my boss keeps consulting my predecessor, HR told me to wear baggier clothes, and more

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

1. My boss keeps calling my predecessor for help

I started a great job in September. The person who used to have my job (Jill) got promoted to a different position in the company, but then left for another company. Jill used to be the assistant to my boss, Jack (which is my job now). They became very close and are essentially best friends.

Since I’m new to this role and to the industry as a whole, I have a few questions from time to time. Rather than helping me figure it out on my own, Jack is constantly calling Jill at her new job to get her answers on how she would do things.

It’s very frustrating. I feel like I can’t establish myself at all because it looks like half the work I’ve done was done because Jack called Jill for help. Even when Jill was still here, he was going to ask her to help at an event, which isn’t even her job anymore — it’s mine! Also, when Jill started this assistant role, it was a new position, so it’s not like she had a “Jill” who was constantly called upon to give her answers. She figured it out on her own and did just fine!

I feel like I’m constantly being reminded that I have big shoes to fill and am not even being given the chance to prove my problem solving abilities. How do I approach this with my boss — or should I, even?

Jack is probably annoying the crap out of Jill. It’s time for him to cut the cord, for your sake and hers.

Or who knows, maybe Jill likes feeling essential even after she’s gone. Some people do.

In any case, it’s reasonable for you to talk to Jack about it. You could say, “I know you’ve been checking with Jill when I have a question you’re not sure of the answer to. Now that I’ve been here six months, I’d really like to take more ownership of the position and figure things out on my own if I can, like she must have had to do that herself at the beginning. So going forward, if I bring you a question you’re not sure about, could I ask that you just kick it back into my court and I’ll figure out how to proceed?” You could add, “It’s important to me to make the job my own, and to learn in the same way Jill must have done.”

Read an update to this letter here

2. HR told me to wear baggier clothes because people are talking about my body

I am a relatively attractive woman in my early 20s who recently got promoted to being an engineering administrator for a hotel in my area. I was a painter for the building before and wore baggy paint suits, but now I work a desk job and have upgraded my wardrobe accordingly. I am thin but have curves and I get regularly hit on, but I think I have been dressing business casual/business.

I got called into HR and was told I can’t dress up anymore and I have to wear a polo and pants. And the reason in a nutshell? I was too much of a distraction. HR said, “Well, everyone is used to you wearing baggy painting clothes. Once you started dressing up people noticed you have curves, and a lot of cat calling and looks were going on behind your back.” This is really offensive. I like looking and feeling good and am excited to wear office job clothes! Is this okay or normal? This is my first white collar job and I am feeling targeted/ discriminated against.

No, this is not okay. It’s offensive and gross, and I know it shouldn’t blow my mind that it’s still happening, but it does.

If people are cat-calling and make comments about your appearance, that’s sexual harassment and your employer needs to shut that down with them — not tell you to change what you’re wearing. (Assuming you’re complying with their dress code, which it sounds like you are.)

I’d go back to HR and say this: “I’m really concerned that people are cat-calling and making comments about my appearance, and that the company’s response has been to suggest I dress differently when I’m complying with our dress code. This is a clear sexual harassment problem, so I’m requesting that you address it with the offenders rather than asking me to change my dress-code-compliant clothing. Should I make a formal report of sexual harassment to get it addressed, or is this conversation enough to ensure it’s handled?”

If that doesn’t take care of it, there are a number of employment lawyers out there who would be delighted to contact your employer on your behalf and explain sexual harassment law to them.

3. My overworked colleague is missing deadlines that affect my work

I’m the internal project manager as my company transitions to a new vendor (the vendor sells software that is essential to our business function and the transition is complex and takes several months). Our new vendor has information requests that are necessarily to move the project forward. Some of this info can only be provided by my coworker Amy. Amy works on a different team than me, and her team is significantly understaffed (team of five with only three positions filled for the last nine months) and overloaded with tasks. Amy has missed several key deadlines for info request, and the vendor has stated that without Amy’s info, the transition can’t stay on schedule.

How can I approach this with Amy? I know that she’s not missing deadlines because she’s lazy/procrastinating/forgetful/not managing her time. She just legitimately doesn’t have enough time in the week. That being said, if Amy doesn’t find a way to provide the data we need, this major transition will fail resulting in major company wide implications.

Talk to Amy and lay it out the way you did here: “I know you’re overworked and understaffed, and I completely understand why you haven’t been able to meet these deadlines. That said, the vendor says that without XYZ from you, our transition won’t stay on schedule, which would cause problems like (specifics). Realistically, is there a way for you to prioritize XYZ and ensure we absolutely have it by (date)? If that’s not realistic, I can talk with (manager) about what we should do instead, but I wanted to check with you first.”

And then, if Amy says she can’t commit to those deadlines, talk to your manager (and/or Amy’s manager) about what to do. It’s possible that Amy really does have higher priorities and that when everything she’s juggling is taken into account, it’s better to delay the software transition than to miss some of her other deadlines. Or not — it might be that she does need to prioritize your stuff. But once she says she can’t give you what she needs, you’ve got to escalate it to someone who can figure out what to do. That’s not getting her in trouble; that’s getting someone above you both to weigh in on priorities.

If you’re concerned that Amy will say she’ll meet the deadlines but then not come through, loop your manager in on that concern too, so that you’ve got contingency plans ready to go and/or so that Amy’s boss can be looped in proactively.

Read an update to this letter here.

4. Can my employer demand to know the reason we’re higher risk for coronavirus if we want to work from home?

We received an email today saying that “anyone who is 60 years or older or is at high risk for complication to the disease (i.e., respiratory issues, chronic health conditions, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, pregnant) is asked to work from home immediately.”

Then we got a separate email from our boss asking us to disclose exactly what our illness was if we were going home to work. Can they ask this? Even in times of crisis like this?

I posed this question to employment lawyer Donna Ballman, author of the excellent book Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired, who said: “In general, you don’t have to disclose a disability to your employer. However, when you are asking for a reasonable accommodation, such as work from home, that changes. The company should limit those to whom you need to disclose, but the employer can indeed ask for information about the need for a reasonable accommodation. In this case, it may be reasonable for an employer to ask you to disclose the disability. They do so at their own risk, because once they are on notice of a disability they could be subject to disability discrimination laws if they target disabled employees for layoff, furlough, or termination.”

5. My company has me work overtime, then lowers my hours the next week rather than paying me more

I have been working at my workplace for a little over three years. This really didn’t become an issue until recently when I started taking on more tasks and responsibilities. Basically what will happen is I’ll work 40 hours total — 12 hours on Monday, 11 hours on Tuesday, 10 hours on Wednesday, and then 7 hours on Thursday, which has me leaving around 2 or 3 pm. This works for the both of us because Mondays are really busy and it dies off during the week and I like having long weekends.

Sometimes if we are super busy on Thursday and I tell my boss I have to leave by 2 for my hours, she will say something like, “Can you stay a few more hours and then take it off next week?” I almost always say yes, but I’m starting to get the feeling this isn’t legal and they know this is a cheaper alternative than paying me the time and half. If it isn’t legal, how do I bring it up in a way that doesn’t come off rude the next time my boss asks me to stay over my hours?

Yes, assuming you’re non-exempt, they need to pay you overtime (time and a half) for any hours over 40 worked in a week. The law doesn’t give them the option to even it out the following week. (Also, a few states, like California, require overtime for any hours over eight in a day.)

The next time your boss asks to work overtime, you could say it this way: “I just found out that we need to pay overtime any time I work over 40 hours in a week, or we can get in legal trouble. I’m happy to work the extra hours this week if you need me to, but I wanted to make sure you realized we’d need to adjust my pay.” Frame it as if you’re assuming she doesn’t know (she really might not; people are weirdly oblivious to labor laws — which isn’t okay but is still common), and that of course she’ll want to follow the law once she knows. If she seems skeptical, tell her you’ll send her some info on the law and then send her this or this.

{ 272 comments… read them below }

  1. HoHumDrum*

    Hey LW2, I just want you to know that the people you work with are absolute trash and you have done nothing wrong. Please be kind to yourself and firm with your workplace.

    I say be kind because I got sexually harassed at work once and my boss at the time suggested it was related to the way I dressed. I thought I felt confident at calling out the sexism and rejecting the nonsense, but years later I’ve realized that I now think of those outfits as “too sexual” and I’ve stopped wearing some stuff that used to bring me a lot of joy. This kind of stuff sinks into your psyche and makes you start to question yourself even when you consciously know it’s wrong.

    So please, be kind to yourself, I have no doubt that you look absolutely professional and I hope you don’t feel any qualms about wearing the work attire that you love.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m sadly not surprised that HR decided to police OP’s clothing instead of dealing with the real problem: OP’s sexually harassing coworkers. Instead of expecting your coworkers to exhibit professionalism, OP, they’ve decided to facilitate their inappropriate behavior to your detriment.

      Alison’s script is bang on, and I hope you’ll keep track of the conversations HR has with you (i.e., take notes during those convos or as soon afterward as possible). I understand you may not want to lawyer up at this stage, but I would keep track in case you later decide to file an EEOC complaint. I’m so sorry your HR is failing on this issue; it does not reflect well on them.

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        I’d go further. I’d just say ”I’d like to record this chat on my phone for my future reference” or even put it in an email that they are suggesting that you not wear normal work attire because your colleagues are cat-calling, that you be singled out for your appearance.

        Ask them for a written response, and even if they aren’t too stupid to provide one, you will have a written record of your enquiry. ”Further to our chat today when you came by my desk at 10.30 and said…”.

        What utter rubbish! Wear professionally-suitable clothing and be happy in your appearance. I bet you look great and are an asset (not appearance! In your work!) to the organisation.

        1. AntiSocialite*

          The OP may not even need to disclose she’s recording it on her phone. Most (good) HR people would balk at that and refuse. Some states are one party consent; I live in one.

          1. Random IT person*

            I did some research – some states allow one side consent – others demand both approve before.
            So , check first, record when safe.

          2. Qwerty*

            Companies are allowed to have stricter laws than the state. Most places I’ve worked at consider recording a coworker without permission to be a fire-able offense.

        2. JSPA*

          what’s legal and what’s allowed under company policy are two different things. NO, it’s almost certainly not legal for them to use “company rules” to prevent you from documenting harassment. But if your recording isn’t the smoking gun you expect, and they notice you recording, and you only have notes that one person claimed, one time, that unspecified “others” were cat – calling, that’s not as strong a claim. Lay the ground work, practice your phone handling.

          “You told me there were comments, but short of wearing a painting suit to work, I’m not clear on what you expect a polo shirt and khakis to hide. Can you give me enough detail on what people are saying, and what you perceive the problem to be, including why a professional women can’t wear professional clothes in this job?”

      2. EPLawyer*

        I mean holy heck if HR can’t get this right, that says a lot about the company. They would rather deal with one person — you — then take the time to figure out all the whos who are doing the sexually harassing. But its not right.

        LW2, I hate to say this, might be time to polish up the old resume. I know you are excited about your first white collar job. But its just that — your first. You don’t have to go back to painting unless you want to. You have it on your resume now, keep applying for office jobs.

        1. Working Mom*

          I’d also wonder if the mishandling of this situation is due to your Manager’s poor decisions, and maybe does not reflect on the company’s HR department. It would be interesting to see, if once this scenario is shared with HR, if they snap the Manager into shape quickly, or if they support the Manager’s terrible plan. How HR responds will speak VOLUMES.

          And like others have said… this is absolutely appalling and completely infuriating. I’m sorry you’ve been put into this situation – like everyone else has said – It’s NOT YOU! Don’t let this affect how you view yourself, how you dress, etc.

      3. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        This! Why is it that someone who did nothing wrong gets questioned, or A Talking To, just because someone decides to complain about them or finds them a distraction, etc.? It’s like the one that complains first wins. Never mind that OP was dressed appropriately- some people didn’t like it or found it distracting so she got called on the carpet.

        I guess it’s less work for OP’s HR to ask OP to wear looser clothing than to address the creeps that are clearly out of line. That is laziness on OP’s HR’s part and is very wrong. I hope OP documents everything in case it is needed.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I know–and such things are normally enforced against women more than men (I knew a gentleman who had a curl of chest hair come up to his collar where you could see, and I have to admit I found it distracting, but did I complain about it? Hell no).

          Another example–at Little Rock AFB there was an announcement that all airmen on the flight line had to wear appropriate underwear. It was 90 degrees with 105% humidity, and some of the ladies went braless. Unfortunately, one male airman on the wing of a C-130 was not paying attention to where he was walking…thump. But I bet all those women who had to wear bras afterwards were *not* amused.

      4. TootsNYC*

        this is what pisses me off as the mother of a boy child when schools talk about how girls should restrict their clothing for the sake of the boys.

        I don’t want schools sending the message to my son that they think it’s “too hard” for him to moderate his behavior and have some fucking manners.

        I don’t want them sendinghim the message that he is never going to be called to govern himself.

        I don’t want them sending him the message that if he behaves badly, he can blame someone else for “making him” behave that way.

        I don’t want them sending him the message that his fleeting thoughts of arousal (IF they exist) are so devastating that other people must be repressed and punished in order to protect him from them.

        I don’t hear this point of view expressed enough.

        The teen years are when we first experience our sexuality; it’s practice time! And nobody learns anything from practice if they aren’t called upon to do it right, should they mess it up. How good a basketball player would someone be if every time they missed the hoop, they were told they didn’t need to get the ball in the hoop, they weren’t capable of ever getting the ball in the hoop, and it was the fault of the basketball court for having the hoop set so far above the floor, and it’s the fault of the other players on the court, and they need to tie their shoelaces together.

