I saw my coworkers’ private messages mocking my weight, my coworker has permanently borrowed my laptop, and more

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

1. I saw my coworkers’ private messages mocking my weight

I recently hosted a Zoom call for my work team. At the end of the call, I was sent the transcript for the meeting’s group chat, as it contained some important notes. I was also accidentally sent the transcript for a private chat between my coworkers “Lisa” and “Natalie.” I thought we were on good terms. We’ve grabbed drinks outside of work and exchanged holiday cards last year. But during that brief chat, Lisa told Natalie it looked like I’d eaten “all of [my] quarantine food already.” She added that if she ever weighed as much as I did, she’d kill herself. Natalie replied with laughing emojis.

While I’m not sensitive about my weight, these comments gutted me. I feel humiliated and wish I’d never seen them. I’ve subsequently had a brief “Enjoy your weekend!” message from Natalie. I don’t think either of them realizes I saw their chat transcript. I’m hesitant to contact HR because a) I dread other people seeing the transcript, b) I hate conflict and disruption, and c) I don’t want Lisa and Natalie to lose their jobs. But I don’t know how to move forward without addressing this. Should I go to HR?

How awful, I’m sorry. Making fun of other people’s weight or appearance is something only emotionally stunted people do, so … well, now you know that about Lisa and Natalie, although I’m sure you could have done without that knowledge.

Personally, I’d forward the transcript to the two of them with a note that says, “You should be aware for the future that private chats get sent to the host when they download the chat transcript.” You wouldn’t be out of line if you chose to cc their managers on that.

You can talk to HR if you want, but with interpersonal stuff, I’d generally default to handling it on your own unless it becomes a pattern (and even then I’d loop in your manager before HR in most cases).

It also wouldn’t hurt to make the rest of your colleagues aware of that transcript feature, since it’s a recipe for problems if people don’t know that can happen, even if they’re better people than these two are.

2. Clients ask how my family is, and one of my family members died

I had a family member pass from Covid-19. It’s hard and difficult to grieve when we couldn’t have a funeral or mourn them in our traditional ways. I told my manager and my team when it happened and took the day off.

I am a remote worker for my company and live in an area that is considered a hotspot right now.

Now, it seems that every phone conference I am on internally and with clients starts with, “How are you and your family? I hope everyone is well.” I have no idea how to respond to this. It feels inappropriate to mention the death of a family member to sometimes complete strangers and completely derails the meeting. (I made the mistake of just stating the fact once right after it happened … which then turned into 15 minutes of their apologies and condolences — half of the call being strangers.) However, it also feels disingenuous to say we’re fine. We’re not fine — someone died. My children burst into tears when they remember it happened. I cry thinking about it.

So far I have just not answered the question and said, “Thank you for your concern” and moved on with the call. I fear that’s coming off as cold. How else can I answer the question without answering the question?

Yeah, I think people just haven’t fully thought this through. They want to say something to acknowledge we’re all humans going through a difficult time so they don’t seem callous or all business … but haven’t thought about the fact that the answer might not be the one they’re expecting.

Of course, the traditional “how are you?” at the start of a business call is generally understood to be a social nicety, not a genuine request to know how you’re really doing. One option is to think of this the same way — but when you’re specifically being asked how your family is, I can understand why you don’t want to say everyone’s fine when they’re not.

So, two options:
* “It’s a tough time. How are you doing?”
* “Hanging in. How about you?” (“Hanging in” covers a wide range of possibilities from “mostly okay” to “not great, but I’m moving the conversation along.”)

3. My coworker borrowed my laptop … permanently

About a year ago, my coworker’s husband was hit by car in a hit and run accident. It was a serious injury and he couldn’t use one arm for weeks. My coworker suddenly needed to work from home so she could be there to help him, and her Mac computer was not compatible with our systems.

I own a desktop and laptop computer, and so I offered to loan her my personal laptop. But for some reason my coworker seems to think it was a gift rather than a loan.

Our manager is my coworker’s cousin, and it was the manager I originally offered the laptop to as a solution for the immediate need. When I’ve asked the manager about getting my laptop back, she’s told me she would talk to her boss and see what he wants to do. Perhaps she meant he would get my coworker a replacement, but whether she returns my laptop shouldn’t be up to him. The company is struggling now and has just cut our salaries 25%, so that is not going to be an option.

I am now considering leaving the company due to the salary cuts, or the possibility of being laid off. I might need to be able to do video interviews or meetings. I also want the option of being flexible where I work. How do I go about getting my laptop back?

There’s no need to dance around it like this! Contact your coworker directly and say, “I’ve been happy to loan you my laptop over the past year, but I’ll need it back soon. Can you plan to return it to me no later than (date)?” (I’d give her 1-2 weeks so she has time to make other arrangements.) If she says she didn’t realize it was a loan, then say, “I had always intended it as a loan. I definitely can’t afford to just give away a laptop!”

Since your manager seems to have the impression that she now gets to be involved in this too, I’d loop her in as well — “Just FYI, it’s now been a year and I can’t continue to keep my personal laptop loaned out, so I’m letting Jane know I’ll need it back by (date).”

From there, it’s up to your company to figure out how to provide your coworker with a computer. But it doesn’t get to commandeer yours just because you were nice enough to do everyone involved a favor. You get to decide what you’re offering and for how long, and a year is already way above and beyond.

4. My employee with COVID is making herself sicker

I am the owner of a small retail business. Our physical location is currently closed but there’s plenty of work we can do from home. My main commitment is to making sure my staff (three part-time casual employees) don’t lose out at all, so they’ve all been getting their normal wages regardless.

One of my employees caught coronavirus about a month ago. (For context, I worked in the store before I took over so we are very close friends — not an ideal management relationship, I know.) They had a fairly mild case, although obviously it’s still miserable. My problem is that they are hampering their own recovery. They text me to say they’re pushing themselves to go for walks and get dressed every day and then feel worse the next day. I could really do with them working again. If they were just flat-out ill all this time, I wouldn’t mind, but they seem to be sabotaging their own recovery. It’s frustrating to witness, both as a friend and as a manager who could really do with more help!

Is there anything I can say in this situation or do I just have to let it go until they are recovered?

Since they keep updating you, I don’t think it’s overstepping to say, “I’d much rather you stop pushing yourself since it sounds like it’s making your recovery take longer — which is bad for you as a person and bad for us a business. Please just rest until you’re better.” Frankly, I even think you could say, “Please consider the wages we’re paying you right now to be payment for resting and taking care of yourself. You’re not doing us or yourself any favors by pushing things and making yourself sicker.”

5. Using my work Zoom account for a job interview

I’ve begun applying a new job, and many of the places I’m looking say they’re conducting interviews via Zoom or similar video-conferencing platforms. I have a Zoom account through my current employer. Is it bad form to use that account (and thus my current work email) for interviews?

Yes. Set up your own personal Zoom account that isn’t connected to your work email. (For the same reasons that you wouldn’t apply to jobs using your work email; it looks tacky to use your employer’s resources to hunt for a new job.)

{ 569 comments… read them below }

  1. Gaia*

    OP1, if you consider sending the transcript to Lisa and Natalie, don’t worry about them feeling bad. They should feel bad. What they did was awful. Shame in the face of abhorrent behavior is how we learn to not repeat awful acts.

      1. Nonke John*

        Yes, maybe it’s a better idea in social than in work life, but I think I’d be inclined to go the Miss Manners route. “Hey, everyone. I’m attaching the group chat from the meeting, since there was some great Q&A we might all want to refer to later. (All private chats from the session were sent to me, as they always are to the host, but of course I didn’t pay them much mind and am not including them!)” If they’re well-meaning people who just happened to lash out in frustration on a bad day, they’ll behave from here on and be grateful for not having been called out in public. If they’re not, they won’t get the closure of having apologized and knowing they can’t get in trouble anymore.

        1. Anononon*

          I really disagree with that route. First, it’s not clear if you’re saying they should be sent to the entire team with that message or just the offenders. If it’s the entire team, no! It looks like OP is just starting some weird, vague drama. And even if it’s just the offenders, it’s still best to call out the specific activity. There is no reason to be coy in business.

          1. Nonke John*

            Well, as I say, this may be better in a social situation than at work; I get that. But at my office, posting the *group* chat from a meeting or webinar so everyone can look at it later is pretty common. Attaching it to a follow-up message to all attendees wouldn’t seem like a coy way of doing something else, especially to anyone who hadn’t participated in any group chats.

            1. Logic*

              I’m sorry, I was trying to say I agree with Anononon. They should be specifically told and not beat around the bush. Let them be uncomfortable, why not?

        2. Observer*

          they won’t get the closure of having apologized and knowing they can’t get in trouble anymore.

          Well, apologizing is not a get out of jail free card anyway. Just because they apologize (assuming that they would), would NOT mean that they “can’t get in trouble” over it.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            And yet, people get resoundingly offended all the time because they apologized and that didn’t get them out of trouble.

            1. Eukomos*

              We’re all upset when our attempts to escape a bad situation don’t work, but that doesn’t mean the escape attempts were actually likely to save us from the repercussions of our actions.

        3. High School Teacher*

          I’m going to disagree. The comments they made aren’t just, like, light-hearted coworker comments. The comments they made are incredibly cruel and I honestly can’t imagine any of my friends or my coworkers I like ever saying that. It is unacceptable and even frustrated well-meaning people would not say they’d “kill themselves” if they weighed as much as the host. I mean…even just typing that I cringe. Their words were reprehensible and they should sweat a little bit.

            1. RVA Cat*

              This right here reminds me of the letter where an intern made a sick joke about 9/11 to a person who’d lost someone.
              It’s just as unacceptable.

          1. BenAdminGeek*

            Exactly. It would be bad enough if they made a jokey comment about her in general (outfit not great, hair clearly out of place). But these people were saying they would kill themselves if they looked like her. That’s unbelievably cruel.

          2. Glitsy Gus*

            Exactly. This wasn’t “man, the print on OP’s blouse is creating a weird optical illusion! I’m getting dizzy!” Which would possibly be a little embarrassing but not cruel or hurtful. Indicating that you would ill yourself if you looked like someone is way beyond the pale and they SHOULD feel really bad about it.

            OP, I know you said you aren’t a fan of conflict, but if there was ever a time to be brave and face that fear for your own sake it is now. They need to know you saw it and they need to know it was a really crappy thing to do. I personally would cc their manager, but that part is kind of up to you. I think including the manager is a good idea; if for no other reason if these two Catty Carlas decide to get weird on you, Manager is already in the loop on what is happening.

        4. Rachel in NYC*

          I would suggest someone- maybe not OP1 just someone in the office- send around a reminder that the host receives a transcript of all chats, including private chats, during zoom sessions. This would be especially valuable if your company has meetings with clients or outside parties who may be hosting- that could go badly if people make inappropriate comments.

        5. CleverGirl*

          “All private chats from the session were sent to me, as they always are to the host, but of course I didn’t pay them much mind and am not including them!” ?

          What? Why would you say that? It’s a straight-up lie. You (the OP) DID pay them mind because they were extremely cruel and uncalled for, and trying to lightheartedly say you didn’t really read them is so passive agressive. But also, I feel like you are hoping this would cause the culprits to be plagued with guilt about what they said, knowing the OP received it. However it’s possible they are just mean people and would interpret the “I didn’t pay them much mind! as the OP not really caring about their comments, and just think “whew! that was a close call!” and learn nothing!

          Beating around the bush like that is never a good idea. If you want to communicate something, actually *communicate* it.

          1. Jojo*

            I would forward the metting stuff AND the chat to evety one. S i everyone woukd see it. Then they would all be more csreful what they chatted.

            1. JSPA*

              You’re suggesting OP spread the comments further, and assume that others will uniformly be horrified at the perps, and not just think, “haha, guess OP’s OK with comments like that”?

              That’s giving people more credit than some are due.

        6. DustyJ*

          I must say, I disagree with that answer. It reads as “Of course I saw your chats but I don’t have the nerve to get angry.” It invites the perpetrators to have a good laugh, and carry on their nastiness indefinitely. These are demonstrably not well-meaning people.

      2. GrooveBat*

        I completely agree with the “leave them hanging” strategy. The anticipation/dread is soooo much worse than the actual calling out.

        1. Lucia Pacciola*

          The goal is not to cause dread.

          The goal is to call out unacceptable behavior and make it clear that it is unacceptable. This team has a subculture of abuse towards its team members. Some people on the team think it’s okay to have these kinds of conversations with each other about other members of the team.

          This needs to be exposed and addressed in no uncertain terms. The workplace is no place for secret slam books and passive-aggressive slapfights. Attach the transcript, cc the manager. And at your next 1:1, ask your manager to share with you what her policy is, so that you know where you stand on such matters in the future.

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            +100

            I understand the desire to play this close and let them hang, but it won’t deal with the actual problem. Clearly communicating, “what you did was crappy, I know it was crappy, you should know it’s crappy. You are not the people I thought you were. Knock it off.” is better for everyone. Clearly communicate what happened, and that it hurt you. Then, not only is it more likely to correct the behaviour, but you actually have a place of strength to come from if anything else happens regarding this, rather than a vague, veiled threat in one email one time that never really addressed the issue in any way.

      3. MK*

        I don’t think they would be as mortified if OP #1 didn’t send the actual transcripts. I 100% agree with Allison’s advice, send the full transcript and copy their managers. They joked about OP killing themselves, I think trying to skirt around the subject is going to do more harm than good. OP #1: please don’t feel bad about calling them out and copying their managers. If they get in trouble (I doubt they’ll get fired), then maybe they’ll think twice about making fun of someone and making a suicide joke

        If OP is remote right now, it wouldn’t be as awkward since they wouldn’t have to actually see Natalie and Lisa for awhile.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I’d go for making an announcement at the start of the next meeting that the transcript of the meeting sent to the host includes copies of person to person private messages, and that people shouldn’t say anything on private messages that they wouldn’t say to the host in person. Pause awkwardly for a moment, then continue with the meeting.

      They’ll know that you saw the messages, and you’ll know that they know. Then you can go on with being cooly polite and professional and rather distant towards them. I’d actually be quite interested in how they respond. Do they ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen? Do they bluster and try to justify themselves, or act extra nice towards the OP without actually addressing it? Or do they give a sincere apology?

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I was going to suggest the same. I bet they will pretend OP isn’t talking about them in, but they will know.

        Personal BG, I once said something unflattering about a then-competitor’s product on a private IM chat with a work friend. (“Then”, because both companies were bought by the same entity a few months later and our former competitors became our new teammates overnight.) The work friend was unbeknownst to me sharing his screen with everyone at the competitor’s office. I was mortified when I found out. (Still kind of am.) The competitor office’s reaction was to start their next day’s call with me with a brief explanation of why their product was having the issue I’d mentioned in the chat. It did not exactly click with me, but at least it got me to start wondering if they’d seen my comments; so, when one of our managers had a talk with us about it, I was prepared for the news. I spent years (on and off) apologizing to everyone. And have definitely been more careful with my IM convos.

        I’m not holding a lot of hope for a sincere apology from Lisa and Katherine though. Not to try to put myself in a good light, but to me there’s a bit of a difference between saying “these guys’ product is buggy” and “if I looked like her, I’d kill myself”. Takes a certain kind of character to even think the latter, more so to say it.

        1. Overeducated*

          Aah, a coworker did this recently in a meeting, IMing me to say something along the lines of “this is why I’ve been saying this project is completely pointless.” I wrote back very quickly to say “your screen share is on” and I think he closed it before anyone else saw.

          1. Quill*

            At least when I complain in meetings about our elderly records management system everyone agrees because the software is a whole hive of bugs.

        2. curious*

          I like this idea. The only thing I would change is when you have that awkward pause, make sure to scan the room and hold Lisa and Katherine’s gaze a few seconds longer than the others.

          1. Sciencer*

            Kind of hard to do over Zoom… either you’re looking at the camera, which is kind of like eye contact with everyone, or you’re looking at their little video box, which they can’t interpret any particular way. Good strategy for when we’re back in person though ;)

            1. curious*

              Agree. I’m thinking in my hollywood movie duh moment kind of way. I think mentioning it the way the poster said would get the point across.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I’d say “don’t say anything you wouldn’t want revealed to anyone.”

        Because if I were the host and saw messages like that about someone else, I’d be in their business about it, and I WOULD go to HR.

        1. Oh dear*

          Well, my comments about starting a secret alliance in our nonprofits board probably caused a stir…

        2. KoiFeeder*

          Honestly, that’s just good life advice in general. Write everything like it’ll be on the front page of the newspaper the next day.

      3. Smithy*

        While I am in agreement with this point personally, I do think that the overall issue is a good business case worth flagging for the OP’s manager/HR. What those colleagues said was deeply hurtful and cruel, but this is also a feature I’ve never heard about and may almost mention unconnected to this email because the opportunity for a wide variety of unprofessional oopsies seems high.

        Being unaware of whether the host is an internal colleague or external partner/client, and then having an internal facing only side chat. Even a note like “should we bring up XYZ delay now or wait until we know more about ABC feature?” would be something you’d want to be very mindful of who could see and how to share.

        Certainly the personal cruelty is for the OP to determine how to manage and process, but for so many people switching to Zoom with limited understanding of all the features…..it’s also a bug that an organization could benefit from. And the OP might feel better taking control around how this information is shared and what they can continue to keep private.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          All Zoom chats are recorded and provided to the host…it’s been mentioned on here quite a few times. But maybe mostly in the comments .

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Comment in moderation due to link…this is not what Zoom”s website says. But it’s what many people have reported.

      4. Sparrow*

        This is what I would do. Personally, I would want to move on from this as soon as possible, not bring more attention to their specific comments, plus I’m not a fan of drama, generally speaking. If they felt compelled to approach me directly to apologize after realizing I knew, that’s fine, but I’d honestly just as soon put it behind me and hope they learned their lesson. I’m sure I’d be much warier around them in the future and keep an eye out for similar behavior from them, but I wouldn’t want to dwell too much for my own mental well being.

      5. Artemesia*

        This. Be cool but be clear that people be aware of this feature of the chats. The fact is that people say nasty things about other people privately all the time; it is not lovely but it is common. It is horrible that the OP had to read something so ugly and making this announcement should prevent it happening again in the chats. It won’t of course stop catty remarks being made privately just make sure they aren’t made in this forum.

      6. Glitsy Gus*

        I could get behind this, but I still think it would be best for OP to take the bull by the horns and just deal with the issue rather than relying on easily ignored implications and veiled threats. You are very much assuming these two will get it, and actually feel bad about it. A lot of people feel zero shame or regret for saying cruel, sizeist things like this.

        If she wanted to do this along with the email documenting that she saw it and did not appreciate it, sure. But I really do think it’s in OP’s best interests to deal with this straight on and let them know they hurt her. Doing so leaves no room for, “oh, I didn’t know…” down the road.

    2. Mel_05*

      Yup. Maybe this will help them become better human beings. Maybe they’ll just become better at keeping nasty sentiments private. Either way, it’s a win for everyone around them.

    3. Half-Caf Latte*

      Yes this is very much a “return awkward to sender” situation (thanks Captain Awkward). I know you said you hate conflict and disruption, but they made this awkward, not you, and there 100% does not have to be conflict.

      The grown up thing for them to do is to apologize, say they were full out of line and they are sorry, in which case you say you appreciate their apology, and act professionally but are absolutely free to limit social warmth beyond that.

      More likely, they squirm and don’t ever acknowledge, in which case you act professionally as above.

      I don’t know these two, but I bet it’s unlikely they double down on the nastiness as a response, and if you’re worried about that, I think cc’ing the managers up front is the way to go.

      I know you’re worried about others seeing the transcripts, and conflict, and I’m sorry you’re feeling hurt by these two. I think the risk of just stuffing it all down the memory hole is that the next transcript comes with more mean comments from them, and you continue to shoulder the burden alone, and you’re hurt all over again, and maybe that’s worse than the conflict of bringing it all out. I can also spend a ton of time in my own head worrying about … well, just about anything, and one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten on this is “don’t put yourself through it twice.” If you’re going to spend the next week upset and worrying about what the conflict would be, and then still have the situation present at the end, why subject yourself to the week of angst? It’s been really helpful to me, worrying about what ifs can’t change what might be, so I can think about what might happen to plan my actions, but once I stop coming up with new material the worry is just detrimental to myself.

      1. foolofgrace*

        I’m in the minority, possibly a minority of one. If it were me, I’d include the chat transcript when I send out the warning to everyone about chats not being private. Screw those two. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. I think people should be aware that these two coworkers are not to be trusted. You could always claim you included the transcript “by accident” — oops! — just like their chat was shared by accident. I see no reason to protect them.

        1. Perpal*

          Hypothetical me would love to do this (send the transcript to everyone with a vague note “here are the notes from our meeting! Please remember private chats get sent to the host” ) – real me thinks that’s probably stirring too much drama. Best to just involve the main parties and perhaps bosses or HR, not other people who really don’t have any thing to do with the problem or discipline.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            Replace weight with age or ethnicity. This could easily have been any of the other things with someone else. Definitely is an HR issue.

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              While I agree with the moral sentiment – this was cruel and should be disavowed by any HR person or company leader – weight isn’t a protected class like age or ethnicity that HR would be absolutely required to act on.

        2. foolofgrace*

          I take it back. I was just so angry when I read this. I wouldn’t send the chat to everyone but only to protect myself, not those two jokers. But I would send it to my and their managers. They need to know.

        3. Aquawoman*

          That puts a lot of people in an uncomfortable position who had nothing to do with the incident. I would not create awkwardness for the others in the call that way.

