasive way to do the surgery, though, so we’re good.

      2. Rex Manning*

        I really think this comes down to the specific leadership at the institution. For example: I’m at a private, non-profit university and work in the marketing department: not only do I have bright green hair and tattoos, but one coworker has a nose ring and another regularly grows her hair out long and then shaves it all off GI-Jane style. A previous employee in the alumni relations department had a small septum ring (which she usually wore a clear retainer in while at work, but it was still noticeable), and pale lavender hair. Upper management (including the university president, HR, and our department VP) have all been complimentary and welcoming about it. No one bats an eye here.

        1. Anna*

          It probably also very definitely depends on the kind of institution. The private Catholic university in the north part of the city I live in would probably see it much differently than the private college on the SE side of town would.

        2. TiffanyAching*

          At my institution, it’s about both who your leader/leadership chain is, and what kind of role you have. Primarily student-facing? Tattoos, piercings, fanciful hair colors are totally fine/encouraged. The Development folks who are trying to get donations from stuffy rich people? Much less so.

    5. Tallulah in the Sky*

      I live in Belgium and work in IT (web and mobile development). I have face piercings (two studs near my lip) and visible tattoos (on my wrists) and never had a problem. I’ve been working for a bank for the last four years, no one ever commented on them (or if they did, it’s to ask the meaning of my tattoos).

      My friend worked as a receptionist at a hospital (and later helped with clinical studies and handled patients), she has the same piercings as OP and a visible tattoo (on her forearm). She wears long shirts, but sometimes the tattoo is visible, but it has never held her back. They never asked her to remove her piercings.

      So I don’t know how much industries or conservatism plays a role here. I think it’s mostly the company’s work culture or even depends on who’s hiring you / manages you.

      I got my piercings when I started my web dev training, prepared to take them of if need be when I started to work. Now, I know I have options, I’m not desperate for a job, and I don’t think I’d like to work for a company who would have an issue with my piercings or tattoos, since they don’t impact my ability to do my job and I don’t want my employer to worry about things that don’t impact my job (wrong priorities ?).

    6. Media Monkey*

      not an issue in my industry (media side of advertising – but in london so perhaps a little bit more accepting / less corporate?). we have a lot of full sleeve tattoos and other visible ink as well.

    7. Shirazer*

      I don’t personally see piercings as an issue… or tattoos for that matter, although face tattoos might be a push. I really can’t understand why anyone should care, public facing job or not. If it matters, I am almost 3 times OP’s age.

      1. Gaia*

        I legit turned down a job because while onsite for an interview, I watched the owner reprimand a back office worker for taking off her jacket and thus revealing her upper arm tattoo. It was at least 90 degrees in the office (they apologized to me profusely for their broken AC). I asked my interviewer if that was company policy and he told me they have many older clients who don’t like tattoos and they don’t want to offend anyone. I ended the interview.

        Several baffled calls from the owner later (they had specifically recruited me) and he still didn’t seem to get it. I have many tattoos – three of which are visible in all but incredibly conservative clothing (lower legs and wrist). I’m not working like a prairie girl because some client who doesn’t even know I exist might be scandalized.

        1. lilsheba*

          I agree! Tattoos and piercings do not make a person. I wouldn’t want to suffer in the heat and over dress just to cover that up it’s ridiculous. If people don’t like it then too bad they really doo need to get over it.

      2. Kes*

        I mean, if they have some more conservative clients and it could have a negative impact on her interactions with them or their impressions of her, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for her boss to be concerned about that. The fact is, like it or not, some people do care about/have a negative impression of piercings and tattoos, and if some of those people are their clients or key others they have to work with, her boss may well care about their opinions.

        1. Constantine Binvoglio*

          I could be very wrong, but it sounds to me as though it was both the manner of the boss’ interaction with the employee (reprimanding) and the fact that, if it went as Gaia describes, the client wasn’t even present at the time.

    8. LizzyB*

      I work in marketing but specifically in social media and I think there’s definitely a stereotype that I fall into (nose piercing, conch piercing, wrist tattoo). I think particularly in the new/digital forms, there’s an expectation that people skew younger or ‘cooler’ for lack of a better word so people don’t mind as much. I currently work in the games industry and no one cares at all what you look like, but even when I worked in more corporate industries I felt like I was given a pass that perhaps other departments weren’t.

      1. Allypopx*

        Yes, I agree with this. It will vary a little from place to place of course, but in my experience marketing is considered a “creative” role and they’re more likely to be accepting of this kind of stuff, even in a less relaxed environment. Ear piercings and a small nose piece wouldn’t even register on my radar.

    9. Me_05*

      I live in the semi-rural midwest. If you work at a marketing company, it’s totally fine. I worked for a more conservative company and thought things like that would be a no-go for them, but over time a number of people worked for us with piercings and large tatoos.

      If you’re in-house in another industry it might not be ok. But mostly it will be fine.

      1. Ofotherworlds*

        I think in the semi-rural midwest, even white-collar positions in mostly working class industries can have a thoroughly working class culture. For instance, if I’m doing web design or marketing for Jim Bob’s Door and Windows, which is mostly a factory, I can still look more or less like I worked my way up from the factory floor, including a certain amount of visible ink and/or piercings.

    10. Bree*

      Another thing I was wondering about is whether the LW is at a marketing agency – where I’d expect the culture to be accepting of tattoos and piercings – or in an in-house marketing position at another company, where the norms of that specific industry will make a big difference.

      For example, I work in communications for a health care non-profit, and I feel like I stick out even as the only younger woman in a staff of 100 with “edgy,” short hair. I can’t think of anyone with piercings, and I honestly think it might hold someone back, given the current makeup of leadership. This is in Toronto, where there’s no real taboo and people are quite fashionable. So it can really depend.

      But agency people always seem super-hip, so you could lean that way if you wanted, LW!

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        I work in-house for an investment company run by your typical cohort of conservative white folks in their 50s. We’ve got everything from devs to salespeople to recruiters to consultants to us marketers. Interestingly, I’d say every segment dresses pretty much according to what you’d expect by job role as opposed to one company dress code…jeans and hoodies for the devs, button-downs for salespeople, funky glasses and tattoos (me) or plaid and big beards (my coworkers) in marketing. It works, somehow.

        Our cubicle is also edged with fairy lights and features a paper walrus people can walk by and dress up with a collection of sticky-note clothes, five pictures of a chicken named Karen, a sign that says FOCUS DARLING in gold, and a set of Wonder Woman gauntlets. So don’t get me wrong, WMMV (we are on the West Coast, after all), but I think being in marketing tends to give you a little more Weirdness Capital than other jobs might.

        Now, mind you, I would dress up a little for clients, of course (and comms is typically a more outward-facing role). But I wouldn’t worry about my nose piercing or tattoos showing.

    11. Policy Wonk*

      Where I work the rule of thumb is this: what is the subject of the meeting – the substance, or your tattoo/piercing? If the tattoo or piercing is one that will become the topic of conversation with new interlocutors, it’s going to hamper your career. Note: this is not an actual rule, but how things work in practice. E.g., for a less senior person, if your new piercing takes over the first half hour of a meeting you won’t be invited to the next one.

    12. Falling Diphthong*

      I had to google what each of these was. For context on how unusual or mundane they might seem.

      Fwiw, I think piercings on or near the face get a different reaction, much as facial tattoos get a different reaction than tattoos on the bicep or ankle. I have a needle phobia, so piercings do have a much stronger squick factor to me than they do to anyone enthusiastically embracing piercings. I think my reaction depends on obviousness/subtlety (PCBH), cultural match (Zombeyonce), and how much I’ve been inured to it by repetition (so a lobe piercing–but not a plug–is normal, and I’ve come to react less to eyebrow rings and small nose studs as those have become more normal).

      I think it’s fair to point out as something that could, in some contexts and some jobs, and especially if customer facing, hold you back. In others it won’t even register.

      1. Mama Bear*

        I agree that it varies and you will have to weigh the pros/cons as you go up the ladder. I think earrings are much more “mundane” and nose piercings are getting there, but it matters if it’s a nostril or septum or any other part of your face. I would take the comment as “don’t get more piercings for a while” or keep the jewelry subtle and see where your career goes. I used to work for a director with a tongue piercing.

      2. Risha*

        I’m not sure that I can agree with the “how close to the face” rule. Piercings, unlike tattoos, is the one body modification where all of the most conservative options (ears, nose) are on or close to the face, and many of the more extreme options are on the body.

    13. MK*

      In my expierience, the “volume” or “quantity” (I cannot think of a better word) of unconventional elements in your appearence. I work for the court system and piercings with discreet jewelry would be completely fine, if the rest of your look (clothes, hair, makeup, etc); the same goes for small or covered tattoos, moderate use of unnatural hair colors (say a few green locks instead of full-on green hair), slightly unconventional clothing or unusual makeup. But if most of these elements or all of them are outside the more common look, it would affect others’ perception of you as a professional. Also, there is a general attitude that being too invested in your appearence detracts from your “seriousness”, even for women who conform perfectly to conventional standards of beauty and especially men who look too trendy. You are supposed to be very well groomed, but not as if you just stepped out of a fashion magazine.

      1. Smithy*

        I think that even in more conservative environments the contexts of “volume” and “quantity” are key. My 65 year old mother works for a midwest research hospital and anyone at work she sees with non-ear lobe piercings gets a comment. The hospital used to have dress code guidelines where only women could have one piercing in each lobe and this was explained as being a “health and safety” feature. So my mom sees anything else as sheer wildness.

        That being said – I now have a total of 11 piercings in my ears. And as most of them are smaller/covered by hair – I’ve found that most people, including my mom, find the volume more surprising when they hear verbally how many vs the sight.

        Now if the OP also has a trendier hair cut/color and/or style of dress – then the piercings may be easier for a boss to pick at than the collection of “your overall slightly edgy style would prevent you from moving up at this organization/industry”.

        I think similar to women benefitting from more bespoke guidance on professional clothing based on height, weight, body shape, etc – piercings/tattoos fall into a similar category. Women just are judged more harshly for their appearance, and therefore a thoughtful but insightful reality check around how things should be vs how they are and where we can push is so very helpful.

        1. MK*

          “women just are judged more harshly for their appearance”

          I agree that this is true in general, but I have not found it always accurate. In my role, we are supposed to be dressing formally; for men this always means suit+shirt+tie, but women can wear, say, a bussiness dress without a jacket and be fine. And a man dressing “trendy” would be considered shallow, while it would go unnoticed in a woman, unless she was in “fashion-victim” territory.

          1. Smithy*

            While you are definitely correct that even in very conservative environments women often have more room from personal style – having that level of freedom also means the “rules” are far more subjective and therefore likely to benefit slender women white women and/or women who come from homes where they saw women dressing for those business conservative jobs. While a thin white women in a sleeveless shell/dress often reads as a professional – an overweight woman or a woman with larger arms often won’t. A skirt x many inches above the knee reads differently on a short or tall woman, thin or curvy. That space for personal style, often leads to a lot more ambiguity that is not equal in who it favors.

            Going to piercings – depending on a woman’s hairstyle, ear piercings are going to be noticed at different rates and therefore ranked as professional/not professional differently. For men, having hair that covers your ears remains relatively niche and therefore in most workplaces guidance remains more holistic.

            While there can be room for women to be trendier – I think it’s worth mentioning that space is usually unequal in who it benefits and far harder to understand from reading an employee handbook.

            1. many bells down*

              It also means that we’re expected to have more outfits, and repeat-wear them less often, whereas a man can wear the same suit over and over without engendering comment.

          2. Jules the 3rd*

            A business dress (eg a sheath) is formal business wear for women – that’s not just your role / company. See Indeed.com’s guide to business attire, image Business Formal. I’d expect it to be one with shoulders covered in my area (US South), though in some industries / areas that’s not required.

          3. TootsNYC*

            women may feel judged more harshly, but we actually have greater leeway than men do in terms of outfit choice.

            And men are judged.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Agreed. I’m in an academic library. Some of our employees have facial piercings and they’re not a problem, but they’re also subtle–nose or eyebrow, say, with small jewelry. Somebody with many/very conspicuous piercings would be OK with most of the employees but we might get complaints from some of our patrons.

        I also think that women could get away with this more than men, but I guess jewelry in general is easier for women to wear without other people commenting.

      3. Joielle*

        Yep, agreed. I have blue hair, so I don’t do anything else unconventional with my appearance at work. Very professional/conventional dress, makeup, jewelry, etc. It works well.

        Unless it’s a really conservative workplace, I think most people can get away with one weird thing, but any more than that and it’ll look like too much.

    14. Professional yeller about civil rights*

      Nonprofit – I have a septum piercing that I keep a tiny, gold tone ring in, and wore it to my job interview in order to show that I’ll basically wear it anywhere unless directed otherwise. I take a lot of external meetings and live in a fairly conservative Mountain West city, and I’ve never seen it be openly a factor in how seriously people take me. That said, my work is pretty serious stuff so maybe that predisposes people to listen to me!

      Whenever I show up to conferences though, it’s just piercings and tattoos everywhere. Mostly among younger staff but not exclusively. I can’t see us all aging out of a slightly edgier sense of fashion.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I can’t see us all aging out of a slightly edgier sense of fashion.

        No, but eventually, the kids will roll their eyes at piercings/tattoos as “something my grandparents do.”

            1. Quill*

              I didn’t know about these, and therefore I am old.

              … I don’t like needles enough to turn myself into some sort of glowing deep sea creature, but that won’t keep me from thinking about it.

    15. Anonymous Poster*

      I work in marketing in the Southeastern US. Piercings are no big deal at my company. Likewise for tattoos, unusual hair colors, etc. As long as you follow a loose business casual dress code, you’re good.

    16. Witchy Human*

      I think there are situations where very obvious jewelry in piercings isn’t perceived as negative but does come across as youthful, which may not be the impression you want to give.

      I don’t work in a conservative industry, and I doubt anyone removes their piercings when they come to work here, but it’s definitely true that people gradually switch to more subtle jewelry as they advance (at least what they wear at work). So the chunky black stud and thick bar in the industrial is likely to eventually become two smaller studs, though the piercings themselves don’t go anywhere.

      1. Manders*

        Yes, this is where I come down on it too. Most piercings wouldn’t be inappropriate in my area, but some are kind of a marker of age/professional experience. As you move up the ladder you probably will either want to wear more subtle jewelry, or establish yourself as such a rockstar that your appearance doesn’t matter.

        Tattoos are a different story since they can’t be swapped out or easily erased. Most people in my area are so used to seeing them that they wouldn’t register as unusual unless the subject matter or the style is very unusual.

    17. Bluebell*

      I have a friend who is head of communications at a health nonprofit. She has a nose stud and at least one ear cartilage piercing. It hasn’t affected her career at all. Things have changed a lot. I remember a meeting about 30 years ago when I was meeting with someone with a nose ring and found it *extremely* distracting. Now I’d barely notice.

    18. PolarVortex*

      Technology, Midwest USA.

      Honestly, it’s not really even noticed at my workplace. Maybe the truly outrageous piercings, but even then my coworker we just hired has a septum piercing and pretty large gauges and nobody batted an eye. I think we’d have to hit full pinhead status to be noticed.

      I have small gauges, 12 piercings in my ears, a nose piercing, and a scar from a lip ring I had to stop wearing at a different company.

      Hasn’t stopped me from getting promoted 3 times in 3 years, also hasn’t prevented me from being sent to other countries to represent the company, and nobody has ever told me I need to look more professional in either of those situations.

    19. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

      I think in many, many places in the US, especially outside of major cities on the coasts, multiple piercings, especially unconventional ones, will hold you back.

      On a personal level, some piercings like those stretch piercings make me somewhat nauseous. It’s not their fault and I fully realize this is my personal issue and not on others to make me comfortable, but I have a psychological thing about needles and piercings and it physically affects me to look at them. So while I would never say anything, I would probably not be thrilled about hiring or working with someone with this kind of modification.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I have to disagree – in most places in the US, piercings are becoming commonplace. My cousin’s kids (early 20s) in rural IA have multiple piercings – last I saw, an eyebrow piercing on one and a nose piercing on the other, and multiple up the ears. And when I say rural, I mean *rural* – their town is pop 5K, and it’s one of the larger towns in the area. I think they are not considered strange – they seemed to be on good terms with everyone we met.

        I don’t know if it’s the spread of knowledge-based industries to the Midwest, or many major pop figures with facial piercings (eg, Madonna, Grande, Aguilera, Cyrus, Kesha, Rihanna) making it more commonplace, but US Gen X / Millenials / Gen Z are used to seeing small nose piercings.

        1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

          I agree that it’s becoming more commonplace, but I still don’t know that it’s become that much more acceptable in corporate culture. There’s still very much a feeling in some places and in some industries that these types of modifications carry a connotation of lower class or other negative stereotypes. Again, not necessarily a small nose piercing but some of the more extensive or unconventional piercings.

      2. Picard*

        QUOTE
        “On a personal level, some piercings like those stretch piercings make me somewhat nauseous.”

        Not just you. I cant hardly look at someone with a tongue piercing. You do you all you like but if you’re coming to ME looking for a job, and I have to look at you all day long, chances are good that I’ll hire the person without holes all over their body vs the one who is pierced everywhere, everything else being equal.

        1. EH*

          Would it be okay to specifically not hire someone who was ugly because the hiring manager found them unpleasant to look at?

          Piercings aren’t a protected class in themselves, so you’re not breaking the law – but I’d be careful of the slippery slope around “we can’t hire that person, I don’t like how they look.”

          1. Roverandom*

            Well let’s also remember that piercings are a choice–like dyeing your hair a crazy color or choosing weird makeup or clothes. You can choose not to hire someone if they can’t present appropriately for work.

        2. Pomona Sprout*

          I feel the same way about gauge, especially the larger ones, where there’s a really big hole in the middle of the wearer’s earlobe. Also septum piercings, especially with the jewelry that has a knob on each end (sorry, but those look like a giant booger hanging out of each nostril to me). Most piercings barely register with me these days, but those two just plain gross me out.

          I fully recognize the right of every individual to pierce anything they want to pierce, but that doesn’t keep me from having a visceral reaction to certain things. I don’t choose to feel this way; I just DO. I’m not going to ever be in a position to make hiring decisions in the forseeable future, and if I was, I would try not to be influenced by my personal aversion to certain piercings. But If I’m bring 100% honest, I know there’s at least a possibility that (everything else being equal), I’d lean toward choosing someone without, say, large gauges or a septum piercing over someone with either of those, especially for a position where they were going to be in my field of vision on a regular basis. :-/

          I absolutely believe people have the right to their piercings, but unfortunately, you can’t control how people are going to react to them (and the people reacting may not always be able to completely control their reactions), much as they might wish they could. :-(

    20. OneWorkingMama*

      I think there’s huge variation depending on the size, placement, and nature of a tattoo or piercing. I work for a fairly progressive Christian organization in a conservative area of the country, and a large portion of us have some tattoos and/or piercings. Our most recent hire (marketing director) has full-sleeve tattoos on both arms, for example, and numerous employees have small facial piercings. That said, I can’t imagine someone being hired with huge facial piercings or facial/neck tattoos.

      1. Gaia*

        I’m incredibly easy going with tattoos and piercings by there is just something about face tattoos. On my tattoo artists, I don’t bar an eye. Anyone else and I just can’t imagine why they would do that. My issue, not theirs. And I’d like to think I’d never hold someone back for that. But I probably would question their judgement until shown otherwise.

        I’m fascinated to know why other tattoo placements have become generally more acceptable but not face tattoos.

        This is, of course, excluding cultural facial tattoos.

        1. Rainy*

          Facial and neck tattoos are often associated with prison tattoos, and I think that’s most of the reason they’re still unacceptable.

          I noticed a huge increase in nape-of-the-neck and behind-the-ear tattoos 10-15 years ago (though their vogue appears to be over now), and I think a big part of the reason is that those tattoo placements skew strongly femme-presenting and so the associations are not carceral.

    21. BananaPants*

      The type of piercing can play a role, along with the industry. I work for a Fortune 500 company and a small visible tattoo or simple piercing with subtle jewelry is not a dealbreaker for marketing/sales folks, but something like gauged earlobes or full sleeve or hand/neck/face tattoos would be a major impediment to getting those jobs in the first place or progressing in them.

      I’ve recently moved into a more senior manager role in operations and it’s clear that unnatural hair colors are no longer a wise choice and that I should stick with simple jewelry in my helix piercing.

    22. Hillary*

      I work at the global corporate office for a large company in a relatively conservative industry. I’m one of the most “edgy” women here with rose gold highlights in my hair. I know two people have tattoos, but I’ve only seen each of their tattoos once on Fridays. Our recent relaxation was switching to dress to the day instead of business casual. The only piercings at our office are ear, almost entirely single earlobe piercings on women.

      All that’s a roundabout way of saying even for in-house marketing, piercings would be looked at negatively here and now. My look is less conservative than our marketing team, although they’re often more casual than me. It’ll take a long time and maybe a director-level example for that to change.

      Just about everywhere I’ve worked, the higher up the org chart one is, the more conservative and “polished” their style. A small but telling example – at my last company lots of the CSRs usually had nail art, but none of the manager-level or higher women did. Personally I’m reluctant to do anything permanent because of this.

