work happy hours without the boss, I was told to cover up my scars at work, and more

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

1. Work happy hours without the boss – AITA?

I work at a small (fewer than 20 staff) nonprofit. We have two types of employees: the ones who work directly with clients (like me) and the managers/administrators. Sometimes, we direct service providers have disagreements with management regarding hours, leave, workload, the usual work stuff. Basically, they’re variations on “you don’t understand why X, Y, and Z are hard to implement because you don’t actually know what we’re going through.”

Occasionally (maybe two or three times in the five years I’ve worked here) some of the service providers have arranged happy hour meet-ups, often to vent about work. We did not invite the managers because we would probably complain about them. (“Can you believe what we have to do now? Where are we supposed to find the time for that?”) Our executive director found out about the most recent one a couple days after it happened (pre-social-distancing) and is upset, saying it was unprofessional and unfair to have a group of employees gather to talk about the organization behind their back. I don’t know if she was addressing what we talked about or if she was just upset they weren’t invited. Did we step out of line?

Not only is it not unprofessional to talk about your management without them there, your right to do that is protected by federal law. The National Labor Relations Act protects your right to talk with coworkers about wages and working conditions without your management present.

Even aside from that, though, your ED is being ridiculous. It’s normal for people to want to have a happy hour without their managers there, and to want to talk about work more freely than they could otherwise. That said, if these are really grouse sessions and not just casual happy hours, I can see why your ED is concerned (either there are legit issues that need to be addressed or people are engaging in behavior that can be pretty toxic to a team) — but the right response is to try to address the issues that are concerning you, not to complain she wasn’t invited.

2. HR told me to cover up my scars

I work in a laboratory where everyone wears lab coats. We each have a desk outside of the lab where we sit to write our reports and read emails. The dress code is very lax, most people wear t-shirts everyday. To give you an idea of the culture, my boss regularly wears a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt with a curse word on the back.

I’ve been working there for five years now. A few months ago, “Brandy” started at our office. She is about the same level as me in the company structure. She recently went to our HR person and complained that I should not be allowed to wear short-sleeved shirts. Her rationale was that she didn’t want to have to see my scars. I used to have issues with depression and I would cut my arms, so I have quite a few scars on them. Since this was when I was a teenager, and I am in my 40’s now, the scars are pretty faded at this point. HR has told me that I need to wear long sleeves at all times since this makes her uncomfortable. I have read before that companies can mandate that one person has to wear something different from everyone else, but is this different because these scars are the result of a, now resolved admittedly, medical issue?

This is BS, and your HR is terrible. You don’t tell someone to cover up because someone else is uncomfortable; this is Brandy’s issue, not yours. Would your HR department also tell women to wear longer skirts because a man complained he was uncomfortable seeing their legs? Or, uh, this?

Legally … it’s pretty iffy. You can’t treat people differently because of a disability or the perception that they’re disabled. I can’t say for sure whether scars from depression years ago would trigger that protection, but no sensible HR person should care enough to argue it. I’d go back to HR and tell them you’re sure the company is not truly telling someone they need to cover up the signs of a former medical condition, and you will be continuing to follow the same dress code as everyone else. Loop in your boss too, as long as she’s not a similar disaster.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. I’m furloughed and HR is still emailing me

After reducing everyone’s salary (or hours) by 20%, my employer of 10 years furloughed 20-25% of its workforce due to loss of business resulting from COVID-19. I’m one of the furloughed employees. The company is not paying any of our benefits and we cannot use PTO time. My badge, company laptop, and mobile phone were taken, access to my work email was blocked, and I had to empty my office the very same day. They plan to bring us back to work in less than six months, but who knows.

The HR director, Mary, has contacted the furloughed employees through our personal emails twice. The first time was to explain that the employees have taken up a collection to help financially struggling current and furloughed employees with expenses. The process to obtain these funds is to fill out a form explaining how much you are requesting and why you need assistance. then an employee-led committee makes a decision on your request. I know they mean well, but I find this offer of charity offensive, although others may feel differently. I decided to ignore this email.

The very next day Mary emailed us again, this time to send us the employee newsletter. I’m a little perplexed — but mostly angry — about this. I’m clearly not an employee, but they expect me to read the newsletter? I thing it is very out of line. There’s also a possibility that furloughed employees could have received this by mistake.

Mary and I are at the same level, and we are congenial, but I (silently) question her judgement often. Am I just overreacting to these emails, or is Mary out of line? Would it be a good idea for me to ask to be taken off of these lists, or do I just leave it alone?

I think you’re overreacting, and I’d leave it alone.

While you don’t need or want the financial assistance, other employees might — and might be grateful to know about it. Your company can’t know who does and doesn’t need it, so it makes sense that they sent it to all of you.

I can see why you’re not interested in the company newsletter right now, but they probably sent it to you as part of an effort to reinforce that you’re furloughed, not laid off — meaning they still consider you an employee long-term and they plan to bring you back when they can. But you certainly don’t need to read it! Delete freely.

4. Should your resume list an internship that was rescinded due to Covid-19?

If a student had a summer internship lined up, but the opportunity was rescinded due to Covid-19 (through circumstances outside of their control), should they put that rescinded internship on their resume? Is it better suited for their cover letter? Would the answer be different if it was a full-time position vs. summer internship? On one hand, it doesn’t make sense to put a job you’ve never performed on your resume. On the other, having a job rescinded due to extenuating circumstances leaves an unexplained employment gap. What type of phrasing would you recommend to students in this situation?

I wouldn’t put it on a resume. It’s not going to hurt you if you do, but it’s not going to strengthen your candidacy. There aren’t any accomplishments associated with it, other than being selected for the internship in the first place. I suppose if it’s a really prestigious organization or program, there’s more of an argument for it … but if you were a strong enough candidate to be selected for something highly prestigious, you’re likely to have other accomplishments to list anyway.

Basically, if you want to mention it, you can but you’re better off using that space to talk about something else.

But you could reference it in your cover letter to explain why you’re now looking — something like, “I had been scheduled to start a summer internship with (organization name) but it’s been canceled due to the pandemic and I’m now looking for…”

5. How long do I have to forward emails to my old boss, when I still work for the same company?

Until five months ago, I was the executive assistant to a VIP within a large, international organization that has a number of offices around the globe. I was thrilled when I was promoted to a completely different, non-admin position within the same organization with a lot more responsibility. I moved to an office in a different country, but my work email address remains the same. For several weeks leading up to and following my move, I put up an out-of-office message indicating the name and contact info of my replacement. I notified all my key contacts that I was leaving and removed myself from office distro lists.

But it seems that given my boss’s huge network of contacts, some people didn’t get the message. Five months later, I am still receiving near-daily emails related to my old job. I’m trying to focus on my new role and frankly am tired of forwarding emails to my replacement and/or replying to provide her email address. But at the same time, I fear that if I delete or ignore the emails, my old boss will miss something important and I’ll be to blame. How long am I reasonably responsible for emails pertaining to my old job? Is there a ever point at which I can send them to the junk folder?

Because you still work for the same company, your obligations here are higher. You don’t necessarily need to reply back every time, but you do need to keep forwarding the messages on. (That said, it might save you time in the long run if you create a form letter asking people to remove your email from their files, and save that as a template so you can just quickly paste it in, send, delete, and move on.) You also might figure out if there are email rules you can create to auto-forward these emails to your replacement without you even seeing them.

In general, though, because this is a VIP in your company, I’d give it more time before you consider just deleting the messages; that’s too likely to bite you at some point.

{ 494 comments… read them below }

  1. MJ*

    Alison is right. HR are terrible. What if someone has a facial scar(s) from domestic violence and Brandy wanted that covered up too? Or, heaven forbid, tattoos*. The request is totally unreasonable and unacceptable.

    1. Felix*

      I think you may be overlooking a potentially obvious reason behind it, and I’m shocked that Alison even used the word “trigger” in her response and didn’t address the elephant in the room. Is it possible that Brandy has her own mental health issues and that the scars are triggering? HR wouldn’t be allowed to disclose that if it were the reason, but it would mean her right to feel safe trumps LW’s right to wear short sleeves.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No, it would not mean that at all. Employers can’t discriminate against one disability in favor of another, and not all accommodations are reasonable ones. It’s very unlikely that a reasonable accommodation would mean making a different coworker change how they dress.

        1. Phony Genius*

          If the company instead changed the dress code for everybody, requiring all workers to wear long sleeves, would that pass legal muster? (Not that they should, I’m just wondering about the legal part of the question.)

          1. Scarred Arms*

            I haven’t pushed back on this request yet. I probably won’t as outlawing short sleeves for everyone will probably be their next step. Our lab is so hot and forcing everyone to wear long sleeves is likely to make me very unpopular.

            1. Shirley Keeldar*

              Actually, it would be Brandy and your ridiculous HR forcing people to wear long sleeves, not you. I bow to your superior knowledge of your own workplace–maybe this isn’t a hill worth dying on–but you’re right, and they’re wrong, and sensible people would (hopefully!) recognize that. Good luck!

            2. AKchic*

              Brandy’s issue with your body is just that. Brandy’s issue. Nobody is going to wear a paper bag over their head because she finds the appearance of their face distasteful, right? Because that is what HR is essentially suggesting.

              Brandy needs to deal with her own discomfort in her own way. I have scars. I have friends with scars. None of us will cover ourselves more fully for the comfort of others simply because they can’t handle baby-smooth, perfect skin. That is absolutely ridiculous. It’s unfortunate that they cannot handle the idea that people have had trauma in their lives. That they have been burned, shot, stabbed, cut, broken bones, scraped up, bitten, or just been generally klutzy; but that is their hang-up, not the injured person.

            3. Observer*

              I think you should feel free to push back. If HR really tries to outlaw short sleeves to accommodate Brandy, I think that the collective push back should be educational.

              Don’t bring up the suggestion of banning short sleeves for everyone – that’s not what you are asking for. If they ask you what to do about Brandy tell them that this is not your problem, it’s hers. Do not let anyone lay the problem or any attempted solution on you.

            4. Shorty Paddleboardy*

              My partner at work has a row of scars up his left forearm that I wondered about for a while. After about a year of working together, he volunteered the story of the time he had a diabetic seizure in his sleep, fell on the floor, and grabbed an old style radiator for support. The radiator fell on him, burning that neat row of bear claw marks across his arm. I never would have asked him about it or yikes, holy hell, would never ask him to cover them.

              Scars can come from anything. Would you feel differently if your scars were from a radiator, or something else? If so, try to take the source of them out of the equation. Brandy doesn’t know, and she doesn’t get to decide whether you show them. It’s up to you.

            5. Alice's Rabbit*

              I have scars on my forearms that probably look just like yours… from my rabbits. I actually got called into HR because of them one time. (Don’t worry, they were genuinely concerned for my well being, and very kind. They just wanted me to know that I had resources at my disposal if I needed help, and they were happy to support me in any way possible. Once I explained the fluffy, sharp-clawed truth, we all had a good laugh. My husband even brought a couple bunnies in when he picked me up, to show them. One HR rep got a scratch of his own!)
              All of that is to say, there are all sorts of reasons why someone might have scars on their arms. Your coworker and HR are being very presumptuous in assuming the cause of yours. But whether they’re right or not, unless they’re going to order everyone to cover all visible scars (and I’d love to see them try with acne scars!) they can’t single you out like that.

          2. Yorick*

            I think a more reasonable accomodation might be to move Brandy’s desk away from OP or something like that.

            1. Working Mom*

              Exactly. The solution should be focused on Brandy rather than OP. I’m sure Alison feels the same way… I’m so annoyed with HR teams who continue to address complaints in this fashion! Employee A complains about something EE B does/wears/says/eats/smells like and HR immediately focuses on getting EE B to stop doing that action. In some cases, it might be appropriate. But the examples that Alison keeps getting here go the other way. I mean seriously… why aren’t HR departments getting this? Address the issue with Brandy – not with OP! End Rant.

        2. Anonnington*

          I had the same thought as Felix – that Brandy could have a mental health issue that’s triggered by seeing the scars.

          But if that’s the case, involving LW would not be a possible solution. Instead, the company would need to find a way for Brandy to avoid seeing co-workers outside of the lab. For example, she could read emails in another room or wear sunglasses that make the scars less visible to her. No one should have approached LW about this.

        3. Jeffrey Deutsch*

          [N]ot all accommodations are reasonable ones.

          Hear, hear! Disabilities, including emotional ones, are real. But they’re not reasons to force others to bend to your will.

      2. Beth*

        Asking a single person to comply to a different dress code than everyone else would actually probably not be considered a reasonable accommodation. “Brandy” having a trigger would be a valid health issue, of course, but that doesn’t mean the employer can single OP out for special restrictions! That kind of gesture has a lot of potential to get discriminatory, even if it’s theoretically well intentioned, so is a bad idea overall. It also wouldn’t be an actual fix for Brandy; after all, lots of people have scars, and new people get hired all the time. If OP’s employer decided it was reasonable to change the dress code to accommodate Brandy, they should make the change overall so everyone has to wear long sleeves and turtlenecks, not single anyone out in particular…but I think they’re more likely to look for other options than make a major policy change like that.

        Either way, what they SHOULD do isn’t OP’s problem. All OP needs to know is that what’s being asked of them isn’t reasonable and they should push back on it. It’s up to the employer and Brandy to find an accommodation that’s actually reasonable, not OP.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Remember the letter from the person whose company was making everyone be symmetrical to accomodate someone’s mental health issue? that was a company wide poicy not singling out one person, but it was still a spectacularly bad idea.

          What does Brandy do if she encounters someone with scars from a fire or something? This is something where they have to accomodate Brandy’s concerns, assuming it rises to something that needs accomodation and is not just “I don’t like the look of scars, so make sure I don’t see any” by not imposing on everyone else.

          1. Massmatt*

            I was just thinking of this; I believe the requirements included having to line up at the bus stop outside the building according to height!

            This is also reminiscent of the HR that informed a breast cancer survivor that coworkers were “offended” by her post-mastectomy appearance.

            Terrible on all three counts.

            1. DarnTheMan*

              I think it was by alternating gender actually (so man-woman-man-woman). Never mind what would have happened if they had a staff member who didn’t identify as neither or if there was a day when there was more of one group than the other at the bus stop!

        2. Tidewater 4-1009*

          And then if they hire someone I know who has a scar on his lip, they’ll have to require face masks too.

      3. Nee Attitude*

        If that were the case, the simplest accommodation would be to have Brandy sit in a different area. I’m shocked that Brandy, supposedly having such a visceral reaction to seeing scars, wouldn’t have requested this accommodation herself. Just because someone has discomfort with something doesn’t mean that they’re powerless to act on their own to address the issue. It also doesn’t mean that management has a duty to bend over backwards to accommodate every predilection.

          1. BeesKneeReplacement*

            In the lab itself, everyone is wearing lab coats, so the issue comes up when they’re at their desks outside of the lab. This sounds like it should be much easier to manage.

      4. Diamond*

        No, I don’t think so.

        I think this is a comparable example: I am extremely thin and underweight. Let’s say I worked with someone in recovery from anorexia, and looking at me was causing them to relapse. It wouldn’t be a reasonable solution to tell me I have to wear thick baggy clothes. Or, maybe someone who had recovered from cancer was becoming anxious seeing a bald co-worker. They couldn’t demand they grow out their hair or wear a wig!

        You can’t just single people out and give them different standards because you don’t like things about their body.

        1. Diamond*

          (Also, it’s sheer speculation, maybe Brandy just doesn’t like the look of scars or gets uncomfortable thinking about mental health issues. And if she is relapsing, the only reasonable step I can see for the employer to take is to give her leave for any medical appointments).

        2. Julia*

          And what about things people can’t change at all? Person A is scared of dark-skinned men, so all dark-skinned men in the office have to… lighten their skin? If that doesn’t work, quit? This is a slippery slope we don’t want to get on.

      5. Viette*

        “her right to feel safe trumps LW’s right to wear short sleeves” — that way lies making everyone line up at the bus stop in alternating gender order.

        But for real, as Alison says in her reply to this comment, reasonable accommodations almost certainly do not include having a special dress code created and enforced just for the OP.

      6. TechWorker*

        I can’t be the only person who is actively uncomfortable in long sleeve tops, especially if it’s warm. I don’t own any! (And yes I know, some jobs have a uniform that enforces them, but this one doesn’t and it’s pretty discriminatory to single one person out.)

        Fwiw I think companies that have rules here around tattoos are also somewhat unreasonable but tattoos are very optional.

        1. Grace*

          I have low blood pressure, and overheating can make me feel faint and pass out if I don’t rectify the situation. My office this winter was so warm, even with all the windows open, that I wore summer dresses and had a fan trained on the back of my neck from three feet away all winter. (Summer is going to be a hellscape and I will cry.)

          Any company that tried to mandate that I wear long sleeves may well shortly be dealing with me passing out at my desk. Have fun filing that one in the accident report book.

          1. Rachel in NYC*

            My office (my regular office) has a standing fan plus I have a clip on fan for my desk despite the fact that our A/C is pretty good- I just run hot and need to be cold at all times.

            Long sleeves is my idea of hell on earth.

            1. stampysmom*

              I am the same! And I have a huge scar running from mid collarbone all the way past my elbow. Out of the office I’m in cap sleeves and sleeveless a lot!

        2. Quill*

          I prefer to wear short sleeve t-shirts with a cardigan or similar over them. There’s ways to regulate your temperature with layers that just aren’t possible with long sleeves (and speaking as a former lab rat, sleeves that actually reach your wrists under the lab coat are worse to deal with! either they scrunch up in the lab coat or they’re sticking out beyond the cuffs, and neither is great for your technique.)

        3. Nesprin*

          Add to that a lab coat- those get very toasty, esp if you’re using a tyvek one. Furthermore, you cannot mess with airflow in many labs- so no portable fans/air conditioning units/swamp coolers for safety/sterility sake. My lab can hit 80 in the summer- I would not be able to wear long sleeves safely.

        4. chi type*

          Right? I think I own MAYBE half a dozen long sleeved tops and half of those are heavy sweaters. I would not be going out to buy a new wardrobe I think I would keep dressing and doing my job as usual.

        5. Jennifer*

          Hello everybody! Longtime lurker, firsttime poster here. I agree any requirement that one and only one person dress a certain way is BS, but for those of you complaining about overheating problems, especially wearing long sleeves or long-legged pants, here is something I learned: most rayon clothing does not retain ANY body heat at all. After living most of my life up north, a couple years ago I moved to a Deep South city where the sun does NOT play nice with my super-pale complexion, so I could not wear short sleeves in summer without constantly re-applying sunblock. So I was quite miserable until I learned about rayon: not only does it not retain body heat; it also wicks moisture away from you (vital for me because my Deep South city is not only ridiculously hot, but insanely humid as well). My summer wardrobe these days is entirely rayon, or fabric blends that are at least 50 percent rayon. Sometimes rayon is also labeled “bamboo.” So if you live or work in an overly hot environment — especially one that is hot AND humid — get rid of any cotton or cotton/poly blend clothes and replace them with rayon or bamboo. Especially things like lab coats or blazers — any situation requiring clothes on top of clothes.

          Of course, the same qualities that make rayon ideal in hot weather also make it thoroughly unwearable in the cold, so if you do switch to rayon you’ll need to be very strict about keeping your hot-weather and cold-weather wardrobes separate.

          1. First Star on the Right*

            Modal is a fabric I’ve found that’s similar to rayon. It’s just too bad it’s used in sleepwear and sheets (Pure Beech makes absolutely fantastic sheets) more than regular clothes! But thankfully I found a couple brands of sleepwear where many of the tops don’t look like pajamas, just normal tops.

            1. Marissa*

              Modal is just a specific kind of rayon! Modal, viscose, lyocell, tencel, and acetate are all just rayon. The fibers are produced from dissolved natural cellulose in a chemical solution, and there’s a bunch of specific processes for doing so and hence a bunch of different kinds of rayon :)

          2. Marissa*

            HELL YEAH RAYON! I’ve been hoarding linen/rayon blend fabric remnants for a while and me and my swamp cooler are gonna have a much better summer this year bc of it.

          3. Marissa*

            Also! (general FYI) Rayon is not a synthetic fiber–it’s made of cellulose, biodegradable, burns to ash instead of melting, etc.–and therefore definitely more sustainable than synthetic fibers aka plastic, but generally not as eco friendly as, say, linen, because of the chemicals involved in the manufacturing process. The different kinds have different manufacturing processes, though, and some are better than others, so if you can you should go with modal, lyocell, or tencel instead of generic rayon/viscose/acetate. Anything that advertises itself as bamboo is probably lyocell or tencel.