          1. Clisby*

            I might be an outlier here, but if I (an innocent bystander) had gotten that chat, I’d think I now had good information about these 2 people.

        4. Bella*

          This sounds like Game of Thrones logic which just generally doesn’t always go over well in an office. The move is less about ending the behavior & more about creating punishment and embarrassment – even if people are on your side, that tends to not go over as well.

          If I were a random co-worker receiving it, I would also 1000% not believe nasty comments included in transcript were “oops by accident!” lol

        5. Courtney Kupets*

          I think I would feel hurt having everyone else read it too though. I think the OP doesn’t really want to bring further attention to her weight. I know if someone said I was ugly and then I shared that with everyone, I would be afraid they would think about how I look.

        6. AKchic*

          That is exactly what I’d do.

          “I’ve attached all the chat transcripts that Zoom sent back from the last meeting, as they are *official* meeting records, for everyone’s review. Please note that the so-called ‘private’ chat feature is not actually private and is considered official meeting record as well” and just leave it at that.

          They had no problem in gossiping nastily during the meeting, let their dirty laundry be aired out for all to see. It’s no different than if they were passing notes back and forth at the actual meeting table, or trying to whisper behind their paper agendas while the speaker pointed at a board.

          1. Amaranth*

            I think it depends if OP would find it hurtful or distracting to have people speculating on their weight, which seems a natural reaction to the drama of that chat. It might be worth mentioning, though, that joking about people killing themselves is terrible behavior and if people can’t be decent, they can restrain themselves while using company resources.

    4. COBOL Dinosaur*

      As someone who has been mocked for their weight and for everyone else who has been please don’t let this die. They have to at least know that you saw it. If not they will continue to do it and will do it to others.

    5. irene adler*

      Plus, it is entirely possible that these two have denigrated co-workers in the past via company electronic communications. The OP would not be privy to this. Management might be aware of this.

      Lisa and Natalie need to learn not to do this-to anyone, via any communication means. Serving up the transcript to them might very well end a whole lot of unkind communications between them.

    6. 2 Cents*

      Doesn’t Captain Awkward say “return awkward to sender” or something. OP, I’m sorry you saw these. But this is on them, not you, to make things right. And file away for future reference that at at least Lisa is a jerk. (Natalie might have an out here, or not.)

    7. Alli525*

      I really wish my favorite advice columnists had more crossover. In a dream world they’re all on a big group chat and crowdsource on issues they aren’t as confident/well-versed in.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          And, after all my complaining about people mucking up my name, I’ve mucked up Alison’s. *mossifies in shame*

    8. anomalez*

      I’d also add that they could have forgotten what they even said if you don’t send them the transcript. They may have a vague recollection that they had a sidebar conversation, but i’ll bet they have no real recollection since it was a tossed off barb. I’ll bet they do it all the time. Jerks.

  2. It's mce w*

    OP1: I’m so sorry. Save a copy of the Zoom meeting transcript and let your boss know as well what happened.

    1. MicroManagered*

      Yep. I think if OP1 isn’t comfortable confronting them directly, she could forward the transcript to their managers and ask them to remind the 2 that zoom chats are saved and visible to the host.

    1. Cobol*

      A lot of times people send to multiple columnists. I would think just a copy and paste. I’m a bit surprised that Alison gave a more confrontational response than Danny. Usually it’s the other way around.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I love Alison’s response – it’s such a boss move to let these two jerks know they were caught red-handed being asses at work. I don’t think there’s anything confrontational about it. OP would simply be letting these two, and anyone else who may be so inclined to behave accordingly, know that the chat feature isn’t private so they need to watch what they say. That’s doing them a kindness – if they did something like this to their boss or someone higher up on the food chain, they could be looking at disciplinary action.

      2. Wing Leader*

        I like Alison’s response a little better. Danny had good advice too, it’s just that there’s something satisfactory about sending those two their own nasty transcript and letting them feel the shame for a minute (assuming they even are ashamed–I would be mortified).

        1. another Hero*

          Eh, I think Danny’s answer focused primarily on the LW’s comfort – not having to confront Lisa and Natalie directly – and it makes sense for him to do that, and I respect it as an approach. It’s consistent with what the LW has stated as concerns too. Doesn’t mean I think he’s more right than Alison – maximizing your personal comfort is not always the correct workplace advice – but his advice was compassionate imo

          1. Wing Leader*

            Oh, I agree. Alison’s response is a little more ballsy, so it’s up to OP which direction they want to take. No shame in taking the comfortable option as long as something is done.

      1. Sunrise Ruby*

        It’s also interesting to get a number of responses, either to see if different columnists approach a problem from a different angle and resolve accordingly, or if there’s consensus in how to solve it.

      1. Wherehouse Politics*

        Danny’s answer was ok, I preferred yours though. Sending them exactly what they wrote with the btw head’s up for future Zooming is the most direct and damning styled total professional neutrality.

        1. Wherehouse Politics*

          ach-I had skipped a word: direct and damning, styled with total professional neutrality.

    2. Pumpa Rumpa*

      Sometimes people send the same question to multiple columnists.

      For this particular question, I did see someone in the Prudie comments say they were going to submit to this website to see Alison’s response. Many commenters on Slate dislike Danny’s responses to workplace questions.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I hope that’s not what happened — people deserve control over where their questions end up. But looking at the date I received it and the date it appeared there, it could be. I hope it’s not.

      2. A Penny for Your Idea!*

        Removed — I don’t want want this to devolve into criticism of other advice columnists. Thank you. – Alison

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Somehow after I posted this, we ended up with 20+ comments doing exactly that (and getting increasingly off-topic for this letter). I’ve removed them and and am closing this thread.

      3. Heidi*

        I’m okay with Danny’s response on this one. He said to go to HR because people should not be using work zoom as a burn book for cruel and hurtful remarks and these coworkers should not get away with it. Documenting this could be a first step in uncovering a pattern of toxic behavior.

    3. Catherine*

      Given the volume of mail most advice columnists report receiving, it seems that sending to multiple columns is the most sensible way to increase the odds of getting any advice.

      1. allathian*

        Agreed. But it’s a different matter if the LW here wasn’t the LW on Dear Prudence, but someone who commented there and just copied the question. I don’t read the comments on Slate anymore or comment there myself because what I’ve seen there has occasionally been quite nasty.
        Thank you once again Alison for running such a tight ship here!

    4. Eng*

      I appreciate this comment because I was so confused at why I was seeing a “repost” of a question that had definitely been answered already! I don’t read Dear Prudence very often so in my mind all my advice column memories are AAM.

  3. JanisMayhem*

    OP2 I’m also a fan if “As well as can be expected right now.” They don’t need to know that right now involves a death in the family if you don’t feel the need to share (and that is 100% your decision).

    1. allathian*

      Yes, I think this is the best response. It’s honest without going into too much detail. Great in a professional environment where you really don’t want to derail a meeting with a client or vendor by bursting into tears or whatever.

    2. Gaia*

      I use a similar response for similar reasons as the OP. What I really hate is the co-worker that insists on responding with “just ok?” Yes! Just ok! Christ, leave it alone.

      I finally had a side convo with her and asked her to stop. I know it came from a place of concern, but I wasn’t up to discussing more.

      1. LITJess*

        That’s annoying in the best of times; I really hope she wasn’t peppering you with “just ok’s?” mid-pandemic as well!

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I’m a fan of the neutral “hangin’ in there”, “as well as can be expected”, etc., responses, too. However, I have zero compunction about saying I’m fine even if I’m less than fine. It’s not exactly the lie of the century and it doesn’t attract attention that might encourage further inquiry, which is usually more important to me than being strictly truthful. If I’m not all that fine, I don’t want to talk about it, and “fine” doesn’t invite that.

      1. Observer*

        The issue with saying “fine” is not that it’s deceptive. But that it’s often hard on someone to keep up the facade. A response that doesn’t try to maintain that facade without getting into the nitty gritty of what’s going bad in someone’s life can be very useful.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          I think this is one of those “know thyself” things. Sometimes maintaining the facade is the only thing holding me together, so I do that. But other people find that that adds even more stress/upset, so they should use one of the other suggestions. Both suggesetions are good, just for different people.

          1. Observer*

            I totally agree with you.

            My point was only that the reason why someone might want to deflect has nothing to do with trying to deceive someone but because they simply have no energy for maintaining the facade. Just as the person who goes with “fine” is not trying to deceive anyone – they are just doing what helps them deal.

        2. Nita*

          Yeah. I also answer “I’m fine” with a mental note to self that “I’m fine” just means “I’m alive, not dealing with an immediate emergency, and able to write this email.” That’s basically it. I’m not going into the details of how COVID has touched my family, because for all I know, the person I’m writing to is also very stressed and I don’t want to add to their emotional burden.

    4. Sara without an H*

      Yes, that might be a good option — it doesn’t pretend that everything is all sunshine and roses, but doesn’t force OP to share details.

    5. Bibliovore*

      Thank you. For these phrases. Hanging in there. One of my best friends died Saturday. I’m up to 4 people I know who have died from Covid. I need to show up. I want to show up.

    6. Bee*

      Honestly, right now I’m answering this a lot with, “Oh, you know,” which is the MOST noncommittal answer but which everyone understands right now.

    7. TeapotNinja*

      I’ve recently adopted using the following responses

      “How is it going?”: “It’s going”

      “How are you?”: “I am”

      “How are you and your family? “: “They are”.

      If I do it in person, I put a little smile on it so that it doesn’t quite as blunt as written and people usually tend to laugh or smile as a response, but as a bonus it clearly communicates that I consider the response as the end for this line of conversation. It works remarkably well.

    8. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’ve used ‘managing’ as a one word answer.

      I don’t want to explain that I’ve lost more than one loved one to this virus, or that it’s hard not even being able to have a funeral so we can help each other through the grief.

      You ‘manage’ the best you can. Sometimes it’s putting a brave face on, sometimes it’s spending days in the dark crying. My sincerest condolences to anyone going through this.

  4. A Poster Has No Name*

    Huh. LW #1 apparently went to more than one advice columnist. Dear Prudie answered #1 earlier this week. Alison, unsurprisingly, recommends a more direct approach. We were discussing that letter on another forum, and the option to send a note to everyone that all chats (including private ones) are included in transcripts did come up, particularly if your workplace is particularly non-confrontational.

    I think Alison’s advice to go direct is good, though. Comments like that are really out of line, particularly now when everyone is dealing with so much. That level of unkindness and lack of professionalism speaks volumes about their character, and if I were a manager, that’s something I’d want to know

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I agree on being direct. I don’t like confrontation myself, but it’s generally easier to do so virtually than in person. I would 100% let them know about the chat being in the transcript and copy their managers. OP has NOTHING to be humiliated for…the 2 who were chatting about her weight are the ones that should be humiliated.

      1. Courtney Kupets*

        I don’t really see this as confrontational, and it’s better. It’s kind of casual, like oh…hey you should be more careful and then drop it as if it’s not worth your time (and imagine these two squirming). It’s very mic-drop-esque

        1. JustaTech*

          And it does provide very useful information to everyone else!

          I’m always a bit paranoid about what I put in any work chat anyway (it says right there that it’s archived to your email!), but I didn’t know that about Zoom.

  5. My Dear Wormwood*

    #1: I definitely agree with Alison’s script here – it’s completely appropriate for you to warn your colleagues about the feature, because it could have serious effects on the business if a client or other outside party received messages that your staff imagined were private, whether those messages were immature personal remarks or business secrets.

    Plus, it should be suitably mortifying for Lisa and Natalie without you needing to worry about losing your cool while delivering the message…

    1. Not Australian*

      IMHO, if Lisa and Natalie are capable of that sort of meanness in the first place, *nothing* is going to be mortifying to them.

      1. TechWorker*

        Totally disagree. It’s more than possible these coworkers will be ashamed and embarrassed to be ‘caught’ – there’s nothing in the letter to indicate they behave like bitchy teenagers most of the time.

        1. SAS*

          Yeah, workplace bullies HATE not having plausible deniability. If there was a general message to all, they would assume some people must have said “really bad” stuff, because they’re definitely not mean, unless maybe people can’t take a joke! Ugh, can you tell it’s close to home (our workplace bullies also had a flair for appearance-related insults).

          Take Alison’s advice dear LW, coolly send them the transcript “just as a heads up” and watch them suffer in their jocks! These disgusting messages (if you share them with management) do not reflect poorly on you AT ALL.

          1. DCO*

            “bullies HATE not having plausible deniability”

            This! Once you have some form of evidence, they cannot deny it.

            What they did is also high-school behavior!

            I was “bullied” in my 2nd year of secondary education. nothing physical, just gossiping about me behind my back and excluding me in conversations, etc. But at one point they made the stupid mistake to “gossip” about me in writing. I knew. The teacher at that moment saw them writing to eachother and took the piece of papers away to the horror of those students (them begging that she please would not read it). She was a very new teacher, just graduated from college and said that she would respect their privacy and they could get it back at the end of the class.

            I new I had to get my hand on that piece of folded paper.

            Luck was on my side because my bullies completely forgot about it at the end of the class and left the room. So I said to the teacher that I would give it to them. I dropped it in the box of our headteacher at that time and wrote the bullies names on it.

            The thing was, I complained about them before. And the headteacher said that they would talk with them. But it was just my word against them and nothing came from it. But now I had proof, they did get into serious trouble for it. And to be fair, they really learned from it. We even got to be friends later on. Not the best of friends, but good classmates and are still friendly to each other when we see each other on the street or see each other on reunions.

      2. Mel_05*

        I don’t think that’s true. I have coworkers who often gossip about the rest of the office, mostly it’s just benign trivia, but it also gets snarky and mean (depending on the target).

        But, they have great working relationships with those people. And I know they’d be mortified if what they say privately got around. They don’t mean it to be heard by those people, they don’t mean it to hurt them. That doesn’t make it ok, but it’s just a different mindset than if they were saying it *too* the person. They’re trying to say it privately because it *would* be mortifying if people knew they said it.

        1. high school teacher*

          I get this, but I keep going back and forth. On the one hand, I certainly have coworkers that gossip and crack lighthearted jokes, but I have never heard a coworker attack someone’s physical appearance. I feel like that’s really crossing a line. I know that at my place of work, if someone made a comment privately about another’s weight, it would be super weird and make a lot of people uncomfortable.

          1. Mel_05*

            Yeah, that’s definitely more than I’ve encountered as well. I just think this is a more extreme version of what I have seen.

            These people are being awful, yes, but they also are doing things to be on good terms with the LW, so I think knowing she knew would horrify them – even if they don’t actually like her.

            People who won’t be embarrassed are already saying that stuff to the person – or just generally being nasty to their face.

          2. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

            Yes. I try to stay out of the gossip at the workplace, but it is mostly about ‘O boy, co-worker X is being late again’ or ‘Good Lord, that is the 3rd break co-worker Y is taking at it is not even noon’ or the likes.

            This was a comment about OP’s weight and what they associate with that (as in not worth to live). To me that is very cruel.

        2. EPLawyer*

          If they don’t want it to get back to the person they are being mean about — and they definitely do mean to hurt them — they shouldn’t be saying the things in the first place. They have control over the words out of their mouths. Presume anything you say will get back to the person you are saying it about.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            It’s true that you shouldn’t say something mean if you don’t want it to get back to the person you’re talking about, but I don’t think Mel_05 is saying otherwise. They’re just disagreeing with what Not Australian said (and I agree with Mel). And let’s be honest, most of us have at some point or another said something about someone that they would be hurtful to the person if they heard it, and we’d have been mortified if it got back to the person because we were just venting and not wanting to be hurtful. Doesn’t make it right, but it’s not like it doesn’t happen.

            1. Susie Q*

              “Let’s be honest, most of us have at some point or another said something about someone that they would be hurtful to the person if they heard it, and we’d have been mortified if it got back to the person because we were just venting and not wanting to be hurtful. Doesn’t make it right, but it’s not like it doesn’t happen”

              100%. And people who say they have not…are liars.

              1. Courtney Kupets*

                This is extra cruel though. You actually would say to someone else you would kill yourself if you had to be like someone else? I wouldn’t even do that for really awful people. That’s really really awful and I’m sorry you think that might be ok because “everyone does it”.

                1. Susie Q*

                  No where did I say that was okay. Or that their remarks were okay. I was merely agreeing with the comment to which I responded.

                2. TechWorker*

                  This is an unfair reach – you can think something is absolutely not ok to do (this isn’t, it’s horrible) and also think that the type of person who did it in this case has the capacity for shame.

                3. Eukomos*

                  No, the point is that it’s very common to say things behind people’s back that you’d be mortified to say to their face, not that we’d all say something just as horrible as this if we thought we’d get away with it.

              2. KoiFeeder*

                And the best apology is changed behavior, so I’ve stopped saying things behind someone’s back that I wouldn’t be willing to say to their face.

                It’s a lesson that, if you’re actually sorry about hurting the person you were talking about, only needs to happen once.

          2. Mel_05*

            Yeah, they shouldn’t be saying those things, but behaving badly doesn’t mean a person wouldn’t be ashamed if other people found out they were behaving badly.

        3. KoiFeeder*

          Never, never say anything about someone that you wouldn’t be willing to say to their face.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            Or, if you are going to do it, at least don’t use work resources. It can easily come back and bite you in the behind.

      3. August*

        It’s possible, but as someone who had TERRIBLE gossipy/judgemental tendencies throughout college, being called out can be the slap in the face you need. It’s easy to say certain things when you’re whispering to someone who finds your comments hilarious, but having the person come out and say “that’s terrible and you should feel bad” can be a real wake-up call. Sometimes I still get the urge to gossip, but then I remember the ungodly humiliation of being called out and I shut up. Still remember it, and it was around 8 years ago!

        1. Accidental Bully*

          For me it was a 4th grade summer day camp bus ride home, making juvenile jokes about names. Like turning Todd into Toad, Tara into Terror. I turned my own name into a mild profanity. And the next day a counsellor took us each aside and told us that one boy would not be coming back to camp because he started crying as soon as he left the bus… I am still mortified and it has been DECADES.
          (A shout into the ether…Crispin I’m still sorry.)

        2. hbc*

          Ditto. I was venting at work about someone in another building, nothing terrible but kind of a “he and his group do everything they can to push work back to us.” Turned out he was visiting that day and was a few cubes down. When he came by 10 minutes later or so and said in passing, “You should be careful, you don’t know who can hear you,” I was beyond mortified. I don’t think I was a big gossiper, but that incident certainly made me much more careful about where and how I voiced my negative opinions. And that guy’s professional handling of it raised him a couple of notches in my eyes.

        3. A*

          Yup! It’s harsh, but a lesson often only needed once. I had a similar slap in the face moment when I was younger – and it still stings to think about, but was necessary and was a crucial pivoting moment for me.

      4. LITJess*

        I dunno. I read that “Have a good weekend!” email from Natalie as guilt coming to surface. “I just trashed OP, but I don’t really dislike OP. I know, I’ll wish her a nice weekend. All fixed, see, we’re still friends!”

        1. AKchic*

          Bullies are two-faced. Most likely, it was “ha ha ha, I just totally ripped the ish out of her in her own meeting and she has no f-ing clue! *snerk* and now I’m sarcastically wishing her a good weekend and she thinks we’re friends! *giggle* What. A. Dumbass.”

          Think Mean Girls aged up, but not actually matured. Still playing petty high school games, but wearing support hose (nothing wrong with support hose) and sensible shoe inserts.

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

      OP 1, I’m so sorry. I’d do all of them, first with your manager to check wether HR should know, then your coworkers, and finally the call attendees (as a footnote). I was bullied since I was a little kid, and I had to endure a (male) senior coworker trashing a (female) work friend from other team who wasn’t present in the room, so I know from personal experience that the more steps you take, the better you’ll feel.

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

      OP 1, I’m so sorry.
      I’d do all of them, first with your manager to check wether HR should know, then your coworkers, and finally the call attendees (as a footnote). I was bullied since I was a little kid, and I had to endure a (male) senior coworker trashing a (female) work friend from other team who wasn’t present in the room, so I know from personal experience that the more steps you take, the better you’ll feel.

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

      OP 1, I’m so sorry.
      I’d do all of them, first with your manager to check wether HR should know, then your coworkers, and finally the call attendees (as a footnote). I was bullied since I was a little kid, and I had to endure a (male) senior coworker trashing a (female) work friend from other team who wasn’t present in the room, so I know from personal experience that the more steps you take, the better you’ll feel at the end of the day.

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

        (I don’t know what happened, I wanted my comment in the bottom of the main thread! Alison, can you move it?)

    5. Not So NewReader*

      OP, please remember that you have done nothing wrong here. Don’t wear/carry other people’s embarrassment FOR them, push the embarrassment back where it belongs. These two women SHOULD be embarrassed.

      And as Alison says here, keep it really simple when you send the message back to them. Let them fill in their own blanks. What they will come up with will make them feel far worse than anything you can think of to say.

      I would be tempted to email them the way Alison says and then notify your boss, “I had X problem and I have done Y in response. I just wanted you to know so if you hear a complaint, you heard it from me that X happened and I did Y.”

      It’s hard. I do know this. But I also know that dragging these things out into the light of day takes away their power/hold on us. Surprisingly, we can gain a feeling of freedom that we never anticipated.

    6. Sara without an H*

      Yes, OP#1 — I suggest you first brief your manager. (If I managed Lisa and Natalie, I’d really, really want to know this.) As to whether to go to HR, ask your manager for her take on it. She may prefer to handle it herself.

      As for how Lisa and Natalie will react — now they know that you know. My guess is either that they will try to pretend it never happened, or be ostentatiously nice to you going forward.

