should you mention an employee’s smell during a reference check, and more

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

1. Should you mention an employee’s smell during a reference check?

A few years back, I managed an employee who was on a performance plan and was on the verge of being let go. A new position opened in a different department and much to my chagrin that department manager hired her. Her performance was no longer my concern, but I know she continued to cause problems in the new department for a few years. She left on her own about a year ago. She had three different jobs in the course of the year. I had never been listed as a reference and neither was the other manager here.

Recently, she applied for a job with a company that both I and her former manager at my same company work with quite frequently. We were obviously on her resume as she had been here a total of six years. A third manager for a department she never worked in here was a reference and they provided a glowing recommendation. The hiring manager, who I know, called me and asked about this employee. I was honest and straightforward in my assessment, as I had good and bad things to say about her. She also contacted the other manager, who said much of what I did — the good and bad.

Fast forward and this company has hired her and she’s been there a week. I received a call today from the hiring manager, who was livid that my coworker and I didn’t mention this employee’s smell. She was the smelly person at our company, for sure. (While she was in my department, I addressed it with her several times. After leaving my department, the new manager had HR address it with her a few times.) At the time I was giving the reference, I had not seen her in over a year and would not have commented on her hygiene after that amount of time. Was that wrong? It never even crossed my mind to mention this, but should it have? Is it different since the hiring manager is someone I know personally and they expected more candid information? Now that this person is mad at me, do I need to do something to repair that relationship?

Hygiene is something lots of people wouldn’t feel comfortable mentioning in a reference, especially for someone they hadn’t worked with in years. Hygiene can also be linked to medical issues (including things like depression), which isn’t an appropriate area to comment on in references.

It’s also reasonable for you to assume that if it were still an issue, the hiring manager would have been able to pick up on it herself in the interview (assuming it was a consistent issue and not a sporadic one).

And honestly, it’s pretty crappy for a manager to call her new employee’s former boss from years ago to complain they weren’t warned about the person’s smell.

I don’t know. I can see why she’s frustrated — no one wants to have to have that most awkward of all awkward conversations with an employee — but I think her anger is misplaced. Whether you should try to smooth it over depends on how close the relationship is, how often you talk, and how much you depend on her good will, but it would be awfully petty for her to hold this against you long-term.

2. I almost knock people down every time I’m walking around the office

I work in a large office that was converted from a warehouse — we have many areas of cubicles. My department has probably 60 configured all which way. It can be kind of a maze. It seems like I cannot walk anywhere without almost slamming into people. It just happened again, I was walking to and from the restroom and almost barreled into two people coming out their doors, two different times. I’m not a big person, like 5’3, 130 pounds. Is that the problem? Too short to see what’s coming? And I am admittedly a fast walker. Any advice on how to avoid collisions?

The maze configuration probably isn’t helping, but if you don’t see it happening to other people, I’d bet money it’s the fast walking — it’s not leaving enough time to sense and make way for people coming out of a door or around a corner. You could test that theory by decreasing your speed one day and seeing if it makes any difference.

But I doubt it’s your height unless the people you’re bumping into are disembodied heads, in which case that’s just a hazard of working in a maze filled with disembodied heads.

3. Am I being a scrooge about my employee’s lunch break?

I am a first-time manager with one direct report. I am exempt but she is not. Her role is a mix of solitary work that she does at her computer and user-facing, but she needs to be available to our users if someone needs something. We work standard 8-5 days, and the expectation is that we are generally available during working hours. Our state requires non-exempt employees to have at least a 20-minute break after five hours of working, but our company policy provides everyone a one-hour lunch break that is pretty well respected at our office. Some people will read and eat at their desks, some people go to the lunchroom and socialize, some people eat out, etc.

My employee likes to eat her lunch at her desk while she works and then use her “lunch break” much later (around 2:30) to run errands, talk on the phone outside, watch YouTube videos, etc.. In the past this has been fine since she has plenty of work she can do at her computer while she eats, and I want to do my best to allow her to use her breaks however she wants.

Recently though, I’ve overheard her saying to people who approach her for assistance while she’s eating, “Can I help you with that after I eat?” Because lunch hours are nearly sacred around here, people immediately apologize and say they’ll come back later. The issue is that later she’ll actually be on her lunch break. Because the eating and the lunch break are not one and the same, I’m becoming irritated that she’s doubly unavailable. I’m worried that I’m being too much of a stickler here because I know that she is actually doing work while she is eating. My sense is that she doesn’t want to get up from her desk or talk to someone in the middle of it. I’m hesitant to bring it up because a) I’m not sure that it’s really a problem, and b) she has a hard time taking feedback in general without taking it extremely personally (which is something we are working on).

Should I let it be, or is this something that is worth a course correction conversation even if it will mean a week of frosty demeanor from her?

You need to address it. If she’s not taking her lunch break until later in the day, then she needs to be available when people come up to her while she’s eating, since the role does require that kind of responsiveness while she’s on the clock.

To be clear, there are lots of jobs where it’s fine to manage your own time and to tell people who come by while you’re working on something else, “Can I finish what I’m doing and come by your desk afterwards?” But since you said she needs to be available if someone needs something, that’s not really in line with the expectations you laid out for her role.

But the frosty responses to feedback are a much bigger issue, especially if it’s making you hesitant to address issues like this. Don’t put off tackling that — it’s got to be addressed right away and it’s got to stop.

(Separately, your state law requires a 20-minute break after five hours of work, which is 1 pm if she starts at 8 am. Legally you need her to take that, which means you might want to ask her to take lunch no later than 1 pm.)

4. How do employers feel about unpaid vacation?

How do employers feel about people taking unpaid time off for vacation (rather than illness, family emergency, etc.)? I love to travel and for the moment have no personal obligations like kids to prevent me from doing so. I work at a government agency where we each manage our own caseloads, meaning that me taking time off doesn’t create more work for others. I’m extremely efficient, get all of my work done ahead of time and done well, and volunteer to take on additional projects. I also burn through my vacation time every year.

Because I work for the government, there’s no real possibility of negotiating for extra paid vacation time based on my performance, but I’m fortunate enough to be in a financial position to absorb a week of unpaid time off here or there. I would like to ask for this occasionally (once or twice a year), but I’m concerned that it may send the wrong message to my employer. I plan to work here for a long time and I do want to advance within the agency. Do managers see people taking unpaid extra vacation as a sign of lack of commitment to the work?

The bigger issue is that employers usually hire for jobs assuming they need you at work a certain number of days per year. If you get, say, four paid weeks off a year, they assume you’ll be there the other 48 weeks, and they plan their staffing levels accordingly. If people are taking unpaid leave on top of their PTO, then the employer ends up with fewer person-hours per year than they planned on and can end up understaffed.

This is also one of those things that isn’t necessarily a problem when one person does it but can become a big problem if lots of people do it, which is why a lot of employers don’t allow unpaid leave except in unusual circumstances, like sickness or getting married or a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

That said, you can ask and see what answer you get! If you’re a good worker who’s known to be conscientious, asking isn’t going to make you look uncommitted. I suspect working for the government makes a yes significantly less likely, but that’s just a guess.

5. Can I remove older, less relevant work experience from my resume?

I graduated in 2010 and had an internship for six months. However, I couldn’t find a permanent position for about two years. I did some freelance work, but it’s not relevant to what I do now. Now that I have seven years of permanent experience, I want to remove that period after graduation from my resume. I will list my education without the graduation date and then provide my work experience from 2013. If a potential employer asks me about the graduation date, I will tell them and explain that I did freelance work. Is that a good idea or will it look like a red flag? I just don’t want to have irrelevant short-term experience on my resume.

That’s totally fine. Your resume doesn’t need to be an exhaustive account of everything you’ve ever done; you’re allowed to choose to include only the most relevant jobs. It often makes a lot of sense to let older, less relevant work drop off.

{ 459 comments… read them below }

  1. Sara M*

    ”…in which case that’s just a hazard of working in a maze filled with disembodied heads.”

    That’s it, shut down the Internet for the day, Alison wins it.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I immediately visualised the old Windows 95 screensaver of a maze with the cartoon image at the top of this page appearing from behind corners…

    2. Rebecca*

      I laughed! Glad I didn’t have a mouthful of coffee at the time!! Thanks for the great pick me up for a very cold Friday morning!!

      In all seriousness, OP and her coworkers just need to get used to ducking their head out first, looking both ways, and then bolting into the aisle. Sort of like cars pulling out from side streets into possible traffic. Stay to the right, etc.

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      It’s things like that which make this my favorite blog.

      We really need to have a list started somewhere of the Many Occupational Hazards:

      1. disembodied floating heads in a maze
      2. black magic

      (I want this on a t-shirt)

      1. Allypopx*

        When we said black magic was one of many occupational hazards I did not expect we’d end up here. But of course we did.

    4. Llama Face!*

      I am imagining these as the 3 green grunting head things from the movie Spirited Away and they would absolutely accidentally knock into people all the time. :D

    5. Third or Nothing!*

      The obvious solution to the disembodied head problem is to convince them to taste some of the chestnuts you’re roasting over some hot coals but trick them into eating the coals instead.

      (Name that podcast for meaningless Internet friend points! Or the legend the podcast was retelling!)

    6. TardyTardis*

      I am short and have come around corners–no collisions, but a few surprises. I remember in Dilbert that Wally was forced to wear one of those tall flags (which was humorously suggested to the shorter people in our cube farm).

  2. Observer*

    #2 – Why would you think that you’re barreling into people because you are too short? You don’t need to be someone’s height to see them in front of you.

    You are walking fast and not paying attention. If it were not for the “maze” type of layout, I would also suggest getting your vision checked, but that seems to be an unlikely problem in this case.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      I work in an over-crowded maze too. The common denominator with people who nearly bump into other people repeatedly is, they assume “I can’t see anyone” = “no one here”. Not accounting for corners and stuff. And not considering that in an area this over-crowded, assuming no one should ever be around a corner is a bad assumption.

      1. valentine*

        When I’m concerned about collision, I take corners wide and make some noise. If I have a cart, I push it into view ASAP so the other person has a chance to change direction.

        1. Sparrow*

          Yep, it’s just like the grocery store! I’m also a fast walker, so if the walkway is large enough, I try to steer clear of doors and leave as much room as I can for them to come barreling out of their offices without running into me (or out of the aisle, in a grocery story). If that’s not feasible, I just slow down when approaching a spot where paths converge and collisions seem likely.

      2. New Job So Much Better*

        Yep, same in my maze. I never said “Sorry” and “Excuse me” so many times in my life as I have since starting here.

      3. Veronica Mars*

        Yeah. After taking out a few people at a tricky new work “intersection” I’ve started to stop in the doorway and slowly lean my head out to look before I cross.

        Also – Walk on the right! (or left, if you’re in the UK I suppose). It is 1000% my pet peeve that people stop learning to walk on the correct side of the hall after they leave elementary school. But if you always take corners hugging the right, and other people always take them leaving a wide berth from their right, the chance of collision goes way down.

        1. cat socks*

          Yes, I work in a cubicle farm and I always stop at “intersections” and do a quick peek right and left before proceeding. I also default to walking on the right.

        2. wittyrepartee*

          Apparently in the UK people walk on the right, but Aussies walk on the same side they drive (left). If this is incorrect, please take no offense. My Aussie ex-boyfriend told me that this was the case, and caused trouble for him when he visited the UK.

          1. londonedit*

            Hmm, I’d say people more often than not will walk on the left here! Especially on the escalators of the London Underground, where the ‘stand on the right, walk on the left’ rule must be observed at all times if you don’t want to be the recipient of Disapproving Tuts from surrounding Londoners.

            1. Salsa Your Face*

              “Stand right, walk left” is the general rule in the US too, but I always assumed that was linked with the highway driving rule of “slow cars on the right, fast/passing cars on the left.”

              1. Giant Squid*

                Hmm, you walk left for safety because that way you can see oncoming cars and gesture or move at them if they’re not slowing down. No getting snuck up on.

                When there’s not that factor, I walk on the right. This sounds like it’s a lot more ambiguous than I thought. I wish we had the type of culture that made it OK to put signs up saying which side of the office to walk on–I’d follow it, but I imagine a lot of people would see it as passive aggressive.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  but that’s about roads, and pedestrians sharing space with cars (two different modes of transportation).
                  I think we’re all talking about hallways and sidewalks, which is a single mode of transportation.

                2. Salsa Your Face*

                  Sure–if you’re walking outside in the street, walk opposite of oncoming traffic so they can see you. “Stand right, walk left” refers to moving walkways and escalators, though–places where there are no cars to worry about.

                  I’ve always wished for sidewalks to have lanes just like roads do–stay to the right if you’re ambling along, because I’m a fast walker with someplace to be and you’re not leaving any room for me to get around you! :)

                3. Veronica Mars*

                  They actually do this at my office for sets of two doors. Where one is “entering only” and one is “exiting only”. But one of the buildings one of the floors, they have it backwards, so you enter on tbe left. It drives me freaking so crazy. (we are in the US)

            2. we're basically gods*

              This is also how it works on escalators in the US, but we do tend to walk on our right. I think it follows our roads here, where you drive on your right, and slower traffic stays the furthest to the right.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        As someone who’s 5’3″, I suspect that’s part of it–that the cube walls are about 5′ tall and so just above her eye level, so taller people can see the moving disembodied heads and, like PacWoman, plan how to veer off to another part of the maze and so avoid a collision.

        1. Quill*

          I’m 5’4 and I am just BARELY tall enough to spot movement over the cubes, unless the other people approaching are my height or shorter.

        2. Morning Glory*

          Yeah same. Everyone including Alison is coming down really hard on OP for thinking it could be her height – but it actually could be partly her height. I’m 5’3″ and have a similar problem.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Huh. I’m 5’3″ and don’t have that problem unless I walk quickly (in which case I sometimes do).

            But I certainly didn’t intend to “come down hard” on the OP for wondering about that! I hope my response doesn’t read that way.

            1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

              I don’t think you came down hard on the OP. I’m 5’0″ and sometimes my coworkers do bump into me, but I work with a lot of tall men. They’re not oblivious or anything, it just happens in the layout of our office. I’ve developed eagle eyes for people coming around corners!

              Your response is spot on!

          2. diminutive maze runner*

            I have had this problem before and had a co-worker who was a full foot taller than me. She and I bumped into each other all the time because she didn’t see me (her own words) and I didn’t really have an issue with bumping into other people. So height is possibly a huge factor especially if in addition to her being short some of her coworkers are tall.

            1. Observer*

              You coworker said she didn’t see you?! That’s rude. It’s also nonsense. Does she regularly trip on things, bump into the furniture and fall down unexpected stairs? If the answer is no, it wasn’t that you are “too short” to see, it’s that she’s being obnoxious about your height.

              1. Renamis*

                Actually, a lot of people DO have issues seeing people under a certain height, because their brains aren’t used to people being there. Put a chair in a walkway and way too many people will trip over it because they’re looking up at people level and not down, as well. Brains work on patterns, and sometimes they just… don’t work well.

                People think I’m weird, but it’s why I look more downward as I walk. I don’t trip, and don’t bump into people.

                1. OhNo*

                  It’s true! I use a wheelchair, and people often trip over me because they’re not used to looking down to my height when keeping an eye out for other people.

                  Also, the sounds you make (or don’t make) as you approach a blind corner can make people ‘miss’ you. I don’t make the traditional footstep sound, so people often turn corners and are startled when I’m right there. Their brains are just used to listening for very specific cues, and assume no footsteps = no people.

                  If it helps, I got in the habit of humming to myself as I walk around. Not loud enough to be distracting if I’m passing by, just loud enough that someone approaching me would have their brain process a “human present” ping. It’s drastically cut down on the number of people startled by my presence, and the number of people that trip over me.

                2. Observer*

                  That’s understandable the first time or two. But after that, it’s very different.

                  When people walk they are not necessarily looking for random curbs and steps. But when you approach a street corner or see a sign that says “step ahead” you are going to notice that drop. Same here – in the beginning her brain may have been on autopilot, so it was screening out that segment of her field of vision. But, after a couple of times she should have been scanning for “short people” whenever she was in the office.

                  Some of my family members are tall – 6′ and up- while others are in the 5′ – 5’2. The tall ones are not constantly running over their shorter relatives. (Or the people they work with.)

                3. Avasarala*

                  I agree with Observer–are they tripping over things on the floor? Do they look straight ahead as they walk instead of taking in the whole area? Do they keep safety in mind or are they on autopilot? Were they designed by video game designers making a stealth game, set to purposefully oblivious so the player character can sneak around them?

              2. Senor Montoya*

                She probably meant, when she looks straight ahead, she doesn’t immediately see (or perhaps notice) someone a foot below her eyes. Yes, most of us have peripheral vision, but I think we;re more used to noticing things peripheral to the sides, rather than up and down.

                I notice this when I have to quickly turn to talk to someone behind me. If they are a lot shorter — or taller — than I am, I’m not immediately looking at them, I’m talking at my level and have to get a visual cue and tip my head up or down. Same thing can happen with walking — if you’re moving fast, you may not immediately notice and process that there’s someone in the way. (Hence also why I whack into furniture…)

              3. Arts Akimbo*

                People get tunnel-visioned when they’re thinking of Accomplishing The Task, as often happens in an office environment, and when they’re also walking somewhere in aid of that task, they tend to tunnel-vision at their own eye line. I’ve seen it time and time again– short people not looking up, and tall people not looking down.

                Really, the only solution is for everyone to pay more attention when they’re walking, and not be so task-focused that they neglect to see the sights/obstacles/coworkers in front of them.

          3. Dragoning*

            I’m 5’2″. Our office just replaced our 6-foot cube walls with 5-foot cube walls.

            I don’t run into anyone anymore.

          4. TootsNYC*

            It depends on how tall the cubicle walls are. I’ve been at places where the cubicles were made for the space by a carpenter, and they made them taller to make up for the lack of actual walls.
            I couldn’t see over them at all.

            Perhaps ready-made cubicles are a little lower, but then they don’t create that maze-like effect.

            1. TootsNYC*

              Plus most of us tend to direct our gaze just a little downward, and some of us more than others. So our peripheral vision might not catch movement.

        3. Observer*

          Not really. I’m 5′ 5″ and it’s never made a difference. Things like pausing, looking around and listening for the sounds of people all far more useful.

          1. Observer*

            What I meant is that I know and work with a lot of people who are shorter and taller than I am. And, I can’t see over the cubicle walls unless I’m not really looking where I’m going, on the one hand. On the other hand, none of the short people I work with bump into people more than anyone else (which is almost never).

      5. Annony*

        Yeah, I think the main thing is to treat it like driving: you need to move slow enough that you have time to react. If you are barreling into people, you need to slow down to a level where you can stop or swerve and avoid them.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Exactly what I was thinking.

          People just barreling around corners, walking super fast, etc. are like speeders who switch lanes every 10 seconds, jump the green light, and brake at the last possible second.

      6. TTDH*

        We’ve actually installed some of those convex mirrors so that you can see someone coming from around the corner at a few of our particularly tricky intersections, or ones where folks are likely to be coming through with a cart.