      1. Picard*

        QUOTE
        “Just about everywhere I’ve worked, the higher up the org chart one is, the more conservative and “polished” their style. ”

        Yep. This. (I do work in the financial field though so perhaps not totally unexpected)

    23. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      Nonprofit legal office, rural upstate NY

      Here, I’d say it depends on your role. One of the paralegals here has purple hair and I think a second ear piercing; another paralegal has a visible tattoo and a very small nostril piercing. But they’re mostly not public-facing and never go to court. The attorneys do have to go to court, so on the whole we appear more conservative (even if we secretly want to dye our hair or get another piercing). And I should say that our office is far more laid back than, say, a white shoe fancypants corporate firm.

      I should mention that the chief clerk of our local court has visible gauges in his ears and no one has a problem with him. We all think he’s cool. But, importantly, he’s never seen by the public, only by other attorneys, the judge, and people who work in his office.

    24. Lissa_*

      Upper Midwest, large city & working at a national financial company here – I’ve seen many people at our company with nostril piercings (usually wearing fairly subtle jewelry) and various ear piercings. There are many tattoos in my office (and not just dainty ankle/wrist tattoos).

      I definitely have had the conversation with family or managers early in my career where someone said I’d never have a ‘good’ job because of tattoos or piercings (and I have many of both) – but what it comes down to at any decent company and manager is that they value your ability to do good work, meet the requirements of your job, and be a good coworker/teammate. (and I know that I definitely have a better salary now than those old managers who told me I’d never get promoted)

    25. upfish sinclair*

      I work in corporate merchandising for a “fun” retailer. Piercings and tattoos are not forbidden in any way and creativity/expression is encouraged, but at the same time, nobody on our team has anything routinely visible that is more ~eccentric~ than a single cartilage piercing (and that’s just one person). I used to have the same piercings as the OP, but I took them out over the years as they don’t match my style anymore. I do have a medium leg tattoo that is visible if I wear a dress and short shoes or heels without tights, and I often get quick looks of curiosity if I show it, so I mostly wear maxi dresses/skirts or boots. My other tattoos are hidden by normal clothing.

      However, that’s just our team. Other teams that are more art/web oriented have more piercings and tattoos visible. For reference, we work in the States and have a very casual dress code.

    26. Manders*

      I’m in marketing at a startup in Seattle, and the piercings the letter writer’s describing wouldn’t strike me as unusual at all. I’ve only ever seen people try to control the marketing department’s dress code/appearance because they had a company-wide policy and didn’t want to make an exception. It might be different if you’re at an agency and working for clients in very conservative fields, but even then, you’d have to do something pretty extreme to register as outside the norm.

      I’d say the type of piercing does matter a bit. Some piercings could make you look younger/less concerned with looking good in the office. A nose ring, stud, septum piercing, or eyebrow piercing would barely even register, but a snakebite piercing could be toeing the line.

    27. Awlbiste*

      Public Library, Assistant Director. I work in a conservative rural town in the upper midwest and have a visible facial piercing (septum) for about a year now. I have received zero pushback over it, and no one has suggested I remove it even subtly. I do wonder if it will affect my ability to change jobs in the future, but I’m not very worried about it.

    28. Anon this time*

      Higher ed, rural-ish midwestern US here. I’ve noticed that tattoos and piercings aren’t an issue in general, but there’s a a lot of appearance “code switching” at my job. I have multiple tattoos, two of which are occasionally visible in business casual attire (upper arm and shoulder). I find that I check my schedule on days I wear clothing that shows tattoos to see who I’ll be working with and in what capacity. If I have an important meeting with a mixed audience, no tats. If it’s all students, they typically don’t care (and it may even be a plus if there’s a rapport building element as opposed to me being the Designated Adult in the room). If there’s a big event, proceed with caution, especially since I have a more unusual hairstyle (for this area-probably wouldn’t even be noticed in a bigger city) that can’t really be toned down to look more conventional. I put a lot of thought into whether I wanted to get my upper arm tattoo precisely because it’s so context dependent whether it would be ok in my field. While it may or may not be an issue for OP long term, I’ve found it useful to have the option to be tatted up on Monday and buttoned up on Tuesday. As I understand it, some piercings can’t just be popped out temporarily. If a piercing can be easily removed and isn’t hurting you professionally now, it would be an easier decision than something that will close right up or leave a big hole.

    29. NotAnotherManager!*

      I work in BigLaw in DC, which skews conservative, and large, visible tattoos or some piercings are going to be limiting in many environments. Plenty of people have tattoos, they are just covered by business attire. Plenty of people also have ear and nasal piercings, but they wear understated, subtle jewelry (the two on my team with a pierced nose wear tiny studs, not hoops). Facial piercings or a lot of ear piercings would probably raise an eyebrow, and even attorneys who were personally okay with it would probably be concerned about what the clients or the judge would think. We have our first attorney with unnaturally-colored hair this year, and I’m interested to see how things go for them.

    30. Rainy*

      I work in higher ed. I have multiple visible piercings and tattoos: besides lobes, I have both traguses, a rook, and my tongue pierced, and I have visible wrist and forearm tattoos, foot tattoo, and a leg piece.

      This has never held me back, and I’ve never had to cover them in the 20+ years I’ve had tattoos and piercings *except* when I was working retail management while underemployed after grad school, when I had to hide everything, couldn’t wear earrings because we were only allowed 1 earring per ear and my traguses counted (I turned my rook up for work), and was supposed to take my tongue stud out (I didn’t unless the regional manager, who was a giant jerkette, was stopping by, because literally no one cared and most people didn’t notice).

      In my area, there are more people with visible ink and metal than people without. If companies want to avoid hiring people with body mods, they have to import them, because they’re not going to find them here.

    31. Goliath Corp.*

      I work in a professional capacity in the arts, and I’ve had a lot of piercings. (Used to have a monroe, lip stud, and nose ring, took them all out and now just have a septum ring and gauged ears, and tattoos that can be covered in long sleeves.)

      I have wondered if they might hinder my upward movement. However, in the last few years I’ve gained quite a lot of weight due to health issues, and it honestly feels like being fat is a bigger hindrance than being “alternative.”

    32. WorkingGirl*

      I work in entertainment, in my company it’d be NBD but if you were working somewhere more conservative (Country or Christian music), it could be an issue.

  2. 867-5309*

    OP2, I’m going to disagree with Alison’s advice in this case. I’m CMO of a tech startup and my boss would be turned off by them. In most startups and many agencies you would be fine, but I can name at least a dozen companies where you could be seen as unprofessional for having the piercings, none of which are financial or industries that you would expect to be conservative. It’s all going to come down to the culture where you work, and even some more progressive cultures might raise eyebrows.

    Example: I worked as SVP for a global marketing firm in the NYC office. The creative team – it’s expected that you’ll have piercings and be a little more funky. Account teams, even if you’re support tech companies or retail, it would give pause.

    I’m getting a tattoo on my forearm but have nearly 20 years of experience and a strong reputation in the field overall. It can be more difficult to do when you’re earlier in your career.

    1. voyager1*

      Yep this is where I am leaning too. Marketing isn’t going to be the same everywhere when it comes to corporate culture.

      Also the manager may be telling the LW that the piercings are holding her back where she is at in a roundabout way.

    2. everything in moderation*

      Agreed that your reputation will definitely play a part in whether or not visible tattoos/piercings will hold you back. Alison is right that the stigma associated with them has changed, but the types of people who still hold that viewpoint are frequently still in high-level or otherwise powerful positions.

      I don’t think you need to remove piercings / not get tattoos, but you do have to display them with the full knowledge that you might be judged by someone who has influence over your career. It’s up to each individual how to weight that consideration.

    3. Mookie*

      Yep. Any industry where venture capitalists and suits begin to infiltrare and then dominate/exploit, the culture can become conservative (insular, regressive, and glad-handed) overnight.

      1. is it nearly time to go home?*

        Yes! exactly this happened to my tech company. For a dozen years that I worked here the culture was fairly relaxed, then the board put a new conservative CEO in charge and …. we’re now a tech company from the 1950’s : no t-shirts, no hoodies, no shorts etc. The engineers are expected to wear button-down shirts.

    4. Mystery Bookworm*

      I actually wonder if there’s some overlap with the smoking question we got a little while ago. On one hand, I can think of a lot of regions and industries where some piercings and tattoos aren’t really going to register…on the other hand, when I think to the high-level leadership at the places I’ve worked at (even the funky tech marketing places) there were no piercings or visable tattoos.

      Which isn’t to say that’s OK or that it’s not subject to change, but I do wonder if there’s more bias going on there than we always realize.

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        But to be fair, most high-level leadership is of a demographic where tattoos are less likely. They aren’t there because they don’t have tattoos. In 15 years, we millennials will be in most company leadership postitions and over half of us have tattoos.

        1. Sandman*

          I’m pretty solid Gen X and tattoos are very common for people ~15 years older than you. I think our generation has fewer sleeves and larger tattoos, but I’m not completely convinced this is all a generation gap thing – and if it is, it’s more than a 15-year spread.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, I think there are some weird outdated stereotypes about age going on here. Plenty of people 50+ have tattoos and piercings that they’ve had for years. And Gen X (my generation, frequently tattooed and pierced and not exactly shocked by them) is now 40-55ish.

            1. emmelemm*

              Yeah, I’m very solidly Gen X and have no tattoos or piercings and *definitely* feel like an outlier. If I was even 5 years younger, I’d probably have gotten at least a tattoo or two in college at some point because it would have been something to do on a Saturday.

              1. Door Guy*

                I’m on that odd border between very late Gen X or very early Millennial depending on where they draw the line.

                I got my ear pierced in high school but it’s closed over now, and no tattoos and definitely feel like an outlier too. I wanted a tattoo but never found anything I wanted to devote myself to enough to permanently mark it on my body. My wife is only 4 months younger than me and she just has lobe piercings and a single small tattoo that she drew/designed and then had a professional apply.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            +1

            I am one of the very few people in my circle of college friends that does not have a tattoo, and nearly all of us have at least one piercing outside the single-hole-in-each-lobe we got in elementary school. I work in a conservative industry and hate needles, so I’m tattoo-less and only have a couple extra holes in my lobes, but I’m the outlier.

          3. ellex42*

            Also solidly Gen X, and I’m increasing the odd (wo)man out for not having any tattoos (nothing against them, they’re just not for me) and only a single hole in each ear (which right now no one knows about because one of them closed up and I haven’t gotten around to getting it opened), even among coworkers my age.

            1. many bells down*

              Ditto. I have no tats because I’m needlephobic (I like them, I’m just not going to subject myself and the tattoo artist to me screaming, vomiting, and fainting). I had a second set of ear piercings 30 years ago but I didn’t maintain them so I’ve just the one set now.

            2. Epiphyta*

              Yep! Gen X here, and the only one in my group of agemates with no ink and the single lobe piercings I got in middle school (I fainted after).

        2. Mystery Bookworm*

          I don’t disagree with you! Tattoos are irrelevant to the qualities we hire leadership for…but we still use appearance cues to make judgements on people, and if the demographic we associate with leadership is also one that’s less likely to have body mods, then it might be biasing people more than they would think.

          Which is not to say OP should change her appearance, just that maybe it’s something she might have to factor in, even within groups who would claim it as a non-issue.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Why not? I’m not a tattoo person, but my friends have all kinds of reasons for getting them. Unless they’re planning to tattoo their faces extensively, I wouldn’t question it.

        A lot– most– tattoos can be covered, if that’s an issue.

      2. 867-5309*

        I just realized you were addressing that question to me. :) I drew a design on a napkin in Puerto Rico four or five years ago, and turn 40 in January. Seemed like a good time to do it. It means something to me and I’ve been interested for several years.

        1. Adara*

          I turn 40 in December and I’m getting an arm tattoo as well! Mine is going on the inside of my upper arm, so it’ll end up a little easier to cover. Though my industry (fitness) seems pretty chill about those things. I also have pink and blue hair.

    5. Morning Reader*

      I lean to the side of wanting to discourage anything that might make it difficult for others who are squeamish to look you directly in the face. Obviously, this has to be balanced against your needs for self expression, and the norms in your industry. But nose piercings (other than very minimal), tongue piercings, face or neck tattoos… well I’m sure I’d get used to them eventually, but until I did I would be uncomfortable every time I looked at you. The question is, how many people will be turned off or disgusted by the piercing, vs those who will be neutral or find it attractive or interesting? The balance is probably shifting every day, and it seems very dependent on field and geography. And how many of those people are in a position to hire you? (I’m not, so no worries about my attitude.) I hope provincial attitudes like mine don’t hurt your career, but given my squeamishness, I recommend piercings that can be removed as needed.

      1. 867-5309*

        I worry less about squeamishness with the piercings OP mentioned, and more about the general distraction of them. If people are thinking about piercings or tattoos when they first meet you, they aren’t focused on you and your work. This can harmful, especially early in one’s career.

        1. Tallulah in the Sky*

          I don’t agree with this at all. What about the guy a couple of months ago who couldn’t stop himself from staring at his coworker’s cleavage ? Or what if someone has a scar, a mole, a birthmark,… on their face or somewhere highly visible. These all have the potential to be distracting, but it’s up to people to be professional and focus on one’s work and not one’s appearance.

          I find animal prints distaste full, they annoy me and as such, have the possibility to distract me. I’ve never hold it against my previous colleague, and treated her and her work like I would anybody else.

          1. LQ*

            Yes…but unfortunately you can’t control what happens in the brain of every human who will interact with you, or even just the ones who influence your career.

            You should absolutely treat someone who has a scar, mole, birthmark, or animal print as about their work and not their appearance. Sure. But I think it would be frankly mean to not be realistic. You can’t say that everyone 100% of the time will always do that. Sometimes people will make judgements about people’s appearance, especially when that thing is seen as personal choice.

            So yes, you continue to do the right thing.
            But to the OP, yeah, judgements happen and the folks talking about how to manage that and where that’s going to happen are right. You can decide if you care, if you want to make sure that you don’t ever get hired by someone who will make judgements, if you want to lean into that. But you should decide with your eyes open.

          2. Works in IT*

            To me, there’s a very clear difference between someone who wears animal prints, or someone with a birthmark, scar, or something that is otherwise out of their control, and someone who does something that could cause people with specific phobias (needle phobias, in particular) discomfort, on their face. Business norms include making eye contact with someone when you are talking to them. That means your eyes, your forehead, your nose, your mouth, and to a lesser extend your ears, hair, and chin, are what someone is going to be focused on when talking to you, and anything that might cause problems for someone with such a phobia would have a greater impact there than anywhere else. If someone’s wearing a shirt with obscene phrases on it, it’s possible to just… fixate on their face and ignore the clothing. If someone’s got an obscene phrase tattooed on their forehead…. trying to avoid looking at it will just cause them to demand to know why you can’t meet their eyes (using obscenities rather than piercings to make the example because there isn’t really anything people pierce themselves with lower down that isn’t covered by ordinary office clothing, but the point is that when something’s on someone’s face, someone with a phobia can’t really look away)

            1. Librarian1*

              Okay, but we can’t spend our entire lives not doing things we want to do just because someone else might have a phobia. Part of existing in society is potentially being exposed to things that make us anxious and it’s unrealistic and unfair to expect everyone else to cater to that.

              1. Cora*

                This reminds me of a woman who had a phobia of a dog up at our cottage. Obviously a tough thing for her, but our neighbourhood was full of dogs and she seemed very frustrated and stressed when she met someone walking a dog down the road. I don’t think her approach was productive.

            2. Risha*

              This is pretty much completely unrelated to your comment, but I have to say that it’s almost impossible for the average person to notice that someone’s looking at your forehead instead of at your eyes. It’s usually highly uncomfortable for me to try to look at people’s eyes (one of the many quirks that makes me think I’m probably on the mild end of the spectrum), and I’ve yet to have anyone call me out for looking at their nose or forehead instead while we talk.

              1. pancakes*

                I’ve noticed people looking at my forehead or the top of my head on numerous occasions but it’s never occurred to me to call them on it in any way—if they seem uncomfortable with eye contact for whatever reason, what would be the point of asking whether they’re uncomfortable? If I notice it I don’t need them to validate me noticing it. Also, whether they’re uncomfortable with eye contact or not, I would assume they’d simply deny it or brush it off as unintentional rather than give a candid explanation.

                1. Risha*

                  I suppose it’s possible I just meet a lot of polite people, but the top of your head is very different from looking at someone’s lower forehead. The difference in angle between the two is stark.

                2. pancakes*

                  It is, and it’s a bit unsettling—when this has happened I’ve always had the urge to check a mirror to see whether there’s something stuck in my hair, and haven’t found anything. Maybe it’s that my age is hard to read and they’re looking for grey.

            3. Washi*

              This is a very specific scenario, and I don’t think people should worry about whether other people will have a phobic reaction to the way their face looks as part of the consideration of whether to get a piercing. (Which is very different from having a swear word tattooed on your forehead!!)

            4. Anna*

              In this specific scenario, I don’t care about your phobia. If your phobia creates a situation where you want to police my choices to make yourself comfortable, it’s likely I’m not the right person to do the job for you. Please find the right person for you.

            5. Aspie AF*

              Needle phobia typically presents as a fear of medical procedures involving needles, which is why I have a needle phobia and also have most of the piercings mentioned in the letter (no nostril). I have never had an issue looking at someone else’s piercings – this seems like a contrived association. Similarly, there’s a huge divide between *a* tattoo and “an obscene phrase tattooed on [one’s] forehead”. Would you have the same concern of an ethnically traditional facial tattoo such as the moko kauae?

          3. many bells down*

            I have a scar IN my cleavage (two open-heart surgeries). I’m doubly dangerous to look at XD.

      2. Anna*

        The thing is, if people are squeamish and can’t look at someone because of their piercing, that is literally on them. It’s a bizarre reaction and the squeamishness usually comes from prejudices about “people with tattoos” or “people with piercings.”

      3. VictorianCowgirl*

        Are you squeamish about earrings too? Or has that been normalized for you? If you aren’t, I would say you don’t have much of a foundation for being squeamish about other piercings, and that your squeamishness is most likely bias.

        1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

          I actually am squeamish about heavy earrings; when I see someone wearing clearly heavy earrings it’s really hard for me not to fixate on them. However, it has never occurred to me that it was a them problem. It’s quite clearly a me problem and on me to deal with! I just try not to look at them, and remind myself to concentrate on the person’s face and what they’re saying.
          My point is, one can pretty pretty darn squeamish and still be professional and polite and not judge the other person.

        2. Mr. Shark*

          I think it’s definitely bias, but that does it mean it’s not there. I work in manufacturing, and the shop floor people are allowed and expected to dress a certain way, and that may mean a lot of tattoos and piercing, but whether it’s an unwritten rule or just expectations, you rarely see the same among the white collar people (engineering, finance, etc.)

          I get that certain piercings could be distracting. Yes, ear piercing has been normalized, but if you are having big hoops or otherwise in places directly on your face (eyebrow, lips, nose), then yes, that will be distracting, and could affect how you are perceived. Whether that is good or bad is a different question.

          The face is most of us have some sort of dress or appearance requirement for our job, and that may change, but it will likely be a slow change. Tattoos, if they are easily covered, or not covering your neck and face, are more acceptable now. But there still are limits, and I think limits are reasonable in most cases in a professional setting.

      1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

        Why take any particular person’s opinion as a standard to be followed?

        Everyone is just sharing opinions here.

    6. Phoenix Programmer*

      I agree. I think Alison’s region or her favorite retail places are not reflective of how the US in general is changing re:dyed hair, piercings, and tatoos. I think Alison has been saying non-natural haor dyes aren’t an issue for 4 or 5 years now and it’s still nowhere to be found where I live and work.

      We just surveyed our customers, and tattoos were ok as long as they were not on the neck or chest region or offensive or sexual. Piercings other than 1 in ear lobes were still not approved and neither was non natural hair dyes.

      Honestly I just got back from a very liberal, large, and diverse west coast city. I frequented dozens of restaurants, stores, and museums as well as rode public transportation and don’t recall seeing anyone with face piercings, gauges, etc.

      1. disagree*

        there are a bunch of comments on this page from people in non-coastal regions saying it’s common place. sure it’s regional but it’s not what you describe either

  3. tinjam*

    #5 – The type of ‘help’ that employers will offer a past employee in their job search depends entirely on the person offering. Here are some options:

    a) Financing some external re-training opportunities (usually if it’s a lay-off, not a firing though)
    b) Actively promoting your resume to their network
    c) Sending you job links
    d) Agreeing to give a good reference

    I agree with Alison there’s no harm in contacting them to nudge them to consider offering more support, but honestly I think you’re on your own. It is rare that an employer who fires you (without working first with you to improve your prospects within their company) has any strong interest or goodwill to help you find your next position.

    Best of luck in your job search

    1. Kiki*

      Yes, it’s quite possible that they have, in their minds, already fulfilled their promises by sending you those three links and being available as a positive reference. And honestly, unless the person firing you has an “in” at another company or knows of an opening you’d be qualified for somewhere else in the company, what they’ve done is really the extent to which I think most companies could help a former employee find a new job. It stinks that, intentionally or not, your former employer built up this assistance to be something substantial when it’s really not much. I do agree with Alison that a gentle nudge to see if they’ll offer more is fine. Additionally, I think you may want to clarify what they’ll say if you use your former employer as a reference. If you’ve been fired and don’t understand the reason, it’s definitely worth sorting out how positive of a reference they’ll really give you.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I assumed d) was what they meant. In this case “helping” means “not actively working against.” But knowing that they will provide a good reference is a blessing. It’s one less thing to worry about knowing that you can be honest: “I received a promotion that was premature on both of our parts. They were very satisfied with my work as a front-line contributor, but there weren’t any openings available when changes had to be made. I left on good terms.”
      If the OP found a job opening where their previous manager had a connection, I bet the manager would make the connection if the OP asked. But the manager won’t be actively job searching for the OP.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I can’t think of any “help you find a new position” that I could do except for the things on that list.