      You did nothing wrong here, so don’t let yourself feel ashamed. Execute Alison’s script and let the chips fall where they may.

  6. Dragon_Dreamer*

    OP 3: I hope you backed everything up before you loaned the laptop out! Since it’s been over a year, they’ve probably deleted your profile and everything that was on the machine. There’s not much you can legally do if she refuses to give it back, however. You did loan it to her, and unless you have a copy of the serial number, it will be difficult to prove the laptop is even yours. :/ Your company *might* be willing to help, but they really can’t force her, either. In the future, I wouldn’t loan out any electronics that you wouldn’t be willing to replace.

    When/if you do get it back, I would save any of your data that might remain, and then reinstall Windows. You don’t know if she’s managed to infect it, or if any components have gotten damaged. Don’t be surprised if it has some physical damage, too. I’m sorry I don’t have better advice for you. :(

    1. MK*

      That’s nonsense. The whole point of a loan is that you get to ask for it back; if the person you made the loan to refuse, you do have legal resource, and since this is an object, it might be a crime not to return it. I doubt the coworker and the company will just refuse to return the OP’s property outright. But they might take their time. As for any damage to the laptop, that’s a given with anything you loan, especially something that gets used daily for work.

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        But can the OP PROVE it was a loan and not a gift, is my point. The courts in the past have usually sided with the recipient, in the case of electronics, unless there was a written agreement.

        1. MK*

          I don’t know what case law is like where the OP leaves, but my guess would be that courts ruled in favor of the recepients because most cases brought before them had complicating factors, since most people just return loaned items when requested, even if initially they thought they were gifts. A judge in my jurisdiction would not accept that an expensive electronic given by a coworker to help you during a difficult time was a gift, unless proven otherwise. Even if the coworker and the company gnuinely believed it was a gift, they still would be told to return it.

          In any case, ”difficultto prove” is not the same as having no legal resource.

          1. Koala dreams*

            I think it’s far too early to consider how the case would go in court. The first step is to ask for the laptop back, with a date for when you want it. Often people need a date to “remember” to return a loan. The next step is to send a reminder, if you are a generous person. Then you would ask a lawyer for advice. Only if you felt it makes sense, considering cost, proofs and other things, would you take it to court.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Agreed. It’s way too early to start thinking of this as a court case. OP has several other things to try first. I am optimistic that even if the conversation with the cohort does not go that well, then looping the boss in will probably clinch things.

              1. Quill*

                The “back up data and clean sweep for viruses” is still a good idea though. Once logging into a hand-me-down computer and discovering it being wall to wall viruses was enough for me.

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I’d be interested in seeing the cases you’re talking about. I would bet that they involve family members and people in romantic relationships, where there has been a falling out and an item purchased for someone else is first claimed as a loan only after the falling out. This is a business relationship, and the OP would have no reason to make a gift of a relatively expensive item to a coworker. It could happen, but my guess is the courts would look on this case somewhat differently than they would if this was a familial or romantic relationship.

        3. Joielle*

          That’s… not accurate. There is no useful record of what “the courts” have done in similar situations in the past, because this would be a small claims situation at best and you’d rarely, if ever, get a written opinion. I know that’s the case in my state and every state I’ve had occasion to research (source: am a lawyer, have worked for judges in small claims court).

          In small claims court you’re not going to have or expect perfect evidence. These are laypeople engaging in small personal transactions, no lawyers involved. The judge is not going to need to see a written contract or a serial number – it would help, of course, but a judge is a fact finder in this situation and it comes down to which party the judge believes. In this situation, what’s more believable – that the OP loaned the laptop to a coworker in need, or gave it to them? An expensive personal item, to a relative stranger? Especially when the OP asked their manager for help getting it back and the manager apparently acknowledged it was a loan? Reasonable minds can disagree, of course, but written proof isn’t required.

          It would be a bummer if the OP has to go to small claims court over this, because they tried to do something nice and got burned. But they certainly could, and it wouldn’t be a waste of time.

          1. Wing Leader*

            Yeah, I agree. OP could have her manager vouch for her (assuming that manager was okay with getting involved like that–but it would be understandable if not).

            If you want an entertaining example of small claims court, just watch a few episodes of Judge Judy. She has a remarkable ability for getting the truth out of people.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Highly unlikely to be a crime, at least in the US. The term of art here is “conversion,” which is a civil matter.

        1. MK*

          That’s a matter of jurisdiction. In mine, if someone holds on to something that belongs to someone else without a legal right (like lease or a loan for certain time that is still running) after being asked to give it back, it is a crime.

          1. UKDancer*

            It’s a long time since I studied the Theft Act 1968 at university, but I think that if the laptop was not returned on request that would constitute a theft as defined. Obviously it would be for a court to prove but if the writer is in the UK and can’t get the laptop back then it is possible to involve the police.

            Obviously this hugely varies depending on where you are in the world.

      3. MMD*

        It’s not nonsense. It’s been a year. OP is probably never going to see that computer again. Can she even prove it’s hers? It’s a civil matter at best. The person with the computer can easily claim “I lost it” and since there is risk to lending an item there is not much OP can do. This can be filed under no good deed goes unpunished.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          So the OP should just let it go? Nope, that’s ridiculous. I personally wouldn’t have let them keep it this long, but there’s no reason for OP to not try and get it back.

        2. Malarkey01*

          If you are in a situation with a coworker where you have to “even prove it’s yours” you are so far outside professional norms. If you said hey remember when you got that computer from me last year, and coworker said no- EVERYONE in the business is going to be shocked and it will have job repercussions as it will reflect on your judgement and integrity. This is not a Judge Judy episode.

        3. Quill*

          Honestly if you’re going to get a loaned electronics item back you have to go after it within a month.

          It’s possible coworker has not returned it due to damage, having installed things on it, or concerns that their personal information is saved… etc.

        4. MK*

          A year is nothing in terms of property law; you don’t lose rights to your property so easily. And it’s very possible that she can prove it’s hers, if she e.g. has registered the device with the manufactuer. But frankly this is painting the company and the coworker as cartoon villains: not only are they going to refuse to return the laptop, but also they will either try to say it was a loan or that the OP made the whole thing up?

        5. Oaktree*

          Civil matters (as opposed to criminal) are not lesser offences than criminal ones. It’s odd that you say the matter is civil as though that in and of itself minimizes it.

          Source: am a corporate law librarian

        6. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          If it was documented as a loan through work email and the recipient ‘lost’ it, they’d at least be expected to return the value of the laptop or replace it (I’m not even talking by law here, I’m talking about the prevailing social norms of a reasonable workplace); since laptops tend to lose value over time there’s no reason to think it would benefit the recipient to pull that kind of stunt.

    2. Potatoes gonna potate*

      I’m just gobsmacked at the entitlement of someone to think an expensive piece of equipment from a coworker is a gift and not a loan. By default if someone gives me something, I would assume it’s a loan, and not a gift unless explicitly stated otherwise.

      1. Washi*

        It happens! Two of my neighbors stopped speaking after this kind of loan/gift mixup over a piano. And actually, I did this exact thing once of loaning a personal laptop to a coworker who I was close to. She didn’t think it was a gift, but when I found out she was dragging her feet over the steps needed to get a replacement from the organization, I had to tell her nicely to get a move on!

        I don’t think it’s necessarily entitlement, though it could be. I think sometimes people, particularly in if they’re in a stressful situation, have trouble processing info they are told or taking additional steps when their immediate problem (lack of computer) was solved. It was a lesson learned for me about lending my personal stuff at work and I assume the OP has learned a similar lesson!

      2. Laptop Loaner*

        I have been shocked as well by the situation. I think that’s what’s left me confused how to proceed.

        1. WellRed*

          I can’t imagine thinking a coworker was gifting me a laptop! Did the exchange go through a manager and maybe the message got muddled? At any rate, it’s yours. Ask for it back.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I can see it landing to the coworker (possibly through a few intermediaries) as “Oh, I have this old laptop sitting around that I never use–JoAnn can use that” and it not being clear it was a loan.

            1. Laptop Loaner*

              Erm, I don’t know. The coworker was in panic mode at the time with her husband being in the ER so I don’t know what she heard or didn’t hear. But I don’t know why she wouldn’t have clarified later. I would have.

              1. The Rural Juror*

                I’m sorry the situation has come to this, especially since you were being so kind. I hope your coworker is receptive and does everything they can to get it back to you quickly! And good luck in the job search!!!

        2. MK*

          OP, I think it’s probable that the manager doesn’t feel any sort of urgency about the situation given how long it’s already been. I am afraid you will have to insist pretty forcefully/often to get the laptop back.

          And I don’t want to preach after the fact, but it’s better to set a time limit on loans like that; when it’s open-ended people will procrastrinate.

      3. CupcakeCounter*

        Happened to me as well. I loaned out some baby clothes to a coworker – my son had outgrown them, they were still in really good condition (he was a spoiled little thing), and it was her 3rd child and the previous 2 were girls so I offered to loan her some things. Loan and borrow were said a lot.
        Well when my cousin found out she was having triplets, I asked for them back since it had been long enough that he had to have outgrown everything. The answer I got was that she wasn’t returning anything to anyone until she decided she was done having kids. I told her that wasn’t acceptable and I wanted my stuff back and she just shrugged and walked away. As fate would have it, I ended up chatting with another coworker shortly after and she asked if I had gotten the email from entitled lady mentioning that her son was in need of some hand-me-down toys and clothes “to borrow” since she didn’t see my name on it. I told her I wasn’t surprised I was left off and repeated the conversation we’d had a few days prior. This coworker was shocked and decided to ask for her previous donations back as well. She got a similar answer to mine so between the 2 of us we let everyone know that a “loan” to this coworker was essentially giving it away.
        Yes, she had previously loaned out clothes from her daughters but they were not in good condition – more of a show than an actual intent to help others. We also found out much later that she never intended to have another child but had sold the clothes at a garage sale/second hand store which is why she wouldn’t return them.
        I never did get my stuff back (including the Rubbermaid tote I had packed them in) but she also never got another stitch of clothing from the other parents in the company. Luckily I held back some of the more sentimental items so I didn’t lose those.

        1. Quill*

          My failboat uncle sold off a heavy duty trike that had been in my family for nearly 20 years because “it took up too much room in his garage”

          It had obviously been a loan (not least because it had been a gift from my grandpa on the other side of the family, who had died the previous year,) and we’d sent it out and got it back to other family members and neighbors multiple times.

          Neither we, nor his wife (my mom’s sister) were happy with him about it.

        2. Fulana del Tal*

          Baby clothes are in a different category then computers. Unless it was a christening gown, I would never expect the clothes were a loan. Babies soil things all the time, expecting clothes to remain in the same condition that they were received to be re-loaned is not realistic. Computers are different, I expect someone to care of them and return them.

        3. Double A*

          Baby clothes are a weird one — I would never “loan” someone baby clothes and expect to get them all back. I mean, first of all, babies are messes so some stuff’s going to get ruined/lost/etc. Second of all, asking parents to keep track of who’s stuff is what is a lot. With a coworker, I would either gift or not give. I mean, one of you could leave the company before the kid is old enough to return the clothes.

          I “loaned” a friend a bunch of newborn stuff, and put our initials in the stuff I wanted back. But along with the loan I was like, “It would be great if we could get some of this back for if we have another kid, but don’t worry about keeping perfect track of it or if some of it gets ruined or if it even never comes back.” They are also very good friends.

      4. MK*

        I have never had any such exchanges happen without one or both of the parties being totally clear about this: either the giver will stipulate that they don’t need the item back or say by what time they will need it again, or the recipient will say when they plan to return it or ask for how long they can keep it or offer money to buy it.

        But, yes, it would be pretty ridiculous for a company to claim that one of their employees gifted the company a laptop. It might have been slightly more credible if she had given directly to her coworker, but not by much.

      5. Amethystmoon*

        Well, I did give someone an old laptop as a gift, but they had just been through a fire, and it was a really old laptop. So it can happen but probably not with up-to-date machines.

    3. WellRed*

      Why assume this will get hostile before she’s even asked for it back? OP, for heavens sake, ask for your property back.

      1. MassMatt*

        The OP DID ask for it back, and got the runaround:

        “When I’ve asked the manager about getting my laptop back, she’s told me she would talk to her boss and see what he wants to do”.

        It’s the OP’s computer, “what the boss wants to do” is not relevant, they have had a YEAR to get a machine to the coworker. Given most work can be done on an inexpensive Chrome book the business must be in bad shape indeed (a year ago is pre-pandemic) if they cannot afford to get the coworker a machine.

        1. Laptop Loaner*

          We use Windows’ Remote Desktop Connection so unfortunately it has to be a Windows machine. I’m not sure why they’re being so cheap about computers but I’m kind of afraid the company is going to go under with all that’s going on now in the economy. Hence wanting to job search (and that 25% salary cut too).

          1. Gatomon*

            I believe there is a Microsoft RDP client for macOS actually, but if not I’m sure there’s a compatible solution. It’s probably just budget, but they do have to provide employees with equipment if they expect work and not rely on the generosity of others. I hope you are able to get your laptop back and that your job search goes well!

          2. Observer*

            Nope. There is definitely a Microsoft Remote Desktop client for Mac, Android (which you can use on a Chromebook), and Linux as well as Chrome / Chromebook.

          3. Pigeon*

            Are you 100% sure that coworker knows it is your personal machine? If it was presented to them through your manager as an intermediary, something may have been lost in translation. Especially if it appeared to be a new machine due to the reinstall you mentioned elsewhere. (Sorry to ask, but it wasn’t clear to me from the letter, and it seems a reasonable possibility given they have kept it so long without communicating with you.)

        2. MK*

          Most probably “what the boss wants to do” didn’t mean “the boss will decide if you get the laptop back” but “the boss will decide if we will buy a new laptop or reassign one we already have or reduce her WFH or whatever”. Since the company has already procrastrinated a whole year to fix the situation, it’s pretty obvious the OP will need to be more forceful about this.

          The plain truth is that, once an immediate problem has been solved, many people will tick a box in their heads and stop thinking about it. Or plan to fix it permanently at some point in the future and then procrastrinate forever.

    4. Laptop Loaner*

      I had just reinstalled Windows on the laptop because the laptop was running slowly so fortunately there was nothing to backup. I thought about that at the time. :)

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        Good. :) Back when I worked as a repair tech, I saw this situation a few times. The original owners who did get their laptops back were always upset that the recipient had deleted their data, or had badly infected it. A couple more took the borrowers to civil court, but the judges threw the cases out, because they couldn’t prove it was a loan. My store was involved because in both cases, the owners contacted us for their repair history paperwork, to prove they’d brought the laptop in, and/or bought the machine from us. Unfortunately, this is not considered proof.

    5. BadWolf*

      I absolutely agree that OP should approach this as suggested.

      I also agree that the employee might have swapped this to a “gift” whether intentionally or unintentionally. Or muddled that the laptop is OPs and not the company’s. The company will cough up a laptop when they actually have to.

      If possible, I’d also wipe and reinstall the laptop on return. Just so you don’t accidentally find anything personal from the employee or company data after being let go. And just in case of anything unwanted being installed.

  7. Caramel & Cheddar*

    Just so others know: Zoom sending the meeting host a copy of the PMs from the meeting isn’t a one off accident for OP1, this has happened to lots of folks. You should never be mocking your colleagues, obviously, but this is definitely another situation where you should assume whatever you say using workplace tools might get back to someone you wish it hadn’t.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Zoom comments are like a quiet aside in a physical meeting. If you want to say something that you wouldn’t want everyone to see/hear (commercially sensitive rather than personally mean) then send via another channel.

    2. Dragon_Dreamer*

      NEVER assume ANYTHING online is private. Someone, somewhere ALWAYS has server level access.

      1. TechWorker*

        Whatsapp is probably secure enough that your boss isn’t seeing it unless you work for an intelligence agency :p

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Anyone can screenshot a conversation they’re in – that’s not the same as an insecure transmission.

            But yeah – anyone can screenshot a conversation they’re in!

        1. Dragon_Dreamer*

          Your boss can’t, no. But if WhatsApp ever got subpeona’d by someone high enough, I assure you, those server logs do exist.

      2. Beth Jacobs*

        I mean, you might be right in principle but acting on that would mean never using your personal email for job hunting or communication with your doctor. Eschewing online banking etc. Lawyers would have to go back to typewriters.

        I think you can choose to trust certain well established services if you’re the account holder. Work tools are different, because your employer is the account holder.

    3. Oryx*

      Our HR sent out an email a couple of weeks into all of this letting the staff know private chats show up in the host’s transcripts. My guess is something exactly like this happened.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          It’s really only a bug if people are thinking, “Ha HA! Donning my special magical cloak of super-secret invisibility and snark, I let fly while everyone around me imagines I am checking a spreadsheet!”
          “Dude, we can all see you.”
          “Ha! Not with my special spangly invisibility cape on, you can’t!!!!”

          1. Amy Sly*

            I’m more thinking of the various old Dilberts where Dilbert says “The only way we can make the ship date is if we reclassify all the bugs as features.”

  8. KHB*

    #2: So from the point of view of the coworkers/clients, if you do want to fully think this through, what’s a better way to approach it? I’ve been struggling these past few weeks to think of ways to say “I’m thinking of you and hope you’re doing well” (so, something more than just the generic social-nicety-how-are-you) that makes room for the possibility that maybe they’re not doing well, and I’ve been coming up short.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think what makes this especially tough for the OP is that they’re specifically asking about her family. I can see why it would feel like a betrayal to the family member who died to say, “Oh, they’re fine!” (Which is why I suggested responses that sidestep any substantive answer entirely.) I think you’re safer if you just ask after the person you’re speaking to.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        How is this any different from normal times? Is it any less awkward if a family member died by being run over by a bus? Perhaps people now are more likely to ask about the family? This would seem an odd question under normal circumstances absent a certain level of intimacy. At that level of intimacy, I would be willing to assume the questioner would want a real answer, rather than it being purely a social nicety. But perhaps the threshold for the question has lowered below where a real answer is appropriate. So yeah, for those questioners a vague non-answer is probably best.

        1. Reba*

          In many cultures (not my native white US-ian), asking after the family IS a part of the usual sequence of phatic greetings, not for friends only. IME the responses are still more or less the default (“fine” equivalent).

          I’ve been treating what I think of as the family-extension of greetings in the same way as the basic how are ya for people I don’t know very well. I don’t think it’s surprising that in this extra hellish period people are feeling a desire to make an extra acknowledgement of our shared humanity.

          But yeah, it’s awkward.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I think people are now markedly more likely to ask about family (in the US), realizing that it is a time of unusual stress and worry about everyone’s family. But as KHB gets at, how do you acknowledge that without falling into “I’ve never mentioned my son to you, but he’s been in the Covid ward of a hospital for the past week and of course none of us can travel to be with him, so I feel horrible and that really swamps whatever work thing you were calling to ask me about. Pipe fitter spreadsheets, I think?” as the response.

        3. A*

          I think culture also comes into play. I get, and have come to expect, this question from almost all of my suppliers overseas in China. Also common with my suppliers in Mexico. It’s well intended, I’ve been sticking with ‘hanging in there’ lately.

        4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          Prior to now, unless it was a close friend, I have never once asked someone in casual conversation how their family is doing.

          1. AKchic*

            Even now, I don’t ask. At work, it’s not my business to know about someone else’s personal life. If we aren’t friends, I don’t want to know about a person’s personal life. A pandemic hasn’t changed us so much that people all of the sudden actually care about my personal life. What they mean to say is “are you at risk of being infected and should I be aware of it” and they are dancing around the subject.

            Granted, I am extremely cynical right now.

    2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      I stick to, “I hope you and your loved ones are doing well” and then move on to the business reason for the conversation/email, then they don’t need to come up with an answer back if they don’t want to. I wouldn’t go with “I’m thinking of you” for business communication unless it was someone I knew really well. Some people do suddenly overshare exactly how they’re doing, down to the number of rolls of TP they have left, but most just say thank you as acknowledgment.

      1. allathian*

        Email is easier to deal with, if it’s too sensitive, it’s always possible to ignore the comment in your reply. It’s much harder on a conference call or video meeting, where you can be blindsided by a question like that. And if you are struck by sudden emotion when someone asks how you’re doing, it’s really easy to miss whatever the subject change was about.
        I wouldn’t ask on a phone or video call how someone or their loved ones are doing unless I know them really well.

        1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

          But that’s the thing…it’s not a question “I hope you are well” is a statement that doesn’t really require any response if they don’t want to.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Yes, definitely. “I hope you are keeping well” is a nice wish whether it reflects accurate events or not. Not requiring a reply is an added bonus.

          2. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

            Yes … this is what I say as well, “I hope you and yours are doing well in this challenging time” or something like that. It doesn’t require a specific answer.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, that sounds like a good idea–if you make it a statement they can choose to respond if they want to but people like OP can just ignore it and move on.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      This whole thing is why I am NOT wishing anyone well or that they are doing well or that they are not ill (I’m trying to just stick to business). What if they are NOT?

      Hell, I’m SUPER not doing well myself even if I’m not sick and my loved ones aren’t either. I’m just ignoring when people ask because I don’t want to get in trouble.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Yeah people opening emails with “I hope you are well” or closing them with “Stay healthy!” kind of irks me. I am certain they mean well and are trying to be nice, but I feel like it reinforces an idea that health or catching/not catching covid is something we control? If you catch covid, it’s not a personal failure on your part. It’s not because you didn’t wash your hands enough or stood too close to an asymptomatic carrier at the grocery store. We have this thing where every covid death gets brushed off with “Oh but she had underlying conditions” as a way of other-ing those who get sick or die from it. I’ve been sticking with “take care.”