      7. JSPA*

        Side preference is another. Either because of “right hand driving” vs “left hand driving” experience, or being right-side vs left side dominant. If you’re also someone who commonly ends up in multiple rounds of “we’re face to face, we both head to my-left-your-right, then to your-left-my-right, then my-left-your-right, then stop dead,” you’re probably the person who’s in the minority, as far as left-right default preferences.

        Unless you’re working with architects or one of the rare other jobs where left handers are massively over-represented. In which case, you’re probably not the only one having the issue.

        I find that gliding my fingertips along the cubicle walls (while not so hygienic) both grounds me in, “stay right” thinking, and gives a visual signal to the other person, that I’m going to stick to the right wall. Then, treat blind intersections as you would if you were driving; imagine a yield sign or four-way-stop, as applicable.

    2. Lilyp*

      My guess is that OP was implying that if they were taller they could see over the tops of cubicle dividers and see people coming that way

      1. WS*

        I agree! I worked in a lab setting with rows of shelves and a 4’11” co-worker who couldn’t see over them and just…walked around at top speed as if she could.

      2. snowglobe*

        The added problem that when you are short, other people don’t see you-which also increases the likelihood of two people colliding.

      3. Environmental Compliance*

        Am also short, have previously worked in maze. Always kept my key fob (for swiping in) on me, which handily made a jingly sound that people would hear before Corner Collisions. It also didn’t help that without that, I walk near silently, so not only could you not see me, you couldn’t hear me.

        I found slowing my normal apparently gazelle-like walking speed & keeping that little jingle on me helped a lot. We also managed to convince Management to install the corner mirror things in the worst areas.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Yes to the corner mirror, the noise, and the fast walking. I am 5’5″ and walk too fast, so this happens to me too. I also have worked in a maze / cubicle village. It was commonly understood that you should get lost in cubeville at least once in your first few months there. The mirrors helped at intersections/blind spots and so did my loud, clunky shoes. You could hear me coming like a Clydesdale. Probably annoyed people, but not as much as running into them. *shrugs*. I noticed when I slowed down it wasn’t as much of an issue.

      4. CupcakeCounter*

        This was how I read it as well. I’m 5’9″ so I see all the people and all the people see me. Also walk fast and have nearly collided with a few people coming around corners with full height walls. So being taller does help in the maze but not everywhere – I agree with the general population that the walking speed is the primary issue.

      5. AKchic*

        I’m a very quiet walker. I used to be very fast (ah, the “joys” of debilitating spinal injuries), but no longer. If I’m using my cane, I make some noise, but otherwise, I am still a silent walker. My teens are still in that graceless, too big for their bodies and can’t quite carry themselves stage, so everyone can hear them, but they are still awkward, too fast, and flail. It’s a recipe for disaster when in enclosed spaces. Especially when they want to race to the kitchen to grab as many snacks as their overly long arms will carry and race back to flop back in front of the television for their next game and someone is in their way. (note: I am 5’3″ and the main culprit of this behavior is 6’2″).

        Slowing down and working to be more aware of your surroundings will help immensely.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      If it happens near corners, make sure you’re not cutting close to the corner when turning left (or right in the UK) – my office has had near-collisions when people do that because there’s no view around the wall.
      Make sure you’re walking on the same side of the aisle that you’d drive on the road in your country–otherwise people coming out their doors will not see you as a ‘road hazard”.
      And for the love of bacon pants, always treat every door & corner as a place where someone can emerge with a tray of steaming hot coffee in mugs.

      1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

        I realized I was cutting corners too closely when I repeatedly hit my watch on the corner of the wall in the hallway. Scratched my watch face :( Also made me realized that, for the love of bacon pants (haha!), I should widen my swing around that corner!

    4. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I’m short and a fast walker and I’ve walked into people at work and other places. I’ve learned to slow down in crowds and hallways because most people don’t expect someone to be coming at them faster than a normal speed. I think it’s part of being short, people literally do not see you.

      1. Leslie Knope*

        I worked in a busy dive bar in college that had a lot of pool tables, dart boards, etc. I got really good at zipping through the crowd on a Saturday night and I think my height helped with that (I’m just over 5ft). It was a maze to get through, and the added danger of someone swinging around the corner of a pool table with a cue stick was a real concern! It was pretty comical to be going through the crowd and bump into someone tall, but they wouldn’t realize what had just bumped into them because I was already gone like a flash!

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yeah, I’ve learned to slowly creep around the office, peeking around the corners.

        I’m surprised to see so many comments saying it is never an issue where they work. I think it also depends on how wide or narrow the hallways are.

        1. TootsNYC*

          and how tall the cubicles are. If you’ve got a maze-like effect, those cubicles might be quite tall and therefore harder to see over.

    5. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

      This is my #1 sin and I am 5′ 10″. There is no defense because, in my case, it is absolutely self absorption & I am a bad bad bad person and it is all my fault but I will explain how it happens.

      It’s the corners. I nearly run over people because of the corners. I don’t just about walk into people in front of me, it is when I am taking corners. I take them too fast and I forget to hug the right side of the “road”. You can’t see them at the corners but if you aren’t walking 90 miles an hour and you hug the right side, you don’t almost run them down.

      I might finally be cured. A week or so ago I nearly ran into a wheelchair user at a corner. This is SO BAD on so many levels, the first level being good lord almighty, can you not run into wheelchairs, and one of the levels being if I had run into him, I’m the one who would have gone down and probably injured.

      Corners. Too fast. Not hugging the right side.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Also tall, also nearly run into people a lot, and I really have gotten much better about pausing at corners and before I barrel out of my office door. And we have a LOT of corners!

        1. Goldenrod*

          Tall here too! I used to almost knock people down a lot because I was literally “cutting corners”….then I visited West Point one day, and noticed how the military people….students, I guess, but in uniform? walked around corners. They walk right down the middle, neat sharp turn, then walk right down the middle again. No hugging the wall and zipping around the corner….It makes all the difference.

      2. schnauzerfan*

        This. My mom uses a power chair. She drives too fast, and never expects to encounter any of the other people or animals that live in our house, or who shop at the same stores we do or… and in a collision, she will come out ahead, and you will feel so guilty she injured you. By mutual agreement I drive her chair when we are out and about. She can’t see over grocery store aisles and forgets that there might be other shoppers.

        1. JSPA*

          Uck. I have a friend who uses a power chair, has minimal sight in one eye, and loves to go about 6 mph, indoors or out. Which doesn’t sound so fast, but trust me, it’s way too fast. It affects his concentration to the point where he doesn’t remember that he’s a menace. There’s really no graceful answer (until they start putting sensors or indoor speed governors as a default on chairs).

    6. Secretly Really Thin*

      That was actually my first thought as well, just because I have some experience of it. Glaucoma creeps up on you unawares, and it’s astonishing how large a wodge can be missing from your field of vision without you realising. A lot of fender-bending people who say ‘But officer, he just came out of nowhere’ when it appears completely ridiculous are telling the truth as far as they are concerned.
      Though having said that, yes, it’s probably the speed thing.

      1. Senor Montoya*

        Interestingly, we all have a blind spot in each eye — a place where we literally do not see because there are no receptors in that spot. But our brains “fill in” the missing info, from info gotten from the other eye mostly.

        My son has partial vision in one eye and no vision in the other one. If he’s moving too fast (skateboard or bicycle for instance), he drifts towards the blind eye, because his brain can’t process and fill in fast enough to keep straight. When he first lost his sight in the one eye, he drifted while walking. Now his brain knows how to fill in and you’d never now it, no problems at all walking straight. (And yes, he got rid of his bike and skateboard long ago and no he does not drive.)

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes to walking fast, but unless OP has X-ray vision and can see behind walls and around corners, I fail to see how it is due to her “not paying attention”. I also work in a maze. People trying to walk on the right helps, as does exercising extra caution when turning a corner. But sometimes bumping into people does happen.

      1. Observer*

        If doors are closed you can see them opening before a person emerges. Also, there are actually a few seconds from the first indication of a person coming out of an open doorway that that person actually being in the hall. On the other hand, height will make no difference wit the doors.

        I don’t think that the OP is necessarily going to be able to avoid EVER bumping into people. But if they slow down and pay attention so that they have the extra second or two to react to small signals it will happen less often. And it will be more like a bump than full on barreling when it does happen.

      2. JSPA*

        Ears work (for most of us). So does slowing down when approaching a blind corner.

        If we got points on our walking license for bumping into people the way we get points on a driver’s license for bumping into things while driving, fewer people would take a “whelp, whatcha gonna do” attitude.

        This is something people can and do exert control over, yet it’s not something that all people choose to prioritize.

    8. CheeryO*

      Yeah, slooooow down and make a little noise to make yourself known. I am a fast, quiet walker and need to consciously remind myself to walk more slowly/clompy in the hallways or else I’m constantly scaring people/causing near-collisions.

      1. Mrs_helm*

        Yes, I came here to say this. I’m also short…shorter than the cube walls where I used to work. Any kind of noise helps…jingle keys, him, shuffle papers, wear shoes with a hard heel. The problem isn’t entirely you if people are stepping out of a doorway in front of you .

    9. CanCan*

      Most likely, you’re just fast and quiet. Depending on the floor surface, you may be able to get shoes that make more noise. And just be more vigilant around corners/cubicles. Keep in mind that there may be somebody there behind the blind turn – just like you would if you were driving.

      Running into people may not be a problem until you run into someone carrying a hot cup of coffee or lunch.

    10. Not So NewReader*

      When I was learning to drive, I absolutely LOVED the advice that said, “Assume someone IS there in [the blind driveway, behind the tree at the stop sign, on the other side of that biiiiggg truck, etc.” I cannot count how many times this little pearl has saved me so many problems.

      OP, change your thought pattern, change your life. When you see a doorway, just assume someone will pop out of the doorway and act accordingly. Navigate thought your entire day using this assumption.

      We had an entry door with no window. This was weird because you’d have no way to know if someone was on the other side as you pushed the door away from you to open it. The possibility of dooring someone was very high. Additional wrinkle, the public used this door. So while employees would eventually adapt to not being able to know if someone was on the other side, people not familiar with the building were at risk for an accident. Employees learned to just assume someone was immediately on the other side of the door and proceed with caution.
      Eventually, they cut out the panels in the middle of the door and put in glass. People entering and exiting can both see each other before pulling or pushing on the door.

      When I first started working, I waited tables. Very seldom did people slam into each other. Since the place was busy and everyone was running this way and that way, this was quite remarkable. And I realized that people were deliberately working to avoid hitting each other.
      I will say that if a person does not deliberately work at watching out for others it shows. And it shows rather quickly. I hate saying this but the one or two people who did not catch on were… well, they were annoying. There’s no need to repeatedly run into people. Please understand that everyone works under the same unspoken rule of assuming there is a person coming toward us from a blindspot. So this is not something extra that is being asked of you alone. Close quarters mean we have to make concessions.

      NOT directed at you, OP. Because I can see this is very far removed from any of your thinking. But in those places that I worked, the people who went on for prolonged periods of time slamming in to people became known as ones who were seeking cheap thrills. Yeah, now we call it sexual harassment. When I saw this is what people thought I was hugely motivated to make sure I never, ever bumped anyone. Ever.

        1. TootsNYC*

          sometimes i think people in the OP’s situation should all have bicycle bells, and just jingle them when they come to a corner, or up behind someone.

        2. Extroverted Bean Counter*

          It’s been nearly five years since I’ve worked in a restaurant, and I still will call out “corner!” in grocery stores or other populated venues with blind turns. I also utilize “right behind you” quite often at my office, in public, at other people’s house etc… as I pass people with their backs to me. It’s not as abrupt as “behind!” and it’s incredibly helpful. I always assume that at any moment someone is going to whip around quickly and run into me.

          “Hot behind!” will forever be a running joke in my home though, ha.

          1. pagooey*

            My stepmom spent years working in a diner that was a literal converted train car, with a very narrow passageway between the grill/counter area and the tiny dining room in back. We ate there frequently as kids, and I can still hear her and all the staff shout “Comin’ thru!” that eensy doorway like it was yesterday. Thanks for the memory!

            Also, yes, “hot behind!” is always funny.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Please understand that everyone works under the same unspoken rule of assuming there is a person coming toward us from a blindspot. So this is not something extra that is being asked of you alone. Close quarters mean we have to make concessions.

        Love this

      2. Free Meercats*

        We had one of those frequently used, windowless, steel entry doors here with the associated occasional close calls. After one of our supervisors got slammed in the head with it from one of the fast walkers and was off for 2 months with a TBI, TPTB finally replaced it with one with a window.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I’ve realized that a lot of bathroom have a narrow hallway leading to the hinge side of the door, so people who are approaching it to open it will instinctively lean in with their arm out. I’ve seen that save people from getting clonked.

        2. Your Weird Uncle*

          I will never, ever forget that one time when I was in swimming lessons at about age 10, where a girl was standing on the business end of a swinging door in bare feet. Someone on the other side opened the door right onto her toe and it was….horrible. Ever since then, I always make sure to stand out of the door’s swing when I approach a door that opens my way.

    11. Autumnheart*

      As a short person, I’ve had to learn defensive walking at an early age, because SOOOOOOOOO MANY PEOPLLLLLLLE just barrel all over the place with no awareness that anyone is around them. God, so many. I’ve had to learn to develop a practically psychic awareness of when someone’s going to come barging around a corner, or turn around suddenly and crash directly into me.

      If you’re shorter than the cube wall, slow down when you get to an intersection. Being a fast walker isn’t an excuse to not look out where you’re going. Not that this is a fast-walker problem by any means, as anyone can tell you who has ever gotten stuck behind some slowpoke with his nose in his phone, obliviously walking down the center of the walkway so nobody can pass.

      1. Observer*

        Yes. That’s why the second piece of advice is “pay attention”. Do NOT walk with your nose in a phone (or a book / magazine / anything else).

        And for the tall people, it is absolutely possible to scan for people at a height far shorter than you are. I have family members who are 6′ and taller, and they rarely bump into people who are short or are in wheelchairs.

    12. Pizzaboi*

      I’m 5’1″ and work in food service, and I have an excellent tip for everyone:

      “Behind!” You don’t have to shout it, but if you are coming up behind someone not looking in public, let them know! Also of use, “Corner!”

      And in the unlikely events, “Hot!” And “Knife!”

    13. Lucia Pacciola*

      I’m a fast walker and a “kinetic” thinker. So when I’m walking, I’m blasting along with my head deep inside some problem only I can see.

      And I work in a maze of corridors with poor sight lines and too many people. Every time I get up from my desk, it’s a conscious effort to stay focused on walking slowly and carefully until I get to the bathroom, or the outside, or wherever.

    14. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

      Observer maybe I’m wrong but I took her comment about her height to mean that she is so short her head doesn’t show above the cubicle walls so people don’t see her approaching. As opposed to taller people whose disembodied heads you can see bopping along and approaching you.

  3. Heidi*

    I think it’s odd that the jumping from department to department, being on a PIP, “causing problems” for years, and getting a decidedly unenthusiastic reference were not deal breakers for the hiring manager in Letter 1, but the smell was truly intolerable. Maybe the smell was far worse than what I’m imagining. Anyway, there’s no reason the OP would know that the smell was way more important than work quality to this hiring manager.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      So that’s what my initial reaction was too, but it’s possible that the job she did for the OP was really different than the one she was being hired for now. Like, if she was an accountant for the OP and terrible with data but good with people, and the new job was for phone sales, I could see the hiring manager deciding the bad reference wasn’t prohibitive. A bad reference really shouldn’t be the kiss of death on its own; it’s the specifics of it that could be.

      But yeah. It’s a bit much to be fine with all the other bad stuff and then get angry that the OP didn’t mention the smell.

      1. zaracat*

        Perhaps there’ a degree of “buyer’s remorse” at play, where the new employer was overly optimistic about this employee despite the negative elements in the references and feels they can’t legitimately claim they weren’t warned, so their frustration is being expressed over the one thing they weren’t warned about.

        1. Not Australian*

          Yup. Either that or the person who was keen to hire her is not the one who will have to work with her.

        2. Lilo*

          I think you’re right here. If LW was truly honest it seems odd smell would be the dealbreaker. My guess is they forged ahead despite LW’s honesty and it’s backfiring.

          And surely they could smell her at the interview? Unless the coworker is truly strange and is aware of the problem and can something about it but only chooses to before an interview?

          1. Annony*

            I find it especially odd since the LW worked with her years ago. I wouldn’t think to bring up a coworkers smell from years ago. I would assume that either it is better now or the interviewer would have more recent knowledge about it than I do. This is especially true when I have a lot of other negative things to say. It would really feel like piling on.

            1. miss_chevious*

              Yeah, I would feel like I was being mean if, in addition to the many work-related issues I mentioned I also said “and she smells bad,” especially if I worked with the candidate years ago. Further, if the hiring manager was willing to overlook the other comments made about the candidate, how likely are they to take the “smelly” comment seriously?

              1. Willis*

                Lol, yeah is that what would really have stopped them? Two references say she can’t do the job well but somehow smell is their main concern!?!

          2. Quill*

            If smell is related to a medical or dental issue (there are various reasons that it could be) it might not be a constant reek, just a flare-up that will occur from time to time and maybe not be as obvious during the interview as it is to someone who has to sit next to her for a month…

            If the smell is related to laundry hygeine, interview clothes may be worn so infrequently that they don’t carry a funk.

            If the smell is due to smoking, smoke scent accumulates on your clothes and hair the more you’re exposed to it, so interview clothes, which possibly got dry cleaned right before the interview, might have a less noticeable odor.

            Depression? Eau de ennui does not have to be a constant thing.

            So I’m not surprised that the smell might only be an issue if you have to work with this person for weeks instead of hours.
            (I’ve also run out of appropriate smell synonyms.)

        3. Veronica Mars*

          My first thought was that the reference-givers were a little too soft with the feedback. You know how it goes, you think you’ve conveyed “Ugh, really do not hire this person” but what you actually said is “She’s a lovely person, had some issues but we were working through them when she left.”

          And the hiring manager isn’t ACTUALLY that mad about the smell, she’s mad about the total blindsiding, but that was too tricky of a sentiment to convey, so she’s picked the smell to be angry about.

        4. Cruciatus*

          I was taking it similarly, but more like “there’s this problem and that….*and* she smellllllssssss!”

        5. JSPA*

          OP’s response could be, “unless the source is genetic or otherwise medical–and therefore something that might be discriminatory if you used it in a hiring decision–personal smells depend on hygiene choices that can change dramatically. Her current smell is something that your own nose, or a recent past manager, would be far more able to assess than someone who last saw her over a year ago.”

          That said, there are conditions that cause really extreme smells. I had a coworker with trimethylaminuria who watched his diet, showered several times a day and even changed clothes, to make sure he didn’t smell like…well, it’s supposed to be rotting fish, but that’s not even the worst of it.