    2. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

      It’s astonishing how prevalent the “more fabric” argument is.

      Few years ago I worked for a creeper who would stare at my chest at any given opportunity. So I started wearing looser, higher neck clothing (not that it was tight or low cut before) and covering with large scarves. So he’d try to “look around” that obstacle, while finding a new body part to stare at. So I’d then try to obscure that too and the same thing would happen. And so on, until over time I replaced most of my work wardrobe with impractical high coverage outfits (not easy, when you work in a city where average summer days are upwards of 30deg/90F). And you know what all that dressing differently changed about his behaviour? Not a thing. Even saw him staring at my ankles once.

      HR’s handling of this grants the men in OP’s workplace implicit permission to objectify OP. Changing to a polo shirt or baggy overalls won’t make a lick of difference if they’re being allowed to think their pantsfeelings are OP’s responsibility. That has got to be nipped in the bud. Firmly. With a lawyer if needed.

      1. Random IT person*

        This. Great example of why ‘blaming the victim’ is never the correct way.

        As a man – i do enjoy seeing a well dressed person (male or female) radiating professionalism.
        It gives a sense of ‘we`re in control’ . If said person feels content in their clothing – that is strengthened.

        Forcing people to change what they wear due to the fact some like to abuse others sends a signal “hey, we think the abusers are right” – and will cause the atmosphere to change from ‘we are pros’ to ‘we are abusers’ and the good people to ‘i`m just here until i can find something else’.

        All of the above is just ‘your HR is wrong, they suck, and might be complicit in abusive practices’

        1. Veronica Mars*

          Yes, this is a more subtle but important point. OP, I’m very sad for you that this HR person has dinged your confidence.

          I still remember how awesome and professional I felt when I upgraded my wardrobe from TJ Maxx intern days to “Professional Woman” and it would have been devastating to have someone question it.

          So, unless there are many inches of cleavage going on, know that this is 100% a them problem and they all suck and you absolutely deserve to enjoy your new wardrobe.

          1. Julia*

            Even if there are inches of cleavage going on, what kind of person thinks it’s okay to catcall their co-worker??

            1. WellRed*

              Yes, I’m a little confused at this place of employment? Is it her direct coworkers in the office? Building workers? I wonder if they are also not taking her as seriously because she was painting (I am assuming walls, etc) and now has the office job. It’s an unusual transition within one company. The company is handling this soooo poorly, I wondered if it was not in the US (we see letters here where behaviors like this are more ingrained elsewhere).

            2. Veronica Mars*

              For sure never ok to cat call. But if there’s inches of cleavage, maybe the outfit isn’t work appropriate and it would be less weird for HR to say something.
              To be clear, the acceptable version of the conversation would be “This attire is not acceptable for work, please cover your cleavage. Also, on an unrelated note, we plan to address the cat calling right now and let me know if it does not immediately cease”

              1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                If she’s maintenance, white collar office attire may not be appropriate either. It’s really tricky for women in those roles. I’ve only ever worked with a few, but if you dress too hands-on you risk looking like an unprofessional slob when you’re performing the office portions of your role. But if you dress professionally, you look ridiculous and out of touch when doing the hands-on portion of your role.

                1. Veronica Mars*

                  It’s true that its tough to strike the right formality code. I struggled with that when I was a manufacturing supervisor – all the men wore khakis and golf polos, but that landed kind of differently on a female since golf polos are clingy and also not “normal” female attire in quite the same way.
                  [For the record, no matter what outfit I tried, the sexual harassment levels stayed about even].

                  That said, again, the conversation with HR would go something like “Hey, I know its tough to find the right balance in the role but maybe here’s some advice on striking a better one.” (and honestly, even then, major eyebrow raises at HR for deeming that worthy of their involvement). What it categorically should not ever ever ever sound like is “You’re distracting and causing cat calls so cover up.”

          2. Dust Bunny*

            HR absolutely handled this very poorly, but the LW did say “I think I am dressing business casual”. She may want to get the opinion of a sympathetic and trustworthy slightly-older woman on this. We have had more than one intern/new hire whose idea of “it fits” meant “this is skin tight but still buttons around me” and my (female) immediate supervisor had to give them some advice. They weren’t trying to be racy, but I think that movies/tv/their equally-inexperienced peers don’t always give the best impression of how clothes are meant to be worn in business settings.

            However, the focus and phrasing here was an epic fail. If the issue was that the clothes didn’t actually fit and were showing a whole lot, there were much better ways to say it, and the guys involved should have been called to the carpet for being gross.

            1. HoHumDrum*

              In another comment Allison said the LW sent her a pic and thus Allison can verify that the LW is wearing totally normal and appropriate clothing.

            2. Mr. Shark*

              I work in manufacturing, and I still don’t care if the LW is maybe wearing something that is skin tight.
              I had co-workers who wore very tight fitting polo-type shirts, or tight-fitting button up shirts. Guess what? Men still needed to act professional, not stare at her chest, and work with her on a daily basis and not make her uncomfortable. Men definitely needed to not be catcalling her. Ugh!

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Exactly. I had a coworker stare at me, and I’m a very plain woman. I just happen to be female. I wore polo shirts with scarves over them, buttoned all the way up, and he would still stare at me. I had to go to the boss to get him to stop.

      3. Noblepower*

        I was coming here to say the same thing- a polo shirt is not going to solve the problem, because it isn’t the LW, it’s the ogler’s.

      4. Sophie Hatter*

        +100000. This has echoes of evangelical purity culture, which I was a survivor of, and this is spot on.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      “I got sexually harassed at work once and my boss at the time suggested it was related to the way I dressed.”

      I got this accusation at one place I worked at back in the 1990’s when I was in my early 20’s. AS IF what I wore was “asking” to be cornered in the back room and groped and grabbed in the crotch while on the job! It was so disgusting, and by rights I could’ve (and probably should have) called the police. It is so sad that this kind of behavior is still happening in this day and age.

    4. Chili*

      Yes! I think it’s important o make sure you know that a lot of people will want to make this seem like you have brought this on yourself in someway, but you haven’t. Even if you were dressed wildly inappropriately, your coworkers are responsible for their own behavior and shouldn’t be treating you disrespectfully.

    5. charo*

      I agree HR is totally wrong.
      But, as a woman, I have to say: As long as women indulge in CLEAVAGE and/or other revealing clothing in the workplace, which I’ve seen more often than I ever expect to, there will be some confusion about what’s appropriate.

      I just saw an internet video of a doctor showing cleavage in a tight sweater who was talking about the pandemic — what gives?! Granted, I don’t look like that in a sweater, but it’s not jealousy, just:
      “There’s a time and place for cleavage and tight clothes.” It’s distracting and inappropriate. Even a V-neck that shows a flash of cleavage when you move.

      And the same goes for guys wearing too-tight pants or bending over showing their cleavage. Think about where you are and what happens when you move around.

    6. charo*

      I mentioned here that as wrong as HR is here, there are cases where women wear things in the workplace that aren’t professional, and as a female it always surprises me. WHY wear tight clothes? Cleavage? Overly fancy or overly casual outfits? It’s not hard to buy some neutral outfits that can be switched around, add scarves or accessories, and blend in.
      I’ve seen too many big rear ends in white stretch pants you could almost read through. Look in a mirror and MOVE around to see what happens. Check your reflection when you walk.
      And of course the same goes for guys who dress inappropriately.

  2. Observer*

    #2 – Do a reality check with someone to make sure that what you are wearing is appropriate. Please also document that conversation. I would send HR an email saying that you want to confirm that you are being expected to keep people from cat calling you and making comments by wearing clothes appropriate for painting rather than standard office attire. At that point, don’t point out the problem just verify the fact that this is in fact what they are asking.

    Because when you need to go to a lawyer / the EEOC (which you may need to do before going to a lawyer), having an email like that is going to be gold (or dynamite, depending on your perspective.)

    Don’t mention that you like looking good because from a legal point of view, that’s besides the point. And the legal issue is the only thing they will understand, if they understand anything.

      1. Observer*

        So, there is your reality check.

        I’d be willing to bet that they are going to try to claim that you really are dressing “distractingly” and that you don’t really have a good sense of what “appropriate” is. That’s nonsense, of course, but so was their instruction to you. Being able to say that you checked with a professional management consultant is going to make it much harder for them to pull that off.

        And, no, you should not need to do this. But if you want to stay at this job, you need to find a way to make them stop being such idiotic jerks. And on the other hand, if they STILL don’t back off, you’ve just improved your case. It can’t hurt to hand them their own rope…

      2. Caroline Bowman*

        That’s fantastic! I suggest she now take a fast selfie each day or so and just keep it…

          1. Panthera uncia*

            #whatIgotharrassedin would be really eye-opening for a lot of people, I bet. Regular damned clothes.

            1. The New Wanderer*

              I think there have been a few threads like that. I’m not on Twitter so I only would have seen a curated version somewhere online but iirc it was women posting photos of themselves just after someone catcalled them. To no one’s surprise, the outfits are usually shapeless/gender neutral things like large overcoats and baggy sweatpants.

            2. Sophie Hatter*

              A woman I went to college with actually started a tumblr like this. It was called “But What Was She Wearing?”

            3. anonymous 5*

              IIRC there’s (there was?) an art installation called “What I was Wearing” in which each piece was clothing described by sexual assault survivors as what they had been wearing at the time of the assault. I didn’t get to see the show in person, but saw enough photographs to know that there was a pretty high percentage of sweatpants, nondescript nightwear, jeans, work clothes etc and a relatively low percentage of “revealing” clothing.

      3. Triplestep*

        It would be worth noting this parentheticlally in the letter. The way HR handled this was wrong no matter how you slice it. But the LW’s inclusion of “I think I am dressing professionally” leaves room for the possibility HR phenomenally flubbed what was meant to have been a conversation about the difference between club attire and office attire, which they would have been correct to engage in (albeit not like this!)

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

          If only that was the issue. I’ve seen my fair share of people dressing unprofessionally at work, like low rise jeans that show your undies visible or shirts with offensive sentences in “Engrish”. The other side are bussinesses that make women wear clubbish attire, yoga pants or “sexy” Halloween costumes (!!) to attract customers.

        2. Qwerty*

          HR totally flubbed the conversation regardless of what she was wearing. IF someone is dressing inappropriately at work, then you have a conversation about the dress code and how to conform to it. You don’t justify harassment, talk about their curves, and dictate a special dress code for the attractive female that no one else has to live by.

      4. Jdc*

        Well there you go. I too was thinking, that regardless of how wrong they were, it was worth looking into. If you say it’s appropriate then it is. I’d probably myself think your idea of appropriate is even mote conservative than mine so I 100% trust that.

        Your company sucks.

      5. charo*

        It’s not hard to dress in a professional, un-distracting way.
        I went sleeveless at times but w/a scarf if a top was a little bare. Scarves camouflage and dress you up.
        What % of the time do you estimate women showing cleavage at work are unaware that they’re revealing as much as they are?
        And what’s in the head of a woman who chooses to?
        And why don’t people look in a 3-way mirror to see what’s revealed in back?

    1. Anononon*

      I’d be cautious about this advice. In NJ, in order to bring certain harassment claims, you have to show you internally escalated your concerns/complaints through company policy. I would talk to an attorney about the elements needed in your state to prove liability.

    2. Me*

      This suggestion bothers me. If she was in violation of a dress code HR could have addressed that. Then it would have been okay to suggest she maybe see what others thought. They did not. They told her to dress different because other people can’t control themselves.

      OP doesn’t need to be undermined even more by us suggesting she doesn’t know what appropriate office wear is when that isn’t what HR said.

      Women constantly have their bodies and clothes policed. Please don’t inadvertently give it a shred of credibility.

      1. Jdc*

        I think people were saying it’s worth considering they basically blundered the message. It’s all wrong but an outside perspective helps her go forward with addressing the issue.

      2. Julia*

        This. Even if OP came to work naked, her co-workers shouldn’t catcall her. Someone might wanna offer a blanket, but sexualized comments are Not. Okay.

      3. CupcakeCounter*

        While I would normally agree with you I think the advice to check was given for 2 reasons:
        1. absolutely rule out that OP’s outfit was in any way inappropriate and this was just HR’s bad attempt
        2. OP did indicate that she was new to the professional (wardrobe) world and thought she was good but did seem to have some doubt so getting a second opinion will quiet her doubts and allow her to be more confident in future interactions

        The cat-calling is inappropriate across the board but the advice to double check is essentially a CYA move not “it might be your fault “.

        1. Julia*

          Of course OP is doubting herself after that talk from HR. Most people would! It’s like when you get a company-wide email telling you not to microwave fish – I’m a vegetarian and would still go like, “sh*t, was it me?”

          1. Artemesia*

            LOL When you are raised with ‘shame’ and guilt this is a natural response. I remember cringing in shame when the vice principal lectured our honors math class about cheating as crib notes had been found after the exam. I felt awful. I was not even there on the day of that test.

    3. CountryLass*

      I had a manager who told me that the two blokes in the office I worked with had told him they found one of my tops ‘distracting’ and asked me not to wear it. I was really confused, as knowing I have a large chest, I always make sure that I don’t wear anything too tight or low cut. He told me it was the green one, so I asked the two blokes to try and find out which one it was… They hadn’t spoken to him and had no issues with anything I had worn!