      7. Scarred Arms*

        I am the one that sent in the letter about the scars. It’s worth noting that while we are in the lab (which is about 75% of the time) I am wearing a long sleeved lab coat. My arms are visible if she comes into my very high walled cubicle at the beginning or end of the day while I’m checking email or typing up my reports or when I’m eating lunch at my computer. Very occasionally, we will all go out to lunch and she can see them then. Something I didn’t mention in the letter but my spouse also works at the same company. She is very flirty with them (they do not reciprocate) so I wonder if that may be part of the reasoning behind this complaint. In fairness, I do know that she had a tough time with depression herself in her teens so I am sympathetic to that. However, I spent years being ashamed of my scars and trying to cover them up. I am finally in a head space where I can wear short sleeves again and see it as a testimonial for how far I’ve come.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          this is interesting – that it’s not a full days worth of viewing, just a short period, but she asked anyways. I think that makes your HR even worse here. I think you should push back on this – it’s definitely worth it.

        2. CupcakeCounter*

          That changes things…
          My initial thought was that Brandy had a more recent history of self harm and seeing your healed scars was triggering since her recovery (may have been) more recent and she is still struggling. This info makes me think she is targeting you as retaliation for your spouse not returning her office crush.
          In addition, she has to go out of her way to see your arms. If they bother her so much, she only needs to stop popping in to your cube and keep her interactions restricted to the lab or via phone/email.

          1. Yorick*

            We have no reason to think Brandy has a history of self-harm. We should focus on the reality of the situation instead of asking OP to speculate on Brandy’s mental health.

            1. Anon for this one*

              Agreed. And as someone with a history of self-harm, our triggers are ours to manage, especially triggers of this nature. We cannot ask people to exist differently for our well-being. It would be like asking someone who looked like an abusive person in my life to cover their face because it upset me to look at them.

              It sounds like Brandy really has to see OP out to see these scars, so it would be very easy for her to avoid visiting OP in her cubicle and communicate mostly by phone or email. If these scars are also mostly faded, she can also practice deliberately looking away from them when they are forced to be around each other.

              However, given the information that Brandy flirts with OP’s spouse regularly and when her attention is not returned, I would say it is 99% more likely that she was looking to mess with OP, rather than she is a genuinely struggling and needs support.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                Unfortunately, the ‘retaliation’ theory is *not* something OP can take to HR, it’s just too vague.

                OP, I would push back on this. Brandy’s being a squeaky wheel, you are allowed to squeak louder (‘you can’t single me out, that’s discrimination’). Loop in your manager, see if they will come with you and support you.

                If your crappy HR then tells everyone ‘long sleeves’, you can get together with the whole group and push back. Any manager who wears a NIN shirt’s gonna be up for that.

          2. Coder von Frankenstein*

            I don’t think it changes things at all. Even if they worked face to face, in short sleeves, the entire workday, with arms clearly visible at all times, HR’s response would be wildly unreasonable.

        3. Abogado Avocado*

          OP #2: First off, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. Congratulations on all your hard work recovering from depression. Your decision to turn those scars into a testimonial of your growth is inspiring to all of us who have sought to change our internal narratives regarding difficult events in our lives.

          As for your horrible HR — and, I agree with everyone else here, they are horrible — you may want to consider putting your response to them in writing. I also recommend using Alison’s proposed language regarding: “you’re sure the company is not truly telling someone they need to cover up the signs of a former medical condition.” This should cause HR to think about the discrimination they’re being asked to engage in here against you for having endured a disabling medical condition.

          Additionally, to the extent that it is essential to your ongoing recovery that you uncover your scars and, when asked, tell people their source, you might wish to advise HR of that because it situates their response as discriminating against your ongoing recovery from a disabling condition.

        4. Rainy*

          Given all of this, her complaints sound pretty disingenuous.

          I grew up on a farm and handled animals professionally for a few years when I was younger, and I have a LOT of scars. Now, in my 40s, they’re likely as faded as yours are, and I don’t think most people notice them unless they’re subjecting my body to the kind of scrutiny that should be impolite to admit to anyway.

          I think I’d be pushing back on the long sleeves just because I’m not sure that her seeing your arms for a few minutes at a time a few times per day warrants you having to totally change your mode of dress.

        5. Batgirl*

          “My arms are visible if she comes into my very high walled cubicle at the beginning or end of the day while I’m checking email or typing up my reports or when I’m eating lunch at my computer. Very occasionally, we will all go out to lunch and she can see them then”
          I don’t know if this is something that can be the basis of a formal complaint against Brandy, but she’s a massive creep if she’s going to these lengths to scrutinise someone’s faded scars. Add in the flirting with OPs spouse and the possibility that she sees OP as a romantic rival and the body scrutiny gets extra gross.

        6. JSPA*

          This is someone with bad boundaries treating you like garbage.

          You can still be sympathetic to what it must be like, to live in her head. You can understand that when she treats you like garbage, it may be an extension of her struggles, as opposed to her best self, speaking.

          But you’re allowed to make “treating me like garbage” a non-negotiable. And return the bad decisions to the people making them. If your lab is hot, and they make people wear long sleeves, your T-shirt wearing boss will push back, right? Your co-workers will push back, right? You do not have to suffer, to take up the slack for all the people Brandy isn’t treating like garbage.

        7. Koala dreams*

          That extra information just makes the request even more ridiculous, if that would be possible. I hope you can go back to HR with the language Alison proposes, and then keep on wearing the short sleeves.

        8. BeesKneeReplacement*

          If the only time she can see it is by entering a high walled cubicle, she needs to stop entering unless whatever it is can’t be dealt with via email or phone. Despite what many people seem to think, those will address basically everything.

          If HR and Brandy really push it (which would be bad on their part), perhaps keep a wrap or light cardigan at your desk, so you’re not overheating in the lab and can still wear the clothes you had planned. If I suddenly had to change my wardrobe, I’d be pissed.

        9. LifeBeforeCorona*

          I have an autoimmune condition. It’s left me with highly visible bruise-like markings over my body. When I was younger I covered them with long-sleeved clothing and long pants even in the summer heat. About 10 years ago I decided not to hide anymore and if anyone had a problem with my disfigured skin, then it was their problem, not mine. You should push back on this, But, as you note, she may have a separate agenda.

        10. Observer*

          Wow. Just Wow.

          Besides all the other reasons that this directive is ridiculous, the fact is that BRANDY is the one “subjecting” herself to the sight that so troubles her. So, she can just stop doing that. Problem solved.

        11. Blueberry*

          ZOMG. I am so sorry, LW#2.
          I am finally in a head space where I can wear short sleeves again and see it as a testimonial for how far I’ve come.

          And I am cheering you on!

        12. Quickbeam*

          As someone with large eye catching surgical scars, I completely feel your need to be “whatever” about them. It’s a milestone achievement. Their issues are not yours to fix.

      8. Wing Leader*

        Uh, no it doesn’t. What does “feeling safe” constitute anyway? That’s something that must be resolved with the person who is affected, either by therapy or something else. It’s not everyone else’s responsibility to alter things. For example, if you have a domestic abuse victim who is (understandably) uncomfortable and frightened around men, could you guarantee her that only women would be around her and she would never have to even see a male manager or employee? No, you could not do that. It’s just not possible.

        If your theory is correct and Brandy has mental health issues and finds the scars triggering, then Brandy needs to resolve that herself. She can take some mental health leave from work, find a good therapist, ask for reasonable work accommodations that do not include someone else’s clothing, etc. If this is what’s happening, then asking LW to wear long-sleeves is just a flimsy band-aid that does not come close to the real problem.

        I mean, for example, I have two pretty nasty cuts on my hands today. They both came from mishaps with kitchen utensils. If Brandy were working here, what would need to happen for her to feel okay? Would I have to wear gloves? I hope this doesn’t sound insensitive to Brandy’s plight because I don’t mean it that way. I’m simply making the point that you cannot burden other people to manage your own mental health issues. (I say this as someone who has had severe depression, anxiety, and has struggled with self-harm, by the way).

      9. Dahlia*

        What if I’m triggered by pregnancy due to infertility? Does that mean I have the right to tell other people not to get pregnant?

        1. High School Teacher*

          I think this is actually a really good comparison that perfectly explains how unreasonable Brandy’s request is. We have seen a lot of posts on this site from people unable to get pregnant trying to find ways to manage their emotions when there’s a pregnancy announcement in the office. No one ever suggests “pregnant women will just have to wear baggy clothes and pretend they’re not pregnant”…that is absurd! Whatever is going on with Brandy doesn’t really matter, HR cannot ask OP to cover up her old scars.

        2. char*

          This. I actually am triggered by pregnancy (for a different reason; I have a phobia of pregnancy and getting pregnant). This is something that I have to manage for myself. I can’t and wouldn’t ask that my coworkers hide their pregnancies. It’s the same with OP’s scars.

        3. Alice's Rabbit*

          I knew someone who tried that once. Pregnant women freaked her out, and she actually asked me to put off trying for a baby until after her visit 6 months from then. Sorry, chika, but I was already pregnant when you asked (though still very early) and even if I wasn’t… what the actual crap?
          So glad she is out of my life.

      10. RagingADHD*

        If the LW had scars on her face, do you suppose HR should order her to wear a bag on her head?

        No, Brandy’s “need to feel safe” does not trump anyone else’s right to be an adult, choose their own clothes, and be treated equally to their coworkers.

        If occasionally seeing scars on a coworker is so upsetting to Brandy that she can’t cope, then she needs to go back to her doctor and explain that her treatment is not working. This is not an issue that HR can address, certainly not by forcing a coworker to overcompensate for Brandy’s illness.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Honestly, I think it might be worthwhile for OP to push back using that analogy. The plural of anecdote isn’t data, but as someone who does have a scarred face, no one’s ever been horrible enough to request that I even wear makeup full-time. If people understand why it’s unacceptable to punish someone for having face scars, they probably know it’s unacceptable to punish someone for having other scars as well.

        2. Anongineer*

          I do have a scar on my face, and I would be absolutely LIVID if a) someone commented on it to HR and b) HR decided to take them seriously. That would cause me to go full scorched earth (though I am lucky to work in a position where I would have the leverage to do so without second thought, which isn’t always the case sadly).

      11. Yorick*

        I don’t think we should try to diagnose something. It’s just as likely that Brandy is a busybody. Either way, it’s not reasonable for them to ask OP to wear long sleeves when nobody else has to.

      12. JSPA*

        That was my first presumption; that the coworker either has their own self-harm issues, or lived with it in their family and is triggered into more general anxiety or PTSD. Or instead, “lived in a war zone / lost family to infection following a car crash / comes from a background where ritual scarring is a thing / has a medically-documented phobia / body dysmorphia issues / some other basis for a visceral response to the sight of scars.”

        The problem isn’t in asking for an accommodation. The problem is, “unilaterally deciding that my accommodation involves body-shaming someone else and directing how they exist in the world, whether or not we’re interacting.”

        Who knows; OP might have even SUGGESTED covering, if the problem were laid out, and covering up felt, to OP, like the least disruptive option. But to have someone else make that decision, and put it on you? Hell, no. (especially when, “Trade desk space with another lab” is…not uncommon, in industry or academe, to deal with this level of space-sharing incompatibility. Or for something visual, as opposed to audio or scent-related, the person with the issue asks to face in a different direction, so they don’t see whatever-it-is.)

        Not that it’s on OP to suggest someone else’s medical treatment, but if coworker has an unmanaged / not yet-adequately managed issue, such that seeing that someone went through that issue, and came out whole & strong on the other end, is not enough to balance the trigger of seeing the marks, then perhaps coworker needs (and work should provide access to) additional resources for therapy.

        Defaulting to the alcohol comparison (because it’s so common): it’s pretty reasonable for someone in recovery to look for a workplace where there’s a “no alcohol in the workplace” rule, and to walk away from water cooler conversations where alcohol consumption is discussed. In contrast, if their trigger is that “people call Bob, Bud” and “Tanika uses an old beer stein as a pencil holder,” then they are already hanging on by their fingernails, and they need more support. Bob does not need a change of nickname, Tanika does not need a different pencil holder, and OP does not need to wear long sleeves.

      13. Deliliah*

        That is pretty silly. There are myriad things that might trigger another person but it would be ridiculous to ask someone to change it. What if OP had gotten her scars from a fire and Brandy had PTSD about a fire? What if OP had a prosthetic leg and Brandy was triggered because someone abusive to her also had a prosthetic leg? Brandy can’t police someone else’s body because of her own issues.

      14. fposte*

        I wanted to pick up on the notion of “her right to feel safe.” That’s not a recognized workplace right. Hell, even your right to *be* safe is pretty limited. While it’s good if a workplace can make its employees feel safe, that’s a guiding thought, not a right that’s required to be prioritized above other considerations.

        1. Jeffrey Deutsch*


          “Feel safe” has become in some quarters the “national security” of the 21st century: A glittering generality decorating a bludgeon.

          For example, cops (and others) have shot people and then acted as if “I was in fear for my life” was some kind of get out of jail free card.

      15. The Tenth Doctor*

        “HR wouldn’t be allowed to disclose that if it were the reason, but it would mean her right to feel safe trumps LW’s right to wear short sleeves”

        This is not the case at all. I have five years experience working as an employment lawyer and 15 years of experience working in Human Resources. There can be nuances in things like this but your statement is wildly incorrect and not factually based at all.

      16. WorkingGirl*

        This is harsh, but (as someone with mental health issues!): the world doesn’t work like that. It is Brandy’s responsibility to control her own emotions and mental health, but that doesn’t mean she gets to control her environment.

    2. voyager1*

      A company can require tattoos to be covered, at least in every state I have ever worked in.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, but tattoos are presumably a voluntary expression of personality. It’s not the same as scars, and old scars at that.

        1. Avasarala*

          Yeah, it’s pretty awful to ask people to cover up disfigurement because it makes you uncomfortable to look at.
          Especially when it’s not for clients/the public/customers, but for coworkers, and in an otherwise casual environment.

          Out of curiosity, you know it was Brandy, right? How is your relationship with her? Could you go up to her wearing short sleeves and be like, “Hey Brandy, heard you were concerned about my scars. Actually these are from a decades-old medical issue that’s all cleared up now, so no need to worry. Thanks for your concern/I hope this won’t be an issue anymore.” (last part depending on whether you want to let her save face or push it strongly.

          1. Uranus Wars*

            OP replied above – Brandy only sees the scars when they are outside of the lab, so minimally at best.

          2. Important Moi*

            Brandy is not entitled to any detailed explanation regarding the scars from the LW. That’s personal and private. This explanation invites more conversation. Also, LW may have inadvertently buried the lede. Brandy seems to like LW’s spouse.

          3. Scarred Arms*

            I do know for certain that it was Brandy. The HR person told me that it was unprofessional to wear short sleeves as my arms were scarred and I had obviously attempted suicide at one time. She went on to say that Brandy had brought this to her attention and that it made her (Brandy) very uncomfortable and she (Brandy) should be subjected to that “ugly sight”.

            If they really make her uncomfortable, I’m sorry but they are so faded now. If they were still all red and bright, I’d have more sympathy for us. Honestly, I think she just doesn’t like me.

            1. bubbleon*

              Among many many other reasons why your HR is awful here, it’s extra awful for them to say anything about being “subjected to that ugly sight”. I’m so sorry.

            2. call centre bee*

              What a horrifying thing to say! I’m so sorry, OP. You should ask for an accommodation so you don’t have to be subjected to Brandy’s ugly personality.

            3. Jessie the First (or second)*

              Oh my god. I am so, so sorry – your HR person is horrible. HR is completely in the wrong, and what they said is egregiously offensive.

              I’m…. I’m at a loss for words at how angry this makes me. Don’t just push back at HR. Bluntly refuse, and go immediately over HR’s head and to your boss. This is terrible. And in fact, your HR person is putting the company in a terrible legal liability position.

              You are awesome. HR is beyond awful and wrong.

            4. Important Moi*

              I know sometimes advice is offered that can be used,but is there someone you can speak to about the HR person?

              1. Scarred Arms*

                It’s a really small company and our one HR person actually works for another company. She contracts to us. I think that is the set up at least. I’m not 100% but I know for sure that she isn’t an employee of ours. My boss is the CEO of the company, I am planning to talk to her.

                Thank you everyone for the kind words. I really appreciate it.

                1. Shenandoah*

                  I really really hope you get a good response from your boss, Scarred Arms. (Please update us!)

                2. Shirley Keeldar*

                  I’m so glad you’re planning to talk to your boss. Keep us updated if you can! Do please be sure to tell said boss that HR said you were an “ugly sight” (yes they did so say that). And maybe use the words, “I feel uncomfortable knowing that I’m being stigmatized and treated differently from all my coworkers due to a past medical condition.” Lots of internet strangers are really mad on your behalf!

                3. JSPA*

                  Yep, reality-check-wise, you’re 100% on solid moral ground, here. “I don’t want to know that anyone was ever in a dark place, and I plan to assume that this is the source of your scars” is completely unrealistic.

                  “My scarring is from an old medical issue. I have only one body. Who hired this particular HR firm, why am I being body shamed for my one and only body, and why is this being approved by HR?”

                4. emmelemm*

                  Talk to the CEO, 100%. You cannot have this outside HR person talking to you like this.

            5. GrumpyGnome*

              Wow. I think your HR person is pretty bad in that a) you were told to cover up your scars period and b) told the exact wording that Brandy used. They should have shut that down. Personally, I would push back on this because it’s unreasonable and unprofessional on the part of both Brandy and HR. Good luck!

            6. Quill*

              I volunteer to make Brandy very uncomfortable by following her around all day making a high pitched noise that she can’t locate, identify, or stop.

            7. Amy Sly*

              Frankly, I think this has nothing to do with you. This is Brandy trying to seduce your spouse and using HR complaints to force you to minimize your attractiveness. Which of course is incredibly stupid on her part, because in what world is any spouse worth loving going to prefer the stranger insulting you over you? But this sounds like high school mean girl hipposcat coming from someone who’s still in high school mentally.

              Push back. Tell HR that her complaint is what’s unprofessional and that you will not be subjected to a dress policy that only applies to you. Then prepare for the next assault by talking to your boss and letting her know about the unreasonable complaint and that you are concerned more passive-aggressive tactics will come since this one didn’t work.

            8. Rainy*

              Yikes. Not to mention that you can get scars on your arms in a number of different ways (I’m thinking not just about my scars, but also about the poster here who assumed their coworker had a recent history of suicide attempts due to forearm scarring that the commentariat all thought–correctly, as it turned out–were more likely to be from oven burns), this is just Brandy being a giant shite.

              I’d never say this at work, but the temptation would be to reply that Brandy has an ugly attitude so maybe she should wear a giant lawn’n’leaf Hefty bag so good people don’t have to look at it.

              1. Tiny Soprano*

                Absolutely. Loads of kinds of scars can look like self-harm scars. Chef scars. Kitten fostering scars. Woodwork scars. Active military service scars. I had a big old burn across my wrist from an ill-timed sneeze meeting a hot surface, and it looked nearly identical to a friend’s self-harm scars.
                At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where someone got their scars, it’s ridiculous and discriminatory to demand they be covered. Brandy and HR are being unprofessional and awful.

            9. Aquawoman*

              Wow. I practically dislocated my jaw. I’m sorry you had to experience that. Your boss needs to fire that HR person because they are awful both generally as a human being and at their job (pro tip for your HR woman: don’t single out someone and insult them because of a ADA-protected condition).

            10. Jules the 3rd*

              OMG WOW your HR is just a whole nother level of horrible!

              Pull your manager into this, to get some authority on your side. It does seem like Brandy just doesn’t like you, but *don’t* mention that theory at all. Just state the facts you know, let others draw their own conclusions.

            11. A Teacher*

              That’s horrid. I have scars on my arms–scratching as a kid from eczema, from where I’ve fallen and from dog bites in a few fights I’ve broken up (I foster dogs). a few look like I cut my arms– I didn’t. I would not be okay with being compliant on this.

            12. Potatoes gonna potate*

              any semblance of sympathy I had for Brandy is gone now. It’s bad enough to dictate to someone else how they should dress over something that doesn’t affect them, but then to say “it’s an ugly sight”? Such an awful and mean thing to say. What an ugly ugly person.

              It doesn’t seem like this is a true HR if they’re contracted to the company, we used to have a set up like this. “HR” in this sense was more for the benefits/payroll side of things and any interpersonal or staffing issues were dealt with by managers. I hope it works out with talking to your boss.

            13. kitryan*

              Brandy is terrible and the HR person is terrible. I have similar scars (source, age, noticeability) and this makes me furious. I don’t have the right words to say to express how not ok they are and how totally ok you are.

            14. LeighTX*

              What a horrible thing for you to hear. Please do let your company know just how this HR person is acting toward you; it was inexcusable for them to say any of this to you. It is 100% NOT unprofessional for you to wear short sleeves regardless of the reason for your scarring. I am so angry on your behalf right now . . .