      I can (and have) called around to people in my field (even some I don’t know) to say, “I’ve had to lay off someone good; can I send you her resume, or can you think of any leads off the top of your head?”

      That’s about it.

      I can give advice, perhaps, during an interview phase.

      I had a company pay for an outplacement membership for a little while–it was the most worthless experience of my life (in the days before computers could save your keyboarding, my counselor kept asking me to rewrite my resume every single time I came in. I finally told her off–they were small changes, and each retyping was a huge risk for an error–deadly for anyone, but for a copyeditor?

  4. Annette*

    #3 – sounds like your coworker is a little bit of a loon. In truth – if there’s another easy place to stand I’d just stand there when she is in the room. It sounds like this is only occasional. I’ve learned in life – people don’t change so sometimes it’s easier if you do.

    1. Ariaflame*

      After all, the microwave doesn’t cook your food any faster by you standing in front of it anyway. Take the opportunity to make a hot drink or do something else while you wait.

      I have actually done testing outside microwaves and as I remember the microwaves themselves are confined to the microwave. There would have to be significant damage for them to not be confined.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        If you open up the microwave as it’s cooking, a tiny bit of radiation can escape. This, however, is only an issue if you’re doing this next to the Parkes radio telescope.

        From what the OP says, though, it sounds like the kitchen is very tiny, and the most logical place to stand is in front of the microwave, so you aren’t getting in the way of people doing other things. Also, if you leave the room and the microwave finishes, but the food isn’t hot enough, you lose your place in line and have to wait again to finish.

        1. OP #3*

          OP here! You hit the nail on the head, AcademiaNut – “From what the OP says, though, it sounds like the kitchen is very tiny, and the most logical place to stand is in front of the microwave, so you aren’t getting in the way of people doing other things.”

          Our kitchen is really, really small and so many people use it that there’s not really anywhere to move. Standing in front of the microwaves is sort of the only spot — we’re trapped between the fridges, the coffee pots, the sink and the doorway. I hope that helps!

          1. Lyys*

            Perhaps mention that it’s not an OSHA concern but she is welcome to contact them about the issue. This might be a slightly hostile response but I don’t humor these sorts of people.

      2. Quill*

        That’s what the metal grate is for.

        The only thing that they really do to things outside them is that there’s a very small chance they interfere with your wifi signal.

    2. Mookie*

      Depends on the kitchen culture. In some workplaces, not being attentive to your microwave and not standing ready to immediately remove your grub and free up the appliance is considered rude and entitled.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        In my workplace, you are not supposed to stand in front of a microwave, because then you’re blocking the silverware drawers and the second microwave. But you are also not supposed to stand far from the microwave, because you do need to be “ready to immediately remove your grub”. No idea where to stand when there’s a line and you are in it. Again, you cannot be standing close and blocking the drawers with mugs and cutlery, but you’ve got to be standing somewhere that indicates your place in line. Office kitchens are such a minefield. Been in this building two years and I still have not figured out the perfect place to stand that will make everyone happy.

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          Clearly, you are supposed to perch on top of the microwave gargoyle-like…unless that blocks the upper cabinets.

    3. JSPA*

      Eh, in the very early days of microwaves (1960’s) this was a thing (before the lockouts and full caging and higher standards). I suppose it’s possible problem units were sold more recently than that, in places with laxer standards.

      You don’t have to be a kook to have internalized outmoded panic from a parent or grandparent, in childhood! It’s not a valid worry, for a modern microwave oven, in the first world; but if you’d generally accommodate a coworker’s mouse / snake / bug phobia, why not do same for their microwave phobia?

      1. JSPA*

        Or at least, “I’m sorry, it’s not convenient for me to step away, but if it freaks you out, I’m happy to give you a moment to step outside so you don’t have to see it.”

      2. pancakes*

        I see what you mean, but I think it is at least a bit kooky for a person to refuse to update their thinking about a particular technology for over 50 years. It seems unlikely to me that the coworker is trapped in a very outdated understanding of microwaves than trapped in anxiety they don’t have a handle on, though.

      3. Mia*

        That may be true, but there’s also a lot of weird panic about microwaves in woo/pseudoscience culture, so I don’t think it’s unfair to assume LW’s coworker is coming at it from that angle.

        1. Deborah*

          This is SO TRUE. My cousin and his wife wouldn’t use the microwave for any of their baby’s consumables. He claimed he didn’t think it was radioactive; his reason was “uneven heating”. I told him about this new thing I’d learned called “mixing.” (He still wouldn’t use the microwave for the baby.)

      4. Syfygeek*

        When my parents got their first microwave, my dad talked about the “micros zapping in and out of the microwave and he wouldn’t stand in front of the microwave, or let us because he didn’t want anyone to be zapped by a stray micro. This was in the 70’s. Depending on the coworkers age, could this be something she heard or was told, and it stayed with her as “fact”?

        1. pancakes*

          I’m not following as to why taking comments one’s parents made as gospel with no regard for accuracy would be somehow redeeming. It’s not as if people are obliged to continue to misunderstand things they started to misunderstand in childhood. I don’t see why it matters at all where or how the coworker acquired her beliefs about microwaves. It could just as easily be something she picked up from reading a poorly sourced website—either way, her coworkers aren’t obliged to play along.

          1. VictorianCowgirl*

            Yes and you can apply this wording almost exactly to any religious observance in the office.

            1. pancakes*

              I’m not sure you could, since people who observe religion at work—in my experience, at least—don’t tend to ask other people to join them in it. There’s a difference between, say, hanging a calendar with religious quotes on a cubicle wall and asking others in the office to hang one on theirs too. The coworker trying to get others to adopt their microwave stance is closer to the latter.

      5. Name Required*

        Mouses/snakes/bugs aren’t a normal part of most office work offices and cause sanitary issues that actually do impact people. I eat lunch heated up in a microwave daily; it’s a normal part of life for most people and not dangerous. These examples don’t seem analogous.

        1. JSPA*

          Eh, let’s say someone who’s freaked out when there are insects flying around the light in the parking lot, then, or someone who can’t stand to walk by the photo of your pet snake, or the dead / fake spider in the glass globe on your desk. We can all agree they’re harmless, but we can also be sympathetic to the idea that people have a range of fears and phobias that are not subject to a reason-based override.

          Coworker’s doing the right thing by asking a favor due to a personal quirk (not asserting a non-fact as fact). It’s a kindness to accommodate when convenient, and to warn and allow them to not see it, if time’s tight, or you need to make sure your lunch doesn’t boil over and make a mess.

          1. Eukomos*

            She is asserting it as fact though, if she says “standing in front of microwaves isn’t safe.” If she were saying “seeing people standing in front of microwaves makes me anxious” she’d be in-bounds as far as framing goes, but her coworkers are well within their rights to tell her that’s not convenient and they would prefer she stop asking them to manage her anxiety for her.

      6. Mel 2*

        I remember as a toddler in the 1980s my mom warning me to never stand in front of the microwave. She’s precisely of the age to have started using microwaves in the 1960s. I had this in the back of my head for years and finally looked up information on it one day. Microwave ovens use standing microwaves, meaning by design they are confined to the space inside the oven and do not “leak” radiation.

        I can absolutely see LW3’s coworker growing up with the warning to never stand in front of a microwave. But that information is now very outdated. I doubt that the coworker would respond well to being presented with evidence against her, as she sounds very set in her ways, but at least you can rest assured there’s no danger in standing in front of microwave ovens.

      7. Dagny*

        I came here to say this: back in the day, microwaves did cause problems. Modern ones do not.

        The way to address that to the coworker is to say just that: “Betty, what you’re saying was true back in the 1960s and 1970s. Modern microwaves are completely safe and those issues have been resolved. This microwave is not a relic from the Johnson Administration, so I am not worried and you should update your research.”

        1. Name Required*

          This statement sounds pretty condescending to me. Alison’s script would be a better choice — the goal isn’t to get Betty to accept that microwaves are safe, but to stop projecting her fears onto her coworkers by unwanted making comments.

            1. Deborah*

              I wonder if she always puts a mug of water in the microwave between uses. My grandmother did this but honestly I have no idea why.

              1. SusanIvanova*

                In case someone hit the power switch while it was empty – I just googled, and it’s still true that running an empty microwave could damage it.

      8. Anna*

        Because one is much easier to avoid in an office setting than the other. If the coworker is that worried about the microwave, why can’t she accommodate herself and keep out of the kitchen when other people are using it?

      9. Patty Mayonnaise*

        Well science ovens DO take all the nutrition out of your food and burn your house down.

    4. Fikly*

      I have an uncle who thinks wifi will give him cancer. When I’m in his house, there is no wifi. It’s useless to argue, but that’s in his house. In a work environment, you don’t have to comply with her, especially if there’s nowhere else to stand.

    5. Media Monkey*

      my sister in law thinks smart meters (are these a thing in the US? they are basically a digital utility meter so you can see what in your house uses most energy and they don’t have to send someone to read your meter) give you cancer.
      if you google you can find plenty of support for this theory.

      1. Antilles*

        Smart meters are a thing in the US, though it’s more for the utility company’s benefit than yours by allowing them to read it electronically without needing to physically show up at your house and deal with dogs, locked fences, angry homeowners, inconveniently placed bushes, etc.
        The idea that they could give you cancer though…seems very odd given that there’s a brick wall between you and the meter. If anything, be more worried about the electronic devices *inside* the house.

        1. Media Monkey*

          it is odd isn’t it? she’s normally fairly rational – i don’t know where this has come from. and in the UK the smart meters are inside the house. they are like little screens.

        2. bluephone*

          People believe that hair dryers can cause brain cancer (it was very much A Thing in the ’90s and even into the early aughts) so being suspicious of smart meters and wifi is not at all surprising (smart meters and wifi do NOT cause illness but honestly, if people will believe that hair dryers will rot your brain, why would they not also believe that an xfinity hotspot is dangerous?)

      2. SomebodyElse*

        And if you google aliens, unicorns, and bigfoot there will be plenty of support for their existence too.

        Bottom line is the coworker has a hangup about people standing in front of a microwave due to an unfounded fear… The LW just needs to stand her ground (heh… yeah pun intended) and thank the coworker for their concern and it’s a risk she’s willing to take.

        1. Media Monkey*

          oh totally. both SIL and LW’s co-worker are both being irrational. didn’t mean to sound like i believed/ agreed with either!

      3. moql*

        We have those in the US. I work with a utility and some people do object. They are given the option of paying for someone to come out and do a manual read and most change their mind when they realize what that would cost.

    6. Annie*

      Alison’s advice is unkind. The woman evidently has some kind of phobia or OCD issue – it takes no effort to stand a foot to one side. Why would you refuse to show empathy to a person struggling with a mental health issue? I understand that people shouldn’t be obligated to change their behaviour to suit someone else’s issues but we do plenty of stuff to accommodate people – like not wear any fragranced products.

      I like to think I have enough human decency not to cause a mentally not completely well person distress, when I can avoid it by doing something that takes almost no effort on my part.

      Why not be kind?

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        As a person with OCD: Catering to the obsession is not actually kind. It just escalates.

        Gentle pushback, reminding someone ‘this is not a normal, proportional reaction to the situation’ is kind.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          I made a similar comment that has disappeared – it must have gone into moderation or something – from my experience when my partner was diagnosed. Getting to the point where I would not cater to his fears was very difficult but it was really important to his ongoing recovery.

        2. Data Analyst*

          +1 from another OCD person. It reinforces the distorted thinking that controlling one’s environment to that extent is possible and reasonable.

        3. JustAnother*

          Yeah, don’t indulge me in my obsessions. I’m trying to get over them, not have them reinforced.

          1. JSPA*

            How would it work if someone talked it out? “There’s zero risk. I’d be willing to step aside as a personal favor, but I’m not comfortable acting as if there’s a risk, when there isn’t.” Is that a helpful expression of friendship, or sort of strange and condescending? If I said it, I’d mean it literally, but I can also see how it could be said with more edge.

      2. Harper the Other One*

        You are making a big leap to mental illness, but even if that’s part of the picture, the therapeutic advice for dealing with OCD at least is NOT to engage in irrational behaviours for the sake of soothing fears, which only reinforces the obsessive thought and compulsive pattern. This was very challenging for me and my partner when he was diagnosed because of course I had been doing all sorts of things to ease what we thought was anxiety.

        We avoid fragrances products in the workplace because there is no way for someone to avoid fragrance; ditto for other allergens. But if this coworker wants to avoid seeing someone stand in front of the microwave, there are solutions she can employ for that.

        The kind thing to do is probably to say “don’t worry, the risks of microwave ovens have been debunked for modern equipment.” But after that’s been established, OP should continue about business as usual.

      3. Myrin*

        Alison’s answer is literally one sentence with three proposed scripts in it – I find it hard to see anything unkind in such a condensed answer. (Nevermind that all of these scripts are very polite and friendly. Suggesting OP say “Wow, you delusional nutjob, get out of here with your paranoia if you can’t deal with kitchen appliances like a normal person!”, now, that would be unkind – the proposed answers are anything but.)

        But apart from that, a big part of the problem seems to be that this is a “very small” kitchen, since OP emphasises this multiple times. It looks to me like there basically isn’t any space to just stand around and people figure that if they’re using the microwave anyway, they might as well stay right in front of it until it’s done.

        (And as an aside, I think I’d personally lose much of my sympathy if this were something that happened literally every time someone uses the microwave, as it appears to be the case. Anxiously warning someone like this once or twice? Yeah, okay, fine, whatever. But all the time? That comes across as lecture-y and condescending, whether it’s rooted in genuine anxiety and distress or not.)

      4. Grits McGee*

        This seems like a major case of armchair diagnosing, and a tremendous leap of logic. A person can have outdated/incorrect assumptions without being mentally ill.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Goodness, yes. Some people just learn something and have a terrible time unlearning it when technology progresses or research disproves something. See also, not letting the gas tank get more than half-empty to avoid permanent damage to your engine, not sitting too close to the TV (not because you’ll go blind but because early TVs were recalled for emitting too much radiation), turning carseats around right at 12 months, etc. It irrationally made my mom nervous that we put our kids to sleep on their backs as babies because it had been ingrained in her when I was a kid that it was dangerous, even though she rationally knew it was a new-and-improved recommendation and followed the recommendation herself with the grandkids. It’s hard to unlearn habits and it’s not a sign of mental illness.

      5. Jeffrey Deutsch*

        Demanding that someone else not stand in a certain spot, when standing there does not objectively affect you (unlike, say, a fragranced product), is out of line. If the co-worker has some kind of phobia or OCD issue about where other people stand, that’s her problem.

      6. Sylvan*

        I understand your good intentions here, but as someone with severe clinical anxiety, sometimes accommodating a fear validates it.

        Also, OP’s coworker might just be misinformed and/or kind of dumb.

      7. Doctor Schmoctor*

        OCD? Unlikely. It’s much more likely she’s just mis-informed. It’s like how many people believe daddy longlegs spiders are extremely venomous, because that’s what they were told when they were kids.

        1. VictorianCowgirl*

          Agree, and to be fair, DD-legs ARE Extremely Venemous, however they are of no danger to us because they cannot pierce our skin.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            That’s part of the urban legend that is false. They eat plant matter, and thus don’t need venom.

            And was it catering to the obsession when I removed the picture with my name, because another reader has a spider phobia? I thought I was just being kind.

            1. JSPA*

              Several different animals (including crane flies and maybe 100 types of spindly spiders) are called “daddy long legs” in different locations. Some are very much carnivorous and at least slightly venomous. Others are not.

      8. Lance*

        To add another point to the others here: being kind does not require listening to someone’s every request. It’s perfectly possible to be kind in refusal, to thank for the worry (if necessary) but assure that you’ll be fine.

      9. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Alison’s advice is far from unkind. I’m not going to cater to someone else’s paranoia. If co-worker has a problem with microwaves, then she can choose to stand away from them, but she has no standing to dictate what I can and can’t do.

      10. annony*

        It really depends on the layout of the kitchen. If you can easily step to the side without blocking something else I agree. In my work kitchenette, that really isn’t an option. You stand in the doorway, in front of the microwave or in front of the refrigerator. At lunchtime the kitchen is busy so waiting anywhere other than in front of the microwave really doesn’t work.

      11. Sharrbe*

        If she’s truly uncomfortable watching people stand next to a safe machine, then she needs to leave the room. We can’t transfer our fears onto other people. If she was deathly afraid of elevators, could she insist that no one use them because that’s “just her thing”? Would we all be obligated to climb four sets of stairs for her? No, I’m an adult and can determine for myself if a piece of everyday equipment is safe for me to use. Complying with her unreasonable demand is not accomodating her mental health issue.

        Now, if someone were trying to force HER to stand in front of a microwave to show her that its harmless…..that’s cruel and disrespectful.

      12. Jaydee*

        Our office has a small, galley style kitchenette. The microwave is at the far right end of the counter. A foot to the left and I’m blocking access to the open counter space as well as the coffee pot and utensil drawers. Another foot to the left and you’d be blocking the sink. A little further and you’re blocking the other doorway and the refrigerator.

        Thankfully our office is small and friendly enough that stepping out of the kitchenette into the break room (or even using the restroom or going to talk to someone in a nearby office) while your food heats is fine. But I know in some offices that is totes frowned on because then you hold up the line of people waiting to hear their food and eat their lunch.

      13. Massmatt*

        Leaving the armchair diagnosis aside, the coworker is putting her anxiety and irrational fear onto the OP to manage and mitigate. Why should coworker get to dictate where someone stands?

        The extreme example of this was the letter where employees were required to line up at the bus stop outside work according to size (!) because of a coworker’s mental issue. No.

          1. valentine*

            employees were required to line up at the bus stop outside work according to size (!)
            Not size, but assumed gender.

      14. Mia*

        As someone with OCD, I actually think it’s really unkind and just not great in general to assume this kind of misconception must be a mental health issue. A lot of alternative health publications freak people out about microwaves; imo, it’s probably more likely that this coworker is scaring herself by reading something like Natural News than anything else.

      15. Jessie the First (or second)*

        I don’t think kind means “comply with a nonsensical demand.” It is possible to be kind while also saying no (thank god).

        And I also think it is enormously speculative to declare the coworker is mentally ill. She ignores the science of microwave tech and harps on a subject. That’s all we have here.

      16. Health Insurance Nerd*

        You should not be labeling someone’s irrational fear of getting cancer from a microwave as mental illness. What about people who believe vaccines cause autism? Or in chemtrail conspiracy theories? Are they also mentally ill?

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Doesn’t matter. The way to deal with it is the same whether they are mentally ill or not – stick to reality and the facts, don’t conform to a non-factual world view, be nice about it.

      17. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s not like she’s telling a child Santa isn’t real. She’s simply dismissing someone’s irrational pleas to change HER behavior due to whatever reason the coworker has behind her requests.

        If you use a soft or neutral tone and say “I’m fine right here. Don’t worry about me :)” that’s not unkind.

        Just like telling a child there’s no monster in their closet isn’t cruel.

        If it is such an issue it’s damaging her mental health the only person who can help are her doctors. Not her coworkers catering to her and feeding into her phobia

      18. Lynn Whitehat*

        No. My mother-in-law is like this. Nothing good comes of indulging it. Also the OP is going to have to be pretty firm with their co-worker IME. Smiling and gently saying “oh, I’m fine here” isn’t going to work.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I think ‘I looked into it, and there’s not really a problem’ is enough, then repeating ‘I’m fine here’ for future rounds.

          Different people and situations, yeah you have to push back harder, but in a professional setting, if those scripts are not enough, then you would appeal to authority and pull in a manager with, ‘Coworker keeps bugging me while I’m cooking lunch. I’ve asked her to stop, but she won’t. Can you get her to leave me alone?’

          You don’t usually have that kind of authority figure in personal relationships. I have told my husband that data is our authority figure / tie breaker, and it works ok, but only because I know I’m not always reasonable.

      19. Jules the 3rd*

        In the end, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a mental illness or not, the way to deal with it is the same. Per Alison’s scripts, stick with reality in a polite, professional way. Do not go along with the request, don’t mock her, and generally do not engage with non-reality-based thinking.

        If she does have OCD or a phobia, then letting her live with the mild discomfort breaks the reward cycle (successfully completing a Compulsion triggers a reward bump that reinforces the Obsession). If she doesn’t have OCD, she’s still a coworker, and entitled to her opinions and control over her behavior, but not entitled to control over other people’s behavior.

        I do appreciate that Annie wants to support mentally ill people, something that we do not do a lot in the workplace.

      20. Free Meerkats*

        Sure, I’ll be kind the first time or 3. Beyond that, especially given how the OP’s kitchen is laid out, my response will be along the lines of, “Your triggers aren’t my problem. Deal with it, Luna.”

    7. Earthwalker*

      Perhaps she’s one of my husband’s ex-coworkers. He used to go into the break room and stand behind the door, giving anyone who asked a crazy story about “microids” coming out of the microwave. He kept doing it until everyone in the office was piled up behind the door at lunch time out of fear of “microids.” He got such a kick out of watching them all hide like that.