      Turns out he was the one with the issue. But as he also didn’t like me being female, younger than him and ‘in’ with the area manager (I’d been there longer than he had) I elected to ignore him!

  3. Elizabeth West*

    OP #2 make sure you use the words “formal report of sexual harassment.” And please come back and update us, because DAMN.

  4. gyrfalcon*

    #4: my company is having us declare our conditions to HR, and if adjustments to our work are needed, HR will tell the manager that an accommodation is required for the employee in question. But HR will not reveal the employee’s specific condition to the manager.

    1. Amy*

      Lucky you. I work for the federal government. We have to email our supervisors about our medical condition, then get a doctor’s note submitted to our supervisors, in order to work from home right now. Unless you’ve already over-shared to your supervisor and they can personally certify that they already knew all about your qualifying medical condition.

      1. Policy Wonk*

        This is obviously dependent on Department /agency and supervisor, because mine is pushing everyone who can to work from home. There are a number of jobs that cannot be done remotely, and those employees are on weekly rotations with the hope that the virus will die on surfaces over the weekend. (Supposedly it dies in 3 days, so with wipe down by the departing employee on Friday, arriving employee on Monday, it should be safer. Not safe, just safer.)

        1. Jaid*

          Oh, that’d be nice. I’d like that for my agency…

          But are these employees taking sick leave/annual or is it administrative?

          1. Jaid*

            BTW, my agency has a very important date coming up in April, which is why they don’t want to send people home if they can help it…

            1. EPLawyer*

              I still don’t think they can demand a whole lot of information. But that date, if its what I think it is, might be pushed. The first step already happened.

          2. Policy Wonk*

            Work from home- even for the jobs that usually require physical presence. There is usually something that can be done from home – online training, reading up on new developments in subject matter. Our IT people are going gangbusters getting everyone the tools they need to be able to log on to our system remotely.

            1. Jack Russell Terrier*

              My husband is working from home but there’s very, very little he can do. He works at the National Archives – exclusively with classified documents! He is doing online training but there’s very little else he he can do.

      2. OBMD*

        I am a physician. I had to write a letter for one of my VERY pregnant patients to allow her to work from home. I was shocked that it was needed. She works for the government as well.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Some agencies are stupid. I have a very close friend who works for USDA. They’re being idiots about this.

          1. EPLawyer*

            I just dm’d a friend who is a federal employment lawyer about this. Just a real general hey some agencies are requiring doctor’s notes before allowing work from home. her literal answer: Ridiculous.

            1. cacwgrl*

              Hypothetically (and I say that bc it’s not my agency doing it, but a friends agency), what would your friend think about a higher level manager wanting their workforce surveys and self report COVID status (exposure, pending tests, results)? I said I would refuse and not touch the request with a ten foot pole, but my friend’s manager wants the question asked. And threatened to do it themselves if the first level managers refused to do so.

        2. Policy Wonk*

          With apologies, we are bureaucrats and often need paper for the files. I’m hoping her boss had already sent her home but asked for this for CYA purposes.

          1. LunaLena*

            Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. There’s always that one person who says “how come SHE gets to stay home and I can’t? It’s clearly favoritism/discrimination!” “But she’s 8 months pregnant…” “She’s young and healthy, it’s not like she’s at risk! I’m going to sue!”

            1. ToS*

              Yes, pregnant people get to carry around 30ish pounds of weight and push a baby out through their private bits, or, if that doesn’t work, have abdominal surgery. A real walk in the park. Not. It’s great if they heal quickly but no one needs that pressure while adjusting to a more complete round of sleep deprivation.

              Also, there is a real correlation between infection and birth…defects, and COVID-19 is early on. See Zika and Measles. So having a sense of mercy not to sentence a mom to a child’s lifetime of health issues is also being a good colleague.

              1. Artemesia*

                No idea about pregnancy and COVID but my grandmother died in the 1918 flu epidemic at age 25, 5 mos pregnant and apparently that one really hammered both adults in their prime and especially pregnant women. I don’t know if we know if there is increased risk yet for pregnant women in this one but virus infections can affect a fetus, sometimes seriously, and sometimes pregnant women are vulnerable themselves with their immune system altered.

              2. Botanist*

                Initial data coming out of Wuhan indicate that pregnant women and their fetuses are not at higher risk, although it is very, very preliminary and limited. Still somewhat reassuring. Not going to go the the bother of a link, but type “Lancet pregnant Wuhan COVID19” into Google to get a peer-reviewed article.

        3. ToS*

          Thank you for writing up what was needed. Some state agencies get audited, so paperwork helps, even if it seems ridiculous.

          Often people react to someone receiving accommodation, however they often forget that the colleague has a health condition or disability to balance out the granted accommodation.

        4. andy*

          I do understand that rule, generally. I dont think it is good rule to apply when in the middle of this particular epidemics. We are supposed to be at home to not spread it.

    2. Old and Don’t Care*

      This is making me seethe with rage. Governments in many states are taking actions that will put many, many small businesses out of business, but some companies can’t manage to adjust their practices, cultures to do their part to slow thus down? And keep their own people safe? Shameful.

      1. Veronica Mars*

        This is part of whats so bizarre to me. How can it be SO IMPORTANT that governments are forcing small businesses to close, maybe for good… but the rest of us megacorp employees are offered 0 protection. Which is it?

      2. Cassie*

        Something ironic – a lot of government agencies (esp local and state) aren’t letting their workers work from home (yet?). Just saw a headline that California state agencies are considering all options. Uh, probably should have gotten ahead of the curve in “planning”. My friend who works for county government hasn’t had any information about WFH or preparing to WFH. Meanwhile, another dept in the same county government has already sent most of its employees home to WFH indefinitely.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      gyr, what you’re describing is probably the best practice for organizations large enough to have an HR department. Unfortunately, because this is a rapidly changing situation, the legal requirements regarding disclosure are changing on an hourly basis at a hyperlocal level.

      In my state, for example, public health protocols have been adopted at the city, region, and state levels. On top of that, different employers have also adopted COVID protocols, and sometimes their protocols become outdated within hours. Between Thursday afternoon and this morning, I’ve received over 10 (contradictory) directives. The State has changed its guidance on disclosure, but many employers have not caught up.

      Which is all to say, OP#4, that it may be worth double-checking if your City/State has adopted public health orders regarding remote work. If they haven’t, then Alison is entirely correct. But if they have, then you might have an additional basis for declining to disclose your vulnerable population characteristic(s).

      Please be safe, and I’m so sorry you’re going through this experience right now.

      1. Ali G*

        Yeah, in my area within 48 hours last week it went from “we think vulnerable populations should self-isolate” to “no gatherings of more than 10 people.”
        My husband’s office is notoriously Old School (Fed Contractor) and even they sent everyone home to work on Monday. It boggles my mind that some places are still trying to divide their workers up (unless there are actual issues with server limitations etc.) – just make everyone stay home already!! It doesn’t matter how old you are or if you have an underlying condition. ARGH

        1. Seifer*

          I’m a federal contractor and I just straight up refused to come in. I told them that I could either take the sick time or WFH but with all of the mixed messages that are going around and the fact that we had people that had travelled internationally coming through the office, I didn’t feel comfortable coming in. Then more and more of my coworkers started WFH and now they’re starting WFH for the whole office on Friday.

          I told my other coworker that we’re basically pushing back as a group this way and they can’t fire us all, dammit! So she also decided to WFH because she was getting freaked out and then now my boss is, and I am JUST. SO. HAPPY. We gotta be safe!

          1. Federal Contract IT Manager*

            As a federal contractor, this has been a crazy time. Thursday, certain people were told by the government customer to quarantine for 5 days. Friday, that was increased to 14 days. Monday, *we* told the government customer that everyone would work from home except for a skeleton crew. It did not take much pushing to get the government customer to agree. Wednesday, everyone was sent home to telework except for facilities people (UPS, Generators, HVAC). I am not even going to include the contradictory emails that we received from our Company.

            I expect that the outcome of this will be that teleworking will become the new normal, and that people coming in to work in the office will become rare.

          2. AKchic*

            Fed contractor here too. It’s still business as usual for now. I’ve got a go-bag packed in my office in case something happens and we have to shelter-in-place on site, but my job is one that can’t be done from home, and it is considered semi-necessary, so it doesn’t just stop unless the entire installation shuts down.
            Luckily, my job is pretty isolated as it is. I see 2-3 people a day and we don’t actually come within 6-10 feet of each other. At most, I see them once a day, if I see them at all. Everyone else is email/phone contact.

    1. Jenna*

      I don’t think the Taliban comparison is necessary. …. Or the best or only comparision, tbh. I’m a white, non-Muslim American lady who’s unfortnunately ENTIRELY too used to that sort of response to harassment. Some people of all religions (and in all facets of American society) try to police women’s bodies and clothing choices instead of telling men to change their behavior.

      You see American public schools telling 12 year old girls not to wear tank tops because it “distracts the boys.” Or a woman is sexually assaulted and people speculate that she shouldn’t have worn a skirt. Or, oh, that woman is wearing so much makeup; is she *trying* to attract her coworkers? A lot of people, sadly, seem to think it’s ….easier? ..more appropriate? both? to try to control what women do than to hold men accountable to higher standards of behavior.

      That sort of thinking isn’t limited to members of the Taliban. I know you weren’t meaning to suggest it is, but I think framing it with that comment might downplay how much work there still is to be done in all corners of the world. OP’s HR provided an especially egregious example, but sadly it’s definitely only one of many examples.

      (To OP: yeah, this is horrific, and I’m so sorry that your HR has failed you so abjectly. And I’m sorry your coworkers are being terrible.)

  5. Marmaduke*

    The response to #4 grates on me a bit, because in this context workers are not requesting a reasonable accommodation. They are complying with company policy. I feel the expectation to disclose should be waived under this situation.

    1. Mookie*

      I agree, and think the “ask” (versus a hypothetical “allow”) does indicate obligation on the part of the employee, thereby making compliance on the part of the employee mandatory and proof of eligibility with that kind of detail unreasonably arduous. Which pre-existing conditions that render a person especially vulnerable are widely known at this point, and it is unreasonable to require employees to specify which conditions they meet. This approach to leave, minus the documentation qualification, is for the benefit of close colleagues and on-site employees as a whole.

      Notes and documentation are often required when an employee approaches management/HR aa an individual where no pandemic exists, suffering from or at risk of a communicable illness that poses a low-risk threat to very few people. I would also keep in mind that medical documentation for leave under normal circumstances frequently “classify”/“censor” the specific medical need that necessitates leave, and this is no different.

      Beyond that, HCP are overwhelmed as it is and should not be channeling these energies toward at-risk but otherwise asymptomatic and untested patients in need of notes versus test-confirmed or suspected patients seriously ill, and these kinds of arbitrary rules are one of the drivers of community spread, where vulnerable people must navigate health, government, and professional bureaucracies to prove their ‘need’ such that, if they fail to meet unrigorous standards, will be forced to return to work at their own risk and at the risk of others.

      1. Sally*

        And what if the concern is just that you are over 60 years old? I’m in my mid-50s, and I’m concerned about age discrimination so I wouldn’t appreciate feeling like I had to tell my manager that my age was the reason for needing to work from home. Aside from that, I agree that requiring employees’ health information seems very intrusive under these circumstances.

        1. Veronica Mars*

          Yes, its intrusive and unnecessary. Such a huge % of the population is covered by the risk factors that it seems highly probable that any requests are ‘real’. And even if one person is milking, like, ok, so what? Is it really better to make every other employee uncomfortable?

          1. Working Mom*

            Could OP respond to the manager with a broad answer? For example, “I have a chronic condition included in the list the company provided.” If the Manager responds back directly and asks “But what exactly is the condition?” Could the OP respond that he/she would prefer to disclose to HR – but is able and willing to have that verified with a Dr’s note?

            I wonder if a very mild push back like that would make the Manager realize, “why does it matter?” They have one of the conditions listed – shouldn’t that be enough?

            1. Veronica Mars*

              I really like this.

              Also, I’ve had doctors write me vague notes before. EG instead of “Veronica has diabetes” writing “Veronica has a medical condition for which I recommend WFH.”

              Then if the boss pushes back again, he looks like even more of an idiot, because what, he is going to know better than a doctor?

              1. Artemesia*

                The idea that right now we would be expecting doctors to write notes like this is pretty appalling. What a waste of resources. This is the moment that companies should be figuring out how to be productive with WFH.

                1. Mookie*

                  This. Eligibility should be taken as read and without skepticism. “Fraud” at this level is affordable and absorbable for eligible businesses and governing bodies alike, and public health should be prioritized before disproportionately screening employees asking, in this case OBEYING, employer mandates.

    2. Veronica Mars*

      To me, the way the boss emailed after the HR email hints to me that this is a “boss” thing and not a “company” thing, so I really think it’s worth the LW forwarding the email to HR and asking for guidance.

      1. EPLawyer*

        This is a good point. It’s a boss who hates WFH so he is trying to avoid it unless someone has a reason good enough for him. What happens if you are not personally in the high risk category but you live with someone who is? You won’t have a doctor’s note for you and the company is not entitled to a doctor’s note from a non-employee.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think it’s not illegal to ask because it is still ultimately about accommodation for those who need it… But I do think there is some room to push back, depending on who the first email came from. If the CEO is saying they want everyone who considers themself to be high risk to work from home and OP’s lower-level manager has taken it upon themselves to try to police that when the wider company is not asking or wanting him to do so, then they should definitely try to get out of it if they aren’t comfortable disclosing.