            15. Nesprin*

              Can you ask your supervisor push back? Wearing long sleeves under a lab coat screams danger of heat exhaustion, and EHS/OSHA is scary.

            16. emmelemm*

              Oh my God, this is suddenly 10,000 times worse. If there’s anyone above that HR person’s head, you need to go to them immediately.

            17. KoiFeeder*

              Fire. Hellfire.

              I will loan you my tire iron if you’d like. That was a horrible thing to tell you and I am furious on your behalf.

            18. Bluephone*

              Your HR person is awful and so is Brandy, quite frankly. Neither of them have any grounds to stand on. I hope your boss slams some reason into both of them or just does the business a huge bonus by cutting them both loose entirely.
              Otherwise, this whole situation is going to make some litigator VERY happy (and rich)

            19. Not So NewReader*

              Okay. Now I am really ticked on your behalf, OP.

              I know of a person who got into a bad accident, in their teenage years. DWI. This person is missing a good portion of their face. Brandy needs to learn to work with people who have differences. HR needs a job somewhere AWAY from people, period.

              I hope you go to your boss. And I hope you show her Alison’s response here. And I hope you feel uplifted by reading the responses here.

            20. chi type*

              It sounds like the dress code is very lax anyway but since when are short sleeves on women unprofessional?

            21. Observer*

              Having attempted suicide at one point in the fairly distant past makes your forever unprofessional? What planet does this woman live on?

              Even in a conservative and buttoned up workplace this would be ridiculous. In your workplace it’s beyond absurd.

              This HR person is gross and incompetent. And *her* behavior is a textbook example of “unprofessional”.

            22. Adultiest Adult*

              This is ridiculous and I am so sorry that anyone entertained Brandy’s complaint for more than a minute. Brandy needs to go address her own issues, preferably with someone more qualified than your HR department. HR needs to lose her contract–seriously, she repeated the words “ugly sight” about someone’s body?! And you, SA, carry on being an example that such things can be overcome, because I know a lot of young people currently struggling with self-harm who need to get that message. Good for you!

            23. Perpal*

              Oh… oh my. Email back HR with a quote of what they said and ask for verification that this is what you discussed. Get this in writing and then send it to all the bosses. ALL OF THEM. Or something*. Uhg, what a bad HR!
              *ok just the relevant boss

            24. First Star on the Right*

              “The HR person told me that it was unprofessional to wear short sleeves as my arms were scarred and I had obviously attempted suicide at one time.”

              Not only is that breathtakingly horrible to say, it’s absolutely wrong. Self-harm does not mean someone attempted suicide! Can someone that self-harms attempt suicide or accidentally go too far? Yes, of course. But self-harming doesn’t automatically mean someone is suicidal. (I, myself, still can’t properly explain why I self-harmed, but I can damn well say it wasn’t because I was suicidal or attempting suicide. And I shouldn’t have to say it, but I think it still needs to be said- people do NOT self-harm just for attention!)

              I would push back on this so hard- it’s the hill I would be willing to die on- but honestly, I’d probably start looking for a new job. I just wouldn’t feel safe (mentally/emotionally) in a place that would do something like this.

        2. Rose Feuer*

          Also, that’s generally universal and listed in the employee handbook/dress code.

          Part of the problem here is that OP is being held to a different standard from everyone else.

        3. Sylvia Tilly*

          In most of western culture they are. But for some cultures, there is a spiritual, religious, and group component.

          I used to work with a police department (USA) that had a strict “non tattoos” policy. That went out the window when a man who had immigrated applied. He was Maori with a Ta Moko that had very deep significance. For him, it was far, far more than a “voluntary expression of personality.”

          I think we should always be careful in assuming that body decoration or alterations mean the same thing to others as they do to us.

          Also, the statement by the poster about companies being allowed to force people to cover tattoos. Well, it depends as well. That’s not 100% true either.

          Companies can force you to cover up tattoos as long as it’s not discriminatory. If someone is part of a tribal group or nation that has tattoos as part of their culture, many jurisdictions say to ask them to cover up is discriminatory.

          1. MayLou*

            Once a tattoo exists, it’s not really that much more optional than a scar – both can be removed or reduced through expensive, slow and often painful treatments that most people wouldn’t want to have purely because their colleague objects to their appearance.

    3. JM in England*

      In the case of facial scars, would HR try to make the person wear a mask or a bag over their head?

      1. MayLou*

        It’s not a serious suggestion but my immediate reaction was that Brandy could start wearing extremely dark glasses so she can’t see anyone’s scars. Seems more efficient.

        1. Lady Heather*

          I don’t actually think that’s intrinsically a bad solution. I say this as someone who’s in the past been triggered by a certain colour. Though I did not think to use sunglasses to deal with it, it might have helped: I would not see the colour, but other people could still wear it etc.

          ‘Indoor sunglasses’ seem like it can be a reasonable accommodation for bright-lights-give-me-migraine when the rest of the office has low-lights-give-me-eye-strain – and it might be for this. Far more reasonable than ‘You all need to adjust your dress for my comfort’.

          1. MayLou*

            That’s a very good point about the lights. I have a colleague who gets migraines and for several months she would turn off the row of overhead lights above her desk, which was also above my desk, when she arrived. She only worked half days so the minute she left, I turned them back on again. It was like working in a cave sometimes, and I often fantasised about giving her one of those green visors you see in old films. Thankfully we were finally approved funding to get the lights replaced and now the one over her desk has an individual pull cord so that she can turn off just that one.

      2. Observer*

        I seem to recall someone who was asked to wear coverup makeup to hid something like that.

      3. MechanicalPencil*

        I had a basal cell removed from my face. I guess I need to purchase a ski mask since the scar is still slightly visible (though quite faded). There’s really no hiding it unless I change my haircut, which is not happening.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’ve got multiple scars, some from operations, some from self harm and the majority from surviving a serious car crash. 2 of them can only be covered if I wear a scarf round my neck and gloves.

      One manager asked me to do this as she was distressed by my appearance. I fully admit to crying a lot that day after. It wasn’t until I came to work in my most body-covering floor-sweeping gothic dress with black veil that she dropped her request.

      (I did have an offer from a friend in a viral research lab to borrow an old biosafety suit and rock up in that but I couldn’t figure out how to drive a car in it. This was about 10 years ago. She’s still working in the lab on vaccine research during all this current stuff. )

      1. UKDancer*

        Now that’s a classy response. I love the visual image of you in a gothic dress with a veil showing her up.

        Honestly the amount to which people get involved in things that are not their business and try to control other people never ceases to amaze and disappoint me.

      2. Bostonian*

        LOL. The mental image of someone strolling into the office in a biosafety suit had me cracking up.

      3. KoiFeeder*

        You are an inspiration to us all, and I’m sorry that your manager was such a horrible human being.

      4. Observer*

        Someone actually asked you to wear a scarf and gloves in the office?! That’s just unbelievable. Or it SHOULD be – it’s beyond outrageous.

        But I love your come back!

      5. Tidewater 4-1009*

        That is so awesome! You rule! :) I fantasized about wearing a burka or a hijab, veil and kaftan to deal with a harassment situation.* You actually did it! Wonderful! *applause*

        *Sadly, I didn’t think of it till years later.

  2. MistOrMister*

    I am utterly gobsmacked by #2. If you wouldn’t/couldn’t (rationally) go to HR with a complaint if something wasn’t due to self harm, then you can’t do it when it’s self harm related either!! I mean yeesh, would the employer tell OP they had to cover extensive car accident scars? What about someone who has heart surgery….are they never allowed to wear anything that might show part of their scar? Why not just ban all visible scars in the office to make sure no one can be offended?? So utterly ridiculous.

    1. many bells down*

      I’ve had two heart surgeries and I do NOT make an effort to cover my scar; I’d have to wear shirts above my collarbone to do that anyway. AND I’ve had thyroid cancer so there’s a scar on my neck, too!

      I’d be LIVID if a job ever told me I had to cover it. Not even my teaching jobs have.

      1. MistOrMister*

        I can’t fathom it….just, cannot. Of course, Alison linked that masectomy letter and I couldn’t fathom that either so I guess this letter shouldn’t be a shock.

        I would imagine trying to cover certain scars would be a huge pain. I don’t know quite how far up scars from heart surgery go, but my god I cannot imagine the inconvenience it would cause when buying clothes if you had to try to keep the scar covered. “Oh this is cute and has a nice high neckline. Oop, darn the scar is peeking out the top and Priscilla went bonkers the last time my scar was visible. Dang it all.”Probably would have to wear turtlenecks for the rest of forever. Ugh!

        1. many bells down*

          The new one is a bit higher than the old one, so now any shirt that doesn’t cover my collarbone doesn’t cover the whole scar. And I don’t like shirts touching my throat so almost nothing I own is that high.

      2. Exhausted Trope*

        I have a small, 2 inch scar on my neck from a skin cancer surgery and while I don’t like it, I make no effort to cover it. It is noticeable. I’d have to wear turtlenecks to hide it and ain’t no way I would. No to scarves, too. I don’t like them and I run warm 90% of the time so nope. And fortunately, my HR has the sense not to ask me to.

    2. Blarg*

      “One of your coworkers can’t stand to look at you. Wear more clothes than your peers.” That’s … just so unjustifiable no matter the circumstance.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, this was my read also. My scars have since faded but I had two very pronounced scars on my knees. My heart just sunk here. I went through enough with those scars, to have someone point them out to me would have been overload.

        I have to wonder what Brandy’s long term plan is, the world is covered with people who have scars. What does she do if there is a person at the grocery store with a scar? I know I see a scar and find it concerning, but I also know that whatever that was, it’s over now. There are ways to strike a balance. HR could have said, “We can’t make everyone with a scar cover up. We do offer EAP if you would like to talk this over with someone.”

        I can’t help but think that sometimes our internal scars are far worse than any surface (skin) scarring we may have.

        1. Sam.*

          I doubt it’s all scars that Brandy has a problem with – I think it’s very likely cutting scars, specifically. That doesn’t make what she’s asking reasonable imo, but if her issue is with a specific kind of scar that’s connected with potentially triggering issues, I can understand a bit more where she’s coming from. I really don’t know how you solve this one satisfactorily – I’m interested to read the comments and see what ideas people have.

          1. UKDancer*

            I think we’ve had posts before on a topic about someone concerned over a colleague’s scars where it emerged that it’s quite difficult to tell self harm from cat scratches from working in a kitchen scratches. I don’t think you can say “no self harm scars but other scars are ok” Not without grilling everyone with a scar at all about how they got it which is a personal matter.

            Having the OP’s update I think the adjustment would be for Brandy not to go to her cubicle when her arms are exposed and send an email instead.

          2. Yorick*

            This is just fanfiction. OP commented that Brandy told HR she didn’t want to have to look at that ugly sight, and that she flirts with OP’s husband. I think it’s just as likely that Brandy’s trying to cause problems for OP, or that she’s generally nosy and thinks she shouldn’t have to look at anything unpleasant.

            1. Amy Sly*

              Yeah … I’m wondering how much skin Brandy is showing when not in a lab coat. Trying to get the competition to cover up while flirting in something tight and revealing sounds like a high school method of trying to seduce a guy. One would have to be exceptionally immature to think it might work in this case, but the complaint and the flirting with a married man in front of his wife don’t exactly scream maturity.

          3. JSPA*

            It’s still, “we have EAP / let’s talk through some strategies for you to avert your eyes / permission to rotate your desk to face the wall” time.

            This is very different from, “misophonia, please don’t pop gum / nausea, please don’t eat X in this space / allergies, please don’t bring in Y.” Scars are not something that OP is doing. They’re a body part.

      2. Potatoes gonna potate*

        I had a coworker who told someone who told me “she (referring to me) should not be wearing sleeveless shirts.” No “triggering” just a typical creepy man. I have fat arms, I get hot easily and I have skin discoloration so my armpits are dark. It wasn’t a serious HR issue, but he sat in my field of vision so I would deliberately raise my arms and waved or just otherwise emphasized my arms. Obnoxious remarks get obnoxious behavior.

        1. JSPA*

          Sucks that you even have to think about it, beyond the level of “how I want to present myself” and “what works for me.”

          If they think your fashion choices are unfortunate, let them tell their pet, their pillow or their old friend from fashion police academy (who doesn’t work with either of you).

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My mind keeps going to “what if Brandy meets a war vet”. Would she still go to HR or are there limits to how entitled she is?

    4. prismo*

      Ditto. As someone with faded self-harm scars on my forearm, I am furious on LW2’s behalf. I would be mortified if this happened to me. I can definitely understand that they might be uncomfortable to see, especially if the coworker has her own problems with self-harm, but she needs to find some other way to deal. Goodness.

  3. mjd*

    Regarding LW#2: It’s possible that Brandy is herself a recovering cutter and requested that the scars be covered because they are causing her to relapse. If that were the case, HR might be legally required to accommodate Brandy’s request and to keep her mental health issues private (i.e., not tell LW why the scars upset Brandy). I don’t know if that’s the case–I just wanted to throw it out there as a possibility that might explain HR’s seemingly bizarre and insensitive behavior.

    1. Felix*

      I think it is very possible that that is the case. I’m shocked that Alison wrote a response that included the word “trigger” and couldn’t try to see this from Brandy’s perspective.

      1. no apples today*

        Wouldn’t trying to see it from Brandy’s perspective be speculating? People love to bend over backwards here to justify everyone’s actions all the time, but that’s impossible without any extra information and I don’t think jumping to “maybe OP’s coworker was in the right” is particularly helpful if the letter had no indication of that. We can’t “what if” everything.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, thank you. This has the potential to derail massively on something that’s pure speculation and is already generating a lot of incorrect assertions about what the law would require, so I’m going to close this thread.

          (Also, as I noted above, employers can’t discriminate against one disability in favor of another, and not all accommodations are reasonable ones. It’s very unlikely that a reasonable accommodation would mean making a different coworker change how they dress.

    2. Project Manager*

      I don’t know much about cutting…if that were the case, is it comparable to the 2017 letter where the employee with OCD (which I do know plenty about…) was requiring everyone else to accommodate them by, e.g., wearing a watch on each wrist so they’d be symmetric and line up for the bus in alternating gender order?

      1. Lagonelle*

        I don’t think so. Asking someone to wear long sleeves to avoid triggering another’s is reasonable. That employee in the 2017 letter was definitely not.

        1. Mark Roth*

          I cannot see how demanding someone dress according to a different and less comfortable standard than everyone else is reasonable.

        2. PollyQ*

          I disagree. Asking someone to change their normal business attire is not reasonable. If Brandy does have a genuine medical issue that makes it difficult for her to look at LW’s scars, then an example of a reasonable accomodation might be to transfer her to a different department, or at least a different seating area.

    3. MistOrMister*

      I don’t know that making OP cover their scars would be a legitimate way to handle Brandy’s issue if this is why OP has been asked to cover the scars. If I’m a hypochondriac with a huge fear of having a heart attack and have a coworker with a sternum scar from bypass surgery which freaks me out and has me constantly thinking I’m having dangerous chest pains or whatnot, it wouldn’t be reasonable for my coworker to be told to cover their scar because of my issues. Regardless of what might be going on with Brandy, I don’t see how the answer can possibly be telling OP they need to cover their arms so Brandy doesn’t have to be upset. If the reason for Brandy’s request is due to their own struggles, I certainly empathize, but the onus needs to be on them to find out how to get past whatever difficulties seeing OPs scars causes, rather than on OP having to wear long sleeves all the time.

    4. KinderTeacher*

      This was my first thought as well. I’m not sure what it would mean in terms of HR being in a negotiating at odds but potentially both legally protected situations? It might just be good for the LW to have in mind as a possibility so they aren’t taken off guard if HR doesn’t drop it after Alison’s suggested course of action?

    5. mark132*

      This is IMO most likely the reason. Mental health facility frequently have rather stringent rules on covering up self-harm scars, especially fresh scars. And at a mental health facility probably you have better reason for this. In a workplace probably not so much.

    6. AcademiaNut*

      I’d love to hear from an employment lawyer about whether that constitutes a reasonable accommodation for a disability. Either the special dress code for a single employee part, or the bit about requiring someone to hide the evidence of past illness to avoid triggering someone.

  4. staceyizme*

    OP 2- You shouldn’t have the burden of dressing in order to make an unreasonable person more comfortable. Your whole company should have one set of standards and nobody should be able to cherry pick any exceptions. Otherwise, it isn’t a level playing field. This is just the same as “women must wear makeup, hose and heels” or “men must wear a tie and blazer”. Nothing is inherently wrong with these standards unless they’re unevenly applied. Scars aren’t anybody’s concern except for the person on whose body they appear. If HR doesn’t “get it”, it would be fair to go over their head.

    1. Marthooh*

      It’s not necessary or kind to say that Brandy is being unreasonable. We all have non-rational preferences, fears, and aversions, because we are all human beings. HR is being unreasonable (in a different sense) by singling out OP 2 for special restrictions in dress.

      1. Annie*

        Brandy IS being unreasonable and it is not unkind to say that. Even if she does have her own mental health challenges (which is purely speculation), it isn’t reasonable for expect a coworker to cover their scars.

        1. Amanda*

          I think Marthooh’s point is more that we don’t know it is actually Brandy being unreasonable here. Maybe she just asked to change seats or something equally normal, and HR is making a big deal out of it.

          HR is absolutely in the wrong here. Brandy may or may not be, depending on what she demanded. And I think this is important for OP to remember, since they will have to continue working together.

          1. Drag0nfly*

            Brandy is being unreasonable for complaining about this at all to HR. If the speculation is true that she has a mental issue, and if she were reasonable, she would have gone to HR to ask about mental health coverage in their insurance policy, so *she* can get help for *her* hang ups.

            Regardless, Brandy has no business thinking she can ask OP to dress a certain way just because *she* has a problem, whatever it is. Brandy’s problem is for *her* to face and overcome, it’s not something she ever had a right to push onto other people. That was never reasonable for her to think. It’s very entitled, of her, actually.

          2. JSPA*

            OP posted to clarify that indeed, Brandy’s issue was “disgust” and wanting OP to change. So Brandy’s way out of line. If Brandy had come in looking for EAP or a change of desks, and HR had suggested making OP wear long sleeves, then it’d be mostly on HR. As it is, shared culpability.

      2. Rainy*

        One of Brandy’s “irrational preferences” seems to be for OP’s romantic partner, so I think Brandy probably is being unreasonable, and it’s not unkind to say so.

      3. Potatoes gonna potate*

        Brandy wasn’t being kind when she said she’s “subjected to the ugly sight” of scars. Something tells me someone who’s been through this would have figured out ways to cope and be more sensitive to it.

      4. redheadedscientist*

        Actually, yes, she’s being unreasonable. I’ve struggled with self harm and seeing someone’s scarred forearms would absolutely upset me. But I have absolutely no right or standing to dictate how that person dresses. My mental health issues are my own. And it’s better for my recovery *not* to insist that someone cover their scars.

      5. PollyQ*

        Simply having a preference may not be unreasonable, but believing that other people are obliged to change their perfectly normal behavior because of that is. Involving HR to try to enforce that is even more unreasonable.

      6. JSPA*

        Reactions / feelings are neither reasonable nor unreasonable; they merely are. Nobody’s guilting Brandy for possibly having an overwhelming reaction (or even privately, finding something disgusting).

        Making your problem into someone else’s problem is a whole other level. “I have a problem when faced with X” opens up all kinds of discussions about how the person with the problem can be accommodated. “OP’s scars are a problem, make OP do something” / OK, we’ll make OP do something” are the ask and response that are unacceptable.

        I used to find certain combinations of green, mustard, burnt orange and mid-range purple absolutely loathsome. Paisley, for whatever reason, made me think of bacteria and contagion, and polyester (then and now) gives me the willies In combination, it rose to the point of intense discomfort and an inability to concentrate on what I was saying or doing. I didn’t (and don’t), however, expect people to change their clothing. (I did, on occasion, come up with an excuse to change seats; but more generally, as my mother said, “that’s why eyes have eyelids.”

  5. MistOrMister*

    OP3, I don’t think I would be annoyed at the emails yet. Only 2 emails is not that many, in my opinion. I likely wouldn’t have wanted to get the newsletter either, but I probably would have just deleted without reading.

    The financial assistance thing is weird to me. It’s nice that they’ve taken up a collection, but I am not really a fan of them making people explain why they need the money. Its one thing to have to put info like that on say a form with your local unemployment office. But it feels weird to me that you would have to do so through your place of enployment when you’ve been furloughed. I know everyone has different needs but it just rubs me the wrong way. I think I would rather see something like one big pot and everyone gets the same percentage, but you can opt out of you dont need any help at the time so others can get a bigger share. I get that they are trying to get the money where it can do the most good, but it doesn’t seem like the best plan to me.