        1. WellRed*

          Hmm, I don’t close with “stay healthy” on emails, but I feel like you are also overthinking it. It’s still ultimately, a closing salutation, but I imagine for many people it feels weird to not acknoweldge that these are strange times. It’s not meant to make you feel like a personal failure.

          1. MicroManagered*

            Not necessarily me personally? But I have definitely read stuff from people online with disabilities or chronic illnesses saying something similar, so it’s just something I’m aware of, I guess.

          2. LJay*

            Yeah, when I tell people who are going on a trip to “Have a safe flight” I am not implying that they have any control over the plane, the pilots, or anything else involving their flight. It’s a general well-wish.

        2. Annie*

          I think you’re reading way too much into it. People just use those phrases to acknowledge that there is a crisis going on that is affecting everything and everyone because it feels weird to not acknowledge it.

          1. MicroManagered*

            Until you have someone like OP2 feeling unsure what to say when their relative just died…

            1. Annie*

              Part of the point of acknowledging the situation is to acknowledge that some people have lost relatives recently. They are not asking for details of asking for people to share their personal grief publicly. OP2 isn’t obligated to tell people about their relative’s death.

        3. Eukomos*

          Hoping someone is well isn’t really an order to them to be well, though. You’re expressing your positive feelings towards them, seems appropriate to me.

  9. Heidi*

    For Letter 4, I think I would let it go. Just because she got dressed, took a walk, and felt worse the next day doesn’t necessarily mean that she’d be back at work by now if she’d stayed in. Knowing how sick some folks are getting, this employee could be in for a long recovery no matter what she does. I’d prefer to err on the side of being supportive. It’s fine to give a friendly, “Take it easy,” but I’d leave the blame out of it entirely.

    1. No name*

      I agree with this entirely. I think it would leave such a bad taste in my mouth if my boss expressed irritation that my getting dressed and taking walks while recovering from illness might be hindering his business. I know that’s not the way it would be intended, but that’s how I would take it.

      1. Willis*

        Yeah, this. I don’t know how strenuous the walks this person is attempting are, but tiredness after trying to do ordinary stuff like get dressed and walk a bit sounds somewhat in line with recovery. Unless she’s really doing something blatantly over the top, I probably wouldn’t make too big of a deal about this. A friendly reminder not to rush recovery seems fine.

        1. Karia*

          This. An acquaintance of mine had / has it. He used to run half marathons. He’s now sort of able to walk round the block. He’s building that up as part of recovery.

          1. CatMomma*

            I hope I’m misunderstanding this, but why is here walking *outside* while he has the virus? That’s how it spreads…

            1. Wing Leader*

              No, you can walk outside as long as you do not come into contact or within 6 feet of anyone else. Most places that are doing shelter-in-place allow you to go outside once per day for physical activity.

              1. Hedgehug*

                Not if you knowingly have the virus!! People have literally been arrested in their driveway for pulling this crap.

            2. Spreadsheets and Books*

              If this person is walking alone and away from other people, which is extremely possible in many areas of the country, there is no risk.

              1. Quill*

                I swear people’s misunderstandings about the risks of going outside, rather than “being within transmission distance of other people,” is half of what’s making shelter in place worse for people to endure.

                If you can be far from other people, simply leaving the house is not a problem.

                1. Amy Sly*

                  Business Insider has a great piece on that from Friday. Title: “Stop shaming people for going outside. The risks are generally low, and the benefits are endless.”

                  It’s a virus, not a miasma.

                2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  Yes, and you need to wear a mask in order not to spread infected droplets around

              2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                If this person is walking alone and away from other people AND WEARING A MASK TO PREVENT CONTAMINATING ANYTHING AND ANYONE

            3. EventPlannerGal*

              The recovery time can be significantly longer than the amount of time that you are actually infectious. Once you are no longer infectious you should abide by the same social distancing rules as everyone else, which in many places allows for outdoor exercise. Or are people just supposed to wall themselves up inside and never emerge?

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Having been in surgical recovery a few months ago, this. You try to do a little more physically because that’s how you recover physically. Sometimes you guess wrong and it’s only evident the next day.

          My doctors at various stages really emphasized both the importance of exercise and the importance of not pushing yourself faster than your body could repair–but that last meant returning to a full-on weight-lifting workout levels, not tottering around the block. Heck, a hallmark of physical therapy is that the first 2 reps are laughably easy, 6 and 7 still easy, you get to 10 and Woo that was tough, and then the therapist wants you to do 10 more and you consider killing them. And that’s for increasing physical movement directly under the eyes of a medical professional. (Ah PT appointments how I miss you.)

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Yes, and what I’ve heard of C19 is that for many people it comes and goes, you think it’s over and it isn’t, time and time again.

        3. Toothless*

          I noticed something like this after I got a concussion from a bike accident – it took five weeks for the replacement bike to come in, during which time I got back to feeling about 70-80% fine pretty quickly and then it stalled. Once I had the new bike and could get as much exercise as I wanted on it, the symptoms disappeared within a week. Light exercise and getting your blood moving can be really helpful when recovering from things.

      2. Wintermute*

        Plus we have no idea what medical advice she’s getting! She may have been told, either by a doctor or her own advice, that getting up and walking is important to avoid worsening pnumonia, that light exercise is important for other reasons, who knows?

        1. caps22*

          Exactly this. Lying immobile in bed has its own consequences. Moving around, getting the circulation flowing and breathing a bit deeper all have their benefits. Fatigue isn’t relapse, it’s part of recovery.

        2. Raea*

          Ya. I had a family member who just recovered from what was almost certainly COVID-19 (still an extreme shortage of tests in my area, and she was otherwise in good health / low risk so her medical team recommended she stay home instead of going to the ER). After the first 1 1/2 weeks her doctor recommended she start going out for brief walks, building up a little more each day.

        3. Malarkey01*

          This! Coworker is recovering and due to the instances of lung scarring- even in some less serious cases, doctors advice was a daily walk gradually building duration. She has to rebuild lung capacity or risk lifelong issues. It’s part of the recovery- and same as other poster, she started just walking to the mailbox and barely made it (well at first a walk across the room meant she had to lay down). What this is doing to some lungs is scary and just resting in bed will make it worse.

        4. Traffic_Spiral*

          Yeah, and since LW isn’t a doctor, she’s not really in a position to be giving anyone medical advice.

    2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Getting dressed and taking a walk might also help her mentally recover. It’s traumatic to get sick and being able to resume any normal function feels like a relief.

    3. MaltaKano*

      Exactly this. From what I’ve read about COVID recovery, it’s a roller coaster. Feeling on the mend one day, back in bed the next. I’m not a doctor, but it seems unlikely that putting on clothes and walking a bit are derailing her body’s response to the virus. This isn’t a cold or flu – we don’t have a framework for recovery yet. I’d let it go and just send her support.

      1. Alice*

        I would walk away from this if I were you OP. I have the virus right now, and it would leave an awful taste in my mouth if my workplace, especially my boss, tried to reply something to that effect. Just let her know that you miss them (if you’re friends) and that you hope they get better soon.

        Some days I’ve felt like garbage, but honestly, the days that I was able to get dressed, even just put on a shirt and a cardigan with leggings have been the most glorious for my mental health. I would love to take a walk, but my district forbids leaving the house if covid positive.

        I’ve felt awful for a number of things, the largest of which is being too exhausted to do anything, and too sick to go back to work. Likely your employee has similar stresses of their own. As such, try to cut that employee some slack with the pressure. You’ll have them back at work when you have them back.

        1. Miaou*

          This is totally in line with my experience. It’s now 5 weeks since I got poorly. I used to run every day and am usually healthy and active, and I was getting better until 10 days ago when I tried to go back to work (WFH) before I was well enough. Two days later I was back in bed and I’m still unable to leave the house, getting dressed is as much as I can manage. I think this is going be a long haul.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        I agree.

        A member of my team is recovering, and it’s up and down and changes everyday. She’s someone who wants to push herself. While it does frustrate me and her immediate supervisor a bit, we realize that’s just who she is. Plus, getting up and moving is part of recovery and sometimes helps it move along a little faster, both mentally and physically. And it’s not as though she’s pushing herself to walk five miles. She’s taking a shower, getting dressed, and walking around her yard. Also, we’re all working from home right now, so it’s not a big deal for her to walk around a bit, go rest, and then do a little work. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

        My niece is also recovering and she said the same thing: it’s a roller coaster.

        1. Works in IT*

          And another thing, especially, is that with most illnesses, being able to get up and push yourself a little is an important sign that you’re on the mend, and you’ll be back to your usual self in a couple days. COVID 19’s ups and downs don’t fit in with that usual progression, and the employee could be keeping their manager updated because they think each little up is the sign that they’re recovering and will be better soon.

    4. Mx*

      Getting some fresh air everyday is certainly very good for recovery. And getting dressed cannot hurt.
      I don’t see in what way it is sabotaging herself.

    5. TechWorker*

      Honestly I was sort of surprised there’s no mention of how if she’s still contagious she shouldn’t be outside at all… at least that’s the policy here (and seems fairly sensible tbh…). 2 metres isn’t a magic distance at which the risk drops to zero.

      (Ofc she might live somewhere she can go for a walk and not touch anything or see anyone… or she might not…)

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        The official policy here in the UK is that you’re considered no longer contagious after two weeks so you could certainly take a walk with normal distancing precautions after a month.

        I don’t *love* that policy, because we aren’t testing most people so most people are diagnosed remotely based on probability; and we’ve no real idea how long any individual is genuinely contagious. But I don’t think week 5 is an unreasonable time to leave close quarantine.

        Covid recovery is slow and frustrating (I’m at a similar stage to this employee) and there’s a real danger of post-viral fatigue and related conditions. It’s possible the employee is telling her boss-friend about her efforts because she doesn’t want to look like she’s malingering. In that case, Alison’s language is clear and kind about expectations.

        1. CatMomma*

          In parts of the US, it’s 72 hours after one’s fever is gone that they can go outside again. And usually the fever is the last thing to leave, unless they never had a fever at all.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            It’s odd to tie it to a particular symptom when there’s been such a range of how people have experienced it.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              My understanding is that particular threshold is based on knowledge of other viruses…so it may not translate well to this one but no one knows enough yet to have a more fact-based recommendation. We have no idea how long people with COVID-19 are contagious. One hospital I know of was not considering people “recovered” unless they tested negative three days in a row…but with all the false negative issues…and with some people still having symptoms even when testing negative for several days, and testing negative for multiple days and then positive again….nobody knows. This virus is apparently confusing as fuck.

            2. Flavia de Luce*

              The full advice is 72 hours since no fever (without the use of fever reducing meds like ibuprophen) or 7 days since the cessation of symptoms, whichever is longer.

    6. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      Yes, agreed. One hallmark of covid is that it doesn’t follow a simple trajectory of recovery; you can have alternating good and bad days no matter what you do.

      Also, and more importantly, it’s not appropriate for a manager to tell an employee how to handle their illness. “We’re paying you to rest” would be a really upsetting and harmful thing to say—it puts the employee under a lot of stress to not only try to manage their condition (which I’m sure they’re doing as well as they can!) but depict their behavior and symptoms in a way that their manager finds acceptable, because it implies that if they don’t seem to be resting, they might lose that pay. “You’re making yourself sicker” is shaming, plain and simple, and about one inch away from “Have you tried yoga” “Make sure you take vitamin D” and other inappropriate health interventions. I’m quite astonished that this is the advice you’re giving, Allison, and I hope you’ll reconsider.

      1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

        —oops, sorry about the misspelling, Alison! I need to get some rest myself.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        Agreed. “We’re paying you to rest” really seems very inappropriate and invasive to me. If they had some condition that exercise would help with and the OP had decided they weren’t doing enough, would Alison advise contacting them to say “we’re paying you to exercise”? They are not being paid to manage their condition to their employers liking.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Agreed. Nobody’s “paying me to rest”. I’m earning a living through the ostensibly fair exchange of my labor for the profit of your company. If you value me as an employee and believe that my long-term retention is in both of our interest, then maybe cut me a little slack when I get sick and can’t perform to my usual standard. If you *don’t* value me as an employee, or believe that my long-term retention is in your interest, then you have bigger problems than my susceptibility to illness as a human being.

          1. Autumnheart*

            Sorry, but “paying you to rest” smacks of the same attitude behind the whole “job creator” nonsense, as though companies give people jobs out of the kindness of their hearts. Workers earned that money. I really don’t like the idea that I have some kind of moral obligation to maintain my health so that my employer can maximally profit from my labor. They’re getting their money’s worth already.

    7. Koala dreams*

      Many illnesses have those in-between phases, where you feel well enough to not be able to stay in bed all day, but bad enough to not do very much. As long as she keeps physical distance to people and other precautions, walks seems fine. It’s very difficult to go directly from bed to work. I wouldn’t go for walks myself, I’d prefer watching tv, but people react differently.

      Just tell her “Take care” or “I hope you feel better soon”. Don’t mention business or work, unless she asks directly.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        A couple people mentioned a roller coaster type of healing. This is not unusual, we can see that with many types of health issues. My boss broke her back. It was about a year. Some days were better than others. This is what healing looks like. Things don’t go away in one day… or even one week for that matter.

        OP, a really strategic move on your part would to say things such as, “These things take time.” Or, “You know what is best for your givens.” Assume that the employee is getting anxious about wanting to return to work. You can even assume that the person has been fretting/crying over it. Taylor your responses accordingly.

        With my boss, I said things such as. “This is pretty normal to have a good day then the next day is not so hot. This is what healing looks like. The thing to look at is overall trends, if you can have a good day at all that means at some point you will have another good day.” Now, you may or may not want to point this out to your employee. However, you may find it helpful to satisfy your own thinking on this just by privately knowing, if she has one good day then at some point she will have another good day. Healing can roller coaster, it does not go in a straight path upward, and I am not sure why I never understood that until I was well into adulthood.

        1. A nonnie nonnie non*

          Yes, it def can be the case with a variety of illnesses. Last year I got the flu (not stomach, but actual influenza). It was a terrible recovery. One day I started to feel better and did a few things around the house, to feel like a functional human again. Then later that night my fever came back. The next few days I was ok. When I finally went back to work, the days were so long and was exhausted by 3pm. It was terrible. Knowing Co-vid could be similar or worse is scary. That being said it helped my mental state to get up, get dressed, do some laundry and dishes.

      2. Mockingjay*

        Years ago my children’s pediatrician explained to me the cyclical nature of viruses. They had gotten ill, apparently recovered, and then relapsed, to my bewilderment and worry. Since then I always factor in long recovery time for any virus, knowing that some days they’ll feel okay, the next they may feel terrible.

        OP #4, allow your employee to recover at her own pace. There’s no rule book on this particular virus yet.

    8. Roscoe*

      Yes. Especially since OP didn’t give details on their full situation. If they live alone in an apartment (like I do), I 100% understand them needing to get out of the house on occasion. I’ve seen a lot of people with yards and families/partners try to shame others for daring to leave the house, but its a totally different situation for them

      1. CatMomma*

        It’s not a different situation. Walking in public when you have the disease is endangering others, whether you live alone or with others, or any other unreasonable excuse.

        1. Quill*

          If you’re able to be far from other people while “in public” you’re not increasing the danger. So simply being outside on the empty street / in the middle of a local soccer field / on the midday empty sidewalk is not inherently more dangerous to others than being in your front or back yard.

          The primary factor is total distance from other people, not indoors vs. outdoors or public vs private property.

        2. Eukomos*

          If you’re wearing a mask and a reasonable distance away the risk to others is vanishingly slim. When you’re outside you’d pretty much have to cough in someone’s face to infect them, locking people in their houses isn’t that important to containing the disease and insisting on it for your psychological sense of security is unkind at best.

    9. WellRed*

      I was surprised by the advice on this one, to an extent. If the coworker is working and keeps seeming to relapse, that’s one thing and to me it’s not clear that she is. But to tell her she can’t personally get dressed or take a walk (to build her strength maybe?) is an overreach.
      OP, have you made it clear she can just not work (if indeed she is trying to work).

    10. cmcinnyc*

      My parents both had COVID and I remember being on the phone with them after hikes, with my dad insisting he was feeling better while I could hear every breath scraping in and out of his lungs. This is a scary disease, and I think my parents had to go for a walk if they felt able to prove to themselves they could still breathe. They’re in their late 70s, so their recovery was chancy. The walking was a coping mechanism and a health/fitness test for themselves. It was probably a bad idea on the one hand, but for their mental health and optimism, I think it meant a lot.

    11. Delta Delta*

      For some, getting dressed is a good way to feel a little better. And going for “a walk” could be that she walked to the end of the driveway to get the mail. This virus is weird and it creates different symptoms in different people. It could be this person is trying her best to feel better and normal but it’s taking some time.

    12. Bibliovore*

      The symptoms of Covid come and go in recovering. It is recommended to bathe, dress, and do some kind of exercise in recovery to help your lungs recover. Also not to be surprised by waves of overcoming fatigue and a return of some symptoms. No need to remark on anything they say or write.

    13. Eukomos*

      Agreed, I’d think taking walks would help them improve faster! Lying in bed wearing sweaty pjs and wondering when you’ll be able to be a real human being again isn’t necessarily conducive to improvement.

  10. Iron Chef Boyardee*

    From Alison’s response to #2:

    [T]he traditional “how are you?” at the start of a business call is generally understood to be a social nicety, not a genuine request to know how you’re really doing.

    I have Asperger’s, and this was one of the social cues it took me a long time to realize. I remember starting a new job, being introduced to my boss, and responding to his “How are you?” with “I have diabetes.”

    I still hate it when store clerks greet me with “How are you?” when I know darn well that they don’t really care, and if they’re doing it because their boss told them that’s how they want the customers greeted I hate it even more. Even though I know now it’s just an expression, I still have Asperger’s, so I’m not always comfortable returning the greeting and I’ll just say nothing. What really grinds my gears is when a clerk will get upset at me for not responding! Would they like it if I told them how I really was?

    Rant over. (Hopefully) constructive comment to follow immediately, to wit:

    OP #2 wrote:

    So far I have just not answered the question and said, “Thank you for your concern” and moved on with the call. I fear that’s coming off as cold. How else can I answer the question without answering the question?

    I don’t think that’s cold at all. They said what they felt they needed to say, and you acknowledged their comment graciously. If you want to derail any follow-up, you can say “Thank you for your concern. I appreciate it. Now, how may I help you?” which turns the focus onto the caller and the caller’s needs.

    1. Old person*

      I had a death in my family this week as well. I love that acknowledgement and quick pivot in the last paragraph. Thank you for posting it, I am going to use it.

    2. A Penny for Your Idea!*

      The impression I get from your comment is that you consider “store clerks” to be beneath you. Do you treat other people that way? Do you “hate it” when people you’re meeting for the first time socially or in the workplace greet you with “How are you?” and do you “just say nothing” in response to them? If you are treating people in social or workplace situations better, why? Is it because you consider them to be more important? I’ve developed friendly relationships, and friendships, with people who I first met when they served me coffee, checked out my groceries, or gave me advice about what to buy in a retail store. FFS, “store clerks” are humans too! Rant over.

      1. Four lights*

        I didn’t get the impression that they have anything against store clerks. I think their view was that on some level “how are you” is a lie, because the asker doesn’t necessarily want to know. This is doubly true for someone like a store clerk, who really has no personal interest in the customers that come in the store.

        1. Mel_05*

          Yes, I think this is accurate. I had a friend in HS who felt this way. She *hated* when people asked, “How are you?” Even though intellectually she knew it was just another form of, “Hello”

      2. Old person*

        I didn’t read it that way at all. I guess we both got something different from the post.

        1. LF*

          Yeah, the way I read it was that store clerk was just an example of someone the poster does not know and does not want to engage in small talk with.

      3. Drag0nfly*

        Where are you getting the idea that ICB hates store clerks? He’s clearly referring to the emptiness of the nicety of asking “how are you?” by someone who is doing it by rote, or under orders. Store clerks are a commonplace example of either instance. The point is that an empty nicety can be a minefield to someone who takes it literally, which an Asperger’s person may do. If you don’t *know* that the person you’re speaking to doesn’t mean what they’re saying, it can be disconcerting to find out that people think you’re an idiot or rude just because you believed what they were saying.

        A lot of “on the spectrum” people like for others to be logical, and it really *isn’t* logical to ask a question you don’t want an answer to. Read the whole post again. Don’t skim until offended.

        1. MK*

          It’s perfectly logical to have a standard greeting between people, and this isn’t more illogical than others (what does ”hello” even mean?). Logic is not as clear-cut as people who invoke it like to think.

          Also, in my culture at least, people want and give an answer, just not a detailed one. ”A bit tired this week, how about you?” and ”Not great my asthma is acting up, but then it usually does this time of year” are acceptable answers.

          1. Drag0nfly*

            I think you don’t know a whole lot of people who take things literally. I’m not talking about greetings, which is what “hello” or “good morning” are. I am saying that “how are you?” is literally a question. That it is a *question* is not in dispute, is it? And in *this* culture, most people who ask that particular question, on most occasions, do *not* want to know how you are.

            So if you ask a question — any question — and someone thinks you *want* an answer, when in fact you *don’t*, and then you get irritated at them for answering you, or treat them like they’re an idiot for answering you, what is the literal-minded person to think except that *you* are being illogical? There isn’t any other conclusion they can draw at face value, until someone spells out for them that you’re just doing a rote, empty ritual because you and like-minded people think it’s polite.