          The full condition is usually only noticed when someone is homozygous for a faulty FMO3 gene. However, women who are heterozygous for the gene in question often produce increased odor in synch with their menstrual cycles (either in combination with, or as the result of the fact that the hormonal shifts during one’s period suppress one’s ability to smell such odors). This in turn leads to all sorts of bad assumptions about adequate hygiene; female-specific shame cycles, etc.

          (The same can happen to heterozygous men and women if they’re eating a particularly problematic diet, under stress, etc. When I hear of people being put off a train, bus or airplane for BO, I think of the stress of traveling and the often unusual foods one eats when traveling, and wonder if heterozygosity for FMO3 could be in play.)

          The coworker generally smelled of nothing other than mild soap and clean cotton, demonstrating that a clean, fresh odor clearly can be achieved in an office setting, provided the person takes their condition in stride as a challenge to be solved, and sets their mind to managing the problem proactively.

          1. Happily self employed*

            About 15 years ago, I noticed that I smelled bad and my friends confirmed it when I asked. It turned out to be a medication I was taking. When I asked my primary care physician what to do (she wasn’t the prescribing doctor) she consulted the PDR and discovered that other symptoms suggested I was having an all around bad reaction to that drug. She actually called the prescribing doctor and told him I had to stop taking it (and got reprimanded later).

            So I might have been the stinky TA for a while, but not at my next school.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        This was my thought as well. We had someone leave my team a couple of years ago who was really, really good at one part of the job but terrible at another, and the position here was evolving more toward the part at which they were terrible. They ended up getting a new position in a larger organization that was looking for someone to only do the part of the job at which they excelled, so it was a better fit for them. And the other company got a great hire for a really niche-y job.

        1. Caitlin*

          What was the previous employer supposed to say? “Great attention to detail, they really take ownership of their work and by the way they smell like onions all the time”?

    2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      My response would be “oh, now that you mention it… I tried my best to forget the smell! Obviously it worked.” or the like.
      Nobody wants the memory to linger longer than the smell.
      (Wonder what reference Foul Ole Ron would get…)

      1. Caaan Do!*

        I doubt he’d get as far as reference checking, his CV would only list two things: ‘bugrit’ and ‘millennium hand and shrimp’

      2. LW 1 OP*

        Letter writer here, where was your quick wit when I needed it. I think that would have totally solved the problem! I think I was just flabbergasted that that was the issue that was the problem and not any of the others that I mentioned!

        1. AKchic*

          The former employee’s body odor didn’t impact their work, therefore it was not mentioned. You had no way of knowing whether the body odor issue was still a factor in that person’s life today since you have not seen the person since they left the company on XX/XX date. You are not in the habit of discussing personal and potentially health-related matters as a part of a reference check (yep, give that pointed barb if you want, since this person is making a big deal of it) and gave the pertinent details that you felt were actually relevant to their decision-making needs. Then, tell them you hope that explanation clears the air (because I can’t resist a good pun).

    3. KayDeeAye*

      I think the hiring manager’s attitude here is ridiculous. Giving a non-enthusiastic reference is not a fun thing to do, but the OP did her duty. Yet that’s not enough for this person – she is also supposed to discuss the hygiene of some she hasn’t seen for a year? That would be…pretty petty, IMO. That’s certainly what I would think, if I called to ask for a reference.

      Years ago I worked for just a year or so at a very gossipy place, and a couple of coworkers talked and talked and *talked* about how coworker Veruca, who was not popular for various reasons (some good and some not so good, IMO), used to stink. Apparently it was a consistent problem, and of course it’s not nice to work with someone who smells as though she doesn’t bathe or wash her clothes regularly.

      But the thing is, by the time I worked with her, her hygiene was fine. She actually dressed well, I thought, so apparently whatever the problem had been (depression, a broken washing machine, whatever), she had solved it. The people who insisted on going on and on about how she used to smell came across as petty and mean, and that’s how the OP would have come across too. She hadn’t seen her in a year. How was she supposed to know how the woman smelled?

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I posted something similar below – how was OP supposed to know about any smell issue after the employee had been gone for a year from that company?

        1. KayDeeAye*

          Exactly. Becoming a hard worker, for example, when you’ve always been a slacker is difficult and requires a great deal of discipline. In contrast, improving your hygiene could be as simple as “having access to a usable washing machine” or “getting treatment for depression” or even “buying new clothes that can be washed in the machine vs. being dry cleaned.” So I think it would have been wrong for the OP to bring this up, particularly when there were sooooooo many other things to talk about.

      2. Icanrelate*

        True confession here- I can totally relate. And I can definitely say that those of you who targeted things like health issues, depression, etc. as causes for someone to (maybe temporarily) be the stinky co-worker are right on. I *may* have been this person in my past. And I’d be beyond mortified if co-workers were still talking about me years later or a reference from year’s ago mentioned it.

        I was just starting out in an entry level (low pay) job. Living where I had only started to make friends and I had zero support from my family of origin. And same family issues and lack of a strong social support network had sent me into a depression (functional depression probably- I did not seek treatment, even though I should have). I was living in a fixer upper house, it was all I could afford to buy. One week when I was out of town the pipes burst and I had no money for the repairs and nobody to ask for help. I felt like the only thing I could do was have the plumber shut off the water until I had the funds to fix everything.

        So I lived in my house without running water for almost a year (the depression and inability to summon the energy to fix the problem contributed to how long this went on). I went to the community pool locker rooms to shower every day, did my laundry at the laundrymat, ate all of my meals out or did take out. I couldn’t have any friends over to my own house, even if I was feeling up for company or needed to spend time with friends. While I was clean and my clothes were clean every day I went to work, I was just barely hanging on by a thread.

        All of this to say, we really don’t know what other people are dealing with, behind the curtain so to speak.

        Today, I’m much better and my living situation has improved. Because I still work at this same company, I do sometimes feel like how I was back then is still how I’m seen and it’s held against me to be honest. I do think I’d be better off in a new environment, starting off fresh.

        1. Oh So Anon*

          Here’s the thing, though – lots of people don’t have in-home laundry and rely on a laundromat, and they don’t smell. People who shower at the gym before work every day don’t smell either. As difficult as your situation was, it doesn’t sound like you handled it in a way that led to having obviously poor hygiene.

        2. KayDeeAye*

          I don’t know your workplace, of course, Icanrelate, but most reasonable people won’t hold your difficult beginnings against you. My former workplace wasn’t…well, it wasn’t bad, but there were a couple of people there who were mean and back-bitey in a petty way and who genuinely didn’t care for Veruca, and those are the ones who would not. shut. up. about her former hygiene failings. Veruca wasn’t the easiest of people to get along with, but a reasonable coworker – heck, a reasonable human being – wouldn’t have continued to fixate on something minor like this once it was over and done with. So you do you, by all means, and if you want a fresh start, I hope you get it, but there’s a great chance that nobody thinks any the worse of you just because you went through some hard times.

    4. LW 1 OP*

      Letter writer here, the jobs are actually very similar but the problem is that it is a pretty specific job that would be incredibly hard to find people that checked all of the boxes. My understanding is that they had been looking for someone for quite some time. I think that they would have been fine trying to fix the performance issues that we mentioned in order to fill this spot as they were sort of desperate. Since I sent my letter in, I did figure out that the reason that was so angry is that the person that shares job responsibilities with her threatened to quit if the manager didn’t figure out a solution to the smell problem. I did remind them in a subsequent conversation about this that I did tell them that I would not rehire her.

      1. Fibchopkin*

        So, you were clear and up front enough to say that you wouldn’t rehire her, given the chance, they took her on anyway, and now they’re mad at you? Because you didn’t mention her personal hygiene? That’s pretty unprofessional of them on the work-relationship level, and super douche-y on the friend level.

        1. Allypopx*

          Agreed. If you made it very clear you wouldn’t rehire her, you did your due diligence. I’ve given a negative reference or two and it’s never been an exhaustive list of all the reasons they were unpleasant to work with – honestly that would come off as petty and undermine the core of what I was saying.

          OP you handled this perfectly professionally, this person didn’t listen, and now they’re trying to turn that back on you. That’s a them problem, not a you problem. Stay professional and friendly with this person, but you can’t cure their misplaced anger. It’ll blow over.

          If the long term consequence is that they never ask you for a reference again, then that might honestly be best for everyone.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          I completely agree with this and cannot figure out what else you could have possibly done, OP, to give them any more direct, job-related information. I would be very hesitant to raise a hygiene issue in a reference (and suspect HR would have a fit if I did), but it can also be subjective – we had someone on our team for years without issue (no complaints from teammates or clients), but a new person started and immediately started complaining that that person smelled and was incredulous that other people didn’t feel the same.

      2. Facepalm*

        I think if you came right out and mentioned her performance issues and that you would not rehire her (!!!), it seems incredibly mean or somehow like a personal attack to mention she also smells. You gave them plenty of reason not to hire her, presumably they met her in person and could notice her hygiene issues for themselves. To say “She’s a bad worker and also she stinks!!!!” somehow feels unprofessional. If she were otherwise a great worker with a hygiene issue, it would have made sense to delicately say, “She was great at her job duties, but while she worked her, there was this other issue . . . ” But you gave them plenty of information and they chose to ignore it.

        1. The Supreme Troll*

          I agree completely. If OP #1 had added this bit of opinion to her assessment of her, OP#1 would have appeared as if she has a vendetta or a grudge against her former employee.

          1. AKchic*

            I mean, how would one even come out and say it?
            “This person’s work and body stink. Period. 10/10 would not rehire”? No. That sounds so juvenile. You really can’t say that multiple people had issues with a person’s body odor without making it a potential medical disclosure liability. Her body odor didn’t actually affect her work in any way. It just made it uncomfortable for other people to work around/with her.

        2. A Poster Has No Name*

          Right? I’m really trying to imagine a scenario where I, as the LW, would have a) even remembered the odor issue, among other things, when the HM called b) assumed that the odor issue was still ongoing, after at least a year and c) could find a way to tactfully mention it. And what would the HM really have done with that info? Probably blown it off and thought the LW weird for even bringing it up. And really, would the HM have refused to hire her because the LW said she had and odor issue a year+ ago? I somehow doubt it, but if you get the chance to ask the HM that, LW, I’d be curious to hear the answer.

        3. JSPA*

          It could also undermine / soft-pedal the legit performance issues! The recipient of the information might hear, “she was borderline OK, but given the odor, I would not rehire” even if OP’s take was, “I would not rehire on the basis of performance, plus the odor problem was distracting.”

        4. Not So NewReader*

          Agreeing with Facepalm, OP. What were you supposed to do? “Her work was bad, and topping it all off she smelled.”
          It sounds like this employer draws the line at body odor but bad work is okay. Who’d thunk?

          You were pretty clear: “Won’t rehire.” Isn’t that the ultimate you can say about an employee right there? sigh.

    5. Myrin*

      Yeah, with Alison’s additional comment above I can now see the reasoning but at first (and still, honestly) I had the exact same reaction. Who cares about mulitple mediocre references, apparently, when she’s also a stinky stinker?

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      If they are hiring without ever having an in-person interview in which to assess smell, that’s on the hiring manager.

      1. Salymander*

        Yeah, not doing their due diligence (say that 5times fast). Especially if they have been told that you would not rehire due to performance issues.

        If you tell them that the person had poor performance, it seems both unprofessional and cruel to tack on “oh and and btw she stinks.”

    7. Bree*

      Yeah, references aren’t an exhaustive inventory of every single one of a former employee’s traits. Clearly, the LW gave lots of information – and the work-related stuff was the most relevant.

    8. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I would also say that OP had no way of knowing if she still smelled after she had been gone from that company as well. The former coworker could have found the cause and remedied it or they could have gotten worse, and since she went elsewhere OP had no way to know.

      If it’s a contact you work with a lot and value OP, maybe you could talk to them and say something along the lines of, “since she had left my department and then the company I work for I didn’t have first-hand knowledge anymore of the smell, and didn’t want to speak about things I didn’t have the ability to verify.”

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        Yeah! You’d think the new hiring manager would have blasted the most recent manager, not the OP, since it sounds like they were also friendly/connected.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I wonder if they went after the “friend” because they thought there would be less push-back from there?

    9. Impy*

      It’s probably more that she’s focusing on the smell because she doesn’t want to admit she made a bad hiring decision. It sounds like the new manager ignored a lot of red flags in hiring this person and is casting around for a reason that isn’t her fault in order to be mad.

    10. RC Rascal*

      Many years ago I worked in professional services. There was a client facing administrative assistant, Jane, who had terrible personal hygiene. Jane was also incredibly overweight. Then, Jane had bariatric surgery. She lost 100 lbs. When she came back she was still a very big girl, but she was a different person. Clean, smiling, and a whiz at her job. (I had heard through the grapevine that she was always good at work; the executive she worked for had always stuck up for her despite the hygiene issues). Prior to the surgery, I think bathing was so difficult for her she did it as infrequently as possible. My point here is that Jane could have pulled herself together to be presentable for an interview, but couldn’t keep it up over time due to her medical issues. The person in this scenario could be in the same position.

  4. Dorothy Zbornak*

    #2 – I’m 5’10 and I almost barrel into people around the office too. It’s definitely because I walk fast. I do try to slow down but then I feel like I’m walking sooooo slooooowly and I hate it and drive myself nuts. Still, it’s better than being known as the person who almost runs into others all over the place.

    1. Np*

      I have this issue but have learned to (a) slow down for corners and (b) to unconsciously listen for footsteps so I can manoeuvre myself accordingly! Couple of near misses with people holding hot coffee made me realise the need for being more careful!

      1. Clementine*

        I am puzzled by the crashing into people question. Pretend you are in a room with carelessly stacked priceless glassware, and walk accordingly.

        1. BRR*

          It’s different when the pricey glassware is moving. My office is a little maze like and I’ve almost taken out a few people. I know where the “high-risk” intersections are now and take a little more time when for example, coming out of the copy room.

      2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        And pick your route: Take the “outer lane” going around corners, do not walk on the side of the aisle where the suddenly opening doors are – give yourself a bit more time and room to react.
        I am also a fast walker and I tend to cut corners – a habit that takes time to break. Recently, I decided to do my commute by public transport rather than driving and have this issue a lot at Subway stations, both as the perpetrator and as the victim.

    2. Jennifer*

      I’m 5 feet tall and a fast walker. I learned to slow down near corners after the one time I barralled into one of my tall, ahem wide coworkers and promptly flew what felt like 6 feet backwards – I felt like a cartoon. He said he wouldn’t even have noticed me if he hadn’t seen me do it. Don’t be me.

      1. Quill*

        I’m clumsy enough that this would be extra entertaining.

        “Hey, friendly giraffe, all the joints below my knees just popped as I fell Quill over teakettle, please help me up.”

    3. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

      This question makes me think that this office is ridiculously crowded. I don’t think I have ever experienced multiple near misses in an office.

      1. Lance*

        If I wasn’t more attentive/careful about corners and such, I, as another fast walker, could conceivably have multiple near-misses in a day even in a relatively sparse office where people aren’t walking around all that much. On such a note, I can easily see it happening in OP’s case even if the office space isn’t crowded, if, like others suggest, they’re not being careful about corners/doorways that anyone could potentially come around/out of while they’re walking by.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          I’m a fast walker and an old grand-boss was as well, so he and I would have near-collisions on a more frequent basis than I care to think about. That kind of mortification led me to being a lot more careful with speeding around corners. And even if you’re not the one cutting the corner, someone else might and your being fast might reduce the available reaction time.

    4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I’m 5’5″ and do the same. For me it is because I walk too fast and am always thinking about something other than what is in front of me (Head in the Clouds will be on my tombstone somewhere). It is a work in progress to be mindful of my surroundings when walking. Thankfully I don’t do it outside or in unfamiliar environments because I would probably have been hit by a car!

    5. LadyL*

      A fellow (tall) fast walker here, and also clumsy and uncoordinated to boot. I haven’t run into coworkers yet but I regularly clip my limbs or my hips on table edges and corners from being closer to things than I thought (I am also the absolute last person you should ask to hold your breakable items). No advice for LW, just solidarity. I guess try to slow down, but if you’re like me at all then walking slower will feel
      i n s u f f e r a b l e.

      Maybe you can suggest your office install those mirrors like they use on parking garages to see around the corner?

      1. Amy Sly*

        Exactly what I was going to suggest! Ask HR if convex butler mirrors can be installed above the most problematic intersections. My boss is a fast walker, and the mirrors I asked to be installed have stopped him from running into people.

      2. Risha*

        I’m tall and clumsy and somewhat absentminded, and my cube is at a sharp diagonal from the office kitchen door. My coworkers have witnessed me walk directly into the doorframe multiple times (from trying to quickly round the corner while angled towards my desk).

  5. nutella fitzgerald*

    LW 1 – I’ve made some bad hires, but I would never even think of calling references to complain about them failing to warn me. And these were much more mundane issues than hygiene – things like frequent lateness or atrocious attention to detail. I always figured the person giving the reference just managed them in a role where that wasn’t a dealbreaker.

    1. LW 1 OP*

      Letter writer here, right! I have made plenty of bad hires myself and have come to the same conclusion as you.

      1. soon to be former fed really*

        What is even the point of reference checking when bad hires result anyway? Reference checking is such a game. And my reply to the chastisment for not mentioning body odor would have been to ask why they didn’t smell her during the interview.

        1. Allypopx*

          “What is even the point of reference checking when bad hires result anyway?”

          Because you ask questions to try and screen for the major things that would be dealbreakers for you, you verify the things the employee has said about their work history, you catch some problems you might not have considered, and you get a sense of what the person is like to work with and the kinds of professional relationships they have left in their wake.

          There’s no perfect screening system but it’s definitely better than having none.

        2. Autumnheart*

          Why would they blame the reference-provider for another person’s hygiene anyway? (I ask, rhetorically.) It’s not like OP could force the person to learn how to bathe. By OP’s own words, the employee has been talked to many times about it already, and apparently still won’t address it. What is anyone else supposed to do about that?

        3. vlookup*

          Well, in OP’s case it sounds like the hiring manager chose to ignore the red flags raised in the reference check, which is their problem.

          Reference checks aren’t just there to avoid hiring a good-on-paper candidate who’ll turn out to be a trainwreck in the role. If done well, they’re a valuable source of information about the work style, strengths and weaknesses, etc. of the person you’ll ultimately hire. That’s how my boss uses them and I found it to be a revelation — he used my references to learn how to set me up for success in my role and what kind of support I might need, and it’s a strategy I will definitely use when I’m hiring in the future.

        4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          If a reference does as LW1 did and tells the checker that she would not hire the person again, but the checker decides to hire anyway, it isn’t reference checking that is the problem. This person took a gamble on a hire with 2 bad references and, not surprisingly, lost that bet.

        5. TootsNYC*

          you don’t get bad hires every time!