    1. Blue*

      Agreed. I doubt the workplace is exactly qualified to operate a mutual aid fund and assess needs. Better to give people a chance to opt in and then divide the funds evenly between those who did so.

      1. Mark Roth*

        It does not sit right.

        Even before the Cersei, the Single Mom with Three Kids, but who no one likes suddenly being less deserving than Catelyn whose husband is still employed for the moment

        1. Amanda*

          Except this is the coworkers’ money they’re donating, not government funds. So if they don’t like Cersei, it’s definitely their choice to not donate to her, whatever her need.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Except that HR is advising those who may be eligible about the funds, and there is a committee of employees…this sounds like a work-sponsored thing, not just “a few of us are giving directly to our closest coworkers” informal thing. If the company is involved, they will be held to a higher standard than if it’s just individuals making personal decisions.

            1. Amanda*

              I read this as it being fully an employee initiative, and HR is only in the loop to help inform the furloughed coworkers. I still think it’s more likely.

              If it’s company sponsored, then yes, this would be out of line.

          2. Colette*

            But the coworkers are giving the money to the company to allocate, so “who we like more” is likely to lead to lots of problems.

    2. Retail not Retail*

      I’d find the financial collection thing so weird and tone deaf. “We don’t have the money to pay you and we need those remaining to take sizable pay cuts… and now we’re asking those people to chip in more”?

    3. Aphrodite*

      Exactly. There is no way I would sit there and tell my (temporarily) former co-workers how much money I need and for what. It’s none of their damn business–not to mention the awkwardness it will generate when the OP returns to work there alongside those she groveled before for money.

      If the co-workers want to help their furloughed friends they should collect money, divide it evenly and either give cash or grocery store or gasoline gift cards to everyone.

      1. Agnes*

        Running it through the company actually has the potential to be less awkward, and less discriminatory. I’m not going to say it’s a great idea or that the company will handle it well, but “friends getting together” has an even greater potential for awkwardness and for rewarding those most liked rather than those in most need.

        1. Avasarala*

          Sure but is the company–specifically whoever is running this–in a better position to judge need? I also think it’s a little weird to make employees disclose and justify their need for money. And to take that from other workers on a voluntary basis.

          Like at that point just give everyone severance (or whatever term applies here, an allowance?) from the company.

          1. KRM*

            Yeah I think it’s a nice idea to take the $$ collected (if you’re insistent on going this way, which is a whole other discussion) and divide it evenly among furloughed people, and just give them a gift card and a little note that says “we’re all thinking of you and look forward to having you back”. Even if it’s just a $5 coffee card, who cares? Everyone gets one and nobody has to justify anything. Otherwise it’s just fraught. And if you don’t collect enough for even token GCs, then donate all the $$ to a local food bank and be done with it.

            1. MK*

              I don’t know, this is fraught too. What you have basically done is given a bunch of people an insignificant luxury, which is fine for those who aren’t in direct need. But, if you have trouble buying food, getting a coffee card would be pretty grating, no matter how well-intentioned.

              1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                IMO the only thing that would work re cards is a Visa or Mastercard gift card. They can be used anywhere to buy anything, just like cash.

            2. SarahTheEntwife*

              Giving people coffee cards in a time when we’re supposed to severely limit how often we go to grocery stores and takeout places seems particularly tone-deaf.

          2. LB*

            Getting money from the company itself rather than donations is not likely to be an option. The company is clearly in dire financial straights and trying to stay afloat enough so that the furloughed employees will have a job to come back to. That was the point of the pay cuts and furloughs in the first place.

            I do agree that asking for explanation of people’s need in a situation like this is really awkward, though. They should have simply divided the money equally between either everyone who was furloughed, or everyone who was furloughed and opted in to get a share of it.

      2. myswtghst*

        The company I work for is putting together a fundraising effort, but they’re bringing in a third party to review the applications for funds to minimize the chances of discrimination, which I think is the right way to go. I’m part of the HR organization (and on intermittent furlough/working PT instead of FT for now), and made it clear to my boss that they need to make it crystal clear in the communications how applications are being handled, as some people absolutely will not apply, even if they need the funds, if they’re afraid the selection process will be biased or open them up to judgment from coworkers in the future.

    4. Fikly*

      I would also point out that there is a difference between receiving an email with a newsletter and being obligated to read it.

      I think LW’s (completely understandable) emotions around being furloughed are perhaps coloring their reaction to receiving the emails.

      1. Granger*

        +1 If I were OP, I think I’d want to read the newsletters in conjunction with going back (at that time) to ensure that I’m in the loop.

      2. Marion Ravenwood*

        Agreed. I’ve been furloughed, and am still getting emails from my HR team (including a weekly update) amongst other things. Personally I quite like the fact that the organisation is making the effort to keep in touch with us – I’d hate to be in a position where we were literally left on our own and had no information about what was happening in the company whatsoever. And as you say, just because HR sends the email doesn’t mean the OP has to read it if they don’t want to.

    5. MayLou*

      “Why do I need the money? Because my job just laid me off without pay during a global pandemic!”

    6. MK*

      My guess would be that, since the remaining employees have had pay cuts themselves, they are not able to donate much and are trying to to direct the limited funds to dire needs. Of course everyone who has lost their jobs needs money, but there is a difference between “I have no income and my savings will run out soon” and “I don’t have enough money to buy food right now”; not the first situation is not an emergency, but the coworkers might have only 500 dollars to distribute to 10 people and want to prioritize. I get that making people justify money requests to their coworkers is not ideal, but giving a bunch of people a gift of 100 dollar, when some of them don’t need it and others are really strapped isn’t either.

      Also, OP, an offer of charity is not offensive, and it’s pretty …well, offensive to people who need charity that you find it so. If you have no need, say so gracefully, but someone thinking you might need help is not insulting. It’s possible that the offer was worded in a condescending way; and, really, I think it’s a bad idea to use HR to circulate this, since a) it the employees are the ones giving the money and involving the company is giving it an appearence of credit for it, and b) many people will have feelings about the company right now, so this offer will be grating coming from them (which I suspect is mainly why OP feels so disrespected).

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I agree with OP#3 that this offer of charity is offensive. Calling it a furlough when it’s a layoff, slashing salaries and expecting those still employed to assist their laid off colleagues, making those laid off grovel in front of their peers for that money, the social pressure behind this charity campaign, and assuming that everyone laid off is in dire straits are all offensive to me.

        Also, many people who do need charity refuse it because they assume there’s someone out there who needs it more. Having to beg for it in front of their peers is going to dissuade most people who aren’t shameless grifters.

        1. BenAdminGeek*

          You are reading a ton into this situation that’s not there in the letter. I’d recommend we focus on what we know from the letter, and resist the urge to draw larger conclusions that aren’t warranted.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              Op#3 clearly said they are furloughed not laid off. Yes the furlough has the potential to became a layoff, but right now the company intends to bring them back if they can when things recover. The furloughed employees are not harmed by not calling it a layoff, in most (is not all) states they are still eligible to apply for unemployment or other assistance.

              The company is not assuming everyone is in dire straights, they just sent a generic email to everyone. Should the company/HR manage try to guess who is in need and send the email to those people only? It was a generic email if someone does not need assistance they don’t need to respond and can ignore it.

              Filing out a form say I am requesting $50 to help with groceries, or $600 to help pay my rent is hardly groveling.

              1. BenAdminGeek*

                Exactly, you said it more eloquently than I could, CmdrShepard4ever!

                I’d also add that “expecting those still employed to assist their laid off colleagues” is an inference here- we don’t know the how/why of the aid, and shouldn’t jump to conclusions there.

                1. Trout 'Waver*

                  When HR gets involved in a campaign to “explain that the employees have taken up a collection to help financially struggling current and furloughed employees with expenses,” that sets an expectation to help and applies social pressure.

                  Also, inference doesn’t mean what you think it does.

                2. BenAdminGeek*

                  that’s true- I should have said “an incorrect inference” or “an inference based on incomplete data and unlikely to be valid”

                3. Trout 'Waver*

                  Well, you shouldn’t have said that either, because it is neither incorrect nor incomplete.

              2. Trout 'Waver*

                Furloughs keep benefits and have a guaranteed return. Lay-offs don’t. The fact that people use “laid off” as a euphemism for firing or position elimination has muddied the waters a bit, but this certainly is a lay-off by the definition of lay-off. Because people have cottoned onto that, now people are using “furlough” as a euphemism for lay-off, to make it sound like what it isn’t. Will OP#3 get their job back? Who knows? There’s no guarantee, no benefits, and their former employer isn’t giving them anything to go on. The employer in this case wants it both ways: They want their employees to be ready to return at a moment’s notice, but aren’t doing anything for them in the meantime. And they’re sugar-coating it by calling it a furlough.

                LGC had a great suggestion further down in the comments about a better way to e-mail the furloughed employees. Go check that out.

                Filling out a form to be reviewed by my peers as to whether I am truly worthy of receiving their charity is groveling.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  Based on how your are defining furlough as keeping benefits and a guaranteed return then yes this not a furlough, but there is no single set definition of furlough legally or in practice. In the situation we find ourselves in right now I think people have a different definition of furlough and laid off with furlough being the company intends to bring back workers when conditions improve, and laid off as the company is not going to bring you back period even when things get better. But from my understanding even if you are furloughed you do not have to go back to the company, you are free to job search and try to go work for a different company if you can find a job you don’t have to just wait for the company to bring you back. From a UI perspective if you are furloughed and are offered your job back, you do have to accept it or lose access to UI benefits.

                  As to the filling out a form I think we just have a fundamental difference of opinion, but I don’t see it as being deemed truly worthy or unworthy, but of determining greater need, need is not binary, if you have limited supplies everyone can have a true need for those supplies, but the needs of a few people might be greater than the needs of someone else even though they are still in need of it.

                2. Trout 'Waver*

                  You’re agreeing with me at this point. Furlough is being used instead of lay-off because it sounds less scary, not because it is an accurate word to use.

                  And by worthy in this case, I mean determined by whoever is decided how to allocate funds to have demonstrated sufficient need. So I think we’re in agreement there too.

                3. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  I still disagree with the statement “Furlough is being used instead of lay-off because it sounds less scary, not because it is an accurate word to use.” People are using furlough not because it is scary to say laid off (everyone that is furloughed/laid off is counted in the unemployment numbers so it is not a way to soften the sorry state of our economy) but because there is a difference between someone who is laid off and has no potential for the company to bring them back on board and someone who is “laid off/furloughed” but the company plans/wants to bring them back once things start to get out of immediate crisis mode.

                  If someone tells me they have been laid off my mind goes to they need to start job searching asap even if it might be futile. But if someone says they are furloughed my mind goes to at least they have some expectation (even if it is not guaranteed) of returning to their job at some point. I think maybe another way to clarify if a company furloughs employees if and when they are ready to resume full operations they will bring back the people that were furloughed as if nothing happened no interviews reference checks etc… But if a company has laid people off and then later need to staff up again they will start brand new hiring cycles posting jobs, interviews, reference checks etc…

                4. Trout 'Waver*

                  Lay-offs imply that the person will be the first rehired when economic conditions improve. Furloughs are when the employee is still on the books, but not receiving a paycheck. Of course if you redefine lay-off to mean fired and furlough to mean lay-off, you’re going to quibble over that.

            2. A*

              LOL, this response made me giggle. Make way for the ego!! Seriously though, we are all but human and are all capable of making mistakes. Thanks for the laugh!

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                I’d recommend we focus on what we know from the letter, and resist the urge to not be kind to letter writers and fellow commenters.

        2. MK*

          Ok, so you took OP’s slightly off comment and made it genuinely offensive. “Grovel” and “beg”? No one is making the furloughed employees do anything. I don’t see what differemce it would make to call it a layoff. For all you know, the remaining employees had this initiative on their own and asked the company to spread the word.

          And I would bet a lot more people refuse to ask charity because of this attitude that asling for help makes you an undignified beggar.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Nitpicking language is against commenting policy here, but the definition of grovel is “act in an obsequious way in order to obtain someone’s forgiveness or favor” and beg is “ask for something, typically food or money, as charity or a gift.”

            Also, please note that both I and OP#3 are specifically talking about *this* offer and not charity in general.

            1. MK*

              This offer, going by what the OP wrote, is not different than charities advertising to let the people who might need their services that they are available. Filling out a form is not obsequious and “beg” is hardly appropriate when one has been invited to ask for something.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                You’re being quite glib by leaving out the fact that the forms are reviewed by other employees to determine worthiness. That’s the obsequious part. It’s intellectually dishonest to gloss over that part and describe this as “filling out a form.”

            2. CmdrShepard4ever*

              Most of if not all emergency response funds I have seen require filing out some kind of form and listing how much you are requesting and for what reason. So are those people begging and groveling?

              Yes based on the technical definition of begging asking for money fit, but in the colloquial sense most people would not consider asking for money begging.

              Filing out a form I don’t think can be considered excessive to the point of being obsequious to be considered groveling.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                “So are those people begging and groveling?”

                It really depends. I’d say if they’re being asked to provide a specific dollar amount and a rationale that will be weighed against all other requests, then HR is making people beg. If HR is running those requests through a committee of other employees rather than dividing the money equally or by an established metric, I’d say that’s obsequious enough to be considered groveling as well.

                If HR sent out an e-mail asking if anyone was struggling now, and then divided money equally between those that responded affirmatively, then it would be neither. Likewise, if HR had an established list of ways people were affected and asked people if any of those were impacting them, I wouldn’t consider that to be either.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  I should have been more clear but I meant most/all non-work related emergency funds created by non-profits or other community response teams, have some kind of form with amount and qualifying reason/need for the money they are giving out to people. None are just giving out money to anyone that asks for it no questions asked. That is also what I meant by “are those people begging and groveling?”

                  I disagree that workplace raised funds should be distributed equally to anyone that asks for it, and I think determining award amounts based on degree/severity of need is okay.

            3. Jossycakes*

              Everyone is piling on you, but I agree with you and the OP. I think it would be degrating to “prove” you need assistance to your colleagues. That is private information. I also agree with Alison that there is nothing really to do about it.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                I don’t it is proving your need, but rather trying to determine the severity of need compared to other people, everyone can genuinely need it, but some might have a greater higher than others. During the current Covid issues most non-profit/community emergency funds people usually have to submit some kind of application with the amount and purpose of the funds, groceries, rent, medical bills.

                I think it is fair to ask for some kind of information to verify need, and not just accept a persons word that they need it.

                OP said “The process to obtain these funds is to fill out a form explaining how much you are requesting and why you need assistance. ”

                To me this reads like filing out a form and saying I am requesting $100 to help pay for groceries this month. My significant other and I have both been furloughed/laid off our UI checks have not been received yet, we have used up all of our savings since we have been out of a job for 3 weeks/1.5 months.” Yes you are entitled to keep this information private and no one is forcing people to fill out an application, the only time you need to fill one out is if you are requesting funds.

                If they are requesting checking/savings account statements, 3 years of prior tax returns, 401k balance etc… then yes I think that is excessive.

            4. Ace in the Hole*

              Yes, and this particular offer as described by OP doesn’t sound like making people grovel or beg, at least not to me. It sounds like a pretty standard aid distribution form. I’ve used similar forms when applying for cash aid from my university and from a couple of charitable organizations.

              Generally what they’re looking for is a very general description of how much you need and for what, so they can judge urgency. For example, “Need $50 to buy food this week until my unemployment comes through” is significantly more urgent and easier to fulfill than “I need $900 to pay rent.” Neither is at all obsequious.

              Grovelling and begging, like you say, have the connotation of proving you’re worthy or gaining sympathy/favor from the person giving aid. This is different – it’s simple triage. There’s limited resources, they want to allocate them to the most urgent cases. If this is grovelling, then so is telling the intake nurse in the emergency room that you’re having chest pains.

        3. Raea*

          Wait, was there an update from OP that they were actually laid off? The letter says furloughed, and speaks pretty clearly to that versus a lay off.

          I’m confused.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            People are changing the definition of furlough to mean lay-off these days because it sounds less scary. It has the knock-on effect of giving false hope to keep employees ready to return to work at a moment’s notice rather than seeking new jobs. This is in the employers’ interests and against the employees’

            1. BenAdminGeek*

              Trout, you keep telling others that they are changing definitions. But the definition of furlough that others are using in this chain aligns with dictionary definitions and common usage (in the US at least). You’re correct that couching a layoff in terms of a furlough doesn’t help anyone, and if that’s what is happening here it’s not good at all. But it’s not clear that this is occurring here- the person has been furloughed and it certainly appears from context that the company wants to bring them back and views them as an employee still. Whether that’s wise for the employer and/or the employee is another story.

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                The dictionary definition of furlough is “leave of absence.” The definition of lay-off is “a discharge, especially temporary, of a worker or workers.”

                Which word more accurately describes the situation?

    7. Liane*

      Some companies, including a former employer of mine (international, US-based retailer), have programs like this. At Old Job, it was funded mainly/totally by employee contributions. Note: Although any employee could donate, only salaried store management and above were encouraged to do so. There was an application process, with decisions made above store level.
      I still approve of this fund more than any charity drive there or at other jobs I’ve held. Better than United Way, where too many companies often put ridiculous pressure on employees, even lowest-paid, to participate. Certainly more evenhanded than the impromptu collections for bereaved coworkers at same Old Job–in execution those were more like popularity contests; I didn’t even get a condolence card for either in-law, while other hourly coworkers got $100+)

    8. myswtghst*

      As part of the HR team at a company with employees on furlough and intermittent furlough, and as an employee currently on intermittent furlough (temporarily hourly PT instead of salaried FT), I can say that we’re really struggling with if/how/how often to communicate with furloughed employees. It’s tough to find a balance between “we haven’t forgotten you, we still value you, and we want to retain you when this is over” and “we respect that you’re not currently working for us and don’t owe us anything” in our communications.

      For OP3, I’d recommend just filtering those emails to a folder where you can check them when you have the emotional energy to do so, and ignoring them until then. Chances are, your company is also trying to strike a balance between keeping furloughed employees engaged while respecting that they are in an incredibly tough situation, and they’re unlikely to find a balance that works for everyone anytime soon, unfortunately.

  6. Bee Eye Ill*

    #5 – Perhaps a quick phone call to your old contacts might help get you off their list. Especially if it is internal.

    1. allathian*

      If it’s internal, yes. I’m reading this as like the VIP has an enormous network of contacts, some of whom only get in touch with them once a year or even less often and who may have missed an announcement about the new EA. Especially since the emails still got through as the OP is still employed at the same company. If she’d left the company, the emails would bounce back and the contacts would have to make an effort to get the right email address.

      1. OP#5*

        Allathian is right. My issue is with almost entirely with external contacts, for example people sending my old boss invitations to annual events, publications that come out only a few times a year, etc. (Those within my organization can use the internal address book to see the up-to-date EA information). Using a form letter is great advice and pretty much what I’d already been doing, but I left my old position in large part because I was tired of doing admin work, and this is one last admin nuisance that I’d love to disappear.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Could you reply with a boilerplate “The contact for this is now HaplessSuccessor[at]company. Please resend your message”, then set a rule to send to trash, and *not* forward? Bonus points if it looks automated. If it’s invitations that matter, they’ll update and resend.

          Sympathy, though. I’m still getting similar obsolete mail five years on (but I’m in a position to ignore and delete).

        2. PollyQ*

          Sounds like some of these are automated email lists — can you unsubscribe, and let your colleague know that he’ll need to resubscribe with his new email if he’s still interested? Or maybe resubscribe for him?

        3. The Other Dawn*

          I wouldn’t even forward the messages anymore. You could just reply with the contact info for the new EA and ask that they resend the message, then delete. If it’s something the truly looks important, forward to the new EA with a CC to the sender.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Or reply to the sender cc your successor, “This is now being handled by Wakeen (cc). Please update your records accordingly and address future invitations/queries/mailshots to him.”

        4. Cristin*

          If you’re using Outlook, I have a great trick for this. Save the entire email template as a signature. When you get one of those emails, it takes all of three seconds to hit reply and then just change the signature to the template email one and hit send.

          I have to send a lot of redirecting emails for my job and this is vastly faster than using an actual template you have to go dig up every time.

          1. Ginger Baker*

            ^Came here to recommend this, I use email signatures allllllll the time. I also wanted to suggest that you create a rule to filter all emails with FormerBossName (nicknames, etc., whatever it takes to capture most/all of these) and move them straight to a folder that you review only once a day/once a week. I think setting one time period every day for the 10 minutes it takes to reply (I would def do reply with “no longer working for XYZ, please contact NewAdmin, cced, going forward” and cc the new admin) will be an easier mental load on you versus constant, unpredictable, interruptions in your day. Good lukc, and congrats on your new role!