    8. Mama Bear*

      I wonder if the person is also worried because of concerns like with pacemakers. My grandmother would never stand in front of her microwave and didn’t even want to use an electronic seat because of extreme concern that it would interfere somehow with her pacemaker. FDA says it’s OK, but I can see why someone would be concerned. I think the best response is the one given – that you’re OK, thanks for the concern, though. If I were her, I’d leave the kitchen if I couldn’t stand watching people stand there.

  5. staceyizme*

    On getting sick and then being harassed for it by your boss… it’s not unreasonable to hear some grumbling and disappointment from your boss, but nothing should be directed at you personally and refusing to speak to you is childish. In your shoes, most people would be sorely tempted to move on. In this case, you should yield to temptation at the earliest reasonable offer of alternative employment.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I really wanted to ask OP#1 if they worked for the Trunchbull. Their Boss sounds so irrational, and frankly, Dickensian.

      1. ClinicallyDistracted*

        I really want to ask #1 if they work for my former boss! It sounds eerily familiar.

        That family-run company was chronically understaffed, and the boss’s kids got preferential treatment for days off. Here’s some bullshit I went through:

        – I planned a vacation with my friends, and got the days off approved. The week before, the boss’s son was supposed to cover me, but decided he wanted to go on a vacation that weekend too, so the boss retracted my approval and told me he’d fire me if i didn’t come in.

        – I planned ANOTHER vacation with friends, and asked for approval 3 months ahead of time. I was told I was asking too far in advance, and I needed to make my request a month ahead of time. One month before, I submitted my request and got denied because we were too short staffed. Their daughter decided the day before my canceled vacation that she was going to take a long weekend because she was tired.

        – I was in a a 12 car pile up that made the regional news. My boss’s response? Not “I’m glad you’re ok” or “Oh wow, how scary! Let me know if there’s anything we can do to help as you recover” but instead: “I’m not going to let you take time off to deal with this.” I got yelled at for taking calls from insurance during work hours for f*ck’s sake.

        – A few weeks before I finally quit, I came down with the flu. Fever of 103, throwing up, whole body ached, couldn’t breath. I called my boss to tell them I was sick, and his wife’s response was “that’s not acceptable, you have to come in anyway. ”

        People like this exist. I stuck around for a year because I didn’t want to be perceived as a job-hopper and the pay was amazing for what I was doing. Its been 2 years since I escaped, and I’m thankful every day that I now have a reasonable, well adjusted boss who respects me.

        1. NEWBIEMD19*

          Wow! I’m glad you were finally able to leave that place. What was their reaction when you told them you were out of there?

    2. Snorkmaiden*

      I really don’t agree with this – how is it reasonable to hear grumbling and disappointment from them?

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        Probably not unreasonable, but certainly not unexpected. (Husband and wife working together in a small environment which means they are going to mutter something to each other – they come across as ungrateful, but also human)
        And shouldn’t be aimed at OP in any case.

        1. TootsNYC*

          my husband and I don’t mutter to one another over disappointments like this, not even in our home!

      2. AW*

        Because they have to cover the OP who is out sick and have to cancel their trip, that’s a reasonable thing to be disappointed by. The bit that’s not reasonable is then trying to blame the OP.

        1. Scarlet2*

          If they don’t want to be put in this position, they should make sure they have more than one reliable employee. They only have themselves to blame.

          1. rayray*

            Exactly. I’ve worked for small companies and this is a common problem. They don’t cross train enough, have enough employees, or plan ahead for any emergencies, illnesses, people quitting, etc. So whenever someone is too sick to come, puts in two weeks notice, has an emergency or whatever is making them miss work without planning in advance, it’s a scramble to cover everything. I think to a point, that will happen anywhere when work has to be done and someone calls out, but these people shouldn’t have to miss a vacation because one person called in sick. Sounds like staffing needs at their company need to be looked at and refigured.

        2. it's me*

          Part of being a professional adult is learning to recognize when something’s happened that’s beyond your control and to disguise your disappointment.

          1. Luke*

            Except it’s not beyond the boss’ control. There are a few wonderful proverbs I picked up in the military that apply here:
            “Two is one, and one is none.”
            “A failure to plan is a PLAN to FAIL.”
            And my all-time favorite…
            “Your lack of planning is not my ’emergency’.”

        3. Dust Bunny*

          Naw, they brought it on themselves by under-hiring. If your business can’t function for a few days because one key employee is out, you’ve created that mess yourself by not hiring better people, not training them better, and not holding them to higher standards.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            This, exactly! They want the perks (profits) of running a super-lean staff but not the inconveniences (life happens!) that come along with it. They suck, and I hope OP gets a new job as soon as possible. The grief about having pneumonia would be enough for me, but the chronically hiring crappy part-time staff and expecting OP to pick up the slack would not help either.

            1. bluephone*

              AKA, every hospital ever as far as nursing and pharmacy staff goes (in my experience). Yay patient safety! (sarcasm)

            2. J.*

              Grief about having pneumonia and the fact that they wouldn’t let her go home when she was really sick on top of that. Oh my god, LW, get out of there now, absolutely nothing is worth these bosses.

        4. AuroraLight37*

          They’re in this position because they’ve repeatedly refused to find another employee who can back up the OP. Grumbling where OP can hear them and being fusses because of their own lack of planning is pretty darn rude.

        5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          +100, I posted this story on here a while ago and this seems to be a good time to post it again. An ex-bf was (still is, I guess) a small-business owner. He’d just started a new business and opened his first store when he and I first got together 5-6 years ago, and now, based on my Internet snooping, he has ten. He and I lived two hours apart, so he’d give himself a Saturday off and come stay at my place for a day. One weekend, he arrived at my place late Friday night, and on Saturday morning while he and I were on a walk at a nature park, he got a call from the guy who was working at his flagship store that day. It being a new business, he did not have a lot of employees and that guy had to be in the store that day for the store to function. He called my bf saying that one of his children was in the ER with his wife, and he needed to go there too. My bf, cut the date short, we immediately ended the nature walk and went home, he jumped right into his car and left; went to the store, let the employee go be with his sick child, and never complained about it in any way. My honest opinion, if you don’t have it in you to be that kind of leader, don’t be a leader. If OP’s boss and his wife consider it a reasonable reaction to give their employee the silent treatment *for being sick with pneumonia*, then maybe they aren’t cut out to be business owners – to be honest, if I were OP, I’d start looking for other jobs after this. Who knows what they are capable of next.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I meant +100 to them being unreasonable by blaming the OP. What the heck! Are they five?

      3. Librarian1*

        I agree, I think it’s completely unreasonable for a boss to grumble to an employee about the employee being sick.

    3. VeryAnon*

      On the other hand, if they’d let her have time off with the strep throat it might not have become pneumonia. Plus both of those illnesses are severe; she should have had a week off minimum and definitely shouldn’t be snarked at. Their false economy in only having one reliable employee cost them their holiday, not OP getting a serious disease.

      1. Scarlet2*

        This. You get what you pay for. If you’re too stringy to have more than one reliable employee, you don’t get to be mad that you have to step in when they become severely ill. What would they do if LW was hit by a bus?

        1. AuroraLight37*

          EXACTLY. You cannot run a business where there is a single critical point of failure that you’ve created. If OP were injured or unable to come in for a week, then the bosses need to be able to keep things going even if they themselves cannot be onsite. If that means finding another reliable employee, well, most businesses do manage.

      2. EPLawyer*

        But people who are so unreasonable as to not hire reliable people, make it clear to OP that they need her to run THEIR business properly, etc. are just the type to blame someone else when their actions cause a problem.

        OP, your bosses are not going to change. They are not going to suddenly see the light and hire more competent people. They are going to continue to rely on one person – YOU — until you drop dead or leave. I strongly suggested you work on the latter, so the former doesn’t happen from stress. Then laugh your head off when they flail all around because you aren’t there anymore. Before you say “I can’t leave them they depend on me” Yes, you can. They are USING you to cover up their own failures. You owe them nothing but good work in exchange for a paycheck. You can’t care more about their business than they do.

        1. Blueberry Smoothie*

          Thiiiis. I’ve fallen into the indispensability trap. Don’t do it to yourself; keep your healthy boundaries and find the exit hatch. They will find a way to make it work when you leave, or they will fail. Not your circus, not your monkeys.

      3. JeanLouiseFinch*

        Reading about this, you just know that these are the kind of people who will just keep piling the work onto the LW as if she was a donkey and then blame her for collapsing. I would bet they will use this as a reason to not give her a raise too. LW – look around for a better job in a bigger office, where if you call in sick, nobody forces you to come to work. Chances are you will be paid better too.

        1. VeryAnon*

          Ooooh been there. Pay was terrible too, and boss was extremely emotional about me quitting. Acted like I’d betrayed him.

      4. Alianne*

        OP, last winter I had strep that almost turned into pneumonia, and the only reason it didn’t was because my boss told me “We (her and the one other person in the office) will survive without you, stay home and get better!”, and so I was able to go to the doctor and get antibiotics. Total missed work time, three days. The sky did not fall, and my boss did not hate me–she in fact thanked me for not spreading whatever virus I had to her and my coworker.

        You are human, and not to blame for getting sick. No matter how disappointed they were at having to miss their vacation, they (if they’re functional adults) know that you didn’t get sick deliberately to spite them, and shouldn’t be grumbling at or near you about it after the fact. Maybe it’s time to cough (delicately, or hackingly, as you prefer) and mention that if there was at least one other FT employee who could be trusted in the business, things like this wouldn’t happen again.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          And rheumatic fever! I had a classmate as a child who has to take preventative antibiotics for the rest of her life because rheumatic fever damaged her heart and it might kill her if she ever gets it again.

    4. Mookie*

      Grumbling out loud but pointedly not directing it at the source of your ire, who is present snd watching/listening, is passive aggressive and usually pointedly so.

      1. AnonyLawyer*

        Agree. Boss couple can be disappointed about missing their vacation in their own home, but absolutely NO expressing frustration over it in front of the employee would be reasonable.

    5. JSPA*

      OP is presuming boss is upset because OP isn’t well. Boss might be avoiding being in OP’s germ pathway, and actually be irate

      a) with the situation, not OP

      b) because OP didn’t push back hard enough, early enough for the bosses to change their plans earlier

      c) because OP keeps coming in too sick to work (and possibly still dangerously communicable).

      OP needs to confirm that the general pressure is really being applied by the bosses, not by OP themselves. OP needs to confirm whether the bosses actually got the message, “I’m feeling like I may be coming down with something serious,” when they pushed back against OP taking sick time. OP then needs to decide whether they stay, go, or have a heart-to-heart with the bosses about it being untenable to be the only other competent person on site. (OP may also need to examine whether they’re complicit in the other people not having become competent.)

      1. Fikly*

        No, boss 100% brought this on themselves. Boss chose to not have anyone else able to cover OP’s responsibilities. Boss chose not to hire people who were competent (likely because they were cheaper). Boss chose to make OP stay at work during early stage of sickness, when if OP had stayed home, it likely would have not developed into something serious.

        Boss created situation, not OP. It’s boss’s responsibility to decide how they want to run their business, and if they would rather have backup and be able to take vacations, or not have backup and sometimes have to cancel vacations.

        1. VeryAnon*

          I wonder if the other employees were more competent and reliable before they faced a few situations like this and decided being ‘reliable’ wasn’t worth pneumonia and snark.

      2. EPLawyer*

        I’m sorry, OP should have pushed back when the Bosses refused to give her sick time so its okay that Bosses are being jerks now? Bosses shouldn’t have pushed back against OP needing sick time in the first place.

        It may be OP’s fault there are no competent people? Well, the Bosses do the hiring. If there is a problem with people coming along properly, then the Bosses should address that, not OP.

        It’s not OP’s company, it’s the Bosses. It’s on THEM to make sure everything runs right and that all employees get their full compensation package – which includes sick time.

      3. Lance*

        As the others suggest, the bosses are in fact irate because d) they’re not running their business well, they’re paying for it, and they’re going to take it out on the easiest target. OP doesn’t need to confirm anything; the facts are already laid out that they’re the only competent worker there, that the bosses refuse to hire more competent workers, and so they’ll shove everything onto OP for as long as it works for them.

        To which point, I would strongly suggest OP get out of there as soon as possible, because this is not a situation that’s going to change. Plus another strong agreement that the suggestion that OP is complicit in the bosses’ bad hiring isn’t exactly fair to them.

      4. EvilQueenRegina*

        Quite honestly, I have to wonder how these bosses would have reacted if OP had tried pushing back harder at the time – something tells me they may not have taken it that well.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Having read OP’s post below – I think not reacting well would have been a severe understatement.

      5. Kiki*

        With regards to B) I think everyone is occasionally guilty of not fully understanding the larger implications of what someone has said, especially when not understanding means you’re more likely to benefit. But if you’re an employer and an employee (especially a trusted one) wants to call in sick, you don’t try to stop them, you trust that they understand what their body needs. Saying the LW should have pushed back harder is ascribing blame to the wrong place, IMO. Maybe they could have, but the bosses should not be mad about that. They should be aware of the power dynamics that make that less likely to happen.

      6. Tallulah in the Sky*

        The bosses get zero sympathy for me. When an employee comes to you to inform you they’re sick and need time off, and the response is “Nope, we need you, so stay”, they’re the ones in the wrong. Employees shouldn’t have to push back on that. Even if they didn’t push OP to work while sick, they behaved totally unprofessionaly when OP came back. Ignoring someone and making snide remarks are not OK, a good boss would have had a firm talk with the employee and ordered them to stay home until they’re cleared by their doctor (or something like that).

        And although I agree that OP puts a lot of pressure on themselves, the bosses do participate in that. Telling an employee they’re the only one they trust, not being able to take time of if OP isn’t at work… That’s not an imagined pressure by OP.

        1. Fikly*

          I had a boss who did this. The entire office had the flu, except somehow the boss. My one regret is not infecting him.

      7. Phoenix Programmer*

        Eh. I dealt with this recently myself, and this sort of behavior is unreasonable period. It wouldn’t matter how clear op was, they would still get the negative attitudes.

      8. Name Required*

        If the bosses are irate with the situation, then they need to learn a minimum of professionalism and keep that to themselves and not take it out on their employees.

        OP isn’t responsible for pushing back “hard enough” and OP’s bosses need to examine why their employees feel uncomfortable taking sick time.

        OP can’t be “complicit” in other people not being competent; she is not their boss nor responsible for their hiring or development. If OP is not training other employees to the standard of her bosses, then those bosses are responsible for managing that situation.

      9. emmelemm*

        It’s somehow OP’s responsibility to push back at a boss? No. If all it took to get what you need was pushing hard enough at your boss until they see the light, Alison would get a lot fewer letters.

    6. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, if your boss was sorta sympathetic but like “what a terrible time for you to get sick! Man, fate hates us, huh?” Yeah, that’s fine. But your boss cuts costs and corners by hiring tons of part-time and otherwise not putting the effort in to keep a selection of competent employees and expects you to be the only bulwark against anarchy? Nope. Not your problem.

    7. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I disagree. I think it is unreasonable for boss to grumble and make it known that he’s disappointed about his vacation. It’s ok for him to BE disappointed, but it not okay for him to make his employee feel bad about it for something that was beyond her control.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Although if the boss had let LW take some sick days right away, LW might not have gotten sicker and might have been able to work during the vacation.

    8. Quill*

      Yes. Their disappointment is natural but the behavior they chose to employ to deal with it needs to be fair and balanced. Nobody picks up strep on purpose!

    9. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I disagree with this. It’s not reasonable for the boss and his wife to be grumbling and complaining about their cancelled vacation in from of the OP. When you’re a manager, you sometimes have to step in and cover for staff at times when it’s inconvenient. That’s just the job, sometimes. And complaining about that in front of an employee who already felt so guilty about being sick and causing their boss an inconvenience that they tried to come to work with pneumonia is not in any way reasonable or professional.

    10. Mama Bear*

      IMO, this means that they need to train or hire someone in case OP#1 is out for a while/suddenly. Their lack of planning doesn’t mean OP should take the brunt of their frustration. Pneumonia is no joke. My spouse said it was the sickest he’d ever been. I also know someone who went into the hospital feeling sick and died very suddenly just this past year – even seemingly healthy people or relatively young people can die of flu or similar. I’m concerned that the OP is so worried about the company that they kept working like that – and now aren’t taking a lot of time off to recover. Please, OP, don’t make the job more important than your health. I’d personally be looking for a new job where you can take time off to be sick.

    11. TootsNYC*

      The other thing OP could do is to say, “Your canceled vacation is proof that we need to recruit someone good to be my backup. You can’t have your whole life on hold in case something happens to me. Can we start looking for someone good, instead of these folks we’ve been hiring? Could we offer them a little more money, so we get someone with a better work ethic? And I could really start to train them so they’re reliable.”

      Sometimes you have to point out to people that they’re shooting themselves in the foot, and that there are ways to recruit quality workers without just hoping they’ll get someone as dedicated and intelligent and trustworthy as you.

    12. Artemesia*

      When she gets well, I think she should sit down with the boss and discuss how this can be avoided in the future by hiring more competent back up help. This is the natural consequence of not being adequately staffed. If their part timers were competent, they could have gone on vacation.

      And I hope the OP is job searching with some energy. Working in a situation like this is pretty anxiety producing; it is bound to happen again. And when you leave say ‘I loved working here but it is really difficult to be in a position where I can’t even get sick without having to feel guilty about it; I need to be working in a larger organization with adequate staffing.’

    13. chickflix*

      I’ve had several bosses in the past who would get super angry when an employee got sick. Like they all genuinely believed we were doing it on purpose just to make their life harder. Those same bosses would also get angry if you used a sick day when you were sick, but then would be doubly angry when you came in to work sick and spread your germs around.

      There are a lot of jerk bosses out their.

  6. The Rat-Catcher*

    OP 1 – Alison really nailed it with: they chose this. They chose to schedule a vacation without closing their business, they chose not to hire and train a reliable backup, and they’ve been choosing to guilt you into taking the blame for these decisions. I’m guessing you could do better – please go do better.

    1. Massmatt*

      I agree, or at least make sure you are getting paid appropriately considering you are their only reliable employee that knows the ropes. I am guessing not; your employers sound cheap, or perhaps they don’t know how to hire? They might have lucked into hiring you and you get maybe a very small increase compared to the other employees.

      Don’t let them guilt you or play these petty passive-aggressive games with you. They hired a bunch of losers (or failed to train and motivate them) and are making you feel more responsible for their business than they are.

      If you are that indispensable then let them say it with $, either in pay or in an ownership stake.

      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

        I’m sort of tempted to play Devil’s Advocate slightly here. OPs boss and wife sent OP home – if she were fully indispensable they’d make her work through her illness (unless they were afraid they’d catch it too).
        OP said she went back to work after just one day off sick, despite the doctor telling her not to. That’s not a demand from the boss, that’s internalised guilt that the boss has instilled, but still *not* a direct demand from the boss. OP – you’re in danger of making the situation worse for yourself because they are taking advantage of you and you’re making it far to easy for them to do that – why bother hiring good employees when OP can just pick up the slack?

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, no. She doesn’t have to be 100% indispensable to be indispensable enough that her boss is giving her crap. The fact that the business didn’t implode in a single day doesn’t negate her importance.

        2. Massmatt*

          This is why I urged the OP to resist getting guilt-tripped into caring more about the business than the bosses do (or than her health!).

          Bad bosses can warp people’s perception on what is normal or right. If the OP can’t get paid appropriately (which is likely) she should move on if she can.

        3. Le Sigh*

          I feel like arguing what level of indispensable OP is to this company isn’t especially relevant?

          In any case: “Last week I had a really bad case of what I thought was a cold. I asked if I should go home, but since they had planned a three-day holiday away the next week, they said they needed me to help get organized.”

          OP asked to go home initially, they pushed OP to stay. THEN when OP came in looking like death, they sent them home and weren’t happy about it. And whether it was a direct order or internalized, it sounds like they’ve spent plenty of time instilling that guilt on OP, which is all their making. They control OP’s paycheck, so what answer do they think OP is going to give if they push back on a request to stay home? Direct demand or not, they created this situation and it’s not surprising when OP decided they had to come in.

          Also, OP, I’d start looking for a new job. There are bosses out there that support you taking sick days (both because it’s humane and long-term beneficial for the company). Go find one!

      2. pancakes*

        I don’t think an ownership stake in a poorly-run company is worth pursuing. It’s not as if the two lousy bosses would transform into people with much better judgment just by taking on a 3rd partner. Good judgment isn’t infectious.

        1. bluephone*

          Yeah, all it would do is erase OP’s work-life balance even more AND then she’d be on the hook for whatever financial catastrophes might (aka will) befall the company. Nothing in OP’s letter makes me think that her bosses are shining bastions of stable, successful business acument.

    2. JSPA*

      I’d like OP to examine why nobody else there (even in combination) has/have reached some minimal level of competence.

      Is it really company policy, or has OP joined the bosses in writing off people who might actually be trainable? Is OP complicit in making themselves essential / non-expendable?

      1. Blueberry Smoothie*

        These comments making OP responsible for everything at a company they don’t own aren’t all that helpful, are they? How much responsibility for the actions of management do you think they have? Hint – if they don’t have the authority, they do not have the responsibility.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      “They need someone to take charge and they can’t trust anyone but me.”
      They need want someone to take charge and they can’t won’t trust anyone but me.
      FTFY

  7. staceyizme*

    For LW5, whose firing included an offer of help- how “helpful” are they likely to be if they neither have you actionable feedback about your performance nor offered any concrete parameters for the supposed “help” after your termination? Maybe you can translate their offer into an agreed upon reference, something that might help you to move on to a better job. Otherwise? You’d be better off without their assistance, in all likelihood.