      If they haven’t tried yet, I think there is room for OP to say “I am high risk due to a medical condition but I would prefer to keep the specifics private at this time” and see if their boss accepts that or not.

    4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      To me it sounds like they are trying to take existing WFH policies and tweak them to the situation with not-so-great outcomes. My bet is the standard WFH policy was seen one way to meet ADA accommodations and thus required disclosure. Managers are now following that overly rigid policy because it hasn’t been adjusted for this situation and it is bumping into forcing people whose conditions don’t normally require WFH to disclose to get it.

      Note to anyone who writes WFH policies: Do what my employer and Mr. Gumption’s did. After the H1N1 pandemic both organizations included a pandemic or regional outbreak as a reason the grant WFH

  6. Amy*

    LW#2, I’m horrified, but unfortunately, not surprised. Time to get it in writing in from HR. You know, to confirm your new, one-person, gender and appearance-based dress code. Established so that other employees no longer think you look attractive enough to sexually harass. Then you can go get an employment lawyer all hot and bothered (so to speak), with the incredibly attractive details of your case.

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

      I’d do lawyer first, then HR, so I know how to properly act. So sorry you’re going through this, LW2

  7. Observer*

    #4 – Yes, your company can ask, but I wonder if they want to know. It’s hard to tell from your letter, but it sounds like this question is specifically coming from your boss, rather than as a company wide thing. So, I wonder if you can push back a little or just ask about why the question and if this is a company policy.

    1. Triplestep*

      I wondered this, too. Before I read the answer, my initial thought was that I would go around the manager to HR. The initial directive came from HR, and in any other case you’d start there. So it would be easy just to play it off to the manager with a shrug as “oh, I thought we were supposed to work it out with HR.”

    2. ADA plus*

      As someone who handles accommodation requests (we have a disability department) all that is shared with the supervisor or manager is: they have a qualifying condition, you are required to do …..the accommodations. We do talk about what is reasonable, as some jobs require physical presence during non-pandemic times.

  8. DCAnalyst2020*

    LW2: Regardless of what you are wearing, the behavior HR is permitting is inappropriate. There’s not threshold of fabric or fit that permits catcalling in the work place. Definitely advocate for yourself, and document your discussion via email if possible.

    LW3: I’m sort of inclined just to elevate it now, rather than waiting. If it were me, I’d have my manager reach out to their manager just to make sure the teams as a whole are aligned. Especially since Amy’s manager could realign some responsibilities to ensure that this gets done. My concern with elevating after the fact is that if I were Amy, I’d be bothered if I was asked about my current priorities and then you went to my boss when you didn’t get the answer you were looking for. This way the directives are coming down directly from my manager rather than from my “peer” via my manager, if that makes sense.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This might not change your perspective, but because the script is up-front with Amy that the OP will check with her manager if she can’t do it, I don’t think it’s going around her in a sneaky way.

    2. Seawren*

      I have been the Amy at work for the last year, and I regularly told people to talk to my manager about deadlines because I had no hope of meeting all the requests I got. It reached the point where I worked on a single priority at a time, determined by my boss, and ignored everything else until it was done or the priority changed. It was stressful, but much less so than trying to guess what was most important on my own.

  9. Observer*

    #2 – On a separate note, I have to wonder just how dysfunctional your workplace is. You’ve got a bunch of people who are acting (according to them) like a band of adolescent brats or worse, and their solution is to punish the victim in the hopes that this will make the brats stop being brats. Whether it’s because they are incapable of enforcing adult behavior for adults, or because it never occurred to them that you can and should do that, I don’t know. But either way it screams incompetence and warped attitudes.

    1. Mookie*

      I am mighty curious to the extent to which HR is using this unsubstantiated and unacceptable attention to protect the LW’s reputation (I accept that there is a possibility LW has never heard these “cat calls,” but note that cat calls, by their very attention, are designed to attract attention and unnerve their recipients), versus as a token preamble to discipline or terminate the LW on the technical grounds that she “failed” to hide her body. It isn’t often people tell you you are the subject of such gossip without some ulterior motive.

    2. Batgirl*

      It says a lot about the culture that they are catcalling behind LWs back, but in front of HR…

        1. D'Arcy*

          Went to HR, who decided that the *victim* is at fault and should be required to dress unattractively. Which is outrageous.

      1. Vicky Austin*

        That stuck out to me, too (no pun intended). When I think of catcalling, I think of gross men who stand on the sidewalk and make sexual comments to the women they find attractive as they walk by. I don’t think of it as something that people do behind your back. The point of catcalling a woman, as I understand it, is to get her attention. If they are making disgusting comments about her behind her back, then “catcalling” probably isn’t the most accurate word.

    3. Springella*

      I’d be first concerned about the number of people who obviously have too much time on their hands and so comment on what other people wear. They’re clearly under-employed.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Huh? What makes you think people are standing around with nothing to do? Talking in the workplace, while you do your job or on brief breaks, is utterly normal.

    4. Fikly*

      This is simply an extension of every time a victim is asked what they were wearing, as if it’s their fault or has any relevance.

      1. LunaLena*

        That, and also to schools having ridiculous dress codes for girls because “the boys are getting distracted; how are they supposed to learn when these girls are walking around being all feminine and stuff?”

  10. Mookie*

    Given the recent vintage of the ‘Jill’ position, it’s a shame that somebody in her shoes wasn’t given the opportunity to draft a Best Practices-like document, and it’s equally unfortunate both that Jill wasn’t ‘round to train the LW and that Jack doesn’t know what his assistant is supposed to be doing or how to do it.

    That said, it sounds like the LW is struggling/becoming accustomed to duties that aren’t as regimented as would necessitate a procedural manual and are, in fact and barring special circumstances, hers free to approach and altee, Jill’s habits be damned, aa she chooses. Jill’s ostensible willingness to ‘teach’ the LW’s manager indirectly opens up the possibility, however remote, that she return, telecommuting or otherwise, aa a part-time consultant for the LW, removing the boss as middle-man. If I were LW1, I’d both take Alison’s advice (let me handle this and forge my own protocols) and float the possibility of Jane returning in some temporary capacity to get LW up to speed, though this is dependent on the LW actually struggling to complete a core task, rather than simply tackling it from a novel perspective that Jack finds new and therefore threatening.

    I would also suggest that the LW not attribute to “closeness” between Jack and Jill what is essentially a common, if frustrating problem when the occupant of a new role decides to leave. I have a feeling Jack would be relying heavily on anyone who had filled this role, rather than Jill, his buddy, herself.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      We don’t know that Jill didn’t leave a best practices document!

      The OP’s boss isn’t giving them a chance to even try to answer questions that could be in those docs.

      I say this as a former Jill. I leave nowhere [well anywhere that I’ll pick up the phone for afterwards] without extensive procedure docs for whomever takes over next.

      Doesn’t matter. Former bosses, colleagues and replacements still call me. I do point them in the direction of those docs as well but honestly, most people who depend heavily on their assistants can fall into that “What do you mean you want me to figure it out myself with these docs?!”

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yep. I’ve been Jill, and even leaving a binder of docs, I still got calls. Some of it was stuff that was in there, some of it was stuff that changed after I left and I wouldn’t have known the answer anyway.

        1. James*

          I once left a job for a week, put together a list of instructions, even a few documents where I said “Fill this out, I’ll deal with it when I get back”. Still got calls, emails, and when I got back screw-ups to deal with. A good lesson for me there: people think differently, and what’s clear to me isn’t necessarily clear to someone else.

          1. Person who asked Question #1*

            Hi! I’m the person who asked question #1!

            Thank you for your input. At the time of sending the original email I’d been at the job for four months. This question was answered about two months later. I am happy to say that things on the “Jill” end have improved a bit. I find myself being able to talk relatively freely with my boss about my ideas. I do have access to Jill to ask her questions when need be, but I find that to be a rare occurrence.

            Jill tried to cover what she could before leaving, but a lot of the time, it’s one of those things where you don’t really realize all the steps you’re taking for certain things – they’re second nature to you. A lot of the things I needed help with were situations I did not have to come across until after she left.

            I think now it was a big adjustment period for my boss, who had to say goodbye to a valuable worker and friend (not that they’re not still friends, but now they don’t see each other every day). He is honestly a really good boss and cares about my success and understanding of the organization and my job. I think he is starting to see that I am a quick learner and good at finding answers on my own where needed. I still need a tiny bit of guidance from time to time, but I think he’s starting to find that it’s easier to explain certain things to me rather than reaching out to a third party for advice. It’s very rare I have to consult Jill anymore. Thank you to everyone for caring enough to offer your advice!

  11. ExecAsst*

    While I agree that OP 1’s boss is definitely being annoying, I do think that it would be slightly inappropriate for him/her to say that to his/her boss. If I ever got an assistant who said that to me, I would immediately be confused because I would assume the assistant is asking because s/her already did the legwork of figuring it out. I’ve had a lot of picky bosses before and when I came into my role, I was replacing a very well-loved assistant. I did everything I could to figure everything out on my own. That included asking other assistants, Department supervisors, etc., self-research and trial and error – the last resort was always my boss because my goal was to ensure that he was not bothered and just got the finished product in the end. Of course, I would Judge this strategy based on the time constraints I had and the particularness of the task at hand, but mostly I just did the work through finding other resources. It could be that this is what Jill did and as a result, her boss never knew the legwork behind it and figures it will be easier to ask Jill (the one who probably never had to ask for help).
    You will be surprised at how little bosses know. When it came for my review, my boss said he was surprised at how quickly I picked up everything and how well I knew how to do things, considering how new I was to the role. On his end, he knew nothing of the scrambling I had to do-everything was smooth and well done. On my end, I was working hard.
    I would advise OP #1 to first do the legwork of making sure you have looked into all possibilities for the task – chances are you will find the answer before having to ask your boss and soon your boss will rely on you just as s/he did with Jill.

    1. Mookie*

      Nothing indicates the LW has actively sought her manager’s assistance because she failed to execute a duty after it had been reasonably explained to her. It is slightly ludicrous to me that a new employee should be expected to have no training and ask no questions, lest she be labelled a non self-starter. Boss should know what the LW does to some degree, otherwise how are they expected to evaluate her performance or help identify where she ran off course?

      That said, it doesn’t sound like the LW is asking that her hand be held. She is seeking enough clarification so she can forge her own path without traipsing along unproductive detours, not an unreasonable request at all. Responding to that by punting the question to Jill suggests, between the two of them, that the boss learned and retained nothing while the LW is getting up to her own speed with no encouragement or support.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I don’t think that ExecAsst is saying that the OP should require no training and ask no questions – that seems like quite an unfair interpretation? I think the point is more that “assistant” type jobs are often ones where the boss really doesn’t know the exact processes of how certain tasks get done and Jill may not have ever told him how she was accomplishing them. It depends strongly on what exactly OP’s role is and what type of questions she’s asking, of course, but I’m not terribly surprised that his only suggestion is to ask Jill – it’s not that he “learned and retained nothing” but that the point of a lot of assistant jobs is that he shouldn’t have to know in any detail.

    2. Mme de Poppadom*

      Thank you for this story, ExecAsst, because it did sound like LW1 was missing an opportunity to show their boss they could work independently on their own judgment, and solve problems without adding to either Jack or Jill’s plate.

      Boss relied on Jill like he hopes to rely on LW1, but LW1 is looking to Boss for guidance they aren’t going to get without having Jill involved.

      After 6 months, def past probation, it would look good on LW1 to use their own judgment or other resources, since Jack doesn’t know and would rather consult someone at LW1’s level.

      In my old role, I too had a Jill situation, where the oft-heard phrase was “Well, *Jill* did it *this* way.” My internal response was: I’m not Jill; I was hired to do a job, not be an impersonator of our beloved predecessor, and it’s my job to deliver the role’s outcomes, not supply you with Jill-continuity.

      And as with all superstars, not everything my Jill did was perfect, and ppl soon got used to how I did things.

      That said, I still had access to Jill myself despite her new role, which was a blessing, but if I’d known my boss was consulting her about my role, I’d have done anything to cut out the middleman due to how weak my position would look and how it means I’m not taking a task away from my boss’ plate.

      Like EA, I scrambled to find answers or said yes before knowing exactly how I’d make it happen. Then, I’d inform the requesters of either the options of the result of my investigation, created something as a draft for their review, or advised what I’d delivered, which provides them a way to say aye or nay if it wasn’t what they expected.
      But in all cases I demonstrated doing all the thinking or legwork, just leaving the requestor with final say depending on my confidence in the task. More telling “here’s ABC” than asking “should I A, B, or C?”.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Two of my worst jobs ever were being the third replacement in several months for someone who’d been a small business owner’s assistant for seven years in one case and ten years in another. Both owners essentially refused to train me, because Amy knew how to do everything and where everything was and how he liked everything, so I should too. (Never mind that I’d never even met either Amy.)

        In both cases, I didn’t last long, just like the other admins. The boss’s requirement for the job was basically Be Amy, complete with all her knowledge magically downloaded into our heads, so of course no one could measure up.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Awwww see the best jobs I’ve had are similar to that, only because I was able to dazzle the heck out of those bosses, they forgot Jill pretty quickly after I solidified myself. However it did indeed take about 12 months to do that successfully.

          I was at my bosses funeral. Jill was not. End scene.

    3. Amy Sly*

      Agreed. I was taught that you should never bother the boss with a question unless you’ve exhausted all your options. Otherwise, a script that says “Oh, well, if you don’t know, then I’ll go look up the answer myself” sounds like you aren’t diligent and are wasting his time.