          I’ve had someone provide a reference that made me change my mind on hiring someone, and I was glad.
          I’ve had someone provide a reference that didn’t change my hiring decision but changed my expectations.
          And I’ve gotten references that helped me to choose between two pretty decent candidates.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I recall one where the referrer was the current manager and lied to get rid of a problem employee–she couldn’t or wouldn’t fire the person, and had hit on convincing someone else to make a great job offer as the only way out of the predicament. That one deserved an apology.

      (There was also some weirdness about being under audit and somehow, by magic, this would make the audit go away to follow the employee?)

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This is a totally different scenario than what most of us are thinking about for a reference check not working well. Outright lying is its own category of BAD employer moves.

    3. iglwif*


      Like, either the person was not good at giving references / didn’t want to be mean / felt bad about tanking the candidate’s chances (none of which is great, but it’s also not malicious), or the situation where they managed the candidate was such that the problematic thing genuinely was not such a big problem.

    4. Annony*

      It is especially insane because the LW told the hiring manager that they wouldn’t rehire her! Once you hit the dealbreaker level of “she couldn’t do the job well” do you really expect other issues to be listed as well?

    5. Count Boochie Flagrante*

      I feel like it would be warranted if it were a really significant job-related issue the LW had neglected to mention — “Hey, so we talked in depth about Fergus’ performance at your place and you somehow neglected to mention that he was fired for severe and pervasive sexual harassment? What gives?” But that’s a pretty different scenario than what happened here.

    6. Pobody’s Nerfect*

      Or the former bosses purposefully didn’t mention the downfalls because they wanted you to hire that low-performing person away from them. And it worked. Shuffling of the bad apples. Happens all the time.

  6. Locket*

    This was posted so late, get to bed!

    I am honestly baffled at #2, haha. I would not think super highly of the coworker who almost runs into people all the time. I startle really easily, so this would have my heart going for ages after the fact for such an odd reason. Not like they needed to seriously get to the bathroom or anything, just normal stuff requires speed-walking?

    1. Jimming*

      Not to derail too much, but the evening post usually goes up at 9 pm pacific, which is mindnight eastern. I figure it’s set up on a schedule. It also goes up at 8 am pacific in the mornings! There’s more posting times throughout the day but those are the ones I know!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — Eastern time, it’s midnight, 11 am, 12:30 pm, and 2 pm (except Fridays when I usually skip the last two). They’re all pre-scheduled to auto-publish at those times. (Someday I might experiment with other schedules, but I’ve been using this one for a long time.)

        1. Djuna*

          For those of us in Europe, the timing of the daily questions and answers post is wonderful.
          First thing in the morning: cup of coffee and AAM. It’s been part of my weekday routine for years and I realized I’ve never said thanks – so, thank you!

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            It’s always lovely in the UK for sure, although I feel bad if I have to report an issue to AAM because it will be some unearthly hour for her!

            1. Magenta*

              I’ve been in the Philippines working for the last 3 weeks, the worst thing was not the jet lag it was not getting my regular dose of AAM at the “right” (UK) time!

          2. MsSolo*

            And another post at 4 (if you’re on GMT) to fill that end-of-work-day gap where it’s not worth starting something new but you still need to have your butt in your seat in case an urgent request pops up. Perfect!

            1. Audrey Puffins*

              And then you get that weird week where the US has changed their clocks but we haven’t so you sit there forlornly refreshing the site until 5pm.

    2. BRR*

      When it’s common though, would you still judge? My office is maze like and we all have near misses. My previous job wasn’t as bad but the restrooms were around a tight corner. It sounds like the LW’s office is similar and likely happens to others at the office.

      1. Allypopx*

        I wouldn’t, personally. I’d just consider it on the – growing, apparently – list of occupational hazards.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Really? You would think LESS of a person because they walk fast? Some people walk faster than others, and I’m guessing that because OP is shorter, has spent a lifetime of playing catch up with taller folks by walking faster.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        I worked with (an admittedly difficult) person who didn’t like that I walked fast. She thought I was “running in the halls” and it made it look like “something was wrong.”

        In reality I had a job where I had a ton of paperwork and limited time at my desk to do it, so anytime I had to print something I had to hustle to the printer-copier and back.

      2. JoJo*

        Yes. There was one woman who ran into everybody, all the time. She busted around corners and I don’t even think it was that — she always seemed to be paying attention to something other than where she was going. And YES YES YES. You get knocked more than once and you come to think there’s something off about that person.

      3. Avasarala*

        Like Locket, I would think less of “the coworker who almost runs into people all the time.” Regardless of how fast you walk, it shows carelessness and disregard for safety.

    4. Archaeopteryx*

      If she’s from a larger city then she currently works in, she could easily have naturally developed a quick and assertive walking pace at odds with her environment.

    5. B*

      I’m hoping I’m the exception – but in my case, I have no choice. Judge if you must, but my time is not my own and your frustration is aimed at the wrong target. I literally have meetings back-to-back all day for at least 3-4 days a week. This is not an exaggeration – I’m talking meeting end at 11:59, next starts at 12. All business critical, involving senior management etc.

      I am *lucky* if I find the time to hit the ladies room, grab a drink of water, snack etc. and – sorry, not sorry – me taking care of those things in the 30 seconds I have as I speed walk down the hall is more important.

      That being said, I don’t actually crash into people. I check my corners before I take them and I also have yet to acquire ‘stealth mode’ – when I’m speed walking you hear me coming! I’m also in New England, so speed walking in the office is not at all unusual.

      Obviously this speaks to much bigger macro issues at my place of employment, but my point is that most of the comments seem to be under the impression that people are choosing to speed walk.. just because, or out of disregard for others etc. but this is not always the case.

  7. Claude*

    #4 Depends on the manager obviously. There is a risk you are seen as less committed than other employees, performance or efficiency are different and may not make up for it. Also just the fact that you are around less makes you less available to a quick chat, less likely to be the go-to guy for others and you are not as visible when thinking about who to promote.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I work for the state, and I also think it probably depends on the manager. I have had medical appointments for myself and my kid, and haven’t been here long enough to accrue much PTO. I took a couple of day unpaid and it was fine. When I’m placing my request, I tell my manager how much PTO I have and that I’d like to take X time period and am planning to use Y amount paid, Z amount unpaid. But she is pretty casual about unpaid time off and it’s been sporadic and for medical, so I don’t know if that factors. You could certainly ask – I was surprised at how Not a Big Deal it was here.

      1. Risha*

        I think, as you note, requesting it for medical reasons comes across really differently than requesting it for “frivolous” reasons like a vacation. I’m a known opposite-of-a-hardass, and if I were a people manager I wouldn’t think twice about approving a medical whatever on the spot, but a request for an unpaid extra vacation would have me actually stopping to think about budgets and schedules and how it would look to my other employees. I wouldn’t hold it against them for requesting it, regardless of whether I approved it, but I could see why it’d come across extremely badly with some managers.

      2. LW #4*

        Yes, they’ve been fine with it in the past when I had prearranged stuff and hadn’t accrued PTO yet. And I suspect if I had a good reason for it, they’d be pretty chill about it. But I would definitely be less visible as a result of it.d

    2. Dream Jobbed*

      Government entity (especially education) might be very happy to have you take a couple of weeks off a year without pay. It saves them salary, payroll taxes, and (sometimes) retirement contributions. Sometimes that can help a struggling budget.

      Be aware you may lose some leave time if you are not at 100% however.

      1. Ferretygubbins*

        I’m in the UK not the US so work conditions are somewhat different. That being said I am a middle manager (I have minions and grand-minions) and whilst not common (I’ve seen it a few times in my management tree) this would not be a major issue. Usually the time-off would be requested as far in advance as possible and a staff member would be expected to use paid annual leave first (most are on 6 weeks plus public holidays) but other than that the only requirement would be to ensure that suitable comestibles (biscuits/cookies, and the like) are brought in on their return – the same as everyone brings in after their holidays.

    3. Unpaid*

      I worked at an employer that explicitly stated (I forget the wording) in the handbook that unpaid time off, if it was even granted, would reduce your next bonus, because you will have reduced the morale of your coworkers.

  8. LGC*

    LW2 – to be honest, I think being the height of an average American woman would help! I’m over a foot taller than you, and my main issue with corners is that usually people aren’t at my eye level. (Which means, since I’m never NOT going to be 6’5″, I need to actually pay attention.)

    Point is, I’m way taller than average and it’s still on me to not run people over. I feel like you – being average – have even less of an excuse.

    LW3 – “because she’ll be frosty to me” is a terrible excuse to not give feedback. If she wants to be mad you’re doing your job, she can be mad. (One of the things I’m fond of saying is that I’ll treat people like adults despite their best efforts.)

    Strictly speaking…I almost feel like the messaging is the issue here? I’m having a hard time imagining office jobs where you need to immediately be available at all times. And I don’t think it’s bad to say, “I’m busy, can we talk later?” I need to do it all the time. But I try to follow up ASAP. And I’m almost always in the middle of an intense job task if I’m saying that. And I SAY I’m in the middle of an intense task.

    I also don’t take double lunch breaks. Honestly, I feel like her lunch hour is…for having lunch, and with rare exceptions that’s what she should be doing. But that’s my opinion – and I can see the argument you make.

    1. valentine*

      I almost feel like the messaging is the issue here?
      In that the sandwich is the message. She should specify, “I’ll find you when I finish this email” and not take her real break at her desk because, even if she isn’t taking two lunch breaks, it already looks that way.

      1. LGC*

        Yeah, I was pretty verbose (because I accounted for everything), but she can appear like she’s taking two lunch breaks to others! LW3 did say that Employee works while she’s eating, but that’s not a great look.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Just please don’t lock down working while eating so hard that it becomes impossible for people who medically can’t or should not eat one big lunchtime meal. Diabetes & gastric bypass & reflux come to mind offhand as reasons people may be told by a doctor to eat several small meals instead.
      The problem isn’t the sandwich–the problem is that the employee isn’t really working if she’s not willing to answer questions.

      1. Sleve McDichael*

        Another vote here from someone who eats multiple small meals a day. I am ravenous at 11 and exhausted by 3 if I can’t eat a muesli bar or a cheese stick. Please don’t ban desk eating altogether.

      2. Annony*

        Exactly. It is fine to eat while working, but if you aren’t taking your break then work takes precedence.

      3. LGC*

        It’s a bit of a sidetrack, but…it depends. In my job (document management), having open food is a risk. (We’ve had several incidents over the years where employees have spilled food and drinks on clients’ documents.) So because of that, we generally have to crack down hard if someone is eating – like – a sub and working.

        We do allow people who need to eat during the day for medical reasons, though. They just need to be careful and try to stay away from anything that’s particularly messy.

        At any rate, it doesn’t sound like LW3 has this problem! It’s more that “I’m eating” doesn’t sound like the best excuse in this case, at least to me.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Even if she doesn’t need to immediately be available at all times, she doesn’t get 2 lunch breaks. Which is essentially what she’s doing if she’s eating while working, yet telling people she can’t help them BECAUSE she’s eating. You can’t have it both ways.

      1. LGC*

        Yeah, that’s kind of how I personally feel. I replied below about how I’m inclined to go with LW3 here, but I probably would have been much firmer with the employee here. (Even outside my personal situation.)

        I feel like since the employee is hourly, she is paid to be on while she’s on the clock. And she’s really making it look like she’s taking two lunch breaks here. That said – again, she IS working according to her boss! So I don’t want to push too hard here.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          Telling people she can’t help them until she finishes eating is not working. i.e. taking a break.

    4. Paulina*

      The need to be available to answer questions does also suggest that she should conform more regularly to the lunch break that is generally taken in the office. She won’t be available during the hour of her break, so it would be better if that was at the same general time as others’ breaks. And then adding in being unavailable while eating her lunch means two times that she can’t do that part of her job.

      1. LGC*

        I can’t believe I’m going to be a “Take LWs at their word (you meanypoopoohead)” guy right now, but…I’m only half inclined to agree with you here. LW3 did say that Employee does work while she’s eating, but she just puts off requests. So I’m not sure just how important answering requests immediately is to her job. (And by that, I mean – does she always need to drop what she’s doing? And if she does, please tell me what company and position she works so I know never to apply there.)

        1. Paulina*

          In turn I’m about 2/3 or so in agreement with you. However, I think there’s a distance between “must always drop immediately” and her regularly arranging to be unavailable at times when people need things, or having more additional things she is choosing to do that are getting in the way of answering requests. Few people should ever be expected to drop everything else when someone wants an answer, and I’d be right with you in completely avoiding such jobs. But there’s usually an expectation that the delayed-answerer-of-requests is being reasonable with respect to the deferrals and their own availability.

      2. Malarkey01*

        I agree with this. Where I work it’s completely normal response for someone to be unavailable due to lunch sometime between 11 and 1, and sometimes due to workload/meeting schedule someone might have to slip away late for lunch because it was their first chance to eat. However, if someone was routinely taking an hour break at 2 or 3 it would cause an availability crunch as it’s during the time everyone is working instead of the time only 30% of people are working.

    5. LGC*

      Funny enough, I was going to reply more but I was too swamped to (also, AAM crashes a lot for me on mobile).

      Anyway: So, I re-read the letter again, and this is what I honed in on:

      My employee likes to eat her lunch at her desk while she works and then use her “lunch break” much later (around 2:30) to run errands, talk on the phone outside, watch YouTube videos, etc.. In the past this has been fine since she has plenty of work she can do at her computer while she eats, and I want to do my best to allow her to use her breaks however she wants.

      (Bolding my own.)

      I’m just going based off my own experience as an hourly office worker (shift supervisor, to be exact). A lot of times I need to hop on production or else things grind to a halt – in fact, I was doing that yesterday. If an employee is asking me to determine whether something needs to be fixed…sometimes I really can’t drop everything. So, while I do need to be available…I also get to say “no” sometimes! And I don’t want to discourage that.

      I think there’s a couple of other issues:

      1) the employee is not making it clear that she’s only unavailable for 20 minutes – people think she’s actually at lunch
      2) I’m not sure whether she is following up when she’s done eating (because while she doesn’t need to jump up immediately, she should follow up as soon as possible because she is working)
      3) OH YEAH THE LAW

      Like, I have extremely strong personal feelings about this – I know exactly what I would have done (sternly told the employee that her lunch is 12 to 1 because of the way this looks), but I’m not sure that’s what would work for LW3. And I’ll admit that I’m strict in this way, and that might not work for LW3.

  9. Anon Because Ashamed*

    Alison, you tie smell to poor hygiene and kindly acknowledge that poor hygiene can be caused by medical issues.

    It’s good to remember that smelling bad can also be caused by medical issues. For example, I’m gluten intolerant – and when I do ingest a bread crumb, I stink. There is nothing to be done about that (except to avoid gluten, but mistakes do happen sometimes) – within minutes of leaving the shower I smell like I “stepped into something”.
    Before we knew it was gluten, my parents refused to believe I ever brushed my teeth because I had permanent morning breath. (After I got sick of being lectured for not brushing my teeth barely half an hour after I had spent fifteen minutes doing just that- 9-year-old me did kind of give up on regular brushing.. which no one noticed because the smell didn’t get any worse.)

    Sometimes smelling bad can be fixed – sometimes you might be better off giving the employee their own office (With windows that open, please) and trying not to come to close.

    Not relevant to this letter per se but just in general about body odour.

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Apparently renal failure is another big contender for making people smelly.

      Then there’s certain skin infections.

      1. WS*

        Untreated or poorly controlled diabetes is another one. And sometimes the treatment (like coal tar shampoo for psoriasis) can smell too!

      2. Lady Heather*

        My flatulence smells like poppies and my gangrenous foot like Nivea Soft.

        – well, no. The poppies is regrettably a lie.
        If you ever want to be a realistic zombie on Hallowe’en, though, mix Nivea Soft with rotting meat and you’ve got it in one.

          1. Lady Heather*

            *that last sentence should have been something like “and you’ve got the smell down instantly”.

            I had a leg that died and started rotting while still being attached to my body.
            It stank in the sickly-sweet putrid stench of rotting flesh – and the sickly-sweet part of it was exactly the same as how Nivea Soft moisturizing cream from a jar smells.

            I now have a prosthetic leg. And I don’t have any Nivea products. For some reason, the smell turns me off.

            1. Quill*

              I can imagine!

              Actually, no I can’t, because 0.0 but I understand the ‘for some reason that smell coming from a grooming product is now extremely yikes.’

            2. Blueberry*

              This is really useful information (one of my hobbies is writing) and I’m really sorry you had to learn it the hard way!

      3. Quill*

        Kidney and liver stuff – sometimes only certain people can smell that too!

        I had a high school teacher who nobody else seemed to be able to smell… until he walked by my desk. Then I can only describe the smell as “chex mix and zombies.”

        I never got confirmation of what the problem exactly was, because that wasn’t my business at ALL, but I mentioned it to him once and his only response was “sorry about that, my doctor knows and you don’t have to worry.”

    2. Mongrel*

      I think a recurring problem is that while there are multiple, legitimate, reasons for the employers can only act on what’s in front of them. The unfortunate employee should be the one to bring it up to the employer so that an appropriate accommodation can be put in place.

      Medical issues can cause odour issues as can depression & other mental health issues (as I understand it) but just poor hygiene can also be an issue. The best a manager can do is have the awkward conversation as sympathetically as possible with the understanding that there may be an underlying issue.

      1. Not Australian*

        Another consideration may well be that the employee has no sense of smell; I’m married to someone who lost his sense of smell after an accident (although he’s meticulous about personal hygiene as a result) and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to try to describe smells to him – nice or nasty. It’s a particular delight when we’re driving and there’s a sudden smell of burning from somewhere under the bonnet…

        Anyway, what I’m saying is that the employee may be unaware that there’s an issue, rather than uncaring of it.

        1. Fikly*

          Off topic, but my grandfather had no sense of smell. He worked on elevators, and one time didn’t realize there was an electrical fire behind him because he couldn’t smell it. Thankfully someone happened to walk by and alerted him.

        2. Mongrel*

          Again, it’s not the bosses job to magically divine reasons why may be occurring in the hopes of pre-empting reasons. Have the conversation, be nice and be ready to say “I’m sorry to hear that, how can we move forward” or “Let me look into this and get back to you but don’t worry we can sort this out”

          1. Count Boochie Flagrante*

            I don’t think the boss needs to magically divine the reason ahead of time — but it’s good to go into the conversation prepared to hear that it’s something that will trigger ADA protocols. That’s something it would be really awkward to be blindsided by. That also means that the boss can brush up on what they should be offering to the employee if that’s the case, and be best prepared for the conversation.

      1. Lady Heather*

        There’s a difference between a medical condition that causes poor hygiene (which Alison mentions) and a medical condition that causes bad odour (which Alison doesn’t address).

        Medical conditions that cause poor hygiene: not being able to do laundry, no motivation/energy to shower, needing help to shower but your home health aide only comes twice a week. Sometimes these things are partially mitigatable, sometimes they’re not. (Perhaps your home health aide can come on Mon and Thu morning instead of Wed and Fri, which will see a partial improvement. Maybe there’s someone else you can ask to help with the laundry. Perhaps knowing it’s causing a problem at work will help you work up the motivation to shower more often, or invest in a shower seat to conserve energy.)
        Medical conditions that cause bad body odour such as liver/kidney disease, skin conditions, above mentioned gluten allergy – can’t be mitigated. (Trust me, we’re aware of the problem, we can’t fix it, and we’re still trying to find a way not to stink up a room.)