  8. Mama llama*

    LW1, if you were still “feeling like death” and they’d already cancelled the vacation, it’s possible that they really wanted you to get the message that you don’t have to work if you’re sick (ie, worse than a cold), and were actually bothered that you hadn’t called out that day.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      But OP says they were “obviously hostile” when OP returned, which cuts against the idea that they were being considerate.

      1. Mama llama*

        Absolutely—not saying that they were being considerate, saying that it’s possible they were worried about their own health and resented her for being sick and possibly contagious on the job rather than being still bitter over the trip. Or maybe a little of both. Just another factor for her to consider in the short term as she is working with them.

        1. WellRed*

          Then they should have sent her home again. I suspect they are unreasonable in other ways and I also suspect OP isn’t well paid.

        2. Le Sigh*

          Right, but also: “Last week I had a really bad case of what I thought was a cold. I asked if I should go home, but since they had planned a three-day holiday away the next week, they said they needed me to help get organized.”

          OP didn’t just keep coming in sick. OP asked if they should/could go home and the owners said they needed her. They kept coming in sick because they were asked to!

      2. JSPA*

        Hostile towards being sick, or towards coming in sick? Those can look pretty similar. I’d stay the hell away from someone with an active strep infection (you’re only non-communicable after 48 hours if the antibiotics are working! Resistant strains are a thing!). I’d be pissed if my asking whether they COULD come in led them to come in when they actually COULDN’T / SHOULDN’T. Even before they were puking in the trash.

        Look, this clearly is an untenable situation with warped norms. But part of the problem is that people internalize and intensify those warped expectations. I know we don’t normally question the OP’s take on a situation, but in this case, OP is sick, feverish, exhausted, suffering from at least two infections and either a third infection or side effects from medication (the puking)–that alone would normally be enough to make someone an “other-than-reliable reporter.”

        OP needs to take their full time to get well, then take stock in the situation.

        1. PVR*

          But why not send OP home then? They have the power to do so. If they are so hostile and angry about OP’s presence they could just use their words to express it and say, “We are concerned you are still contagious and upset that you would expose us to your illness. Please go home and recover.”

          1. EPLawyer*

            Simple solution right there. Instead of leaving OP to guess whether they were hostile about her being sick or hostile about her coming in sick, they could have used their words. If they didn’t want her to come in sick, they could have explicitly said so.

            Considering they begged her to come when she was first sick so they could get the office all organized for their vacation, I hardly think they wanted her to stay home when she was sicker. Plus, I’m sure they have made it clear many many times how they feel about people calling out sick. OP is better placed to be aware of this than we are. She knows what her boss expects from the one person they can rely her. She accted on that knowledge.

        2. Just someone*

          Actually it is 12-24 hours after you start antibiotics. Just asked the pediatrician last week.

        3. Risha*

          I’d be pissed if my asking whether they COULD come in led them to come in when they actually COULDN’T / SHOULDN’T.

          Honestly, if you’re asking your employees this then you’re causing your own problem when they do come in sick and contagious. Almost everyone is going to take their boss asking if they could come in as an order. If someone wrote in here saying they were fired after being asked that and telling their boss they were still too sick, half the commenters would be talking about unreasonable bosses and the other half would be calling the OP out for assuming it to be a genuine question.

        4. Librarian1*

          Then don’t ask them whether they could come in. To me that would feel like pressure to come in, unless you made it extremely clear that my health comes first and you’re only asking because you want to know, not because you want to pressure me to come in.

        5. Oxford Comma*

          I don’t understand this insistence that it’s on the OP.

          I understand being disappointed in not getting to take a vacation, but even expressing that disappointment generally around your employee is an unkind and unreasonable thing to do.

        6. tangerineRose*

          The OP tried to go home sick when first feeling bad, and they didn’t want that to happen. They don’t seem like they mind it when people come in sick.

    2. Mookie*

      Then they shouldn’t piss and moan and guilt trip the LW, which is why she tried to show up in the first place, because they are unreasonable and she knows how they operate. You can never win with these sorts of people; either you’re wronging them by failing them or wronging them by trying to accommodate their ridiculous bullshit policies.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      They said that they specifically asked if they should go home when they were first sick but the boss told them to stay and get things organized, so that seems unlikely.

    4. Le Sigh*

      OP originally asked to stay home! “Last week I had a really bad case of what I thought was a cold. I asked if I should go home, but since they had planned a three-day holiday away the next week, they said they needed me to help get organized.”

      So they got the message they needed to come in, illness aside. What did the bosses think was gonna happen here?

      1. tangerineRose*

        Yep. Also, sometimes when a person rests when they’re sick, they get better instead of getting worse. This is on the bosses. The LW didn’t do anything wrong.

  9. it's-a-me*

    OP 1 get out get out get out.

    Your perception of ‘normal’ has clearly been deeply and negatively impacted. It was not your fault, you are not a terrible person, and the fact that you for a moment thought either of these things is a huge red flag. You went dangerously above and beyond trying to help them out, and they should have been repeatedly reassuring you that it was fine and they understood – and they should have told you to stay home and recover.

    1. Drew*

      Co-signed. If your bosses were mad that they had to cancel the vacation and not that you came in so sick that you risked infecting everyone else (and I do trust that you would recognize the difference), then they are bananacrackers and you would be well served to find a new position in a company where people understand that illness happens and it’s not always convenient for everyone else’s schedules.

      Best of luck and I hope you have fully recovered.

    2. SusanIvanova*

      “they have no one else to rely on but me” is also a red flag. I’ve never heard of that being followed with “so we’ll pay you immense amounts to reflect that” or “we’re hunting for a good backup you can train so you don’t feel stressed.” It’s usually more “we can’t pay you any extra, but we’ll guilt trip you into staying anyway out of one-sided loyalty.”

      I decided a long time ago that if anyone said that to me and sincerely meant it, it would be a sign to start job hunting.

      1. good morning autumn*

        +1 If you are absolutely vital and they can’t live without you… to the point where you GET PNEUMONIA… that’s not a good thing.

    3. Jenny*

      Yeah, after 24 hours on antibiotics you are significantly less contagious, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go to work. Pneumonia can kill you if it goes bad. LW’s perspective is all off here.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Pneumonia is serious. It can take weeks or even months to get over fully, and failing to rest is the surest way to make it linger. If LW didn’t feel able to go to bed for a week, there is definitely something very wrong with the workplace expectations.

        1. Mama Bear*

          Very much agreed. I hope LW is taking time off to recover. Maybe this is a wake up call for all involved.

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        Absolutely. I have a friend who sustained permanent heart damage from pneumonia, and my dad has scarring on his lungs from a bout in his 20s. It’s not something you just take a day off work for. Please be careful with yourself LW2!

    4. Tallulah in the Sky*

      Yes to all of this. I don’t know if you’ve been brainwashed, or if you have some martyr complex pre-dating your job there, but your relationship to your work is not healthy. The expectations you have of yourself are not healthy. I’d seriously urge you to go see someone to reset some boundaries and thought patterns. And maybe change jobs (but you still should work on yourself, because this attitude you’ve developed won’t go away all on its own).

      You shouldn’t have gone to work when you started being ill. You certainly shouldn’t have asked your employer if it was okay to go home. If you have sick days left, you can take them if you feel you need them. And you certainly shouldn’t have come back to work, feeling like death, multiple times !! This is not OK.

      Right now, your biggest issue is not your bossses who act like toddlers, it’s your own attitude towards your job and how you discredit your own health. I really hope OP goes to the comment section, I’m kinda disappointed this was not addressed at all in the answer.

      1. PlatypusOo*

        Excellent. I spent many years of my youth working for loons like this but in the last couple of years I’ve rethought it. I’m not sure why I ended up in these types of roles with these same issues (I can’t take a day off, there’s no one to replace me etc) but it’s on me to develop boundaries to know when to run from employers like this. Please know that you have skills and worth. When you leave a shit job they replace you and life goes on, ie they don’t care about you. YOU should care about you.

      2. PVR*

        It’s entirely possible that OP does NOT have paid sick days. Especially considering it is such a small business. It’s also entirely possible that the work place culture is such that coming in sick is the norm.

    5. Sylvan*

      +50. I’m very sorry you’re dealing with this.

      When I left an old job, I decided on a couple of standards for new ones: they must have a clean building that doesn’t need repairs and nobody (including customers or clients) can be verbally aggressive. Yeah, my judgment was totally messed up if I had such low standards that I didn’t take these things as a given!

    6. Ama*

      Yeah, and as someone who worked at a place with a much milder version of this (my bosses were fine, but I had coworkers who grumbled at me every time I was sick more than one day because they resented covering for me ), once you get it into your head that you are “in trouble” every time you call out sick it is really, really hard to get away from that mindset even if you work at a functional place that is fully supportive of sick time.

      I’ve been at my current job for six years and still get the odd twinge of anxiety every time I wake up and realize I need to call in sick even though no one here has ever said anything to me other than “feel better” — in fact my boss here had to tell me a few times that I shouldn’t try to rush back into the office if I still felt ill after one or two days.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Many of us get that mindset instilled in us during elementary school, with the cultural message that kids use sickness to get out of boring school, or parents in movies (or in real life) saying, “are you REALLY sick? or are you just faking it?” or “are you sick ENOUGH?”

        And awards for perfect attendance, which is really just good luck at avoiding germs at the right times.

        1. Le Sigh*

          Yes, if I could do it, I would banish perfect attendance awards. I never had attendance issues and I don’t begrudge anyone awards, but I really hate the cultural mindset around this in the U.S., which starts in kindergarten. I finally broke myself of this mindset in my early 30s; I still might work from home while sick if we have a truly pressing, cannot wait, omg deadline (life in leadership), but unless it’s really that bad, I have no more guilt about calling in and resting.

    7. Slow Gin Lizz*

      “Your perception of ‘normal’ has clearly been deeply and negatively impacted.” THIS.

      OP, Alison has at least one post and probably a few posts about how working for bad bosses can affect the way you think normal companies operate. I highly recommend you read it/them. And you should definitely know that no normal bosses would expect you to be in the office with pneumonia or if you are throwing up. These are very bad, not normal bosses. I hope you can get out and find a normal company that has paid sick days and where there is some redundancy between roles so that if anyone is out the place doesn’t fall apart and no one blames you for getting sick or otherwise missing work for reasons beyond your control (or just for taking a much-needed vacation!).

      Good luck!!!

    8. Bostonian*

      Yes, take this comment as another tick mark in the “this is not normal” column. I’m actually really surprised at how many commenters are bending over backwards to make excuses for the bosses here.

    9. What The Fork Is A Chidi*

      I need a like button in the comments because what else could I say other than what’s been said already? Just in case: OP1, start looking for another job, your bosses are not normal and they are making you be not normal

  10. Paralegal Part Deux*

    OP1, are your bosses 5? Seriously, that’s the only explanation I have for their behavior. They hire bad employees, only have you for a reliable employee, and then get mad when you get pneumonia. You deserve better, and I can only hope you start looking for a new job sooner rather than later.

  11. Heidi*

    For OP4, I have also recently showed up for a 7:30am meeting only to find out it was cancelled. It sucks. In discussing it with your boss, I wouldn’t necessarily focus on how it was frustrating that he cancelled. Scheduling the meeting at this time might have been an ambitious plan of his that failed, and some people are disproportionately sensitive to being blamed for things that are entirely their fault. I would focus on how tough it was to find a sitter to cover that time period and how you’re not sure you can pull it off again.

    Also, depending on the kind of meeting, would it be an option to have someone else catch you up on what was discussed?

    1. Roverandom*

      Oooh I hate when people schedule things for outside business hours and then suddenly cancel them. It’s really hard, but you need to fight to keep the frustration out of your voice/tone in text. It took all I had to say “could you please give me more notice if you need to cancel it next time…”

      It would also embolden me to push back more about meetings at weird hours. If he tried to pull that again I would say, “Is there any way we can push this during regular business hours? Last time was really difficult for me and we didn’t even get to have the meeting.” Having that meeting at that time can’t be that mandatory if the boss forgot and was able to reschedule!

      1. [insert witty username here]*

        Just wanted to note that I like the way you worded that – “we didn’t even get to have that meeting.” It sounds much less adversarial/blame-y than “you cancelled the meeting last minute.”

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          “Sounds less adversarial/blame-y”……why is it always the subordinate’s responsibility to do this? If OP screwed up, her boss wouldn’t be worrying about sounding less blame-y when reprimanding her.

          1. LQ*

            Because your boss controls your food and shelter and presumably people like having food and shelter?

            I think you can absolutely say something to your boss. (I very frequently do.) But let’s not pretend that we are all equals with equal power in this relationship because that’s going to get someone fired. Plus you don’t get to reprimand your boss. That’s not how that works.

            1. tangerineRose*

              Yep. Besides, asking nicely tends to get a better result anyway, even when the other person doesn’t have the power.

          2. Washi*

            I do think a best practice for bosses would also be to focus on the facts and not getting into too much blaming. It’s just that since the boss sets the standards of the office, they have the power to say “please make sure that this does not happen again” whereas the employee has much less ability to say that.

          3. Jeffrey Deutsch*

            If I were the boss, had messed up like that and my subordinate had courteously but firmly shown how my messing up had unfairly inconvenienced her, I wouldn’t hold it against her — in fact, I may respect her more for it.

            Thing is, not all or even most bosses are like me. Some believe that it’s not a subordinate’s place to point out the boss is wrong even when the boss’ mistake harmed the subordinate. Not to mention others do believe in general that a subordinate should be able to speak up…right up until they’re the boss who messed up.

            Tl;dr: Morally I agree with you. Practically, I’d pick my battles…especially when the would-be opponent is the boss.

        2. Mike C.*

          But they did cancel the meeting, why is it adversarial to say this? They made the choice to schedule the meeting and they made the choice to cancel it.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Except it might not have been (that much) outside business hours: The LW says that she works 9:30 to 12:30 so she can drop off and pick up her kids, but that might also mean that she’s starting after everyone else is on the job in addition to leaving early.

        She still needed a babysitter, of course, but the meeting may not actually have been pre-business hours for everyone else.

        1. Roverandom*

          When I was a wee one, my mother taught me that you don’t call anyone at home before 8am or after 10pm. I get being in a global or fast paced business sometimes you have to make exceptions, but I think that rule is still fairly common sense. I don’t know many regular desk jobs that start at 7:30–most schools don’t even start that early, many retail stores aren’t open either.

    2. KayDeeAye (formerly Kathleen_A)*

      I had to show up for a meeting 45 minutes earlier than my usual start time just this morning (and will have to do the same thing later in the week – yuckarama), and…well, let’s just say that if it had been cancelled and I got here for nothing, I would not be a happy camper. And that didn’t even involve babysitters or other pricey things.

      So I absolutely understand her frustration. But I agree that unless this is part of a larger pattern of Boss Being Cavalier About Employees’ Time, you need to keep that frustration out of your voice and manner. Just state the problem and how it affected you, and ask how to avoid it the next time.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        But that’s my point. The boss DID screw up. If the OP had been the one that had screwed up, the boss wouldn’t worry about keeping the frustration out of their voice and manner.

        1. KayDeeAye (formerly Kathleen_A)*

          Yes, well, that’s because the boss is the boss. :-) Although even if the OP was the one who had screwed up, the boss should also try to be factual and neutral unless this was part of a pattern. That may not happen, of course, but again, that’s because the boss is the boss.

          1. Heidi*

            Yes to this. The power differential in this situation is such that the boss can fire the employee for having a bad attitude, but not the other way around. And calling the boss out on their screw-ups in an overtly critical way can be perceived as having a bad attitude, and it’s not worth the risk if OP really needs this job.

      2. Artemesia*

        I occasionally had 7 am meetings when working too although I normally got in closer to 8:30 or 9. No one should schedule meetings outside the normal workday of attendees except where it is an all hands on deck crisis situation.

      3. Ann Nonymous*

        I feel you. I’m still peeved about a former boss (we were a 2-woman office) asked me to come in an hour early because she didn’t feel like we communicated well. Never mind that that was because she didn’t read the detailed an copious notes that I wrote her which she required. So I rearranged my morning, came in and she spent the entirety of that hour on a non-urgent personal call, finished up at my normal come-in time, and ran out the door. I was steamed.

    3. blackcatlady*

      I know we are in the 21st century but the male boss may have a blind spot. Maybe he is older and the kids are out of the house. Maybe his wife did the heavy lifting. Maybe he doesn’t have kids. BUT unless you speak up he will not realize the burden a 7:30 meeting places on you. He’s just focused on running his business. Don’t be angry or confrontational. Follow Alison’s script and just calmly let him know you have to make extra arrangements for early meetings.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        Or maybe 7:30 is the only time to get the employees all together. Sometimes early meetings are just are because of many reasons. It’s a fact of working that there will be times where things aren’t scheduled at the optimal time for those involved because they have to be.

        If I were the OP, I’d be ticked too. But sometimes things just work out like this.

        1. Cora*

          Yep somebody mentioned this regarding international companies – sometimes you need to get creative with timing in order to have everyone available. Thank god I don’t work in that kind of office :D

        2. Jeffrey Deutsch*

          I suspect in many offices, the bulk of the managers and rank & file workers like early morning meetings. Some are natural morning larks, other want to show they’re willing to be morning larks because at least in the US, others like the motivation to carry through the whole day, or maybe they want to get the meeting over with so they can devote the bulk of the day to their projects.

    4. Chili*

      It especially sucks that LW lost money on what ended up being a cancelled meeting, but even just getting in 2 hours early only to find that the meeting was cancelled is very annoying. Sometimes things must be scheduled at inopportune times and sometimes things have to be cancelled or rescheduled, but I think everyone who schedules meetings outside of normal business hours should at least find the meeting important enough that they won’t just forget about it.
      I would definitely make it known to the boss how much you had to go out of your way to get there at 7:30am; not to guilt them, but to dissuade them from scheduling more meetings at that time, if possible. And maybe bring up some alternatives, if you have any. I don’t know if it’s easier for you to stay late rather than come early, but I’d bring that up.

      1. Heidi*

        I had thought about this, but if the OP is physically engaged in getting her kids prepped or driving, she wouldn’t really be able to sit in front of a screen focusing on the meeting.

        1. Cora*

          Call the kids in sick and lock them in their bedroom until the call is done?

          Then you can call in sick yourself for the rest of the day and take everyone out for ice cream!

    5. Sunflower*

      I would definitely use this as an opportunity to talk to your boss about what you can and can’t do. I understand it was frustrating and I’d feel the same way- but you’ve GOTTA speak up in situations like this. Especially as a part time employee with set hours, I think you’ve got a ton of leverage here! I’d speak to your boss and say ‘Going forward, it’s really difficult for me to make meetings outside of my working hours. Can we try to schedule everything while I’m here?’ and see what he says.

      It sounds like this is the first time a meeting outside of office hours has been set so I’m optimistic your boss didn’t realize it was a big inconvenience- especially if you’re the only part-time employee.

      I’m working on a lot of projects in Europe right now and I’m the only US-based person on them. I’ve had to learn to speak up about what is doable and isn’t for me and not assume everyone will remember- this means having to repeat it multiple times to the same people!

      Depending on how your org is too, I’d recommend making yourself OOO on your Outlook calendar for any time you aren’t working. My company, people live and die by Outlook calendars and I’ve started blocking all my mornings so people in Europe don’t absentmindedly schedule 6am calls with me.

  12. Drew*

    OP3: the only reason standing near a microwave would be unsafe is if it is inadequately shielded. The screen in the microwave door is entirely sufficient to block microwaves, which have a much longer wavelength than visible light – that’s why you can see through it.

    I promise you, no one would sell equipment for use in homes and offices that was so unsafe that you couldn’t even walk in front of it.

    1. My Dear Wormwood*

      It’s also extremely unsafe if your student uses it to melt agarose without loosening the lid of the jar. Result: microwave with the door blasted off and a 2m-long strip of melted agarose with glass fragments on the opposite wall. The lid was never found.

      To be fair, this is not likely to be a problem in most offices.

      1. Quill*

        That’s the only way you’ll ever get a new lab microwave though!

        (Also what the heck, the pressure in that jar must have been intense – good thing no one was standing in front of the microwave!)

      2. blackcatlady*

        The students also have to be cautioned NOT to vigorously swirl the jar. It’s a super heated gel and will spew up out of the jar onto their hands and cause a burn. Gotta love lab life!

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        Can confirm that if you use the microwave on a plastic food wrapper without any food inside it, the wrapper will catch fire.

        -child’s middle school

        1. Artemesia*

          I had a styrofoam cup do this — the top edge that was not immersed in the liquid caught on fire.

      4. JustaTech*

        It was at my office! Well, more the issue was that one coworker somehow forgot that we had a “science microwave” and wandered out to nuke his gel in the food microwave.
        Thankfully it was lunch time so we were out there to shout at him before he contaminated our food microwave.

    2. Knitting Cat Lady*

      This. A microwave is a Faraday cage.

      As long as you don’t microwave metal everything is fine.