            1. Natalie*

              Agreed – Outlook signatures to just click and send when I get work emails that are annoying but need a response are huge timesavers!

        5. Observer*

          I sympathize with your desire to avoid admin stuff. But not forwarding as long as you are in the company could do some damage to you.

          Outlook (and I’m betting most other decent email clients) let you mark incoming email addresses. So when you go to forward / respond with your standard template, you can also tell it it automatically forward any further emails from the address to the new EA and then put it in junk.

        6. Wow.*

          In Outlook you can set an automatic reply just for people outside your org. If you don’t have many outside contacts now, this may be helpful for you!

        7. Indy Dem*

          I’m not sure if this has been mentioned yet, but if you have Outlook, you can set up a rule that will look at external emails with your old boss’s name in it, reply with a specific template (say – please contacts so and so for these issues moving forward), as well as automatically forward it to the new person, and move it into a folder, so you can review it at your leisure, just to make sure it isn’t pertinent to you.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Write a generic reply template and save it as a signature line so you can reply with two clicks. (Forward if they sent attachments).
      “I’m no longer in the X department with Cersei. Your contact is now Wakeen Fergusson. For the quickest response to your questions, write to Wakeen and Cersei, both copied on this email.”

      1. PDPsychotherapist*

        The signature idea is great! When I was in a similar situation, I set up an outlook quick step. I had it forward the email to my successor and then reply to the sender with an automated “please contact successor moving forward.” There is an option to automatically send these after 1 minute. Otherwise, you need to manually send each email. I liked this solution better than using a rule as I found it difficult to make a rule that would not action items that I still needed to address.

    3. Been There*

      OP # 5 Probably doesn’t have time but it would interesting to see a quick review and see how much repetition is in the daily messages. If there is a higher volume from a certain party or regarding a certain topic, it might be efficient to bring it to the attention of their replacement or another stakeholder. The replacement may not be proactive in ensuring contacts are updated. An external contact may be ignoring these communications and more pointed message from the replacement admin might get the message across.

  7. Retail not Retail*

    Op2 – I have a thyroid surgery scar on my neck that can still look visible 17 years later with a vneck shirt. Work provides vnecks, it’s hot. I also don’t shave my legs and wear shorts and if anyone said anything, I’d laugh in their faces. I would ignore HR frankly, the less of a deal you make of it, the easier it may be. I had a coworker who didn’t cover his old scars at a work party probably as a test and then stopped covering them at work. This was retail where we were gloriously invisible as individual bodies to customers.

    Op 4 – I wouldn’t worry about a summertime employment gap especially if you have more school ahead of you. You may be able to leverage that next summer or at that org’s next internship opening. (“Hi we still have the grant money are you still interested?”)

    Op 1 – the idea of management of any kind at any of the retail days parties is so amusing even if we didn’t talk about them. And at my current job, our work crew is made up former addicts and alcoholics so a happy hour is so alien. “Great work today guys see you tomorrow.” Van drives off “so let’s have some booze” Also, are happy hours more common when you get off at socially acceptable drinking hours?

  8. mark132*

    #2, This seems a rather slippery/arbitrary slope. If the scars were on your face would you have to wear a ski mask to work? (And if your HR said yes and actually tried to enforce it, I would wear one with you in solidarity).

    To me the question is, can you pick characteristics about a person that makes you uncomfortable and then expect HR to enforce regulations on that person? I would think this would have to be carefully assessed to minimize such impositions. Some form of the reasonableness standard. So to me extremely body order be that from lack of bathing or bathing in cologne/perfume would meet such a standard. But something like the somewhat recent post on requesting seating in the office based on male coworkers not being close to the individual does not (this one being actually illegal).

    On the reasonableness standard this one almost certainly fails, the only cases I could see it perhaps as reasonable is if the LW2 works in something like a mental health facility and even then directly with patients. Otherwise this could lead to madness. What if the acne scars on my body are upsetting/triggering to a coworker? Must I wear long sleeves? or a ski mask?

    1. MistOrMister*

      I wish someone would allow me to wear a ski mask to work! Apparently I wear emotion on my face…and I am very easily irritated so a ski mask would be a godsend. Plus no more need to worry about what your hair looks like since it would be covered!

    2. Lynn*

      To be fair, even a ski mask might not be enough, depending on the scars. My sister has extensive facial scarring and it would take a ski mask AND finding a way to veil her eyes, since they have scarring around them and one of them is still askew despite all the repairs. I would be furious if someone tried to pull this at her work (and she is a grandma and probably wouldn’t appreciate my overprotective older sister vibe these days).

      I spent several years in my youth, after her accident, telling people off who dared to try to make my little sister feel ashamed of being out in public and making people uncomfortable with her appearance.

      It is amazing to me how nasty people can be about scarring and appearance, even to total strangers, never mind people they have to work with. I would be unlikely to trust HR, who thought this was appropriate, with anything again. And polite and distant would be the best I would be able to manage with Brandy.

  9. irene*

    i had a co-worker once who taught me a fantastic trick for those kinds of replies:
    use the signature function in your outlook!

    basically craft a generic email that directs the person to your replacement and call it “VP inquiries” or something. save it as a signature file (include your regular signature at the end in the same one, of course) then, when you get one of these emails, hit reply, switch the signature, and send.

    i think there’s a trick to automatically including the new assistant in the reply’s CC using a rule, but I’m not sure of it while I’m away from my desk.

    this pseudo-email signature is incredibly useful whenever you have to use the same text a lot, but can’t just set up an autoreply, because there isn’t enough to trigger one consistently and correctly.

    it doesn’t solve your problem 100% but it will save time dealing with the emails until they finally stop on their own!

    1. The pest, Ramona*

      I’ve been gone from my last position for over a year. I started using the alternate signature method months before I left ( along the lines of: to reach Office of Cat Herder please start using Y email address, X email address will no longer be monitored for Cat Herders effective date).
      Sadly, X email is still getting enquiries for Cat Herders…

      1. Ina Lummick*

        Our general enquires email changed in 2018 – still gets around an email a month from either a customer or even a staff member.

        1. MayLou*

          The project I work on had a rebranding and new funding a few months before I started, so a bit over a year ago. It used to be called, let’s say PLUM and now it’s called PEAR. I’m the admin so I deal with the emails. Even when I reply to emails to the PLUM inbox using the PEAR email address and saying “PLUM is now known as PEAR, I have attached our new order form” I still get orders using the old form, sent to the PLUM address. Thankfully the phone number has stayed the same!

    2. Emma*

      Plus, if you’re using Outlook, you can customise the quick action buttons at the top of the window- there’s one that defaults as “forward to manager” but if you right-click them, you can change them to do almost anything you want.

      I have access to a shared inbox that gets a lot of misdirected email for one particular team, so I set that button up so that when I press it, it opens a window to forward the email to the other team’s inbox, with everything already filled in (I just have to optionally add some text and then hit send”), and then the email gets automatically deleted. It’s great, because I can deal with these emails start to finish in only two clicks. You could do something similar with an automatic reply.

      1. Anononon*

        I review and approve a ton of docs through email. I’ve made a short cut key so I can just hit “ctrl shift 2”, and automatically a forward email is created with “Approved.” in the body and the original email moved to a completed folder.

        1. Mr. Shark*

          That sounds like a great idea. If you create that shortcut key with the correct info, it can automatically reply and cc the correct people. You won’t even have to move your mouse.

      2. irene*

        The quick steps! That’s what I was trying to think of last night, but I use them so rarely these days that I couldn’t remember exactly.

        This is a fantastic solution. I need to see if there were other quick steps I should be doing that I haven’t thought about.

        Thank you for chiming in :)

  10. Blarg*

    #5: create a rule so that you’re able to both reply to the errant messages and auto-forward them if the same person reaches out again. Make the text of the reply look like an automated or out of office message like the kind employers set when someone leaves. It is annoying but not worth burning bridges over. There are likely people who have a business need to contact this person infrequently and have no way to know the info has changed.

    1. Adnan*

      This is exactly the method I used when all others failed. Months 1 to 6, reply to the sender politely that I was no longer working with the Illama Groomers Division and to please contact my replacement who was copied on the message – my name and new role in signature line. Months 6-12, a reply that looked like an automatic message directing folks to contact my replacement whose email address was provided in the message – my name and new role in signature. Year 2, a reply to errant messages in what looked like an auto generated message from the system saying “Adnan is no longer employed with the Illama Groomers Division. Please contact Jane Doe at phone# and email#”. I deliberately worded the message so it read like Adnan had left the Division suddenly (fired?). The errant messages stopped in Year 2.

  11. Kristin*

    #5 – Let your replacement and former boss know that you’re still getting these so often. They should make an effort to ensure that people know who to contact (and that it’s not you).

  12. Reluctant Manager*

    OP #4: One of my biggest career regrets was worrying about having an “employment gap” by waiting a month to take a job or not taking the summer off. I’m sure there are exceptions, but my perspective 20+ years later is that the employment gap isn’t a thing for a year or so out of college–*especially* not now. When I look at a recent grad’s resume, I never expect to see a straight line explaining how every week was spent moving from one logical role to the next.

    1. Reluctant Manager*

      Take the time and do something interesting. Meditate, become an expert whittler, learn everything you can about hummingbirds, read the complete works of somebody, anything that gives you something to talk about.

    2. Dan*

      OP’s question was rather sparse on details, but I’ve always understood internships to be something one gets prior to graduation. Once one graduates, then one is seeking “real jobs,” not internships. There are certainly times when the labor market is flush with candidates such that employers can try to hire post-graduated “interns” on the cheap, but IME that’s the exception, not the rule.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Unfortunately, that’s not always the case these days. There are fields where it’s standard to spend a year or more in unpaid (or very low paid) “internships” in order to qualify for an entry level job that actually pays you money in exchange for your work.

        I think it got worse during the last recession, when there were a lot of graduating students desperate for work.

        1. Julia*

          This is especially true in Europe, where most entry level jobs ask for some experience, and internships for no pay or traineeships with low pay (they are called Volontariat in German, but are often not voluntary at all) are abundant for new graduates.

          1. Mary*

            I think that depends very much on where you are in Europe. In the UK, unpaid or low-paid internships are pretty uncommon outside of some specific, over-subscribed sectors (such as media, fashion, theatre, publishing.) We don’t really have the culture of “internships” as post-graduation jobs that seems to be the case in Germany or the US.

            (That said, whilst I know the UK graduate labour market very well, I am only going on external perceptions for the US/German labour markets and I have no idea how representative they are.)

      2. Fikly*

        Welcome to a time when the labor market is going to be flush with candidates and extremely high unenployment. Everyone already in the labor market is going to be going for the standard jobs, pushing the new grads to the internships.

    3. The Original Stellaaaaa*

      I always get into trouble when I rush the job search process and accept the first offer I get. Of course, many people (including myself, at various points) don’t have the luxury of waiting for the exact perfect job offer. It’s a really important lesson for new grads to learn, if they can afford to give themselves the time.

    4. Swaps to Secret Hat*

      In the future “grades were pass/fail in the Spring of ’20” and “no prestigious internship in the Summer of ’20” are going to be fully explained by the dates.

      And even in normal times, while I encourage students to pursue some sort of summer work ideally touching their intended field, one summer off to travel, focus on a sport, etc will usually land as “took the time when they had the flexible schedule etc to make this opportunity work” rather than anything terribly revealing of a character defect.

    5. Elsajeni*

      I was thinking the same thing — a summer without an internship, while you are a student, is not “an unexplained employment gap” even under normal circumstances. It might be sub-optimal — certainly some employers will look at a new grad’s resume and think “hm, wish this person had more internship experience” — but no reasonable person is looking at a new grad’s resume and going “but what are all these UNEXPLAINED GAPS from May to September each year??” This is just not really the situation that people mean when they talk about employment gaps on resumes, even before taking into account the fact that everyone will remember “oh right, 2020, global pandemic and all,” and I want the OP to know they do not need to worry about it in that respect!

  13. MollyG*

    #4 I disagree about putting rescinded internships in your resume. A student only has a limited number of summers between freshman year and graduating. Some students are active with internships and others get low level jobs or just have fun. I think that it is important that you put rescinded internships due to covid in your resume to tell those who read it what your intent was this summer. It does not have to be much, not in the “Employment” section, but somewhere a note about what you would have done is a good idea. College students typically have thin resumes and this could make a difference one day.

    1. Dan*

      What line of work are you in? I’m in tech, and for us, the reality is that *what you did* is almost always what’s important. You could have had an internship at no-name employer, and did some cool stuff. That gets points. “Rescinded internship at big name employer” might make me look twice at your resume, but if I didn’t see what “big name employer” saw, then pass.

      Quite frankly, what an undergraduate “wanted” (or didn’t want) to do over the summer doesn’t bother me. If he’s got a strong resume, then living at the frat house and drinking cheap beer for the summer doesn’t really concern me. Again, though, I work in tech. In this day and age, students have a few different ways to put together a strong portfolio, paid internship or not. It doesn’t take much to have an idea, build a project, and start a GitHub project for the whole world to see. When my colleagues and I review resumes, the first thing out of our mouths is usually “damn times have changed, we never did this crap back then. We should interview this person.”

      1. TechWorker*

        I also hire in tech, specifically grads and we do look specifically at what they’ve done during summers. Relevant internship – great, finance internship – question their interest in our type of work, waitressing – at least you had some motivation, sat on your arse drinking all summer – you’d better be able to talk about it engagingly…

        You’re right ofc that if that came along with a bunch of actually impressive stuff on github that would make a difference but I find students sometimes (/often?) misjudge their experience level. (Some experiences ones play down what they’ve done, some people really talk it up and it turns out they’ve barely done anything)

        1. Beth*

          Would you really be surprised or concerned, though, if in a year or two you had a candidate whose resume showed a gap in the summer of 2020? In most circumstances, it makes sense to look at students’ internships and part time work (since they probably don’t have much career-track work history to speak of), and to wonder a little about a candidate with a totally empty resume. But this summer, we all know that employment is hard to come by–companies are on hiring freezes and cancelling internships, restaurants and retail stores are closed and would be dangerous to work at even if they were open, and there’s an unusually high level of unemployment so there’s a lot of competition for what jobs do exist. Under these specific circumstances, I don’t think students should worry at all about their resume; they can talk about other work (internships from other summers, their part-time job from during the school year, etc.) when job hunting, and I doubt anyone will be thinking that having a gap this summer makes them lazy or unmotivated.

        2. Harper the Other One*

          Are internships in your field paid? If not, at BARE minimum you should consider any summer work to be signs of motivation.

          But I’d still encourage you to rethink this. Students who are facing a variety of situations – from elder/child care to disabilities/neurodifferences that make class work more exhausting to simply having family at a distance that they want to make sure to visit – may opt against summer internships or work, and for a variety of reasons they may not want to explain that on an interview other than to say “oh, I opted to take the summer off.” I think there are better ways of assessing someone’s capabilities.

          1. Colette*

            What better ways are there than what they actually did? Tech is a field that values experience over education. (Education is also relevant, but not usually the defining factor.)

            That doesn’t necessarily mean internships, but opting out of experiences that will demonstrate what you can do will hit your career hard.

            1. Quill*

              “opting out” is unnecessarily negative when you consider the reality of internship logistics. Lots of people simply cant’ afford the internships that are available or cannot swing the logistics.

              Heck, the only reason I could do the only internship I ever had was because it was POST graduation and my parents lived close enough to it for me to commute… and it paid.

              1. Colette*

                But it is an option, and a necessary one to be able to work in the field. If you want the degree, you will find a way to take a mandatory class that is scheduled at an inconvenient time/location – and that’s what an internship is, in many fields.

                But in tech, there are other options, including building something on your own time. (I hate that the field has the expectation that people will do work-like things for free on their own time – it disadvantages many people, including women – but it’s an option.)

                Neither of these are easy, and there is an argument to be made that this kind of experience should be bundled into the university experience (and some places do that), but if you’re an employer comparing someone with experience against someone with no experience, why would you choose someone with none?

            2. Harper the Other One*

              Class grades can be a starting point, but a skills test and good interviewing would probably get you equally (or possibly better) information.

              And I think my point made it clear that there are many MANY talented people who don’t have the choice to “opt in” to internships.

              The goal should be to find the best person for the position. From what I know, internships are a far better indicator of connections, finances, and lucky circumstances than capability.

          2. Quill*

            Also the availability of internships is wildly different based on your school, your primary residence away from school, your financial situation, etc.

            It’s a lot easier to have an internship when you can commute there from your parents’ house and don’t have any bills that need paying for the duration.

            (Also I’ve had enough annoying questions about “why didn’t you at least work part time” or “why didn’t you have an internship” when my college summer schedule ran roughly as follows: unable to walk, working for my advisor, on a mid-summer archaeology dig that was meant to gather data for my thesis… one out of three summers was an accomplishment, honestly. Not sure how I made it through fermilab with how my ankles were then but I’d already talked my way onto the bus for that physics department field trip despite never even having taken a physics course.)

      2. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

        Also, internships at prestigious orgs can sometimes be obtained simply by having the right connections, and in any case you can still have a poor performance. So the mere fact of being hired does not bear this much weight. It can be mentioned in interview, when asked what have you been doing, but, honestly, no sane employer currently living on Earth is going to ask “Why didn’t you work during the covid pandemic?”

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        This reminds me of the LW who wanted to list getting to a late-stage interview for Job A as an impressive accomplishment when applying for Job B.

        If the rest of the resume suggests “impressive internship” would have been the usual step for summer ’20, that will land without needing to be carefully explained. If the rest of the resume makes that look unlikely, then claiming an offer (how would the employer verify that years earlier a summer job was offered but rescinded somewhere?) looks very thin. You should have achieved something else that can go in that space.

    2. Yorick*

      It would be ok in the cover letter, but IMO it would look silly in the resume if you didn’t actually do it.

      1. Yorick*

        Either it would be misleading or it would be super obvious that you weren’t able to do it and then it’d look silly IMO

    3. Me*

      That’s like putting a rescinded job on your resume. Why? you didn’t accomplish anything at the rescinded place and any accomplishments that led to you getting the job/internship going on the resume is sufficient. Exactly like Alison stated.

      An internship isn’t an award. As a hiring manager if you put an internship you didn’t actually do on your resume, it’s going to make an impression on me, but at best a this sweet summer child is out of touch and at worst a this person has no idea what an actual accomplishment is so how valid is this entire resume.

      1. Proxima Centauri*

        This is really condescending, and puts you a little out of touch as well. Many internships are highly competitive, and simply securing one can be quite impressive. Ultimately, the advice is right. But your cavalier attitude is makes you look like a jerk.

        These graduates are going to be coming into a horrible job environment for years to come, possibly worse than the great recession. I can see why they are grasping at anything that may show their value to the position or explain a gap (Why didn’t they have an internship that summer, when others may? In this case, not from a lack of effort). That’s how I would chose to read it as someone who’s been a hiring manager for many years. It would be a neutral factor in my decision.

        You may want to check yourself here.

        1. Raea*

          And you might want to do the same. As an outsider, your comment read to me like perhaps you are projecting a bit. ‘Me’s comment wasn’t sugar coated, but I didn’t find it condescending. Yes some internships are difficult to secure, I myself had one with an incredibly competitive process, but I wouldn’t dream of listing just getting it as an accomplishment on my resume. Securing it might be impressive, but it is entirely dependent on what one accomplishes while in that role / how successful they are in it.

          For example, if someone secures an incredibly competitive and impressive internship… and then proceeds to do a terrible job, am I suppose to still be impressed because well… at least they got it! No. I respect your differing opinion, but disagreement does not translate to condescension.

          And I say this as someone that graduated in the Great Recession and lost literally everything I ever worked for. It set the tone for my entire life. So I get it, I really do. But I still disagree and think you might be mixing in your own emotions here.

          1. Proxima Centauri*

            Quite the opposite, actually.

            Part of my job is coaching people to not to read more into resumes than what is already there as a means of mitigating unconscious bias. If I were coaching this person, I would say that he/she is making inferences about a candidate (“sweet summer child” or “not knowing what an accomplishment is.”) that may not be true. An equally valid interpretation is one I just listed.

            I wouldn’t say you must consider that as an accomplishment, or that you have to be impressed by it. But don’t make assumptions that this person doesn’t know what an accomplishment is based on that.

            I mean, this isn’t the most egregious thing I’ve seen, but if I was coaching this person, that is what I would say.

  14. Dan*


    “On the other, having a job rescinded due to extenuating circumstances leaves an unexplained employment gap.”