        It’s important to be aware of all three possibilities: the employee might be able to fix it, the employee might be able to improve it and the employer will need to accept/accommodate that, or the employee might not be able to do anything about it and the employer will need to accept and accommodate that.

        And not just think ‘it’s poor hygiene so we should be able to expect SOME improvement, if not a total remedy’.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I have to say from experience, just the employee in question being honest about it and explaining that they are working to find a fix with a Dr can go a long way to helping soothe things with other co-workers.

          It doesn’t make the smell magically go away, but the fact you are trying to fix the problem can possibly get you some sympathy in the mean time.

  10. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    LW4 – Alison is spot on about coverage. Even if you manage your own caseload, you’ll complete less work over the year than they had planned for.

    I would readjust your expectations from “once or twice a year” to “once, exceptionally, as a one off” for a special vacation. More like a sabbatical.

    And if you regularly want more vacation, you may need to change jobs to get it. Is that an option?

    1. Anonariffic*

      What I’m wondering is how and when the cases are assigned? It’s one thing if everyone on the team reliably gets 2 new cases every Monday and OP knows she can finish those off early and then take a long weekend without inconveniencing anyone else. It’s something else entirely if more cases are coming in all the time and the people in the office with currently open cases would end up having to take on extra new ones because OP and her empty caseload are out of town again.

      On my small government team, we get lots of little 1 or 2 day requests all the time but occasional major ones that can take weeks or months to finish- if everyone else has a major incident tying up their time, the person with the lightest caseload absolutely needs to be present and available because they’re going to have to cover a lot of the little stuff while the others handle the big ones.

      1. doreen*

        I’m wondering about that caseload, too – I’ve had jobs where cases are assigned a month or more before any work is actually due, and one where being assigned a case means you leave for a field visit within minutes. In the latter example, that meant you were removed from the rotation in advance of taking time off. Which would normally even out if everyone is taking say 4 weeks off – but not if you’re taking 8 weeks and others are taking 4.

        In addition, both jobs involved various types of “emergencies” – not 911 type emergencies, but cases where some work was required that couldn’t wait until the assigned worker returned form vacation. You can work ahead and get all your reports, etc done prior to leaving on vacation – but that doesn’t mean something won’t happen on your caseload that someone else needs to handle while you’re out.

        This is one of the reasons that neither government I’ve worked for allows for short unpaid leaves ( a week or two) except for medical reasons. They will allow longer unpaid leaves of absence ( like a couple of years) but those are long enough to adjust staffing ( employee on leave is guaranteed to have a job when they return, but it might not be the same assignment in the same location.

      2. kittymommy*

        There’s also going to be the issue of benefits and how the agency is going to calculate them. PTO/sick leave likely wouldn’t be an issue, but insurance and/or retirement might be depending on the contribution levels of the two parties.

        1. Anon govt workerbee*

          Yes, I came here to say this! Unpaid leave could really mess with your benefits. Also, my agency had to lay off a ton of people in the recession and they were required to do it by seniority (aka # of hours someone has worked at the organization, and unpaid time does not count). There were some instances where who got laid off and who got to stay came down to a matter of hours, I kid you not. Hopefully you’re never in that situation, but these are things to consider

          1. LW #4*

            Oooh that’s a good point about messing up benefits, I hadn’t thought of that. Definitely don’t want to risk that.

      3. LW #4*

        To provide a little more information, I’m a lawyer in an agency with 40+ lawyers. I get assigned 3-5 cases per month, which is pretty much a fixed assignment rate for everyone at my seniority level in the office, and they take anywhere from 1 hour to 2 weeks to complete. Our cases have long deadlines (due 6+ months after assignment, with a fixed schedule after that), so it’s very easy to plan ahead and work extra before a vacation to get stuff done.

        But, I definitely see some possible issues. We have quarterly “rebalancing” of cases, where people who are ahead on case completion take cases from those who are behind, so I wouldn’t be as available for that as I have been in the past. And, though I have almost zero client contact, I would have to ask a coworker/coworkers to cover my desk in case someone does decide to call and ask about something.

        1. Joielle*

          I’m also a government lawyer and in this situation, I’d be more than happy to cover your desk or take some small amount of additional rebalancing work (which is only sort of abstractly tied to you taking more vacation). It sounds like you’d still be doing the standard amount of work expected of you. Averaged among 40 lawyers, I don’t think this would cause a noticeable amount of extra work for anyone.

          It sounds like in your situation (and mine too, which sounds kind of similar), there may be some small impact to coworkers, but not much and not directly attributable to you being gone, which I think is key. If it was like “OP is gone next week so someone has to cover court for her on Tuesday and we all have to split her 50 client calls” or something, I can see people getting upset. But it’s such a small and indirect/non-quantifiable effect on your coworkers that I can’t imagine having a problem with it, personally. I think this is a really different situation than most people are used to, so I would take it with a grain of salt that some commenters think this is a huge deal.

    2. Governmint Condition*

      I agree with this. Where I work, you could ask for this once or twice in your career, not once or twice a year.

    3. CheeryO*

      Yup, unpaid time off is a no-go in my state agency unless it’s a truly unusual circumstance. I think it’s mostly a slippery-slope type thing. Sure, you’re an efficient worker and could get everything done in 46 weeks instead of 48 (or whatever), but there are many people who could not do that. Plus, there’s probably a certain element of butts-in-seats where you need to be available for new assignments or one-off questions, and it’s going to grate on people if you’re seemingly always gone.

    4. Annony*

      Yep. Asking for an extra week off (even paid ) twice a year is a lot. Getting any unpaid time off may not be doable, but weeks is not realistic. Maybe try to ask for one or two days attached to a three day weekend? Or find out if it is possible to shift your schedule sometimes to work 4 10s so that you get that extra day off a week. That should at least allow for some extra domestic travel.

      1. LW #4*

        That’s a good idea about the 3-day weekends. I’m already allowed to telecommute one day a week, so if I did that work on the plane/train/whatever, I’d be able to stretch out the time a lot. Unfortunately, although they’re very flexible about where we put 8-9 hours in a workday, we definitely need to be working 5 days a week unless you’re part-time (a thing usually reserved for new parents).

        1. Anon415*

          Without knowing what agency you work for, I’d be hesitant to assume teleworking from a plane, train, etc. would be acceptable. I’d imagine that working as a lawyer exposes you to some sensitive information that wouldn’t be appropriate to work on in such close quarters with strangers. Read your agency’s/organization’s policy thoroughly.

          Is there any way for you to work any OT? If so, if you put in for comp time instead of OT and that’s a great way to build up some extra leave. I did that my first few years of Government work, and have been enjoying my use or lose the past few years since I was able to accrue annual leave without burning it right away.

    5. LW #4*

      Unfortunately, changing jobs isn’t really an option. I’m a lawyer for the state, and working for the state is literally the only place where I can do this kind of work full-time. It’s pretty much my dream job except for not having as much vacation as I would like!

    6. Joielle*

      And see, in my workplace I think it would be just fine to take an unpaid week or two off every year for vacation. I work for the government in a position where everyone in my department has completely separate assignments, and without describing exactly what it is… I’ll just say deadlines are VERY flexible and we don’t handle anything that would be an emergency. The length of an assignment can vary wildly, so you can’t really compare one person’s workload to another unless it’s a HUGE difference. One person being gone a week or two more than another wouldn’t have a noticeable impact on anyone else’s workload.

      So for OP4, I’d say just ask! Maybe don’t start by saying you want to do it every year, just see how it goes the first time. Hopefully when you get back you can judge whether people were impacted.

  11. MistOrMister*

    OP3, my knee jerk reaction, as someone who eats and takes the actual break at different times was a huge eye roll and internal YES YOU ARE BEING TOO NITPICKY screamed in my head. Until I sawthe employee is asking people to leave while they’re eating. That’s the one thing us (good) desk eaters don’t do. I will certainly ask you to give me a minute to stop chewing so I don’t have my half masticated food falling out my mouth. But if someone needs something and I’m on the clock, I always help them. The caveat being if they need me to run hither and yon, but it can wait a bit and my food is hot. Then I would make sure I knew what they wanted and that they knew I would get it to them shortly. But, yeah, the employee can’t be turning people away when they’re not on their actual break….

    1. valentine*

      the employee can’t be turning people away when they’re not on their actual break….
      They can, but it needs to be for other work, not food.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This for me is the key thing to address – if you’re in the middle of a work process you can ask them to come back (or go find them) in a few mins when you finish.

        Asking them to come back when you finish eating and then later disappearing for an hour on break gives the appearance of two breaks. This I think is what should be the focus for that letter.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      I was thinking the same thing. I eat at my desk and then take my lunch break later. I have to drive home, let my dog out, and take him on a walk, and I wouldn’t have to do all that and eat in an hour. But I definitely do put my meal aside when people come in to my office and help them. If your employee is not doing that, you need to have a chat with them. I wouldn’t tell them they can’t eat at their desk, but definitely say that if they are on the clock, they need to be available to help.

    3. Quill*

      When I take lunch at my desk (as I will be doing today) I usually set that time aside for emails or data crunching because 1) talking to people with mouth full? No thanks. 2) when a lot of other people are on their lunch hour I can get some blessed peace to concentrate.

      That said OP3’s subordinate isn’t making those optics work for her in any way.

  12. MistOrMister*

    OP2…..I also have a tendency to almost run into people. I’ve got 4 inches on you, so it is likely not your height. I don’t tend to be shooting along, but I do have a tendency to hug the walls when I approach and turn a corner. And I’m hugging the inside wall,not the outside where people would expect me to be. I have no idea why I do this, but it seems to be what leads to most of my near collisions. Maybe you do this as well? Since I’m not walking briskly, I don’t ever actually collide with anyone, but I definitely would have done by now if I was moving faster. So probably definitely reducing your speed in blind spots will help.

    1. Allonge*

      Yes, be as visible as possible! We have actual walls, so it’s definitely not height, but take the outside route and yes, do try and slow down a bit, OP2 – you are walking, so it’s unlikely to make a big difference in saving time.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I used to splat into people a lot at early jobs. I blamed my height at first (I’m an over 6 foot female) so tried to hug walls. But it only stopped when I became disabled and needed to use walking aids. My height hadn’t changed, but my speed had.

      Suddenly it was a realisation that I’d just been going too fast all those years! If I’d changed my behaviour way back to walk more carefully I’d have not bashed headfirst into the CEO that time…

    3. CTT*

      Same; for some reason I’ll really hug the wall and end up having near misses when going around corners (I think for me it’s a combo of speed + most of the doors/offices are on the outside wall, so I’m leaving them space). For some people, myself included, you just have to actively think about how you’re walking.

  13. Rexish*

    #4I work for the public sector whch means we are trying to save money. Therefore we are encouraged to take unpaid time off upto 4 weeks within a year. I would ask your manager what is the policy in your workplace and work accordingly

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      I work for the public sector and they are obsessed with our hours coming out exactly to 40. If they accidentally schedule me for 39.5, I have to use 30 minutes of my accrued leave to male it up, they will not just pay me for 39.5 hours. I have no idea why.

      They do this with part time employees too. If they normally work 3 days a week and they want to go away for 8 days, they have to ask for the 3 days off plus the other 5 to make sure they are not scheduled for any of those days even though they are not normally scheduled for any of those days. And they have limited days they can ask off in a year which get used up quickly on these “days off” that they don’t normally work.

      1. Stormy Weather*

        Oh jeez, public sector timekeeping! I feel your pain. I have never run into such unnecessary nit-picking.

        I had to deal with paper time sheets and every block of time had to have its own special code. If you were 15 minutes late but stayed 15 late (I was exempt) and didn’t code it correctly, there’d be a long discussion with payroll to get it fixed.

        Part of it was because ‘stealing time’ was one of the few ways they could fire union employees because there would be documentation.

      2. Liz*

        Regarding the part timers, do they actually take those days out of their annual leave allowance, though?

        I’m part time, but if I’m booking a big chunk I’ll book the whole period as being off work, but only claim the equivalent of my contracted hours during that time. It’s impossible to claim any more than your agreed hours as paid leave per week.

        1. Thankful for AAM*

          @ Liz
          They do take the “extra” days off from their leave.
          They get 12 hours of paid leave a year and a limit of 15 days of unpaid leave – they don’t get “sick” days.
          So if my coworker needs a week off to schedule and recover from an operation and then later in the year wants to take a holiday, she will find she has used up her 15 days – say 7 for the operation (that was actually 7 days but 3 of them would have been working days) and 8 for the holiday (again, really 3 days but she had to ask for 8 to make sure she was not scheduled for days she does not normally work). There are no more days off for her so if she does get sick or needs to not be scheduled for something later, she has to get special permission.

          1. doreen*

            If I’m understanding you correctly, it’s not that they’re using their paid leave for the days they wouldn’t have been working anyway – it’s more like there’s a separate limit on how many days they can request not be be on the schedule.

      3. LW #4*

        Wow, that’s terrible! I’m exempt so timekeeping is more of a “write 8 hours on your timesheet for every day that you worked” kind of thing, but yikes.

    2. Colette*

      Yeah, it really depends on the workplace. For example, in the Canadian federal public service, there is a program that lets employees take a minimum of 5 weeks without pay but the loss of pay is averaged out over the year.

      1. uncivil servant*

        And of course even that all depends on operational requirements. If I asked my manager for LWIA right now, she’d probably laugh hysterically.

  14. Mystery Bookworm*

    #3 – I wonder if the late lunch break is causing some of the issue here!

    If you’re saying her lunch hour is 2:30, but she’s also legally entitled to a break around 1:00…that’s a bit confusing. She may well feel that she’s eating on her legally mandated 20-minute break, even though she’s working…and thus feel ok about not being ‘on-call’ to colleagues (If I’m understanding your letter right). Maybe something to keep in mind when you raise the issue with her?

    1. Mookie*

      Yes, and I am mystified by Alison’s suggestion that both the hour lunch and the 20 minutes should both be taken before 1pm, with no room for breaks thereafter. That seems counter-productive and not aligned with the spirit of this company’s own policy on lunch.

      1. Julia*

        I don’t think she has a lunch hour AND 20 minutes. The state mandates that employees have to take a break of at least 20 minutes after five hours, which for most people who start in the morning is around lunch time. Most offices give you more than 20 minutes, and in this case, everyone has a one hour lunch break that is NOT in addition to the 20 minutes.

        Legally, the employee cannot wait until 2 to take her break because the employer would get into legal trouble. That means she either has to take run her errands during the lunch break everyone takes after the five hours and eat before or after it at her desk, or use it as a normal lunch break if she doesn’t want to run errands when everyone is on their break.

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        That’s not exactly what Alison suggested, and it wasn’t a suggestion, it’s the law. Employee is not exempt, so legally the company has to provide them with a 20 minute break after working for 5 hours. She gets a TOTAL of 1 hour for lunch per the company. Because she doesn’t actually take her lunch break until after the 5 hour mark, it could cause legal problems for the company. She’s choosing to eat and work at the same time, so she’s turning people away while eating even though she’s not taking a break. If she wants to take a later lunch break, she needs to take 20 minutes by 1pm, then an additional 40 minutes later in the day.

      3. scroogeOP*

        I should’ve included it in my original question, but our company also allows 2 15 minute breaks throughout the day, which she utilizes to socialize or make phone calls or whatever she does away from her desk. its not just the lunch hour. Sorry for the confusion!

        1. Dream Jobbed*

          In this case I would have her eat during her 15 minute break before 1pm, and take the one-hour off the clock break whenever she wants. If she’s spending an hour eating (even if working) and takes off another hour, that’s going to make everyone else resentful.

    2. Daisy*

      It’s not an ‘also’. The legal requirement is 20 minutes, their company gives an hour, but the employee is taking the hour too late (by her own choice) to meet the minimum requirements. I doubt the employee is even thinking about the legality (and it doesn’t sound like that was OP’s main concern either)- Alison’s just pointing out an extra problem with what she’s doing.

    3. LGC*

      This is a case where you put on your bossy pants and tell them that the law doesn’t care that you ate a salad at noon on the clock – you’re required to go on break by 1 PM.

      That’s what the law means – and the record will show that she’s normally not taking breaks until the day is almost over. I’d rather avoid that headache.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        A thought–if her start time is 8:30 or 9am and the state also mandates a short paid break during that time, she may still be legal.
        But then the employee should probably go to the break room for her 15 minute snack break. Or wherever people congregate on official breaks.

        1. D'Arcy*

          It really depends on the state. Oregon requires two 10 minute rest breaks and a 30 minute meal break for an 8 hour shift, but many states only require a meal break and no rest breaks other than the meal.

          1. LGC*

            Yeah, state laws do vary. And then you have company policy to contend with, too.

            The way I read LW3, non-exempt employees need to take a 20 minute break after working five hours. For my organization, we normally require an hour break for employees scheduled more than 5.5 hours in a day, and we generally offer a separate paid 15 minute break in the morning. (I did not write the policy.) My state’s break laws are a bit looser than that, but it doesn’t matter in my case.

            For what it’s worth, we don’t usually allow employees to eat while they’re working and encourage them to put their keyboards up and paperwork away if they are eating. (I have seen some HORRIFIC keyboards, and we’ve had several cases where people have spilled food and drink on clients’ documents. So yes, there’s a business reason!)

            1. scroogeOP*

              We are similar on the break front, I realize now that there was a bit of an omission n my explanation about the breaks. Most people here are of the same mind about “lunch hour”, that its a time to eat and get away from your desk, which is why people are so hesitant to approach when she’s eating, but not on “break”.

      2. 202*

        This. When I was super young and just starting out in the workforce in my very first office job, I used to work right through the “normal” lunch times, work straight until 4 and then just call it a day, without ever taking a break to eat (which is obviously also super unhealthy but that’s a different conversation). My thought was, “it’s my hour so why would they care if I use it to eat or use it to leave at 4 instead of 5, don’t they get the same amount of work either way?” My boss kindly but firmly told me that it needed to stop because they were legally required to ensure I had a break earlier in the day. If I could understand that explanation at 16, I’m sure LW’s employee can understand it too.

    4. MicroManagered*

      This was my thought too…. the late lunch breaks don’t work. Both for the company and the employee. I’ve known some people who simply don’t need or want to eat lunch until 2-2:30 in the afternoon and actually do not go to lunch until then. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.

      Also, if she is in a role where she needs to be available to assist others, being unavailable in the middle of the afternoon (when others are generally working) sounds like it’s a problem in itself.

      The legal part I don’t care to comment on. It might be that she is entitled to a 20 minute *paid* break at that time–the letter doesn’t specify. In that case, she might be on solid ground to have her 20 min break around lunchtime and then take her unpaid lunch break later? But it sounds like the true problem is being unavailable in the middle of the afternoon.