    3. Snarky Apples*

      Some people have some really strange ideas about microwaves. My boyfriend type person insists that microwaving food destroys it- it ages meat by FIVE days! I don’t even remember all of his complaints about them. But he won’t even have a microwave in his house.

      (And the government has been seeding clouds to create more rain in the upper Midwest because the Colorado River is dry, fluoride is evil, of course the moon landing was filmed on a soundstage in Houston, and he doesn’t want me to wear a bra because bras cause breast cancer. What was funny and sort of cute is becoming tiresome)

      1. Ariaflame*

        Yeah, I don’t think he is totally connected to reality and you might want to consider your position there.

      2. Keep my name out of it...*

        Without wishing to derail, I can’t resist commenting on “bras cause breast cancer”. The fact that most people who get breast cancer also wear bras does not signify that the bras are the cause of the cancer, as any number of male breast cancer patients will testify. This is what the great President Bartlet would refer to as ‘Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc’; the fact that one thing follows another does not necessarily mean they were cause and effect.

        1. JSPA*

          I suspect the theorizing has to do with comparing cause of death between bra-wearing and non-bra-wearing societies (and ignoring cross correlation with number of pregnancies / age at puberty / early death from other causes). Not male vs female.

          1. Keep my name out of it...*

            Well, very possibly – but reasons for not wearing bras are incidental to the point I made, which was that bra-wearing and breast cancer are unconnected.

          2. Harper the Other One*

            It could also emerge from the “trauma causes cancer” mania in the early 1900s. Which basically took a truth (repeated low-level tissue damage over a long period of time increases the chance of cells becoming cancerous) and then litigation expanded it to “if you get hurt somewhere and you discover a cancer near the location while being treated, you can sue the person/organization responsible for the injury.” There was one case where a woman discovered a lump after her breast got bruised (I think by a wheel of cheese?) and her lawyer tried to make the case that the bruise caused the cancer because she hadn’t noticed the lump before.

            I think it’s out of print, but there’s a hilarious/depressing book called “Galileo’s Revenge” about junk science in the courtroom with a chapter about the cancer and trauma cases and how their influence has lingered.

          3. PVR*

            But even so, correlation does not equal causation. There are many famous examples of this, such as the fact that ice cream consumption rates are linked to increased rates of drowning. Why? Because both tend to happen in the summer.

              1. Elitist Semicolon*

                Yessssss! I used to use this website when I taught engineering students as a way of helping them clarify what in their own work was a correlation and what could be potential causation (and how to articulate the latter effectively). One entire class period devolved into a competition to see who could come up with the weirdest pairing, and it was 100% worth the time.

      3. Delta Delta*

        I worked with a woman who believed microwaves damaged food because of the method by which they heated, and that somehow the food itself became radioactive. This woman is now a PhD-level science researcher at a major American university.

        Re breast cancer – I also knew a woman who believed women shouldn’t be allowed to do pole vaulting because that causes breast cancer. I have no idea what the correlation was on that one.

        1. nnn*

          I am so curious about that one! And why exactly pole vaulting as opposed to, I don’t know, trapeze artistry or bungee jumping or any other human endeavour that involves big jumps?

          I’m also curious whether she thinks people shouldn’t be allowed to smoke because it causes cancer. (Which she might! But I have noticed that an awful lot of “Women shouldn’t be allowed to X because of their health” people don’t arrive at “Smoking should be banned”)

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Yup. The same people who panic about how women should never ever go anywhere alone, or after dark, because we might be attacked. *eyerollz forever*

            1. Quill*

              Or the collorary, an aquaintance who was shocked that my mom and I were considering camping alone.

              “But you need a man with you! There’s wild animals!”

              Honey, a bear is not more or less likely to eat you based on your gender, you’re thinking of the human animal.

        2. Librarian1*

          Well, back in the day they thought women shouldn’t/couldn’t run more than half a mile because it would cause their uterus to fall out (or something bad would happen to their reproductive systems) even though women had run longer than that before that stupid rule was put into place. Somehow women, despite being people, are harmed by physical activity even though women benefit from it. /snark

          1. Delta Delta*

            As one of those weird people who regularly runs 13ish miles for fun (and I pay money to do it! In the company of thousands of others!), I can attest not one single internal organ of mine has fallen out. This is different than “everything hurts and I’m dying,” which is a nondiscriminatory feeling among distance runners, generally.

          2. Cora*

            I heard that zip lining can damage your uterus if you halt incorrectly – but I think that one is actually true :/

          3. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

            That always makes me want to actually run, and I have chronic pain issues. Oh, my uterus might fall out? I hate that bastard anyway, let me outrun it. :D

        3. JustaTech*

          I worked with a PhD scientist who microwaved his food for 7 minutes (and then let it cool down for like 20 minutes) and also believed that he could prevent diabetes by “exercising [his] pancreas” by drinking 7Up.

          Having a PhD means you’re persistent and know a lot about one very specific thing. It doesn’t (necessarily) mean that you have a lot of sense.

      4. Clisby*

        On an online forum years ago, someone made the claim that microwaving food destroyed all its nutrients. One commenter: “So if I microwave my cake, the calories are all gone by the time I eat it? Cool.”

        1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

          There is actually evidence that heating food destroys nutrients. But in fact, microwaving preserves more nutrients than heating on a stove because it heats much quicker and the food is exposed to heat for a shorter period of time.

          1. Quill*

            It also depends on the chemical composition of the nutrient: heat can break chemical bonds but the strength of a molecule’s bonds are pretty variable in how much heat it takes to break them!

            Denaturing proteins, for example, is a huge part of how we arrive at more easily digestible meat.

            1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

              True! But it’s a good example of how a small kernel of truth can be turned into this crazy conspiracy theory.

      5. pancakes*

        I can’t get my head around the idea of these conspiracy theories being cute or funny to someone who doesn’t share them. A fictional character who is severely misinformed can be amusing to laugh at, sure, but this is a real person.

      6. Risha*

        I don’t know anything about you, Snarky Apples, but I’m still 100% confident in saying you can do better.

        1. bluephone*

          yeah, it’s not like this is a parent whom you live with so the price for not putting up with their crazy conspiracy theories (fueled by regular Fox News and crazy youtube videos!) is literally “being able to survive” or “having a roof over my head.”
          (Plus, like, it’s your parent and you love them and for all the “just cut them out forever!” stuff that places like r/nomil champion, sometimes that is just really, really difficult (or impossible) to do.

      7. Autumnheart*

        Are you dating my most recent ex? He was convinced that crop circles are real, and that Big Pharma knows that fresh fruits and vegetables cure cancer, but are hiding that information from the public so they can make a bazillion dollars off chemo. Among other things. *twirls finger next to ear* That relationship didn’t last long.

      8. Homo neanderthalensis*

        This level of conspiracy theory in a grown man will eventually lead him to get arrested for stalking Sandy Hook victims or killing you because “you’re in on it”. With all due respect you are not safe in a relationship with this man, please leave.

    4. Czhorat*

      Even if they shielding fails, I’ve read enough comic books to know that this is how you get food-based superpowers.

      Joking aside, I am sure the OP and all of us know that the microwave is perfectly safe. The question becomes whether to humor the coworker’s irrational fear and stand elsewhere or not.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Now I’m giggling imagining what sort of superhero powers Leftover Pizza Woman would have, given that’s my most common use for the microwave.

      2. Sparrow*

        Given the space constraints, I don’t think it’s reasonable for this person to expect OP (and everyone else) to make a habit of moving away. If I were OP, I’d start defaulting to, “It’s a risk I’m willing to take,” whenever she started lecturing me.

      3. Lynn Whitehat*

        No. No humoring. Nothing good comes of it. You will have to be firm with her though. I mean, think of how firm someone would have to be with you if you were telling them not to make a daily habit of standing in front of an X-ray machine totally unshielded, because they “don’t believe in all that”. That’s basically the position you’re in with your co-worker.

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Honestly, this is besides the point. If co-worker chooses to stand far from the microwave because she believes it will cause her harm, that is her choice. She doesn’t get to tell others what to do in this case, and I would tell her exactly that if she pushed after an initial “I’m good thanks.”

    6. OP3*

      Hi Drew! OP here — I agree that microwaves are perfectly safe :) It’s just our colleague that has concerns.

      1. Drew*

        I know YOU know – sorry that I wasn’t clear! Thought maybe a bit of science would help you convince her, but other folks are probably right that the better approach is just, “I’m good, thanks.”

  13. IJustTookaDNATest*

    #4 Playing devil’s advocate a little here but I can’t see the practicality in keeping all meetings in a three hour window. Obviously we don’t know the nature of the business, job, meeting etc, but it’s hardly personal. As someone mentioned I imagine it’s reasonable with some meetings that someone can fill you in post mortum. So that might be worth asking about.

    I realize that I’m a bit biased here in having minimal sympathy for people who have issues with their kids and it’s automatically a legitimate excuse…no matter how disruptive (esp. Continually disruptive) or unfair the situation. Annoying to hire a babysitter get to work early and no meeting? Yes. Annoying when my coworker has a sick kid literally every week and is therefore gone 20% of the time and is still teacher’s pet? Yes.

    1. Clementine*

      I can understand your annoyance, but I’m sure your co-worker would rather not have a sick kid every week. I’d suggest to focus on whether your job is getting you where you want in terms of responsibilities, pay, and hours. Yes, some managers would punish an employee who has a sick kid every week, but you have the type of manager who doesn’t. You could definitely find the type of manager who does do that punishment if you look.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s not the situation with this letter writer. She specifically negotiated this schedule, and the employer agreed to it. Even so, she agreed to a meeting two hours before her scheduled start time, and the boss missed it. This isn’t about an employee’s child care needs being disruptive.

      1. TheSockMonkey*

        Just wanted to say, thanks for saying this. I’m in a similar situation (starting at 8:30 am because of a childcare need and boss constantly scheduling things earlier). I imagine this is a common thing.

        General comment: a lot of times people on this board have extremely anti-kid sentiments. So much so that I stopped reading the comments for a long time. People are allowed to have kids and work. I thought that needed to be said.

        1. Quill*

          And as we’ve discussed, people who are hostile to accomodations needed for childcare or kids getting sick end up setting a precedent for hostility towards workers’ medical issues or other caretaking responsibility, so it’s worth it for everyone, whether they intend to have kids or not, to push back.

        2. Lauren*

          Think of the flip side though. Workers without kids always end up working holidays or overtime or picking up the slack, and because our existence and time isn’t as valued as parents. My brother in law legit didn’t get laid off because “he had a family.” So the single woman got laid off even though she had a degree and more experience. Child free workers are discriminated against all the time – its just considered acceptable to do so in the US. In an effort to be accommodating, bosses are sending a message to those single and child free workers that they can be over worked because they don’t have families yet or at all.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            But that is a problem with the employers, not the employees, and it’s not universal – as a parent, I have missed things (like my family’s Christmas travel last year) because someone else submitted a time off request first and I couldn’t take the time off and I also had to send a parent with under-4-year-old children to an out-of-town event to replace a child-free person having a personal emergency just this month. My HR would actually have many unpleasant words for me, if I created such an unequal system in time off requests.

            Choosing to denigrate parents and children because employers are treating them differently seems as misplaced. Employers should be encouraged to be equally flexible with all their employees rather than fostering resentment between employees by applying value judgement to their time-off requests.
            I have people on my team with and without children, and, when a single-child-free person needed the morning off for an emergency vet visit when her cat ate her roommate’s new houseplant of unknown toxicity, it’s the same as someone’s kid waking up puking – it’s something that needs to be attended to urgently and immediately and why they have paid time off. It’s my job to ensure the work gets done, and to have contingency plans in place because life happens to everyone. I actually prefer NOT to know why someone wants time off because I’m not in the business of judging worthiness of requests for time off – and that’s what HR training for new managers says as well.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      It’s disrespectful of another’s time. That makes it bad management. You make an agreement with another and you keep your side of the agreement (barring emergencies). In this case the OP spent extra money just to meet the boss at the special time the boss requested. Since it was a special meeting the boss is under a larger obligation to meet it.

      You could have similar scenarios without kids. Let’s say someone normally takes the bus in to work but the boss schedules a meeting before the buses start running. The employee would have to pay for transportation at that early hour.

      You don’t make people waste money. You don’t waste others people’s time.

      Also – a comment on the coworker that is gone 20% of the times. Perhaps that coworkers output is still higher even after being gone that much. It isn’t about time in seat. It’s about quality and quantity of output.

      1. Snorkmaiden*

        But the boss didn’t necessarily know it was inconvenient. Step one here is to use your words.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          The boss knew it was outside her working hours because she already had negotiated it.

          I have worked out a schedule with my employer that I come in at 9:30 and work until 12:30 so I can take my kids to school and pick them up;

          By the time OP found out the meeting was cancelled it was already too late – the sitter had been hired and was with the kids. In short, the boss caused an additional expense. It was one the OP was willing to absorb for work. It should not be one to absorb for whim.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          But is it not fairly obvious that it is inconvenient to ask someone to come in two hours before their specially negotiated start time?

          1. a1*

            Not really? Especially if it’s rarely occurred (like this seems to be a one off), and if they just accept the meeting w/o comment.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              Okay, I guess we differ on that. My assumption would always be that asking someone to come in significantly outside their usual working hours is going to inconvenience them and that you should be respectful of their time, whether they specifically ask you to do so or not. That just seems like common courtesy to me.

              1. annony*

                I agree. If you cancel a meeting during regular working hours, it’s not a huge deal. You can generally assume someone made special arrangements to be there if it is outside of working hours so cancelling last minute is extremely rude.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            This. Regardless of whether you have children, it’s just plain thoughtless. And “oh, whoops, didn’t work for me!” is doubly so. Or triply.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              This. It’s like believing that all your employees live in little boxes and pop out when you need them, rather than needing to coordinate their mornings or evenings with other schedules.

              (I recall a professor who scheduled his final exam at a weird time outside the regular exam hours. Students complained. But he had deliberately set it up when they wouldn’t have conflicts with their English or Math finals! Yeah, they just had conflicts with work, with other classes, with medical appointments…)

          3. Green great dragon*

            It’s not obvious how inconvenient though. From a similar position, I can occasionally come in 2h early no problem (can drop the kids off with neighbours) and am totally unwilling to come in 3 hours earlier (kids and neighbour all normally asleep when I’d have to leave the house). I don’t expect anyone to know that without being told.

            (It’s fine for me to say no, so I have no problem with them asking.)

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Even if you don’t know/remember why I negotiated that particular schedule, it takes a certain amount of thoughtlessness to assume I can easily step outside of it, and then to act like it’s no big deal when the time “didn’t work for you” after all. Asking people to shift their regular schedule by two hours shouldn’t be taken so lightly.

          4. NotAnotherManager!*

            It is inconvenient, but, if it is not something the employer asks for often, it’s not really that big a deal. I come in late twice a week when I drive school carpool. I have negotiated this with my boss; however, if there is something for which I absolutely must be at work, I have to make other plans. Because she only asks me to do this about once per year, it’s inconvenient but manageable, and it seems reasonable in light of the schedule accommodation I’ve already been provided on a regular basis. (It also comes out in the wash when another parent has a must-attend work event and I pick up their drive for them and am late a third day that week.)

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        This. I don’t have kids, but if you made me plan a meeting 2 hours before my standard work hours I’d lowkey hate you, and then if you cancelled after I’d already made serious plans to make that happen? Oh hale no!

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          Co-signed. And I’m in a job where I knew going in I’d occasionally have to come in 1-3 hours before my usual start time (and leave early by a corresponding amount).

        2. a1*

          Why wouldn’t you just decline the meeting with a comment of “This is outside of my working hours, someone can fill me in when I get in”.

          1. Risha*

            Depending on the job, not all meetings are reasonably declinable, only reschedulable. Sometimes you genuinely need everybody there, or for a specific person to be there or else the meeting is useless.

            1. a1*

              Sure, but you don’t know that unless you ask. If I decline or reply tentative with that note, if I really need to be there the organizer will respond and tell me so. If I don’t then they just accept the decline and we move on. It’s still on me to ask.

                1. Traffic_Spiral*

                  The boss being a thoughtless jerk does not mean that LW is free to turn down inconvenient meeting times.

        3. MoopySwarpet*

          Ditto. Even if those “serious plans to make that happen” is setting my alarm clock 2 hours early. I’m going to be cranky for the rest of the day and will push back next time I’m asked to rearrange my schedule so significantly. Fortunately, this is not an issue currently. There have only been a couple times I’ve been asked to come in early or stay late for a meeting and they’ve all either happened or been canceled with appropriate notice. It’s not that hard to manage.

      3. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        I had to travel way outside of my normal route for a morning meeting only to arrive, unable to find anyone and to find out the very hard way it had been cancelled. No one emailed me in advance; for some reason, I had been forgotten (out of a group of 15 people). After some heartfelt apologies, I was also able to expense my bus trip and my breakfast. I wasted a lot of time.

        It’s not about kids: It’s about changing up your routine for an off-schedule meeting and then cancelling it last minute with no regard to what someone had to do to make it to that meeting.

      4. Bulldog*

        I wasn’t clear if this was a one on one meeting between just OP and her boss, or if this was a meeting of a group of employees, who presumably work varying schedules. If it was the former, then yes the boss was inconsiderate to schedule the meeting outside of the agreed upon working hours. If it was the latter, presumably there would be no one time that would be equally convenient for everyone. In the latter case, OP just needs to learn to roll with it. It doesn’t sound as if these meetings are a frequent or regular occurrence.

        1. AnonyLawyer*

          But OP did “roll with it.” She made arrangements so that she could be there for the boss’s meeting. The reason she’s writing into Alison is not that the meeting was outside of her regular hours, but that she went through everything to accommodate that only to have the boss nonchalantly miss the meeting. In other words, she jumped through hoops and incurred additional expense, relying on the boss’s direction, all for nothing.

    4. Emily*

      You are bringing your own issues to this conversation, friend. Your apparently bad experience is hardly the fault of OP.

    5. Czhorat*

      I’d rather a workplace err on the direction of accommodating employee’s personal lives than
      be overly rigid with schedules.

      Besides, as others have said, a meeting two hours before ones normal start time is always somewhat of an imposition.

    6. Zombeyonce*

      If your co-worker being gone is affecting your workload, talk to your manager. If it’s not, you’re just being needlessly resentful, which isn’t a good look.

    7. Róisín*

      I had to read that part twice because I couldn’t wrap my brain around someone being useful at most businesses only working 3 hours a day. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s supposed to be 9:30 – 2:30, given that every school I’ve lived nearby has gotten out around 3pm. That would allow her to drop off her kids, get a solid amount of work done, and pick them up after. Maybe I’m wrong, but a 5-hour workday seems more reasonable to me.

      1. Czhorat*

        It depends on what their role is. I think we’ve come to see eight days a week) fine hours a day as a default for legal, historical, and cultural reasons. In three hours one can do three hours worth of work. That’s three hours more than no work and might fit the needs of the worker and employer

      2. Green great dragon*

        As businesses grow the work grows, and I don’t see why it would grow in 40 hour blocks? 15 hours could be a perfect match for the work required.

      3. TechWorker*

        Um what? Part time work is a thing idk why you’d jump to assuming OP got their own schedule wrong… There are plenty of small companies where there might be some but not loads of admin/accounting/hr/recruitment work so I don’t think it’s impossible for someone to be hired on a 15hr/week contract.

      4. JSPA*

        There are businesses where that might be plenty of time for the day’s bookkeeping or webpage maintenance or ordering or sysop duties. If you’re someone trusted with a certain level of clearance, but there’s never a full day’s worth of work in it, higher-level part-time pay can be a very sensible option for all concerned.

      5. Helena*

        What a strange comment. I’ve had plenty of jobs where I’ve only worked 15-20 hours a week. Most people who take on second jobs don’t take on a second 40hr job, so obviously somebody finds part time employees useful to their business.

      6. Ana Gram*

        I assumed there’s a kid in morning kindergarten not that the employee is trying to sneak out of work. Regardless, I work 42 hours/week and I start at 8:30am. If my boss scheduled a 6:30am meeting and cancelled it last minute, I’d be pretty annoyed. Wouldn’t you?

      7. doreen*

        I don’t think Róisín is assuming that part time, 15 hour a week jobs don’t exist – but in my experience, three hours a day is pretty much unheard of. A 15 hour a week job would be 5 hours , 3 days a week or perhaps it’s 16 hours at 4 hours for 4 days a week. I assume it’s because it’s not worth it to most people to work less than 4 hours on a particular day.

        1. Massmatt*

          3 hour shifts do seem unusual but perhaps this is a job at someplace with a need for it. Prepping for a lunch hour rush? Who knows, the employee and employer set the schedule so it presumable meets an employer need.

          I had a manager that scheduled a lot of meetings that were very off-hours for many of the employees, and would frequently either cancel them or act surprised that the meeting was happening and make up an agenda on the fly for something to talk about. Then he was surprised that turnout for his meetings dwindled. Which he tried to address with… meetings! He fortunately did not last, he was fired, but for a while I was worried he would be promoted.

        2. SimplyTheBest*

          We have a part time worker who comes in 2 hours every day for a 10 hour work week. It works for her and it works for the work she’s doing. Just because it’s never been the case where you’ve worked doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense elsewhere.

        3. Peggy*

          I even have a colleague doing 2 hours per day 5 times a week. This is for an engineering job. While I would personally not like this arrangement, it seems to work perfectly for her – she lives within walking distance and is apparently good at starting immediately after arriving (I am not. I need time to get into work mode mentally!) She is probably also much more efficient and focussed than those of us working 40h weeks. The only restriction is that she cannot work on large projects with a tight deadline.