    The question was asked in the third person, and there was just enough in there such that I wouldn’t expect it to have been written by the student them self. E.g., I wouldn’t expect a non-matriculated undergraduate to be worried about “employment” gaps over the withdrawl of a summer internship. Lack of summer employment is NBD. Party on Wayne, and all of that.

    If this was post-graduation? There’s a gap, period. Which probably doesn’t even matter. Lots of times, the reason an employer might be worried about “gaps” is because the applicant could have been in jail and is trying to cover it up. Freshly matriculated students are unlikely to have fallen in that category. Absent that? I couldn’t care less if the average undergrad didn’t have employment lined up immediately after graduation.

    As per the signaling of this prestigious internship, one of two things is true. First, the student effectively won the lottery. In which case, you don’t brag about that. Or, the student earned the internship based on merit, in which case, AAM is right — highlight the other accomplishments that actually got the student the internship.

    At the end of the day, the employer’s concern is what the candidate brings to the table. Revoked internships/jobs don’t usually strengthen the candidacy, not matter what the reason. The applicant needs accomplishments, which I know are hard to highlight as freshly matriculated undergraduates.

    1. Beth*

      In addition to it being very true that an undergrad having a summer or so with no employment on their resume is no big deal, I’m also fairly sure that an employment gap in this particular summer is going to be so widely common that it won’t trigger concern at all. So many people are laid off, furloughed, or otherwise out of work right now! A resume gap in 2020 is going to be completely unremarkable, definitely not something any student should be stressing over.

      1. AutolycusinExile*

        Yes, I was just thinking this! I have no idea why you’re thinking of it as an ‘unexplained’ employment gap, OP – it is explained! COVID-19! That’s the explanation!

        We’re looking at unprecedented levels of unemployment, at least in the US, and I have a feeling that any missing employment from 2020 will just be assumed to be covid-related without thinking twice by any half-way decent employer. And that’s actual employment, not a student internship which, though it might be paid, is already on a tenuous or short-term timeline under the best of circumstances. Get an internship next summer, get one over winter break, get one during the semester, get one after you graduate. Don’t get an internship at all – I can almost guarantee that no matter what you do there will be a career path somewhere for you to find, and this is not something you need to add to the list of things stressing you out right now.

        Really, I have to assume that any hiring manager that disregards a resume because of an employment gap that starts in 2020 is one of these awful people who act as though everyone is overreacting and has spent the last month deliberately infecting people with their carelessness. Not someone you want to work for, even if you’re desperate.

      2. Quill*

        I have had a few people (very early on) ask why I didn’t have a job in the summers in 2011-12ish, considering that I still had my retail stuff on the resume.

        Whether I’ve answered with half the truth (couldn’t find one) or the full truth (spent june with a case of tendonitis that made me unable to walk, couldn’t find a job when I felt better) has depended on the circumstance.

    2. Fikly*

      It’s not unexplained, though. It was rescinded due to extremely extenuating circumstances.

      Like everyone else asking what to do about sudden unexpected gaps on their resume right now, just mention the global pandemic, and anyone who doesn’t instantly understand is not someone you want to work for.

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, If anyone asks about “what were you doing in March-may of 2020?” in the future I think “trying to get a job” is always going to be a perfectly understandable response.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Trying to get a job? How about “Trying to stay alive?” A significant percentage of the WORLD isn’t allowed to leave their homes. People aren’t going to wonder what you were doing this summer… they’ll know exactly what you were doing because they were probably stuck in the same boat.

    3. Yorick*

      Right, if this person is still in school, it won’t look like a gap in employment (they were in school). If they’ve graduated, it’ll look like they’re trying to get a job after graduation. If it takes a while, people will understand about covid. Not at all an unexplained gap.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I think Dan’s comment underplays how important just having the internship is in some fields, but I think ultimately, I come down on the side of it’s not a big deal for 2020.

        I work in traditional engineering, and we’re supposed to give interns meaningful work, and they do a summer project, but sometimes they just get assigned to something that doesn’t have a lot of opportunity for accomplishments. They might have learned a lot about how XYZ works, but they wouldn’t have designed a whole system or been responsible for the technical part of procurement of a piece of equipment because the timing/time it takes (and experience it takes) doesn’t typically work out. So, having had the internship can be as important as actually doing something there. I wouldn’t list it on my resume, but I might mention that it was supposed to have happened as part of my overall story in an interview, esp. if I didn’t find another internship or summer job.

  15. Magenta Sky*

    LW #5, it’s too late now, but what should have happened, perhaps, is for y0u to get a new email address for the new position, and your old one automatically forwarded to your replacement. That’s how I would have (and have) done it. There may be some way to work towards that now, especially if you get more stuff you have to forward that you do stuff that’s related to the new position (meaning, you’ll have less work to do getting people who do have business with you to update your address in the contacts).

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      Where I am they usually do create a new email address for the new position, so for example sally.smith becomes sally.smith1 at company dot com. The problem is there’s no consistency in what happens to the old sally.smith address – I have known it be forwarded to a replacement very rarely, I have seen it just be kept in the system for ages and not deactivated, resulting in sally.smith1 not getting emails she needs because someone accidentally sent it to sally.smith which is no longer being monitored.

      I imagine that IT could arrange something like you suggest for OP though.

    2. Senor Montoya*

      That would never happen at my employer (large state university) — you have an email address created when you are hired and that is your address til you leave. Change name for any reason? doesn’t matter.

      What we have done for some of our basic functions is to create an address for that function — eg llamaherding AT Mail to that address is either forwarded to the appropriate person, or the appropriate person checks it as part of their duties. Person leaves? No problem, reassign responsibility / forwarding. We did this not to rescue people who left for other jobs at the same university, but because we were losing correspondence…

      Too late for the OP! But something to consider going forward

    3. Katniss Evergreen*

      Yeah, far from every organization will create a new email address for this purpose. I’m government, and they didn’t do this when I moved positions last fall. There isn’t even an option for that – IT would laugh if we tried..

    4. Batgirl*

      Yes, I can’t see any issue with changing a.shirley to ashirley or viceversa. The internal folks would use an auto address book; the external clients who are the bulk of the problem would be redirected or would get an auto reply.

  16. Not My User Name*

    LW2, I have self-inflicted scars as well – only mine are across my throat. Would your HR require me to wear a cervical collar? (They’re so high that a turtleneck or a scarf won’t do much of anything.)

    Your HR is ridiculous. Your co-worker may or may not have a legitimate issue, but this is not a solution.

    “Your appearance bothers me” complaints consistently confound me. Looking at someone is a voluntary decision and you can look away. (This is also why I don’t understand the public breastfeeding ‘debate’.)

    I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a psych ward or psych hospital. I’ve been a few times, and all always had the rule: self-inflicted wounds need to be covered, but once they are scars they can visible.
    Even in a psych ward “scars trigger me” wouldn’t fly!

    1. Not My User Name*

      Alison – I tried to post this under ‘Anonymous’ (because it’s too close to being identifiable information to use my regular pen name), but ‘Anonymous’ is no longer an allowed pen name?

      1. MayLou*

        I believe it got too confusing to have so many Anonymouses so that specific word isn’t allowed, but people often use Anon For This as a temporary handle.

    2. Warm Weighty Wrists*

      +1000! The purpose of one’s body is not to make other people feel comfortable, and it is amazing to me how frequently people use arguments predicated on that assumption.

  17. voyager1*

    LW1: I honestly got more questions about your situation, but the first thing that came to my mind was who snitched to your director? Also the director might prefer you or your coworkers bringing issues to her versus going and out and basically drowning your sorrows.
    Are these happy hours a standing thing?

    My main concern is, I would be worried though that someone is feeding whatever is said to your director.

    1. Tyche*

      Well, I don’t think that could be “snitching”. It’s a small office, less than 20 people, if they work together in the same spaces and there is some friendship overlap between the two groups it could be as simple as a mention or a slip of the tongue.
      I think that frequency here is the issue: if this “ranting happy hour” happened three times in five years, as a manager I wouldn’t be overly troubled, if it were happening more often (say every month) I definitely would be.
      I think I would more concerned about communication between the two groups, and how to foster an open discussion among all the organisation about changes and processes to help all employees.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Yes to the frequency. If they’re getting together once a week (or even once a month) and the majority of the time they’re venting and complaining about work stuff, there are bigger issues at hand, and being negative all the time is bad for your mental health and attitude.

      2. EPLawyer*

        Even if they are once a month, employees need to let off steam. At least it is at a happy hour and not during working hours. If they get together once a month and complain how much they hate doing the TPS reports while still doing them at work in a professional manner, that’s fine. Then they move on to other topics.

        This is normal worker behavior to complain about management. If the manager doesn’t get this, then manager needs to remember what it was like to have no control over a situation when she was just an employee. OR there is a sign of a real problem and manager needs to address it, not complain that workers are talking.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      “Our executive director found out about the most recent one a couple days after it happened (pre-social-distancing) and is upset, saying it was unprofessional and unfair to have a group of employees gather to talk about the organization behind their back.”

      The director’s comment made me wonder. Why does she think employees are getting together to talk about management? Did someone tell her that’s what people were doing? Or is she just assuming that’s the case? Either way, she’s out of line.

      1. Amanda*

        Could be paranoia for the director – If they didn’t invite me, they’re talking trash about me. And just a coincidence they actually got it right.

        1. Batty Twerp*

          There’s a joke which goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. It may be that the director is aware of the issues that employees would complain about, which means it’s justifiable paranoia. And if you dont want to be paranoid about something, dont do that something!
          Either way, she’s being a bit pathetic. As Alison points out, you are protected by law to have employee gatherings. Raise a virtual glass to her on your next Zoom Happy Hour.

    3. Mediamaven*

      Yeah, the letter comes off to me as though it’s plainly known that these are vent sessions about management and I can see why that would be problematic. It’s one thing to have a happy hour, it’s another to have a standing drinks date to talk about how crappy your bosses are. Not the best for morale and it could be that they don’t appreciate maybe newer, impressionable people being exposed to that. I think there is more to this situation than simple a boss with hurt feelings.

      1. sequined histories*

        1. No way does 2 or 3 sessions in 5 years constitute a “standing drinks date.”
        2. Also, if you’re in charge of people, I think it’s on you to manage your own emotions with regard to the fact that it is inevitable at some point that some of your subordinates are going to complain about you (fairly or otherwise) or about the general working conditions at the workplace over which you are presiding.
        As a classroom teacher, I know it can be challenging to manage my emotions when my students express negativity about me or my class. I really have to be mindful of whether or not a specific behavior is objectively causing a problem during an actual lesson. My students have a right to personally dislike me, question my judgment, etcetera; they don’t have a right to be disruptive and undermine a lesson.
        I would think it there would be analogous tests one could apply in an all-adult workplace: is something here interfering with what we do at work, or do I just dislike idea of people I see at work every day possibly saying something negative about me when they’re off the job? If it’s the latter, you need to focus on doing what you can to address legitimate gripes, and let go of your unrealistic expectation that no one will ever find fault with you when you’re out of earshot.
        3. Labor has few protections in this country. Talking to our coworkers about our working conditions is one of the rights we do have. Calling these venting sessions “unprofessional” may seem like a pretty soft form of pushback IF you’re the person with more power in the situation, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have an illegal and, more importantly, unethical, chilling effect on workers’ rights to organize.

        1. lazy intellectual*

          Exactly. Too many managers think they are entitled to employee worship and approval.

      2. lazy intellectual*

        Still, it’s the employees’ right to have these happy hours. Other employees don’t have to attend and if they don’t want to. You can’t control people’s emotions/opinions about their managers/employers. Even if they didn’t have these vent sessions, they would still be harboring negative opinions about their managers.

    4. T2*

      My only contribution to this discussion is to point out that the fact that management takes issue with after hours offsite discussions, could in itself be a cause of after hours offsite discussions.

    5. Gazebo Slayer*

      One of my mother’s awful former bosses literally used her secretary as a spy in the employee break room, to report back anything bad said about her. OP1’s group could have a mole, bizarre as that is.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Honestly, if OP1’s work office has a mole, I think the dysfunction junction more than justifies having a rant session over drinks.

    6. LW1*

      I’m not worried about finding the snitch, since it is a small enough office, where, as Tyche pointed out, the ED could have just overheard about the happy hour. Except for our annual holiday function, none of our happy hours are standing. They tend not to be more formal than a group text or coworkers at lunch saying, “Drinks after work Friday?” The three or so I’m describing were organized in much the same way, except they were prefaced with “OMG this new thing, argh!” and we were a little more mindful of who would be hearing about it beforehand. Generally, what we complained about was stuff that had already been brought up during meetings but haven’t been resolved to our satisfaction.

  18. Not Australian*

    The employer in LW2’s case needs to balance the needs of both staff members. LW2 has been there for a while and their scars have been visible to everyone, therefore they can reasonably expect not to have to cover them in future. If Brandy has a problem with that, the onus is on the employer to resolve the issue *without* affecting LW2’s comfort. ‘Making the problem go away’ is not the same thing as dealing with it; the emphasis should be on finding a way to help Brandy deal with the fact that LW2’s scars are going just to remain visible.

    And FWIW, formal accommodations aside, you don’t just walk into a new place and demand that things and people change to suit you; the door works both ways, and you don’t have to stay if you don’t like it. [Yes, I know – money, insurance, etc. But this is the calculation Brandy has to make; *how much* does she actually care about this?]

    1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

      I’m not trying to be snarky, but I truly don’t think that Brandy has any needs in this situation. Even if she does have her own mental health concerns that are triggered by seeing scars…at some point we all have to grow up and be responsible for our own stuff. We can’t use the language of accommodations to try to create an environment that’s ideal for us at the expense of others. That’s not something that can be expected of other people, and tbh I don’t think it’s helpful to perpetuate a conversation that lends any credence to Brandy’s complaint.

      1. Lady Heather*


        There are people who don’t think people in wheelchairs should be allowed on the street because it can traumatize children. (A logic I don’t follow – I think it has a far bigger ‘traumatic potential’ if a child thinks that hurting a leg (or back, or head, or being born different) is synonymous with falling of the face of the earth..) Same-sex couples shouldn’t hold hands (let alone kiss) in public because of the same reason. Etc etc etc.

        Brandy may have needs here, such as ‘a need for exposure therapy to deal with this’, not ‘a need for the entire world to be a “safe space” where “triggers aren’t allowed”.’ (A ridiculous notion. My triggers include a smell, a dialect, a profession, and a colour. Yeah.. not going to happen.)

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes it annoys me intensely. There was a media thing a few years ago when the BBC had a childrens’ TV presenter with 1 arm (Cerrie Burnell) and some people started saying that would traumatise children. In my experience the children weren’t the ones with a problem. The ones I know accepted that she had 1 arm just like I accepted as a child that my uncle had 2 fingers missing following an industrial accident. It was the parents who had the problem because they didn’t want to explain it.

          I’m pleased the BBC ignored the whole thing and she went on presenting.

          I don’t think we should hide scars, disabilities etc to try and protect others. My father has a scar on his chest from an operation and we view it as testament to his strength and a reminder that we’re fortunate he’s still here.

          As you say Brandy may have needs but that doesn’t mean she can make one person dress in a particular way to pretend scars don’t exit.

          1. Lady Heather*

            About two months after I got my prosthetic leg, I was in the supermarket wearing shorts and a five-year-old came up to me, wide-eyed, and said with equal parts jealousy and amazement: “Why is your leg silver?”

            Kids are great about disabilities.

            (Also, there are also kids with disabilities and it’s not fair to only expose those kids to four-limbed presenters, doofuses.)

            1. MayLou*

              Theres a fabulous episode in the Secret Life of Five Year Olds where one of the kids has an unusually small foot, and she shows it off and explains to her classmates that “it’s just how I was borned”. They all take it in, and then go back to playing together. She has a little foot. It’s just how she was borned. Kids can understand anything if it’s presented to them clearly.

              1. Libervermis*

                I had a delightful interaction with a small child who announced “I have one big hand and one little hand” and asked if she could pet my dog, in that order. She opined about the efficacy of patting dogs with one hand vs the other (conclusion: both are effective at patting) while I mm-hmmed and my dog was pet, and then we parted ways. Kids are great about a lot of things adults see as “a hard conversation”.

                I try to channel her straightforwardness in my own life when my instinct is to clutter something up with fuss because I’m awkward. It works well, very along the lines of Alison’s “have you talked to them about it?”

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              “Did this involve a radioactive spider? Where can I find a radioactive spider?”

          2. Koala dreams*

            You’ve explained so we’ll the things that’s bothered me about it. It’s annoying to have to wear longer sleeves than everybody else, but it’s the message it sends that’s the worst thing. As if illness or disability is somehow not professional and should be hidden at work.

            Yes, it’s bad enough when it’s from a coworker, but when it goes through HR somehow it’s worse, since it makes it seem like an official rule.

            Glad that BBC made the right decision!

          3. Quill*

            Yeah, in general kids ask “why” then shrug and move on. Maybe get concerned that something hurts or that you’re sad, but overall they’re usually more adaptable than their parents.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes absolutely. Apparently as a child I asked my uncle why he had 3 fingers on one hand. He said he had an accident at work and 2 of them were cut off in a machine. I apparently asked if they hurt and I could do anything to make them grow back. He kissed me and said no it didn’t hurt any more and it was just unfortunate.

              After that he was just my uncle with 8 fingers as opposed to my other uncle who had glasses.

          4. Lala*

            That line of thought is so ridiculous. On the one hand, you never know what might freak a little kid out. Someone who is too tall or is wearing a hat or smacks their lips too much (I empathize with that one) might have them hiding behind your legs. On the other, kids get over that real fast and are built to process information. And often disabilities barely register to them.
            Basically, kids are dumb but brilliant. They’ll be fine. It’s adult who put their weird sh!t on them.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Yeah, as a small child I was inexplicably terrified of men with beards. A world where nothing ever frightens children is impossible.

              1. UKDancer*

                I was deeply scared of my father’s best friend as a child. I’ve no idea why. He’s a lovely, kind and good natured chap who would drop anything to help someone out. There is absolutely no rational reason why I used to run away and hide from him.

              2. Alice's Rabbit*

                Dogs. I was terrified of dogs. Until one day, after a long car trip to stay with family friends, toddler me stumbled in and collapsed onto a warm, fluffy pillow and fell asleep.
                30 minutes later, the pillow shifted. I woke up just enough to stare in terror at the face mere inches from my own. The Newfoundland just licked me and then went back to sleep. I decided I was too tired to care, and did likewise.
                Now, I love dogs.

            2. KoiFeeder*

              It’s not even just new people that can set kids off. When I was little, I interrupted a social event my dad was having with his coworkers to inform everyone that there was a snake in the driveway. One of said coworkers, completely misunderstanding my intentions, offered to kill it “to protect me.”

              I bit him. Pretty hard, too.

              (talk about a potential AAM letter! “Dear Alison, my coworker’s child bit me and drew blood at a party…”)

      2. Not Australian*

        Well, I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt – which is always a good idea, especially when one isn’t directly involved – but in actual fact I don’t disagree with you. I think my second paragraph made that quite clear!

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          No, it’s not always a good idea to give people the benefit of the doubt. That creates a culture where people default to dismissing complaints of racism, sexism, ablism, and all the other -isms. That stifles minorities and less privileged people. When someone, like Brandy did here, is clearly off-base, you should clearly call them as such. Instead of calling for “balancing their needs”.

          If someone inadvertently and unintentionally does or says something that contributes to sexism and gets called out on it, they should apologize and move on. Instead of getting defensive or angry that they didn’t get the benefit of the doubt.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Yeah, I see a lot of people here and elsewhere saying we should always assume people are *not* being malicious, but unfortunately many people take that too far and try to pretend malice doesn’t exist. Sure, many people are well-intentioned… but not everyone. And even well-intentioned actions can end up being harmful.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              *banging pots and pans together* Sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice!

              (I say this a lot. It’s because the phrase, unfortunately, pretty aptly describes living in society while autistic and disabled.)

      3. hbc*

        I don’t think we can or should deny that Brandy has needs–it’s just that her need is not “OP covers up her scars.” Whether there’s an accommodation that can make her comfortable in an office where OP works and reasonably expects to wear short sleeves is a different question.

        We don’t know what Brandy’s exact needs are, so we can’t really say whether anything will work for her. If any sight of cutting scars is a risk to her physical and mental health, she probably needs to quit (since lab work can’t be done remotely.). But if, say, she needs to not be surprised by them or have them in her line of sight constantly, it’s possible she could move to a desk where there isn’t a direct view of OP, or get an office, or be the one person with a desk in the lab, or whatever. And if she just finds them visually unpleasant, she should be told kindly but plainly to suck it up.