            In *this* culture, *friends* ask each other “how are you?” and do want a true answer, but your boss and coworkers and store clerks do not. The distinction for who is being sincere, and who is being empty is not inherently obvious to people who do not read social cues, and who also think that people only say things that they actually mean.

            I have had to explain this “how are you” custom to foreigners, which should underscore that social customs are not genetic or “virtuous,” and not knowing them isn’t a character flaw. What is polite is based on shared assumptions, and you typically have to be taught the rules. If someone hasn’t explicitly learned the rules, and doesn’t share the underlying assumption behind them, then they’re bound to make mistakes. I see no reason why an Asperger’s individual should be judged for navigating a culture whose customs are “foreign,” even if the individual happens to be native to the culture in question.

            1. Four lights*

              I’m American, I once worked with someone British who kept saying “You all right?” I finally said, “Why do you keep asking me, do I look sick or something?” Turns out that is their version of “how are you?” or “what’s up”. I was confused because I was taking it literally, and didn’t know the other meaning of the phrase.

              1. mystery bookworm*

                I’m an American who lives in England and I routinely run into this issue! It’s so hard to re-program my brain to “you alright? ” as a casual greeting. It feels so much more weighty to me than “how are you?”

                It’s funny the sort of arbitrary ways we read words that essentially mean the same thing!

      4. Another Aspie*

        I also have Asperger’s and you are WAY off base. Clerks are the only people I *don’t* resent asking me that because I know most of them are forced to do it. Them I’m careful to be polite to.

        But if you’re *free to choose your own words* and then get upset that I won’t *blatantly* lie to you… can’t you see the problem with that? I’ll play the game to get money (what choice do I have there?), but it seriously feels like a demand that I pretend to be okay (WHICH I AM NOT) just so that someone else doesn’t have to deal the the briefest flutter of discomfort. Why do I have to *lie* to *live* just because my life isn’t perfect?

        1. HQB*

          It’s not lying – as a society we’ve agreed in that in this context “How are you?” doesn’t mean “Please tell me how your life is going right now.” and “I’m fine.” in response doesn’t mean “My life is going 100% fine right now.” Similarly, “I’m starving!” doesn’t mean “I’m suffering from starvation!” and “His eyes wandered.” doesn’t mean “his eyes came out of their sockets and moved around aimlessly.” If you don’t think those examples (or any of the thousands of other expressions in English whose literal meanings don’t match their actual ones) are lies, then there’s no reason to think of this ritual exchange of words as being lies, blatant or otherwise.

          1. Jin*

            I mean, the thing with autism is that that kind of stuff ISN’T always obvious. That’s a whole thing that we as autistic ppl have to learn to navigate, and the point is that it can be exhausting to have to process lies/untruths/half-truths as specific societal niceties, especially when you’re punished (socially) for failing to Do It Right All The Time.

            1. Lady Heather*

              Yes! You’re not supposed to lie to friends, but you are supposed to lie to strangers, but you’re not supposed to admit that that is lying, and even though you’re not supposed to lie to friends, when they ask questions you don’t want to answer because it’s none of their business or you don’t feel like it, you’re not supposed to say that (even if you say it politely in a ‘I’d rather keep that private, thanks’ or in a deflective ‘oh I just went to the doctor to ask something’ (when someone asks what you went to the doctor for which is.. clearly personal and if I want to share it I’ll do so without being prompted, thanks) way), because they’ll take it as a rejection and become upset, even though they were the one asking invasive questions and their curiosity does not (or should not) give me an obligation to satisfy said curiosity.

              And, and, and.

              That’s just ‘friends’ and ‘strangers’ which is the easy part. Then, there are the ‘second cousins whose name I don’t remember that I see twice a year at parties but have never spoken to who I now run into in the supermarket and that ask me about my personal circumstances a first cousin told them about who heard it from their aunt who heard it from my mother’ and ‘fellow volunteers that I only see at semi-annual retrainings, but who keep coming up to me and ask questions’ and..

              aargh.

              There’s a really great website about all this called Real Social Skills. (The last post that was made on it referenced politics; the rest of the blog doesn’t really.) It gives a lot of scripts, templates, and step-by-step explanations about confusing situations without simplifying them the way social skills training does (which, according to RSS, teaches ‘fake social skills’, which is true.).

              1. Newt*

                Fellow autistic here! A trick I’ve learned with this “how are you” social-nicety thing is to say something truthful that’s not about the specific thing that’s private. “How are you” doesn’t mean “how is that private difficult situation you’re facing”, because the person asking doesn’t know that situation exists.

                An example: Few weeks ago I had 2 family deaths (not COVID) within a fortnight of each other. I was NOT coping well. However, I was also in the middle of a finishing couple of paintings I was happy with and planning a birthday celebration DnD game. So when a coworker or boss asked how I was, I’d say something like:

                “How are you?” “Thank you for asking! I’m excited thinking about the painting I’m working on. How’re you?” or “How are you?” “Looking forward to my game! How’re you?” or similar.
                And with coworkers who can handle a bit of joking and know my work ethic is solid, something like “How are you?” “I’ll be better once I’ve finished my shift! I really want to finish that painting!” has come off well and gotten laughs.
                And I’ve found that by choosing to share a certain amount of my personal life with coworkers, it’s given them information that has changed the questions. These days, it’s far more common to hear “Hi Newt! How’s the painting coming along?” or “Newt! Good to see you! Got any more garden projects planned?” than “How are you?”.

                For service providers like supermarket staff, I try to keep my response about the immediate situation. If the supermarket has been busy, hectic and stressful I’ll say something that acknowledges that and the fact that both of us are affected by it.

                Like “How are you?” “I’ll be better once I’m home and can relax again! It’s so busy in here, I hope you’ve not been run off your feet with it!”.
                If I’ve gone to pick up a treat because I’ve had a bad day I’ll say “I’m better now I’ve got this to look forward to!”.
                I’ll sometimes be briefly honest. “How are you?” Me, cheerfully: “Exhausted haha! Glad to be on my way home. How’re you?”.

                Note that all of the above reference only the most immediate and minor situation I’m experiencing, not whatever larger, deeper ongoing situation I am living through. I’ve honestly found that keeping it brief and immediate like that helps.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  I love this.

                  When my father passed, I had to plan out what I was going to say or I’d end up being a puddle on the floor.
                  I’d say “hanging in there” to people who knew the situation.
                  For people who did not know, I’d answer with, “Oh looking forward to spring and spring flowers” or something similar and equally benign. I redirected the question entirely.
                  I had to deliberately plan these responses because Grief Brain did not allow me to generate responses quickly in the moment.

                  I will say it was very helpful to have a script planned out. It changed things for me in a sense that I felt less powerless in the face of a huge-to-me situation.

                2. Laptop Loaner*

                  I’m not autistic, but when I was much younger I used to find the “how are you” thing infuriating as well. I learned the same sort of thing, although often my responses are much shorter. I may say simply “okay, I guess” or “struggling today, how about you?” People often respond with a bit more honest response than the automatic “fine” and it feels more like a real interaction.

                3. Quill*

                  yes, similarly “Tired, why is it only tuesday?” or “not as good as I will be when I’ve had coffee” in response to “how are you” has gone over much better than the hypothetical and truthful “depressed and also my joints are staging a rebellion.”

              2. Harper the Other One*

                Ooh, thank you for mentioning this site! My kids are both on the spectrum and it sounds like it will be a great resource for them.

              3. Wing Leader*

                As an autistic, I agree with Lady Heather. I can’t tell you how many times I have been criticized for being rude in a social situation, and I still have no idea what I did wrong.

              4. Eukomos*

                It’s not that it’s a lie, it’s that the same words mean different things in different situations. With friends, “how are you” means “please tell me how you’re doing today because I am personally invested in your well-being.” With work colleagues, “how are you” means “give me a heads up if anything major has happened to you that will affect our work together today.” With acquaintances, people you’re having a one-off commercial transaction, etc. “how are you” means “I acknowledge you as another person who deserves respect” and is not a request for information.

                Human language requires substantial simplification to function, so unfortunately the same word/phrase will often have different functions in different contexts. It can be really frustrating to keep track of that meta-level for communication, especially when your brain isn’t wired for it, but it’s not the fault of the people you’re talking to. Until we perfect the Vulcan mind-meld, we have to resign ourselves to these overlapping meanings for language to be simple enough to fit in our brains.

            2. pancakes*

              It seems exhausting to categorize these phrases as lies! Maybe try thinking of them instead as a social lubricant, words that people exchange to add a feeling of friendliness and mutual concern. It’s a limited friendliness and concern due to lack of intimacy but it’s not a lie to signal it or gesture at it, if that makes sense.

              1. Reba*

                I think this says it really well!

                “Lie” is just rather strong for this kind of speech, which is non-literal but not malicious. It can be a very light, basically info-free exchange and still be “sincere” in the expressing of politeness and sociality.

                In Wolof, the default response to “how’s it going” is literally, “I am here.” Family? “They are there.”

                I find this delightful and it also helps me think about what this greeting convo is supposed to accomplish! And, even though this is pretty much a non-answer, the act of greeting is really really important for politeness and considered to show one’s character. So even though it’s not a full or specific answer, the action of asking and replying is a “true” social engagement.

                1. Reba*

                  Sorry, that is meant to say that in the Wolof context greeting is regarded as super important!

              2. Jin*

                I’m at a point where I’m able to use that mindset without trouble, thanks! TBH I just got prickly because it seemed that HQB made their statement without considering who gets to be deemed part of society and therefore who gets to decide social rules, and who gets pushed out by those rules. Autistic folks are MUCH more common than allistics realize and it’s exhausting to be left out of the conversation when we’ve always been here.

          2. Mary*

            >>as a society we’ve agreed

            As a majority-allistic society we’ve decided that. If autistic people were the majority, we’d probably have decided something very different and potentially confusing and alienating for allistic people.

            This is an autistic person talking about how a common social nicety is alienating, frustrating and not self-evident: people explaining to them that they’re wrong is pretty much exactly what makes being autistic in a majority-allistic society hard.

            1. J.B.*

              Yes. I am not autistic but I find there is a thread in American culture that is “put on a happy face or else you are at fault”. “How are you” is one example of that…no one really wants to know the true answer.

              1. Cat*

                I don’t think that’s true at all. It isn’t always appropriate to give a long, ten-minute answer with all the details, but if I say “how are you” and you say “oh, it’s been a rough day,” I will say “I’m sorry” and genuinely mean it. I think most people do care – we just have to tailor our interactions to the time and intimacy involved.

                Like, yeah, it’s complicated – but that doesn’t mean most people are ingenuine jerks.

        2. Batgirl*

          You might feel more comfortable replying ‘fine’ if you view the question as limited to the context, more of a ‘How are you to go ahead with this transaction?’ phrasing with ellipsis.
          This is your opportunity to say ‘Oh, wow I forgot my purse’ or ‘Actually, I need a glass of water and to sit down. Excuse me’ or ‘Actually this top is hideous. Never mind!’
          If you’re good to proceed you can say “Fine, and you?”
          Sympathies! It must suck to jump something which is a hurdle for you every time you have to shop.

      5. PollyQ*

        I didn’t get that impression AT ALL, and I think you’re being very unfair to the commenter. Not everyone, regardless of whether they’re neurotypical, enjoys chit-chat with strangers, and it has nothing to do with a sense of superiority, just less of a desire to engage in general.

        And for some people, it’s genuinely difficult & tiring to fend their way through interaction after interaction, and they truly may not have the energy for it to be such an easy task by the end of the day.

        1. TechWorker*

          I do find the idea that it’s ‘even worse’ if someone is greeting you with ‘how are you’ because they’ve been told to by their boss rather than because, you know, it’s a standard thing to say a little unkind.

          I get that it’s difficult to understand things that aren’t literally what they mean, but this one isn’t exactly uncommon and refusing to say anything in response or getting grumpy with store workers because you view it as a ‘lie’ isn’t helping anything. If you don’t want small talk say ‘fine thanks you?’ & move on.

          1. Batgirl*

            I just took that to mean that it’s extra frustrating to go through the effort of formulating a response when you know the person concerned doesn’t want it.

      6. Karia*

        We, did you skip over the bit where they have Aspergers? This is about a dislike for performative social interactions that they struggle to understand, not a dislike for store clerks.

      7. RecentAAMfan*

        I think the thing about store clerks is that the interaction is typically so brief and often a one time only interaction that the greeting/response is going to be pretty superficial. Unlike, say, when you get coffee every day at the same place.
        And I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure have developed an appreciation for store clerks!

      8. MicroManagered*

        I think you are reading something into the comment that is not there. Iron Chef Boyardee is saying they don’t like being asked by store clerks because they have difficulty with recognizing when they’re being asked for a sincere answer or not.

      9. I'm A Little Teapot*

        That’s not what I got. Iron Chef Boyardee is on the spectrum. I’ve heard, over years, that MANY individuals who are on the spectrum hate this type of phrase because their instinct is to take it literally, when by doing so they break all sorts of social rules. If you repeatedly damaged relationships or got yelled at because you made this kind of social misstep, wouldn’t you start to hate the cause?

        1. Wing Leader*

          Yes. This is my problem too. I take almost everything literally, and I’ve been berated for it quite a lot. And, now, trying to figure out what I should and should not take literally can be exhausting. I also don’t “get it” when people are trying to be coy. I usually ask people to please be direct with me, but that doesn’t always happen and I often end up misinterpreting something.

      10. Wing Leader*

        Did you miss the part where Iron Chef Boyardee said they have Aspergers? That’s key information. I have it too, and it’s a condition that can make social interaction twice as difficult.

        To you, you hear “How are you?” from a store clerk as a simple hello.

        To us, that translates to, “How are you? I don’t actually care, of course, but my manager said I have to ask.”

        It’s fake and not genuine, and that’s why we hate it. It has absolutely nothing to do with thinking clerks or anyone else are beneath us. We just want real conversation, that’s all, not canned phrases that have no real meaning or feeling behind them.

        1. sted*

          this…is loosely what they were talking about. i wouldn’t go so far as to call it disdain for the store clerks, but the thinking about this kind of thing as “fake and not genuine” instead of “part of their job” makes it more about you than the person at work who is doing it to survive. this is real emotional labor at work! i do understand that that’s a harder line to tread when you are neuroatypical, but respecting people’s needs as workers is an important part of going through the world.

          1. sted*

            sorry, i didn’t clarify – what you are asking for is emotional labor, the cashiers do not need to give you genuine conversation. i agree it would be preferable if people said what they really meant, but we know their managers are telling them they have to ask! maybe reframing it as “this is a task they have to do and i have a clear role, which is just to nod and respond ‘fine’ or ‘doing okay, how are you?’ as best as possible” (similarly to how they have to ask ‘cash or credit’ and you have to give them one or the other, which is just another part of their job) would make it easier to get through these micro conversations?

        2. Courageous cat*

          You can hate it all you want (I wouldn’t even disagree with you there) – but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to make it the clerk’s problem, who is only doing what they’re told to do. Leave the discomfort with you in this one, not with them.

          There are many situations in which the opposite would be ok, to be fair, but this is not one of them. They’re doing their job.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “How are you?” basically means “I am warmly acknowledging you as a fellow human” … and if you don’t respond at all, that’s going to come across rudely. I get this is not intuitive with autism, but that is why people are getting upset with you.

      Separately, I do think responding to “how are you and your family?” with “thank you for your concern” will come across a little chilly, as the OP fears, particularly with people where rapport helps (like with clients). But there are other ways to respond that don’t require the OP to say anything substantive.

      1. Róisín*

        I sort of disagree? I often respond to the “hihowareyou” from store clerks with a cheerful “hello!” as if the question weren’t really a question, because it’s almost never actually a question, and never once has anyone gotten upset or seemed chilly after that exchange. Not answering at all is definitely rude. Ignoring the not-a-real-question while still warmly acknowledging a fellow human is completely possible.

        If I do answer, I answer genuinely. “I am having a fantastic day today!” all the way to “It’s been pretty awful today which is why I’m buying a milkshake” and then follow up with a genuine question about their day. And if I’m on the service side of that exchange I try not to make it the very first thing I say so that when I do say it, it’s a genuine question that invites an honest answer (which I usually get) instead of a perfunctory one that is universally understood to not actually mean anything.

        Incidentally, this often results in a hilarious exchange:
        Me: Good morning! What can I get for you today?
        Customer: Fine, thanks. I need…

          1. Maggie*

            I have Asperger’s and sometimes I really DO want someone to know I’m struggling and WANT them to care, but I also know they’re usually not looking to dive into that at the start of the meeting. When that happens, I respond with, “That’s for another day.” It’s very clear and concise. Nice people notice and circle back and ask me about it later. People who aren’t as invested in me get the hint that I’m probably not great, are more sensitive during the discussion/meeting, but don’t revisit it or ask me more (and that’s okay!). I don’t get derailed by being dishonest but also don’t have to go into details. We are at work! Talking about death/other serious issue is for another day and I have a right to keep it compartmentalized so I can do my job. I’m so sorry OP. I hope this is another option that might help you.

        1. KinderTeacher*

          If, as I think it is, your disagreement is to the idea that reply “thank you for your concern” will come across a little chilly, my thought it, because it is a more personal setting than the passing interaction of a store clerk or a colleague in the hall, this answer will create a sort of “oh oops, I thought there was another step here” unsteady sensation moment. “Thank you for your concern” matches “I hope you and your family are doing well” not the question version “How are you and your family? I hope everyone is well.” So the slight mismatch will catch the client off guard with that weird jerk of the “oops, I thought there was another step,” something got snagged in the gears moment. It might not come off cold per say, but it will likely trip them up a bit. Which is why Alison’s suggestions like “Hanging in, how about you?” are an improved version, because they don’t cause that mismatch of expectations snag that doesn’t matter in a check out lane at the grocery where the sum total of your chit chat will be a couple moments but can matter in a client meeting because you are starting the beginning of a longer interaction.

          And if that wasn’t your disagreement then please ignore my monologue entirely!

      2. J*

        Yes. “Thanks for your concern” is not an answer to the question posed. It’s not an inherently rude sentence or anything, but it is a non sequitur in this context, which makes it unnecessarily brusque. “Managing,” “Hanging in there,” or “Doing as well as could be hoped” accompanied by a wane smile are all softer way of actually answering the question without wading into anything too emotional.

        Sincerely,
        Someone who has lost two family members to COVID-19 in seven days

        (Yes, we’re hanging in there. Because what else can we do?)

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I don’t really see it as a non sequitur. If we accept that the question isn’t a really question but more an expression of goodwill, then responding “thanks for your concern” is essentially saying “I acknowledge your good intentions but am not going there right now”. It’s a non-answer for a non-question. It is slightly clunky but until we all start going around literally saying “I acknowledge you fellow human” and “Goodwill to you fellow human”, meh, it’s fine.

          1. J*

            “How are you?” “Thanks for asking” is a weird exchange, and I can’t blame the first person for being thrown off. When answers such as “we’re managing” exist and fill the dual role of answering the question and not revealing much, replying in the way the OP is currently doing is going to strike a lot of people as unnecessarily curt. Whether we mind that or not is for each of us to decide, but we shouldn’t be surprised at it.

    4. Lady Heather*

      I also have Asperger’s. And I used to be rather depressed for a few years, which made it hard to answer the ‘How are you’ questions in a way that was truthful but not depressing, derailing, or none of the asker’s business.
      I eventually settled on answering ‘how is it going’ with ‘it goes’, which was utterly meaningless and therefore not a lie, but a satisfactory answer to the question nevertheless.

      1. RaccoonMama*

        Yep, the last time I was at the grocery store the clerk asked “and how are you doing today” and I just responded “okay, you know, considering” and waved my hands about.
        I used to work as a grocery store cashier and yes, we had to ask how they were today and i got every response from “fantastic!” to “fine” to “i just got a phone call that my house burned down!” (which was difficult to respond to tbh). But I could at least always tell who wanted to do a little small chat with a stranger from who just wanted to be left alone and get their dang groceries and go home and I tried to respect that as much as possible.

        1. Mel_05*

          Oof, yes, I briefly worked at a fabric shop and very often, “How are you?” resulted in a long story about how their husband died or how they were seeing some last projects for their kids before they *they* died.

          Not all of our customers were dealing with tragedy, but enough were that I hated asking.

        2. Quill*

          College was a great time for hearing “have a good day!” from a cashier and reflexively blurting out “I won’t! It’s midterms!”

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        My default answer to “how are you” or “how’s it going” or the like is “Chugging along,” no matter what else is going on with anything. (My dad’s is “Peachy!” which seems to entertain people, coming from a sort of chipper gnomish 71 year old man.)

    5. Dragon_Dreamer*

      I’m an Aspie, and in most cases, I assume (on purpose) that if someone asks a question, they deserve a full answer. Though I do that deliberately, and only when it won’t bite me in the butt later. I hate social niceties. :P My most common “polite” answer is “Alive.”

      It also stems from living in a small town, where everyone gets nosy to begin with. “How are you,” can turn into a full on judgmental grilling if the asker doesn’t like the answer. Sometimes, shocking them is the only way to get them to shut up.

    6. Nance*

      Growing up in the era of “what’s up!” as a greeting… I feel you. For some of us it’s so confusing, and I honestly still don’t know how to answer to “what’s up” when I occasionally get one thrown my way.

      1. Amy Sly*

        If they’re old enough to remember 20 year old commercials …. the answer to “What’s up?” is “WHAAAAAZZZZUUUUUPPPP!”

        The last dozen or so conversations with my sister began this way:
        What’s up?
        WHAAZZUUPP!
        WHAAAAZZZZUUUUPPPP!
        “God, we’re old.”