      My suggestion would be 1) exhaust any company resources you have (sounds like there may not be any).

      2a) If Jill’s knowledge base is truly vital information that’s not anywhere else (e.g. vendors with preexisting relationships, how to work the software, etc.) you should talk to Jill directly; particularly at this point, you and she may be able to create some kind of document that covers a lot of these things you’ve been taking to your boss. It sounds like when the boss gets the answer from Jill, he doesn’t loop you in on the information or even the thought process, so you aren’t learning how to do it yourself. If Jill’s knowledge is “the way the boss is used to doing things” as opposed to “the only way to make something happen,” that’s probably not necessary, but it may be helpful even so.

      2b) If Jill’s input is just “the way things have always been done” and your questions are more “which equally valid approach should I use,” come to your boss with a couple options to whatever the problem is and ask him to tell you which is best. That will help wean him away from needing Jill’s approval.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      All my former bosses would have referred to the person in the role before me as well, so I’m like “Huh” when it comes to thinking Jack is annoying for still relying on Jill in some aspects.

      Most people with EA’s and assistants have stopped remembering how to do things long ago. Even my boss who was an assistant themselves years ago and worked into an executive role, doesn’t know how to do some things!

      The good thing is that they do know how to troubleshoot really well but that’s a waste of their time…so in some cases, they had to teach me how to troubleshoot in a system in ways they know. They also gave me ALL the contacts I need to go further. So I should not be bothering the boss for those questions, I have other resources available for “how do I find that doc” or “where did we get that thing last?” and it’s never the boss…because usually the requests of “I need That Doc” and “That last vendor used?” questions are from…the boss. So if they knew, they’d just go snatch it up themselves.

      I’d just stop being annoyed at him for this, you’re asking questions and he’s getting you the answers. He doesn’t seem to be mad about it and at least Jill keeps picking up.

      1. Person who asked Question #1*

        Hi! I’m the person who asked question #1!

        Thank you for your input. At the time of sending the original email I’d been at the job for four months. This question was answered about two months later. I am happy to say that things on the “Jill” end have improved a bit. I find myself being able to talk relatively freely with my boss about my ideas. I do have access to Jill to ask her questions when need be, but I find that to be a rare occurrence.

        The reason why it made the most sense in my position to ask my boss is because he is the person I report to directly. He is the “department head,” he’s the one who knows everything about my department and about the majority of what I should be doing with my job duties. There is, quite literally, no one else I can ask these questions to – in fact, my boss encourages people to ask him for help as well, because he wants to help everyone perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. I respect that about him. I would really try my hardest to find an answer before going to him, but sometimes answers just aren’t found that easily.

        Jill tried to cover what she could before leaving, but a lot of the time, it’s one of those things where you don’t really realize all the steps you’re taking for certain things – they’re second nature to you. A lot of the things I needed help with were situations I did not have to come across until after she left.

        I think now it was a big adjustment period for my boss, who had to say goodbye to a valuable worker and friend (not that they’re not still friends, but now they don’t see each other every day). He is honestly a really good boss and cares about my success and understanding of the organization and my job. I think he is starting to see that I am a quick learner and good at finding answers on my own where needed. I still need a tiny bit of guidance from time to time, but I think he’s starting to find that it’s easier to explain certain things to me rather than reaching out to a third party for advice. It’s very rare I have to consult Jill anymore. Thank you to everyone on this comment thread for caring enough to offer your advice!

  12. Jay*

    Seriously, #2, what other standards are they trying to enforce?!?!
    Effective Immediately:
    -Unattractive people are now required to wear bags over their heads, so as not to frighten children and livestock.
    -Any person or persons fitting the description of “Nerd” will henceforth be prohibited from wearing underwear in order to prevent excessive time lost due to wedgies.

    1. Random IT person*

      First one would leave OP alone in an office full of people with bags – as their culture seems ugly by blaming the victim….

    2. Deejay*

      Nerds are also banned from rooms containing toilets and lockers to avoid head-stuffing incidents.

  13. The Rafters*

    #4, Note the difference between your employer and your boss. In old job, there were many layers between staff, our “boss” and our “employer.” Boss often wanted info from us that was absolutely not her business – she sometimes wanted extremely specific medical information. We sometimes had documentation sent directly to HR to put in our files. She wasn’t pleased, but not a dang thing she could do because the documentation was given.

  14. MistOrMister*

    OP2, I agree that your company has not handled this well. BUT, can you have someone who’s judgment you trust take a look at your wardrobe to confirm that your clothes are appropriate? The fact that you say you think they are business casual makes me think you’re not 100% certain. I worked in a large department with a number of 20 somethings. One lady worse skirts that looked fine in the front but in the back were slit up so far I’m surprised she wasn’t constantly having a wardrobe malfunction. Or else pants that looked spray painted on and were not the right style for a business. A number of the other ladies also wore inappropriate clothes (see through tops, rompers with booty shorts, flipflops, etc) that I am sure made them feel nice and attractive, but had no place in the office based on the dress code. If we’d actually had decent management, a lot of those people would have been sent home to change on multiple occasions. So I wonder if maybe your clothing could be not quite fitting the dress code but you’re not seeing it. Someone else might be able to give you some peace,of mind there.

    That being said, even if your clothes are maybe a little too casual, your employer has handled this stupidly. I was once told to change a style of shirt because my chest was distracting people. I told them another coworker wears the exact same type of shirt and if she didn’t have to stop wearing it, neither would I!!! This wasn’t something where my heaving bosoms were smacking everyone in the face if they came near, just apparently if your chesticles are over a certain size, you should wear a potato sack to protect the menfolks. If this is what’s happening, keep doing you!! It’s not your fault if everyone else is acting like a moron!!! Also, congratulations on getting a promotion :)

    1. Arts Akimbo*

      Allison stated above that the OP sent her a photo of an outfit and that it was totally professional.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      After reading through yours and similar comments, I do now remember a teammate from 20+ years ago who dressed super unprofessionally. But my mind did not go there when I read OP’s letter, and I’m going to explain why. Aforementioned teammate once made waves throughout the office (as in people asking each other “Have you seen X yet? Go see what she’s wearing”) when she came in wearing what basically was a naughty schoolgirl outfit; short skirt, a tight top, and black knee-highs. Another time I was standing outside taking an early break with a few other coworkers at around 9 am, when Teammate pulled into the parking lot and walked past all of us, coming into work wearing a light top and clearly no bra – she was quite well-endowed. I still have that image burned into my retina!

      But. a) the reaction around the office was different. More on the horrified/mouth agape spectrum than in the catcalling and lusty stares territory. There was no catcalling or stares. b) whenever this person was talked to about her outfits (which was often) the message was “you look unprofessional” and “you are projecting a bad image of the company to outside visitors”. Never a “you make your male coworkers excited and that distracts them from work and it is somehow your job to make sure they’re not being h_rny during office hours” – that would’ve been just gross and wrong and, even in the late 90s, the management and HR in our office knew better than to go there. How OP’s HR could have that talk with her in 2020, I will never know. But this also tells me that OP did in fact look professional, and was in fact projecting a professional image to the clients – otherwise wouldn’t HR have led with that, and not with the ridiculous argument that they did make. TL;DR it never even occurred to me from OP’s letter that she might be in violation of the dress code. (And I was happy to read that Alison has confirmed it that she’s not!)

      1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

        the message was “you look unprofessional” and “you are projecting a bad image of the company to outside visitors”. Never a “you make your male coworkers excited and that distracts them from work and it is somehow your job to make sure they’re not being h_rny during office hours”

        Perfectly articulated.

        1. caps22*

          +10. Young professionals often need guidance on their appearance as they transition to a new professional role. But the feedback should be based on looking professional and not on somehow magically controlling men’s reactions. I was once young and cute, and my tastes have always been on the baggy/modest side, but trust me that didn’t stop men from harassing me. Wearing clothes that fit rather than 1-2 sizes too big was a hard step for me, but an important one for looking professional.

    3. high school teacher*

      Plenty of twenty somethings, myself included, manage to dress perfectly appropriate at work. In fact, at my first job, the only person who did not dress appropriately was a woman in her late 40s. Let’s not generalize. It depends on the person, not the generation.

      1. Amy Sly*

        True, but a 20-something’s fashion faux pas is far more likely to result from ignorance than a woman in her late 40s, suggesting a softer tone to take.

        On a lawyer forum I used to frequent, there would be questions about “why does career services tell us what to wear” with replies about “we told a woman to wear her best outfit. She came in for an interview in a summer dress with a giant hat.”

        1. MissDisplaced*

          It is kind of true that much of the clothing bought in the “Juniors” department is still too sexy/low-cut/high-slit, or tight for the office: even if it initially looks “businesslike” like it should be a suit or dress FOR the office.

          This can be a common issue for young 20-somethings starting out a job who are still used to shopping in the Juniors section due to size and fit. They think they’re buying office clothes, but those aren’t really office clothes.

          1. Amy Sly*

            Yeah. It’s not that no one thinks 20 somethings never know how to dress; just that when it’s a mistake it’s more likely to be made by younger people because they didn’t know. When the cougar does it, she almost certainly knows she’s not appropriate and is doing it anyway.

            I had one of those junior “suits” that I wore while I was teaching high school. Yeah, that was a mistake!

        2. Vicky Austin*

          A summer dress with a giant hat totally sounds like something I would have worn to work back when I worked in an office, and no one ever told me it was unprofessional.

      2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        When my husband was in grad school, one of the senior admins of his department was in her 50s and was famous for wearing clubwear to the office. Hair, heavy eye makeup, tight/bare sparkle shirts, spike heels, short skirts, lots of dangly sparkly jewelry.

        She was nice and good at her job, it was just odd.

      3. James*

        I would put it this way: It’s more understandable that someone fresh out of school doesn’t understand workplace norms regarding attire. We should expect new people to make mistakes; it’s part of the learning process. That includes clothing. Many twenty-somethings dress perfectly fine, but when they don’t it should be treated as “Hey, I know you’re new here, so here’s some information you may not know”.

        As others have said, if a 40 year old (man or woman) dresses inappropriately it’s a more serious issue. They know better (unless they worked in a blue-collar field all their life, in which case some leeway should be granted).

      4. MistOrMister*

        I never said all 20 somethings did this. I said there was a specific lady who wore inappropriate things andnso did some of the others in that age group. I’m not sure how it’s genralizing to say I saw some people do something. I never said all people in that age group do it.

  15. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    LW 1 – You have my sympathy and my support. I had the same experience. My predecessor retired after 25 years in the job and, as a longtime employee put it, the leadership and staff went through major separation anxiety after “Mom” left. Some of the leadership wanted real change and a more professional approach, which I tried to provide, but others wanted things to stay just the way Jane did it. I was always hearing that I had large shoes to fill. Sorry, folks, she wasn’t that great, but she mothered them. Whenever there was a problem, instead of giving me a chance to work it out, my dept head would say, as if a light went off over his head, “I have an idea! Call Jane…” who DIDN’T WORK THERE ANYMORE. He talked as if she were in the next cubicle, still at his beck and call. On top of that, Jane was diagnosed with a serious medical issue shortly before her retirement, and they all knew it. Yet they expected me to pester a sick woman about a lost file (and if she’d been so great at the job, the files would be in order and we wouldn’t have to hunt high and low, but that’s another story). I didn’t last a year. I even got an email after I left indicating that she had approached my manager about me.
    Months later, in a chance meeting with a former coworker, I found out my team was even calling Jane about dept. matters and bypassing me completely. None of them could let go and Jane couldn’t butt out.

    I hope Alison’s advice works for you. I now think if I’d handled it more that way the outcome would’ve been better, but one team member described me as the “rebound” person and we know how those turn out.

    Just as a special little extra, some years later they actually sent me a fundraising appeal letter. Yeah, sure–I’ll just call Jane about getting that check going for you.

    1. 'Tis Me*

      Wow – a combination of indispensable and actually-not-that-good is an interesting legacy to leave, and unfortunately stitched both of you up – you were literally not being allowed to do your job, and Jane wasn’t being allowed to focus on her health/enjoy her retirement/otherwise move on…

      I’m kinda not surprised that Jane’s takeaway was “Why am I being asked all of these questions? What’s WPB doing there??” although it sucks that the answer was a mixture of trying to clean up her mess, being bypassed in favour of asking an ex-employee, and being told how great Jane was…

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        ”a combination of indispensable and actually-not-that-good”

        Ugh, I’ve dealt with this before and it’s not fun. I think what happens is that if someone is there for long enough, they become indispensable BECAUSE they’re not that good – the systems they’ve created don’t actually work very well so they become the only person who knows where X file is saved or how to order Y, which they know off by heart because they’ve been doing it for 20 years. They look great at the job because they can do these apparently very complicated tasks instantly, when in fact they’re the reason the tasks are complicated in the first place. (Ask me how I feel about one of my colleagues, lol.)

        1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          You totally hit the nail on the head. Jane didn’t have much office experience when she got hired, and the office was a mess. I mean, she’d sent out checks and hadn’t documented them! She left the cabinet with the personnel files unlocked. Another long-timer in the department said one reason everyone loved her was that she’d do whatever they told her to do without question, and they had her do some pretty iffy things. She’d violated serious policies and procedures for years, but apparently everyone just gave up on her ever doing certain things correctly. I took one person some paperwork prepared “just the way Jane did it,” and the lady said it wasn’t right and said, “We had to take this from her for years, but we’re not going to take it from you.” Others weren’t so blunt, but I more than one experience like that.