    5. scroogeOP*

      I realize that I forgot to include some information that our company allows 2 15 minute breaks throughout the day. I apologize again for the omission. Really my question is more about the sense that some “double dipping” is happening here due to our office culture surrounding lunch breaks. I really don’t mind if she’s eating at her desk as long as she is still 100% available to assist people, rather than turning them away while she eats. She utilizes her 15 minute breaks to get up form her desk and do other things.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        I see what you’re saying! Yes, that changes my thoughts, as I was running with the assumption that she was starting to feel a bit burnt out (I’d definitely be hungry and need a break from talking to people after 6+ hours). But it sounds like your company has accounted for that.

        Good luck with speaking to her – it’s always hard to talk to someone who doesn’t take feedback well, but I think you’re definitely right to notice and respond to this!

      2. Kes*

        It sounds like at least 20 mins of that lunch must actually be a break where she’s off, so the problem isn’t her turning people away during that time, it’s the later break.

        I wonder if she has kind of rearranged or split the breaks in her mind, ex: 20 minutes of lunch is actually a break and she’s taking the other 40 minutes later.

        Either way, I think it’s worth a discussion with the employee about breaks and availability to help people so that you are both on the same page about what is allowed and what is expected

  15. Chili*

    #1: This question is so interesting because hygiene in the workplace can be tricky to discuss, but I feel like it’s a red herring. A reference check/ talk with a former manager isn’t going to cover every single thing about an employee. Hiring managers should be aware that they’re going to get the major highlights and lowlights and there will always be concerns and incidents that aren’t included. It sounds like while hygiene was an issue for this employee, it wasn’t even one of the top ones. This hiring manager is being unfair to expect that you would have mentioned absolutely everything. They should know better.

    Also, presumably the hiring company interviewed this person and didn’t note any aroma. If you had said, “this person smells,” I’m guessing the hiring manager would have ended up hiring them anyway because the employee would have come to the interview without a notable aroma and the hiring manager would have assumed you were being weird/mean until after the employee has started working. It sucks to hire someone and realize they weren’t what you hoped, but the hiring manager is being unreasonable by pinning this on you.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m trying to think of a single situation where I’d contact a previous employer of a staff member and go ‘why didn’t you mention the smell?’ and I honestly can’t think of one. If I’d not noticed it in the interview that’s kind of on me.

      1. londonedit*

        Same – and I also can’t think of a situation where I’d respond to a request for a reference with ‘Oh yes, she worked here last year, her work was fine but she really smelled’. That just seems unnecessarily rude and personal, and not something you’d talk about in a professional reference! Especially as you’d have no way of knowing whether the employee still had a problem with BO or not.

      2. LW 1 OP*

        Letter writer here, I think he only reached out because we are friend-ish. We run similar departments in a pretty small field so we interact quite frequently. ( I’m talking we likely talk on average an hour a week about various things, so we’re pretty connected). I can only assume that he feels I broke some sort of friend-code because as just a person who checked references, yeah, it would be totally weird for him to be mad.

      3. Chili*

        If the employee had been fired for their smell/lack of hygiene/ whatever, I think it would have been fair for LW to bring it up, though I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to. Especially because it had been a year and hygiene can definitely change.
        It’s rude of the hiring manager to reach out in this way about anything short of crimes, imo. I would only maybe feel compelled to reach out if I found out after hiring someone that they had been fired for, like, sexual harassment or embezzlement.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed – this is the only time I think that hygiene should ever be relevant in a reference check – when repeated hygiene issues are the reason for dismissal (and yes medical issues can impact hygiene, but if is a case where medical issues/ADA aren’t raised, it is absolutely fair to have a minimum standard, even with those issues a minimum standard is fair for all).

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Coming back to add if this is a reference after any serious time has passed I would add something about this having happened a while ago and that I have no current information about the situation. As other commenters have pointed out things can change over time.

    2. LW 1 OP*

      Letter writer here, I told them that I would not rehire this lady and my coworker did the same. You are right to me, here smell was not her top issue (or even in the top five) and I laid out those issues so I was incredibly taken aback that this is what the hiring manager chose to be mad about.

      1. Myrin*

        It’s probably because bad smell is really obvious to outsiders even if they don’t know someone at all which isn’t the case with bad performance.
        For you and your coworker, who’d worked with her for years, smell was a smaller issue because you were dealing with what sounds like really substantial problems with her work and behaviour first and foremost.
        But as you wrote this letter, your former employee had been with this new company for all but a week, where performance problems probably weren’t very apparent yet, but they could easily detect and focus on the smell.

        (Also, thanks for interacting in the comments, and in such a timely manner to boot – it’s really nice to be able to have a conversation with the OPs!)

        1. LW 1 OP*

          That’s one of the reasons I made sure to do that this morning. I always love it when OPs interact and answer questions! Plus you never know what other part of the story someone might need to read before making a judgment. :)

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Honestly, I think you did all you could to be fair to both the former employee and the company that was hiring her in that reference check from what you have reported. I don’t know how you could have known that the smell was going to be what the new job was complaining about after only a week.

      3. Tedious Cat*

        Maybe the smell just got noticed before the other weaknesses, which might not be as obviously apparent? Regardless, the reference checker was wrong to get mad at you. I also want to echo how nice it is for you to interact in the comments!

  16. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

    LW#1: What did the employee say when you spoke with her about the smell?
    do you know if there was a medical issue or something?

    1. LW 1 OP*

      Letter writer here, I do not believe it was a medical issue (but you can never be 100% – I’ll just say that she never said it was a medical thing). When we would talk about this she would say that she started showering at night so she would go back to morning showers. She’d get better for a time and then we would start the process over and it would be a new excuse. When she worked in my department (about a year and a half) I’d say the first half of that time she was fine and I never noticed anything. So I was only really involved for a bit. The rest of her time at my company she was in a different department and basically smelled the entire time. That manager let HR deal with that which didn’t really do anything.

  17. Shad*

    I’d always interpreted the law around breaks (using the 20 minute break after 5 hours example) as meaning that for a shift over 5 hours, you were entitled to a break some time during your shift, not that it had to begin within 5 hours of starting your shift. But I could definitely be wrong.

    1. doreen*

      I depends- some laws are just written to require a break for a shift of a certain number of hours and others are very specific. For example, in my state a break is required for a shift of six hours or more and must be between 11 am and 2 pm for a shift that extends over those hours and requires a break at the midway point for shifts that begin between 1 pm and 6 am

    2. Antilles*

      It’s very location-specific. The city I grew up in had a municipal law requiring a 30-minute paid break for any employee who worked more than a 5-hour shift, BUT there were rules that stated that the break could not be in the first hour or last hour of the shift.
      Other places are more flexible on the breaks – as long as you have them, it’s entirely up to employer/employee discretion when they occur.
      …And of course some places have no requirement to provide breaks period.

  18. Phillip*

    #3 I feel like this is not actually impacting anything and your own concern that you’re making something out of nothing kinda backs this up. If she’s saying “can I get to this when I’m done” and the response is “yes,” then it seems it was not time sensitive nor a problem. If folks started complaining about wait times it might be different.

    1. Coyote Tango*

      That was my first thought as well. Unless she’s an EMT, surely 20 minutes to break and eat are not causing a massive problem if she’s otherwise a great employee. In most jobs it is impractical to assume employees are firing in all cylinders from open until close without stop except for one break. Heck in our state even WALMART gives you two paid 15 minute breaks on top of your lunch (not legally mandated).

      1. Jake*

        The issue here is that the employee is claiming they AREN’T taking a break to eat. They are non-exempt. So they are being paid for this time they spend eating then taking an unpaid hour later. The job is to respond to requests and she isn’t doing that, and yet being paid for that time.

      2. scroogeOP*

        They do get other breaks. the issue here is that they are asking to handle things later while they are eating, and then later is when they take their break. I’m having an issue getting over the double dipping, and I’m just not sure of i’m making up a problem. It seems like there is the opportunity for this system to create frustration when people try to follow up later and she’s out for an hour. The separation between lunch and break times also makes scheduling meetings in the afternoon very difficult.

        1. Phillip*

          So on that last point I would say “we need you to take your lunch breaks earlier” does seem valid, as an issue separate from the desk-eating.

        2. Lisa*

          You seem to be reacting to a theoretical problem that hasn’t actually surfaced? If she eats at 1, presumably taking less than an hour, and then takes her actual break at 2:30-3:30, that leaves plenty of time to “get back” to people. The hour from 1:30-2:30, the time from 3:30-5, the next morning if it’s not urgent.

          Also, schedule meetings any time you like. I work through lunch and eat at 1, but if I have a 1pm meeting, I eat in the meeting if it’s casual, or I eat beforehand. You seem to be making this hard in your head, but it’s really not.

          1. Phillip*

            Yeah, it seems like they have a vague feeling that this is improper, naturally want to pin something concrete to it to justify that feeling, but nothing concrete actually happened so it’s all just hypotheticals. And honestly not particularly scary ones imo.

    2. Colette*

      The issue is that people who are working have to wait for her to do something that is not work while she is also (supposed to be) working – i.e. she is not on her break.

      1. Phillip*

        Happens all the time. See also: in the bathroom, on a non-work-related call, away from desk engaged in water cooler talk. This one just reads as petty annoyance to me. Like, I get it, but this seems like not a “real” issue.

        1. CheeryO*

          Those things happen at different times throughout the day, though, and generally only take a minute or two. It’s not the same as being unavailable every day for big chunks of time at both at lunch ‘o clock and at her actual lunch.

        2. Language Lover*

          A bathroom break is usually quicker than eating a lunch.

          And an employee should absolutely stop water cooler talk if a work need be presented to them.

        3. fhqwhgads*

          I hear you on those examples but I think the LW’s case is differnet because it appears this happens every day with the same employee. If the person were deflecting work every day while not on a break for a non-work-related call or while at the water cooler chit chatting, that’d be a problem too.

      2. Coyote Tango*

        If the work is that mission critical why is only one person doing it? What if she has the flu or needs a day off? How will people get anything done??

        1. Jennifer*

          That’s a good point. They need to cross train someone. Doesn’t change the fact that she needs to be available while she’s eating, but yes, it sounds like this employee is the only one people can go to for certain problems.

          1. Paulina*

            I don’t know… there’s quite a lot of room between “not time sensitive at all, anyone can answer” and “mission critical, must cross-train.” Here we have specific people who are the go-to support for certain types of questions. If they’re not available, people can usually wait a bit, or go to the higher-level person involved. (For example, the admin support person for the program I administer handles most of the low-level questions.) But there’s a big difference between being able to cover, wait, or make do if the person is sick or for the occasional schedule rearrangement (or planned coverage during her vacation), and regular unavailability for non-special reasons that hampers others’ work or makes other people cover when they shouldn’t have to.

            1. Coyote Tango*

              There is, and generally 20 minutes is not in that frame. If a function can’t regularly wait 20 minutes (because let’s be fair — she could have an upset stomach, be on a phone call, working on other things, consulting with another coworker, doing training, etc) then there needs to be more support.

              If it can wait 20 minutes and the main issue is that she’s eating and telling people she’ll be with them in 20 minutes then maybe the conversation is ‘Hey, it’s fine to snack but you have to help people’. But even in the letter above it notes that she ASKS the person if it can wait, so presumably the other person is capable of identifying if it is truly an emergent issue. Really, the employee seems ok, and those needing help seem ok, but the manager is not ok because… ?? time theft I guess? But the letter even says she’s working at her desk on other work. She’s just not dropping everything she’s doing to immediately help a person who has already assured her that it’s no big deal to wait.

              1. Jennifer*

                But we don’t know how long she’s taking to eat. I got the impression it’s taking longer than 20 minutes. Then she’s immediately leaving for another hour. That’s a two hour block potentially that she’s unavailable.

              2. Senor Montoya*

                Hmm, well, if someone’s eating and they ask if I can wait because they’re eating, I’m going to be polite, apologize for interrupting lunch, and say of course I can come back. I guess that’s on me, but it’s a pretty standard social convention, don’t interrupt someone’s lunch without a really good reason. The issue is, she’s not at lunch, she’s just eating.

                I eat small meals at odd times. If it’s not my actual break and I can see somebody hovering at my door, I’ll put my food down, give the one-minute gesture, swallow and wipe my mouth, and then say, thanks for waiting. Because I’m eating, but I’m not at lunch/on break.

                OW’s employee is not doing this. She eating while working and is apparently unwilling to do part of her job (answer questions) when she is eating-but-not-on-break.

        2. Colette*

          Having to cover for a coworker because they are sick or on vacation is different than covering for a coworker because she likes 2 lunch breaks a day.

      3. B*

        How is that unusual? Or effectively any different than if people have to wait while she works on something for someone else first? Just because she isn’t on break doesn’t mean she has to drop what she is doing to immediately address whatever is brought to her. Unless, of course, that is literally the nature of the position.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      The time sensitivity is irrelevant in this case. If she chooses to eat at her desk and work, she needs to work, not tell people to come back when she’s done eating since she’s NOT on her lunch break.

      1. Phillip*

        She is working though, she’s performing her solitary tasks. She’s only delaying the collaborative stuff, and given she’s receiving no pushback, it seems to not be a problem.

        1. Joie*

          I have an issue with the picking and choosing just because she’s eating. If there’s a pattern of needing to circle back to people as your in the middle of a work thing, alright but I get the sense (an assumption) that she’s creating this window to do desk things so that she can eat uninterrupted and then takes a break later.

          If you want to be uninterrupted, take your break.

          I am a desk eater because I eat lunch between 10 -11 AM (I start really early) and the choices are I work through, or I take a real break to be uninterrupted. Why would I get to tell people to pause their work and come back on my schedule (likely when I’ll be gone because I take my break mid-afternoon usually when everyone else gets back from lunch) because I want to shove a sandwich in my face at my desk? That would bring it up to a 3-4 hour window I am delaying other people, because I want to shove food in my face uninterrupted.

          1. B*

            How is this any different than any other preferred (or optimized) time management approaches? My work is a 50/50 split between collaborative meetings, and solitary work involving a LOT of number crunching, and a lot of money – high stakes requiring sharp focus. I perform best at the solitary functions first thing in the morning. There are times where colleagues will need to wait a few hours to get the information they need etc. because I haven’t shifted to that portion of my work yet. It’s never been an issue, because we all manage our own times and workloads based on what is best for the overall goals of the team and company. Sally might need to wait a bit, but Sally also knows that me performing at top efficiency is more crucial to the bottom line than every request being handled like a hot rush emergency.

    4. Jennifer*

      But the letter states that employees are coming back to get an answer to their questions only to find her unavailable again because she’s on her real “lunch” break. Then she gets back at 3:30 and the day is nearly over. What if they had an issue that needed addressing right away and that may take some significant time to fix?

      1. Phillip*

        I’d think that’d be a valid thing to mention when she asks, “do you mind if I finish eating first?” I mean, she’s asking, she’s not unavailable, she’s not not-working.

        My last job started at 7am and many folks brought their breakfast with them. I hated this because I didn’t, and I additionally (weirdly) cant stand food smells outside of food-related areas. It was a production job, everything was time sensitive, and things definitely had to wait while people ate. Ultimately though, it never rose to the level of “an issue,” and it doesn’t seem to here, either. I mean, LW isn’t saying deadlines are getting missed, they’re not saying work is piling up, and they’re not saying anyone else has raised the issue.

        Yes it’s kind of an imposition, but work’s not gonna be totally frictionless. This seems too minor to me. Everyone’s threshold for that is different though!

        1. Jennifer*

          But a lot of people are going to feel uncomfortable saying, “No, go hungry. I need help immediately!” I’d feel like the biggest jerk saying that. Same as if I asked someone a question and they told me they were about to head to the restroom. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable stopping someone from meeting some kind of urgent biological need.

          I do see your point, though. At my job, it’s no biggie to wait a few minutes to give someone time to finish breakfast or whatever because most questions I would have could be answered in a few minutes and it’s usually not going to be urgent. It sounds like this workplace may not be quite as laid back.

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          But who’s going to say “yes I do mind if you finish eating?” Unless it’s a true emergency, most people aren’t going to tell her to stop eating and help them. It’s not just an imposition for others, it’s unreasonable. If you want to eat uninterrupted, take an actual break.

        3. Elsajeni*

          I think the issue is that when you say “can I get back to you when I’m done eating?”, the message you’re sending, whether you mean to or not, is “I’m on my lunch break, can I get back to you when I’m done?” Other people in the office take a lunch break at their desks, so it’s not obvious to them that she’s not actually on break; the office culture is that lunch breaks are sacrosanct, so people don’t want to interrupt what appears to be her lunch break. Yes, she’s asking, but given the context, it’s “asking” in a way that doesn’t really allow for a no. I would at least address this as an optics issue, along the lines of “we don’t want to give the impression that our department is never available”; she can block that time out for solitary work, but if she has to turn away requests during that time, could she please make it clear that it’s because she’s working on something else, not because she’s on lunch?

      2. Well Then*

        To me this seems like the real issue. 8-5 is a long day to work with just a lunch break if you’re tied to your desk with no breaks the rest of the time, so personally I’d try to avoid cracking down on her. But, if I were her coworker and needed something from her in the afternoon, and she was on an hour-long “lunch” break at 3 pm, that would be annoying.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          I seriously doubt this is the case. It’s 9 hours and includes a 1 hour break. If you choose not to step away from your desk for that hour when you’re expected to be there to cover stuff, then that’s on you. And any reasonable person would allow their employee to step away for 5 minutes a few times a day. This is about employee seemingly wanting to take 2 lunch breaks, and that’s not ok. You want to eat at your desk and take your break later in the day? Fine, but don’t expect to be uninterrupted while you’re eating.

        2. Senor Montoya*

          Especially if I had gone by earlier, asked to wait because she was eating, and then came back and she’s….at lunch.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The way I read it, they’ve hired her to be available for questions seven hours a day. Currently she’s not, because she’s taking two separate lunch breaks. That’s an issue, and the OP just needs to talk to her about it.

  19. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    LW5, one caveat for the freelancing is if there were any relevant skills that you might have picked up doing the assignments that you want people to know about. I have a few on and off freelance gigs that give me experience doing something that is desired in my field, but rarely available in most positions. If you want to emphasize a skill from the freelancing days, you can mention it in the cover letter and add in something like this to your resume just in case not everyone sees the cover letter:
    “Selected Short-Term Contracts, Freelance, and Volunteer Positions”:
    Wrangler of Cats * Editor of Squirrel Memoirs * Training Facilitator for Sloths ”
    I do a horizontal bulleted list to save on real estate, don’t bother with dates and the organizations since in is in my cover letter, and put it at the end of my resume.