        1. Nance*

          Hahaha! Never cool enough to pull that off in public, but it would be irresistible in private.

      2. A*

        Ugh, I hate ‘what’s up’ – it throws me off every time and always leads to an awkward encounter. Especially because when I was younger I used to mix up ‘good’ and ‘well’ (I’d answer ‘how are you?’ with ‘I’m good!’) and it took me ages to de-program myself and get it right. So in the back of my mind I’m always focused on ‘I am well, I am well, I am well’, that when I pass someone in the hallway and they go with ‘what’s up?’, my response is usually along the lines of ‘uhhh…hi.. it’s uh.. it’s up’. Le sigh.

      3. somebody blonde*

        The answer is “not much, how bout you” if anyone is looking for the conventional answer. Though when I ask it at work I’m basically asking you state your business with me without saying it that bluntly, since I always ask in response to someone else’s greeting.

    7. Renamis*

      If it causes that visceral a reaction I’d honestly just pick a default phrase to answer with and move on. There are plenty of answers that can cover anything from “Everything is fine” to “It all sucks.”

      When someone asks how I’m doing, I just say “Magically.” That usually gets a laugh and people either interpret it as genuine bubbles of excitement or sarcasm, and loosen up to respond because I broke the script. And it is a social script, and we all know it. It’s a lot easier to respond when you know the meaning of the comment is actually “Hello fellow human, I assume you’re not doing so poorly that you’re about to fall over dead this instant?”

      But also, you even said store clerks don’t exactly have a choice in the matter. Please don’t be rude and take your hatred of “How are you?” out on them because they’re a safe target. If you don’t ignore every single person that asks that you’re picking on the clerk because they’re a safe target. It doesn’t take much to create a standard answer and use it. By refusing to answer you’re just plain being rude to someone who already has to deal with it on a regular basis. There’s no reason to deliberately make a worker feel belittled because you don’t like what their company does.

      And if you want a selfish reason, I run into coworkers and managers at the store all the time. If I saw a coworker be actively rude to a store clerk it’ll absolutely color my perception of them. One of my coworker’s kids routinely delivers my pizzas. Spouses and kids pick up all kinds of store jobs either because they have to or because they’re bored and want some extra money. So you taking your frustration out on them could actively hurt your career. Keep that in mind.

    8. ceiswyn*

      So you snub people by refusing to take part in a standard social ritual, and then are upset when people react in EXACTLY THE WAY YOU SHOULD EXPECT to being snubbed for no reason at all.

      Yes, I know the ritual doesn’t make ‘sense’. I’m (probably) not on the spectrum and I struggle with the ‘Alright?’ greeting that’s common in the part of the country I moved to. But I say /something/ nice in response, because it is rude not to. All you’re doing is acknowledging them as a fellow human being prior to having an interaction with them. I don’t even know what point you think you’re making by not doing so, or to whom.

      If you are unable to handle the most basic social interaction without being rude and causing offence, maybe you should not be advising other people on how to handle more complex ones.

      1. MissBliss*

        Your comment seems unnecessarily unkind, and given that there were already quite a number of similar-yet-different comments in response to ICB by the time you made yours, I wonder what you intended to add.

        ICB’s point was that this “most basic social interaction” is not basic to all people, and despite coming to understand what the interaction means, they still struggle with it. Other people (including Alison) have chimed in to advise IBC on other ways they might approach the situation.

        Your implication, that because they don’t handle this situation the way you would expect they don’t have anything of value to add to this conversation, is just not nice and doesn’t help anyone.

    9. MCMonkeyBean*

      I don’t know if it helps at all but I automatically translate a “how are you?” greeting into just “hello” and respond accordingly.

      I started doing that because there was someone at work who would always greet me with a very enthusiastic “hey, how are you doing!?” when we passed in the hallway and I’d try to respond with something like “Hi, I’m fine, how are you” and there just wasn’t enough time to get to the reciprocal “how are you” before we were an awkward distance apart to try to actually hold a conversation. I would always feel weirdly guilty after these interactions like it was rude that I didn’t ask how he was back, until I reframed it that just being how he says “hi.”

      That was long and rambly but I just mean to say that if you come up to checkout at a store and they say “hello, how are you?” and you just respond with “hello” I think 99% of the time they would consider that an appropriate response and move on with the interaction.

      1. Quill*

        The amount of times I’ve responded to “have a good day” with “thanks, you too!” has made it stop feeling awkward to me. But I have word-mangled enough social encounters that anything less egregious than “have a good funeral” no longer trips my embarassment meter.

    10. Courageous cat*

      This… seems like an overthink. You can’t just say “fine, thanks” and move on? Like just make it an instinctual, muscle memory response? These people are being paid to greet you and ask you how they are, and could get in trouble if they don’t, so I can see why people are saying your response of… nothing… is rude. It is.

  11. silence*

    #3 is a good example of why it’s best to let business assets fix business problems. but it can be hard in the moment to separate coworker I like needs something and I have a spare that the business doesn’t.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      I think I can find the wherewithal needed to separate that out. Not because I didn’t like the co-worker, but because if it’s business equipment, the business should be handling their business in the first place. I will never lend a coworker any of my personal equipment for business purposes….

  12. pcake*

    LW#4 – are you 100% sure your employee isn’t following either her doctor’s or physical therapist’s orders? If you’re not 100% sure, perhaps blaming her isn’t appropriate, even in your own mind.

    1. Nance*

      This. Plus so many reports of the progress of the disease indicate that it’s like a rollercoaster ride. Lots of ups and downs, and people feeling better only to have a relapse in a day or two. I think it’s likely the employee isn’t affecting their disease trajectory at all. In fact, if I were in their place I think that pushing myself physically on the days I felt able would do a huge amount of good for my mental health.

      1. Nita*

        This. So many people say that it goes in waves. They literally feel recovered, start doing whatever they meant to be doing, and then get hit with another wave of feeling sick. I imagine it’s hard to judge when you’re recovered for real, vs just halfway there.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Yes to this. The problem with the novel corona virus is just that — it’s new. I saw a new list of common symptoms published just this morning.

      OP#4, I think you could go as far as expressing concern for your employee, and assuring her that you don’t expect the same level of productivity now that she’s ill. But be careful not to imply blame. Trust me, she feels bad enough already.

    3. Wintermute*

      100%.

      Oftentimes people at risk of pneumonia are told to walk if they’re able. Changing posture and increasing your breath rate can help reduce pooling of fluid and there’s anecdotal evidence that it may reduce fluid accumulation as well. Plus it can be useful diagnostically as a sign of when you need to head to the ER– oftentimes as long as you are exhaling CO2 fine you will never experience low oxygen exchange as a shortness of breath, instead you’ll just experience it as fatigue, and it can come on gradually enough and with all the other symptoms you might not really notice it until it’s very severe. But tracking how fatigued you get with light exertion can be a very useful way to assess someone’s lung performance if they don’t have a pulse oximeter handy.

    4. CPL Klinger*

      FWIW, Chris Cuomo indicated his physician *told* him to move around. The mere fact your employee is getting dressed and walking is compatible with getting well.

      One caveat: the employee absolutely shouldn’t be going for walks *outside* until he/she is virus-free. If these walks are anywhere other than in her house, they need to stop.

  13. Anono-me*

    Op 3, you say “…it was the manager I originally offered the laptop to…”. Did you loan your laptop to your coworker or did you loan it to your company?

    If you loaned it to your company, it’s their responsibility to get it back to you or to replace it. If you loaned it to your coworker, it is her responsibility to return or replace it.

    One problem I see is that right now is an awkward time to ask for the laptop back. Everybody’s working from home, lots of people and companies are scrambling for laptops. Asking for your laptop back right now, might seem clueless or might make people wonder if you are planning on leaving the company.

    Since you aren’t job hunting right at this moment, but simply want to get your laptop back as a preparatory step; have you thought about asking for the laptop back so you can loan it out again? I know it sounds silly. But if you ask your coworker for the laptop back so that your elderly great-great-grandmother can stay in contact while isolating or your best friend’s two kids both have laptops while they homeschool; It makes your request much more awkward to refuse. Just make sure you pick someone who will take good care of the laptop and will return it in a much shorter timeframe.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      But why give it to anyone again? After she tells her coworker she needs her laptop back ASAP so grandma can Skype her or whatever, once the laptop is returned, the coworker won’t have any way of knowing whether or not a grandma even exists let alone if she has the laptop.

      Personally, I wouldn’t loan it out again, not when you’re about to start a job search. Anything could happen to the desktop, so having a backup is a good idea.

      1. WellRed*

        I don’t think Anono-me is literally suggesting she loan it out againt, just suggesting softening language.

        1. cmcinnyc*

          Softening language can be a really bad idea, especially when the truth is the OP wants her property back. It’s really too bad that the timing is what it is, but that’s no one’s fault. OP is not “clueless” for wanting her laptop back now, and if people think she’s job hunting, oh well. All this dance is what gets people into these stupid situations in the first place.

    2. WoodswomanWrites*

      The OP doesn’t need to give any reason for needing the laptop back. It belongs to them, and they can say they now need it back after a year. It’s not fair to put the burden on them. No reason should be required. The co-worker needs it back, and if the manager needs to be involved because the co-worker is not returning the computer, then the OP owes the manager no additional explanation, either. The laptop belongs to the OP and it’s nobody’s business why they want it back now.

      If I had borrowed something from someone and they wanted it back, it wouldn’t occur to me to inquire why they needed it. It doesn’t belong to me and that’s enough. While the person who has the laptop has a different attitude about keeping it, even if they ask for a reason, that doesn’t mean that OP has to give one. “I need my laptop back now” is a fine answer regardless of what justification is being requested.

      1. Laptop Loaner*

        If I have to give a reason, I might just say that I need the flexibility of the laptop because I’m struggling with an autoimmune condition that makes sitting in a desk chair painful. All of that is true and already known.

      2. Reba*

        I mean, as in so many cases on this site, we are not necessarily looking at what people should do when they are behaving well and fairly, but rather what might be most likely to get the outcome OP wants.

        ITA that it’s their property, they shouldn’t have to justify wanting it back!

        But given that the borrower has gotten pretty comfortable, and the company doesn’t seem to be the most with-it on this… and finally given that OP has to keep working with them at least for a while… Other strategies may be required.

        1. Anono-me*

          Thank you. This is much clearer than what I said. In a reasonable workplace, none of this would be worth suggesting. However if LW worked in a reasonable workplace, this wouldn’t have happened in the first place. My advice is based on the fact that this workplace seems to have to have a number of concerning behaviors.

          Things that seem concerning to me:
          -The manager is a cousin to the borrower.
          -The company’s response to an employee needing a laptop was to borrow a laptop from another employee to loan to the first employee.
          -This is been going on for a year.(Not the day or two needed to buy a new company laptop.)
          -When OP said she needed her laptop back, the response was basically “I don’t know if we want to.”, then crickets.

    3. Koala dreams*

      On the other hand, right now is the best time to ask for it back, since any reasonable person will understand immediately why you need it back. If the borrower refuses, they will seem clueless.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      It’s not an awkward time to ask for it back. The laptop doesn’t belong to co-worker and OP needs it back. Period, end of story. OP needs to ask for it back, with no explanation and involve the manager in case it goes south. If the co-worker needs a laptop, it’s the company’s responsibility to get them one.

  14. MsM*

    OP2, I’m so sorry for your loss. For what it’s worth, I do ask because I realize everything might not be okay, and I want to be at least generally aware of that before I complain about anything that might seem trivial by comparison or make some other faux pas. I understand not wanting to derail the conversation or get into detail, though, so Alison’s suggestion about it being a tough time or even “oh, I’d rather not get into it here” makes sense if you want to just move on as quickly as possible.

    1. allathian*

      Depends on why you’re interacting with a person. If I’m in a service role, I wouldn’t want my customers to modify how they speak to me based on how they think I’m feeling, provided they treat me as a professional. Even if I’m grieving or worried about a sick parent, if I’m at work, I’m there to serve you and wouldn’t expect you to call or visit me with a complaint you consider trivial…
      TBH, when I was grieving my grandmother, I was working in retail. It was a relief to be allowed to be just all business and to think about other people’s “trivial problems”. It made me feel really useful to be able to do my job well and leave the grieving on a back burner for a while. I even got named employee of the month at the store I was working in when I cried pretty much all the time when I was off the clock…

    2. Calanthea*

      I do this too. I don’t want to say “Oh, I’ve been finding it really hard to stay indoors with this lovely sunshine, surely an icecream is an essential item, haha” when someone on the call is grieving. We have thrice weekly team update check-ins, which initially were very upbeat and aimed at keeping spirits up. A couple of team members announced that they had lost relatives, and a) the tone of those meetings changed, not in a horrible way, just to be respectful. I guess we all know each other well, so a round of condolences perhaps feels more meaningful than when it’s from relative strangers in a meeting. On the other hand, I’m sure the meeting people meant it genuinely – the numbers of deaths being reported are huge and seem unreal almost, but this can really bring it home that these are real people with families and colleagues and what an absolute tragedy we are living through.

      LW2, I’m sorry about your relative, and can’t even begin to imagine how hard bereavement is at this moment. I hope you’re able to find some space to grieve.

    3. Anon Y. Mouse*

      The only problem is, EVERYONE is doing that. So some of us are getting asked so many times a day. And it…. wearing… and hard…. to keep having to grapple with the issue.

      I don’t know how many more ‘how are you?’s I can personally handle because each and every one sends my mind down a path of ‘how AM I?’ and being forced to confront a huge pile of existential dread, and I just wish people would stop asking it these days.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I can relate, I felt the same when my mother died and my father ended up in hospital six months later, I thought I was going to lose him too the same year.

        But people can’t know how you feel – even if more people are likely to feel this way at this time because of higher death rates generally. So it’s best just to answer neutrally as suggested by Alison and others, and deflect attention to others too, and get on with work as best you can.

        My every sympathy for your loss.

  15. fogharty*

    I’ve been asking people, mostly store clerks on my fortnightly outings “How are you holding up?” which in light of OP #2’s letter I might change. The responses I’ve gotten vary from a generic “Fine” to discussions about store protocols, masks, plexiglas barriers, etc.

    I’m very sorry for your loss, OP.

    Re: #1, I saw that letter on Slate and wondered how it would have been answered here! (I didn’t copy and send it, though.)

    1. cmcinnyc*

      I tell the cashiers “Thanks for being here” and they roll their eyes and laugh. It sucks to be there, but they also need the job. I think “how are you” is a little too fraught right now.

      1. Sacrificial Pharmacy Tech*

        I’m at the point where I don’t want to hear “thanks for being here” any more than I want to hear “how are you.” I don’t want to be here. Multiple pharmacists and pharmacy techs I know have died from it because we’re on the front lines and have covid positive patients coming in to to use us as primary care. And some of those patients have been confirmed positive or are waiting on test results and are still at the pharmacy potentially infecting us. I’m high risk. Many of my coworkers are high risk or live with people who are. None of us are okay. We are mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted and people do not care if they kill us.

      2. Sacrificial Pharmacy Tech*

        I also apologize for ranting at you. “Thanks for being here” strikes the same way as “I’ll pray for you” or “Thoughts and prayers.” It feels like an empty platitude people use to make themselves feel better, but doesn’t actually make a difference.

    2. Daisy Avalin*

      As a petrol station cashier, my go-go response to ‘How are you?’ is ‘Here!’ with a big smile, because it doesn’t matter really how I am, I’m still at work. Coworkers and regular customers laugh with me, and it seems to calm anyone who might be a bit grumpy.

      And in this pandemic, ‘Here!’ seems to go over very well – we’re still open, we’re still serving customers, we’re still smiling.

  16. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #1 I just want to add that unless they’re on extra thin ice and been talked to previously about being jerks towards colleagues… they’re most likely not going to be fired. That’s a huge leap for a rude comment. So please don’t not speak up because that is a fear of yours. Very rarely is that the kind of thing that ends in terminating employees unless it’s a much bigger pattern.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      And if they do have a history of unprofessional remarks about colleagues/stakeholders/customers and so they do get fired, LW didn’t make that happen: they did.

      I get that it’s a horrible time to lose your job, but we aren’t totally suspending professionalism and civility along with public gatherings and international travel.

    2. yala*

      Honestly, though, this is part of why I kind of would think you would make a comment to HR or at least their managers.

      Not to get them fired, but in case this is the sort of thing they tend to do a lot–it can be helpful to other folks (or the OP if it keeps happening in other ways) to have definite evidence establishing that they have a history of making inappropriate remarks.

      If this is a one-off, then yeah, it seems unlikely anything would come of it other than an informal reprimand. But if they *keep* doing it (obviously not on zoom, but in other ways), or other folks have complained of similar comments, then that’s an issue that needs to be documented.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I agree. I would bring it to the manager’s attention first, that’s the first line of defense. “Your staff is acting inappropriately and being awful to their colleagues.” It’s up to the manager to speak to them about this kind of behavior.

        What’s worse is letting this happen, not speaking up and letting it sour you against the entire company. This kind of awful interaction and knowledge that people are stabbing you in the back with their crude words, it plants the seed. It leads to deteriorating your work product and your general mental health of going to work because now you have to feel like you’re watching your back all the time.

        It will lead to turnover, they will chase good people away because they can’t be better humans or at least smart enough to snark over actually private devices instead of a meeting app PM feature.

        Yes, some managers and HR are the “oh interpersonal stuff, not our problem.” it is your problem. This leads to toxicity and turnover. Make sure your staff is being respectful of each other.

  17. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    Perhaps I’m assuming but it sounds like OP#3 had first asked the coworker about the laptop and been told the coworker believed it was a gift not a loan…too bad…and then they went to the boss about it. I think that without some sort of written correspondence specifically saying “loan” with terms or time for return, the OP really is up a creek without a paddle on this one. If communication was ambiguous…e.g. “let coworker use” or “keep for as long as you need”…both the boss and coworker might claim they never agreed or intended this to be a loan. I’m not even sure small claims court could help on this one; at best it’d only cover the depreciated value of a used computer, not a replacement cost or any programs or files on the hard drive.

    1. Laptop Loaner*

      No, I hadn’t asked the coworker for it back directly. I think I was surprised she wasn’t taking any steps to get her computer situation fixed so I went to the manager who is, after all, related to her and might know if there were money problems or plans to buy her a computer from the company.

      1. Annie*

        She’s not taking any steps to get her computer situation fixed because she has yours and as far as she knows, you don’t need it back right now. Just ask her to give it back.

    2. tangerineRose*

      If the co-worker is a responsible person, they should give the laptop back. Period.

  18. February Goshawk*

    OP5:

    One thing I’d keep in mind is that if a company you’re interviewing with wants to do a Zoom interview, they’ll more than likely host the meeting and send a link that doesn’t require you to use a work Zoom account.

    For one thing, it means they’re not limited to 40-minute calls. And (as we see in #1) can get a copy of anything from the chat.

    1. Eng*

      Yes, you definitely don’t need a zoom account to join a meeting, just the zoom program itself. If you log out of your work account locally, you’ll still be able to use the interviewer’s link or meeting number to join. I had no problem doing a zoom interview when I didn’t have an account.

      Maybe they’ve changed this very recently as a security measure, but I’d be surprised.

      1. Jeanne*

        You don’t even need the Zoom programme. The interviewer should send a link that you can click on. You may have to use a password, or wait in a waiting room until they are ready, but you don’t need your own account.

        1. MK*

          I don’t think that’s accurate; I was send a likn fir a zoom meeting, but I had to download the program for it to work.

          1. blackcat*

            There is a browser-only version! It’s slower and more temperamental than the downloaded program, but it works.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              Yup – this is what I used for Zoom invites for interviews for my new/current job.

            2. Eng*

              Hmm, then I am guessing that depends on if the employer’s account type, whether or not it includes web hosting. I don’t think it’s standard. But if it is, then it needs more instructions, the links I’ve gotten have opened it in the app.

  19. Treebeardette*

    Lw4 – when someone is recovering, their doctor may have recommended walking. It’s terrible to lay flat on your back because if she is congested, it can easily turn to pneumonia which can make things far worse. Many have gone weeks till they recover. I think it’s wise to expect her to not be fully back to work for a while. I would wait until she gets the all clear from her doctor.

    Plus, if she is still weak, she may not be able to do her best work which wouldn’t be fair to anyone. she wouldn’t work if she’s weak anyways and just because she is at home doesn’t mean that she can keep working and resting. Treat this as if your office was open.

    She shouldn’t be updating you everyday. Maybe she feels guilty about being sick and out while everyone else is covering her. Perhaps you can ask her to stop giving you the updates until her doctor says she is clear and that her focus needs to be on resting and taking care of herself. She doesn’t need to worry about work if that’s why she is updating you.

    1. LW 4*

      Thanks for this response – I’m going to let her know that she doesn’t need to give me daily updates and I’m going to work on not trying to nurse everyone!

      1. The Other Dawn*

        Is she willingly giving you update, unsolicited? Or are you asking for updates? Hopefully it’s the former. I’m not one to be bothered by much, but my manager, or even a friend, asking for daily updates would really annoy me; it’s too much.

        Glad to see you’re taking the advice of people here. Good luck!

        1. LW 4*

          She’s texting me them unsolicited – absolutely wouldn’t be asking an employee for daily updates, that would, likewise, drive me up the wall.

    2. TexasRose*

      Also, from what I’ve read from other blogs, the recovery from Covid-19 is not straightforward (where straightforward is getting a little bit better every day). Most reports include that there are good days and bad days and odd, new symptoms – you might feel great for a few days, and poorly for a few, regardless of what you do.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      yes, that’s a good point, no daily updates would take a lot of pressure off everyone!