      2. hbc*

        I took over in management where there were at least three key people who were reportedly awesome and indispensable, and…no. Smart people about specific things, pretty different from each other in terms of how they operate, but their uniting feature seems to be an inability to share information in any useful way.

        Someone being indispensable is always a sign of bad management, and often also a bad employee. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re a wizard with the books if no one knows how much money we have without you there.

      3. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        Jane came in a few times after I started ostensibly to train me, but most of the time she was getting paid for got frittered away as she chitchatted with her buddies. At the end of one session she said to me a little ruefully that all her years there didn’t seem to mean anything. But she’d also made remarks about how glad she was not to have to come in there every day and being glad it was over! I think she just had a very hard time accepting that she wasn’t indispensable and that the office was going to continue to function after she left.

    2. Person who asked Question #1*

      Hi! I’m the person who asked question #1! Thank you for your input. At the time of sending the original email I’d been at the job for four months. This question was answered about two months later. I am happy to say that things on the “Jill” end have improved a bit. I find myself being able to talk relatively freely with my boss about my ideas. I do have access to Jill to ask her questions when need be, but I find that to be a rare occurrence. I think now it was a big adjustment period for my boss, who had to say goodbye to a valuable worker and friend (not that they’re not still friends, but now they don’t see each other every day). He is honestly a really good boss and cares about my success and understanding of the organization and my job. I think he is starting to see that I am a quick learner and good at finding answers on my own where needed. I still need a tiny bit of guidance from time to time, but I think he’s starting to find that it’s easier to explain certain things to me rather than reaching out to a third party for advice. Jill did what she could to train me while she was still there, but it was one of those situations where there’s so much to do, you don’t really think about all the steps you’re taking – they’re just second nature, and a lot of the stuff I needed help with were things that didn’t come up until after she’d left. I find myself a lot happier now that some more time has passed. Thank you for caring enough to offer your input!

  16. It's All Elementary*

    There seems to be something about older women who’ve had the same job for their whole life? I work with several of the “same generation” ladies who have had only this one job and are now nearing retirement. Trying to get them to share what they know is like pulling teeth. They refuse to take a day off because “no one can do this job but me” and when you offer to be a backup for them so they can take a day off, they refuse to share their knowledge. I’m in line to take over for one of these ladies in the next year or so and it scares me to think what I’ll be stepping into because they refuse to admit that it’s important to have someone else who can do their job as a backup. Some parts for me feel like they aren’t capable of teaching so they avoid doing it, and another part of me thinks they just like the control. Either way, I feel like I might be in the same position of the letter writer in two years time. Hopefully, with a boss who will not call on these ladies for information.

    1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

      Option B: control.

      It kind of sounds like the women who find excuses not to pass on the recipes for their son’s favourite dishes to their daughter-in-law. “Oh I’ve been making this for 40 years, I can’t expect her to get the knack for it. Poor dear, I’d hate to see him so disappointed in her cooking if she couldn’t make it as good as mine! Besides, what point is there in her going to ALL that trouble when I am still here to make it anyway? Mother always makes it the best, everyone says that!”
      Which clearly comes from a place of fear: that they’ll be unneeded, less special, less valued, less important in their sons’s eyes.

      The thinking sounds so similar, I can’t help but wonder if it could be approached in a similar way..?

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        God I love my mother in law
        Her response was Woo Hoo! Now you can do it – here’s his check book, the recipe for his favorite X, Y, and Z, and I’m so glad there’s another girl!!!!

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          +1000! My x-husband was the oldest of three boys and we got married in our early 20s. My MIL literally did not have the time or energy for these antics. (sniffle) I miss her, she was the best MIL one could have. (Still alive, but not my MIL anymore.)

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          So his mother was handling his checkbook and was thrilled to turn it over to his wife? Oh dear.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Now that you say it, mine knew how to make his favorite X, Y, and Z by the time we got married… hmm

            1. CupcakeCounter*

              She handled his bills while he was in college never gave it up when he graduated and started working. I definitely gave him some serious side eye about that but his mother is definitely someone who takes everything on without being asked to do so (not in a controlling way though…just she was the oldest of 3 and was sort of their caregiver since mom worked 2nd shift and dad was fun but not real responsible).
              As for the recipes, well I love to bake and the favorites she turned over were his special birthday cake, favorite Christmas cookies, and rum cake. He actually did the cooking when we were dating due to our schedules but he really regressed a lot when he had to move home for a while after graduation. MIL & FIL were big fans of take out and restaurants.

      2. AKchic*

        100% control. In the MIL case, it’s attributed to the Aphrodite-Psyche complex, but in the workplace, I don’t know what we’d call it.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’m going to be charitable and guess job insecurity. If the last time they looked for work was 40 years ago, and they only worked at one place their whole life and did basically the same work day-to-day for most of it, they know that, should they lose their job, they aren’t likely to get another. So they hold on to it for dear life the best way they can; by making themselves indispensable. Of course no one really is indispensable, but I guess they don’t want to think about that.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I agree, and I think it might also be something to do with the type of job. In my (personal, limited) experience I have mostly seen this attitude from older women in admin-y type roles, who know that their job isn’t held in as high prestige as other roles in their workplace. There’s a sort of “well you guys might get all the glory but without ME nothing would ever get DONE around here” undercurrent, which is often entirely accurate but also means that they’re quite unwilling to accept help or let other people “take over”.

      2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        Not to mention someone with that much time on the job has gone thru many times like we’re having now, with the economy tanking and people facing job loss, so they cling to their livelihood and their financial stability. Today I had to talk someone off the ledge who’s been on her job nearly 50 years and put in for retirement a few weeks ago, but got terribly frightened in the last couple of weeks and postponed retirement indefinitely.

        But I have a current coworker who’s only, say, mid-career, and she won’t share information, has her own little system that’s largely busywork. Yeesh! People are always saying the place couldn’t run without her, but having worked in more places than I’d like to count, I can tell you an office administrator with reasonable intelligence and education, 3 or 4 years of good experience, and solid computer skills could make mincemeat of the busywork and get the job done.

    3. Veronica Mars*

      I think the main theme there is that they want to feel valuable. After all, what if in a short while you’re just as competent as them at a craft they spent their whole life perfecting? That’s a terrible feeling. And the best way to avoid it is to be the only one who can do anything.

      I had a similar challenge trying to get employees to teach newcomers. They were afraid they’d lose their job once the ‘cheaper labor’ mastered the things. How I was able to overcome it was by phrasing it as “I’d really love to get these boring tasks off your plate so we can free you up to do more strategic, *important* things.” And then ramping up the *important* things until they had no choice but to delegate or fail to get things done.
      This is obviously much harder with people close to retirement, but maybe you could set them to work creating a training manual or something?

    4. hbc*

      It’s all men who are like this at my current place. A couple of them are definitely incapable of teaching–they talk in circles, forget crucial steps, and overcomplicate. They all have their emotions wrapped up in feeling needed too. One actually came to tell me that it hurt his feelings when he wasn’t consulted on something that had to be decided immediately and he wasn’t available.

    5. Policy Wonk*

      Nope – not older women, please don’t generalize. In some cases it is company culture, in some cases it is on the individual, but the bottom line is this: If someone else knows this, I’m not important anymore, so I won’t share. Where it is company culture, everyone does this, not just the women, not just the older people. It is learned behavior.

    6. Sylvan*

      I replaced one of these ladies when she retired. It turned out that she was just looking busy a lot, plus spending a lot of time talking. :/ I had very little to do, had some very awkward conversations with management about it, and when I left, I wasn’t replaced.

      I’ve met men like this, too, by the way.

  17. Thankful for AAM*

    For #1, can you try saing to the boss, for situation a, do you prefer option x or y?

    If you ask what he prefers, it is less about what Jill did and more about what Jack wants.

    1. Veronica Mars*

      Honestly I think he’s not doing this *at* you or because he thinks you can’t. He’s just in the habit of going to Jill, and you need to help him break that habit.

      One way to do that is by coming to him with a solution already proposed. “The nonsense chickens are out of their hatch again, so I was planning to spend some time googling the best coral methods. Does that sound good?” Instead of “The nonsense chickens are out of their hatch again, what should we do?”

      1. Amy Sly*

        Exactly. This only works if it’s not actually critical information that Jill’s holding on to, but bosses don’t want questions; they want things taken care of. Come to them with a solution in hand, and unless the solution or the boss is terrible, they’ll go with it so they can move on to other things.

    2. Person of Interest*

      I was thinking the same – instead of just bringing a problem to the boss and opening a door for him to ask Jill, bring the problem and a couple of options for how you were thinking it could be solved, and your recommended top choice. Cuts down on the need to consult with Jill if you already bring options to the table.

      1. Person who asked Question #1*

        Thank you to everyone in this thread who replied to my letter with advice! I’m the person who asked question #1. Thank you for your input. At the time of sending the original email I’d been at the job for four months. This question was answered about two months later. I am happy to say that things on the “Jill” end have improved a bit. I find myself being able to talk relatively freely with my boss about my ideas. I have learned to stop asking such open-ended questions and providing potential solutions instead, and I think that’s helped greatly. I do have access to Jill to ask her questions when need be, but I find that to be a rare occurrence. I think now it was a big adjustment period for my boss, who had to say goodbye to a valuable worker and friend (not that they’re not still friends, but now they don’t see each other every day). He is honestly a really good boss and cares about my success and understanding of the organization and my job. I think he is starting to see that I am a quick learner and good at finding answers on my own where needed. I still need a tiny bit of guidance from time to time, but I think he’s starting to find that it’s easier to explain certain things to me rather than reaching out to a third party for advice. It’s very rare I have to consult Jill anymore. Thank you for caring enough to offer your advice!

        1. Veronica Mars*

          Aw what a happy update! Good for you. I HATE adjusting to new jobs, there’s always some level of discomfort.

  18. doreen*

    #5 – I just want to point out that overtime is based on a payweek and that payweek doesn’t necessarily match your work schedule. For example, I work Monday through Friday and my payweek is Thursday through Wednesday. So if an overtime -eligible employee works a few hours extra on Thursday and takes those hours off “next calendar week” it’s just fine as long as it’s between Mon-Wed which is the same payweek.

    1. Admin Formerly Known as Actor*

      This was my question/comment as well! I hadn’t heard that it was based on 40 hours per week, I always thought it was however many hours in a pay period. So that in a biweekly pay period, for example, if you work a little extra in week one and then less in week two, it was fine. I’m exempt now, but I’m going to read what was linked to see if I’ve done this wrong in the past.

      1. Phony Genius*

        For the purposes of overtime calculation, a two-week pay period must be divided into two individual weeks.

        1. Sharikacat*

          Which does mean that LW5 can earn overtime in Week 1 and try to balance out the overall pay by working less in Week 2. The paycheck stub should reflect this. The LW will absolutely be paid for time worked, even OT in Week 1, but the manager will take steps to lessen the hours worked in Week 2 so that LW’s paycheck will be roughly equivalent of 80 regular hours. A little cruddy on a personal level but still legal.

          Sometimes, those coupe of extra hours LW needs to work on a given week may be in Week 2, where it can’t otherwise be mitigated, and the manager has to explain that payroll overage, but they will try to balance the budget when possible and offer a valid excuse to their bosses when they can’t.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Nope, it’s per work week, not pay period. But your company can set any 7-day period as the work week (Wed-Tues or whatever). They just need to stick with it; they can’t change it to get around overtime pay.

  19. nep*

    #2. Head exploding. This is where we are. Cat-calling/sexual harassment are the woman’s fault. Stop wearing anything that gives you any form beyond a paper bag. Stop looking so pretty. Hide this. Tuck that.
    LW, I’m so sorry you’re having to face this. I hope for your sake your HR will shape up. I can’t imagine them truly changing their thinking; they seem so stuck in this ridiculous mindset. But I hope they’ll at least wake up to the fact that their job is to back you up and to shut down the harassment and imbecilic behavior. All the best.

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

    LW2, I was reading your letter and the image of Noi from Dorohedoro wearing a suit and sneakers in episode 8 came to my mind.
    Except no one would say such things about her, because a) she would crush them to death (and heal afterwards) and b) her cousin would turn them to mushrooms on the spot

  21. James*

    I wonder if sexual harassment is the whole story here with LW#2. I wonder if some of this isn’t coming from hostility towards someone who moved up in the world. I’ve seen it before–I in fact had a conversation about that the day before yesterday, with a field staff complaining about people moving up too fast (becoming a project manager in 10 years was too fast to him). He had some legitimate complaints, but there was a lot of bitterness there as well.

    I wonder if some of the harassment is less about how the LW looks, and more about the workers wanting to tear her down for doing something they can’t/won’t, and how she looks is an easy way to do this.

    LW, even after you go to HR keep an eye out for other types of behavior designed to make your life miserable coming from these people.

    As an aside, I second what everyone has said: You don’t deserve this, and it’s horrible that you’re going through it. Stand up against it!

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Sadly, I wondered the same thing, James. Maybe some of the cat-callers are doing it for all the awful reasons a lot of cat-callers do. But OP made a move to build her career, and she isn’t ‘one of the guys’ like before. Maybe some of those folks want to take her down a notch and show OP ‘her place.’ Or maybe they’re just trying to deal with their own jealousy.

      The behavior OP 2 describes is despicable and needs to stop, no matter why it’s happening. OP, I’m sorry you have to deal with this, and your HR department sucks as much as your co-workers. Please take Alison’s advice.