      8. Dust Bunny*

        If her kids are in kindergarten . . . I know I got out of kindergarten midday. There were two classes per day: AM and PM.

        1. Becky*

          This very much depends on the location. I’d never heard of half-day kindergarten until I was an adult because where I grew up it was and always had been full day kindergarten.

      9. Quill*

        I know a few people who routinely do 3-5 hours in office and 5-3 hours on call or work from home. I wonder how they get those schedules but apparently it can be negotiated for.

      10. Pobody’s Nerfect*

        Some people are super efficient because of their part-time schedule. I know I get way more done in 3 hrs/day than my freeloading lazy no-work coworker gets done in their entire 40-hr week. Most companies need some part-time workers and hopefully are still giving them some benefits, they are valuable employees filling a role that is sometimes hard to fill.

      11. Look Alive*

        What?! Why would you assume that OP is wrong about her own work schedule, and that you have magically deduced the correct answer? Your personal definition of “reasonable” doesn’t enter into it; OP did not say “I work reasonable part-time hours.” She said she works 3 hours a day. OP knows when her kids’ schools let out; you don’t. (Also, not that it should need to be said, but many children under age 5 are in half-day pre-school programs, so these hours make perfect sense.) This was an absurd comment all over.

      12. Turquoisecow*

        I work 24 hours a week, from home. We have a standing meeting on Friday mornings that I sometimes call in to but am sometimes require to be at. I have no set hours, but the core hours in the office are from 8:30-5:00.

        The Friday meeting is at 8:45, so it’s within the business hours, but I negotiated to work from home because I live an hour away. So on Friday mornings I get up early to make it to the office around 8:30. I don’t have an issue with this, except when people cancel the 8:45 meeting and don’t tell me, and then I’ve gotten up early and driven an hour just find out that there was no need to do that. I have no other reason to be in the office.

        There have also been times where I called into the meeting and no one else did, or my boss and I were on the call alone, because the meeting was cancelled, or the meeting was canceled at 8:30. This is just inconsiderate. If something happened last minute and the meeting organizer (a VP) had to cancel, that’s one thing, but often he cancels because he’s offsite that day, which he knows prior to that morning and yet doesn’t tell the rest of us.

        Bottom line, it’s inconsiderate to cancel a meeting last minute or without telling anyone, and it’s especially inconsiderate if you know people are making an extra effort to be there, like traveling or arriving two hours prior. The boss knows OP’s schedule and should take that into consideration when cancelling meetings at the last minute.

      13. 3 Hour Shifts*

        But you also don’t know what OP does.

        In undergrad, I used to do basic accounting and filing for a car dealership. My shift started after the service department closed because that’s when their accounting could be done. Same with filing service orders and conducting inventory. My shifts were 3 hours long. Lots of time, I was done in 2 hours and studied for the remainder of my shift.

        I’ve also worked in a law firm where an assistant worked 3.5 hour shifts in the mornings. She archived closed files and was a floater. She was a rock star because no one wanted to archive files and she was highly efficient at it. Because of the nature of the work, there was always something for her to do.

        Just because you haven’t experienced something doesn’t mean it’s untrue or unreasonable.

      14. VictorianCowgirl*

        Eh, I work for myself, and usually complete all my work in 3 or 4 hours a day. This is comparable to the workload I had at a 9-5. If you aren’t interrupted by the time-suck that is an office environment, and perhaps OP has a good office that way, 3 hours is definitely enough time for productivity. Besides, this is off-topic to the OP’s letter.

      15. iglwif*

        Before I started my current job, I had a long-term contract that was 15 hours/week, working 9am-noon. Now, admittedly, I was working from home, so I didn’t have a commute to worry about, but the arrangement worked great both for me and for my employer. Different jobs and workplaces have different needs!

    8. What??*

      Um, I work 15-20 hours a week and I make my employer hundreds of dollars for every hour I work, that they cannot make without me.

      Not sure what your issue is but thinking there is no way an employer benefits from a part time employee is pretty silly.

    9. KayDeeAye (formerly Kathleen_A)*

      The OP doesn’t “have issues” with his/her kids. In fact, the OP has, with her employer’s approval, designed a schedule that avoids “issues” with those kids, both for herself and her employer.

      What the OP *has* issues with is an employer who changed her schedule for a specific meeting and then, after she accommodated that change, changed the schedule again without warning.

      I am sorry if your coworker is abusing her privileges, but as far as I can tell, this is a completely different situation here, and you’re letting your bitterness (if I can use that word) color your reaction to this particular OP, IJustTookaDNATest.

    10. LilySparrow*

      Wow. A child being frequently ill is somehow not a “legitimate excuse” for a coworker being absent or distracted?

      Hey, everybody, I found where OP#1’s bosses came from!

  14. WS*

    My partner runs a small business, and rarely gets holidays – the nature of her work means that she can roster other staff easily enough, but has to replace herself with someone professionally qualified to do her particular job. Being in a rural area, that’s difficult and involves major planning or major spending if there’s an emergency on her end. Last year we had a break planned and the person who was replacing her suddenly couldn’t work due to a major family emergency. It happens. We complained about it at home but absolutely not in front of her! That’s just the nature of small business. We’re now having the holiday later this week, nearly a year later!

    If you’re not in the same position as my partner – anyone competent could be trained to replace you and/or the bosses – that means that they’ve actively chosen not to do so and unfortunately here are the consequences. It’s absolutely unfair for them to take it out on you in any way.

    1. Mookie*

      Yes. If they wanted to solve this problem, they would have ages ago. Instead they are lazy and prefer to wring every atom of energy out of the LW to make up for their incompetence and lack of will.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is what we call “accepting that we have responsibilities and accepting that we choose them.” I am in the same kind of boat as your partner, I’ve ran businesses and been a one-person department most of my career. It stinks when things get shaken up when you think all those cats are in their designated spots, you’re going to bust out of these adult pants and run on the beach…oh, coverage fell through because of unforeseen circumstances.

      You mope with your friends and partner, then you pick up your adult pants the next day and go do your job. The job that you signed up for, with the responsibility that are neck high. It’s why we get paid more than the people we rely on for day to day operations stuff.

      If you’re the kind of person to get bent of shape and treat people awful when things don’t go your way, you’re probably gonna have high turnover and limited loyalty among your staff!

  15. Sunny*

    OP1, I don’t know what you’re doctor told you — and I don’t want to armchair diagnose — but pneumonia can still be a dangerous (and deathly) illness. If your employers heard the word pneumonia and reacted with anything but concern, that’s on them, not you. Take care of yourself and find a new job where you don’t risk landing in hospital so someone else can enjoy a long weekend.

    1. Uldi*

      I was going to mention this myself. Pneumonia can and does still kill even in the most advanced countries, and can trigger septic shock in really bad cases. Even with antibiotics, it can be debilitating for weeks. Add in the extremely contagious streptococcus bacteria…

      Please LW, even if you don’t like taking time off due to illness, do it for your coworkers who might not have the medical coverage you do. If your bosses dislike it, well this is the situation they created themselves. They can either suck it up, or work with you to spread out responsibilities.

    2. Róisín*

      Yeah, my mom had double pneumonia the summer before I left for college. By the following spring she said she felt like she was at 80% functionality. You shouldn’t go to work with that one.

    3. Quill*

      Yeah, my brother had to take two weeks off school in high school for a case of pneumonia caught very early, and even with a healthy and active teenager’s recuperative powers, he was wiped out for most of the rest of the semester and had to quit most of his extracurricular.

    4. C in the Hood*

      Not to mention that strep throat is highly contagious until there’s a day or 2 of antibiotics going on.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      And with streptococcal pharyngitis on top of the pneumonia! You start stacking up these illnesses and the more stressed and delicate your body becomes.

      You can become hospitalized with untreated or poorly treated pneumonia. It can permanently damage your heart and lungs and lead to death.

  16. Uldi*

    LW #2
    I would need to know whether you are in a marketing department/company that meets clients, or the more artistic side of things like designing ad campaigns. Client meetings can still be fairly conservative due to ingrained expectations, while the artistic side tends to be a lot more relaxed.

    1. OP #2*

      My boss and I are kind of the faces of our internal marketing department, and then I work with our internal graphic designers. We also have a PR/Communications person.
      I meet internally with clients, ie service lines. I work at a local non-profit hospital, if that helps! People there have always seen our department as very creative, even my role, which doesn’t do as much design work. The main functions of my particular role are project management of all marketing assets (digital campaigns, online and print advertising, etc.), social media management, event planning, and as of late PR duties as our PR person has been on leave for a few months.

      1. Grits McGee*

        Oooh, that’s interesting- I wonder if concerns for your piercings are coming more from a medical sector-perspective than a marketing-perspective.

      2. 867-5309*

        Marketing department, small or local community hospital: It will raise eyebrows even if your team is considered “creative.” It takes a very special personality and culture to turn piercings and tattoos into something that lends credibility to your creativity. Most people don’t have it.

        I can’t think of a single healthcare environment where it would be welcome. And, unfortunately, would be seen as something from the “non-office” staff – janitorial, cafeteria, maybe even nurse aids

        1. SMH RN*

          I’d say it varies by region…I’m in very rural Canada and most of my managers and several admin/floor staff have very noticeable tattoos/piercings. No one bats an eye. My university had to change their policy on both piercings and tattoos from unacceptable to fine as long not risqué because they’d have had no clinical instructors otherwise

        2. Asenath*

          I’d say in my situation, noticeable piercings (aside from earlobe) and tattoos are unusual among admin staff and physicians, and so might be considered odd or a disadvantage. This isn’t always the case with nursing staff – I was initially startled when one of my relative’s nurses (as in RN nurse) was a tattooed and pierced man, but he was an excellent nurse, all the old ladies on the ward adored him, and his personal style clearly hadn’t prevented him from being hired. He was still young, so it was too early to see if it affected his promotion chances.

          I’d say the response to piercings in definitely location and occupation dependent.

        3. Mainely Professional*

          I strongly disagree and wonder what pocket of the world you live in that this is true. I’ve seen many physicians, PAs, radiology and ultrasound techs over the years with cartilage piercings (female), tattoos and plain pierced earlobes (male), and the same for nursing staff. In fact the only staff I haven’t seen with these are older white women working in reception and billing. This is in the west, south, and eastern seaboard.

        4. AnotherSarah*

          When I worked in homecare, I was told I had to take out my eyebrow piercing–I put in a clear plastic bar instead. The idea was to not offend the potentially more conservative feelings of our patients….but they loved it! (I forgot one day and wore the silver hoop as usual.) I forget whether I told my boss after that and she let me continue wearing the ring, or….but it was all about perception of what patients/clients would think. Which is important! But worth considering whether they *actually* think what management thinks they think….

        5. Risha*

          The woman who drew my blood at the hospital last week had a very clear Goth aesthetic to her hair and makeup and some interesting piercings in her ears and nose (though I personally was more interested in and complemented her large forearm tattoo). I mostly noticed because you so rarely see large dangling earrings on medical personnel and was somewhat surprised it was allowed. Of course, I have no way of knowing if her style has affected her career at all, and this was a large hospital in the middle of Boston.

        6. JustaTech*

          I know an ICU nurse in a major city in the PNW who has visible tattoos, interesting piercings, and wild colored hair. She got the hair approved by her boss before she did it, and at least some of the piercings are covered by her uniform. She’s also really good at her job.
          She told me that after the trial period with the green hair her bosses said “yeah, that’s great, because when the patients complain about the nurse with the brown hair that could be anyone, but only you are green!”

          So I think it’s a combination of know your culture, ask first, and you get more leeway if you’re really good at your job.

      3. Missy*

        There is also the risk-aversion that your bosses might have. Even if they don’t have a problem with piercings they may worry that someone else might, and therefore it’s just easier to not have them than to risk upsetting someone else. I work in the legal field and there is a similar thing with women’s attire where everyone says that they are personally cool with pantsuits, but that there might be some judge out there who doesn’t like women in pants and therefore you should always wear skirts to court. Does this mythical judge who will get angry at a woman in pants in 2019 actually still exist and have enough power that all women need to wear skirts to avoid the problem? It’s hard to say. But as long as the advice is the dress in a way that the most conservative person won’t get upset then everyone sort of has to suffer with it, and it’s advice that older lawyers give to younger ones.

        Similarly, even if your boss hasn’t ever heard any complaint they may have been told that piercings will limit your ability to get ahead when they were coming up and they believe that it is true and so instead of risking offended some theoretical naysayer they just never got piercings and would decline to advance someone with them. It is more about avoiding the potential harm instead of any actual specific issues.

      4. Allypopx*

        I work in nonprofits, largely in marketing, and know a lot of hospitals in the industry where EVERYONE is pierced and tatted up at all levels. It varies.

        This seemed pretty cut and dry to me when I read the question, but I’m seeing my experience bias in the variety of answers. I guess the answer, to me, is this: There’s always going to be things that either hold you back or clash with your company culture, and wouldn’t in different jobs/companies. A lot of places, marketing is a safe place to be a little funky, even client facing. If you’re getting signals this place won’t offer you upward mobility because of your piercings, you should decide if that’s okay and you’ll stay where you are for now, if it’s worth taking them out, or if you’d rather work somewhere with a different culture.

        1. Mainely Professional*

          Yes. Absolutely. The reason presidents of hospitals don’t have tattoos and piercings is because those roles are still largely occupied by people 55 and over.

      5. Commentor*

        My husband works in graphic design in a health care setting for a major medical cooperation and I would say the majority of creative services have tattoos/piercings and it is not a big deal at all.

  17. Snorkmaiden*

    #2 What country do you live in? If it’s the UK, then pretty much no one will care about nose or ear piercings whatsoever.

    1. VeryAnon*

      Depends. I’ve worked places where that was true and places where an employee was basically told to get a haircut and cover the tattoos before they could progress.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I have to disagree with that. I’m in the UK, and there are lots of places where it would matter a lot, and where having visible tattoos and/or multiple or unusual piercings would affect someone’s chances of getting a job or promotion.

      I do think that they would be less of an issue for promotions, where your skills and abilities are already known, than for a job application where you are unknown and people will probably be judging more on first impressions.

    3. londonedit*

      This is definitely true in my creative industry in London, but I think even in London (where in most aspects of everyday life no one cares what you’re wearing) there are industries (like traditional banking, law, etc) where multiple piercings probably would be a problem. And outside of London, there are plenty of smaller towns/more rural areas where piercings and tattoos would be seen as ‘different’ and might cause a problem at work. It’s unlikely to be of the ‘OMG you’re going to hell, you deviant’ sort of problem, but there are plenty of workplaces around the country where piercings would receive a more negative reaction.

    4. OP #2*

      I’m in the US, on the east coast in a smaller city but a city nonetheless. I’m finding it so crazy that people are considering the marketing field as a more conservative field because I’ve always thought of it as a more creative field. The local hospital I work at also thinks of everyone in my department as the most creative on campus.

      1. 867-5309*

        “Creativity” is about the work. They still expect you to conform to general professional norms. You can just get away with small divergence.

        1. Tallulah in the Sky*

          General professional norms are changing though. In many workplaces, it is no longer seen as unprofessional. So many are now tattooed and pierced, it’s just not as weird, or uncommon, or linked to a certain group of people. A blanket statement that tattoos and piercings are unprofessional is just not true anymore. Doesn’t mean they’re ok everywhere and that some companies/people don’t discriminate against them, but it’s not the norm anymore.

      2. Our very own Lisbeth Salander*

        Marketing is more conservative than communications, usually because it is closer to sales.

        Communications departments (in my part of Western Europe) are full of former journalists who tend to dress quite casual.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I wouldn’t say “conservative”, I would say it needs to be moderate at best. So really, as long as it’s somewhat lowkey. What you’ve explained seem fine to me, if you were adding in some more facial piercings though, it may be pushing the envelop a bit too far.

        But I also know nurses with facial piercings. So hospitals are pretty good at accommodating that kind of stuff these days but there are different ones that are stricter of course [I say as someone who used to have to deal with a religious owned hospital and they would have had kittens over someone having tattoos or more than one piecing per ear].

    5. EventPlannerGal*

      Disagree. I’m also in the UK and I’ve had a lot of jobs where nose piercings were not acceptable. Ear piercings vary depending on the piercing. I’m sure they’re fine in a lot of places/industries but it’s not a blanket “nobody will care” thing.

  18. Tired*

    Oof #1, “That was part of the risk they took in planning their vacation, and it’s part of the risk they’re taking in not having additional reliable back-up.” Indeed. Their lack of preparation and inconsideration shouldn’t make you sacrifice your own well-being. I’m struggling to carve this in my head too because I’m also in a position where I hold all the important documents (and yet, I am left out and severely underpaid despite my C-level title – I barely make more than my sales staff), and I’m planning to leave this late November, and the guilt and worry are so immense even though I’ve been suffering here under my boss’ management. Your health comes first and you don’t have to feel responsible for things that’s out of your control.

    1. Tempestuous Teapot*

      Exactly this. A suggested mes means for you, LW1: “Lack of planning on any other person’s part does not make an emergency for me.”

  19. UKCoffeeLover*

    @snorkmaiden I’m in the UK and I dont recognise your comment. Where my OH works you would not be hired with visible tats or piercings. Where i work, you’d be okay with small ones but no more than that.

  20. Bowserkitty*

    The microwave thing reminds me of a bit of an anecdote.

    One year for Christmas my mom got me a TARDIS phone strap that was supposed to light up and spin whenever an incoming call happened. Wouldn’t you know it, it only worked with British frequencies and not my American phone. ;(

    When I used to work at Bagel Shop and would stand in front of the industrial microwave to quick-heat some eggs, the TARDIS hanging out of my pocket (attached to my phone) would magically spin.

    I began to question the safety of that microwave.

    1. JSPA*

      That only makes sense if you also question the safety of British-frequency mobile phones, though. Both mobiles and microwaves are allowed to produce small fields; the fact that it’s doing so in the same range as a product designed to be held against your head doesn’t argue that the shielding is bad.

        1. JSPA*

          Pretty much all electrical equipment has some level of “field.” It’s really not remarkable. That’s why so many have to be tagged to warn about interference on one or another channel.

  21. Our very own Lisbeth Salander*

    #2
    If you have established yourself and your skills, very few people will care about your ink or jewlery. True, marketing seems to be more conservative than communications (my main field), but if you can do the job that is what matters. Early on in my career I would make sure to dress for the occasion, ie wear a nice 1960’s style dress to events rather than my regular jeans and band tees, or put on a nice shirt for client meetings. My managers never cared about my punk rock/vintage outfits because they knew I would always tailor my look to suit the occasion.

    If your company won’t promote you because you have piercings, I would consider updating your CV…

    1. WS*

      I think you’re right that some of this is being a known quantity, too – plenty of people in my field have facial piercings and/or tattoos, which is no problem in a job, but may be a problem interviewing for a new one. If the OP’s current company already knows her and considers piercings a problem, that’s a bad sign.

  22. Alice*

    #1, wait, you had pneumonia and you took off a grand total of TWO (2) days?! Yikes! I understand not wanting to take time off (and I’m guilty of doing the same myself) but pneumonia is one of those illnesses where “don’t go back to work until you feel better” really means “go and sleep for an entire week because you’re so sick that even when you feel better you’ll be still very sick”.

    I really hope that you’re better now and you’re not letting your boss affect your perception of what’s normal.

    1. Allypopx*

      As someone with asthma pneumonia is one of those “days in the hospital trying not to literally die” things to me, it sounds so scary. AND with strep? 2 days? I’m sorry OP. That’s such a miserable situation, even if your job was supportive.

      “We cannot function without you” is a huge, huge red flag at any job. What if you got hit by a bus? It’s a lot of pressure you don’t need to be carrying to keep someone else’s business afloat. I cannot strongly enough insist that you start job hunting. If you are that important to them, there should have been no response to you besides “how are you feeling? take all the time you need.” There’s a difference between being vital and being valued, and I don’t see any sign you are being valued for how much you do for this place. Find a job where you’re respected and can take sick days without being guilt tripped.

    2. KR*

      Yes!! I was literally put in the hospital when I got pneumonia. I don’t understand how OPs bosses aren’t being more understanding.

    3. Cora*

      I’m surprised you were able to get back to work so quickly…pneumonia is not a very forgiving disease.

  23. DiscoCat*

    OP 1 don’t accept any kind of blame or responsibility for that crazy and imposing behaviour. Well, maybe a little, you probably let them get away for far too long with thinking they own you and comandeering your time and other resources. You’re on the highway to burnout city, get out while you can!

  24. OP #2*

    1. Thank you so much for your advice, Alison! Your blog was huge for me last year when I was job searching and even after I made it to the final interview multiple times and was told I didn’t get the job, I continued to persevere and ended up at my current company where I have so many more opportunities than I thought I could get.

    2. I’m a little surprised that some people are saying that marketing is a more conservative field – I’ve always thought of it as a more creative field but the more I read what others are saying, the more I can see the other view.
    I currently do internal service line marketing work for a local non-profit hospital on the east coast, definitely not in a big city. I could see where people are saying location is a big factor.
    I think a big part of why my boss saying this bothered me is because she is currently trying to get me a promotion… I am the youngest person in my department by far but my coworkers (internal graphic designers, PR) tell me a lot that even though I’m young they can tell I know what I’m doing and that I am great at what I do.
    When I first switched my nose stud to a hoop, my most conservative coworker made a comment – nothing rude, just pointing out that I did it, and wondering why. That’s the most I’ve ever heard about my piercings. I think that may be another reason as to why my boss’s comment bothered me – no one has ever said anything about this before.
    I’m glad Alison and I share the same view point. I think piercings and tattoos in the workplace are becoming increasingly more acceptable, especially for a more creative field such as marketing.