  20. HA2*

    OP#5 – your company’s zoom account probably gives you very little privacy (see, for example, OP#1!) It’s quite possible that their IT may have access to logs of who you call and when. If it’s not a creepy company they probably wouldn’t be checking such things at random… but if you get unlucky, they might end up seeing the call for unrelated reasons, and then your job will know about your jobsearch.

    Use a personal account!

  21. Hazy Days*

    LW4
    In my experience (and I and friends have been sick for weeks now) the exhaustion is independent of what you do, and getting dressed and taking some fresh air is not setting back a recovery if she feels able to do it. I always felt better for getting dressed and stepping out into my garden, even if it was for 5 minutes.

    What IS tiring, though, isn’t taking a 20 minute stroll round the neighbourhood, but spending 8 hours working from home.

    We’re now working on the guidelines that it’s a month at least before someone is fully back at work.

  22. Jeanne*

    OP #1 – Thank you for writing in with this. I conduct Zoom meetings everyday. They are recorded and used as a resource for both the people involved and others in our profession. The recordings are posted on a website with the transcript of the chat. At the beginning of each session I give participants a very brief tutorial on how to run Zoom. I show them how to send a private chat, but also tell them that the transcript shows all the chats, including private, so they should not write anything harmful or unprofessional because we will all be able to see it.
    I’d send the transcript to them. And in future warn everyone that the host receives a copy of the entire chat, including private messages.

  23. Mx*

    1 You are very kind about not wanting Lisa and Natalie not losing their jobs. But it’s not very likely to happen as physical appearance isn’t a protected characteristic. And even if they were fired, it would be the consequence of their action, not your fault.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      I don’t see how a protected characteristic plays a large part…. if they were to get fired, it would be cruel behavior towards coworkers, which doesn’t need to be about a protected characteristic. It’s about not being an ass to your coworkers. Whether the attribute that they are mocking is considered protected or not is moot.

    2. Joielle*

      Protected classes don’t really apply here (that would only come into play if, e.g., the OP was fired because of her weight… and then only in a few states). You can be fired for being a jerk anytime. There’s no rule that says bullying is ok as long as it’s not related to a protected class.

      1. Mx*

        If someone is being mocked at about a protected characteristic (such as race or gender) the firing would be automatic (if HR do their job).
        Not so sure in other cases.
        Don’t get me wrong. I hate bullying and I think they deserve to be fired.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I don’t agree. Mocking a protected characteristic as a one-time thing isn’t likely to get you *immediately* fired just because it’s that Protected Characteristic. You’re going to get a severe talking-to, maybe a write-up. We see examples of this all the time on AAM. Continuing to do so – yeah, probably fired. But that’s not really any different from mocking your coworkers for Unprotected Characteristic. If someone mocks me for having short hair, and they repeatedly do it, and HR fires them for bullying/harassment behavior, well, it doesn’t matter it was about my hair. It matters that they were bullying & harassing someone. The topic is still moot. HR doesn’t need someone to specifically bully for a protected characteristic to do their job. Bullying by itself is not okay. Focusing on whether or not it’s a protected class is a red herring.

        2. Joielle*

          I mean, you can certainly argue that firing in that case SHOULD be automatic, and I’d probably agree. Bullying someone for any reason can (probably should) be cause for firing. But like Environmental Compliance says, the protected class is a red herring. It just doesn’t really have any bearing on this situation.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I don’t think one example of this nature is enough to get them fired.

      However, I am not sure we need to put on a legal suit of armor here. Maligning other people for any reason stands well on its own for the boss to speak to the two women, especially if they had a long history of this.

      But that won’t fix the core issue: OP thought these women were her friends. There is a huge breach of trust here. I don’t think even a sledge hammer would fix this and bring OP back to trusting these two women. No manager or HR can fix the breach of trust and the loss of that friendly feeling.

      OP, some people are two-faced. They act one way around us and then when they are with others they act differently. I hope I can encourage you to rise above it, understand that they STILL have work with you and remain professional. (NO. Wait, they have rise up to professional standards and keep working with you. There. That’s more accurate.) Two-faced people are self-identifying eventually. And that is because they cannot contain themselves successfully for long periods of time. You can now say, “Thank you for showing me who you actually are, it’s a good piece of information to know.” You can branch out and find other people to have a friendly working relationship with. As for these two, you can remain professional with them and perhaps hold them at an arm’s distance going forward.

      At one place that was tough, I was surprised and delighted by people I found in other departments who were widely respected and a joy to talk with. I think the two-faced people helped push me along so I found these other delightful people. I ended up having a good working relationship with a few people and I think it helped me to do my job better and to make a more meaningful/more relevant contribution.

  24. Karia*

    I think this boss might be underestimating Covid recovery time. This isn’t like flu. An acquaintance of mine and his wife had / has it. She had a gasping relapse the other day and had to get an inhaler – that’s 45 days after she first got it. A severe case, yes, but still.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      yes, I wish people would stop comparing it to flu because it really isn’t like it from what I’ve gathered.

  25. No Name*

    Instead of hinting, laptop OP needs to be direct. Say directly to the coworker:

    “I need my personal laptop back that I lent you. Can I drop by Wednesday after work to pick it up?” It is very important that you set a date and time to collect and not leave this up in the air. I would make it in a weeks time so they can buy a new laptop. It is also important that you don’t apologise for needing it back or try to explain; you are going for breezy, of course they understand that you want your laptop back. If they ask why, just say it was an expensive device and you need back. You have been meaning to follow up on this for some time now.

    I get the impression OP has been delicately bringing up the subject and thus there is no urgency on the company’s part to provide a solution.

    1. RC Rascal*

      I like No Name’s advice. I would preface it with this,

      “Jane, I lent you my personal laptop because I wanted to help you after your husband was injured. Now that time about X has gone by I need my laptop back.”

      I agree that OPs kindness has allowed the company to avoid creating a real solution.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I am not convinced that any direct conversation took place. OP, you aren’t even sure if she knows it’s a loaner. I like No Name’s script here because it cuts down the time and effort involved in all this.
      Definitely don’t get caught in the trap of answering “why?”. No Name’s suggestion of saying that you hadn’t gotten around to following up earlier, works just fine here.

    3. Glitsy Gus*

      100% agree. Short, to the point, and really not a big deal, just taking care of business.

      Just remember, don’t end the request with “I’m breezy!” In the immortal words of Joey Tribbiani: “You can’t say you’re breezy, that totally negates the Breezy!”

  26. LW 4*

    Hi everyone – Letter Writer 4 here
    Thanks so much to Alison and all the commenters for their thoughtful feedback – I really appreciate it. I won’t be raising the issue with my employee/friend but I will be going on a bit of an information diet.
    A little bit of extra context – I spent several years out of employment with long-term health issues that needed a lot of energy pacing so I think I’m ultra sensitive when I worry people aren’t taking care of themselves. The UK is advising people with immune conditions (like me) not to leave their houses at all for 12 weeks (not even for exercise or to get groceries, which everyone else can do) so it’s just a really frustrating time all round. Thank you for giving me an outside perspective of what I can say as both a manager and a friend.
    I’m absolutely not expecting anyone to bounce back nor to work when they aren’t able to and, as I said, I’m committed to keep paying all my staff for their usual hours regardless of what work they are able to do.

    1. Perpal*

      Good call. As a doc I think pushing a little to get up, walk around, etc is generic good advice for most people; laying in bed all day risks getting weaker and possibly secondary pneumonias (if not taking deep breaths/expanding lungs fully).
      But that doesn’t really matter what matters is you trust your employee is sick and will tell you when they are well enough to work (if you don’t, that’s a different issue!). Agree perhaps it’s best to get less info from them about their recovery so you don’t worry about what could be more optimal!

    2. Not So NewReader*

      It’s super easy to worry about others if we ourselves have heavy concerns. BTDT, I know first hand. It might be helpful to look at your own self-care and see if there is something you would like to beef up or add. This can help to redirect the misplaced worry about others. It could be that you are doing a great job at yourself care right now, so simply practicing affirmations might be helpful for you, because what we tell ourselves DOES matter.

      What you have here shows that you are a good/kind boss and your bottom line concerns are in the right place- not expecting people to work and committed to paying them regardless. It’s fine to tell her these things out loud. She will probably be happy to hear that. You may find that she is more worried about your place/her job than you initially thought. This is a good thing to talk through and be on the same page.

    3. LGC*

      Ah, I missed your comment earlier! And holy cow, that sounds rough – I didn’t know that was the recommendation in the UK. I hope you’re holding up as best you can.

      For what it’s worth, you are definitely not the first to be sensitive about people not taking care of themselves (or not taking care of themselves in the way you think is appropriate – I just did the same thing a couple of weeks ago). An info diet helps, although sometimes people insist on forcefeeding you the info anyway.

    4. Malarkey01*

      Just wanted to add a Hang in There :) Your situation sounds incredibly stressful and difficult. I think it’s awesome you’re still paying your workers, and do whatever you need to do information diet wise to make it few the next few months.

    5. Hare under the moon with silver spoon*

      Tricky one but have you thought about furloughing your employee for a month – I am also based in UK and as the HMRC scheme is up and running, it would only leave 20% of employees wages to pay (for anyone non UK based, furlough here is a scheme where govt pays 80% of wages to stop unemployment and protect businesses.) Could be win win if you do not have enough for work for them at the mo – at moment where I am some staff are furloughed and rest of us taken a 10% pay cut – its not as though there needs to be no work for you to use the scheme.

    6. Hapax Legomenon*

      That’s a really thoughtful attitude. It’s awesome that you recognize you might be projecting/redirecting your anxiety and frustration on your employee. This is one of those rare times where I think Alison’s advice was just off-base, and you taking the time to read not just her advice, but the comments, and reflect on why you were drawing the conclusions you drew. I hope I have a manager like you one day.

  27. EventPlannerGal*

    I have to say I really disagree with the advice given for #4. Firstly I think it is a huge overstep for a manager to try and dictate how somebody handles their own recovery, especially since this is a new disease that we are all still learning how to deal with. Is OP4 a doctor? Is Alison?

    Secondly, as a very active person one of the worst things about any kind of illness for me is being cooped up inside and being unable to do things. If I had been ill and quarantined in my flat for five weeks, damn right I would be getting up and going for walks when allowed to do so because otherwise my mental as well as physical health would be down the drain. Even if it did set me back physically (which I think is arguable when discussing coronavirus as it does seem to be a good days/bad days sort of recovery) the mental benefits are so huge that the trade-off would be worth it to me.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Ha, commented too soon – sorry, OP4! Glad to hear that you won’t be raising it, and hope you and your business stay well.

  28. Llamalawyer*

    OP 4- I have seen medical professionals (respectable ones, not Dr. Phil-types) talking about getting up and walking, etc. if you can when you have COVID-19. She may be following medical advice that she received from her physician. None of your business, and you have absolutely no basis for saying that it is prolonging the illness. A friend of mine had a relatively mild case in mid-March, and she said the worst of it was how exhausted she was for a month afterwards. She is not even back to 100% yet.

    1. blackcat*

      Yeah, when I had regular old pneumonia, the advice once the fever resolved was to be up and walking a significant amount.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Ditto for me. My husband broke his ribs on one side in an accident. The doc said to walk in order to prevent pneumonia from creeping in. It worked. Of course, it was very hard at the start, but it did not take long and it got easier for him. Someone went with him for the first few times. Within a few weeks he was walking two miles by himself.
        Point being, OP, anything involving the lungs, when the patient first starts walking, they do not go very far. They can’t because it’s painful and scary. They have to build up to get to even taking a walk around the block.

    2. Lisa*

      Agreed. I know other people have mentioned this but I REALLY need to underline how critical walking is to most COVID recovery trajectories. Do not advise differently!

  29. Usually calm*

    Zoom has a setting that the host can use that limits chat to chatting with the host only.

  30. LGC*

    LW2: I’m so sorry. There’s not much I can say, really, except that I hope that you and your family can find whatever solace you’re able to.

    With the greeting – I can definitely imagine myself (and I have!) starting conversations with that. When I do, what I’m really saying is, “Hi fellow human, I know the world is on fire (and if you’re in the US, it’s because [POLITICS REDACTED]). I just want you to know that I at least marginally care about how you’re doing.” So I’m guessing that’s why you feel like it’s cold – you’re shutting down the inquiry, when people aren’t really interested in the details. For what it’s worth…it’s a bit abrupt, but I think a “thanks for your concern” (or – what I prefer – “thanks for asking about me”) is fine.

    You mentioned that you live in a hotspot – I think you can actually acknowledge that. If you live in New York or New Orleans or Detroit, I think people will get that you’re probably not doing the best (you know, because [POLITICS REDACTED AGAIN]). So, something like, “Things in New Orleans are a bit rough right now, but I’m managing as best as I can,” might also work.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      That last sentence does work. I have used it with a different location myself several times.

  31. Roscoe*

    I had no idea zoom chats worked like that and any private chats were downloaded. I gotta say, I don’t think that is a great feature for many reasons, but at least I know better.

    I think a general FYI to ALL your coworkers about this will have the intended effect that they will know what happened. If you wanted to say something to them directly, you could, I just don’t see what purpose it serves.

    Also, I think its the rare person who has NEVER said something about a co-worker that they wouldn’t want getting back to them. Whether its over text, chat, email, or the phone, most of us have been there. Now talking about weight is one of the more petty things, but I doubt it would feel much better to hear that your co-workers think you suck at your job.

    1. Me*

      The purpose is to let the nasty coworkers know in no uncertain circumstances that they were out of line. Why are people so opposed to being direct with people? Being direct doesn’t give people any room to think well maybe she didn’t see it and it’s just a coincidence. They should know 100% that it was seen and their manager should know 100% that they have nasty unprofessional employees using a company resource to denigrate a fellow employee.

      This isn’t a John really drives me nuts sometimes. This is a personal attack on a fellow employee because they thought it was funny!

      1. Roscoe*

        I’m not opposed to being direct, I just also don’t feel its always necessary to do. Anyone who has ever known me knows I speak my mind, but I like to think I choose when its worth it. Like, calling them out for being out of line may feel great in the moment, but long term IMO it doesn’t really help anything. They’ll just be more careful about when and how they talk about OP. Also, its not like being direct will help the relationship with the coworkers. They may apologize, but aside from that, the friendly rapport they shared will likely be gone. To some people that may be worth it, I just don’t think it would be for me.

        1. juliebulie*

          You don’t think the friendly rapport is already harmed irreparably? Lisa and Natalie might not know it is, but OP will never look at them the same way again.

        2. Me*

          The rapport is gone. It’s not the OP that did that damage. It’s the coworkers. And they should know exactly why. And again, their manager should know exactly why.

          It’s not about feeling good in the moment to call them out. Do you honestly think this is the first time these two have been nasty or unprofessional? The manager needs to be aware and so might as well confront them directly in the process. This is about business professionalism, not just hurt feelings.

          And maybe, just maybe they will learn a lesson and grow up. Although that’s not the primary reason.

          This is absolutely worth it imo.

        3. Blueberry*

          The friendly rapport is already gone, now that LW #1 knows what these coworkers think of her.

          Also, to be honest, I really hate the “we’ve all said something mean sometime so just suck it up” advice. Hopefully most of us have grown out of saying mean things behind people’s backs, anand there are levels — snarking about someone’s weight is a lot meaner than snarking that they don’t turn reports in on time.

        4. Traffic_Spiral*

          “They’ll just be more careful about when and how they talk about OP.”
          That’s a good start.

          “the friendly rapport they shared will likely be gone.”
          What “friendly rapport?” If they liked OP they wouldn’t be mocking her like that so there’s no friendliness on their side, and I’m pretty sure all LW’s “friendly” feelings towards them left about the time LW read those comments, so… what exactly do we have left?

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      It serves the purpose of letting them know that their behavior is unacceptable. Yes I’ve sent an IM about another co-worker that I may not want them to see about the quality of their work, but I’ve never made fun of anyone like an immature child. And one of them said they would kill themselves if they weighed as much as OP – that’s way more extreme than a petty insult.

  32. LGC*

    LW4: I’d avoid saying anything about the business at all. On top of that, from what I’ve heard, COVID-19 has a…very non-linear disease progression sometimes to begin with. It doesn’t sound like it’s something where you can just crawl into bed for a month and then you’re probably going to be better.

    You can probably express concern as a friend (and okay, it’ll come across as being from the business too since you’re the manager), but I would veer clearly away from stating the impacts on the business. She’s not having the coronavirus at your company, and I’m assuming she’s not malingering – it does sound like it’s a long time to be sick, but God knows COVID-19 is awful. Like, I know of someone who’s been sick for going on three weeks now – excuse me, three weeks after a positive test, so more like four or five weeks actually sick because my state is awful at testing – so I can see her not bouncing back after a month.

    (Apologies if this came off a bit harshly. I know it’s frustrating to have someone chronically ill, especially when they’re needed on the job! But it’s one of those things that I’ve had to swallow and make do with.)

  33. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I think OP #5 is a non-issue– or, rather, I can’t imagine setting up an interview where I, the interviewee, were the one hosting the call. You don’t need any kind of Zoom account to participate, just to host. It’s not like Skype.

    Frankly, if I were contacted for an interview and they asked me to set up the tech, I would find that really, really weird.

  34. Jam Today*

    Someone on Twitter posted the warning that person-to-person messages in Zoom calls are included in the transcript, saying “Save a life — pass it on” so I’ve been dropping that into conversations here and there whenever Zoom meetings some up. Its definitely the sort of lesson you learn the hard way.

  35. Hiring Mgr*

    #1 is obviously terrible for all the reasons described. Whatever you do OP, I would certainly alert everyone to this “feature” of Zoom that includes what were thought to be private chats in the transcripts.

  36. Batgirl*

    “She added that if she ever weighed as much as I did, she’d kill herself”

    As so often happens with immature remarks, I think Lisa is revealing more about herself than she means to. Her self esteem must be paper thin if she views her entire self worth as reflected on the scales, and can say so – even jokingly. I imagine that someone with such little wherewithal will be easily put back in her box with a confident, non defensive response of ‘Yeah I heard you’.
    As for Natalie, her level of courage is deeply underwhelming and by revealing she’s not even mildly brave enough to say “whoah not cool” she’s likely to be easily embarrassed too. So she should be.

  37. MMD*

    Unfortunately I think the chances of getting the laptop back after this amount of time is slim to none.

    1. Quill*

      With books and electronics: if it doesn’t come back in a month, the only way to get it back is if you have access to the borrower’s house.

  38. TampaTime*

    As for the first poster, I’d consider sending the original transcript you received to everyone who attended the meeting (since it has relevant notes), follwed subsequently with a short “By the way, as you can see I just learned that Zoom notes also includes texts of private chats. For future reference, please do not conduct inappropriate and unprofessional chats like this via company systems, including Zoom.” A little public humiliation of the speakers might not hurt here.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      No way!

      The LW can surely edit the chat log to exclude it. It would be clear and obvious inappropriate public shaming of the offenders while also being a source of humiliation to the LW herself. (The LW admitted in her letter to Aison that she was humiliated reading the messages.) Why would the LW want more people to know the nasty things Natalie and Lisa said about her weight?

      This is actually a dumb and unwise suggestion, TampaTime.

      1. TampaTime*

        Well, we’ll agree to disagree. I struggle with weight too, but have come to “own” being fat. It’s not like I can hide it, right, and everyone else knows it. So disclosing this (to me) wouldn’t be “more humiliation”, it would be an opportunity to publicly shame the perpetrators. Honestly? I would do this in a second. But if burning them with their bosses would be more useful, I could get behind that too. To each her own.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Nope. That’s just as unprofessional as the 2 that were making fun of her. I think a general warning about the chat feature at the beginning of the next meeting is appropriate, and letting the offenders and their managers know about the context of the chat is appropriate, but calling them out in front of the rest of the team is not okay.

    3. Me*

      I think that’s a little nuclear of an option. No need to tar and feather – that makes the OP look unprofessional.

      Emailing it to the perpetrators and the appropriate manager(s) should be sufficient.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        And this is how bullying proliferates: everyone calls shining a public light on the activities ‘unprofessional’.

    4. Elbe*

      But in trying to shame Lisa and Natalie, the LW would be dragging her other coworkers into an embarrassing and awkward situation. These people likely don’t want to be pawns in the public shaming of their coworkers. In your quest to shame the jerks, you can’t throw everyone else under the bus.

    5. tangerineRose*

      I wouldn’t include the chat, and I’d amend what you said to “By the way, Zoom notes includes texts of private chats. Please do not conduct unprofessional chats via company systems, including Zoom.”

    6. Batgirl*

      I’m not particularly averse to public critism when its really well deserved, and I might do this in a small group socially, where I don’t care about reactions. Where people are free to nope out..
      But at work? Praise in public, correct in private. You need a higher level of caution when dealing with people who have enforced relationships.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m usually game for something like this but in reality, it will most likely backfire in the OPs face and that’s what I’d like to avoid most of all, she’s already hurting.

      By doing this on a grand scale, you are going to draw critic from the group. Some people are going to think the chat wasn’t that big of deal and was “private” and just blame Zoom for being “that jerk software that sends out transcripts of private messages.”

      You stand a better chance by bringing it up privately and including only management at first.

      You don’t want to create a giant thing where everyone is taking sides…even when it’s something like this, depending on their team, there will be people who side with the mean-girls.

  39. Buttons*

    It is so hard not to own other people’s shame and awkwardness, OP1. This is their shame, their embarrassment, and they created the awkward situation. This has been one of the most priceless lessons I have learned in therapy. Calling someone out on their bad behavior, especially when their bad behavior makes me feel bad in some way, is the right thing to do, and they should feel shame, embarrassment, and awkward, not me.
    Also, their remarks tell me more about them, than you. Good luck.