  20. Garlicky*

    #5 I’ll like to ask a related question about taking out irrelevant experience from the CV. I’ve had a completely different career for about 15 years, then I retrained into something else. The retraining required another set of qualifications, so in theory my previous degrees are redundant/irrelevant. This means that I’m a good 15 years older than most candidates for the same jobs, but my new CV would look like one that belongs to a younger person. While I’m a fit and youthful looking person, I wonder if it’ll seem somewhat confusing and duplicitous to interviewers if I removed 15 years worth of professional experience from my CV.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      In your position, at the end of my experience in my current field I would probably do this:

      1995-2010: Industrial Hygienist for Corgi Clockmakers
      Employer 1 (dates) * Employer 2 (dates) * ….. Employer N (dates)

      That way you can show you did something, but only use up 2 lines on your resume for unrelated career time

    2. Red Fred*

      On my resume, I’ve got a “Prior to 2005” section with VERY brief descriptions of the work and no dates attributed to them (ex. Teapots, Inc. – Systems Supervisor of inventory planning solutions for a $100M teapot manufacturer). That way I don’t completely lose the experience from a 20+ year work history, but I’m not giving up a bunch of real estate on my resume.

      1. Garlicky*

        Red Fred – well, yes, while I’m proud of the real estate on my CV, I sometimes suspect there may be ageism at play in HR departments. Hence, my curiosity about taking out info about having had a previous life from my CV. My new industry is structured, very competitive, and there is some truth to the claim that they like to “take and mould bright young things”. I guess I am wondering if it’ll work in my favour not to disclose an entire previous career (in writing at least).

  21. Tim C.*

    #3 – I question how productive someone is while eating even though some work is getting done. Work hours are for working and lunch is for eating. I have had issues where I see employees standing in line for 20 minutes at the coffee bar then later eating bagels while performing morning duties. Mid morning they all then say “time for first break!”. No one can complain to me about workload if this is going on. I would be all for banning specific activities while on the clock, eating being one of them. You would not want them watching YouTube or reading People at the same time, especially if productivity suffered. The fact that other employees are not complaining is not relevant. Peers usually do not complain unless their work is impacted significantly. How would you answer to this if your superior were to observe this behavior? What could be the ramifications for your department if layoffs were possible?

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      I suppose it depends on the nature of your work. If you do a lot of reading documents etc. I can see it being very easy to read and eat at the same time. If you are on the phone or typing a lot, then I don’t see how it could work that well.

    2. Antilles*

      “Work hours are for work and lunch is for eating” is really situation-specific. The way to look at this is in terms of the business impact.
      First off, as a general thing, there are a lot of people who can be perfectly productive while eating. In fact, not only is eating at your desk while working totally normal, there are a lot of companies where nobody would care about someone having a Youtube video playing on a second monitor, a podcast running in your headphones, a sports game streaming while you work or whatever – as long as it’s not impacting the business (missing deadlines, refusing to talk to people, lagging the network, etc), it’s perfectly acceptable.
      Secondly, what is the job in question? If you’re an hourly employee with clearly defined start and stop times, then sure. But for many salaried employees, this sort of minor time usage would fall under generic “flexibility” that goes both ways – sometimes the company needs me to stay late a deadline day, sometimes they need me to call into a meeting at 7 am…and sometimes I’ll take 10 minutes to read online news. I’m not clock watching to be exactly 40.00 hours a week and in exchange, they don’t clock watch me. Also, as Miss Pantalones noted, it really depends on what the work entails.

      1. Terry*

        OP make it pretty clear that the employee is hourly/not exempt, so the kind of flexibility that you’re talking about isn’t relevant and could cause legal problems for the company. It’s actually pretty important for non exempt employees to have a clear distinction between work time and non work time.

        1. Antilles*

          I was replying to the generalization of “work hours are for work and lunch is for eating”. As I said, it’s situation specific.
          For OP’s situation in particular where it’s an hourly non-exempt employee and a job that seemingly requires coverage, then yes, it’s important.
          But it’s *not* a general rule that should be applied across the board. For a salaried employee, “work is for work and lunch is for eating” is likely overly strict…and will absolutely cause resentment if you’re getting on people’s case about spending 5 minutes eating a bagel and then turning around and expecting them to stay late to meet a deadline.

    3. CheeryO*

      Most of my coworkers eat at their desks either before or after taking a lunch walk or running out for food or errands. It’s really not an issue if most of your tasks are routine office things – it’s not hard to eat a sandwich and mull over an email or read a document.

      Also, banning eating while on the clock is a surefire way to piss off anyone who needs or strongly prefers to snack between meals. Again, it’s not hard to eat a few almonds or a piece of fruit while working. Most of us are not THAT busy.

      1. Cinnamon*

        Banning eating during work hours reminds me of all the college professors who banned food & drinks in their classroom. There is no reason to treat everyone like children.

        1. Senor Montoya*

          My rule is: it can’t be noisy, smelly, or otherwise distracting. Anyone who is bothered by another person eating, talk to me about it. (Had a student with a scent-sensitivity who did not want to be the person who made sandwiches go away; I just threw myself under the bus for that class and said *I* was having a scent-sensitivity and that was the end of food for that semester’s class)

    4. CrookedLily*

      You’re lumping eating in with watching YouTube and reading People as if it’s purely a leisure or entertainment activity. It’s not. Eating is a life-sustaining and health-managing activity, along with using the bathroom, hydrating, taking medications, etc. You wouldn’t ban these other activities, or if you tried to you’d be butting up against OSHA regs, the ADA, and possibly other laws. It’s already been explained that many people can’t just eat one meal at a designated time. Snacking throughout the day may be required to keep blood sugar stable, to accommodate a reduced stomach capacity due to weight loss surgery, to manage metabolism, or any number of other reasons. As a person with disabilities, it can take me the whole hour just to get lunch and unpack it, and set it up so I can eat it, thus I will still be eating when I’m back on the clock.

      Employees are not robots that you take ownership of during work hours. They are human beings who do have the right to take care of their own bodies while working, which includes feeding them.

    5. Quill*

      If you’re reading and sorting, it’s easy to do with one hand while the other is clamped around a sandwich.

      If you’re majority typing, doing it one handed is operating at 50% efficiency. (Except if your typing is keypad only or you’re doing steno / court reporter typing.)

  22. writerboy*

    #4 I am assuming you work in the US, and I don’t know much about how your civil service works, but in the Canadian public service we have a thing called Leave with Income Averaging. It obviously needs manager approval, but it also cannot be unreasonably withheld. The way it works is that the employee works for (for instance) 10 months of the year instead of 12, but still gets paid year-round, with the paycheque being reduced appropriately. It is often used so a parent can stay home in the summer while children are out of school. My telling you about this might not help if there is no such scheme in place where you work, but it shows that if labour and management are willing to be creative and flexible, situations like yours can be addressed equitably. Because it is in collective agreements, the employer just deals with it, just like if someone quits or takes long-term sick leave. Like Alison says, if your work is already good, you can always ask. Maybe they just need someone to suggest it.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Where I work (in US, but this is not universal down here) I have the option for what is called LWOP (Leave With Out Pay) which at my agency is reserved for emergencies during your first few months when you may not have accrued much or any leave but need to take time off. It can also be negotiated at the start of employment if you have something preplanned and paid for before you accept a job there (depending upon business needs in this case).

  23. DiscoTechie*

    I’ve got to pipe in on #2. As a 5’3″ gal a few coping skills develop in life. 1) To keep up with your taller cohorts in life you develop a super fast walking pace to make up for the 1.5 step you have to take to every one of their 1. Hence your natural pace is fast. 2) Tall cubes are hard to see over if you’re short. Last job had 6′ tall cubes. 3) I would make noise, slow at junctions, and really considered carrying a box of TicTacs or some other noise device to alert folks to my presence. I feel for you in the maze of cubes, I’m liking the open office plan I have right now because we can all see each other coming.

    1. Alcott*

      We have a bunch of narrow blind corners in my office. I always joke that we need to put bells on everyone.

  24. Jedi Squirrel*

    #1 — It’s also possible that in the intervening year, the smell has gotten considerably worse. She may be able to cover it up for an hour-long interview, but not for an eight-hour weekday.

    1. LW 1 OP*

      It’s very possible. She did get worse when she left my department where I feel like I addressed it early and often. When my coworker let HR handle it, I feel like they maybe only addressed it a few times and never followed up on whether it was in check or not. Perhaps she did get worse or they have a smaller space than we did so it was more noticeable. In our office we are a mostly open cubicle farm type floor plan, but in her new company I think she is sharing a small office with someone so it could just be a proximity in closed spaces thing that makes it a much bigger deal.

  25. Argh!*

    Re: #1 – this sounds like a hazardous situation in the event of a fire. Also, possibly not ADA compliant.

    If egress & access aren’t issues, then yeah, just slow down.

  26. Lora*

    OP2: My office has a particularly bad blind corner right by the break room, of all places, where it’s not just crashing into people but crashing into people holding hot coffee cups. And people of all heights did this, it is just a badly designed high traffic hallway configuration. The way we deal with it is, we have two convex mirrors directly across from the doorway and where two long hallways meet, so you can look up just a bit and see the people coming around the corner ahead of you. Our Facilities guys installed them, I don’t think they were very expensive. It’s not perfect because there’s often contractors and new people in the office who aren’t in the habit of checking the mirrors, but it helped a lot by the time a few months had passed since the installation and people consistently remembered to glance up before turning the corner. Maybe this would help your office layout?

    1. Laney Boggs*

      We have half-sphere mirrors in two blind spots to see who’s coming around the corner. Caveat that I’m attached to a warehouse so they’re very gung-ho about safety and perhaps my perception is skewed, but it does seem like regular crashes could result in an injury.

      1. OP 2*

        OP 2 here. This does happen to others in my area, and we have joked about getting those mirrors like the ones in parking garages, I should possibly bring it up seriously. Yes I do walk too fast for the layout, the restrooms and breakroom are not close so I guess I feel like visiting them is a chore to get done quickly to get back to my desk. (No one’s timing me, it’s my own reluctance to interrupt my work especially when I have a good flow going). It also occurred to me, I could limit my travel during the time 10 minutes till and 10 minutes after the hour, when people are leaving for and coming back from meetings, lunch, etc
        The group with the disembodied heads tend to keep to themselves but they are really nice when you need to interact with them.

  27. Crate, not Carte.*

    We’re in cubicles here, but with full height walls (and doors! yay!) but people often will pop out of their cubes w/o looking to see if anyone is already coming and barge right into those already in the mazes.

    To me this is what the letter writer meant but maybe I just read it that way due to my own experience. I now peak out the door before entering the walkway which are not quite wide enough for people to walk side by side.

    Our cubes are on the inside only so everyone *should* be walking along the outside but they don’t and there were a couple of times I’ve almost had my head taken off so it’s a balance to find the right amount to peak.

  28. Government worker*

    #4, it is possible that working for the government will make taking LWOP *less* possible. At my employer, it’s a paperwork headache because not only do you get paid less that month, but you also earn less annual/sick leave (which accumulate monthly). Your insurance benefit would have to be adjusted as well. So my government employer frowns pretty strongly on LWOP and doesn’t grant it for non-emergency situations. YMMV, of course.

    1. No Name Yet*

      Yes, as a US federal employee I was thinking exactly this. My vague memory from taking a week of LWOP as part of maternity leave is that the rules were slightly different because it was under FMLA, but both insurance and accruing leave would have been impacted if it wasn’t FMLA, and HR REALLY doesn’t like dealing with that.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Thirded. It was brought up in my onboarding that if there is an emergency that comes up before you have accrued the necessary leave it can be considered – but that it is generally never considered for “I want a vacation” before you have accrued the necessary annual leave.

      I know for one of my new co-workers they approved some LWOP in advance because they had a pre-planned major family vacation (co-worker thought it would take longer than it did to find a job, employer is working with them on it). However, this is an exception and not the rule by any stretch of the imagination.

      1. LW #4*

        Yes, my agency was fine with me taking 2 weeks of LWOP for a family vacation right after starting because we had already planned the trip, bought tickets, etc, but I have not gotten the sense that anyone else takes it once they’ve started accruing PTO.

    3. Senor Montoya*

      As a state employee, LWOP = possible change to insurance eligibility (depending on how long you are away), adjustment to retirement benefits, adjustment to annual (vacation) leave, adjustment to sick leave, adjustment to time-towards-vesting for retirement. If you take enough LWOP, you can’t get a parking permit / have to give up your existing permit, can’t use the gym, etc. I was on LWOP for about 6 months once (care for sick family member) and it was really expensive, not just because I wasn’t getting paid.

  29. Laney Boggs*

    My job has those big half-sphere mirrors on the corner of one wall and by a doorway of another. It doesnt help when you’re walking down the hall and someone comes out of a row of cubicles, but it cuts down a little.

    Is something like that feasible for high traffic/collision areas? It seems silly but someone could get injured, so that may be worth pushing for.

  30. Allison*

    #2, I too am short and I tend to nearly bump into people, and it probably is because I walk fast. I’m not necessarily in a hurry and I don’t fancy myself an important person, I just have a naturally fast walking pace and I need to put some effort into slowing myself down when I need to, and I do need to move slowly when I’m in an office with lots of corners and high walls, because you really don’t know who might be coming from the other direction.

    It’s frustrating though. If I walk too slowly and there’s someone behind me, I feel like I need to pick up the pace and MOVE or get out the way! Because maybe they’re important and will get mad if I prevent them from getting to the very important place where they need to do the very important thing. But if I walk too fast and encounter someone who would prefer to take it slow, my pace might be jarring to them even if I don’t get close enough to bump into them.

  31. Senor Montoya*

    OP #2. Slow down and actively look forward for hazards. It’s just like driving — you really do have to consciously watch where you are going.

    I do this too when I am walking fast and not paying attention, and I’m considerably taller than you are. When I make myself look ahead, I stop crashing into people.

  32. hamsterpants*

    I am another person who, left to her own devices, would walk into people ALL THE TIME in my cubicle-farm office. Things that work for me, in addition to slowing down:
    1) Walk in the center of the aisles, not up against the wall.
    2) People’s feet are the first thing to move forward as they step, before the rest of their body, so I deliberately look ahead and at the ground for feet. It sounds silly but it really works for me!
    3) In a really constrained area, I will sometimes snap my fingers, quietly enough that I hope it’s not too intrusive, but loud enough that most others will hear.

  33. Adlib*

    OP #2 – I feel you. I sit in an open office plan in a 4 story building, but it’s an amalgamation of 3 historic building that have been here forever. The layouts are crazy (but we’re a design firm so we’re working on it), and I have near misses quite frequently. I haven’t hit anyone yet, but close calls happen often with everyone I think! Good luck!

  34. ASW*

    #4 – I really wish more governments would move into the 21st century when it comes to flexibility. I work for a government agency and everyone accrues vacation time based on how long you’ve worked here and there is almost no chance of negotiating more. Then senior management wonders why we have trouble recruiting for high-level positions. They are presumably hiring these people for the many years they spent elsewhere gaining experience, but then they want to treat them the same as someone in their first full-time job when it comes to vacation time. I was hired in as the head of my department but yet I’ll have to work here for almost two decades before I have the same amount of vacation as I had at my last job. I took the job anyway for other more important reasons, but the longer I’m here, the more irritating it becomes that I can’t take more time off.

    1. GigglyPuff*

      I had to turn down a job, and that was a massive factor (there were other big ones too but yeah). I was going to move from one state govt to another state academia. Where I am now, I get X days plus figured out I usually take an average of X+2 days of comp time per year. I have a chronic illness, family out of state, and enjoy my time off. Plus if I’m interviewing, it’s usually out of state and requires 2 days. This state, for a tenure track job for the first two years offered X-2 days/year. Then after two years you got X+5 days a year. I was set to start earning X+5+comp time this year at my current job. Plus my current job keeps rising every five years until it caps really high. This one never went higher than X+5 for a tenure track job, it was less than every academic job I had seen. Just couldn’t do it. My vacation days are important.

  35. Mel_05*

    OP#2 I sympathize, because I have often had the same problem. I’ve also improved it…by walking slower. It really is that I like to walk quickly, but in a maze with a bunch of other people, you just can’t.

  36. Grey*

    #1: If you address an issue with an employee several times and get no results and the problem persists to the point that HR has to get involved, I’d mention it to a hiring manager. If not because of the smell, because the employee refused any attempt at correcting an ongoing issue.

    If you want to use the argument that it’s not related to job performance, I’ll reference the guy who shows up to work with the “fat girls can’t jump” decal on his truck.

    1. LW 1 OP*

      I never actually involved HR in the smell issue when she was my employee. HR was involved by my coworker when he managed her because he was afraid to address it with her as he is a man. I addressed it the few times I needed to, but she had bigger problems overall which is why I was in the process of letting her go. It’s a process here and I was in the final stages when coworker took her on despite my warnings about everything. To tell you how specialized the skill set is, he was willing to overlook all of that as well (just like her new boss).

  37. Librarian1*

    Didn’t the person who hired her interview her in person? Or did she manage to not smell for the interview?

    1. Michelle*

      That’s the part that is baffling to me. Either she knows she has a smell and took extra effort to not smell at the interview or she has some sort of other issue that was not apparent at the interview. Maybe it was a large conference room with better ventilation and now she is in closer quarters for the workday and it’s noticeable?

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      My thought is that most people put extra effort into their grooming for an interview so it is definitely a possibility that A) she didn’t smell that day or B) the room they were in was large enough and they were far enough apart for it not to be a thing. I know when I interview, I wear my extra strength anti-perspirant and deodorant as well as my expensive (but light) perfume (normally use deodorant with no aluminum so while I don’t smell, sometimes things get a bit damp and I don’t like that in interviews).
      Could also be she is an evening shower person who sweats a lot in her sleep or something along those lines and she showered right before the interview. Or if it is a clothing/laundry issue, suits generally need to be dry cleaned so that also wouldn’t be a factor in an interview the way it would be in day to day life.

    3. COmmenter*

      Our company hired an employee who did not smell at all during her interview, which was held in a very small office. It was on day two or three of her employment that we noticed that she smelled and her hair wasn’t washed. She also had such bad breath that it was noticeable within a few seconds of her entering a room, and the smell would linger for a long time after she left. I think she only showered once a week, and I believe she had dental issues, as she was a huge soda drinker. Mondays were not too bad, but by Friday, it was close to unbearable.

  38. Green great dragon*

    UK government but unpaid leave was one of the very few things I could offer my staff, so I’d say yes if I could.
    Before you ask, think through the impact- can you schedule it at the quietest time of year, and would it be easier to swing one big block for an amazing break to distant place or a few short trips?

  39. Jennifer*

    #1 I’m surprised that the hiring manager didn’t notice the smell during the interview process. It’s possible she put in a little extra effort when she interviewed or maybe she had a relapse of her depression or some other mental illness. But honestly, I can understand why the hiring manager was a bit upset. It’s kind of a big deal and was an ongoing problem for years that the employee never corrected. It should have been mentioned. If she’s customer facing, it’s an even bigger deal.

    #3 If she’s working while eating, and a big part of her work is assisting people, then she needs to help them and eat at the same time. I know if I go by someone’s desk and see that they are eating, sometimes I leave and come back another time. But a significant part of her role is helping others, this is a problem. She needs to make it clear that she’s available. If she can’t manage that, then she may need to make other arrangements for her errands and actually eat during her lunch break. She’ll have to figure that out on her own. But let her know the current arrangement isn’t working.