        1. BeesKneeReplacement*

          The OP has even mentioned that they’re in the lab (in long-sleeved lab coats) about 75% of the time and then OP has a high walled cubicle where they spend the rest of their day. Brandy is basically just seeing OP if she goes into OP’s office space or possibly in passing in the halls. To me this weighs even more heavily against this being a reasonable accommodation.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Where do you draw the line though? These days everyone seems to be offended by even the littlest things, and has the expectation that others need to change so they’re no longer offended. But at what point do you make people handle their own stuff rather than expect everyone else to change to make them more comfortable?

      Brandy could be uncomfortable because she too was a cutter, and seeing the scars on OP’s arms may trigger some emotional trauma. But isn’t it up to Brandy to find a way to handle her triggers instead of expecting everyone else to cover themselves to make her comfortable? The onus is not on the employer, it’s on Brandy to be an adult and handle her own stuff.

      1. mssparks*

        Really? Everyone? Maybe you can give some examples of these “little” things. Or accept that the world is a better place when sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry aren’t tolerated. I think it’s pretty reasonable to expect others to change.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          Here we go. I said nothing about any -ism being a little thing. But feel free to continue to put words in my mouth.

      2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        That’s less a “these days” than a change in which objections are considered valid. People used to get offended by little things like seeing women they didn’t even know with short hair, or wearing trousers, and the expectation was that women should dress so as not to upset those people.

        Racial and other slurs used to be more widely acceptable than four-letter words referring to sex and excrement, and television broadcasts were routinely censored to avoid upsetting people who thought the “f—ing” was the objectionable part of someone saying “f—ing $slur.” Similarly, there’s a lot more social support than there used to be for me telling someone who objects to seeing me with my girlfriend to “handle your own stuff,” rather than them being able to demand that we pretend to be “just friends” and not “flaunt” our existence.

  19. NotClaire*

    #5 – I think the answer is as long as you’re working there. In our company there are several Mary Smiths and David Joneses, and the ones ‘lucky’ enough to have the email mary.smith@ have to accept they will be forwarding emails to mary.p.smith@ and mary.smith1 forever. As someone said above, set a form reply up as a signature, and if you have repeat offenders you could consider whether replying to them without forwarding will be sufficient in your culture.

  20. Alan*

    Op1 – this sort of thing infuriates me. If people had scars caused by an operation they would not be asked to cover them up but people are expected to hide any signs of mental illness. It’s this sort of thing that contributes to stigmatising mental health problems.

      1. Amanda*

        I have been asked to cover up my many surgical scars.

        Fortunately, this was a peer not HR, and he asked while the whole team was gathered, no doubt thinking everybody else agreed with him. The outrage from my other colleagues was so strong and immediate, I never even had the chance to feel hurt, I was mostly appretiating my coworkers.

        1. Lora*

          I think of my scars as an A-Hole Detection System of sorts: if someone fusses about a visible surgical / injury scar, it’s like they just put on a bright red t-shirt that says “Hi, I’m an A-hole, FYI!” It’s sort of convenient like that.

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        Are they? I’m honestly trying to think of any situation where someone would be asked to cover scars on a non-inappropriate skin to be out at work that would make sense and be an appropriate request…. and I can’t.

        Scars are scars. They happen for a variety of reasons. Asking someone to cover up a scar is really just ridiculous. It’s basically saying “Hi, you don’t conform to *my* ideals of how Perfect Human should look, so I need you to modify yourself to suit me.” What would happen if the person had facial scars? Birthmarks? Other indicators of less than perfect skin?

        1. Lora*

          They do, depressingly often. People just suck.

          A-hole: “oh my god, what happened to your legs?”
          Me: “I used to work with hazardous stuff and I got splashed a lot.”
          A-hole: “That’s GROSS, you should wear pants all the time. If I looked like that I’d wear pants even in the shower.”
          Me: “huh. Well. Bless your heart.”

          A-hole: “What is that THING on your knee?”
          Me: “Stupid accident while walking my dog, had to have knee surgery. It’s better now.”
          A-hole: “It’s really obvious. Maybe you should wear a longer skirt or tights or something.”
          Me: “Mmm. Have a nice day.”

          Then the same A-holes will go to HR to complain that nobody likes them.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Then the same A-holes will go to HR to complain that nobody likes them.

            Right? Imagine starting a new job and, out of all possible ways to make a first impression on your new team, the one you choose to go with is complaining to HR that your new teammate has scars and demanding that she cover the scars, even if that means wearing long sleeves in the late spring/early summer hot weather. I can imagine how quickly this information would’ve spread at any of the places I’ve worked at, and how people would go out of their way to avoid any interactions with Brandy unless they are absolutely needed for work.

            Also, my x-husband had large surgery scars all over his upper legs. You stop noticing them after 2-3 weeks, and then you spend the rest of your life with the person not remembering that there are scars on their body. To the person that has the actual scars, they might be a source of pain, underlying medical issues etc, But to everyone else, they are not their business and are really really easy to not notice; or to pretend not to notice and to keep pretending until one day, you really don’t. Fake it til you make it, Brandy! And I am sorry about your past injuries, Lora, I hope they have all healed well and you are feeling well now.

            1. Lora*

              It’s so weird to me that people go through life without accumulating ANY scars – I genuinely forget about mine unless someone says something to remind me, which can be in a completely innocent / respectful way too. When I was a kid everyone had at least one scar from either the TB or smallpox vaccine, and just about everyone had at least one scar from falling off a bike or a car accident or something. Even wealthy kids got scars from a ski accident or horseback riding injury, and it was very normal that adults would have surgical scars because plastic surgery wasn’t widely available and it just…wasn’t a thing. Everyone accumulated scars from C-sections, appendectomies, heart bypasses, etc and you saw them at the beach and it was just a normal fact of life. It’s sorta mind-boggling to me that people like Brandy exist, frankly.

          2. Environmental Compliance*

            Ah, but the thing I was questioning was if there was ever a legitimate reason someone would ask that. Not doubting the prevalence of assholes.

            1. Lora*

              I find it’s not so much whether it is, objectively, legitimate – it’s more whether people are going to treat it as legitimate. This is the line OP2 is stuck with: some jerk is being a jerk but instead of telling Brandy to knock it off they are acting like this is legitimate. Instead of HR staring at Brandy until she becomes uncomfortable and then saying, very coldly, “no, and this is not an appropriate request. We do require as part of continued employment at XYZ Corp that all employees be collegial to one another regardless of their physical appearances, have a nice day” HR chose to treat this request as if it were legitimate. And now OP2 has not one but two a-holes to deal with, both of whom should definitely be made to wear “Hi, I’m an A-hole!” shirts to warn others of their foolishness.

            2. HQB*

              Fikly said that people are asked to cover surgical scars as well, and your response started with “Are they?” which I read as you questioning whether those requests happened. And, sadly, they do.

        2. HQB*

          If you haven’t seen it happen, it makes sense that you would think it never would happen, but I know people with scars from surgeries or accidents who’ve been asked to keep them covered “because they make other people/me uncomfortable”, and of course there was a letter here about a women who was told, post-mastectomy, that she needed to wear breast prosthetics for the same reason. And at least one other commenter in just this thread has been asked to cover up scars. So regrettably, some people are worse than you give them credit for.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Ah, but the thing I was questioning was if there was ever a legitimate reason someone would ask that. Not doubting the prevalence of assholes.

          2. sequined histories*

            My elderly, disabled father has been catheterized for the last few years. He still wants to dress himself and long pants are extremely difficult for him to manage. A couple of people IN HIS SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASS asked the class president to talk to him about carrying a towel around with him so that they wouldn’t have to catch the occasional glimpse of the bag of urine to which he is now constantly tethered.
            I can absolutely believe that there are jerks who would whine about having to see someone else’s scars at work.

        3. Fikly*

          Wait, since when does something have to be appropriate for someone to request it?

          Can this be a thing? That would be amazing!

        4. Possibly Enough Detail to be Identified?*

          “Hi, you don’t conform to *my* ideals of how Perfect Human should look, so I need you to modify yourself to suit me.”
          My brother has facial scars, a large tattoo sleeve, and is ginger – he’s practically a stereotype for non-conformity to Perfect Human. His facial scars come from an accident he had in about 1987 when he thought playing leapfrog over action figures was a good idea – he tripped on He-Man and face-planted into the garden wall. Resulting scarring across his cheek and forehead.
          He’s now a bar manager at a high-end eating establishment, in full view of the paying public, interacting with nearly every patron. I don’t know it ‘officially’, but anyone who has a problem with how my brother looks would be asked to leave. Curiously, no one has.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            So, not so much a scar related comment, but a ginger-related one. My two sons are redheaded, and it is a trait that runs all through our family. She had a baby last week, and the baby was not a ginger. I visited her Saturday with my younger son, and my dumb BIL relayed a “cute” story how when the baby was born he said, “Oh thank God it’s not a ginger,” and the redheaded nurse gave him a dirty look and he explained to her how he didn’t mean to offend her, he was just happy because of the 2 ginger nephews and he didn’t want another ginger around. He says this without realizing that his whole story was offensive to me and my son. He is an ass. He’s totally the type of person to comment on someone else’s “imperfect” looks while not realizing he is far from being an Adonis himself. You can’t do anything to stop these people like my BIL and Brandy. Just let them wander around gagging on their feet in their mouths and go on as you were.

  21. Chris*

    No one is going to bat an eye at an employment gap in 2020. At this point close to a quarter of a the country has one.

  22. Please Exit Through The Rear Door*

    Okay, I’m going to be the one to ask. For question #1, what’s “AITA”?

    Is this another hip acronym I don’t know or an inadvertent typo? I Googled it and got the name of multiple Italian restaurants.

    1. Rebecca*

      I had to look it up too, it means “Am I The A$$hole”, so it’s someone asking if they’re wrong or the other person is wrong, in all the places I’ve seen it.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Most famously, it’s a subreddit. The possible responses are YTA (you’re the…), NTA (not the … , but the other party is), ESH (everyone sucks here) and NAH (no … here).

        It’s not about strict legality but gut feeling.

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      Am I the Assh*ole? Basically asking, am I in the wrong here? Or is the other party being unreasonable?

      I think it started with Reddit, but I could be wrong about those origins.

    3. Desk-Nail-Clipperer*

      AITA – Am I the Assh*le. It was popularised on social media site Reddit as one of their sub-forums – people present a situation they find themselves in and their actions, and ask for the judgement of internet strangers as to whether they were the assh*le or not in that situation.

    4. nep*

      Good on ya.
      I find that I know about 60 percent (maybe) of these trendy abbreviations/acronyms when I’m reading things online.

    5. Please Exit Through The Rear Door*

      Thanks for solving the mystery. That’s not what I would have expected but it works for the question. Internet slang makes me feel stupid. Sigh.

    6. Furloughed Anon*

      One of the most popular subreddits: “Am I The A**hole?” – it’s for those asking if their (proposed) actions are morally sound. It’s a good read sometimes.

    7. LW1*

      Fun fact: When I submitted my question, I didn’t realize my email subject line would make it to the published post; I’ve never written to an advice column before, and I assumed AAM would supply her own title. I think I would have left off the “AITA” if I had known.

  23. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Lw1 this might not be so much about the happy hour, as about the manager feeling the strain of isolation and pandemic response. Carolyn Hax is Friday chat had someone right in with advice she had been given by an NICU nurse: people can handle anything for about a month or so but at five or six weeks, if they start to snap for a few days. For many of us, that’s just the time frame we are in… Are you?

    1. Construction Safety*

      “people can handle anything for about a month or so but at five or six weeks, if they start to snap for a few days.”

      That explains so much.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      This resonated with me because there does seem to be an uptick in “that person is doing the pandemic wrong” random fury at small things.

    3. LW1*

      As others have already pointed out, this incident (the happy hour and the ED’s response) were pre-COVID. But, in being left alone with my thoughts for several weeks, I found myself revisiting it in my mind. I probably won’t give it too much thought when we get back to the office unless our ED or someone else brings it up first.

      In the meantime, I hope everyone else here is coping as well as they can, and has a support system they can rely on when they need it.

  24. Mystery Bookworm*

    I’m very sympathetic to those people who are trying to empathise with Brandy. I think it is best practice to always hold in our minds the possibility that others are struggling with more than we know.

    But I believe we have to hold onto that possiblity while simultaneously drawing boundaries. We cannot default to other people’s demands simply becuase of what they *might* be going through without giving up all of our agency.

    That plays into black and white thinking, where people seem to feel that strong boundaries and good manners are mutually exclusive — and when people start seeing the world in that way, eventually both of those wind up eroding.

    1. WellRed*

      I’m quite surprised that anyone thinks it’s reasonable for Brandy to ask OP to cover up.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        I agree. It is not a reasonable request and I hope OP can push back against HR.

  25. Stottie*

    As someone in a very similar position to OP #2, but very self conscious and afraid to reveal my equally old scars, these responses here and perception that OP2 should cover up to facilitate Brandy are profoundly depressing. There is a lot of shame and stigma around evidence of self harm and even decades later it can control how you dress, how you answer questions etc. I admire OP2 for being able to be her self openly and comfortably and am sad to see my fears of what would likely happen if I did the same are reinforced by the broader reaction.

    1. Amanda*

      FWIW, a lot of people don’t have that perception at all. I’m actually kinda disgusted that people are defending Brandy, wether or not she has issues. If she does, it’s up to her to resolve them (by therapy, treatment, changing seats, whatever), not up to everyone else to keep her comfortable.

      And as someone with a lot of surgical scars, I can tell you most people don’t even notice scars at all if they’re that old. And if they do, most people just note them and move on, they don’t judge you on them.

      Stay strong, and I hope you’re better now!

      1. Environmental Compliance*


        As one of my favorite mental health youtubers has stated, mental illness doesn’t give you a free pass to be an ass.

      2. Stottie*

        Thank you. This is all very far in the past for me and as frustrating and embarrassing as if I had a tattoo of my favourite teenage band on my face – I am often judged by it as the person I was 20 odd years ago and that perception obscures who I am now.

        I started a new job and was determined to not be ashamed and when asked about my scars I calmly answered that I used to self harm a long time ago. The questioner was horrified and replied that I should think of something else to say and not say that. So that kind of killed off my attempt at being brave. I do my best but any mention of my scars kicks me back to 15, ashamed and overwhelmed. If I was OP2 I would be really struggling in that situation.

        Again, my compliments to OP2 :)

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          I’m sorry. And they probably wouldn’t have appreciated you telling them that they should think of something else to talk about if they couldn’t handle a factual answer to their questions.

        2. jenkins*

          Wait, they asked you a deeply personal question and then threw a fit when they got a calm, factual answer? They really thought the ensuing discomfort was on you and not themselves? Yikes.

        3. Starbuck*

          Wow, that’s definitely on the asker, not you! Someone who reacts that way deserves an eyebrow raise and a very chilly “If you didn’t want to know, you shouldn’t have asked.” How rude of them to demand you indulge their nosiness, then complain when you do! Ugh, people.

        4. emmelemm*

          If they didn’t want to know the answer, they shouldn’t have asked. (So, really, they shouldn’t have asked in the first place.)

    2. BadWolf*

      I don’t know if it helps (if it doesn’t, disregard my stupidity), but the few times I’ve noticed scars that might be due to self harm, I am glad that person is here and that the scars are scars (implying they’re in the past) and hope they’ve been able to leave that chapter behind. And I have a little more hope for the world in general that they feel comfortable having them visible. And I do not ask about them.

      I have a few highly visible scars (face, neck) that people have asked really weird questions about and mine are due to accidents that don’t have any emotional pain tied into them. I can’t imagine dealing with it otherwise. Seriously, people.

  26. My Boss is Dumber than Yours*

    The “it’s unprofessional” argument seems to be a favorite of managers and HR departments that know they can’t actually forbid organization but still want to punish employees for it. I was taken to task by two former managers for being unprofessional after I helped organize all the staff at our level (well below supervisor) to share our salaries. I did this when I realized I was being paid almost 10% more than some of my female coworkers —most of whom had more experience than I did. When I pointed out to the managers that our rights to organization were legally protected, they tried to say they weren’t penalizing or punishing me (they threatened to mark me down for “teamwork ” in my performance review and withhold a reference if I tried to leave) for labor organization, but rather just for general unprofessionalism. They literally told me that “if talking about wages with coworkers were professional, we couldn’t punish you for it, but because it hurts the company’s business interests we can deem it unprofessional and punish you for that.” Bonus points for them pointing to the blurb in the employee handbook about not doing anything that would reflect badly on the company or other employees as forbidding unionizing as it would reflect badly on HR…

    1. Blueberry*

      Thank you for organizing everyone to share their salaries and for advocating for your underpaid female coworkers. Very, very much.

  27. Holey Moley*

    LW#5- I have the same issue as I left as an executive admin to a high profile person. I keep forwarding emails because I like my old boss but it is annoying as heck. Especially when you get emails from people you already told. I have a signature template I pop in for a reply that says “I long longer work for x, please contact y”. Its annoying but I think give it a year and hopefully the emails will die down.

    1. Nervous Nellie*

      Wow, just wow. Thank you, nep! I just watched the whole thing. He always right on, and this one is exactly on the money for today’s chat here. Triggers are such a small part of the mechanism! :)

      1. nep*

        I wouldn’t want to live without him on this earth. No words could capture his power and presence.

  28. The walls have ears*

    You are entitled to get together with coworkers but be careful with gripe sessions in public. I work for a non profit and four direct service employees went to lunch together and had a gripe session that apparently got quite loud and animated. Our ED got 2 separate calls from people who had been in the restaurant and heard what was being said. Its a small community and they had on work uniforms. One caller was a major donor who was very upset at the conduct. Just be careful in public places because you never know who can hear you.

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

      Side note, a Information Security professional and educator told me once the best place to start an industrial espionage operation are bars near office areas. Lots of people start babbling confidential information after a couple of drinks…

      1. Amy Sly*

        Depends on what the gripe was. If I was a big donor and heard the employees complaining that the charity was cancelling some ludicrously generous policy — say, no longer providing Herman Miller office chairs or letting employees give their two year old work laptops to their children (my grandfather was involved with a charity that did the latter) — I’d be more upset with the griping employees than the new policy.

        1. Auntie Social*

          My husband and I were at lunch and overheard a law firm associate making plans to poach clients and leave his firm in the lurch. The guy thought he was safe because we were at a “ladies tea room” for lunch, and my husband was behind a pillar. We could hear his plan and my husband had his senior partner on his cell from a bar function. Hubs interrupted partner’s meeting and explained what he had heard. The partner called that afternoon and said that “Junior” had been met in the conference room with his personal effects in a box and a final check. Was not allowed to say goodbye to staff, all partners’ doors were closed. They walked him to his car to collect his parking pass. Never assume no one can hear you.

          1. Amy Sly*

            The best way I’ve ever heard this thought put was “Don’t worry about Big Brother. Worry about Little Brother.”

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              It’s an eatery that serves tea and lighter snacks, like finger sandwiches and scones. While yes, men do eat there, it’s most popular with women.

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Just because employees gripe does not make those gripes legitimate. But even if they were legitimate there is a difference between griping with coworkers at a bar/restaurant at normal volume and griping so loudly that everyone can hear what is going on.

        I think it would be similar if the employees went out were being loud, crazy (about non work things) , wearing a work uniform, and just happened to mention where they work. They would still paint the company/np in a bad light with their behavior.

  29. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#2 I would be tempted to report that Brandy’s weasel-like facial features were off-putting, and to request she be required to wear a mask at work.

    Kidding, of course. But it’s not any more ridiculous than what she did.

    1. Phony Genius*

      Of course, right now is not the best time to use compulsory mask wearing as an example of an unreasonable solution. (Assuming it’s for all employees, though.)

    2. Auntie Social*

      If I were OP2’s mate I would be formally complaining to HR about Brandy’s flirting with me knowing I’m married, and insisting that it needs to come to a full stop. I could also note in my complaint that her “ooh, scars scare me!” comments started when I did not respond to her flirting—they did not start immediately upon her employment.

        1. Blueberry*

          No, Auntie Social wouldn’t be making it up. OP#2 mentioned in a thread above that Brandy flirts with OP#2’s spouse, who also works at the same lab, which is what Auntie Social is referring to.

  30. FindThisInteresting*

    LW1: I noticed that the LW stated that service providers seemed to be the ones setting up the happy hours where the workers vent. If that’s the case, then yes, it’s unprofessional for them to complain about the company. Vendors aren’t co-workers and there is a different way to speak to them than those inside of your company. Excluding management from a vendor sponsored event is completely inappropriate and I would question the judgement of someone on my team who would think that airing company business to them is the right move.

    Now if people want to spend their own money to complain. That is totally OK and honestly going to happen no matter how good a company is!