  40. Buttons*

    Zoom interview- this is a non-issue, the person wanting to interview you will be responsible for the platform, not you. No one is going to ask you to use your own Zoom account.

  41. Buttons*

    #4, I wonder if the employee is scared they will be laid off if they don’t recover or aren’t pushing themselves. Maybe just a bit of reassurance that her job isn’t going anywhere with the scripts Allison gave will help her relax and not feel guilty or scared about resting.

  42. LJay*

    Honestly for #2 I would want to say something just to hammer home to the deniers and the “oh it’s not a big deal” people that people *are* dying over this.

    I would worry they would take the fact that “oh I talk to a ton of people for my job every day and everyone I speak to says that their family is fine” as some sort of evidence that everyone they know is uneffected and then they extrapolate that to everyone being uneffected.

    In most situations I would just rather default to not making a scene. But with how politicized this virus and the corresponding containment measures are, this feels different than just someone saying, “I hope y’all are doing well” during normal times.

    (Note I’m not saying that someone asking about families, or assuming that everyone is fine has political or otherwise ulterior motives. Almost all people doing this probably have good intentions and just haven’t thought it all through. But some may not, or some people overhearing the exchange may not.)

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      I really like this. Unfortunately a lot of people don’t see problems as real until they affect someone they know personally (or, more so, a friend or family member).

      But then, I’m someone who sometimes answers “how are you” with “not super great” or the like. Not full detail of whatever is wrong, unless it’s someone I’m pretty close to asking, but… if you didn’t want an answer, don’t ask the question.

  43. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Regarding Letter #2, I am someone who has been asking (at the end of communications, generally) if everyone is well. Not incessantly, but, certainly if I haven’t been in touch recently.

    It occurred to me that the old fashioned thing of having items worn or different kind of stationary used to show mourning served a purpose (among others) forestalling questions like this.

    I’ll rethink when I ask, but, it also feels extremely strange to not ask someone a basic human interest question. On my side, it feels really strange when someone I work with a fair amount doesn’t ask me how I am during this time, either.

    1. JessicaTate*

      Thank you for being thoughtful about this! I hope more people who see this question are like you. I might suggest shifting to a statement instead of a question, and adapting one of Alison’s deflection responses. Like, “I hope you and your family are hanging in there as best you can in these crazy times.”

      It acknowledges that you care, but A) It’s not a question, so the other person doesn’t feel as much pressure to respond personally OR that feeling that people are being morbidly curious; and B) it doesn’t start by assuming wellness, which can feel like salt in the wound. I can more easily pivot from that to something neutral and not actually about me.

      I’d be curious any other suggestions people have. I’ve been trying to adjust my approaches since I realized how much the questioning sucks when you’re hurting.

  44. UbiCaritas*

    Unless your appearance is part of your job (meeting with major donors? A model?), comments about appearance are not appropriate.

  45. Observer*

    #4 – In case no one has mentioned this: Alison is not really right here. You should NOT tell your employee not to push themself to go out. The thing is that we know that people who don’t move around are at a surprisingly high risk for dying of clots. And also that sunshine is actually useful to people – there is a reason that many stay at home orders specifically allow people to go out and get some exercise.

    1. anonymous for this one*

      Yes, that’s what I wanted to say! And fresh air and lung exercise too!

      Her employee may be following doctor’s orders to move around and get outside as much as possible, as this surgeon did:

      “I would get up and go walk in the yard. I walked as fast as I could, which was pretty slow, and I tried to take a breath and hold it 10 seconds and maybe expand my lungs. No matter how bad I felt the whole time, I made sure I got out of bed, I put on a mask, and I went out into my yard. I walked around the yard five times. I did not let my lungs get stagnant.”

      https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/24/magazine/surgeon-covid-diary.html

    2. MommyMD*

      Blood clots are a real risk of sustained inactivity. And can lead to fatal pulmonary embolism. The advice should be that recovering employee follow the directions of a physician, which I am assuming her boss is not. And give employee a break. She will be tired probably for WEEKS as a normal recovery outcome. Same with any pneumonia.

      1. Observer*

        Yes to all of this.

        It seems that covid19 makes the risk of clots greater although it’s hard to know for sure at this point. In any case, even without that, it’s a real risk that is extremely common.

    3. YA Author*

      OP4 is probably bring unfair. According to everyone I know who’s had COVID-19, there’s a pattern of better days followed by worse ones throughout a long, bumpy recovery. Their employee is likely not “making themself sicker” by taking a walk or getting dressed.

      1. Susan*

        There might be an additional component of “I’m getting better/I’m beating it!” feeling. It’s scary because of so many unknowns so trying to feel like you made it through might be a driver for pushing.

  46. curious*

    OP#1 I’m so sorry you have to work with such insensitive people. Beauty comes from within; they are just being super snobby.

    PS Is it too early to ask for a mid year update? I love how you are handling things professionally and are concerned for their jobs (going overboard in my opinion) but I am very curious how your coworkers react when they find out that you have seen their chat.

  47. Seriously?*

    LW4. Tell your coworker to stop taking her infectious disease walks. She could infect other people. It’s likely a violation of quarantine laws too.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      The LW can’t “tell” or order her co-worker to do anything, especially if the co-worker is operating under a doctor’s advice and being safe about her walks.

    2. fposte*

      The co-worker caught it a month ago. Like it or not, in most places the guidance for self-quarantine puts limits well below that–my colleague was told 7 days from symptom onset/72 hours from last fever or respiratory symptom, whichever was longer.

    3. LGC*

      Also – she might not even be infectious at this point. LW4 said her employee took ill about a month ago, and while there’s a lot we don’t know, it could be possible that she cleared the virus but she’s recovering from the effects.

    4. Quill*

      Once again, the walking outside is not the issue, the issue would be walking within close proximity to other people.

      Doing a lap around the block (which I doubt is the case here, more likely the employee is making it three houses down) is not going to infect people via some miasma theory of disease where being inside is “safe” and being outside is not.

      Follow all proper precautions, avoid other people, and stop reflexively telling people to “stay indoors” because if they do have access to outdoor space far from other people or domestic animals, they’re unlikely to spread the disease.

  48. Delta Delta*

    #3 – I hope there are emails about the laptop where OP said “I’m glad to loan my laptop to Lucinda” or something along those lines. That makes it clear this was a loan, and makes it hard for her to say it was a gift. Which, by the way, is kind of a weird gift between coworkers (unless you’re the kind of person who has lots of extra computers lying around for whatever reason, but that doesn’t sound like the case). If Lucinda refuses to give it back, bring in management to help determine the loan v. gift issue and what the circumstances were around making the loan.

    If none of those things works and OP leaves the job, OP’s remedy would be to a) let it go or b) take Lucinda to small claims court for the fair market value of the computer (thinking this through, perhaps also name the company as a defendant?).

  49. TooTiredToThink*

    LW2 – I am so very, very sorry. I’ve lost family in the last few weeks as well, and its not COVID-19 related, and it still is the worst when people are asking that. Your emotions and feelings are valid and true. Please give yourself time to grieve and I agree – treat the questions as an advanced “How are you doing?” and use one of Alison’s scripts.

    LW4 – Are we sure that the person’s doctor hasn’t been recommending walks? I saw one thing where they were recommending Covid-19 patients in China to get up and dance around to help give the lungs exercise. It could be she’s been told to do some minor exercise but maybe she’s doing it wrong. It might be worth gently pointing to do whatever her doctor has told her to do. But also, this was the thing with Covid-19, a lot of cases are just taking much, much longer to get over than standard respiratory issues – it is causing semi-permanent damaged lungs.

  50. MommyMD*

    Unless you have a license to practice medicine, I would not weigh in on your employee’s recovery. Give them a break. The recovery process can last for months and lying in bed all day once recovery has begun is counterproductive and can have serious consequences in many cases. Mild activity can aid in recovery. Your employee will know when she’s capable of working.

  51. Bostonian*

    I’m not finding any verification that private messages between non-host participants being available in a transcript is actually a feature of Zoom (from Zoom or other sources).

    1. fposte*

      Huh. Whaddya know. I’m seeing the same thing. I’m seeing explicit statements that they’re not available, in fact.

      1. fposte*

        It could also be possible that the OP obscured the platform, or was posting for a friend and didn’t get the details right. But yeah, basically, that.

      2. Buttons*

        My understanding is it depends on how the host sets the meeting up and what kind of control the host as set. People may think they are sending a private message but what they are doing it is sending it to the public chat, by directed at someone. Kind of like @Ask a Manager
        Allow attendees to chat with: Control who participants can chat with.
        No one: Disables in-meeting chat.
        Host only: Only the host can send messages to everyone. Participants can still send private messages to the host.
        Everyone publicly: Participants can only send public messages. Public messages are visible to all participants. Participants can still send private messages to the host.
        Everyone publicly and privately: Participants can send public or private messages. Public messages are visible to all participants. Private messages are sent to a specific participant.

      3. blackcat*

        No, it definitely could have. This is something that can happen with Zoom. I’ve seen it discussed in the higher ed group I’m in (professors getting transcripts of students complaining about them “privately” to other students).

        1. Bostonian*

          Huh. I’d love to hear from people who have seen this happen directly and what settings/steps were involved. I think it’s a good idea for people to generally act and speak as though their messages could be seen by anyone, but it would be nice to know how to set up the system so that everything works as intended. (My process-oriented brain is having a hard time accepting that there could potentially be features that can’t be controlled [aside from turning off private messages altogether].)

          1. LawLizard*

            Hi! Got an email from a professor after my friend and I were discussing the art on his wall in a “private” zoom chat during class. Luckily, we weren’t being rude or saying anything disrespectful but he did let us know the name of the artist and sent us pictures of his other art, and wanted us that he could see our conversations.

      4. NerdyKris*

        Even if it can’t, the scenario where a private exchange over an IM app getting sent to the person they’re talking about is common enough where I think the advice is still relevant and useful. Just because the exact details don’t work doesn’t mean a similar scenario never happens, or they could have been obscuring details like fposte said.

        1. Bostonian*

          I’m not doubting the veracity/intent of the letter, just genuinely curious if this is something I should warn people about (even if they’re not being mean-spirited), and I couldn’t find any helpful information.

      5. No bees on Typhon*

        It’s a bit confusing, because the OP says both “I recently hosted a Zoom call” and “I was sent the transcript”. IME with Zoom (been using it extensively since 2017), the host would not need to be sent the recording or transcript – in fact they would be the only one with access to it. Unless the hosting duty was transferred at some point during the call, or this is a top-end corporate account with joint hosting abilities (I have the cheapest paid package so might not have all the features).

        1. cmcinnyc*

          At my job, our IT dep’t are the technical hosts, but the person running the meeting and for business purposes “hosting” is probably senior staff. So there’s the host, as in the person we tuned in to listen to/interact with, and the host, as in John or Jane in IT, who we don’t even see.

        2. Rainy*

          I get sent the recording, transcript, and chat links by Zoom in an email after the meeting concludes.

      6. PB*

        FYI, I just received a Zoom transcript that included all of the direct messages sent during the meeting, so I think the situation could be legitimate.

  52. LeeLee*

    OP1 – how awful! I’m so sorry you had to read that. Please please follow Alison’s advice and write back to us about how mortified those two really were – they (and their managers) deserve to know you got the transcript.

  53. BasicWitch*

    OP4, are you a doctor? If not, don’t assume your employee is sabotaging by (checks notes) getting dressed and walking. If they were throwing parties and running marathons I’d agree with you, but gentle movement may well help recovery.

  54. JessicaTate*

    LW#2 – I’m so sorry. I too have been perplexed by this since mid-March. A close friend’s father died early in the pandemic, and that rocked me (so I can’t even fully imagine your feelings). Like you, I was frustrated by these questions in meetings — and then the jokey, lighthearted responses that followed from everyone. I know it was all from a good place, but I felt awful when they’re talking about happy hours and game nights and I’m thinking, “I spent the weekend crying and feeling helpless.”

    Since then, if it’s a big group and they’re not forcing round-robin responses, I just don’t answer. When I have to, my go-to deflections are:
    (As Alison suggested) “Hanging in as best we can.”
    “Taking it day by day.”
    “There have been ups and downs.”

    And for internal folks that I meet with regularly, I might email with the meeting organizers about if we could avoid that question in meetings, and try a different approach to show humanity/caring, without putting people who may be in pain on the spot. Clients… are clients. Deflect, deflect, deflect.

  55. Julia*

    I always read the AAM letters and think, why not just *talk* to the person you have a problem with?? The number of pathologically conflict-averse people who need workplace advice is staggering! How do you usually get your work done if you can’t shoot your coworker an email saying “Hey, I need my laptop back by next week”?

    Then again, the fact that I’m *not* conflict-averse means I sometimes put my foot in my mouth when a situation would be better left alone. So I suppose there’s a cost to everything.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Have you read Alison’s book? She makes this very point from the beginning. Just speak up!

      That said, some people really do have a problem trying to figure out the right wording. But yeah, I have worked with people who are so conflict-averse, it is pathological because it prevents work from getting done.

      1. Laptop Loaner*

        It’s a tiny office and people get their feelings hurt so easily and everything seems so much more complicated than it really is. Sometimes it helps to get an objective read on whether something is as ridiculous as it seems.

  56. Hedgehug*

    #4 I’m sorry, isn’t it ILLEGAL for your employee to be going outside for walks, while actively sick with coronavirus???? People are getting arrested for it, I would remind them of this and tell them to stay the flip inside their home.

    1. Me*

      I don’t know where you live where this is happening but no, it’s in no way illegal everywhere.

      1. Hedgehug*

        I’m in Canada, and people have been arrested for leaving their house if they knowingly have the virus.

        1. Me*

          Also depending on not just where the person lives but where she is in her recovery, she may well be past the quarantine period and still have issues. According to the OP it’s been a month or so which means by most standards shes past the 2 weeks.

    2. Sleepless*

      Depends on where you live. In my area, going outside for walks is specifically allowed as long as social distancing is followed.

      1. JM in England*

        Are you in the UK?

        This is what’s currently allowed here, with special emphasis on the social distancing.

    3. Blueberry*

      I am neither a doctor nor an epidemiologist, but in general with viral diseases there is the time when one is infected with and shedding the virus, and the time when one feels sick because one’s body is fighting, damaged, and/or recovering. Those times overlap but are not the same time period. I am [quite strenuously] hoping that LW#4’s employee has received medical advice that she’s in the recovery-from-infection period and not the actively-infected-and-shedding-viruses period.

    4. fposte*

      Even in Canada, that’s for fourteen days. The OP’s employee got the virus a month ago, so she’s well beyond the Canadian limit.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Someone is going to have to catch them as well. If she’s just walking around her neighborhood, it’s less likely that even if it was illegal where they are, that she’d get caught.

      Also the whole “gonna get arrested” is hilarious, since what good is that going to do? Sure lock them up, get the entire prison population infected and the guards as well.

  57. boop the first*

    1. I don’t like these alternative suggestions in the comments to be indirect and subtle about this. Sending a reminder to everyone in the hopes of it circling around to the targets is like posting angry and punitive “reminders” to the wall. It’s obnoxious to the good workers and meaningless to the actual targeted workers. They won’t get it. Just be direct, geez.

    1. Me*

      Agreed. Someone commented they wouldn’t bother because heck it would damage their good rapport…you know the rapport the nasty coworkers already ruined.

      I firmly believe indirectness is why so many of these horrid people keep getting away with bad behavior. They can justify it away as oh that’s not meant for me or there must be other people doing it so I don’t feel so bad.

      It’s the equivalent of punishing all because of the one kid in class that doesn’t give a rats patottie about anyone else anyway. Nice people, good coworkers, do not joke about someone’s weight at all. Grown adults that think it’s okay should be directly told that it’s not.

      1. Rainy*

        I had a former coworker who did this kind of seventh-grade mean-girl shit, and she was really incapable of processing the way I didn’t play her games. It was hilarious, in a really pathetic way. She also thought no one else in the office spoke with each other, so she’d try to triangulate and be confused when it didn’t work.

        My MIL also does this stuff, and it is even less flattering on a woman in her 70s than it is on a 7th grader. One of these days she will reach the end of my patience and I’ll be lucky if “grow the fuck up” is the only thing I scream at her.

  58. Sleepless*

    #4, a lot of people think that physical activity will slow down recovery from an illness, but it doesn’t.

  59. cheeky*

    Answer to LW1 was much more succinct and useful than Dear Prudence’s. Sending them the transcript and that note should be all the punishment that those employees need- not worth bringing up to HR (unless it continues, but I think that’s unlikely.)

    1. Observer*

      I agree. I think that Danny’s understanding of workplace situations is pretty poor in general.

  60. Recreational Moderation*

    #1 So sorry you had to hear that kind of hurtful nonsense, OP.
    I’d be tempted to, in a “bless your heart” tone, at an appropriate moment during the Zoom meeting, publicly say something like, “Oh, by the way, Natalie and Lisa, you’re so sweet to think about me! But I do have plenty of supplies to last out the quarantine, thanks.” Let them try to figure out how you know what you know.
    And/Or maybe to give sweet Lisa the number for a local suicide prevention hotline, without comment?
    Yeah, both are probably inappropriate (as my first instincts so often are, which is why I don’t follow them … usually) and I apologize. But they’d offer some degree of satisfaction.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      That’s kinda sneaky. The kind of plan I’d hatch but never carry out. Much better to just tell them what happened in the plainest most straightforward way, watch them squirm and then ask them to refrain from being petty going forward.

      1. Recreational Moderation*

        You’re right, Rebel, yours is a better plan; mine is more along the lines of a secret personal Things I’d Do If I Ruled The World list. (That list can get remarkably petty.)
        Your response makes much more sense—and I’d be satisfied as long as there’s a little squirming on the perpetrators’ part! :)

  61. Springella*

    OP1 – My mother was overweight (I know now this wss because of too much stress and work) and very hurt when her sister and friend commented how they would kill themselves if they were as fat as my mother (her friend was nicer). Guess what! Now both her friend and sister are morbidly obese and neither shows intention of committing suicide.

    These kind of comments are on the level of a schoolyard bullies.

  62. Elbe*

    “She added that if she ever weighed as much as I did, she’d kill herself.”
    Yeah, Lisa definitely sounds like she has major issues with her own weight. Some people who equate being thin with having worth take it as a personal affront when people who are bigger than they are seem happy and confident in their own skin. These comments say a ton about Lisa (and Natalie) and very little about the LW.

    That said, having personal issues doesn’t entitle Lisa to mock coworkers, especially during work hours, on a work meeting. This is not okay and I think that the LW should follow Alison’s advice and make these two deal with the awkwardness, as well.

  63. TeapotNinja*

    OP3: I would use a little white lie to put some urgency on the matter. I’d mention I need to use a laptop due to and would like my laptop back from coworker.

    If you have kids who are doing remote learning, that’d be a perfect excuse.

    Personally I’d also offer them the alternative of reimbursing for a new laptop purchase. It might make getting a laptop back logistically simpler and as a bonus would get you a new laptop.

    1. Laptop Loaner*

      Thanks both good ideas. As it happens as I’ve thought about it today I have a reason that everyone knows – I have an autoimmune disease which is causing a lot of pain and sitting in a chair at a desk to use the computer is harder than being propped up on the couch. (If you ever wondered how someone could be so disabled they couldn’t at least sit at a desk…well now I know.)

  64. OpsAmanda*

    Op1: I would passive aggressively send an email to all co-workers in the meeting saying “As a heads-up, Zoom sends transcripts of all chats, including private chats, to the host of the meeting. I assume some of you weren’t aware of this feature.” It’s a bit of public shaming without actually naming names and getting into the details of the conversation. Also, it is actually a good piece of info to know.

  65. Anonnington*

    #1 – I agree that Allison’s suggested response is a fine way to handle this. But if I were in that situation, I would pick a different option.

    You see, my read on this is that Lisa is more guilty than Natalie. Lisa initiated it. Natalie might have just been trying to be polite, to avoid getting on Lisa’s bad side. That’s one angle to consider.

    If this were about something more valid, something you could have a productive conversation about, I would send it to them like Allison suggested. Because it would be a starting point for that conversation.

    But they childishly mocked your body. So they can’t be trusted to handle anything in a productive or professional way. So I would skip any further communication with them and just escalate it to whomever you think would be the best person to handle it (boss, grand-boss, HR). This is probably just one glimpse of a much larger problem. Someone should look into it and see how Lisa’s treating other people, what else she might be up to.

    And don’t let this get to you! Insecure people just do stuff like this; she’d be finding things to laugh about regardless of what you look like or anything. It’s not about you, except that you’re probably so cool, she feels jealous.

  66. BlahBlah*

    OP #5: another option is Whereby.com. The free version is limited to 4 people, but no time limit. If you want a non Zoom option. Good luck in your interview!

  67. Tery*

    No no, LW 4, do not say anything to your employee about their health. You wouldn’t do it before COVID-19, don’t do it now. I am really confused why this would be acceptable.

  68. Brian The Brain*

    OP2’s dilemma is why I never *ask* how anyone is in such interactions — I just say “I hope you are / everyone is doing well today.” That gives people an easy way out to just ignore the comment and move on, without an obligation to reply to a specific question. In other words: don’t ask a question to which you don’t want a negative answer.

  69. Cherries on top*

    #3 Probably not relevant, but why would the coworker need to work from home because their partner couldn’t use their arm for a few weeks? (I once had a teacher who stayed home because her husband sprained his ankle.)

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