  40. Jaybeetee*

    #1: I think you did right. Honestly, if you had given what sounds like a fairly negative reference (even with some positive points), and also was like “AND SHE SMELLED”, it would have come off petty more than anything else. I’d side-eye a manager doing that in a reference, especially if there were already negative things to say.

    That said, I’m hoping your friend meant telling her, uh, socially, rather than professionally, if that makes sense? If so, you might be able to smooth it over by saying you had your “manager” hat on and would have felt unprofessional mentioning it (because it would have been unprofessional to mention it).

    On a side-note, I tend to feel bad for people who get BO after just, like, a few hours of not showering. A long time ago, I dated a guy who showered 2-3 times per day, and if he skipped one… you knew (he was also quite athletic, so DEFINITELY needed to shower after a workout!) Nothing medically up with him as far as I knew, just kinda prone to getting sweaty and ripe after a few hours. I’m over here showering every second day and as long as I wear deodorant, no one even blinks.

    1. anon for this one*

      I wonder if this could be the case. My girlfriend’s daughter showers daily and wears deodorant, but when she comes home from work (a job where she’s on her feet a lot) and throws her clothes down the stairs for us to wash, the smell would knock you back. Her hygiene is fine; she just has a naturally strong smell.

  41. GigglyPuff*

    #4 something to keep in mind for state government, most likely any unpaid time off will not go towards vesting/retirement. I got vested at 5 five years, and had a job offer and had to do the math down to the day on when I would vest/could leave. If I had taken any time off unpaid over the five years, I would’ve been screwed. Just FYI.

    Also are you an exempt state govt employee? Could you build comp time instead? I’ve never heard of issues of unpaid leave in my dept, but the only times I’ve seen it done were people who just started who got illnesses/child issues, or medical problems. I’ve never heard of it for vacation leave, and might get some side eye where I work. But we do have easily option of occasional comp time…

    1. LW #4*

      I am an exempt state government employee, but I’ve never heard anyone mention comp time! The expectation is basically that we get our work done, which takes anywhere from 35 to 60 hours a week, depending on what kind of cases you handle (e.g., how senior you are). So no one is getting additional time based on working overtime, unfortunately.

      1. doreen*

        You might want to check into details. When I was in one state government job, I didn’t officially have comp time. So if I worked 15 extra hours one week , those hours weren’t added to a bank to be used whenever I wanted. But my timesheet covered a 4 week period, and when I signed it, I was certifying that I worked or used leave for 150 hours over those 4 weeks. I was free to adjust my schedule within that four week period and did so frequently. Nobody would have mentioned comp time because it really wasn’t comp time.

      2. Senor Montoya*

        Depending on the state, you may not be eligible for comp time (as in, you have to put it on a time card or request it thru your employer’s online leave system) but your manager may unofficially flex your time.

  42. CanCan*

    OP4 – Start by asking your employer if there is an unpaid leave policy. Since it’s government, it’s pretty likely that there is one. (For example, in my government agency, you can take one unpaid leave less than 3 months long and one unpaid leave between 3 and 12 months long – throughout your whole government career! Since I plan to work here at least another 20 years, I’m saving up the possibility of unpaid leave for emergencies – e.g. family health emergencies / elder care.)

    1. LW #4*

      Wow, that would be great! (Though I admit I would save it for the most amazing honeymoon ever, knock wood, if we had that). The policy in our manual just says “ask the people in charge,” so I’m guessing there’s no formal policy, but it’s definitely worth asking.

  43. Allypopx*

    LW3 – it sounds like you’ve been giving this employee more leeway than she’s earned. You can set her lunch hour to a specific period of time, especially if there’s a legal impetus to do so. You can tell her she needs to do all her personal business during that time, including eat. If she wants to snack at her desk or something else throughout the day, you can make it clear that’s only allowed insofar as it doesn’t impact her work.

    I get that might feel scroogeish or strict. But she’s abusing your flexibility (lightly, I don’t mean to be alarmist, but still). She has other performance issues. She has a job where her being available is important. This is a perfectly reasonable way to manage this employee and it sounds like she really needs more structure – probably just to perform the role as it stands, but also so you can keep a closer eye on her and manage her effectively.

    1. Blueberry*

      I agree with this. I answer both internal and external questions, and I tend to eat at my desk for greater flexibility in when I eat, so I eat cold foods that can be held in one hand and I’m ready to pause in eating if someone needs something from me. I think that kind of arrangement would be reasonably doable for people who work from set desks.

      (Also, as someone who haaaaaates being criticized, I have been working on learning to take criticism with less panic and fewer tears, because, well, it’s necessary to receive and it does neither me nor my coworkers and employers any favors if they can’t tell me what they need from me. I think it is within your rights as a manager to encourage your employee to become better at taking criticism, as well as ultimately to her benefit, and of course Alison has great advice on how to do that.)

  44. Amethystmoon*

    #3 — I’ve never worked anywhere that had that kind of a flexible lunch, but I’ve been hourly 99% of the time. It’s only been recently that we were allowed to work remotely one day a week, and they’re pretty strict about it. So I guess that would never have occurred to me to do errands separately, but I would absolutely have been talked to sternly if I had done something like that. I save my errands for evenings and weekends, especially Saturdays.

  45. Bookworm1858*

    For OP2, my work has a couple of blind corners like when leaving the restroom and I’ve learned to stop and peek around the corner before proceeding. It feels like overkill but I was tired of collisions.

  46. Language Lover*

    How long is she eating at her desk?

    Does she get shorter 15 minute breaks in addition to her hour long break and is she managing to eat her lunch during that shorter break?

    If so, I do think you’re being a bit of a Scrooge. However, if she’s essentially taking an hour to eat at her desk and not available for outside questions during this time and also unavailable during her official lunch, you should speak with her.

    It may be that you tell her that she needs to be available to answer questions if she’s at her desk.

    I supervise employees in a public facing role. They are entitled to an unpaid 30 minute lunch. Most would rather work 8 hours without a lunch break. The rule is they can work while eating lunch without having to take an unpaid break as long as they put aside their meal should someone need help at the service counter.

    1. Jake*

      I think if the employee wasn’t turning away coworkers asking for things I would agree with you. Regardless of how long she is taking to eat, it is affecting her ability to perform all of her duties. As your employees do, she needs to set aside her meal to assist, rather than have people come back when she is done eating. It is the ignoring duties rather than the amount of time spent eating the LW seems to be focusing on, at least in my read.

  47. Arctic*

    #4 From my experience there is good news and bad news for you with government work. Government agencies tend to dislike doing unpaid leave because it interferes with vacation and sick time accrual and retirement calculations. If you aren’t being paid you don’t accrue during that time and it doesn’t count toward your retirement, which can be a pain in the neck. (My organization also dislikes part-time for this reason but they do it.) On the other hand, governments tend to actually have an explicit policy about unpaid leave unlike any other place I’ve worked. It’s usually envisioned for sick time and family emergencies but it’s usually allowed with a lot of strings attached.

  48. Abcdef84746443*

    The reference checker asking about the employee’s smell was out of line. If a reference check asked me that question, I’d state “I’m not aware of any such thing. So-in-so worked here from (dates)” and only talk about pertinent info regarding the employee’s work. I think it could open up a liability issue and I’d avoid discussing it completely.
    I worked at an office years ago with any employee who bathed infrequently and had body odor. The issue was addressed with HR and the person was warned the odor was preventing coworkers from getting the work done and causing a “distraction.” The employee began bathing frequently and the odor stopped. It turned out the employee suffered from depression.
    I feel there is no excuse for frequent body odor that makes a workplace unpleasant and causes people to gag. Odor due to a medical issue is an exception and accommodations can be made for that. It must be addressed in a polite professional and sensitive manner with HR and the employee privately and the employee be given ample time to correct it and/or assistance needed if it’s due to a medical /psychological issue. I saw employees use excuses of “cultural issues” yet when warned by HR tbe odors caused a “distraction” and affected work performance of other employees, the person with the body odor started bathing and corrected the issue or they would face termination.

  49. Rose*

    LW2: Short People problems. I slightly disagree with Alison (a rarity!) regarding LW2. While the bigger issue is probably the fast walking, as a short person, I can tell you that I get bumped into/bump into people a lot because people don’t look for me and make the natural space most of us make to avoid colliding. Taller People simply don’t move out of my way sometimes; I don’t know if they don’t see me, if they assume I am smaller than I am, or if it’s a power thing (since I am woman and most often this happens with men). Slowing down may help some, but it may still happen.

    1. Llama Face!*

      Fwiw, I am above average height for a woman and men still do that to me. I think of it as thw walking version of man-spreading (where guys angle their legs way out and take more than their own designated space while sitting on buses & such). I have actually played chicken with oncoming dudes while walking along the sidewalk where I look right at them and don’t shrink myself/move over for them. It’s about 50/50 whether they move a *teeny* bit over or just bash into my shoulder without apologies. So, yeah, it is very gendered in my experience.

      1. Quill*

        I learned to play sidewalk chicken in high school.

        Teenage boys learn so, so much faster than grown men about that.

      2. Filosofickle*

        Men are oblivious to other men, too! My BF is so tired of other dudes running into him on city streets that he sometimes plays chicken just to see if they’ll move if he doesn’t. Usually he’s a polite guy and moves out of the way, and he’s tired of people who take advantage of others’ willingness to yield. Some people are just rude, regardless of gender, though men and sidewalk-hogging groups seem to be the worst offenders.

      3. Cattiebee*

        Every day I cross a few crosswalks where the “street” I’m crossing is just a driveway into small lots for people who have been smiled upon by the parking permit gods. Everyone ignores the lights because there’s so little traffic. But once I got into (mild) trouble crossing against the light. So, now I wait for the light while everyone else jaywalks.

        Every. single. day. there will be men who are jaywalking who will not change course even though I am a stationary object waiting at the crosswalk and they are crossing against the light. Even when I am at the crosswalk first. Even though I’m not moving. Even though they’re crossing on a red light. This isn’t one of those funny little dances that happen when two moving people try to navigate past each other. They see me waiting for the light as they approach the crosswalk! And they walk straight at me. When I really don’t feel like dealing with it because I’m tired, sick, whatever, I’ll just move out of their way. But most of the time I’ll prepare for impact. What angers me isn’t the pain. It’s their surprise. Their genuine surprise that I didn’t step out of their way.

        I can’t recall a woman ever doing this to me.

    2. She's One Crazy Diamond*

      I am 5’3″ and experience the same thing. There have been a lot of studies and social experiments regarding men not getting out of the way for women and white people not getting out of the way for people of color. I am a white passing woman of color and my husband is and looks very Jewish and no one ever gets out of our way. It’s frustrating, but it’s life.

  50. EasyCheesy*

    My current employer allows people to take unlimited unpaid time off and it’s a NIGHTMARE for me. Of five people in my area I’m the only one really needs the money from this job–the others are all married to men who make the lion’s share of the income in the household, and most of them have cottages or vacation homes in other locales they obviously want to make use of, so they are constantly taking time off. One woman takes a whole month off three times a year!! I’m almost always helping to cover for at least one person who is on vacation, and there have been numerous times when I’m the only one of five people in my area at work for days at at a time. Because I can’t afford to take unpaid time off, I’m rarely out of the office so there is a major lack of reciprocity and it’s making me resent all my co-workers.

    1. LW #4*

      Oooof, that sounds like a nightmare. We’re much bigger and all trade off coverage for each other (for example, four people are currently out on parental leave and it hasn’t hugely impacted anyone’s workload because it’s distributed among so many people), but that would be so awful. I’ll keep that in mind.

  51. LPUK*

    #2. I am also a fast walker and my main problem is automatic doors – something about the combination of my size and speed means the automatic eye often doesn’t see me. I’ve walked straight into the doors many times – never stops being embarrassing and I’ve learned to take doors more slowly to avoid it!

    1. Quill*

      I watched a toddler thunk right into the automatic doors at the library some time ago and strained something trying not to laugh.

      He bounced!

  52. yala*

    Regarding the lunch break, couldn’t she just eat on a short break (assuming it doesn’t take her long to eat at her desk) and take her longer break later?

  53. Free Meercats*

    LW #1

    As I read it, You didn’t even think about her smell while on the reference check call. That’s all you need to say to your colleague, “It had been over a year since I’d seen her and had completely forgotten that part.” And leave it at that. They’ll accept that or not.

  54. CupcakeCounter*

    LW3 – give your employee a couple of options: split lunch hour, continue as is but if she cannot put off coworkers asking for assistance while eating, take away her flexibility a bit since she hasn’t been holding her end.
    Split lunch – I used to do that at an OldJob due to some very regular appointments. I would take 15-20 minutes to eat my lunch at a “normal” lunch time and then the remaining time at 2pm for my appointment next door. At the time the appointments were 3X per week so it was just easier to make it an everyday thing for those 6 months. For her, she can eat her lunch at her normal time with the stipulation that she cannot be working. Takes 10-15 minutes to eat, then at 2:30 or whenever she usually has her “off” time, that gets reduced to the remaining 45 minutes or whatever she has left of her hour.
    Ideally, you would simply address the refusal to help coworkers while she is technically working. Tell her you are fine with how she wants to take her breaks, but if she is considering her eating time actual working time, she needs to be able to meet all the requirements of her job while doing that (obviously there are a few exceptions such as finishing the last 2 bites left of her meal before going to wherever coworker needs her and very short delays on par with finishing an email). I’d address it as a “hey – this is becoming a thing I’ve observed/received feedback on and we need to course correct”.
    Last option is what I would call the nuclear option and wouldn’t use unless the first two options fail. Inform her that she has to eat and take her lunch hour at the same time in one concurrent hour and, due to state law, 1pm is the latest she can start her hour. Again, this is not a great option so start with the other 2 first.

  55. Jean*

    #2, you need to start being more mindful of your surroundings. I work in a building with a lot of blind corners too, and it’s really annoying how many people I see doing things like walking forward while looking behind them talking to someone, or walking fast while looking down at their phone. This is a known issue for you and yet it’s still a problem because you haven’t adjusted your behavior. Slow down and pay attention.

  56. De Minimis*

    #2–I’ve had similar issues in busy offices, I’ve basically slowed down and when I’m coming up on a corner I try to adjust my angle to where I have a better line of sight. I always assume there’s somebody coming the other way.

    I’ve also learned to slowly open doors into public areas like hallways and stairwells.

  57. De Minimis*

    #1–Not to make light of it, but I got this image of dogs doing reference checks and asking about an employee’s smell!

  58. Orange You Glad*

    #3 (lunch break) – I agree with Alison and what other commenters have said to speak up. As an alternative, could you suggest she take 30min eating break by 1pm and then another 30min errands break at 2:30-3 so she can still get out of the office? This lets her still take a 1 hr break but gives her the flexibility to do the things she normally does in the afternoon.

    At the end of the day, you are the boss and can set whatever policy you want (within your company policies and local labor laws) regarding break times, food at the desk, etc. The work needs to be done in a timely manner. Set whatever policies are necessary to ensure the work is completed each day.

    I’ve been at the same company for 10 years and my department has been through many different lunch policies. Essentially we don’t allow interns to eat at their desks while working (if they are clocked out that’s fine but they can’t do work until they clock back in) due to too much abuse of the schedule similar to what LW’s employee is doing. I am at a higher level and it’s fine if I eat at my desk but I need to be working and can’t turn others away. One thing that does happen is when people come to my desk and see me eating they’ll say they’ll come back later even though I’m “on the clock”. There was a period when my coworker and I went to the gym on our break but would go later in the afternoon to avoid the rush. The coworker abused this too much (wasn’t available for afternoon meetings when our boss needed her) so he made a rule that we couldn’t take our breaks that late. Luckily that rule went away when that coworker was fired.

    Basically it’s fine to set different rules/policies as you get to know the habits of your employee. It’s great to want to provide her with flexibility, but it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t affect your work output.

    1. Quill*

      the errand running might be 10-15 minutes each way, leaving at most, 10 minutes to do the actual errand, so it may not be feasable but it sure could be suggested

  59. Employment Lawyer*

    3. Am I being a scrooge about my employee’s lunch break?
    No! AAM is spot on, but here’s an additional point:

    If someone is “on break” they should NOT be working. If they’re eating and at their desk, they are probably working. Employers can get in a lot of trouble for that.

    In this case the reverse is true–she’s taking an extra break–but the optics are bad. If she looks like she’s combining lunch break and work duties, this is a Bad Thing and you can use that as additional ammo to get her to stop.

  60. Enginear*

    #1 Not your responsibility to tell a hiring manager that someone smells.
    #2 Your body height and weight does not make you more or less susceptible to bumping into other people. Sounds like either you and/or your colleagues are not taking your time and alert of your surroundings.

    1. Employment Lawyer*

      I wondered if the OP is literally too short to see (or easily be seen) over cubicle walls, though probably not at 5’3″. She’s probably just walking too fast.

      that said, if she’s curious she could always try heels for a week and see if things change.

  61. LuckyClover*

    OP #4 I feel for you. I work in a public agency and my vacation leave is set in stone by policy, and also has a very low accrual limit. I think it might really depend on your work and company culture, and also might raise questions about how busy you are if you don’t have to work the whole year to get everything they want to be done, done.

    In a past job where we accrued more, my supervisor would take no vacation for a year, and then in the second year would go to a foreign country for 30 days. It was amazing he could do that, but also such an interruption to our everyday work.

  62. bananah13*

    4. Unpaid vacation?: I have worked for multiple state governments in the US and they have all had the ability to do modified work schedules (working 11 months a year instead of 12, work 4-10s and having a day a week off, getting additional PTO days by giving up annual raises, etc.) Don’t know about feds, but I would look into it, especially if you have a union.

  63. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP2: I had the same problem at my previous job. I have this all the time because I am a fast walker.
    I have taught myself a chant to remind myself to slow down when I’m walking behind someone: “Slow-ly-slow-ly, la-dy-like-ly.” At each syllable I take a step. The chant reminds me to walk slowly with small steps, as ladies were supposed to do once upon a time.

  64. NoCoffeePotUnturned*

    Number 2: do what people in restaurants do and announce yourself as you walk. Before you turn a corner, say “corner!” If someone’s coming up on you and doesn’t look up to see you, say “on your right!” If you’re coming up behind someone, say “coming up behind you!”

    You might be the only one doing it, but it’ll either catch on or you’ll be the only one nobody runs into!

  65. LW3 from IL?*

    LW #3: Because of the way it’s worded, “at least a 20-minute break after five hours,” leads me to wonder if this is in Illinois. It’s the only state I know of that has anything to do with both five hours and 20-minutes. I could be mistaken. But, if so, the law actually reads by the fifth hour of the working day the break should be taken. They also need to be completely relieved from duty as it’s in the One Day Rest in Seven Act. The law isn’t even regarding eating; it’s about resting and being relieved from duty. This could change a lot…

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