    1. KRM*

      I don’t think that’s what “service providers” means in this context. LW refers to herself as a “service provider”, and I think it’s a distinction between “I interact with front line people and talk about product” and “I manage those people who interact with other people”. So they are all going out on their own dime, just not inviting those from the second category.

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, LW is “service provider” in terms of customer service, their managers don’t ever speak to clients.

    2. Ferret*

      I think you are misunderstanding the use of “service providers” here. I believe OP meant it to be the people dealing directly with clients/users as opposed to back office staff

    3. Super Anon*

      It sounds to me that OP1 is a front-line staff member. He/she is the one with the direct interaction with the customers, and likely has to deal with the real life consequences of the managers decisions.

      And personally, a happy hour that is mostly used a venting session once or twice a year, I think is fine. Even great organizations have things that drive an employee nuts after a while. However, if the happy hours are weekly or monthly, then I think that is a problem. Because I do think the frequency can make the whole thing toxic versus occasionally blowing off some steam.

    4. LGC*

      Thirding the call – I think LW1 means the workers themselves! So, let’s say that LW1 is a therapist – when she says “service provider,” she means “the therapists on staff.” It was a bit unclear at first, though.

      (I’m just using therapist as an example, obviously.)

  31. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP#3 — I don’t know what email program you’re using, but most of them will allow you to set rules that will route any incoming email from your HR person into a folder, bypassing your inbox. You can then go through them when you want to. I would recommend against blocking completely, because who knows — she may eventually be sending out information on possibly returning to work. But you don’t have to let her clutter your inbox.

    It’s early here, and I haven’t read all the comments (or had my coffee), so please excuse this if the point has already been made.

  32. LGC*

    With regards to letter 3 – I kind of agree with Alison that LW is overreacting (especially to the company newsletter – they’re furloughed, so the company hasn’t fully severed ties yet), but also I’m not comfortable with the idea of an employee panel determining who’s eligible for charity. It’s a nice impulse, but…maybe I’m privileged, but it feels REALLY invasive to have my coworkers judge whether I’m deserving enough of assistance. LW3 seemed to be less concerned about that, but I feel a bit bothered by it myself.

    1. Observer*

      I agree that the way the donations thing is probably well intentioned, but a definite mistake.

      But the idea that the *essential offer* was offensive is what is really offensive. A lot of people can manage this kind of thing, but there are a LOT of people for whom such a layoff would be a disaster. That’s not a reflection on anyone’s value, ethics, character or even basic competence. Acting as though the mere possibility that you might need help when you’ve just lost your income without a single day’s warning is some great offense says that you think that anyone else who actually does need the help is somehow deficient.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        Those weren’t OP#3’s words, though. OP#3 said that “but I find this offer of charity offensive”. Not that any offer of charity is offensive. And, quite frankly, this offer of charity is offensive for myriad reasons other commenters have already pointed out.

    2. hbc*

      I would certainly be bothered by being asked to audition for the money, but I don’t really see a good solution for the company. It’s the employees putting their personal money together, so absent illegality or violation of company policy, they can ask people to jump through whatever hoops they want. If the company doesn’t like the hoop jumping, then they either have to tell employees “no, if you try to be charitable that way, we will terminate you” (which seems way too strong) or not pass on the information (which means people who don’t mind the hoops don’t get a chance to be helped.)

      I don’t see any options here that don’t have a downside.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        If employees want to give money to specific people, they can do that themselves!

        There’s no way to arbitrate between the worthy and unworthy in a work context. Either give the money to everyone, or refund it and ask them to consider helping their peers directly.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Most if not all assistance funds that I have seen have some kind of financial information/status required to qualify, they don’t just give money out to anyone that requests it. Just because this is a fund organized by employees of this particular org I don’t think it means the same amount has to be given to all employees if they don’t all have the same need for it.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            While I agree that employees can do whatever they want with their money and establish whatever criteria they want for collecting and distributing their money. The fundamental problem here is that this is going through official work channels. Once it involves HR (which it has!), you can no longer have a group of employees for your charity tribunal.

            LGC has an excellent suggestion on how to better handle this below.

      2. LGC*

        I actually had to think about it, but…if I were LW3, I’d be a bit more okay with this if the HR person had just said, “Jane and Lucinda are organizing a fundraiser for furloughed employees, contact for more info.” I can easily see a situation where the HR rep just attached the form, making it look like the company wants to hear your tales of woe.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          While that could be another way to do it seems like an unnecessary hurdle to add. If they are going to be told that they need to fill out the form why not include it right away. I am guessing that OP didn’t list everything the email said. I imagine the form or the email itself explained the form needs to be filled out and sent to the entire committee or John Smith the head of the committee, or to HR.

          To me it seems silly to say:

          Email letting you know vaguely about this program, but you need to email John Smith to find out more information. You email John Smith asking for information. John Smith emails that you need to fill out this form and a committee will decide. Now you need to fill out the form and send it to John Smith or decide you don’t want to fill out the form. (Now the committee knows you contemplated asking for help but decided not to for whatever reason) Including the form and all the required information eliminates 2 steps/emails from the process, the email asking for more information and the email response with the additional information.

          While I don’t think the company is doing this I think a good way to do this would be for a blind selection similar to blind resume reviewing. Where a single HR person collects all the applications for assistance, assigns them a ID number, gives the anonymous application to the committee then the committee selects who they give funds to and gives the list to HR and then HR informs the employees.

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

    Side not to OP1: a Information Security professional and educator told me once the best place to start a corporate espionage operation are bars near office areas. Lots of people start babbling confidential information after a couple of drinks…

    1. OOOFSTER*

      You are 100% right. I used to bartend in the Financial district of my city, and I wish I could have monetized the hot gossip I heard on a nightly basis.
      Between that and the folks that brought both the spouse and the side-piece in to the same bar, you would be amazed how indiscreet the majority of high paid professionals are!

  34. Super Anon*

    OP5 — Unfortunately some people will never figure it out.

    For a decade I shared a very similar email address to the #2 in our company. For almost 10 years he forwarded emails to me from customer and clients (although to be fair not other staff) who didn’t pay attention to my email address and just used the email address naming convention.

    And I’m sure that most people can tell you when you change roles or duties you still hear from others in the organization about a past role. Heck, I still hear from some staff about a job duty I passed off to another department over 5 years ago.

    1. LJay*

      I don’t even have a similar email to a coworker. Just the same first name (and our names aren’t even spelled the same). I still get emails for her on a regular basis. She’s in HR, but thankfully I haven’t gotten anything confidential yet. I just stop reading and forward on the message as soon as I figure out the intended recipient is her and not me.

      1. Super Anon*

        I was always relieved that our Senior VP was getting my emails not the other way around. I know it annoyed the heck out of him to play my secretary (although he did provide some glorious smack downs of a couple overly aggressive vendors on my behalf a few times), but everything I worked on was fine for him to see. There were several things that he worked on that were confidential and not appropriate for me to see.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        At an old job, a guy started in HR who had the same first and last name as one of my coworkers. My coworker used to get all sorts of emails about things like people’s sick leave. In the end the HR guy went to IT and asked them to differentiate the emails so they were displayed in the internal directory as Warbucks, Apollo (HR) and Warbucks, Apollo (Housing).

    2. Rob aka Mediancat*

      The name doesn’t even have to be the same. My company employs thousands of people. There are two supervisors who share a last name — say, “Hinton.” Their first names also begin with the same three letters — say, Melisandre and Melvina. (They are also not related to each other.)

      They work ten feet away from each other, in the same office, in the same department. Before we got rid of autocomplete on emails, they would get each other’s emails on a distressingly regular basis, and because what they each do nearly overlaps, sometimes they weren’t even aware they were getting the wrong emails.

  35. What the What*

    Too many emails: I’m an accountant. For awhile I was getting 15-20 emails and calls a day about stimulus. Where is my stimulus? How do I check the status of my stimulus? What bank account will my stimulus go to? How much stimulus will I get? It started before the stimulus was even signed into law. I created a template in Gmail (AKA “canned response”). It sits there and when someone emails me about stimulus, I use it to reply to them. I suggest the same for your emails. That way you can send it to the sender and hopefully correct them. If you just forward them, those people may never learn that you don’t actually work for the old boss anymore. I’m guessing there’s a function in all major email programs to create a similar reply, but you could also just copy and paste from a Word document.

  36. Quill*

    Reasonable accommodation would likely mean they’d move Brandy to a new desk where she wouldn’t see OP as much.

  37. hbc*

    OP4: I think if you’re talking “near daily” and the effort expended is hitting forward and typing an email address, I would expect to be doing it for a couple of years. It’s just not that onerous, and if I imagine an important email getting missed, “I got tired of forwarding 4 emails a week” isn’t going to be a good look.

    If there’s any person or organization that’s a repeat offender, set up auto-reply rules for them that indicate it’s not getting passed on.

  38. What the What*

    #3 – Charity Collection: I’d be pretty offended by the idea that my former coworkers have formed a committee to judge everyone’s relative neediness and review their Neediness Essay to decide how to allocate the charity fund to the most deserving candidate. I like how they’re going to sit around and discuss the relative neediness of each person and exactly how to allocate those funds between them (probably for hours). At some point during the well meaning collection, someone said “Yes but, we don’t want someone UNdeserving getting any of this money. You know how people are.” Several people volunteered to be on the Neediness Committee (and I think those of us who have worked in offices can imagine a dream time of current and former coworkers who would step up to volunteer for such a committee). And at the end of the day, if their poor needy coworkers come back to work, everyone in the office will know asked for money and who was judged most deserving, because you best believe the Neediness Committee will want everyone to know what a great job they did and how hard a decision it all was.

    Clearly, the right thing to do is to distribute it evenly and to allow the laid off coworkers to opt out.

    Imagine you’re sitting there, still with a job, and someone approaches you because there’s a collection for your former coworkers. You’re asked if you’d like to put money in. You say “Of course!” and reach for your wallet, pulling out a 20. Before you hand it over, the collector says, “And don’t worry, we’ve formed a committee to make sure only the most needy candidates get anything. They will be required to submit an essay telling us why they need it and then we’re going to discuss it and vote.” Now you’re stuck. You either quietly hand over the money, or you say “I’ve changed my mind. That sounds awful.” Most people would just hand over the money to avoid the conflict. I hope I have the confidence these days to say, “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”

  39. agnes*

    Somebody who is looking at someone closely enough to see faded scars on her arm, is too close to and paying too much attention to her colleague.

    1. filosofickle*

      Back in ye olden days, I worked at a company that had a hosiery-required dress code. One coworker tended to challenge it, like wearing those little ankle pom-pom socks with shorts. Technically, she had on hosiery, the socks. But of course the spirit of the rule is that your whole leg should be covered. She mostly wore pants to get around wearing pantyhose, but her stance was if she ever got called out she would fight back that any manager looking closely enough at her legs to determine if she had on nude pantyhose versus bare legs was looking waaaaay too closely at her body.

    2. JustaTech*

      I had a coworker return to my office after a several-year absence (she got another job and moved away) and it wasn’t until someone else pointed them out that I noticed that she had a lot of large scars on her neck.

      Maybe I’m extra oblivious, but I just don’t spend that much time scrutinizing my coworker’s skin.

      1. Tiny Soprano*

        Yeah I feel you there. I have a friend who I didn’t notice had extensive surgical scarring and one arm half a foot shorter than the other the first three times I met her, and it was only when her sister pointed it out that I realised!
        I can’t imagine noticing old, faded, smaller scars unless I was seriously looking for them, but maybe I’m just oblivious too.

  40. Miss V*

    LW #1- I still very fondly remember one of the best managers I ever had who would occasionally come to after work happy hour, buy a round, and then leave after that one round by saying something like ‘I know I’m the reason you’re all driven to drink, so I’ll duck out now so you can talk behind my back.’

    It’s completely reasonable to have happy hour without managers. As long as it’s not turning into an endless gripe session it’s perfectly normal and can be very cathartic.

    1. JediSquirrel*

      A manager who buys everyone a round, and then gets out? That is a manager who gets it. Well done, old manager!

    2. LGC*

      I think that’s probably the one thing to look at – clearly, LW1 is clearly NTA, but…they do sound like gripe sessions a bit? On the other hand, I’m way more forgiving of them having a service provider kiki because it sounds like it’s only been once every couple of years on average! That’s probably the tie-breaker – having a gripe sesh is kind of like having cheesecake. It’s delicious every once in a while, but you probably shouldn’t have it every single day.

      1. sequined histories*

        I think the difference between “toxic gripe session” and “legally protected labor organizing” is gonna be in the eye of the beholder.
        Certainly I can understand that we can do ourselves a disservice by complaining too much about things we can’t change; on the other hand, if people never discussed their mutual grievances, it’s hard to see how how any of them would ever be rectified.

  41. Amethystmoon*

    #5 — I changed jobs within the same company a couple of years ago. As long as a year passed, and I was still receiving e-mails meant for my old job. I did reply back and tell them to send to xyz e-mail address, as I was no longer in that department.

  42. Delta Delta*

    #1 – 3 happy hours in 5 years does not a regular gripe-fest make. And if the boss is so insecure about the employees’ happiness that a happy hour once roughly every 608 days, there are larger problems afoot.

  43. Hiring Mgr*

    If #4 is about a prestigious internship of some kind, or something where maybe she was the only one chosen out of a thousand applicants or something like that, I’d certainly mention it.. If it’s just kind of a standard summer internship, probably not.

    1. Chili*

      I would definitely include it on your resume if you ever re-apply to that internship or any role at the same company with a “canceled due to COVID-19” disclaimer.

  44. JSPA*



    Sometimes it’s auto-fill, sometimes it’s a brain twitch, but sometimes (and this is insidious) people figure out that they get faster service sending to wrong address (immediately picked up, flagged and forwarded to new person by old person, then new person wants to prove they are on it, and deals with the request quickly).

    If I get 2 day turnaround sending to, and 4 day turnaround sending to, I’m shamelessly going to keep sending to oldperson.

    You can deal with this by adding a time delay component (whatever’s reasonable, whether that’s a couple of days or a couple of hours; in OP’s case, a couple of hours might be safer) in the automated process. Alternatively, you can also talk to your replacement to make sure that forwarded emails from you are not being prioritized, over their normal place in the queue.

  45. Jaid*

    OP #2, I figured out why you call that idiot Brandy. It’s ‘cos of the song, and Brandy is hung up over your S/O, but his true love is you.

    In this case, Brandy is not a “fine” girl. I hope she gets her comeuppance soonest.

  46. Qwerty*

    OP #1 – Your knowledge of the situation is different from what your ED thinks happened, which really affects the optics of what happened as she sees it. However she got the information probably went through a game of telephone, where facts got missed and/or misinterpreted as they got passed around.

    Frequency – Does your ED think this was a one-off and wanted to prevent more of these from happening? Or do you have regular, non-venting happy hours that she now thinks are all intended for griping? If it’s the later, the optics are worse. You know that these only happen once a year or two, but your ED does not. Admitting that the evening was irregular (“It was a rough week and the conversation got away from us”) sounds apology adjacent while clearing up that you don’t spend your evenings trashing the org.

    Subject – The ED’s comments were about “talking about the organization behind their back”, not necessarily about whether you were talking about her. Since this is a nonprofit, she’s probably more concerned about the public image aspect of this and whether the group was airing dirty laundry out where other people could hear it. You know that you were talking about your dislike of management in general, but that’s not necessarily what she heard.

    Source – How did the ED hear about this? Was someone in the group uncomfortable with the tenor of the venting and let it slip? Or someone casually mentioned it to a friend in management and the info made its way up the chain? Or were people not being discreet in the office so bits and pieces were picked up and management came to their own conclusion? Could someone have overheard you in the bar? Griping sessions are usually easy to overhear. If its the last one, that would be especially concerning to the ED, because that’s the nonprofit’s reputation that other people are hearing about. It’s amazing the info you can learn from other company’s happy hours and I’ve learned a lot about other companies by listening to their happy hours.

    You say you don’t know whether she was upset by the topic or that she wasn’t invited, and from the quote you gave from her, I’m guessing it was the topic. I highly doubt the issues is that she wanted to be there to join in on the griping.

    The tone of your letter indicates a lot of frustration with management which I think is coloring how you see this (and probably affects how your ED views it too!) Maybe try to see if something productive can come from this, like an honest, non-complaining, conversation to heal the divide between management and service providers.

    1. LW1*

      This is, in part, actually why I wrote in the first place, to try to see things from my ED’s eyes, and you and other commenters have definitely brought up a few points that I had not considered. Your comment, in particular about frequency, pointed out that our ED couldn’t know how frequently we have had gripe sessions, although I don’t see any particular reason she should jump to the conclusion they were held often or regularly (which they aren’t).

      Regarding subject and source, and the ED’s concern about how it would reflect on our organization, that’s another thing I wanted to wrap my head around. I don’t feel like we (4-6 people) were being particularly loud, and we do not have uniforms or gear that announce where we work. I felt that our level of conversation was normal and comparable to the conversations around us, at this new but locally-popular pub. And, at this particular time, we were talking about some additional paperwork we are being asked to complete daily, and schedule management (in addition to more social topics like sports, food, hobbies). All in all, as someone who didn’t drink at all that evening, I didn’t think we were calling undue attention to ourselves in volume or subject matter. But, we also didn’t feel, at the time, that we were saying anything particularly damaging to the organization’s reputation, so we weren’t trying to hide ourselves.

      FWIW, we do bring up our concerns with the Admin/Managers in general, and with our ED specifically. But, when we feel an issue is not being addressed sufficiently and feel frustrated about that, is it wrong to want to vent about it with our peers? Should we feel we can do so in public, outside of work, as long as we are being respectful and not attacking anyone personally? And, if it is unprofessional to do it in public, what are some other options when you have already spoken to management, and they seem to keep shutting you down? (That’s not rhetorical, I was actually wondering, which is why I wrote in.)

      In the past, though I haven’t always agreed with the ED, I have generally been friendly with her, and I appreciate opportunities she has offered me, including hiring me in the first place when I did not meet a degree requirement in the job listing but had work experience that she thought made up for it. If my tone shows frustration, part of it is definitely reflected from my co-workers who have a less positive opinion of our ED, but part of it is also that, the specific new work thing was not rolled out particularly gracefully, and there is frustration at that. And, now I can’t even talk about it with my work friends anymore without management present, but whenever management has been present, they haven’t been willing/able to discuss ways to improve it, and I just want nachos! (deep breath) Then, of course, this was months ago, followed by weeks of me being alone and missing talking about anything to anyone face-to-face. Which brings me to one cold and cloudy day at the end of an understimulating week, and my original letter. When we get back to the office, I doubt anyone else will remember this happy hour, but I wanted to know what was reasonable for the next time we wanted to go out, with or without our managers.

  47. Nessa*

    Regarding #2, in a similar vein, my boss asked one of my coworkers to cover up her collarbone area because of her excema. He even once did this in front of a client and thoroughly embarrassed her. She ended up wearing hoodies to work, but then the boss’s wife would come in and tell her she wasn’t dressed nice enough to work the front desk. She eventually brought a big scarf to work to cover herself up with.

    She hated the job, but went on maternity leave in February and will not be coming back.

  48. Sophie1*

    Re:covering scars, I think it was a bad idea of HR to tell you it was Brandy who wanted you to cover up. That’s exacerbating interpersonal issues, not helping them.

  49. ACM*

    I’ve been mulling over the staying-in-touch-with-furloughed-workers here…my whole branch (just about) got furloughed in mid-March when this first went down. I don’t particularly blame our company; I knew that the nature of the industry means that their margins are pretty thin and that they just bought another chain last year that probably left them cash poor. And it’s an industry closely linked to travel and disposable income, so obviously they need to go into hibernation mode, as they call it. I get it.

    But I keep getting these newsletters from them by email, including some kind of weird version of their own of Some Good News, and find them almost unbearably irritating even though I don’t even read them. I think a lot of it has to do with the relations prior to this… it’s the kind of company that has talked about being a family on the one hand (I know I know), but has consistently refused to re-evaluate compensation and contracts when asked. It’s a job with professional-level, salary-type expectations (it’s a type of teaching – lots of prep required as per school policy but only paid for contact hours) but compensation more like that of someone working in retail – except in retail, when I clocked out, I was clocked out.

    Anyway, deviation aside, I think companies need to be a bit sensitive right now to how their communications are going to come across to people whom they’re not paying and whom they have tried mightily to pay as little as possible in the past. I wouldn’t mind being reached out to one on one, or even as a team, preferably by our line manager or even by someone else. Even a monthly missive that’s short and to the point bringing us up to speed (ish) would be okay. But the increased number of chirpy “we’re a team!” emails coming from people at HQ whom I’ve never met really, really grate in a way they probably wouldn’t if I haven’t been already feeling undervalued and taken for granted for years.

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