      1. James*

        “The behavior OP 2 describes is despicable and needs to stop, no matter why it’s happening.”

        100% in agreement. My only concern is specific tactics for dealing with it. If the issue is limited to sexual harassment Allyson’s advice is good, but if there are other issues as well it may not be adequate. The LW may be playing “Hostile Workplace Whack-A-Mole”.

    2. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      That could very well be. Maybe other people wanted the promotion OP got and they are now using OP’s way of dressing for the job she now has against her. People can be viscous when someone else gets a job or promotion they wanted.

      1. Can be rainy*

        I love your use of “viscous”! Yes people can be so nastily sticky that it becomes vicious.
        You made my day. Lots of viscous love ;-)

    3. Arctic*

      I think that’s a good point.

      There is definitely sexual harassment/gender discrimination happening. No question. But there is also likely an aspect of “know your place.”

      Gross all around.

  22. MeTwoToo*

    OP#2, Is anyone else wondering if this is just HR? Has anyone else really said anything or is this just HR using it as an excuse? I once had HR come to me to tell me my assistant needed to wear something less revealing. She was a 20-something wearing a dress with full length lace sleeves. Meanwhile, this 40-something just stared at her in my TotallySleeveless! tank dress until she shuffled her papers awkwardly and went away.

    1. Koala dreams*

      Yes, the comments from HR was sexual harassment in their own right too. I’m a bit more pessimistic than you, though, my guess is that since that HR are openly making sexist comments to women, the toxic sexism is wide-spread in the rest of the company as well. Of course, I hope I’m wrong and this is just about one bad apple in HR.

  23. Pretzelgirl*

    OP#2- Do you work for a chain of hotels? Was your HR local to your hotel? If so, I would see if there is a corporate HR you could escalate this to.

  24. I Will Steal Your Pens*

    YAY! Victim Blaming is still a Thing!!

    SMDH – people like that in my field make me understand why people hate my colleagues.

  25. CupcakeCounter*

    Also maybe take Amy with you to the meeting with the boss(es). That way in addition to you letting everyone know there is a potential issue, Amy can also make her case for getting those positions backfilled faster and you both can stand up for each other if needed. Plus extra witnesses for whatever decision they make so neither of you gets dinged later on for not getting things done exactly when originally scheduled.

  26. Jean*

    Holy incompetent HR (LW #2). This is a textbook DON’T in the corporate world. Love Alison’s script so much I want to marry it.

  27. Phillip*

    #4’s company is really ignorant. I wouldn’t qualify, but my wife and I care for our ailing parents at home. Thank god we can work from home because if we couldn’t we’d be putting them at risk. Any workplace that can allow their workers to WFH, but doesn’t, is being tremendously irresponsible.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      That’s a good point–they really need to consider not just whether their employees are high-risk but also whether their employees live with someone else who is high-risk.

  28. boobs magee*

    #2, if it makes you feel better, I once had a supervisor write me three-page letter telling me that my breasts are so large it made her uncomfortable and that I shouldn’t be around children (was a primary school teacher at the time). It was written on Mickey and Minnie Mouse stationery.

    Anyways, yeah, this is worth raising heck over.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Okay, I read all the examples other people gave–scrolled along, all the way down–and THIS is the one that really made me go “WTeverlovingF!?”

    2. AKchic*

      You cannot drop that kind of bomb without giving us the ending. Spill. The. Tea.

      What happened? Follow-up, pretty please?

  29. Not Alison*

    One thing OP2 didn’t mention is what kind of clothes do the other women in administrative functions wear. Also what do the men wear? If the other women are wearing a polo and pants (which can show curves) and the men are also wearing a polo and pants, it seems that the OP has less to complain about. Also, is work the appropriate place to show off your curves or is it better to dress that way outside of work to attract the people you want to impress? All I’m saying is that those of us women who were in the workforce during the time of John T Malloy’s “Dress for Success” who dressed in somber suits probably would agree with the HR dept. and urge you to not be a distraction so that “being a distraction” would not impede your promotability with this company.

    1. Jennifer*

      What the hell??? She’s dressing professionally because of the job she has now, not “showing off her curves.” If you have this kind of body a potato sack will show off your curves. She was a painter before so obviously she’s not going to dress the same way she did in her last role.

      If her body impedes her “promotability” it’s because the people she works with are jackholes, not because she’s doing anything wrong.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      All I’m saying is that those of us women who were in the workforce during the time of John T Malloy’s “Dress for Success” who dressed in somber suits probably would agree with the HR dept. and urge you to not be a distraction so that “being a distraction” would not impede your promotability with this company.

      Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Problem.

    3. Mockingjay*

      Why in the name of all deities do women have to pretend they don’t have curves at work? It’s ridiculous! I am a woman. Fact: I have large boobs. I dress professionally, but my clothes do not hide my curves, they literally can’t.

      And in response to “those of us women who were in the workforce during the time of John T Malloy’s “Dress for Success” who dressed in somber suits,” you were being made to dress like a man.

      1. Grits McGee*

        Seriously, the only thing that would “hide” my curves is a caftan, and I’d get dinged for being unprofessional* anyway.

        *Unprofessional, but fabulous

        1. KoiFeeder*

          The right caftan can make anyone look gorgeous, curves, no curves, or non-euclidean curves.

      2. Imtheone*

        The definition of sexism: By its very nature, a woman’s body can’t look professional.

      3. Kat in VA*

        Chiming in to agree with this so very much.

        I’m a 34E. I’ve mentioned on other AAM posts that I can’t hide those babies even if I try. So I don’t. Do I wear tops plunging to the navel, or see through blouses? Of course not. But I’m going to be a different shape in a sheath dress, or a shell top and blazer, or a wrap dress than someone who is less generously endowed.

        I can’t believe it’s 2020 and people are still acting like a woman’s body being unprofessional is the problem.

    4. Liz T*

      All I’m saying is that those of us women who were in the workforce during the time of John T Malloy’s “Dress for Success” who dressed in somber suits probably would agree with the HR dept. and urge you to not be a distraction so that “being a distraction” would not impede your promotability with this company.

      That’s essentially saying, “I had to cope with a lot of sexism, and you should too, forever, because sexism is great and correct.”

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        +1 million. This is the way change happens – by people changing. Putting up with it forever because that’s what other people did just leads to everybody getting stuck.

    5. V8 Fiend*

      I second the what the hell??? Alison mentioned up thread that the LW sent in a picture and what she was wearing was fine. So this isn’t about the OP, it’s about the rampant misogyny women face in the workforce. And not just from men, base on your post.

    6. Lepidoptera*

      If she was blundering the dress code HR could’ve gone with that instead of telling her that her clothes were wrong because other people were being lewd, rude, and crude towards her.
      If HR was at all competent they would’ve gone to LW2 and said, “hey, this is the dress code for staff in your position” and then gone to the harassers and said, “you need to not sexually harass your coworkers and you will get a note about this in your file (or whatever the consequence is)” because that’s how you’re supposed to handle these things.

    7. James*

      This is why we, as a culture, can’t have nice things.

      The idea that a woman needs to dress “to not be a distraction” is insulting to everyone. It tells the women that the company will not protect them from other employees treating them like garbage, and it tells the men that the company doesn’t think they’re mature enough to handle working around other adults. The only people it doesn’t insult is the creeps, because it tells them that their behavior is the norm and is expected.

      As for whether or not showing off curves is appropriate for work: This is a catch-all phrase intended to blame the victim without getting called out on it. Even if you didn’t intend it to be so (and given the context of the letter, I’m not willing to give you that benefit of the doubt), the creeps in the LW’s office WILL use it as such.

      As for looking at what other women in the office are wearing, the fact that this is coming from the LW’s former coworkers and not her new peers tells us that way the LW dresses does not appear to be outside the acceptable range of office attire.

      If someone is so immature that they can only handle being around frumpy women who dress specifically to avoid libidinous nonsense, that person should be fired, full stop.

    8. KoiFeeder*

      Not even close.

      Look, I’m ugly. This is not self-deprecation, I’m not fishing for compliments, it is objectively true that by societal standards I am ugly. But since I am perceived to be female, I’m a “distraction” even if I wore something that covered me head to toe and was made entirely out of potato sacks. Hell, I’ve been catcalled, and I don’t think I could pay someone to find me sexually attractive!

      This almost certainly has nothing to do with how OP2 looks and everything to do with trying to harass and intimidate OP2.

  30. Jennifer*

    #2 Solidarity from a fellow curvy girl. I remember getting comments like this when I was younger, the worst when I was a teen and reminds me why I still wear baggy clothes. If looking at you makes men behave a certain way, that’s on THEM, not you. Keep dressing professionally and tell them you’ll hire a lawyer if they don’t handle the harassment issue. Best wishes!

    1. Arts Akimbo*


      My first time getting catcalled, I was fourteen. A young teenager, just walking down the sidewalk minding her own business. It was 100% on the scumbags doing the catcalling.

  31. Sharikacat*

    LW#5, a manager can certainly send you home early if they need to cut hours to prevent you from overtime. Assuming for a moment you’re on a two-week pay period, you may be thinking that if you go 45 hours in Week 1 and 35 hours in Week 2, then you’re only being paid for 80 regular hours on your check, but that shouldn’t be true. You’d be paid 5 hours of OT and 75 regular hours. While being sent home early in Week 2 doesn’t change any of the OT you’ve earned the previous week, it does help the manager stay closer to their payroll budget- the manager would rather be heavy 2.5 hours of pay on the period that 5.

    The company doesn’t want to pay a lot on OT because they have their payroll budget set and expects the manager to keep to that. If the manager goes over by large amounts consistently, there’s going to be a conversation. But sometimes, work needs require some extra time above and beyond! While that can be explained, the manager also has to take steps to keep the budget in line long-term.

  32. Matilda Jefferies*

    I mean, honestly. Catcalling? Are they 12? Did they somehow time travel from the 1950’s? When was this *ever* common behaviour in the workplace?

    The thing is, OP, catcalling is super aggressive, and 100% deliberate. If they were just ogling – it’s still not okay, but at least they have some sort of plausible deniability. Even if nobody believes them, they can at least *say* it was an accident – they were lost in thought, or admiring your earrings, or whatever. To be clear, this is still bullshit. But at least it’s in the realm of theoretically possible, you know?

    The fact that this has progressed to such overt behaviour as cat calling, means that things are *seriously* messed up at your workplace. Never mind HR’s response (which is also bullshit) – the fact that it was even allowed to get to this point is really problematic. There should have been a sexual harrassment policy in place years ago, and ogling should have been stamped out as a cultural norm long before you even started there. In some ways, HR is beside the point – this company has serious problems that were fully entrenched before you got there. So I hope it gives you some comfort to know that you didn’t cause this behaviour, any of it.

    The company is terrible, and HR is terrible, and you have done nothing wrong. Please get your resume together, and get yourself out of there as soon as you can. Best of luck.

  33. Lora*

    OP2, unfortunately, while I think Alison’s advice is good for an ideal world…this is not necessarily the world we live in.

    The only time I’ve seen a EEOC lawsuit succeed in any sense of, “the victims got back pay, lived to get another job in their field, and the company was hit with punitive damages that made them think twice” has been huge class action type of suits. Individual lawsuits or threats thereof, resulted in the person being labeled a troublemaker and occasionally blacklisted, with nothing but expensive legal bills to show for it.

    Depending on your region and employment availability, there may not be a ton of other jobs that will definitely treat you better. I ended up moving 500 miles to find a region that didn’t routinely harass women and people of color out of a job, up to and including assault and death threats for “taking a man’s job when he needs to feed his children”. In the 90s – early 2000s. Not that long ago.

    If you are stuck in this job for whatever reason, I would definitely suggest you get HR to repeat what they told you in writing. And emphasize that you will not be changing into a potato sack, because it’s ridiculous, and let’s be clear, they are asking you to wear a potato sack to work because they cannot promise you safe conduct and a professional work environment. And I would repeat that back to them, so they sort of hear themselves being stupid.

    You are the best judge of what you can get away with, but however much you can show them that their absurd suggestion has made you very, very angry, I would do that. I am an Old with somewhat unique-ish skills and some professional capital, so I would probably snap, “hell no, what on god’s green earth are you thinking?” and promptly escalate to the Legal department, but that’s because I am an Old who is not easily replaced at my current job. And I would promptly forward the written “you need to wear a potato sack” to every higher-up and sympathetic colleague I could find, so they couldn’t keep it quiet or make it look like I was the unreasonable one, because these dingbats thrive when they can steer the narrative and rely on you to hush up and be too embarrassed to say anything.

    I’m worried that if you go straight to lawsuit, you’ll end up hurting your own career very badly. It’s one thing for someone nearing retirement, or who has a partner to support them should they become unemployable, or who has a trust fund or whatever to sue the pants off a company that richly deserves it – if you need continued employment, and you can’t relocate to a region that has a lot of employment opportunities, a lawsuit or threat thereof can really end up hurting you badly in the end.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      I’m not sure where you think OP is going directly to a lawsuit. Often, a call or letter from an attorney who specializes in a certain field is enough to get a company to fly straight, because they are afraid of future lawsuits.

      Most issues like this are handled without a lawsuit.

  34. I Will Steal Your Pens*

    #5 – If you’re exempt, sometimes your HRIS will change your hourly rate to be what the rate is for the total hours you worked in a Pay period. In my organization, PeopleSoft does this – and I think I have seen Deltek do this as well. It’s something I don’t understand at all – as modern systems you would assume could be programmed better. Its super confusing to someone who doesn’t work with the backend of these HRIS systems, and even for those of us that do, it takes a hot second to figure out that it what is going on.