    1. Grits McGee*

      It may be that your supervisor feels that your piercings are acceptable for the job you have now, but won’t be ok for the promotion she’s trying to get you. Fair or not, different levels of hierarchy often have different dress codes, especially with larger organizations. If this promotion will involve increased interaction with clients and people outside your department, then you’re boss may be thinking about their expectations as well.

      1. Kes*

        The last part is what I was thinking – as you rise in the ranks there is increased visibility and increased interaction with other leaders and clients, and some of them may be more conservative/have a more negative view of piercings. Your boss may already be aware of their attitudes and want to give you a heads up now so you’re not taken by surprise if it comes up later

    2. Angelinha*

      For what it’s worth, I think you’re fine. Your instincts are right that if no one ever mentioned this before and your boss’ comment didn’t seem grounded in anything you’ve actually seen in your field, it’s probably not a thing. And even if it is, times are changing and the old-fashioned folks like your boss are going to have to get used to it. Sounds like your work can speak for itself.

    3. Allypopx*

      It sounds like you have good instincts and a good read on your situation and this is just one detail that threw you. I think just keep doing what you’re doing and go with your gut!

    4. annony*

      If she is actively trying to get a promotion, she could be passing on feedback she is hearing from people above her.

    5. Half-Caf Latte*

      FWIW- you’re at a hospital, which means that most likely, there are specific jewelry and hair and nail grooming policies which exist for the clinical staff, and which are in place for infection prevention and safety reasons. For patient-facing positions it’s still common for hospitals to require tattoos to be covered/ ban “unnatural” hair colors.

      This means that the majority of the staff have a de facto “more conservative” look, which may lead you to stand out more.

    6. Anonymous - Philadelphia*

      I’m not sure if you’ve found this, but I’m in my first position in a healthcare organization and that world is a lot more formal/conservative than I’ve experienced elsewhere in nonprofits. I work on the development side which does always have a reputation for being a bit dressed up, but here it’s more suits and ties than business casual that I’m used to.

  25. Captain Radish*

    Bees, OP1! Bees!

    I was in precisely the same scenario (albeit with a boss that never took off work) and I can tell you it sincerely sucks to have to shoulder ALL the responsibility. I left that job and got one with a proper work ratio. It honestly didn’t occur to me (and is sometimes still difficult) to ask anybody else for help because I was so used to doing everything myself.

  26. Delta Delta*

    #4 – A couple things that weren’t clear is whether this before-work meeting was just OP and the boss, or whether this was a larger staff meeting. Also, what’s the normal start time for work in this office? If it’s a larger staff meeting, perhaps it is less vital that OP be present and others can catch her up later. And if the office normally opens at 8, a 7:30 meeting is not likely to be hugely inconvenient for the staff except OP. all that said, perhaps part of OP’s conversation with boss can also include discussing nonattendance at meetings outside her normal hours, since she has negotiated very specific hours.

    Of course, if this was a 1:1, OP can’t miss that, but might also have advocated for herself at the time of scheduling to say she couldn’t meet at that time.

    1. Shadow Moon*

      I agree with all of this. I also think that if you accept a meeting, you’re relaying that you can attend at that time, so if you can’t or it’s a hardship, ask about changing the time, especially if it’s a 1-on-1; harder to do, of course, when it’s a group meeting.

      1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        If you schedule a meeting, you’re really telling the other meeting participants that you can attend at that time.

        If all I knew was “LW’s boss scheduled a meeting for two hours before her usual workday, and before what a lot of people think of as working hours, and then didn’t turn up because he forgot about it,” I wouldn’t assume that she was the one who failed to communicate. It isn’t on LW to put the entry in her boss’s calendar and then remind him about it the day before.

  27. Reality Check*

    OP3: this reminds me of the time I was in the advanced stage of pregnancy and had to reach something on a high shelf at work. My coworker told me that lifting my arms over my head like that would cause the umbilical cord to wrap around the baby’s neck and strangle him. I politely pointed out that my arms are not connected to the umbilical cord and continued about my business.

    1. OP3*

      Oh my goodness! I’ve heard comments about/towards pregnant women can get pretty heavy handed, but that is just absurd. Great response though :)

  28. Nicole*

    OP #1, alarm bells are going off HARD in my head for you. Alison often mentions how bad jobs can warp with your norms; hearing you ask if you’re a bad employee because you got sick (which your have no control over—if anything it’s possibly your boss’ fault for overworking you) broke my heart.

    Heal up, and start looking for a job somewhere that understands the risks of hiring humans.

  29. Lora*

    My god, I saw the headline for OP1 and thought it would be me as Evil Boss because I DO get angry when people come to work sick, at all. I’m immunocompromised and want people to work from home when they’re contagious. I’ve had employees in the past who were used to coming to work sick and genuinely did NOT understand why I was insisting they go home and take a paid sick day NOW, keep your germs to yourself.

    OP1, get out. If I were your boss I’d be mad you weren’t home in bed watching Netflix and sleeping and drinking hot tea by the gallon under your favorite blanket – and, importantly, not infecting everyone else.

    1. Pobody’s Nerfect*

      Exactly. People coming to work sick and inconsiderately infecting others is the worst part of working with other humans. I work with a person who uses up each month’s earned sick day as soon as it’s available, for non-sick reasons (usually an extra vacation/personal day), so then when they really are sick and need sick days, they don’t have them, so they come to work sick. Or they ask to work from home but never do any actual work that day. It’s extremely frustrating and the rest of us almost always catch what this person has because of our very small workspace.

  30. Ann*

    I don’t know. If my employee told me they had strep throat and pneumonia and I told them to stay home and they insisted on coming to work and puked in a bin I’d be pretty annoyed too. I’m not reading this as “blaming OP for getting sick” I’m reading this as OP making the office uncomfortable and spreading their illness around after their management canceled their vacation to ensure that didn’t happen.

    1. Tallulah in the Sky*

      Okay, but…
      – They insisted OP came to work the previous week, although they were sick
      – Given the first point, it’s not surprising OP feels they can’t take time off to rest and decided to come into work anyway
      – Even if the bosses weren’t encouraging OP to come to work sick and wanted OP to rest instead, they didn’t handle the situation professionally at all. Ignoring OP and making snide comments is not OK.

      Those bosses get zero sympathy from me.

      1. a1*

        They insisted OP came to work the previous week, although they were sick

        Did they, though? If someone tells me they “think are coming down with something” that is not the same thing as “I am sick and I need to go home”. To me “think I’m coming down with something” is more like “I feel fine, but there’s a slight tickle in my throat” and not, “I feel light-headed, shaky, etc”.

        But I do agree with the last point. They are not handling it well with the snide comments and all.

      2. KayDeeAye (formerly Kathleen_A)*

        Yes, I can’t tell if the OP’s employers are:
        1. Conflicted – that is, wanting to do the right thing and have the OP stay home where she belongs but but also really whiny about how inconvenient and disruptive doing the right turns out to be; or
        2. Not conflicted at all and really wanting the employee to work even when she is clearly too sick and too contagious to be at work.

        Either way, they are not handling this well. If they think she should be at home, they need to stop with the whining already. If they think she should work even when she’s this sick, they need to grow a brain and a heart and just cut it out already.

      3. Ann*

        That’s not how I read it at all.

        Sounds like OP started feeling bad, asked if they could stay home (didn’t specify whether they told their bosses they were sick/how sick) and the bosses told them they needed him/her in office.

        But when OP was actually sick and wanted to come in their bosses “insisted” that they stay home. And the bosses cancelled their vacation plans. And OP still decided to come in and puke in the bin.

        The only thing I agree the bosses did wrong was being passive aggresive about it instead of telling OP clearly “you need to go home”. But I’m not reading anywhere that they are “blaming” OP for getting sick.

    2. K*

      I could maybe believe this if the circumstances were different, but if that’s the case here, they are the bosses and totally have the power to say “You are too sick, you have to go home.” Being grumpy about it but not actually doing anything concrete isn’t a good look.

      1. Scarlet2*

        Yes. I’m amazed that so many commenters are trying to put some of the blame on OP when they’re not the ones with the power here. Their bosses are.

        1. Bostonian*

          Exactly. When an employee says they’re feeling sick (and they shouldn’t have to say “I feel so sick that I’m dying” for it to “count”), and the boss’s response is “don’t go, we need you”, then they’re sending a clear message to the employee that it is NOT OK to be sick and miss work.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      That is not how I read it at all. It reads to me that they got sick and their boss told them NOT to go home but to stay and work so that the boss could go on vacation the next week. Then when OP got so severely sick that they obviously *needed* to go home, the boss cancelled their vacation because with OP home sick the boss couldn’t leave since they had no other full-time employees to hold down the fort.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        That’s how I originally read the post, and from OP1’s comments below, yeah, these bosses get absolutely zero sympathy from me. I hope OP gets out soon to a new job where she doesn’t have to be the whole show.

    4. Artemesia*

      This. Once the boss cancelled her vacation why was the OP coming in while sick? I assume it is because she has internalized this martyr role that the boss wants to place on her, but she did herself no favors having the boss cancel and then coming in anyway. This is a horrible environment that has warped the OP’s views of what is reasonable in the office. Time to move on.

  31. Newington*

    #1 Ick, this idea that being ill is a moral flaw has got to go. (I don’t want to be all “the solution to every problem, no matter how small, is to end capitalism” but… yeah.)

    #3. I dunno, unless space is an issue I’d probably just step away from the microwave when coworker is about. I get the impression she’s aware it’s a little thing that she has anxiety about, and if taking a step to the left will make her day a bit less uncomfortable, why not?

    1. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

      Because it is not the letter writer’s duty to ease this person’s anxiety. Nope. Not at all. As a person with anxiety, let me tell you, that NEVER works. The demands will grow and grow and grow. The OP cannot feed this.

  32. MuseumChick*

    OP 4, I can completely understand why this was frustrating for you. But its just one of those things that sometimes happens in the work place. Someone forgets about the meeting or it gets canceled for other reasons. As others have pointed out it may be impractical for you boss to only schedule meetings in a three-hour window. It sounds like these meeting do not occur very often and if your boss has otherwise been good about respecting your time I would chalk this up to just one of those annoying things that sometimes happens at work.

    When your boss reschedules the meeting you can always say “It very tough for me to get here at 7:30am. Would it be possible to move the meeting to a later time?” Or something to that effect.

    1. LQ*

      Eh…I know my boss knows my schedule since we all have the same schedule, but even then, if something unusual is happening or he needs to schedule something and he doesn’t have access to my calendar which has all my stuff on it, he forgets. But he doesn’t have an issue with me bringing stuff up. So I think it is absolutely worth saying, “Hey, I’m not in until 9:30 if it’s really critical that we have that meeting and have it at 7:30, I can arrange childcare for it.” Or something. But just because the boss agreed and knows doesn’t mean they always remember. People’s memories are bad and focused on the task and self-centered. (Not as a bad thing, just a human one.) So reminding them isn’t bad.

  33. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

    OP 1, your bosses effectively gave you pneumonia. And you are wondering whether you are a bad person for taking several days’ less recuperation time than your doctor ordered. This is EXACTLY what Alison means when she says toxic workplaces warp your sense of normal. PLEASE look for a new job!

  34. agnes*

    OP #5 your boss fired you. They aren’t very likely to assist you in finding other work. I’m sorry they misled you–they probably said something like that to make themselves feel better. What you can do is ask them what kind of reference they will give you, and then do your own job search.

  35. Amethystmoon*

    #3 I believe the microwave safety thing was an issue with older microwaves (like from the 80’s). Some of the radiation used to leak a bit and there were concerns that might cause cancer. I don’t believe it’s an issue anymore with newer microwaves since standards have been improved, but unless your office microwave is actually from the 80’s (which I highly doubt), I wouldn’t worry about it.

  36. C-Hawk*

    OP 1: I definitely suggest some soul searching to make sure this isn’t the only dysfunctional thing going on with your work place. Feeling as if you’re the bad guy for getting sick is not at all uncommon when you have ridiculous expectations placed on you in other areas. This appears to be a prime example of what Alison is talking about when discussing how toxic work environments warp our perception of what acceptable/normal.

  37. A Simple Narwhal*

    OP5 – I’ve been offered “help” in finding a new job before from the people taking my job away, and I’ve found it to mean “I feel guilty that you no longer have a job, but if I can pretend that I can get you a new one I’ll feel better without having to actually do anything”.

    I can understand that there are certain times that it could perhaps be a genuine offer, but that feels rare to me. And unless there are specifics (I have a connection to someone hiring let me put you in contact with them, I know a recruiter who is fantastic I’ll write an introductory email, etc) you should write it off as hot air.

  38. Allypopx*

    #5 – Take this kind of thing like any offer of assistance or hot lead on a job that happens while searching: Don’t count on it, and if it comes through, that’s a nice extra.

    They were probably trying to couch the firing, which is terrible and not helpful to you. But don’t hold yourself back waiting for them, take the next steps you need to take and leave them behind you.

  39. Database Developer Dude*

    OP#5, you’re better off without this job. If you received no feedback after your promotion, and then were summarily fired, then there’s a lot more going on here, and it’s not you, it’s them.

  40. Op1*

    Hey everyone, I’m the OP1
    I just want to clarify a few things, I wrote my email while completely zoned out on medication to get some damn sleep!
    1- I did not go into work those following days against my bosses advice. Every day I wasn’t there, they would text me an hour before my usual shift asking for me to come in even knowing I was still sick. It was me saying that I couldn’t even after the begging. The day I threw up in a bin I had text saying I wasn’t well & they said to “come in anyway & see how I go” because they needed help. After vomiting all I got was an eye roll and “guess you should probably go home then”.

    2- I can guarantee that I have nothing to do with the other staff. I have worked at this place for 11 years & no employee has lasted more than 6 months before my boss gets tired of them and starts new. I wish someone would help! I have begged for more help! I wanted to go to part time work to be around my kids but again “they don’t know what they would do without me there full time”

    3- luckily for us all, they decided to put the business on the market to sell, I’m counting down the days to finally try something different with my life.

    4. This isn’t the first time this has happened. While on maternity leave, at 37 weeks pregnant they begged me to come in and work by myself so they could go to a wedding. I came back to work 2 weeks after giving birth to assist with the busiest time of the year, TWICE! As in I had 2 kids 2 years apart in the same month/week, came back both times. I chopped the tip of my finger off at home, I left the ER at 8am after getting stitches and rolled into work at 9am because even after texting saying what was going on they asked if I could come in an hour early to help.

    5. After 11 years I feel like I break my back to help them because its almost like family at times. We spend more time together then we do our actual families. I have worked 60 hour weeks because on of them was Ill or a family member passed. I’m aware that most businesses don’t run like this where I truly feel like I’m responsible for everything and I need to do anything to please/help them. That’s why I look forward to them selling and moving on with my life..

    Thanks everyone for your advice, words and constructive criticism

    1. Op1*

      Oh & thanks everyone, I am starting to feel better after a large dosage of antibiotics. I saw the dr today and he said things are improving well but it’s still not cleared yet, it’s been 2.5 weeks now since this all started. I just had my regular days off and I’m feeling more rested.

      1. Claire*

        I’m glad you are resting. I had pneumonia a while back, and I couldn’t return to work for two weeks. A co-worker tried to return sooner and ended up relapsing. Please take care of yourself.

        And to echo the others, I hope you start your job search sooner rather than later.

      2. tangerineRose*

        I’m glad you’re feeling better. Take it easy.

        Also, can you afford to quit soon? Or can you start your job search soon? You don’t owe them anything.

    2. LilySparrow*

      You don’t need these jerks’ permission to do something else with your life.

      If you’re going to create a family of choice, why make it a horrible toxic one? These people obviously don’t give a shit about you, and you owe them nothing.

      Take a cue from all your former coworkers, and get the heck out. If all those supposedly sub-par workers with supposedly bad attitudes** can find better jobs, surely you could, too.

      *Though I question whether your expectations have been skewed by 11 years of this nonsense. Telling these people to go take a flying leap sounds like an eminently reasonable response. So those co-workers may actually have normal attitudes and a healthy sense of self-respect. Which made it impossible for them to meet your bosses’ bizarre and inappropriate demands.

      1. Scarlet2*

        100% agree.
        Please OP, do not wait until the business is sold to look for another job. You have no idea how long it’s going to take. Do not let those people keep you hostage, this is not your problem or your responsibility. If you leave before the business is sold, they’ll just have to put their holiday plans on hold. That will be a natural consequence of their own bad management.

        You gave them 11 years of your life, that’s already way more than they deserved.

    3. Allypopx*

      I’m glad you’re starting to feel better and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

      Please add “this business is like a family” to your lexicon of phrases that send you running in the other direction. You have kids, you have a family. Even if you just had a cat, you’d have a family and be entitled to a life outside of work. You don’t need a family, you need a job to pay your bills and live your life. I hope you get a fresh start and are able to set some reasonable boundaries for yourself wherever you end up next.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Right? I always say, my family is my family. My job is the thing that I do in order to support my family.

        Besides, for all the talk of OP being like family to those two, they habitually made demands on her over the 11 years she worked for them that they would never make on a real family member. Hell no, they aren’t family, not even close.

    4. A Simple Narwhal*

      Wow these people suck. You owe them nothing, I’d honestly get out asap regardless of the pending sale (unless you have a stake in the business and there’s financial incentive for you to stick around through the sale). I hope they’re paying you an exorbitant amount of money for this nonsense, but I doubt it.

      Also, screw that noise about how they couldn’t possibly let you go part time. A business whose success depends on one person doesn’t deserve to be in business.

    5. Quill*

      Run. I was also part of a small business where nobody but me lasted more than 6 months. I got out after 2 years but I can tell you from experience that these people will NOT provide you a good reference, based on not bothering to reply to anyone who asks. I hope you have a partner who can carry you and the kids for a while, because the job hunt (which I’m assuming you’ve started already?) may take a long time if you’ve been in the same, probably not industry standard, position for a decade.

      1. pope suburban*

        I strongly second this. Stuck it out three years because I had to, but boy howdy, did I quickly become aware why the longest-lasting person in my position made it eight months. Some people will prey on the basic good nature of others by saying “We’re like a family,” but they don’t mean it like “We’re all in this together, we share values and will treat each other kindly,” they mean, “We’ve got all the worst parent/child dynamics in the world, we’ll be offended if you ever bring money into it, and you mustn’t ever rock the boat.” OP, clearly you are a good-natured person, but your employer doesn’t appreciate that- your employer EXPLOITS that. There are plenty of workplaces in the world that will treat you humanely and with respect, where you will be allowed time off for illness and celebration. Pack your skills and go to one of them.

    6. Interviewer*

      I echo everyone else saying to get out now. It takes long, hard hours to shut down a business. Pour that energy into something better for you & your family, and definitely before the owners pledge your services to a new buyer.

      It can take months to fully recover from a serious bout of pneumonia. Please don’t let them ruin your full recovery.

      Good luck!

    7. Dana B.S.*

      So much compassion for you. I hope your next endeavor (which should be as soon as possible) is much better for you.

    8. Jennifer*

      Echoing everyone else’s words. This is THEIR fault. It’s VERY risky to only have one reliable employee. They should have at least one decent backup. People get sick. Family members get sick. People quit their jobs (I’m hoping you’re in that category soon). People move. They become parents and go on leave.

      Depending on one person to stay in this role forever and ever and never get sick or leave is just not realistic. I’m guessing that they are too cheap to hire quality employees so they just hire unqualified people with bad attitudes and dump everything on you. Again, that’s not your fault.

    9. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Please start looking now for that next job. It may take longer than you think, especially since the owners are probably not going to be good references for you as you look for new employment (basing this off the way they are treating you currently).
      It’s good that they are selling though, they do not sound like management material. Management needs to understand that people are just that, people and they will get sick and have emergencies. If you can’t plan for those things, and how you will cover when people are out for those, then you need to go back to the drawing board.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        It pisses me off that these people are selling and going to make a lot of money, honestly. They deserve to go bankrupt in the most disgraceful and ruinous way possible.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Oh no. They probably won’t make much at all.

          The last dimwits that I saw sell their business because they were just “done” with it made nothing. They were lucky they didn’t go bankrupt but they had to go find new jobs hahahah ahhahaha hahaha. So yeah, don’t’ assume they’ll make money.

          I’ve seen so many small businesses “sold” over the years and nobody is rich like ever.

          They’re putting it on the market, so it’s not like they’ve got an offer from someone actually interested. It’ll probably rot on the market for awhile…I once had a business that was almost just closed because they almost didn’t find a buyer. Then they again, just got enough to stay out of the gutter.

    10. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      What a nightmare. Gee, I wonder why people kept leaving that place before even getting to the six-months mark. OP, your comment brought back every memory of every toxic small-business job I’ve had, except 1) yours is a lot worse and 2) I used to be one of the people that got out after six months. (Re-reading your comment, it sounds like your boss *fired* them all at around six months?! if so, that’s even worse!) Best of luck in your future career, where you will soon remember this job like the bad dream that it is!