    A few weeks ago we had the letter-writer who asked about her being the only one in her group to not work over 40. I responded to them that I tell my friends all the time not to work over 40, as it lowers your hourly rate. So when I work over 40+ in a week, PeopleSoft reminds me why I shouldn’t.

    of course, if you are OT eligible, then this is not the case and you need to say something.

    1. RR*

      Government contractor here: this is called diluted billing. It’s often required under government awards, so major accounting packages (like Deltek) incorporate this. When you are exempt with an annual salary, your effective hourly rate does indeed drop the more hours you work. If anyone who works on US Government-funded awards is directed to “bill your best 80” while doing other (often non-billable work) at the same time, that’s actually counter to the government requirements. Instead you are supposed to record your total time, and the government is billed an equitable portion of your salary for the period in question.

  35. Former Retail Lifer*

    #5: Confirm your payroll week. While this may seem insane to people who work Monday-Friday, I have only worked in jobs where we were open seven days a week. In my current job, Thursday is the beginning of the payroll week. I have no idea why. However, sometimes that results in hourly people pulling in 60 hours in one calendar week (working 10 hour days, Monday through Saturday, for example) but only 40 hours during the actual payroll week. It can also result in cool bonuses like four days off in a calendar week, so it doesn’t bother me when that happens. I also worked at another company that started the payroll week on a Saturday. We held lots of weekend events, which required extra hours, and that gave us the rest of the payroll week to figure out where to cut hours to avoid overtime.

    Obviously, if your payroll week starts on a Sunday or Monday, they owe you some $$$.

  36. MsMaryMary*

    OP3, I have been in Amy’s position. In my situation, part of the problem is that the role above mine was empty. I had a manager on paper, but he was overwhelmed himself and had a limited understanding of my day to day responsibilities. I would kindly and firmly approach Amy directly. Not email, in person or on the phone. I was literally only working on things that were mission critical/on fire, so she’s likely deprioritized your requests. Let her know your project is now on fire, or nearly so.

    I’d also suggest trying to find a way to make it as easy as possible for Amy to get the information to you and the vendor. If there is some form/website/format the vendor uses that is cumbersome, see if Amy can just send you bullets and you can put it in the required format. Would it be more efficient to have a half hour call between Amy and the vendor, to get all their questions answered? Getting a little creative might help move your project along.

    1. OP-3*

      I ended up having to take action before Alison’s letter. I scheduled weekly “working sessions” with Amy. These working sessions ensured that a couple of uninterrupted hours a week were being devoted to the project by both me and Amy (which helped me too). The work sessions gave us an excuse to ignore incoming emails and other tasks and just focus. We started to get back on track with the vendor and eventually got out of the danger zone. I think if I would have stepped in sooner, things would have gone better and we wouldn’t have gotten so far behind. I was so nervous to “call her out” for something that was outside her control.

      I also did what you mentioned here, I had Amy get the data to me any way she could and I did the reformatting/editing to the vendor’s templates. I also did the uploading of the data.

      1. Mockingjay*

        I’m so glad you and Amy derived a workable solution. I am curious about the understaffing of Amy’s team. Is hiring problematic at your organization, whether slow process in general or upper management doesn’t prioritize hiring? (Hopefully it was just a one-off; people left and the implementation occurred during the interim before new hires came on.)

        1. OP-3*

          It’s not as dramatic as it sounds. The jobs on Amy’s team are especially hard to fill because there are so few applicants in the market with the required experience/skills.

  37. MissDisplaced*

    #1 While consulting your predecessor may have made sense the first couple of weeks, yeah, you need to nip this. I think your boss just is one of those people who doesn’t like change. If speaking with him about it doesn’t help, I would suggest you actually reach out to “Jill” and have a chat with her (and for what it’s worth, it may not be a bad thing to have a decent working relationship with her). Likely, she is annoyed given she is no longer even at the same company, but also doesn’t know how to shut it down if her and your boss had a good relationship.

    #2 I’m so sorry OP but your company and your HR department SUCK. This is sexual harassment that is being condoned and supported by telling you to wear baggy clothing and the polo and pants (unless the polo and pants somehow are your work uniform?). Allison is right in that your HR ought to be shutting down the comments from the harassers instead of blaming the victim (you) of the harassment.

    1. Person who asked Question #1*

      Hi! I’m the person who asked question #1!

      Thank you for your input. At the time of sending the original email I’d been at the job for four months. This question was answered about two months later. I am happy to say that things on the “Jill” end have improved a bit. I find myself being able to talk relatively freely with my boss about my ideas. I do have access to Jill to ask her questions when need be, but I find that to be a rare occurrence. I think now it was a big adjustment period for my boss, who had to say goodbye to a valuable worker and friend (not that they’re not still friends, but now they don’t see each other every day). He is honestly a really good boss and cares about my success and understanding of the organization and my job. I think he is starting to see that I am a quick learner and good at finding answers on my own where needed. I still need a tiny bit of guidance from time to time, but I think he’s starting to find that it’s easier to explain certain things to me rather than reaching out to a third party for advice. It’s very rare I have to consult Jill anymore. Thank you for caring enough to offer your advice!

  38. Another worker bee*

    LW 2 I have no advice, just here to commiserate. I taught high school when I was 22 and my “mentor teacher”, an overweight, middle aged woman, found fault with my wardrobe no matter what I did. If I wore button down shirts with pants (as was the style back then), I was calling too much attention to my butt, if I wore loose, flowy clothing, then I was risking showing a hint of cleavage if I had to bend over, and if I wore a loose sweaterdress with a turtleneck it emphasized my breasts too much and I really shouldn’t wear dresses that come above mid-calf….
    Like honestly, short of putting a full sized paper bag over your head, you can’t really disguise being in your early 20s and attractive. My students were GOING to notice that I was barely older than them and a size 4 no matter what I did…eye roll

  39. Nephron*

    LW 2
    HR and your employer should also realize if they are ogling, discussing, and cat calling you they are doing this to people on the street and customers. You work for a hotel, do they think this will improve business?

  40. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    I am really alarmed by how many people want OP #2 to check her wardrobe. Holy heck, y’all.

    OP#2: I’m so glad you wrote in, and I hope you follow Alison’s advice. Because what you are experiencing is GROSS, and I personally greatly look forward to your company’s education in Not Being Garbage on Fire. I also hope that reading the stories from all of the women who have experienced the same thing makes you feel better! I still have not let go of the job where I had a manager tell me in the middle of a staff meeting that I would need to dress more appropriately for the office when I was 100% dress code compliant (and, like you, I take a lot of pride in my professional wardrobe), I just happen to have boobs and a butt. In fact, I still have the exact conversation written down–this is how it went:

    “Catherine”: For example, [Hellmouth]–you need to change the way you dress immediately.
    Me: Excuse me?
    “Catherine”: I mean… just look at your skirt.
    Me: My skirt?
    “Catherine”: Yes, it is completely inappropriate.
    Me: Excuse me? This is from Michael Kors. It’s the correct size. It’s at least two inches below the knee.
    “Catherine”: Yes, but it has a… a slit in the back.
    Me: You mean the KICK PLEAT? They put those in pencil skirts so people can WALK. And sit. This is just a fitted skirt. That hits well below the knee. It’s basically the OG piece of women’s office wear. And it very obviously fits me correctly.
    “Catherine”: That isn’t the issue. Look… it’s maybe time for you to accept that you have an inappropriate shape for a pencil skirt, okay?
    Me: EXCUSE ME?
    “Catherine”: Like… you have too much… shape to wear anything like that. Your body shape is inappropriate for that.
    Me: Excuse me, are you… are you actually commenting on my body and telling me it is inappropriate? In the middle of a staff meeting?
    “Catherine”: Just… take the skirt out of rotation.

    People can be disgusting a-holes, but they DO NOT get to do that to you at work. I pushed back, and I heartily encourage you to push back, too.

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        I told her that I would be happy to discuss my inappropriate body with her AND HR, then I sent her an email that recapped our conversation, copy and pasted the relevant sections of the dress code that showed that I was well within its guidelines, stated that I was made profoundly uncomfortable by a manager calling my body “inappropriate”/making it a topic of discussion at a staff meeting (or even just a topic of discussion AT ALL), stated that I intended to continue to wear my dress code compliant wardrobe, and that I wanted HR to be present/to mediate any further discussions of my body or what clothes I have or don’t have the appropriate body for, and did not want her discussing my body without an HR presence. I immediately started looking for a new job, but my wardrobe and my body were uncommented upon for my remaining month and a half working there.

        I was a lot younger/less experienced then. If I was in the exact same situation again now I would probably send an email recapping the conversation and also copy HR/contact HR immediately after hitting send. Of course, OP#2 is dealing with this crap FROM HR. In 2020. Which means it’s time for her to follow Alison’s script and contact an employment lawyer, because JFC.

  41. NewbieMD*

    My attending is a woman and she is very particular about what she thinks I should wear when I’m not in scrubs. Nothing fitted (which kind of sucks because I’m on the shorter/curvier side so if something is loose on me I look like a box), skirts and dresses a below the knee, non-fitted bottoms (think palazzo pants) , subdued colors so as not to stand out and no heels higher than 2 inches (although I have yet to see a female doctor traipsing around the hospital in stilettos).

    She brought this up to me (and only me; I’m the only woman out of six orthopedic surgery residents) because only 5% of surgeons in this specialty are women and she believes that it is important that we look and act like “one of the guys” so that we will be taken seriously.

    Her suggestion is definitely coming from a place of wanting to help me. She’s in her sixties so I know that when she started out female orthopedic surgeons were as rare as a Honus Wagner baseball card. I can’t even imagine the prejudice she experienced back then and I appreciate her wanting to spare me from that.

    Still, it possible for me to dress in a way that I consider to be professional and tasteful instead of, well, frumpy? I respect this woman so, so much. Is it possible that the advice she is giving me is valid?

    1. Jay*

      It is a valid representation of what people will think of you, because patriarchy and sexism. I’m a nearly 60 yo internist. There wer no women orthopods where I trained – I didn’t meet one until I was years out of training. The women general surgeons generally dressed in khakis and polos and clogs when they weren’t in scrubs, and most of the women surgeons I know still do. It’s partly about trying to blend in/not stand out. It’s also about making sure people don’t think you’re too “girly,” because then you can’t possibly be a serious or skilled surgeon.

      The worst thing is that none of the advice she is giving you will actually solve the problem. You are a woman. People will know that and some of them will make your life far more difficult. So my advice is dress the way you want (within appropriate professional boundaries) and say the hell with it.

      My personal variation on this is having been fat my entire life and now not being fat I am dealing with inappropriate comments and behavior from patients for the first time (if you don’t count the repeated comments on how fat I was). Grrr.

    2. Jay*

      to more specifically answer the question: Fitted slacks and skirts are fine. Skirts should be below the knee because you will need to sit down across from patients and you don’t want them to hike up too far. Fitted blouses are fine too; I usually wear a cami underneath so when I bend over to examine a patient, there’s nothing to see. I do actually know a surgeon who used to wear stilettos, but she’s the only one; the rest of us wear flats or wedges or low heels because we don’t like pain. No open toes – that’s a hospital dress code requirement everywhere I’ve been.

  42. Employment Lawyer*

    2. HR told me to wear baggier clothes because people are talking about my body
    They can’t do that. And they will probably deny it so it’s best to document it in writing. Call a lawyer early, as things often go badly in this arena.

    (Why there is always pushback: The law permits you to wear what you want and does not allow for people to catcall. From the company’s perspective they would MUCH rather “ask you to go back to polos” than “start tracking, disciplining, and possibly firing every catcalling employee and possibly get sued anyway if they don’t do enough.” And if they have to fire someone, it might be you. So be careful and document, and call a lawyer.)

    1. Vicky Austin*

      “The law permits you to wear what you want”
      Within reason, I assume. It wouldn’t be okay to go to work in your underwear, for instance.

  43. DarkMatter*

    “Engineering administrator”? The embellishment of some job titles have become ridiculous…

  44. JM60*


    In California, it’s illegal for them to ask about a diagnosis, at least for FMLA/CFRA (I’m assuming they also can’t ask for disability accommodations). They can ask your doctor to give them some certification of a need for accommodation, but it has to stop short of asking for a diagnosis. In fact, when I needed an accommodation, the form my employer wanted my doctor to fill explicitly asked that a diagnosis to NOT be stated.

    So you may want to check the laws of your state.

  45. Brihanne LeMarre*

    OP # 1:

    I’m the Jill in your scenario, but Jack is the boss I switched jobs (within the same company) to get away from. Almost 4 years ago. And Jack is STILL contacting me about parts of that job! Yes, for the first year, it did make me feel a little special – that I was almost indispensable; but, that was three years ago and whenever I see Jack’s name on my phone now, I cringe.

    Unfortunately, I have no advice, but I can safely assure you that Jill would MUCH rather you figure it out than feel like they’re still doing their old job. For free, no less!

  46. Vicky Austin*

    1. You work with a bunch of pigs.
    2. It’s not like you’re going to work in nothing but your underwear.
    3. Even if you were showing up in your underwear, it still wouldn’t be okay for pigs to catcall you.
    4. Dressing differently is no guarantee that the pigs won’t catcall you. I’ve been catcalled when wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.
    5. The snarky side of me wants to tell you to go to work in nothing but your underwear just to stick it to them, but nothing good can come from that.

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